Last week, our friends at Rays the Roof podcast were talking with Lindsey Adler, the Yankee beat reporter for The Athletic.
Lindsey was wondering how fans can stay engaged with a team like the Rays. After all, the Rays are best known for trading away players as soon as they get expensive. Other teams get to watch Brett Gardner or Buster Posey don the home uniform until it’s time for that grand retirement tour. But Rays fans, she (and many from the Yankee fanbase) claims, can barely invest in a shirsey before that favorite player is gone.
I find some holes in Lindsey’s assumptions (and the Rays the Roof folks did a great job of gently pushing back). But it did make me think about about fandom in general. How do we become fans of a team? What sustains our fandom? What are the circumstances that could make us “convert” to a different team? Are the dynamics explaining Rays fandom different than those of other teams?
In this roundtable, we’ve asked our writers to share the story of how they became Rays fans, about what sustains them, and whether there is anything they could foresee that would cause them to switch allegiances. Please use the comments to share your Rays fan journey.
I’ve been a Rays fan since before their existence. I remember being in elementary school when the team was announced as an expansion franchise and the process leading up to the inaugural season. As a kid growing up in Tampa it was fascinating to see a new team come to life. It was also around the time that video games started to allow the create a player feature. Even though I was born in Queens, NY and have an affinity for the Mets there was something about creating myself to play alongside Quentin McCracken (my favorite Devil Ray) that was a lot of fun.
Fast forward to the Summer of 2008 and the Devil Rays became the Rays and I started dating my wife Ileana. During our courtship I took her to her first baseball game, which included an LL Cool J postgame concert and she became an instant fan. Together, we experienced a lot of firsts including postseason games (2008 ALCS Game 2 pictured), Game 162, every banner being raised and many other shared moments. So many of our fondest relationship memories are intertwined with the history of the Rays.
Thanks to my father’s influence, I’ve been a baseball fan since I was young. Once I learned more about baseball, I realized I was rooting for the worst team in Korean Baseball league.(Yes, I am Korean.) But what could I do? There was no turning back.
But then fate intervened. I was watching a TV show about the MLB one day when I noticed a handsome, athletic center fielder. I learned that his name was Rocco Baldelli. I enjoyed watching him, and his fellow outfielder Carl Crawford. Wouldn’t you know, as a fan of the worst team in the KBO I had managed to pick the worst team in MLB as well! It’s not that I enjoy torturing myself, but once I found the Rays I wasn’t moving on. I fell in love with the dark-green uniform and liked the inexperienced but future-dreaming young players. Dome? I was not fan of that, just I took it part of my destiny and accepted that as well.
I was a little surprised when the Rays were taken over by new leadership but as it turns out, it was a pleasant surprise. By fortunate coincidence, I was studying statistics and various mathematical analysis at a time when a Sabermetrics was in vogue. Thanks to this background I could understand what the Rays were trying to do.
But the twist of fate didn’t finish there. My favorite Korean team and the Rays both developed into the best teams in their respective leagues. I certainly couldn’t have anticipated this. So did I choose the right team?
I became a Rays fan because I moved to the Tampa Bay area and wanted to feel a connection to my new community. This was 2005; those green vests were the uniform; the Devil had not been exorcised, Aubrey Huff hadn’t started tweeting, and Scott Kazmir was the young phenom somehow stolen from the Mets. The team wasn’t great, but an air- conditioned dome was pretty sweet in August, and tickets were easy to find.
I became a Rays obsessive, however, because the team got good and exciting, not just with wins on the field, but with creative thinking about how to deconstruct and then reconstruct baseball with all its moving parts. Each season feels like a new puzzle: how will this roster fit together? How will these pitchers be mixed and matched? How will this team use all their faculties - brain, athletic tools, as well as heart — to find an edge over everyone else? My enjoyment of the product on the field has become intertwined with my exasperation over how both the team and its fans are overlooked by the rest of the baseball world. Yes, I have a chip on my shoulder. It goes very well with the 2020 AL Championship t-shirt.
Why am I a Rays fan? Great question, why a teenager from Mexico will pick an “irrelevant” team from Florida that is barely known in the 2000s. Well, It all starts when I was 7 years old or so when I went on vacation to St Petersburg. That summer my dad took me to my first ever Rays game, I cannot remember how the game ended, however, I met some new players that immediately were added to my memory (Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, BJ Upton, etc).
After my first experience at the Trop, I didn’t follow the Rays as much as I wished to for a long time. I was only watching the games if I was present at the Trop, or if ESPN transmitted the game on national TV which was not often. However in 2017-2018, I realized that this organization is more than a baseball team, I was old enough to understand what they do with payroll, player development, etc. Since then I started following them even more, I learned so much about baseball, and I needed to do it by myself because no one around me feels the same passion for baseball.
In my family no one is interested in baseball, my dad was a Reds fan (now he is a Rays fan) but other than that no one liked baseball. Now I cannot miss a game, I found a bond with an organization that is fighting a the top every year with a different ideology that I feel related to it.
As a native New Yorker, the Rays weren’t even on my radar until my older cousin Peter pulled 7-year old me to the side in the Staten Island Mall and told me I wasn’t allowed to root for the Yankees anymore. We picked the last place team in the division, the Devil Rays. From then on, we spent our summer learning the roster and pretending to be different players during backyard wiffleball games.
