Last night, during our entertaining live conversation with the boys from Fire Brand of the AL, Chip Buck was teasing me a little during one of Boston’s burgeoning rallies. He said “I hope you’re enjoying this Mark because it’s all about to end.”
Chip’s a good guy and followed that taunt with some classic Red Sox defeatism (you can always tell a real Sox fan from a bandwagon fan. Real Sox fans always think they are about to blow it.) But, his comment got me thinking. Is there any better way to sum up the last four seasons of Rays baseball? It’s always about to end…but it hasn’t ended yet.
Back in 2008, everyone predicted that the early success was a fluke and that the Rays would fall back to the pack like so many decent-but-not-good teams do (see the 2011 Indians and Pirates for example). Then in October, everyone figured that the young Rays would be overwhelmed by the playoff experience of Chicago or Boston. Same scenario in 2010. No way the Rays were good enough to win a second AL East title. I mean, lightning only strikes once.
Today we’ve been predicting the forthcoming return to mediocrity (really, since the minute the 2010 Rays hit the clubhouse after game 5 of the ALDS). But it hasn’t ended yet. Here we are again, right in the hunt, in total control of our destiny. Ain’t life grand?
Upon deeper reflection, this is the quality that makes rooting for the Rays so much fun.
If you are a Yankee fan or a Red Sox fan, you are saddled by performance expectations. When the Sox went out and acquired every single free agent available in baseball last winter, Bostonians started trading predictions of greatness while they huddled around the radiator in their apartments. But, once balls and bats showed up in Fort Myers, the fun ended and the fear set in. The Sox had to win. If they don’t win — and by win I mean win 100 regular season games and then sweep three playoff series — they will be a disappointment. If they do win, they will be doing exactly what is expected. What fun is that?
Rays fans don’t have to worry about that problem. It’s always fun when the Rays win. When the Rays show up atop the standings or within striking distance of a postseason berth, it’s really fun. It’s the same feeling you had as a kid and your mom put two desserts in your lunch. You had no expectation of that bonus so, when you discovered it, you were doubly pleased. On the other hand, if the Rays lose, there is no reason to fret. No one expected the Rays to be in the postseason hunt. No one expected the Rays to be in control of their own destiny. There will be no teeth gnashing or disappointment if they cannot complete this miracle comeback.
Here in The Ray Area, it’s all fun, no stress. In my mind, that is exactly how sports should be. Leave the worry and unfulfilled expectations for real life.