Breaking Down the New Uniforms

The past several days have proven to be quite busy for the Tampa Bay Rays (still sounds weird). On Thursday, the team unveiled their new uniforms and logos in a ceremony at Straub Park in Downtown St. Petersburg; a ceremony which was reported upon here. However the organization's carefully planned roll-out of the new uniforms was disrupted by even bigger news involving the team. On Friday, the St. Petersburg Times reported that team officials were in talks with the City of St. Petersburg for a new stadium on the present site of Al Lang Field. Instantly, the team picnic at Gaslight Park and the player appearances at Champs Sports took a backseat to these new developments.

All this news was quite a bit for Rays fans to digest in a period of the off-season usually filled with tranquility. And the worst part about the matter is that I haven't yet offered a guiding light to those fans needing the opinion of record such major changes. That ends right here. I was originally planning on combining my thoughts concerning both issues into one post, but after completing my writing on the new uniforms I realized that the post would just run too long. So I have split my thoughts up into two separate pieces, the second of which I will post tomorrow concerning the new stadium issue. For tonight, I leave you with my take on the `Rays of Change'.

UNIFORMS:

Everyone and their uncle has an opinion about the Rays' new color scheme, logos, and uniforms. I am no exception. Though I haven't written a column here over the last two months concerning the matter, I have made my opinion known in nonetheless. I can honestly say that I retain only a small fraction of that former opinion. While I haven't exactly done a 180 (or a 360 for you, Jason Kidd) about the new unis, I would say that I have done at least a 135.

When the drawings of the new uniforms and logos were leaked about a month and a half ago, I was among the legions of fans vehemently opposed to the changes. I thought that the uniforms looked unoriginal, uninspiring, and were a clear downgrade from the former set. I liked our previous uniforms because they made us unique among major league teams. The green and black worked wonderfully together, and the sleek, streamlined look of the previous set gave us a modernistic appearance that didn't hurt the eyes. The negative connotation associated with them resulted not from their ugliness, but rather the players that tarnished them over the previous six years. I felt that such connotations could be erased with a successful run irrespective of what we wore. I wasn't a proponent of `change for the sake of change', and I thought that the whole thing was merely a sideshow to distract from further inactivity in the off-season.

To a certain degree, I still am disappointed. But I have become to accept the decision and the reasons behind it, and I can sympathize with that rationale. I will still proudly outfit myself in that beautiful old 'Tampa Bay' road jersey for years to come, something I could not do if I purchased the equivalent product of the new set, but I have come to accept change.

I still think that the new uniforms are a bit boring and indistinctive, but they weren't really designed in poor taste. Dare I say, they even look good. My favorite part of the new set is the caps. That is by far the best part of the change and an easy improvement over the old set. The classic-looking 'TB' on the hat in white text with a dark blue background just looks absolutely gorgeous. That will be my first purchase from the new set when I get the chance. The home uniform looks a bit plain and boring, as I said, but I think that the dark blue accents the rest of the set quite nicely. I think it works even better in the dark gray road uniforms.

Now, I don't like the alternate jersey. I know a lot of people have said that the alternate jersey is the best part of the whole package; I just don't see it. I don't like the lack of contrast in colors and I think that the dark blue 'Rays' script on the front looks far worse when matched with a dark blue background. This is by far my least favorite of the uniform set. The old green alternates definitely were an improvement.

Another unique opinion of mine is on the sun. This has appeared to be the most unpopular part of the change, and I really don't see why. It doesn't particularly look that bad to me, as long as it remains a quirk and not a central part of the theme. I think that when you blow it up in size and direct an entire marketing effort off of it, as the team did with the unveiling ceremony, it looks a little strange. However if it remains just a little glint on the uniform, I see no problem with it.

Along the same line of thought, I also don't find fault with the 'identity crisis' that many feel the Rays have with the changes. For those wondering whether the Rays are now a marine fish or a sun ray, why don't you let them be what you want them to be? That's the good part about the new uniform, they can be whatever Ray you'd like them to be. They can be a manta ray, stingray, sun ray, gamma ray, or a lamprey. Whatever you want them to be, that's what they are. I personally consider the Rays to be a marine animal. They have always been the Devil Rays to me, and they always will be. I see the sun theme as a supplement to that, and I don't see why that's a bad thing. It's not intimidating, but I would suggest to those that think it should be that perhaps we should let our hitters and pitchers do the intimidation rather than the uniforms. Besides, the Tampa Bay area is known for its sunshine. St. Petersburg is the Sunshine City in the Sunshine State, I don't see what is so bad about recognizing that. St. Pete holds the world record for most consecutive days with sunshine; the old St. Pete Evening Independent newspaper was made famous by its declaration: 'Free everyday the sun don't shine'. What's the problem with incorporating this famous Bay Area symbol into a small part of a baseball uniform?

Speaking of area symbols, however, I do retain one major concern with the new uniform set and that is the absence of 'Tampa Bay' on the road uniforms. I renew my protest to the lack of this identifier. I am not a conspiracy theorist who believes that this is a harbinger of the team's desire to skip town, I just merely like seeing my hometown represented when we hit the road. I root for the team because they are Tampa Bay's team and for no other reason, and that the hierarchy of the organization would go out of their way to ignore baseball tradition and replace 'Tampa Bay' on the road jerseys is perplexing. There is no sound reason for it. There is nothing to gain, and you run the risk of pissing off a lot of fans with civic pride.

Stu Sternberg's answer to these concerns left much to be desired. It was along the lines of 'We have the initials on the cap and we are trying to build brand recognition around the team's nickname. People already know where we're from'. Yet by the same token, people already know that you're called the 'Rays'. But regardless, it is baseball tradition to put your geographic calling card on the front of jersey when you go on the road to represent the area you live and work in. Having initials on a cap is great, but it is nowhere near as conspicuous a representation of the home area as a jersey front is. People aren't going to immediately start feeling more included in Orlando because the team dropped 'Tampa Bay' on the road jerseys. So in essence, the Rays broke against tradition for no plausible reason and for no realistic gain, but they did piss a lot of local fans off. The team can't afford to be doing that over petty changes when the area's relationship with the team is frayed anyways.

On the whole, however, I am pleased with the whole package. I am certainly far happier with the new set than I thought I was going to be. I think that the new scheme looks clean, classic, and fresh, if a bit indistinctive, and hopefully these new uniforms will become synonymous with winning baseball over the next several years.

Photo Credit: Tampa Tribune

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