I should probably be specific here, insofar as that a certain someone who runs this site and has extremely well-documented violent tendencies comes from Tampa and knows all kinds of spiky heavy metal dudes and might well take exception to the ever-so-gentle suggestion that anyone, under any circumstances, might harbor less-than-loving feelings for the fine metropolis of Tampa. People have suffered greatly for thinking as much, never mind actually publishing it live on the interwebs.
But we must be bold here, and as such it is time for us to speak one of the great unspoken truths of modern sports: we must – all of us – learn to embrace our hatred of the Tampa Bay Rays.
This endeavor is, in the end, for the good of mankind. There are those who might say that Tampa Bay’s recent success is well-deserved, a product of prudent trades and years of fruitful drafting and talent development, a testimony to the power of new ownership, general management and field management. And there is some truth to that. After years of near-comedic futility, Joe Maddon’s collection of brilliant young ballplayers discover the strange alchemy of talent and drive that brings them skyrocketing from the bowels of the American League East to the dizzying heights of contention for a World Series title.
All of which is well and good, but ultimately ignores the obvious. Yes, to the casual viewer they are the classic Cinderella tale, all underdog charm and youthful possibility. But to the seasoned observer, the hardened fan, the jaundiced eyes of one who has suffered and ached and wept and ultimately found him or herself reborn through a final and ultimate validation of faith (oh, 2004… how you shifted me at the core) they are something far more dangerous and worthy of contempt: a legitimate rival.
As such, and as must be the case with all legitimate rivalries, it is not enough to simply wish them evil upon the lush green fields. One must probe for weaknesses, for folly and mistakes deserving of mockery. And in the magic kingdom of Tampa… there is much to be found.
- Their early attempts at finding success through high-priced free agents. Would-be ace Wilson Alvarez? 17-26 and a 4.62 ERA over parts of 3 years. Would-be cleanup monster Greg Vaughn? 60 homers, 185 RBIs and a .229 BA over three seasons. Jose Canseco? For God’s sake… Jose Canseco? 43 homers and 125 RBis over two years. And don’t even think about how much money they spent on these fiascos – it would make you violently angry. (On the other hand, that might be productive. Go ahead and look it up. You’ll be horrified.)
- Gerald “Ice” Williams. Ask any Red Sox fan – you’ll recognize them easily; they’re always the best-looking, most thoughtful people in the room – and they’ll tell you in a heartbeat: in 2000, Pedro Martinez (and let’s be clear: we’re talking about the Pedro of true legend here) accidentally plunked leadoff hitter Williams, who responded by charging the mound and setting off a melee that resulted in five players, two coaches and manager Larry Rothschild being ejected. Pedro? Went on to strike out 17 – yes, that’s right: seventeen – and not give up a single hit until the ninth inning. Good job, Ice.
- Tropicana Field. ESPN named it one of the worst ballparks in the major leagues. There are catwalks – fucking catwalks – that reach across the top of the field and occasionally knock balls out of the sky, transforming certain home runs into singles, ground rule doubles… even pop fly outs. That’s not baseball; that’s a bad joke.
All this only scratches the surface, of course. But it is the end of August, and despite an underperforming pitching staff and the mysterious disappearance of BJ Upton – who looked so terrifyingly skilled during the playoffs last year – Tampa is still lurking, out there in the humid Floridian darkness, not far enough off the Wild Card pace to offer right-thinking, good-looking, thoughtful and sensitive Americans (by which I mean: Red Sox fans) the peace of mind they so richly deserve.
So we must fear them. And more, we must hate them. We must, all of us, learn to hate Tampa Bay.
It is the only good and just thing to do.