During last night’s AL East mega-chat, Rays fans were publicly chastised by Red Sox fan “Flash” — an Orlando resident — for not being “REAL fans.” (he used the capital letters, I am merely conveying his sentiment). In fairness, I believe “Flash” was inspired by a previous discussion of the Red Sox pink-hat wearing bandwagon-ers currently abandoning ship by the thousands.
Either way, “Flash,” who I concluded spent the rest of the evening trying to hide his pink Sox hats from his parents, had me thinking about what a strange day today will be in the Rays Republic. Check the woodwork Rays fans, because legions of “die-hards” will be showing up at work today with their 9=8 pins, Rays mugs, and ties trying to convince you how many games they attended this year.
Yes, it is bandwagon season.
It would be easy, of course, to shun these jumpers. We, the loyal Rays followers, could push them away or chastise them for their lack of faith in the ballclub (the latter charge, at least for me, would ring hollow because I have written the team off at least twice — just ask my wife the true believer, she won’t let me live it down). After all, we’ve earned the right for a little smugness. We followed the team the entire season. We didn’t quit when Manny did. We didn’t change the channel after 0-6. We pushed through when the offense left an entire regiment of soldiers 0n base and we rode the bullpen carousel.
We, the REAL fans — to use Flash’s expression — have the right to hold our loyalty over the guys still wearing their BRaysers, right? The answer might be yes, but I say we pass on the option to exercise that right. Rather than beat them down, lets provide a warm welcome to Johnny-Come-Lately and his band.
Hear me out. The bandwagon fans are annoying but, ultimately, they are good for the team we love so lets embrace them.
Each of us came to the Rays for one reason or another. Perhaps it just felt like time. Perhaps you are just loyal to the hometown team. Perhaps that reason was newfound success or a new roster in 2008 or 2010. Maybe you were a longtime PR intern/employee that finally decided to dump his life-long allegiance to the Yankees only to follow the worst team in the history of baseball. Maybe you married a Rays blogger (nope, still not a word) and promised to follow his favorite team as long as he rooted for the Gators. Our original motivation is irrelevant because we all stayed.
This collapse/pennant race/comeback is a chance for a new group of fans to make the conversion. Perhaps they are coming as bandwagon fans but, if we provide a welcoming friendly environment, I bet we can make a lot of them lifers (and more importantly, page-viewers at The Rays Area –kidding, sort of). We have a chance to grow the fan base this fall and to expand interest in the team we already love. Sure some of the jumpers will fall away on the final out, but not all of them. So let’s invite everyone into the tent, it’s just the right thing to do.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it will be easy. You will be rightly annoyed at the water cooler today when Mike from accounting asks how many home runs Carlos Pena hit this year or Susie from marketing asks why Matt Garza isn’t pitching this week. Push through that. Bring Mike and Susie into the fold. Pull up a box of copy paper, climb on, and preach the Rays gospel. Teach them about the Legend and translate “Juego G.” Give them a reason to stay all winter or come back next spring.
Trust me, it’s not just the polite thing your mother would want you to do, it’ll help the ballclub.