Finally...At long and blessed last...It's about time...Take that skeptics.
These phrases, along with many others, are almost certainly the most common words being spoken in Tampa Bay, FL this week, as for the first time in its history, the Tampa Bay Rays have won a playoff series and have advanced to the American League Championship Series.
It wasn't enough that the Rays (or as everyone still calls them, the Devil Rays) finished above .500 for the first time in franchise history, they went on to win the A.L. East by a two-game margin before securing a spot in the ALCS with a 6-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox to take the first-round series, 3-1.
There is no team in baseball that deserves to win the World Series more than the group of "sandlot players" in Tampa Bay.
The Red Sox have broken the curse of the Bambino; America is now tired of them.
The Dodgers' fans are the most unloyal and fair-weathered fans in baseball history. If you can't arrive to the game before the first pitch is thrown, and you can't sit in your seat past the sixth inning during a regular-season game, your team doesn't deserve a Championship.
The Phillies are boring. The Brewers collapsed. The Cubs can't even beat a "curse" from a billy goat, the White Sox don't like each other, and the Angels are the biggest group of underachievers since that guy that was drafted ahead of Michael Jordan (old what's his name).
This leaves one deserving team of the World Championship this season, the Rays, and here are five reasons why:
1. Homegrown Talent
15 of the players on the 2008 Tampa Bay roster are products of their very own farm system and wise drafting strategies. These homegrown players aren’t the run-of-the-mill bench players either; these are starters and superstars.
A guy like Evan Longoria, the deserving A.L. Rookie of the Year, with his .272 batting average, 27 home runs, and 85 RBI in 2008, has proved what homegrown talent can do. Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli were both drafted and groomed by the Rays. The Rays have built their team the right way; their superstars were not bought, they were developed.
2. Get the Fans to the Park
The Rays had one of the lowest attendance-averages during regular-season games, averaging 22,370 fans per game this season (third lowest among A.L. teams).
Before now, a Rays ticket was about as desirable as a case of the measles, but a World Series Championship will bring the fans to the field and turn a ticket to a Rays game into one of the most wanted items in Florida.
The players in Tampa Bay deserve a full stadium, and a World Series appearance and Championship will give them what they deserve.
3. Joe Maddon
Is there any doubt that this guy is the A.L. Manager of the Year? You would have to be an absolute fool to vote otherwise. He happened to manage only the second team in major-league history to win more than 95 games only one year after losing more than 95 games.
While some managers may celebrate victories with a cold brewskie, Maddon sips on a nice glass of wine from a bottle he keeps on a wine rack in his office at Tropicana Field.
The Rays' payroll for 2008 was an astonishing $43.8 million. This is by far the lowest in the American League and second lowest in the major leagues (the Marlins are lowest at $21.8 million).
When compared to the teams they beat in their division, the Rays, who are over $20 million less than the 2008 A.L. East last place Orioles, have proven that teams can be developed.
With only $43.8 million on their payroll, the Rays still managed to embarrass their A.L. East opponents, all of who happen to have much larger payrolls (Yankees $209 million, Red Sox $133.4 million, Blue Jays $98.6 million, Orioles $67.1 million).
5. Who saw it coming?
This was the worst team in baseball last season, with a 66-96 record; finishing 30 games behind the division winning Red Sox. This season saw the Rays jump out to a 14-12 record after one month of action (the first above-.500 month in franchise history) and finish with a 97-65 record and an A.L. East title.
The Vegas odds for the Rays winning the World Series at the beginning of the MLB season were an astonishing 150-1. The odds-makers put the Rays at 75-1 for winning the American League before the season began. If Vegas didn’t see it coming, no one did.
After 11 years of existence, the Rays are on the brink of achieving greatness, and it’s time to take the old, overrated, overexposed, and overly boring out of the World Series and welcome the new, classy, and homegrown boys in.
So put down the beer, grab a glass of wine, and raise it high in the air as we toast manager Joe Maddon and his miracle team.
Here’s to you Tampa Bay.
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