The following is something I wrote a while back. There was a new website starting up consisting of humorous blog-style baseball commentary and I had been planning on writing a few columns about the then-Devil Rays. That never really got off the ground, so I have this 1500 words of BS that I wrote for nothing. But anyway, I came across it recently and figured I would throw it up here just for the hell of it. For those of you who don't pay attention to baseball, this will make little to no sense. But you can still enjoy my tasteful use of boldface and italics...
Opening Day is just around the corner, and Tampa is ready. Hopes here for the new season are as high as ever, and folks are starting to yearn for something to complain about now that the Bucs' season has mercifully ended. The 2007 Devil Rays are more than ready to oblige.
In order to do my part, I have decided to start things off with a countdown of the more memorable moments in Devil Rays history. And since this is the their tenth season, it seemed appropriate to start with a top ten list. As well as being a great refresher course for the hundred or so lapsed Rays fans, I hope that it will serve as a fond look back at the sometimes inspiring, sometimes pitiful almost-decade that marked the first (and possibly last) era of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.10. The Rookie
In 1999, 35-year old Jim Morris made his major league debut with the Devil Rays. He accomplished this despite not having pitched professionally in 10 years, having recurring arm problems, and looking nothing like Dennis Quaid. Morris's first appearance was memorable, as he was able to strike out Rangers shortstop Royce Clayton on four pitches. Yeah, inspirational and all that, but come on... Royce Clayton
? I'm fairly certain I could strike out Royce Clayton, and I have the baseball skill of a ...well... Royce Clayton, actually. Wait, now I'm confused...
Here's my point. Are we sure the managers didn't get together before the game and decide to throw him a bone? Or maybe some movie exec that saw blockbuster potential pulled some strings? I would have just like to see how he would have fared against Palmeiro or Juan-Gone in that situation. Maybe they would have made that into a Randy Quaid movie.9. The *hit Show
The signing of sluggers Vinny Castilla and Greg Vaughn in 1999 led to a marketing phenomenon. Alongside Fred McGriff and Jose Canseco, the quartet was dubbed the "Hit Show", and promised to bring hordes of fans to the ballpark to see these players crush the ball at every opportunity. And they would have, had all four of them been about 10 years younger (and, in Canseco's case, even more anabolic). What fans were treated to instead was the birth of a new, and possibly unofficial, slogan: "The Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Where careers come to die."8. Tropicana Field Renovations
Tropicana Field, not exactly an architectural marvel when it was built in 1990, was an outdated eyesore by the time the first baseball games were played there. Despite an 85-million dollar renovation prior to opening day, the field was widely considered to be the worst in baseball. In 2006 this would all change. In addition to an impressive new sound system and a whooooooooole lot of paint, the stadium added the spectacle of a tank in right field, complete with actual, relatively small, and completely unintimidating stingrays! These renovations and the new promise of free parking to all games is what elevated the Trop from being the worst stadium in baseball to being merely among the worst four or five stadiums in baseball.7. New Uniforms!
The good news: The ugly multicolored lettering and stupid looking stingray are gone.
The bad news: The uniforms still say "Tampa Bay" and "Devil Rays" all over them.6. The Crime Dog Returns
The Rays announced last month that they have decided to bring in former All-Star Fred Mcgriff to be a special advisor during Spring Training. Awesome! I think what this team needed was for someone like McGriff to drop by. This way, they can learn all about the finer points of laziness, apathy, and horrible, horrible defense. Also, he can teach them some of his proven techniques for success, such as: how to hit a single off the outfield wall, the proper method of not running hard but making it look like you are running hard, ways to get eaten up by throws in the dirt even when they aren't in the dirt, and giving your Full Endorsement on every play. I just hope someone told him that he won't be allowed to resume his death march to 500 homers once the season starts. From the Rays website: "McGriff said [Rays president Matt] Silverman contacted him to see if he was interested in returning to the Rays in some capacity. This opportunity will allow McGriff to wear a couple of hats to see what he likes." No word yet on whether one of these hats will be that weird blue one from the Tom Emanski videos.5. The Delmon Young Incident
Early in the 2006 season, Delmon Young threw a bat at a minor league umpire, hitting him in the chest and arm. Whoops. Well, at least it's out of his system now. I'm sure he will be a model citizen from here on. I'm predicting he won't crack the top 20 in arrests this year (well, unless we are talking AL only). And one other thing: obviously it is completely, totally unacceptable to throw a bat at anyone, even umpires. But in Young's defense, there is no way that was a strike.