The Rays have such an advanced and unique team building strategy. They play to the strengths of their guys, and depend on the whole team (and really the organization) for success. It is so much fun to watch young prospects come up, develop, and turn into stars. While it is upsetting to see certain players go, there is always someone new and exciting to watch. Plus, it's always fun talking smack at the dinner table with my Yankee and Red Sox fan family members.
For better or worse, I was born into Tampa Bay sports fandom. I’m a 5th generation Floridian (also for better or worse), and my dad made this choice for me long before I was born to root, root, root for the Tampa Bay team. When the Bucs came about in ‘76 he switched allegiances from the Dolphins to his local team, but the Bucs were chosen for me. The Rays, or better specifically the Devil Rays were my choice. Obviously supporting the local team was sort of baked in, but this was an opportunity for me to do what my dad did years ago: ditch Miami allegiances for the Tampa Bay team. So I begged my parents to take me to the Bradenton Mall and pick up some brand new Devil Rays shirts and hats before their inaugural season.
That’s how it started, but local or families ties are not really why I’m still a Rays fan. I’ve moved from Florida now for many years, and lived in places with new local teams (Washington DC and Seattle). But the Rays remain my true favorite not just because I was a kid my local city got a new team. It’s because the Rays are weird.
They are fun and strange, and very truly weird, and incredibly smart. And they are never boring. I love the game of baseball and enjoy watching so many teams year in and year out. There’s a joy to the game in all the various corners. But the Rays are always doing something new that makes me question things. Makes me have to grapple with what I thought I knew about the sport, and ways that maybe I can learn more and change with the times.
The Rays have had fantastic players over the last ten-plus years now. They have had amazing moments and sensational seasons. The winning is a lot of fun. But what keeps me engaged and coming back year after year after year: there’s always something new with the Tampa Bay Rays. So stay weird Rays, and you’ll have a fan for life.
It’s pretty simple, actually. My dad started taking me to Devil Rays games as a kid. I don’t remember much from the games themselves, other than my dad making sure sure I took off my Akinori Iwamura jersey before eating the Trop’s signature chili cheese dog, the “Sting ‘Em Dog” (eventually renamed “The Heater”). My love and obsession for the Rays continued to grow through childhood and my young adult life before I ultimately decided to start recording myself talking about the team. That led me here to DRaysBay, where I’ve gotten to share my affinity and connect with some amazing people.
Yes, it’s sad to see my favorite players traded away or sign lucrative contracts with other teams, but for every Willy Adames trade, there’s a Taylor Walls to fall in love with watching. Winning makes it easier too. Ultimately, more than any player, my connection is with the team, the ballpark, and communities such as this one that make being a Rays fan so special.
My Rays fandom dates back to when I could not pronounce Rocco Baldelli’s name correctly as a three-year-old. It was never “Rocco Baldelli” but rather “Rocco-Deli”.
Simply put, I am a Rays fan because I always have been.
I could not tell you when I attended my first (Devil) Rays game, or my first baseball game for that matter. I know, from pictures, that my first baseball game was at Wrigley Field, but I cannot recall my first trip to Tropicana Field.
My first favorite baseball player was Toby Hall, and my first “baseball-hero” was Evan Longoria.
But, as I grew up, so did the Rays. They ditched the “Devil” and with it those green cutoffs. They brought in Joe Maddon and drafted Evan Longoria and David Price. The early years faded and a new “Rays-Era” followed. I quickly learned to hate the Yankees and Red Sox as new rivalries emerged. I learned about the game that I play on a daily basis from watching the Tampa Bay Rays.
In little league I mimicked Longoria’s stance, marveled at Crawford’s speed, and tried to pitch like Price.
I am not a Rays fan today because of their sustained success or their innovative nature. I am a Rays fan today because my affinity for baseball is tied directly to this franchise and I wouldn't have it any other way.
I became a Rays’ fan before I ever became a baseball fan. Growing up in Tampa, and now living in Central Florida, the Rays were always around, so it was easy to root for the local team. To be honest, I’ve never even thought about rooting for another team on a regular basis. It has always been the Rays.
Even after moving from Tampa to Orlando, I still found myself driving the 2 hours to Tampa to catch a game. When I met my wife, we had regular dates to Tropicana Field with a stop at a Tampa establishment (usually Fergs or Taco Bus). Since my family lives all over Florida, Rays games at the Trop have become a family meet up, and are responsible for a lot of lifelong memories. The Rays, for better or for worse, have become an integral part of my life.
The fact that they compete in the most competitive division in baseball, with the lowest budget, and just find FUN ways to win, just solidified my fandom for them. Even during the more recent bad years of 2014-2017, it was exciting to follow the up and coming prospects, and dream of what is to come. After the most recent trade, I can usually expect a call from my mom with the opening “ So what do you think?”.
When my favorite player gets cut, or traded, or signs a lucrative FA contract, I am truly happy for that person, and want to see them succeed. I love to root for the successes of my favorite ex-Rays player, and the current batch of players for the Rays.
For a long time, I thought if the Rays ever decided to move to another city out of Tampa, then that would be my cue to turn in my fandom. But now? The ups & downs, the exhilarating wins and deflating losses run too deep, and I think it would be too difficult for me to just turn ignore that and turn it off.