Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and the Tampa Bay Rays

By Robbie Knopf

Today is an interesting day. It is the first day of Thanksgiving and it is first day of Hanukkah as well (it began last night). From a Tampa Bay Rays Rays standpoint, today is a day be a little more relaxed as the offseason continues to gear up, and reflection is going to be inevitable. What are the Rays thankful for?

The Tampa Bay Rays have done everything in their power to get them to this point. Without the funds possessed by their rivals, they have needed to be more creative to build successful teams, and in doing so, they have lapped the field. The Rays have their stars, the high draft picks that lived up to the hype and the middle round picks they developed to perfection. Their first basemen and closers change almost every year but somehow, time after time, they find another winner year after year. But that could only get them so far. Evan Longoria was going to be the hero in Game 162, 2011, but only if Dan Johnson went deep with two outs in the 9th. What about Nathan Haynes? What about Sam Fuld for those two weeks in April of 2011? How about Delmon Young coming back this season and bringing the Rays to life with his homer off Danny Salazar in the AL Wild Card Game?

The Rays were going to have one of the best rotations in baseball, but only if everyone could stay healthy. How crazy is it that from Scott Kazmir in 2009 and Jeremy Hellickson in 2012, not a single Rays starting pitcher other than Jeff Niemann hit the disabled list? Other teams see their talented young pitchers undergo Tommy John Surgery and disappear for a year or more. Why hasn’t that happened for the Rays? And when injured pitchers go down, how is it that the players who comes up always turns into something nearly as special? Niemann goes down in 2011, the Rays bring up an unheralded prospect in Alex Cobb, and before we know it, Cobb becomes one of the Rays’ most promising pitchers in his out right. You have Chris Archer for Hellickson in 2012, and then you have Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome from this season. What about Enny Romero? How in the world did a pitcher with a grand total of one Triple-A start who couldn’t even throw strikes at Double-A come to the big leagues and toss 4.2 shutout innings?

The Rays are certainly thankful for getting to this point as a franchise. But this bizarre occurrence of Hanukkah alongside it reminds us so much of their success came from things entirely out of their control. The Rays may be the best in the business at evaluating players, but it is only with the help of a thousand small miracles that they have gotten this far.