Opening Day is only a few days away and Tampa Bay Rays fans are looking forward to a special season. The Rays won the Grapefruit League championship, the third time they have done so in their history. More importantly, the team has won over 90 games for four years straight, and returns many of their top performers in 2014. Their pitching and defense is as good as any team in baseball’s and their improved offense should score enough runs to get the Rays back to the playoffs and maybe even the World Series.
Rays fans will follow the team on television, the internet, and radio. I hope, like me, you will also make an effort to see the team in person if you can, whether in Tampa Bay or at a major league stadium near you.
No matter how often you tune in electronically, there’s no substitute for being at the game. For one thing, you will see and meet other Rays’ fans. If you read this blog, you know that other Rays fans exist, but unless you live in the Tampa-St. Pete area you may not have seen many. When you go to a Rays game at home, you’re surrounded by people wearing Rays gear. These are people who are eager to discuss both Rays’ stars like Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, and bench players like Sean Rodriguez. Even on the road, in such hallowed enclaves like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, Rays fans are showing up. Going to a game makes you feel you’re not alone.
The Rays also play entertaining baseball. Joe Maddon is willing to try just about anything to win games. I’ve been going to major league games for almost 50 years, but the first time I saw a player steal home was at a Rays game (thank you, B.J. Upton). This year’s Rays will do the little things–steal bases, bunt, and hit-and-run–but will also hit the long ball. I’ve also seen some spectacular defensive plays by David DeJesus and Desmond Jennings, and the Gold Glove infield of Longoria, Escobar, Zobrist, and Loney. Great defensive plays don’t translate as well to television. It’s impossible for the camera to see the ball, the runners, and the other fielders moving like you can at a game. This year’s model of the Rays is likely to carve any number of web gems, and the best place to see them is the ballpark.
Finally, if there was any year to see a few more Tampa Bay Rays games in person, it is this year. With David Price and nearly every starter from the Rays’ 2013 playoff run returning and Ryan Hanigan, Grant Balfour, and Heath Bell joining the fray, this is the best Tampa Bay Rays team we have ever seen. We have said “this could be the year” so many teams, but there was always some flaw. This year, the Rays have the talent and the depth to finally bring home that first championship. I know it can be tough to get to the ballpark. Parking can be a challenge, concessions are expensive, and it is so much easier to watch games at home. But if every Rays fan went to one more game this year, maybe the team will climb out of the cellar for attendance at the same time that it’s ascending to the pennant.