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20 Years of Rays Baseball (come to life)

What if the Tampa Bay Rays were an actual human being?

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MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

We here at DRaysBay have been celebrating 20 Years of Rays Baseball all offseason, as 2017 represented the 20th season in which major league baseball has been played under the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays franchise umbrella. The series got me thinking: What if the Rays were an actual human soon to be 20-year-old (birthdate: March 31, 1998)?

It’s just about the slowest time in the offseason, so why not get a little ridiculous and imagine Mr./Ms. First Name: Tampa Bay, Last Name: Rays (Middle Name: Devil?).

*** Writing this entire piece in he/she format would be as tedious to read as it would be to write. I’m biting the bullet and making our imaginary 19-year-old a young woman. Feel free to picture Mr./Ms. Tampa Bay Rays however you would like. ***

Ms. Tampa Bay Rays graced the world with her birth on the aforementioned date of March 31, 1998. Her parents, Jack Lake and Vince Naimoli, had been trying to have a child for quite some time. Lake, in particular, had planted the seeds for young Ms. Tampa Bay all the way back in the 1960s, when he was a major proponent of any and all children baseball in the St. Petersburg area.

Ms. TBR — which we will call her from here on out — certainly wasn’t spoiled in her youth. In her earliest years, she was given some shoddy hand-me-downs from her parent’s previous generation, but these toys were closer to raggedy old than shiny new, and they quickly broke down. There were many struggles in her first few years in existence, but there were certainly also some positive memories she has from those early days. In fact, as a six-year-old, she had an awesome year, one which she still thinks of fondly.

Her life improved dramatically when, in 2006, as an eight-year-old, she first met The One. Her first true love. Evan was a shy boy from the far-off land of California. However, they got acquainted in 2006, and their friendship truly blossomed in 2008 when they began hanging out all the time. That 2008 season was a blur of a summer infatuation, two kids too young to understand true love, but old enough to fall completely head over heels for each other. Ms. TBR introduced Evan to her group of friends (Joe, Carl, James, and Carlos), and a young man named Ben began to hint that he would one day be nearly as good a friend as Evan.

Led full steam ahead by Evan, David, and the crew, Ms. TBR began to find herself enjoying all sorts of adventures she never dreamed possible. She was turning heads everywhere she went. People were finally paying attention to her in August and September. She finally felt truly loved. Her home life was still a little bit messy (whoever thought a catwalk was a good idea for a split-level ranch needs to think again), and the adults in her life could be a bit absentee at times, but she was surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends, and she began to get a bit of a trendy vibe going.

The adults in her life who mattered to her always emphasized education and not being afraid to take a new path to success. And so she did just that. For the next five years, she felt like she was never below water once, finishing above .500 (so to speak, of course) each and every year. Taking more Ws than Ls in life, that was her motto.

In 2011, she had another magical moment. On September 28, the most incredible thing happened. Ms. TBR told Evan to meet her down by the Tampa Riverwalk. She had a special night in mind. Evan, not to be outdone, had a special night in mind as well. Young love filled the air as the two walked the riverfront.

When they had almost completed their walk, Evan got a text. Bobby Boston and Ricky Red Sox, two of the biggest school bullies (along with Nicky New York and Yolanda Yankee) had just been put in their place by Billy Baltimore. The video was going viral, and it gave Evan the extra bump in courage to make the move he always knew he was going to make. He pulled a promise ring out of his pocket and got down on a knee in his most adorable teenager-taking-something-too-serious-manner and asked Ms. TBR if she would accept his promise ring.

Ms. TBR gasped. Then she laughed. This caught Evan off guard. But only for a moment. For as his stomach dropped, Ms. TBR reached into her pocket and showed Evan the reason she had asked if he wanted to walk the riverfront with her: a promise ring of her own that she had bought for Evan.

The two embraced. Nothing could keep them apart.

They savored the honeymoon phase of their young love. In 2012, they didn’t quite reach the highs of 2011, but what can you expect, not every year can be as amazing as 2011, they told themselves. In 2013, they once again were in peak form, and it seemed like nothing could stop this powerful young juggernaut.

But, as so often happens, money began to take its toll. See, as much as we Americans may like to bury our heads in the sand about class differences, they are real, and they make it hard for people from different sides of the proverbial tracks to forge long term relationships.

The first cracks in the wall began showing in 2014. Their friend group had already lost Carl and Carlos in previous years, and both times it was because of money. Ms. TBR found herself getting uncomfortable when they would all go to the mall together and Carl would be off at Nordstrom while Ms. TBR found that H&M was more her level. When David and Ben were both lost (David during the summer and Ben during the winter), a lot of chatter began to build.

Ms. TBR was only a year or so away from some massive decisions about her future. Was she going to go to college? Was she going to stay in St. Petersburg? There were schools all over the country (Montreal, Indianapolis, Portland) where she might finally get more attention. It’s not that Evan had been lacking in his attention to her; he was as faithful as they come. But all around him, she began to find cracks in the foundation. Her mentors were still as smart as can be, but they were perpetually reminding her of how she had to learn to stretch a dollar. How she needed to be frugal and find the best deals whenever she could. If she moved, would this chorus follow her there? Would the move then all be for nothing?

Ms. TBR did a lot of thinking over those months, and she decided to stay in St. Petersburg and go to college at the University of South Florida. That is what her parents would have wanted after all, and it wasn’t as if she felt as if her head was much below water (2016 excluded).

However, in the winter of 2017, after hours and days and weeks and months of contemplation, she decided to make a massive change in her life. She was going to take a break from Evan.

He was blindsided. But he understood. It wasn’t necessarily goodbye forever, one can easily imagine the two of them getting back together in Evan’s later stages of life, or possibly even becoming one again when he decides which hat he needs to wear for when he is embronzed in statue form. (OK, there really no love metaphor that works for being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I tried.)

Their friend group did not react well. There were those who understood, who tried to rationalize it, but some said this was a dealbreaker, they were never going to be friends with Ms. TBR again.

So here we are. Ms. TBR will celebrate her 20th birthday in just a few months. She’s a sophomore at USF, and she is facing arguably the biggest crossroads of her life. Does she say goodbye to high-school friends like Chris, Kevin, and Jake, and try to build up new friendships with some of the fresh faces she has seen around campus (Brent and Willy seem pretty cool)? Is there anyway to blend the two friend groups? Would Brent and Chris get along? It certainly seems like they might.

It’s been a difficult past month for Ms. TBR, she has undergone arguably the toughest stretch in her 20 years to date. She had never let go of a friend like Evan before; he was her first true love.

But fresh starts spring eternal. Come April, when the weather is starting to improve and hope is at its summit, Ms. TBR will once again be on the forefront of our minds. Because if there’s one thing we know about Ms. TBR (and the 29 others just like her across the country), it’s that she’ll be there for us each and every year.

Unless she decides to transfer, of course.