Tonight’s the night, y’all.
Look out for porcine revelers winging through the air -- they’re all over the place. And note that there’s a serious cold front moving through the gates of Hades -- Mephistopheles is sporting a hoodie and Uggs to keep warm.
Pigs are flying.
Hell has frozen over.
The Tampa Bay Rays are playing in the World Series.
It’s been a beautiful and amazing and slightly surreal ride this season. Whoda thunk it?
I’ve followed this team since the beginning -- from the first pitch in March, 1998 (with The Mister and his pals in attendance) until now. Attended a lot of games in the BW (Before Will) era -- loved the grounds crew and their choreographed tending of the field, shaking their groove things and rakes to Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins.” Paying attention some years more than others, as the team was more often hapless than not. You know you are not a big player in the success business when you celebrate a 70 win season -- and that season featured 91 losses.
Given that, you can imagine I might get a little perturbed when I hear the taunts of others stating that the Rays don’t have “Real Fans” or a serious fan base -- especially when compared to teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs. Look. It’s a given that a season like this one would draw a certain number of bandwagon fans -- c’mon. But what is not mentioned or considered in those taunts is that this team has only been playing for 10 years -- and has been abysmal in all but one of those seasons. We've only had the chance to rise and fall with our Boys of Summer for a relatively short time -- while there are some teams, like our World Series opponents the Philadelphia Phillies, who have been playing for nearly a century. Plenty of time for generations to get emotionally involved.
Also consider the fact that many baseball fans in our area already had team loyalties before the Rays came to town -- such things aren’t relinquished lightly. And especially not for a team that provided very little to cheer about.
So pffffftt to all youse who are using that “real fan” stuff as part of your smack talk banter. Come here and let me show you the splinters I’ve got in my tuchus from being on the Rays bandwagon for a decade. Then we’ll talk. Over a beer, of course. I’m a lover, not a fighter.
As I get ready for this game, wearing my new Grant Balfour t-shirt (gotta love a bad ass, passionate and slightly nutty Aussie relief pitcher) and singing countless renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with Will (in his Carlos Peña t-shirt), I’m going to remember the history of my team fondly -- for without it, this moment in time would not be nearly as sweet.
And as I sing along with the National Anthem in my living room tonight (Shut up. I am nothing if not a total participatory fan, even when watching at home) and hoist my beer at the first pitch by Scott Kazmir and nosh on my soft pretzel (frozen, but it's better than nothing) while watching those middle innings, I'll do it all with pride and not a little bit of awe at what I'm watching.
Emotional investment taken to its very apex.
The World Series. In my hometown. Unbelievable.
Play ball, y’all!