I moved to Tampa in 2005 as an 18-year-old, ready-to-take-on-the-world college freshman. During my three and a half years here, there has always been one constant disappointment in the so-called “City of Champions” – the Tampa Bay Rays.
The team has shown a dramatic turnaround, but to think that this team can make a deep postseason run – especially to think they will make it to the World Series – is crazy.
Remembering the days of a horrible baseball team in this city is no difficult feat. Since 2005, the Rays have won a total of 194 games, with no more than 67 wins in a season.
The Rays were so desperate to bring fans into Tropicana Field in recent years that parking was free, hot dogs were only $1 on certain nights and a ticket to a Tampa Bay/New York Yankees game was roughly $10, even 20 minutes before the first pitch.
Those days, however, seem to be fading faster with each passing series. Tampa’s disappointments have a 51-32 record – the best in Major League Baseball, and nearly 20 games better than the 33-48 record they had this time last year.
The story of the Rays has been great during the first half of the baseball season. They have played 28 series this season, 25 of them against ranked teams.
The Rays are good, and it’s nice to see them improve. However, the team is too young and too inexperienced to win now.
They are in a position they have never been in before, with growing attendance and an enlarging bandwagon fan base. They are gaining enough popularity to give free parking to cars that show up with at least four people in them.
Their rise to popularity is a big story, but a dose of reality could knock the wind right out of the Rays’ sails.
Look at the South Florida football team. A 6-0 start left the team in an unfamiliar position: No. 2 in the nation. However, once the pressure of finishing the season that high in the rankings became a reality, USF finished 9-4 and out of the Top 25.
The USF baseball team was projected to finish third in the Big East Conference but wound up needing to win two out of three games in the season’s final series in order to make the Big East tournament.
Just as pressure played a factor in the football team’s fall, it will add to the Rays’ problems after the MLB All-Star break.
Of the 24 series The Rays play, 15 are against teams with winning records. There is a nine-game stretch in September where the Rays play the Boston Red Sox six times with a three-game series against the Yankees in between.
Not only are the Red Sox the defending World Series champions, they are two and a half games behind the Rays for the best record in the American League East division.
If the season ended today, Tampa would have to get through the last two World Series winners (the Chicago White Sox won in 2006) to be crowned champs.
The lack of experience among the Rays will likely hurt them in the postseason, when games mean the most.
After all, this is a franchise that in 10 seasons of existence has never won more than 70 games in a season, never finished higher than fourth out of the five teams in its division and never played a postseason game.
The Rays are a good team, and maybe one day they can bring a World Series trophy to the “City of Champions.”
It just won’t be this season.