My Journey to the Trop
Editor’s Note: As part of my Lenten vow to write everyday, Saturday’s I will be focusing on the Tampa Bay Rays. This week, I’ll tell you why I love them.
One of my fondest memories of a child were in a small town outside of Atlanta called Carrolton. My grandparents and great-grandmother lived there and I would visit with my cousins during the Summer. More than picking up sticks (which my grandfather made me do often) and more than going to Six Flags (which my grandmother let me do seldomly), I will always remember the soundtrack of the evenings. Every night my family whiled the time away by watching the Atlanta Braves on TBS. They were fans. My great-grandmother, Bertha Conner, new Mark Lemke’s slash lines by heart. She would listen to the game way too loud and fall asleep this way every night.
Growing up in Tampa I loved baseball, but there was no team in town. So, I adopted my families team, the Braves. When the Devil Rays were awarded to the Bay area, I was stoked. I went to a game very early in ’98. Even as a punk rock kid who spent way too much time at the State Theatre in downtown, I was always a fan of baseball.
When I went to college, I was surrounded by football fans. Despite my enduring interest in the Devil Rays (one of my wife and I’s first dates was to a Devil Rays v. Tigers game [she’s from Michigan]), I began to follow football more closely. By no coincidence this was also about the time of the rise of the great Buccanneers teams of the late 90’s and early 00’s.
After college the Devil Rays and Bucs were equal in their mediocrity, so I followed them both. I couldn’t afford Bucs tickets, but I would drive over the bridge half a dozen times a year.
In the Summer of 2007, I lost my job in Tampa and I was forced to relocate to Myrtle Beach, SC. While I liked Myrtle Beach, I loved Tampa. As a nerd, I was an early adopter of the iPhone and in the spring of 2008 things began to change (and it wasn’t just the name of the franchise I followed). Two huge things shifted my attention.
The first was the MLB App for the iPhone. I was able to listen to every game through the season. The soothing rhythm of Rays announcers became the background for life in my house. If there was a Rays game being played, it was probably being listened to at our house. In fact, the excitement of the season and my life culminated on the same day. The Rays lost the World Series the day my first son was born.
The second discovery in early 2008 was stumbling upon the website Raysindex.com. It was this website and its proprietor, Cork who opened my eyes to a whole new world of baseball. I had never heard of sabremetrics. I learned to watch the game with a new eye and a new love. I had no idea what I was missing. Baseball became a beautiful dance of numbers and decisions.
The rhythm of the call and the dance of the statistics made me huge fan. Every summer, my wife and I time our visits based on homestands. Just like when I was a kid at my grandparents every evening, we cook and clean and put our kids to bed to the tune of the pitch and catch of the Tampa Bay Rays.
And that’s just fine with me.