clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Your 2008 American League East Champions...The Tampa Bay Rays

(Special note: thanks to SRQMan for feedback and  insight on  the early draft.)

We're living the American League dream.

For 10 long seasons nobody outside of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox could lay claim to the American League East division championship. The 1997 Baltimore Orioles were the last team to do what we just did. A few seasons later their ace, Mike Mussina, would jump to the Yankees boat via free agency and remains there today.

They said it would never happen, that baseball needed a salary cap to be fair and create parity. They said the Rays would never win, that their stadium needed the wrecking ball, and that the area didn't like the team. They said we were breaking under the pressure, to talk to them in August, then September, they will continue to doubt us and blame our inexperience for any losses suffered.

"They" don't matter anymore.

I recall November 2005 quite clearly. I remember reading about the new front office while the cool breeze chilled me. On my television "Under Construction" commercials would air. Anticipation built for this new regime. Back then I only read Baseball Prospectus in its annual form, and I'm not even sure I knew of another Rays site outside of, but I did my best to follow the team.

I remember seeing Dewon Brazelton traded for Sean Burroughs just like I recalled an article years earlier in which Lou Piniella spoke of how hard it was to tell the youngster he didn't make the team out of spring training. I remember the ESPN magazine article on Burroughs and how he was the Little League World Series hero, or something to that effect. I don't remember too much of Burroughs career here though.

I remember all the trades, I remember the free agent signings that gave me veiled hope for competitiveness before I could comprehend the moves for myself. Edwin Jackson was once highly rated, that must mean he is good. That spring Ty Wigginton played every position under the sun and made the team. James Shields debuted, Nick Green and Aubrey Huff collided, and I began to realize that Tomas Perez was placed on waivers for a reason.

I remember 61-101.

I remember joining this site when I had no business writing publicly about anything. I remember hyping up prospects just to have hope for tomorrow and dreaming about winning. Hee Seop Choi and Carlos Pena made my happy because one had to work out, right? James Shields kept doing what so many former young pitchers had failed to do here. Carl Crawford had a huge homerun in the all-star game. Evan Longoria made his case for opening day 2008 and the team was heading in a new direction.

I remember 66-96.

Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes are two players I will never forget. The most exciting off-season I can ever recall, even topping 2005, saw "the future" promptly leave before I could even know them. After all those words read about how they would create our offensive machine neither would be with us when things got serious. I remember the uniform unveilings, the new stadium talk, and the auspicious start by James Shields to this season. I think muttered the term "We still suck." Oops. The awful call that cost the shoeless B.J. Upton third at the home opener enraged me and created a meme.

I remember the trade deadline and Jason Bay's 15 minutes as a Ray. Jeff Niemann's debut, Evan Longoria's coming out party, and Carl Crawford's grand slam. I remember Nathan Haynes and his inability to hit a ball out of the infield, and I will always remember Gabe Gross, our little version of Shane Spencer. I'll remember Rocco Baldellli's return and the ultimate slump buster by Ben Zobrist. I'll remember the huge rally against the Indians on camp and rec day at the park, and the insane Red Sox games all season long.

I'll remember fighting over B.J. Upton's effort, over the Rays need to make a deal, and over some stupid stuff that seemed important at the time. The furries, fiddling cats, cowbells, and Mohawks. The injuries and fights, and God I know I was against the fight at the time, but I really do wish James Shields would've connected. I'll remember how this team seemed to genuinely care about each other, and while I believe that's merely a symptom of winning, I can't help but wish this season would never end.

From the awesome Carlos Pena, to the enraged Matt Garza, to the lovable Dioner Navarro, through to the master of debuts Dan Johnson, and Mr. David Price, this was a special roster. I'll remember almost everyone on this site who helped make this season all the better. Tonight, perhaps the worst team for the past decade has staked claim to winning the toughest division in baseball.

Never forget the days of Kevin Stocker, or Jason Tyner. Never forget Gerald Williams, Fred McGriff, or Rolando Arrojo. Yes, most of the players have been awful, but that's why this is so special. Success has been something we swallowed but  never tasted. We couldn't savor it because we were too damn thirsty for it and downed it after being poured like a shot. I think those times are behind us, and that makes me the happiest fan around.

96 wins.

The odds weren't pretty, and we all found out that even victorious teams give their fans reasons for animosity. Yet at the end of the day nobody can take this achievement from us. We will always remember the 2008 American League East championship, but I'm not ready to live in the past yet.

First we've got a World Series title to win.