Cork Gaines is the editor and lead writer for Rays Index. He is a Tampa native and University of Iowa graduate that is currently lost in New York City. Despite this, he still maintains his status as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers season ticket holder and often makes trips back to the Bay Area just because he has an urge for a grouper sandwich from Hurricane and to see people wearing jorts. Back in February some guy named “Leitch” asked if I would write a preview of the Tampa Bay Rays. I told him that the wireless at Mons Venus is pretty slow, but that I would do my best. After much labor, many tribulations and a few distractions, I submitted a preview with only a few pages stuck together. In that preview, I wrote the following:
Watching the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays sans Devil will be like watching Natalie Portman in "Beautiful Girls." You know she is going to be hot when she grows up, but part of you wonders if it is OK to look at a 14-year-old that way. And when she does finally grow up and she is even sexier than you imagined, there is a part of you that still sees the 14-year-old and it makes you feel a little guilty. And yet, you can't wait for the Tampa Bay Rays first nude scene...Wait...What was I saying? Never mind...Ladies and gentlemen, these are not your older brother's Devil Rays.Photo: Canada.comEight months later I am here to tell you that the only thing better than a nude scene is an unexpected nude scene. The Tampa Bay Rays: 2008 American League Champions While you take a moment to let that statement settle in your stomachs, let me step back and properly introduce myself and tell you what a trip to the World Series means for The Rayshead Army. I am a typical fan of the Tampa Bay Rays. That is, I am a bandwagon fan. You see, I have only been a fan of the Rays for 11 years. It could be argued that I was a fan long before that. In the 10-20 years before the Devil Rays were born, several teams paraded Tampa-St. Pete baseball fans in front of the powers-that-be. Teams like the Giants and the White Sox would show the state legislatures our sad faces yearning for a baseball team. And while we were out buying “Florida White Sox” caps, the teams would strike midnight deals for new stadiums. So even though fans of other teams routinely bash us, many should be thanking us for their shiny new ballparks. But then the Rays came and all was well. The Rayshead Army went to a lot of games at first. And then not so much. Of course, if the Red Sox were losing 100 games every season and Fenway Park was 30 minutes from a beach in one direction and 30 minutes from Mons Venus in the other, even Red Sox Nation would occasionally find other things to do. But we still watched, and rooted and a few of us even blogged, even if it happened while getting a lap dance instead of at the stadium. And now the Tampa Bay Rays are in the World Series and in one season have erased 10 years of sucktitude. In the last 11 years, the Rays now have more playoff appearances than six franchises, more AL East championships than the Blue Jays and Orioles combined and more World Series appearances than 14 teams. The Tampa Bay Rays grew up this season, and they grew up faster than anybody imagined. Many people smarter than me predicted the Rays to be better this year. Those predictions were made with an “ah shucks, look how cute they are” tone. And while many say this was inevitable, with a roster filled with 25 first-round picks, even the most optimistic blowhard in The Rayshead Army could not have hoped for an appearance in the World Series (well, there was one optimistic blowhard). But the Rays are indeed in the World Series and a trip to the Fall Classic means… A BIGGER RAYSHEAD ARMY Many think a World Series appearance for the Rays is bad for baseball. The consensus seems to be that Bud Selig was going to bed every night in his Red Sox underoos. We’re sorry, are those $100 million checks, to players that will never even sniff the Hall of Fame, suddenly bouncing? We think baseball will be just fine if the World Series has poor ratings. On the other hand, a Rays World Series is great for the growth of the sport. The Tampa/St. Pete area is still an untapped market. While attendance improved this season and is likely to increase greatly next year, it is still lagging behind many ball clubs. The only way baseball will attract bigger crowds is to give the area a team worth supporting. If the Rays go on to win the World Series, The Rayshead Army will grow exponentially. More fans means more tickets sold, more merchandise purchased, more eyes watching on TV and more gratuitous shots of Dick Vitale in the stands. How is that bad for baseball (except for the Dick Vitale part)? Would another Red Sox title have meant more fans for baseball? Hasn’t Red Sox Nation already reached saturation? Good lord we hope so. A CHANCE TO REASSERT OUR DOMINATION OVER ALL THINGS PHILADELPHIA Little did many know that the Rays ticket to the World Series was punched as soon as the Phillies won the NLCS. It was fate. In 2002, after two straight playoff blowouts at the hands of the Eagles, the Bucs finally broke through with a win in Philadelphia in the NFC championship game. The Bucs went on to win their first Super Bowl. In 2004, the Lightning beat the Flyers in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals. The Bolts went on to win their first Stanley Cup championship. Now, the only thing that stands between the Rays and their first World Series trophy is, of course, the Philadelphia Phillies. Nothing gives a Tampa Bay sports fan more pleasure than helping the City of Brotherly Love keep to their losing ways. A NEW STADIUM A trip to the World Series might even mean a new stadium. Don’t get us wrong. The Trop is a much underrated baseball venue. Sure it is a dome, but we still don’t understand why it is OK for six NFL teams to play in a dome, but it is not OK for the Rays. Football often gets better in bad weather, and yet baseball games are halted if there is a light rain. But people that have never stepped foot in The Trop continue to bash it as a blight on the game of baseball. And quite frankly we are tired of their incessant whining. ACCEPTANCE IN THE MLBIVERSE The Rays winning the American League pennant is the first step for The Rayshead Army towards erasing the “Bandwagon” label and becoming fans that are deemed acceptable by the Society for Pink Hats. Apparently your team has to win something before you are a “true fan”. Sadly, we won’t shed the “Bandwagon” label in our lifetime, because the other criteria are rooting for the team uninterrupted for 47 generations, never missing a game, and being able to name what color thong Jason Varitek wears during day games on the road. All while telling stories about how your great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather came over on the Mayflower and the only thing he brought with him was his Red Sox cap…At least there is hope for future generations of Rays fans. Now, if you don’t mind, Bambi needs to use the computer.