John Chaney, Temple University’s former head basketball coach, once said, “The game has to break your heart before you know you love it.” Every season I always forget how much I want the Rays to win the World Series until they are eliminated before the Series. Last year, the Rays lost to the Texas Rangers in game four of the American League Division Series, despite an incredible 9-0 victory in game one. Watching the Rays lose games two and three were hard but game four was one of the most heart-wrenching games I have ever seen. I thought the Rays had a chance at winning the Series in 2011, coming off of the momentum of the infamous Game 162. But, they faded in just three games and began the offseason early. The fact that the Rays could not hold on and force the series to game five to provide a chance at advancing to the Championship Series was hard to swallow. I will never forget the shock I felt after the final play of game four.
As I watched the final game of the season Wednesday night, two harsh realities hit me. First, it had not resonated with me that there would be no more Rays baseball in 2012. I was not ready for their season to be over because they are a playoff-worthy team. Everyone keeps talking about how significant it is that the Rays have 90 wins for three consecutive seasons, but with 95 wins they probably would be in the postseason. It is speculated that if Evan Longoria had not spent three solid months on the disabled list Tampa Bay could have won 95 games in 2012. The Rays seemed like a shoe-in for the playoffs for majority of the season, and everyone called them major contenders throughout the entire season. I didn’t even realize there was a high chance that they wouldn’t make the postseason until they lost seven out of eight games in mid-September. But even then, I believed they could find a way to rally back and make the postseason like they did in 2011.
Secondly, Wednesday night reminded me that baseball is as much of a business as it is a game. When B.J. Upton stepped up to the plate in the eighth inning, he received a standing ovation. It was his final at bat as a Rays player, since he is now a free agent. More than likely, the Rays will not be able to offer him as much money as he is potentially worth. Watching Upton wave his helmet at the crowd, receive hugs from his teammates, and shed a few tears while sitting in the dugout, was heartbreaking. Despite his habit of being a hot and cold hitter, the fans love B.J. Upton. He has been with the organization since the Devil Rays drafted him in 2002 after high school. His skills in center field, combined with his longevity as a Rays player, makes Upton hard to replace.
In addition, ESPN’s Wednesday Night Baseball commentators discussed the possibility of Tampa Bay trading James Shields or another pitcher so they can acquire a hitter. Since the Rays hold a club option for Shields, the prospect for a trade definitely could be an attractive option for several teams across baseball. On Thursday, the Rays said finding more offensive players is their top priority for this offseason. I hate that a fan favorite and talented player such as James Shields may have to leave to turn the team into a better offensive business.
Whatever happens this offseason for the Rays, it is hard to swallow that they are already discussing how to find the next addition to their lineup while ten other teams contend for the 2012 World Series.