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Hop on board the Rays bandwagon!

The 2019 Rays team is poised for an exciting season. It’s a great time to become a fan

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Tampa Bay Rays Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Those of you reading this are likely to be Rays fans.

Maybe you were there from the start, watching the franchise take shape in the late 1990s or even cheering for them on Opening Day 1998.

Maybe, like me, you started watching the Rays when you moved here sometime in the more recent past.

But if you are reading a Rays blog, you are probably pretty attached to the team. You are sneaking peaks at your At Bat app during your best friend’s wedding. You invested in a Desmond Jennings jersey in 2011 when he seemed like a can’t-miss talent. You are a diehard fan, and like many in the baseball bubble you probably have scorn for those who just pop in occasionally. You know who I mean. The much maligned bandwagon fan.

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

The bandwagon fan doesn’t know that Ryan Webb and Ryan Weber are not the same person. The bandwagon fan tunes in when the team is playoff bound. The bandwagon fan might remember the iconic Game 162 in 2011 but is nowhere to be found for Game 38 or 141 in any random season.

It’s expected that diehards will look down on bandwagoners, but I hope I speak for many Rays fans when I say: Hey bandwagoners, you’re welcome here! Jump on board!

Some history: What is this “bandwagon,” anyway?

A bandwagon is exactly what the word suggests – a wagon that carried the musicians for a parade or public event. P.T. Barnum is thought to be the first to use the term; he employed musicians in his circus parades knowing that people would be drawn to the sounds and excitement. In the mid-19th century politicians began hiring musicians for their parade wagons; those wanting facetime with political leaders could rent seats on the bandwagon – literally “jumping on the bandwagon”.

By the 1890s “jumping on the bandwagon” was used metaphorically to describe throwing one’s support behind a cause or candidate. Even then its undertones were pejorative – those jumping on the bandwagon were, it was implied, doing so hastily, worried about getting left behind but not demonstrating particularly deep commitment.

The expression later migrated to the world of sports, where there are similarly negative connotations. Real fans are lifers, we are attached no matter how dismal the team’s outlook. True fans are married to their teams; those bandwagoners can look, to us, like shallow commitment-phobes who are there in health but not sickness; for richer but not poorer.

I would like to extend a full-throated welcome to anyone jumping on the Rays bandwagon, and I hope you’ll join me.

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We welcome the bandwagon fan. Here’s why

First, the condemnation of the casual fan who gets interested when a team is having an exciting year is just plain stupid. Baseball, indeed all sports, is entertainment and it’s supposed to be fun. Why shouldn’t people gravitate toward teams that are most entertaining?

To be honest, I wish I could turn off a game that is a blowout. I wish I could recognize that my team isn’t playing particularly good baseball and stop caring. Heck, if I could have reclaimed the hours I spent fretting about the Rays just in 2007 and 2014 I could have used them to learn a language or build Habitat houses and wouldn’t that have been a better use of my time? So let’s admire the bandwagoners. They are the sane ones.

Second, aren’t we all bandwagoners for something? Yes I spend hours watching Rays baseball and an embarrassing percentage of my brain power goes into remembering which relievers just got optioned to Durham. But I tune into Lightning hockey when I have time; I sort of know their roster but don’t make them “appointment viewing” until the playoffs (and thanks Bolts for leaving me so much free time this year). It’s not humanly possible to be passionate about everything, and it’s probably good to have some interests about which you are casual. Just as we are all foreigners somewhere, we are all bandwagoners for something.

(We’re not the first to offer a paean to the bandwagon fan; here’s Jessica Kleinschmidt’s column reminding us that baseball needs to attract new blood. This article from our sister sight Royals Review fully embraced the casual fans who tuned in to enjoy the Royals postseason runs.)

A rising tide will Rays all boats

There are some good, Rays-specific reasons to welcome newbies onto the bandwagon. Some of our bandwagon fans will be locals. The Rays are relatively new and our area is relatively transient. If this team is to take root here over the long haul, it will need to become a touchstone for people who have not previously identified as Rays fans. Most of those new fans will start out by dipping a toe into Rays fandom.

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays
Opening Day 2019
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Getting caught up in a successful season – the very definition of jumping on the bandwagon – will be the point of entry for new fans. We need to make sure they feel welcomed and maybe they’ll stick around.

Also, if Rays attendance is to improve, we need more, not fewer, casual fans coming to the stadium because they’ve heard the team is good and they like to be identified with a winner.

There are also likely to be people, not necessarily locals, drawn to the Rays because they like rooting for young players on the rise like Tyler Glasnow or Willy Adames, or because they are intrigued by the team’s cutting edge strategic thinking. These folks may not have 9=8 tattooed on their biceps but if they can appreciate the product on the field then we welcome their support.

As I write this, the Rays are 10 games over .500, sitting two games up in the competitive American League East. The season is long and the future never certain, but it’s likely that a pennant race and even a playoff run could be in store for 2019.

As excitement builds, I am sure that friends and colleagues who seemed to forget that the Tampa Bay area even had a team will be wanting to chat about Blake Snell’s repeat Cy Young chances and Tommy Pham’s latest triple to the deepest part of the park.

When that happens I hope we diehards will swallow the urge to say “and where were you when our starting rotation was Nate Karns and pray for rain?” Instead, add a few thoughts about Austin Meadows’ effectiveness in the leadoff role, and smile.

Casual fans and johnny-come-latelies are more than welcome to have seats on our Rays bandwagon. There’s plenty of room and I foresee a smooth ride ahead.