You might have heard that Evan Longoria and David Price made a little national news two nights ago. Most reaction to their comments on the Rays’ attendance woes focused on the attendance. The more I thought about their comments, however, the more I realized that we all may have missed the most interesting plot.
The comments delivered by Longoria and Price were remarkably similar. (Both called the attendance “embarrassing”). Also, both Longoria and Price delivered their thoughts on that night’s attendance without prompting from the media. (Longo merely offered his comments as an addendum to an answer to a different question while Price published his comments on Twitter). There is one other similarity: neither Longo nor Price played in Monday night’s game.
What does all that mean? Maybe nothing. But it struck me last night that perhaps Price and Longoria engaged in something of a coordinated effort to spark the Rays fan base that was hatched in the dugout during Monday night’s game. If they did, we may always remember Monday, September 27, 2010 as the day that the Evan Longoria and David Price era began.
Look deeper. There is more evidence that Price and Longoria have finally shed the label of talented prospect and taken on the mantel of team leadership. Longoria’s comments on the attendance got the headlines but they weren’t the only unsolicited thoughts he had Monday night. Before commenting on the attendance, Longoria also came to the defense of veteran reliever Dan Wheeler who was booed Monday night.
“For us, it was like, can you see what [Wheeler] has done for us over the course of three years?” Longoria said. “I know it’s like, ‘What have you done for us lately?’ But this guy has been an integral part of our team.
“Someone had to stand up on his behalf, because he’s not going to say it, but for him to get booed off the mound over one or two bad outings I didn’t think was respectful for him.”
Longo has to know that the Rays are going into October with Dan Wheeler in that bullpen. He also has to know that Wheeler’s confidence is going to be vital to at least one postseason win. What better way to show Wheeler that the team is behind him than to publicly support him? That shows leadership.
Price has also shown a willingness to stand in the front of the line. Last night, when asked about winning the AL East, Price said:
“Everyone knows how well we play at home,” Price said. “I want to open here; if I’m going to throw the first game, there is where I want to throw.”
A preference for the home field isn’t remarkable. Price’s willingness to hold himself out as the ace of the staff — rather than defer to the more veteran James Shields — and publicly ask for the ball in Game 1 is remarkable.
The arrival of new leadership couldn’t come at a more perfect time. Until now, this was Carlos Pena’s team, and James Shields’ team, and Carl Crawford’s team. If 2010 ended and it was still their team, then the 2011 Rays would be rudderless (EDIT: It was only a matter of time before a commenter caught a misspelled word. Touche LJK) until new leaders emerged. It is time for Price and Longoria to direct this franchise. I am excited for both the immediate and distant future.