One year ago I addressed you under very different circumstances. We could sense that the Tampa Bay Rays were on the verge of greatness, but we still were not sure what that team would become.
When I spoke to you last year, I said the following:
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.
The Rays did not roll over for the Yankees or the Red Sox. The Rays stood up to the bullies, took their best punches and then punched them right in the mouth. The Rays beat the Yankees and the Red Sox in the regular season, and then beat the Red Sox again in the playoffs. The underdog nobody believed in went the distance.
But in the end it was the Phillies that lifted the title belt.
But even though the Phillies won, they did not beat the Rays. The Rays were the story. The Rays were the darlings. The Rays had done something few teams had ever done before, and in the most improbable manner. And the Rays did it without using banned substances.
As we move forward, we are now gathered here on opening day of the 2009 season and for the first time, greatness is no longer a dream, it is an expectation. And let me make something very clear…This is not the 2007 Colorado Rockies. This franchise is built for greatness and they are built to stay.
The Rays sport a player with all-star potential at six positions, with players like BJ Upton, who set an AL record for home runs in a postseason and has the ability to steal 50 bases, Carl Crawford, who looks healthy for the first time in two years and is just now entering his prime, Carlos Pena, who has already shown that he can hit 40 home runs, Akinori Iwamura, one of the best hitting second basemen in the American League, Dioner Navarro, who was an all-star last year and is in better shape this season and Evan Longoria, the reigning rookie of the year.
A great lineup indeed. But the Rays weren’t content, so they went out and added a thumper in Pat Burrell, who will anchor a lineup and offer a form of protection that the young hitters didn’t have a year ago.
And the defense! Never has a team fielded a starting lineup with a gold glove-caliber defender at seven of the eight positions, but that is exactly what the Rays have this year. All of the runs they score will help win games, but so will the runs they prevent with their gloves and their arms.
But as we always say, winning is about three things…pitching, pitching and pitching. And the Rays have so much pitching that the triple-A rotation will feature four pitchers, David Price, Wade Davis, Mitch Talbot and Carlos Hernandez, that would be in the majors if they were in another organization. The Rays top four starters, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, are all back and each one has the ability to win 15-plus games.
And added to the mix is former first-round pick Jeff Niemann who is finally getting a shot to prove his worth as a major leaguer. But he may just be keeping the seat warm as the Rays have two of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Price and Davis, ready to make the jump at some point this season.
The bullpen has been retooled, but the top pieces, Grant Balfour, JP Howell and Troy Percival return for another run. And the Rays added some nice complimentary pieces, like the side-arming lefty Brian Shouse along with Joe Nelson and Lance Cormier. Oh, and there is another guy with close to 300 career saves, Jason Isringhausen, who will join the team in a few weeks.
And as good as the 25-man roster is, there are still plenty of weapons working their way up the ranks in the minor leagues. The system is no longer the best in baseball, but third ain’t bad. In addition to Price and Davis, there is Jeremy Hellickson, Reid Brignac, Desmond Jennings and yet another wave of talented pitchers in the lower-levels that are just starting their careers.
But 2009 will be different than 2008. The Rays won’t sneak up on anybody. And after an off-season filled with one-armed push-ups and one-armed pull-ups and chasing chickens, it is time to step back in the ring with the heavyweights.
Right now the Yankees and Red Sox think they’re the man. The think they’re number one. The champs, the best of all time. They talk about how girls love them – men, old people love them. Young people love them. They keeo saying “We’re the best.” The are saying, “We’re the man! and the Rays belong to us.” They are saying, “Those bums shouldn’t even be in the same ring with us.” They think they are going to show the Rays who they really are this season. They want to show the Rays this season. They want to stick it to the Rays.
But I have something to say to the Yankees and Red Sox: The Rays are all wrong for you, baby. I saw you beat the Rays like I never saw no team get beat before, and the Rays kept coming after you. You don’t need a team like that in your lives. You step back in that ring and expect this to be a sparring partner in the rematch and this time the Rays will knock you out.
And to the Rays I will say this: I want to tell you this once and then I’m not going to say it again. But Rays, you got another shot. This is the second shot. At the biggest title in the world, and you’re gonna be swappin’ punches with the most dangerous teams in the world. All this happens pretty soon…and you are ready. This team has never been in better shape.
So I say for everybody’s sake. Stand up and fight these guys HARD! Like you done before! Last year was beautiful! But you better not lay down like some kind of mongrel or something. Cause they’re gonna kick your face in pieces! That’s right!
These teams don’t just wanna win you know, they want to bury you, they want to humiliate you, they want to prove to the whole world that the Rays were nothing but some kind of freak the first time out. They say you were a one time lucky bum! Well now I don’t wanna get mad in a place like this. But I think you’re a hell of a lot more than that guys! A hell of a lot!
Raysheads. The State of the Franchise is strong!
The Rays have a second shot at the champs. A second shot at the title. So all i have left to say is…WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?!?! KNOCK THOSE BUMS OUT!