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2009 Tampa Bay Rays: A New Beginning

With today being my birthday it made me think of the Rays, and how this spring training is sort of like a birthday for them as well.  A year ago this team transformed itself from laughable loser to legitimate contender, a title that brings the team the respectability it lacked its first decade of existence. 

New uniforms and an altered name seemed to also bring upon an improved attitude to the franchise.  The Devil Rays that were pushovers in the past seemed to disappear, and were replaced with the Rays who were now standing up to, and fighting with, teams like the revered Yankees.  Those fights in spring training helped to show all of baseball, and more importantly the Rays fans over the course of the season that this team was different.

The Rays come into 2009 with a different role, and a whole new set of expectations.  They're now the hunted.  The bulls' eye is squarely on their backs.  Yes, I know everyone always wants to stick it to the Yankees and Red Sox every night, but they're not the defending League Champions.   How the players handle this is going to have a large impact on their success this season.

We as fans have to handle this year differently as well.  The expectations to start this season are going to be higher than ever before.  Many are highly optimistic about the Rays winning another AL East title, while last season a .500 record would have satisfied the masses.  As we know, winning the toughest division in baseball for a second consecutive season will be no small task.  The top three teams could each win 90 games.  Every game is going to matter right out of the gate.  A three game July series against the Royals is actually going to be important. 

For all of the expectations this season the team is going to go through some disappointment.  For as good as the pen is shaping up to look, saves will be blown (Troy Percival is going to make you want to break your remote at least once).  The lineup is looking like it may be the team's best in history, but shutouts are going to be tossed.  As talented as the rotation is, bad starts are a part of the game and will occur. Some of your favorite players are going to hit a slump.  But there's also going to be many more amazing moments.  There's going to be the game winning home runs, the amazing pitching performances, and more exciting plays at the plate.  We'll cheer the monstrous bombs from Carlos Pena, marvel at the speed and arm of B.J. Upton, count our blessings every time Evan Longoria makes a play with his glove we didn't think possible, and root on James Shields as he closes in on a complete game. The list goes on. 

So today, for the first time in their history, the Rays will take the spring training field as contenders.  Last year they knocked on the door of baseball immortality, this year they hope to open it.  Play Ball.