Our correspondent Jordi Scrubbings is back with his latest take on all things Rays…

I’ve been mulling over how to eulogize the Rays this year. It’s tough to write about a team that was so inconsistent yet overachieved. One that was so baffling yet pulled out one of the greatest runs in baseball history. How can one accurately summarize the 2011 Rays?

Before the season if you would have asked me if the Rays would have won 90 games, I would have definitely taken the under. If you would have asked me how many games the American League Wild Card team would need to win, I would have said 93 or above. There were too many good teams in the AL. Maybe the fact that the Rays made it into the postseason with 91 wins is a testament to a growing parity borne of front offices catching up in decision making with some of the more traditionally successful franchises. Maybe it was because a few traditionally smart teams made some really bad decisions that equaled lower wins – looking at you, Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Adam Dunn.

So were the Rays good, magical, or just plain lucky?

Maybe I follow the team too closely, but before September, I would have called them maddening. Of course, we all knew they weren’t going to lose 100 games, but six in a row to begin the season was frustrating. Then Manny, then Longo was shelved. Then Wade Davis forgot he was supposed to be an ace. And of course, BJ Upton, Kelly Shoppach, Reid Brignac, and the early season version of Dan Johnson.

Enough to bang my head against a cowbell.

As July rolled around, I tried to take solace in the fact that although this team wasn’t championship material, they weren’t bad at all. James Shields was a joy to watch. Kotchman was magical. Hellickson showed flashes of brilliance. And Sam Fuld flew over tall buildings. And although I was meeting more fans at the Trop and enjoying each and every trip, the team was kinda third-place boring.

(Is there any place in the standings more boring than third place? Baseball doesn’t give bronze medals – although they will soon. Third place is for teams who are rebuilding, stagnant, or overmatched. And it’s tough to brag about a third place team without having to look to the future. “We might be sorta good this year, but we’ll be something next year!” Sounds like a Marlins pre-season campaign.)

Then came September. Again, was it the Rays playing good or Boston completely collapsing? The Rays didn’t play great. There were no 10-game winning streaks, no sweeps (except of the aforementioned Red Sox), and no clubhouse rumors of Joe Maddon rallying the troops around a bikini-clad Don Zimmer cut-out a la Lou Brown in Major League.

But even without flash, pizzazz, or much notoriety, the Rays climbed within a whisker of the Wild Card in the final week of the season. And we all know we will be talking about the final day of the season for years.

Of course, if you only tuned in for Game 162 and the subsequent first round dismissal, you are probably disappointed. I hope you didn’t think the Rays were good enough to win the World Series based on talent alone. Luck might be the spawn of hard work and opportunity, but if you are counting on luck or Longoria in every game, you’re probably not going to beat the best teams in baseball consistently.

Would Manny Ramirez have helped? Possibly. Even a steroid-less Manny would have contributed more home runs than Reid Brignac. But having Manny all year would have meant Johnny Damon in left field. And that would have meant one of three things: either Desmond Jennings or BJ Upton would have been traded, or Desmond Jennings would have spent the whole year in Durham, bored.

Unfortunately, the 2011 Rays had their problems. They were below league average in on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS (slugging+OBP). Save for Boston, the teams who lead the league in those categories are still in the playoffs. Great pitching can win games, but hitting helps bail out the occasional struggle. Maybe this offseason they can address those needs, but we will spare the speculating for now.

So who were the 2011 Rays? They made it further than we thought they would, they were more exciting than we thought they would be, but they were no doubt flawed. And these flaws made for some maddening baseball. They were the final game of the regular season – terribly depressing at times and yet incredibly exciting enough to pull out wins by the skin of their teeth.

Before I close my personal book on the 2011 Rays however, I have to admit I am a bit jealous of some of the teams still in the playoffs. They have beautiful ballparks and incredibly vast crowds. When I see nearly 50,000 fans waving hankies or whatever they are given in support of their team in an outdoor ballpark with a gorgeous view of a downtown, I want that.

I know it might not happen today, tomorrow, or even in the next 10 years.

