I took my old man to the ballpark Saturday night and we had a great time. Good game, good seats, and a good win. But something is different at the Trop. It seems like it is missing that buzz.
I know. I know. The buzz? Really? What an objective, measurable, easy-to-describe contention.
Nevertheless, I thin it merits discussion.
In recent years, crowd-size aside, there has always been a buzz of excitement in the Trop. In thinking about it yesterday, the buzz came from two places. First, we knew the Rays were going to push the envelope and force something exciting to happen. Second, it was easy to believe that the Rays had a shot to win at nearly every point of nearly every game (and, if anyone doubted that, we had also knew Dan Johnson was hitting off a tee somewhere so we held out hope). Both of those elements were missing Saturday night (in a game we won).
The 2008-2011 Rays had something of a reckless streak. They were fun to watch because they played games to win rather than to avoid losing. I never wanted to leave my seat to get a dog or a beer or go to the bathroom because I wanted to see what they were going to try next. They were moving runners, using odd strategies (find me one person that went to the bathroom with runners on the corners and less than 2 outs, you can’t), challenging good hitters in the strike zone, and making aggressive hustle plays on defense. They created a style of baseball based on speed and hustle that I couldn’t take my eyes off. It was almost a little exhausting.
They also were really, really good. Even in 2009 and the early parts of 2010 when they struggled, there was always a feeling that they were going to win. I didn’t attend too many home losses during that stretch but, whenever I was in the ballpark, it seemed like the conversations around me were not asking if the Rays would win but, rather, how they were going to pull this one out. Those conversations were justified in light of the talent in the lineup and on the bench.
All of that was missing Saturday night. There was not a single at bat in the entire game that felt unmissable (no, that isn’t a word, but it’s my blog so back off). In fact, I was struck by the number of people coming and going from the seats in the middle of the action. (On a side note, I thought we had all agreed that common courtesy dictates that fans do not leave seats or come back to seats during live action. Isn’t that in the Constitution? You wait for a stoppage in play and then hustle so your entire row isn’t standing right in the middle of an at bat. Right? Am I just being cantankerous?) The game was exciting and, aside from that bizarre pickoff move to third, well-played. But there was no anticipation of something great. No feeling like the Rays were going to push the envelope to force Boston’s hand. Nothing keeping anyone glued to their seat before it happened.
There also didn’t seem to be any confidence that we were going to win. In fact, when Will Middlebrooks hit that bomb to left-centerfield, and again when Kelly Shoppach scored on the errant pickoff throw, the overwhelming feeling I got from the crowd was ‘oh, this is how we lose tonight.’ No one said it, but the feeling was in the air. I know the feeling well because it pervaded the ballpark throughout my seasons in Devil Rays PR. (In fact, on at least two occasions I said to my dad ‘I have an ominous feeling that Ortiz is going to hit a cruise missile into the rightfield seats here,’ an expression I haven’t used since 2007).
I don’t want to overstate things here. It isn’t that the game wasn’t fun. And it isn’t that the game wasn’t exciting. It was both of those. I was also really impressed with the dedication of the fans around us (besides the one guy rooting for free pizza for the last three innings. I mean, I guess I am ok with that but, if no one laughs the first time, maybe give the ‘I don’t care what happens as long as four more guys strike out’ routine a rest. Or, save it for between strikeout 9 and 10. Starting at 6 is pushing the envelope a tad.) I am merely saying that the excitement happened despite the crowd’s expectations to the contrary. It did not seem like anyone in the place expected that we would do anything that we ultimately did.
Am I reading too much into this? I know our lineup is being held together with spit and glue at the moment. But, we can all admit that this team isn’t setting our hair on fire for baseball. Right? Anyone feel differently when they are in the Trop? Was I just too near a bunch of Boston vacationers?