Posts Tagged Nats

Me and the Rays

My grandmother loved baseball.  That’s not one of the things most people say when remembering their grandparents, but it was true.  She lived in St. Pete, Florida, so baseball meant minor league baseball.  Whenever we’d visit, we’d end up doing a game at old Al Lang Field, home (at the time) of the St. Pete Cardinals.  It’s a beautiful park right in the heart of St. Pete overlooking the Bay.  It’s on the site where the Rays were trying to get a new stadium built back in 2009.  I always had mixed feelings about that.  It would be an absolutely beautiful location for a park, but it would also mean tearing down the little stadium where I saw my first professional baseball game.

But this story isn’t about me.  Not yet, anyway.  It was about my grandmother.  She was a fan of major league baseball in St. Pete decades before the city even had a team.  As I grew up I can remember her sending us newspaper clippings whenever a team was using her city as a negotiation point to get a new stadium built.  It was part of that evolution.  First teams would threaten to go to St. Pete if they didn’t get a new stadium, then DC, and now Vegas.  It’s tough being that city, feeling like you’re on the verge of finally getting a team just to have it pulled away.  The team that came the closest, at least in my memory of the clippings, were the White Sox.  They were trying to get a replacement for Comiskey built and were threatening to uproot to the gulf coast of Florida if it didn’t happen.

It happened, and Chicago sent St. Pete a shipment of white Hanes socks to twist the knife.  St. Pete sent out the hazardous materials disposal team as a thumb back.

Finally, in the 1995 expansion, Tampa Bay struck gold and landed a new American League team that would balance against the new National League team headed for Phoenix.  First time we went to St. Pete after the award, there was already a countdown billboard up even though it was counting down years rather than days.  The city was trying so long for a team, it was damn excited one was coming.  My grandmother especially.

Baseball was more and more what we could talk about on the phone.  At the time I still considered myself an Orioles fan, having gotten into the sport while living in the Hampton Roads area, right in that big void between the Braves and Orioles.  We got both teams on television, as it was still the era of Home Team Sports and TBS Braves coverage.  I cheered for the Orioles because that’s where Cal Ripken Jr. played.  It wasn’t until he retired that I realized I’d never really been an Orioles fan, I’d been a Ripken fan.

Even before he retired, I was already leaning towards the Rays, largely for my grandmother.  It was something we could have in common.  Which was tough.  What was also tough was trying to cheer for two teams in the same division, who played each other so frequently.

After Ripken left, I started seeing the Orioles for who they were, or rather, for what Peter Angelos was.  We’d moved to DC by then, and Angelos was already starting his years long obsession with keeping baseball out of DC.  Maybe it went on longer, it’s hard to say, but I wasn’t aware of it really until we lived in the area and the rose-colored glasses of Ripken fandom were gone.  I really fell out of love with baseball in general, but as much as I did follow, I did so to track with my grandmother.

So I was a Devil Rays fan.

Sadly, she passed away before she saw the team become the Rays.  It wasn’t just a name change.  That first season after being the Devil Rays was also the season they went worst to first.  As the Devil Rays the team never had a winning season, as the Rays they’ve never had a losing season.  In the 2008 season they had the first pick in the MLB Draft and appeared in the World Series.  That’s a hell of a turnaround.

I’m not a Rays fan exclusively anymore.  Not since the Nats moved to DC.  But I’m a firm believer that one can have an AL and an NL team, and the Rays are still my AL team.  They’re actually the reason I cheer for the American League in the All Star Game, just because I figure the Rays are more likely to take advantage of home field in the World Series than the Nats anytime soon.

I’m sorry my grandmother never got to see the success the Rays have had.  I’m glad she doesn’t have to see their current threats to move the team away from downtown St. Pete and across the bay to Tampa, or even the overtures that Nashville is making to grab the team.

So once again the Rays are in the post season, third time in four years since the name change.  And the Nats, well, aren’t.  Maybe there will come some magical point in the future where I have to make some hard decisions watching a Rays/Nats World Series, but I doubt it’ll ever come to that.  Really, for anyone who does follow a team from each league, isn’t that the best possible problem to have?  Until that day, though, my postseason loyalties are clear.

Go Rays!

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