New Rays Rooter
Sometimes, when you like both teams in a post-season series, you don't know who you're really pullinging for until you see the two teams on the field. That's how I've felt about the Rays-Red Sox ALCS. I've enjoyed the Red Sox since 1967 when I was in college in New England and followed the September-October exploits of the Impossible Dreamers of Yaz. I've never been a Red Sox fan; fascinated by them, rather than fanatic about them, would describe me. What material, what drama (and what nonsense). However, I doubt that I've ever rooted against the Red Sox.
I found out the truth about myself on Saturday night in the Rays, 9-8 win that ended at 1:37 a.m. I'm still fighting a cold that I'd be over now if I hadn't sacrificed so many hours of sleep to that game. Now, after watching the Rays take a 5-0 lead in Game Three against Jon Lester (!) on a three-run homer by B.J. Upton and a solo blast by Evan Longoria, I realize that I am now thinking the unthinkable -- I'd rather the watch the World Series in Tropicana Field, perhaps the ugliest sports facility this side of the former Soviet block, than spend autumn evenings in Fenway Park where I've had some of the most delicious sports writing experiences of my life.
The Rays have one of the most infectious clubhouses I've ever been in -- similar to the '89 Orioles who almost made the playoffs -- but with far more talent. Longoria, Upton, Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Carl Crawford are all major young stars.They just aren't famous (quite yet). Jason Bartlett was voted the Rays' M.V.P. by the team's beat writers The guy had one home run and bats ninth. That's how good he is at shortstop, how fundamentally sound and clutch he's been. At 30, Carlos Pena is as good as he's ever going to get. But he had 30-100 this season, plays a wonderful first base and is a very strong leader. (And, yes, he's from Haverhill, Mass., my wife's home town and knows my father in law.)
The list of Rays who can really play, but aren't known yet, is fairly long. But they are a true underdog, one of those whole-is-more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts team that is easy to fall for. And, at some point, I'll robably write a column about Joe Maddon, who's a hoot.
So, I don't wish any ill to Red Sox Nation. If Boston's back in the Series, that's fine with me. But I have to face the truth. For the rest of this month, I'm a Rays rooter.
On the first day of spring training, I bet I didn't even know yet that the team had changed its name. Hope others are enjoying Tampa Bay. Or as coach Don Zimmer calls them, "The Baby Rays."
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