There was a lot of good stuff that happened yesterday. But most of it was the good stuff that we expected to happen.
We expect to be in the hunt in the AL East. We expect to worry opposing managers into making mistakes. We expect to hit more than we hit last year. (Someone text Johnny Damon and see if he wants to re-think his comments about 2011′s DH and 1B).
Something else happened, though. Something I didn’t see coming.
Yesterday, at least for a day, Tampa Bay was no longer an expansion market. We were a big league city.
When I was in Chicago Thursday morning, fans everywhere were wearing Cubs gear. Cubs hats, shirts, sweatshirts, even ties (the Judge I appeared in front of was wearing a Cardinals tie and was talking baseball with me). It was opening day and the city was celebrating. Yesterday morning I took a quick walk through downtown Tampa to get some lunch. It looked exactly like Chicago. Every person downtown was wearing something with a Rays’ logo (except for me, ironic, right?).
A few hours later, when Carlos Pena strode to the plate for his first at-bat, the home crowd gave him a standing ovation. That wouldn’t be a big deal in most Major League ballparks. But, it is secretly remarkable here. I cannot remember that happening in Rays history. Carlos Pena might be our first favorite son (a player that is pretty good, but not great that attaches himself to a fan base for inexplicable reasons). The response he got BEFORE he gave us the two big swats shows me that we have grown as a baseball fan base. We knew it was a big deal for Pena to be back, and we responded like we were supposed to respond.
There were other smaller moments yesterday from the crowd that showed that our fan base likes baseball. We missed it all “winter.” That is what we celebrate on Opening Day. The return of the long summer. And, for the first time in my memory, the Rays Republic joined that celebration.
I’m not saying that every game this summer is going to sell out. I’m not saying that yesterday was some kind of tipping point that is going to make Tampa Bay into Chicago. As I have written over-and-over, that doesn’t happen overnight. (That point was reinforced Wednesday night when I was looking at the yellowing newspaper pages hanging in The Billy Goat Tavern). But, I think yesterday shows that it WILL happen here too. We just have to give it a chance.
I am certain that Stu noticed. I just hope the Commish was watching.