Yesterday, Steve wrote about the joys of being a Rays fan in 2010 and how lucky we are to have such an interesting/exciting team to collectively root for. And Steve’s right. We are lucky. Not too many franchises can turn around and go from being the butt of jokes on The Simpsons to winning the pennant in a single season. However, the experience of the 2008 season can only happen but one time.
Have you ever wanted to un-see something you thoroughly enjoyed so you could have the experience of seeing it again for the first time? Maybe have Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones come and hit you with the flashy memory eraser thing, ya know? I mostly feel that way about certain TV shows and movies, like The Wire and Almost Famous for example. There are sporting events that fall into that category as well. The Rays 2008 season is one of them. An entire season isn’t technically an "event", but you get my point. That was my favorite season in Tampa Bay sports history. Yes, even more than the Bucs winning the Super Bowl. The Bucs had been on a run of successful seasons, and were legitimately title contenders going into the season. The Rays’ 2008 run came out of nowhere, which added to the enjoyment of watching them. I can’t say I feel the same enjoyment about the 2010 season.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying the Rays battle with the Yankees for first place/supreme ruler of baseball. It just feels different, though. When the Rays were going toe to toe with the Red Sox for the division title two years ago things seemed more fun. Every day the Rays stayed in the race was unexpected and new. The team with the $45 million payroll was taking on, and taking down, the behemoths of Boston and New York. They were the ultimate house money team. And what’s more fun than gambling with house money? If Troy Percival blew a save or the offense failed to score a much needed run, sure, it stung, but the Rays weren’t expected to win anything that season. That feeling made the losses easier to move on from. Now, though? If a starter gets shelled, leaving his team in an impossible position, I get angrier. When the offense doesn’t score a man from third base with no outs I get more annoyed.
The Rays are playing with the burden of expectation. I’m not saying the players feel it. I’m sure they don’t. But we as fans feel it. This 2010 team is better at nearly every position than its 2008 counterpart. I go into every game assuming the Rays are going to win, and if they don’t I’m disappointed. If they do not make the playoffs this season it will go down as a massive failure, while had the same thing happened two years ago we would have chocked it up to inexperience and not been nearly as upset. Would it have sucked? Of course it would have, but not to the same level. When the Rays defeated the Red Sox in game seven of the ALCS I was the happiest I could ever remember being. If they had beaten the Phillies and been crowned Kings of Baseball, that would have been the icing on the cake. But they didn’t, and I can remember not being that upset about it. My team had gotten to the biggest stage in its sport when no one in the world outside of their clubhouse thought it possible. That was good enough for me. It’s not anymore. In 2008 it was pure joy. In 2010 it would be a mixture of joy and relief that they didn’t blow it. I imagine that’s how a Yankee fan must feel. There is no house money. You are the house. How is it fun being the house?
As weird as it may sound to some, I think next year’s less talented team will be more fun to root for. Sure, we probably won’t enjoy as many victories as the 2010 team provides us with, but we’ll get to watch Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson, Leslie Anderson, Jose Julio Ruiz, and Jake McGee try. Once again the Rays will be an underdog, with freshly minted stacks of house money to gamble with.
This season is rapidly coming to an end, and I'm going to be rooting for the Rays with all my might. I just know it won't feel the same as the last time the Rays were in this position, and that kind of makes me sad.