But if the 2011 Rays leave me with anything, it’s dreams. Dreams of Matt Moore, Desmond Jennings, and a collection of guys we are already familiar with celebrating a World Series victory in a retractable roof stadium in downtown Tampa (yeah, I said it) with 50,000 people from all over Florida dressed in blue screaming and banging cowbells to the heavens above.

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13 Comments

  1. GeneralAntilles says:

    If the ballparks in Tampa, you sure wont see me there. I know the sentiment is shared by a lot of us in St. Petersburg, too.

    • David says:

      It was the whole lot of you that only went to games when you wanted to, totally taking having a major league club in your city for granted. And I know Tampa Bay fans. They’re fickle. If the Rays moved to Tampa, and proved to become very successful, St. Pete fans would swallow their hypocrisy while heading to Tampa in droves.

      Basically, I’m saying you’re full of it. Don’t get mad at me over it. Although, that’s what honesty is normally rewarded with.

    • Tom says:

      Why would you not travel to Tampa?

  2. babo says:

    not moving back to Tampa until that stadium is smack dab in the middle of downtown!!!!
    they are the tampa bay rays not the St Pete rays. its the areas team, put the stadium in a more accessible location. the trop has the least amount of fans within a 30 mile radius by a LARGE margin in MLB. I enojy knowing there will be a game when treking over the bridge but baseball deserves a fresh start in the tampa bay area. MLB(Bud Selig) has shit on tampa bay for years. the stadium was built as a lure to other teams in 1988!(seriously?!) c’mon folks its 2011. lets get with it.

  3. Sarah says:

    So here’s a lengthy post that is a tribute to the Rays’ entire season, and General, David and babo only see the small phrase in which the author dreams of a new stadium in Tampa? No wonder our region is in this predicament. What a bunch of whiners.

    And David, you are complaining people only went to games when they wanted to. So you are proposing that instead we should all go to games when we don’t want to? Did I miss the part where attending a baseball game went from entertainment we do voluntarily to obligation that we do under duress?

  4. Mike says:

    No retractable roof. Too damn expensive. We need a new Thunderdome, just with fewer catwalks!

  5. George says:

    I would really like to see more fans in the stands to support the rays I think they deserve it.

  6. Dave L says:

    those beautiful skylines of cooler climes in their most pleasant time of year dont match up with our subtropical sweat box of a summer. now if your dreams could only move baseball to the winter and then it might work.

    there might be all of 19 games a year i would want them to open that dome up in Tampa, St Pete or here in Venice or wherever. Truth is they would just open it up enough to get the grass to grow.

    Some of the the hottest experiences of my life were sitting in the old sobrero in preseason and first or second game with sweat oozing out of every pore in my body. Drinking those big yellow cups of beer where the last very gulps were always warm. I was young and foolish then and would not wish to repeat that experience.

  7. johnw says:

    If a retractable dome was build, how many games would be played with the dome open? 15. I’m guessing sometime in May the dome is closed for good unless we get to the ws. It would be great, if only for the natural grass but I’m guessing it would be hard to justify the additional cost. Maybe there would be some way to make it kinda open but still with air conditioning.

  8. anthony says:

    st pete dont be upset that youre losing the team to tampa, be happy that you had it for so long. the betterment of the team representing tampa bay is a high priority than our pride.

  9. anthony says:

    kinda open but still wih air conditioning is ideal johnw

  10. Andy says:

    Whenever I see some of the newer, nicer ballparks around the country, I notice many of them are clumped together near an NFL stadium & maybe an NBA and/or an NHL arena(s). It is then that I curse the existence of the Tampa Yankees b/c the location of Legend’s Field should be where our MLB team plays!!! This way the Rays & Bucs could share parking & maybe advertising.

    Why the He!! a lowly Class A league team has this prime location is beyond me!!! Especially when they are a part of a rival organization!!!

  11. Morgan says:

    I have a feeling this issue w/ the Rays “vaporizing” and the stadium issue will once again hibernate during the off season only to return to the local sports pages in April 2012.

    I wish the local sports editors will continue full force w/ discussions on the progress (or lack of) throughout the off season (keep pressing local politicians, the owner, city councilmen, MLB etc).

    I’m miserable as a Rays fan to have this hanging over our heads and I’m really looking for resolution.

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