They are my sunshine… my only sunshine…

I always believe at the very base of writing about anything? Write about what interests you. If you get lucky a you’ll occasionally get to write about something that inspires you. I tend to be lazy… which could be easily demonstrated by the lack of any posts at GuysNation since the Superbowl, but I swear I was “this close” (totally holding my thumb and index finger an inch apart) to writing about the Coachella live feed, but today I got that kick. That itch, and really?

Its THIS man’s fault.

My interest in the Tampa Bay Rays began innocently enough via fantasy baseball. Years back, before the World Series run, I remember having an upstart BJ Upton on my squad. I remember later having James Shields for multiple seasons, including this one. I remember being incredibly excited at watching David Price pitch. I even went out and bought their Batting Practice hat. I was dipping my toes into the water of fandom, and with the advent of (which I initially bought because my FAVORITE team is the NY Mets, and I live outside Philly) – I started watching more and more Rays games. Now another hat, and an authentic David Price jersey later? I consider myself a Rays fan. My #2 team overall, and my favorite American League Squadron.

Going into the 2011 campaign? I had low expectations, and the hope of getting to see Price pitch somewhere… be it Yankee Stadium, or Camden Yards… more on that if/when it happens.

They didn’t disappoint my low expecations early, starting, 1-8, but then? Well they do what they’ve done the last three full seasons leading into this one. They, inconceivably, became a league leading divisional powerhouse…

Uh… as the kids say, “WTF”?

The Tampa Rays success is the one of the greatest stories in baseball, and sports the last few years. The perpetual “little engine that could”. Chugging along, thinking they can in a sport where, in reality? They shouldn’t. Where after a first place season they have a yardsale, and lose close to half the roster. Lose Carl Crawford (All Star LF), Carlos Pena (1B), Matt Garza (SP), Rafael Soriano (Closer), and a bunch of key bullpen arms.

They couldn’t do it again.

They CAN’T be good.


No one told the Rays this. In the brutal AL East where two of baseball’s biggest payrolls lie. Where 2 of their core, most important players jumped to rival teams (Crawford to Boston, Soriano to New York). In a division that year in and year out has boiled down to “Yankees/Red Sox”. Each team always predicted to be near the top. One of them no doubt being the World Series favorite coming out of Spring Training. And each one spending a boat load of cash on any free agent they desire…

A new constant is becoming clear with this Tampa Bay team. You can toss out conventional wisdom. You can take your overpaid, bloated contracts too. They’re not a “big market” team. They have a hard time getting people to come to games, which is a shame, because this team deserves sell outs. The payroll for their entire team, is about HALF of the Yankees’… starting infield. Yes, A-Rod, Jeter, Cano, and Tex make, combined, double of the 2011 Tampa Rays.

How aren’t we celebrating this?

WHY isn’t this a bigger deal?

I’m a sentence or two from buying a tour bus, grabbing friends, and making a pilgrimage to that less than ideal (read: DUMP) stadium the Rays inhabit, and showing, people DO care. Really. Maybe not the people in your town, but out there people notice. We are amazed at what James Shields is doing this season. We’re astounded by David Price’s growth as a pitcher, and development into an ace.

I mean, I’m a Rays fan and the only time I can recall a large amount of coverage this season? The Breaking and entering robbery of the Spring Break House, which led to us finding out Evan Longoria had an AK-47… AND? Manny being Manny.

This team has every reason to be bad. 2nd lowest payroll in baseball. Piss poor, almost embarassingly low attendence for a team who has been as successful as they have the last 4+ seasons. Taking major losses in the field, lineup, and on the mound. Yet? A quarter into what many were predicting to be a throw way season? They are one of baseball’s best teams. With young talent coming from their minor leagues to fill those gaps. A few savvy free agent pickups (no, not MANNY) to fill holes (Johnny Damon, Kyle Farnsworth), and most importantly?

They have the perfect man for the job. As much as I’ve admired Joe Maddon since he’s taken over the Rays, and led them to a World Series? I’m more and more thinking he could take just about any 9 baseball playing adults and get the absolute most out of them. He’s a great manager. Right now he’s a unanimous “Manager of the Year” for keeping this team, not just competitive, but good.

And sure the Red Sox are charging after a bad start, and the Yankees will start hitting again, but they know it won’t be a two horse race. They know they aren’t alone. No matter how much money they threw at the “problem” this offseason, neither the Sox or Yanks are looking behind them to see who’s coming. They’re looking UP.

At the Tampa Bay Rays.

A quarter of the way into the season, which means they’ve cut about 10 million dollars in payroll checks, and there they are. They pitch well. They field well. They are an inspiration to every small market team. To show “you can do it”, and do it consistently if you stay on top of things. The Royals are on the verge of starting a run like this with the amount of young talent they have ready for prime time. The Twins have shown an ability that it IS possible. The Rays are showing that with the RIGHT guys and the RIGHT manager, that you don’t have to worry about “2 years from now”. You can be competitive RIGHT now with the right core, and of course… Joe Cool.

Oh, and Guys? Longoria hasn’t even started hitting yet.