Let me be the 1,679th person to wish you a Happy New Year. You will have to forgive my tardiness but I have been walking around Memphis with my feet ten feet off of Beale after watching my beloved UCF Knights avenge the SEC screwjob of 1999 and beat the Georgia Bulldogs in the Liberty Bowl. A cold driving rain did nothing to damper my celebration last night while checking out Rock Sugar, a poorly timed guitar drop ceremony on Beale, and some great late night grub at Blues City Cafe with other jubilant UCF Knights fans.
The experience over the last 24 hours brought back a lot of Rays-related memories of 2008 when the club won the American League as the underdog and became a defining moment for the relationship many members of this fan base have with the club. If you are fortunate enough to have ever loved someone, you vividly remember that moment when you first realized you loved that person and it is no different with sports teams. From their inception, the Rays were a team that I liked because they were local and I could attend the games as I did as a kid with the Houston Astros but it was not until 2005 that the my relationship with the Rays went to the next level.
In September 2005 I was able to bring my son to his first ever baseball game and while he was barely two months old, he clearly enjoyed the experience. It was at that game that watching Rays games went to another level for me because now I had a son who could share the experience with me and maybe he could grow up to enjoy the game with me as much as I did with my dad as a kid. He would go on to spend many a night in my lap watching games and giggling when Raymond would come on screen and by 2008, watching the Rays game on television was a regular experience for my household. I can remember watching Game 7 of the ALCS from our living room with him asleep on the couch and me frozen in shock as Aki made the final force out.
If you are reading this blog, you are likely just as committed in your relationship with the Rays as I am and that commitment is likely to be tested in 2011. After three years of being one of the best teams in baseball, the Rays are evolving into a different team with the loss of beloved players such as Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, and Grant Balfour. 2011 might not bring the same level of success that fans have quickly grown accustomed to after quickly forgetting the days when 70 wins was a time to break out the bubbly.
Remember that the names on the back of the jersey have changed, but the name on the front of the jerseys is still the same. It may not say, “Tampa Bay (sorry, Joe),” but it still does say, “Rays”.
My New Year’s Wish is to ask you to stay positive about the team and look for something to be excited about in the season to come and not fall victim to the defeatist tone that is dominating the airwaves and interwebs. For me, I am very excited to see how Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez respond to more playing time and I want to see how Jake McGee’s talented left arm best fits on the team. I am as anxious for 2011 to begin as I was for 2009 and 2010 to begin as I am excited to see what the next phase of this wonderful relationship has in store.