Good afternoon RAYSHEADS…Good afternoon Mr. Sternberg…Mr. Silverman…Mr. Friedman and Mr. Maddon…Good afternoon to our honored guest…umm, Peter King?
We are gathered here on opening day 2008 and for the first time in the 11 year history of the Tampa Bay Rays Professional Baseball Club, we sit on the brink of greatness. Mr. Sternberg, Mr. Silverman and Mr. Friedman took over the franchise following the 2005 season and have systematically overhauled not only the underlying structure of the organization but also the attitude of all those involved.
In the first two years of the new regime, things did not look very different to the casual observer. But to those that know and to those that were paying attention, this is no longer your older brother’s Devil Rays.
Changes were made and greatness is near. First they exorcised the Devil from the Bay Area. The front office cowered to the delicate sensibilities of a few old people in the St. Pete area and dropped the Devil from “Devil Rays”. In addition to the name change, the players will sport new uniforms for the umpteenth time in the franchise’s short history.
These changes are nice but they are superficial. What is really important is the team on the field. And I promise you, never have you seen such a collection of talent gathered together at the same time under the roof of Tropicana Field wearing the rainbows or green or black or blue of the Rays.
The Rays now sport a player with all-star potential at 5 positions, with players like Carlos Pena, who hit 46 home runs last year, Carl Crawford who has improved his stats each of his first 5 seasons and is recognized as one of the most talented players in the game, BJ Upton who could go 30-30 in just his second season and Akinori Iwamura at second base who has a year of seasoning and is already playing gold glove-caliber defense at a new position….well, it will be five once we decide that Evan Longoria can handle minor league pitching.
Gone are perennial attitude problems like Delmon Young and his shoulder-mounted bat launcher. Players like Elijah Dukes, his guns and his…ummm…his “other” gun.
That is all fine and dandy, but winning is about three things…Pitching, Pitching and Pitching. The rotation now features three starters with all-star potential in Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza. All three are talented and they will be here for at least the next three seasons and James the Greater will now be here for the next 7 years.
And it doesn’t stop there. More is on the way and will be here very soon. With names like Jake McGee and Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann and David Price the Rays not only have talent but for the first time there is depth of pitching that is the envy of many organizations.
The bullpen is better also. No longer will we cringe at the sight of Shawn Camp or Brian Stokes warming up in the bullpen. Now we have veteran leadership that is dependable and will back up and protect the leads handed them by the young starters. With guys like Troy Percival and Al Reyes, 5 and 6 run leads will no longer be an area of discontent.
And not only will they protect the leads and put out the fires. They will also serve as mentors to the young pitchers on the staff. Mentors that were never there previously. Mentorships which may be more important than the eventual performances on the field.
And now the time has come to shut up and play. It is time to finally rise from the cellar of the AL East. Make no mistake, there are bullies in the East. Boston and New York sport payrolls that the Rays can’t even dream about. Baltimore and Toronto also sport high payrolls and loads of talent…ok, well Toronto does…Bullies indeed.
It is time to stop running and hiding from the Beasts of the AL East and it is time to stop rolling over and dying and providing the Yankees and the Red Sox with a stepping stone to the playoffs.
It is time to stand up to the bullies and punch them right in the damn mouth.
In a few hours, these ballplayers from our Tampa Bay Rays will face others from the Baltimore Orioles. And they will be launching the biggest upstart battle in the history of baseball.
“Tampa Bay Rays”. That name should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.
Perhaps it’s fate that this is March 31, as you will once again be rooting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to compete. To exist.
And should we win the day, March 31, 2008 will no longer be known as April’s Fools Eve, but as the day RAYSHEADS declared in one voice:
WE WILL NOT GO QUIETLY IN THE NIGHT! WE WILL NOT VANISH WITHOUT A FIGHT! WE’RE GOING TO LIVE ON! WE’RE GOING TO SURVIVE! Today we celebrate RAYS INDEPENDENCE DAY!