BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays slaps high fives with teammates after the final out against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on September 18, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Rays won the game 8-5. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
On this date four seasons ago, the Tampa Bay Rays clinched their first ever post-season berth with a victory over the Minnesota Twins in front of a capacity crowd at Tropicana Field. It is an easy date for me to remember as that wonderful event also coincided with my 35th birthday and my family's present to me that year was four tickets in Section 301 to watch the game with my wife, my three year old son, and my infant daughter. To date, it is my most cherished memory as a Rays fan because of what it symbolized as well as the fact I was able to enjoy the moment with my family.
Who would have thought that four years later, in a season in which the Rays were supposed to be rebuilding and/or reloading, that the team would have the chance to create that same kind of memory for other Rays fans.
The Red Sox split a double-header with the Orioles yesterday and set back pitching ten seasons as the teams combined for 38 runs in the two games. The bad news is the Orioles were not able to help the Rays out by sweeping the day, but the good news is the Red Sox were not able to gain any ground on the Rays either and the Rays' current post-season odds are nine percent according to CoolStandings.com as the team kicks off a four-game series across the next three days at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have a 95 percent chance of winning the American League East, but the probability of that seems much stronger at this point because it would take the Yankees losing just about every one of their remaining games, including being swept by the Red Sox this coming weekend. The Rays' job at this point is simple - keep winning and keep sending good vibes in the direction of the Fightin' Showalters in Baltimore who have five more games against Boston.
Even if the Rays win out, they are still going to need the help of the Orioles and the Yankees to pull off this improbable run to the post-season which began with the Rays having a two percent chance to make the post-season as the team entered Labor Day weekend. As Carl Crawford put it Sunday, "it would be devastating to lose the playoff spot to those guys." "Those guys" have done their best in September to re-energize a fanbase that was already audibilzing to the football season and was talking more about Josh Freeman, LeGarrett Blount, and Mike Williams than they were about James Shields, Evan Longoria, Casey Kotchman, and B.J. Upton and that was painfully obvious when the Rays took two of three from the Rangers earlier this month in front of extremely disappointing crowds at Tropicana Field.
This is not a post to trash the attendance performance of the fanbase this season as we leave those stories to the national talking heads who love to beat that drum from their ivory towers in Bristol, Los Angeles, and all places in between while turning a deaf ear to the local issues that hamstring the unique economy of the area. Rather, this story is a challenge to you, the Rays fan. The team has refused to quit on this season when the computers who generate the post-season odds, the national writers, the local media, and even some of the writers on this site (raises hand) were writing the eulogy on this season in August.
Dewayne Staats went off on this tangent during the Sunday broadcast, hoping out loud that the fans would show their appreciation and gratitude for what the team has done this season and down the stretch and turn out in big numbers for the final home games. Saturday night, popular country music star Miranda Lambert will be doing the season's final post-game concert so that crowd is likely to be there, but what about Friday night and Sunday afternoon as the Rays host the Jays? It is no secret that anytime the Jays come to town, the attendance is below average for a variety of reasons, but all of those reasons need to go by the wayside for these final games.
All season, this fanbase has taken that beating from the national press about not showing up to games and not tuning on television as both the turnstile and the television ratings are down this season from last season despite the fact the team is on pace to win 90+ games for the third time in four seasons and is only five games off last season's pace even with the extreme changes on the roster. We, as a staff, recognize the challenges that fans in the area face.
Some of you reading this story are doing so before or after spending another day searching for a job along with 11 percent of the rest of the citizens in the area. Some of you reading this story are also recovering from the spending spree that parents have to go through at the start of each school year to get clothes and supplies for your child or children. Then again, there are some of you that will think nothing of spending $15 at lunch today or make multiple stops to Starbucks this week and not think twice about it.
Our challenge to you, as fans, is to make a sacrifice this week to re-appropriate funds to purchase a ticket to a game in this final homestand. Take your lunch to work the rest of the week. Drink water instead of paying for sodas or Starbucks everyday on your way to work. Skip the Crosstown Expressway and take the free roads to work... something. Crawford would be devastated to lose the post-season spot to the Rays, but it would be even more devastating for the Rays to return home after what we all hope is an even more successful road trip to another gathering of 13,000 fans on a Friday night.
We are not a site that simply offers lip service as we back up our words with actions. Later today, we will be announcing a way for our readers to purchase discounted tickets to the game this Friday night through the site. There are some restrictions around ticket giveaways that limit what we can do, but we are working with the Rays' ticket office to use the funds from some of the site-wide advertising in addition to some of our own personal funds to help subsidize ticket purchases for a finite number of people that purchase tickets through the link that will be provided later today. (BTW, if reading this inspires you to join the effort, email me if you'd like to contribute.) It is our hope that this will help some in the area that are struggling financially make their first game of the season at a time when the team needs the hometown crowd behind it most.
Operation Devastation: send Carl Crawford home to Texas at the end of this month while he listens to the tens of thousands Rays fans CHEER from the stands and show the Rays how much you appreciate their efforts in 2011 by doing whatever you can to make at least one of the final home games.