A funny thing happens every year at this time. I fly into Tampa International late on Wednesday, sleep for a few hours, and then, with my wife and in-laws, head to the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot. The most common shirt (after race T-shirts) is UF and the second most common is FSU, but there's a healthy portion of Rays logos in the crowd. Every time I see a "TB" or a starburst I have the same impulse: to tip my cap and say "nice shirt" or "like the hat;" to start up a conversation; to learn if I've met an ironic hipster doofus or if I've found someone from home.
In New York, that's a reasonable impulse, but it always takes me a few days to realize that I am home, and it's the Rays gear that lets me know it. There are many reasons to follow sports, but community is the best one. There's a shared knowledge, a shared history, a shared set of hopes, triumphs, and failures. My life in Tampa Bay may have been very different from yours, but there are parts in common, and the team serves as a reminder.
For that I am thankful.
Forget all the questions about the stadium and the attendance. Forget the circling vultures, gleefully scribbling about us not being an economically viable baseball town, suggesting relocation or contraction. Right now we have a team, and I'm glad of it.
- I'm Thankful for Stuart Sternberg and Andrew Friedman. The Rays budget may pale in comparison to that of their competitors, they may have missed on most of their recently drafted hitters, and they may be too risk-averse at the trade deadline, but I wouldn't trade them for a Steinbrenner, even if the Yanks threw in Brian McCann, all expenses paid. Call it Stockholm Syndrome if you like, but I've grown accustomed to a team that can't compete financially but wallops the league on their spreadsheets. Frieds would never say something like "Trust the process," because part of his job is to continuously reevaluate the process. And so, I do trust.
- I'm thankful for Joe Maddon, a manager who is right more often than he's wrong, but is clearly unafraid to be wrong, and often candid about his process. This playoff season we had a spirited debate about the DH platoon, centered on the question of "Has Maddon lost his mind?" It was disconcerting, which is how you know we're in a good place with our manager.
- I'm thankful for Evan Longoria, whose contract could keep him here through 2023.
- I'm thankful for David Price, who may never play in a Rays uniform again. If that's the case, that's okay. Cy Young pitchers don't come around very often, and it's been fun.
- I'm thankful for Ben Zobrist, the most understated superstar in the game.
- I'm thankful for Jose Molina, who's value is either completely absent or only visible from cutting edge of baseball analytics. Interesting guy to have on your team.
- I'm thankful for James Shields and those who came after, who have made Rays fans the best changeup connoisseurs in the nation.
- I'm thankful for Dan Wheeler, and Joel Peralta, and J.P. Howell, and Grand Balfour, and Kyle Farnsworth, and Fernando Rodney, and all the other relievers who came out of relative obscurity to give us better bullpens than we had any right to hope for.
- I'm thankful for Dan Johnson, in whose honor I still crack a pumpkin beer during high-leverage situations in September.