An unrelated tidbit I learned while researching: the Devil Rays' AA affiliate? The Montgomery Biscuits. I can only imagine the intensity of their heated rivalry with the Birmingham Sausage Gravy. Maybe even more delicious than Yanks-Red Sox.4. Sweet Lou Comes Home
2003 was a banner year for the Rays. Manager Hal McRae was finally put down (or fired, I don't recall which), as their record from the previous year, 55-106, was markedly below the bar set by his predecessor, Larry Rothschild. That bar being at, of course, 60 wins or so. This season also signaled the Rays' transition from "laughingstock" to "laughingstock even though they have Lou Piniella." (Incidentally, I'm fairly certain there never been an instance of a new coach or player saying they signed somewhere because it was "close to home and/or family" without that really meaning "I don't care if I suck at my job anymore. I'm old.") Who knew that this change would lead to unprecedented success (see 1 below)? More importantly, did anyone care?3. Victor Za-Jesus, look out!
Lou Piniella's arrival in 2003 was big news in Tampa Bay; people all over the area were "thrilled" and "fired up", "anticipating" the new era of "success" that Piniella would "bring." Amidst all the hoopla, however, one player was able to ignore the media circus and deliver a truly spectacular, career-defining performance, and make history in the process. Victor "The Other" Zambrano achieved previously unthinkable levels of wildness, leading the league in walks, hit batsmen, and wild pitches. Zambrano thus became the first player in major league history to earn the Triple Crown of Wildness (and the accompanying Rick Ankiel Trophy). Sadly, Zambrano proved unable to repeat his feat in 2004, leading the league only in walks. The Devil Rays, let down, shipped him off to the Mets, despite receiving only some scrub pitcher (Cashmere something-or-other?) in return, in a trade that still haunts the Rays to this day.2. Forgetting 1986 (Not Really)
Years of religiously feasting on chicken, exquisite mustache grooming, and lots and lots of mistresses finally paid off for Wade Boggs in 1999, as he became the latest member of the 3000 hit club. The Devil Rays, in honor of this accomplishment as well as his two mediocre seasons in Tampa Bay, would eventually retire his number.
Really, is that necessary? Was the team that desperate for something to celebrate that they honored a career of a guy that became famous playing for someone else? I have two theories on this. First: Management suspected that no hall-of-fame caliber player would stick with the team after free agency, and they had to seize the only opportunity they would have for many years. Second: The team needed to hang up something in the stadium that would cover up the old Checkers ad that proved to be surprisingly difficult to remove.1. 70!
2004 is when it would all come together for the Devil Rays. With most experts predicting a 7th consecutive last-place finish as well as a possible team-wide demotion to AAA, the Rays shocked the world. Led by young players such as Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and not Dewon Brazelton, they ended the season finally reaching the 70-win plateau and finishing in 4th place in the AL East, both firsts for the team. The celebration could only last so long, however, as in 2005 the team quickly reverted to its more accustomed losing ways. I guess all dynasties have to end eventually...Honorable Mentions:
--Pitcher Dewon Brazelton disappears for two weeks following a demotion to AAA. This would be much more of a problem if Brazelton was, you know, good at pitching.
--Rocco Baldelli quickly becomes a fan favorite due to his hustle, personality, and especially the fact that it is always fun to cheer for someone named "Rocco".
--"Devil Rays: under construction"
This 2006 offseason ad campaign has me excited for a minute, as I am imagining a new state-of-the-art stadium, maybe somewhere in the vicinity of Tampa, complete with swimming pools, unnecessary hills in the outfield, and maybe even a roller coaster. I am crushed when I discover that the slogan is actually referring to Jae Seo.
--Curt Schilling's big mouth and Dewon Brazelton's lack of intelligence contribute to a few Rays-Sox brawls and the lamest rivalry since the one between the two dads on "My Two Dads."
--The Rays are honored to open the 2004 season in Japan with a series against the Yankees. The resulting extensive let lag and fatigue will haunt the team for the remainder of the season and lead to a disappointing 4th place finish in the AL East. Oh waaaaaaiiit...