When Lou Piniella came on board, it was a sign that the organization was finally taking the steps necessary to become a legitimate franchise. I mean, since the DRays have come into this league, it has not exactly been a hard ticket to come across.
Lou coming to Tampa as a manager, is sort of like Phil Jackson going to the L.A Clippers. But, in Jackson case, he would not even step foot on a franchise in that disarray. But for Lou, this was different, this was home, this is where he was from, and it was a chance to set into motion an opportunity to get the people of Tampa excited about baseball.
This was probably the biggest challenge Lou has ever taken in his career off the field. I mean, other than trying to work for Steinbrenner. Now, it was not like Seattle where he had some player they called the "kid", and a six foot tall pitcher called the "Big Unit". This job was all about starting from scratch. However, like Seattle, there actually was a budget for how much the owner could pay for free agents. But there was hope here. After the 2003 season, there would be 15 million in payroll that would free up with the contracts of Ben Grieve and Gregg Vaughn due to expire.
His first year, he made the decision to go with the young duo of Baldelli and Crawford on his opening day roster, even though they could have spent more time in the minors. This was a sign that they would bring the young kids up early to give them Major league experience that would prove beneficial down the road. So, this first move basically would define the direction of the franchise over the next two years. To bring up the core youth, and sprinkle in veterans to plug the holes with what money that was available allowed for.
As the Rays go into the third season under Lou's eye, the thought comes to mind, why hasn't this franchise turned the corner. In my mind it all goes back to that decision made in year one. They are playing for the future. But, when you hear messages out of Vince Naimoli that the DRays are expecting big things out of the team they have assembled this year, dont believe it. Lou right now is saying all the right things and agreeing to all the veteran player moves, because he knows his job begins when Mr Sternberg and associates are on board. So, the die hard DRays fans will continue to support this team that they are putting on the field. But, it wont be until 2006 and beyond that casual fans and even the media will start taking notice of this team.