How I Became a Rays Fan

Pure pandemonium. That was the scene at Tropicana Field on Oct. 7, 2013. It was Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the Boston Red Sox and my then second favorite team, the Tampa Bay Rays. Everything would change after that night.

Let me take you back a little. I was born near South Bend, Indiana, the home of the University of Notre Dame but more importantly, about two hours outside Chicago. The Northwest part of Indiana was big time Cubs territory, and I was born right into it. My Dad has lived up there his entire life and was a rabid Cubs fan, and ironically enough, also a Yankees fan. I only lived in South Bend for the first few years of my life, but the love for Chicago sports was always within me.

I moved to Tampa, Florida in 2007, when the Rays were still called the Devil Rays. The next year they changed their name, went on a magical run, and the rest is history. However, I was only five during that improbable run. My only memory of that year was the final out when the Rays’ magical season came to an end. Due to my infancy, I really wasn’t old enough to attach onto the team like most did. They were my second team, but I was very much a casual fan. In fact, I really don’t remember any season of Rays baseball during their peak from 2008 to 2013, except for that core’s final hurrah in 2013.    

Heading into that year, I was still very much a Cubs fan at heart, but it had been a mighty struggle for the lovable losers during my short lifetime. I was desperately wanting to root for a winner. I really hadn’t been paying attention to the Rays as much as I should have but in 2013, they certainly got my attention.

While the Cubs were dragging and their season pretty much over by July, the Rays were playing very good ball down the stretch. The Cubs were more old fashioned, especially in the National League with no DH. However, the Rays were a fun, eccentric group to watch and when 7 p.m. rolled around my eyes were glued to the T.V. The voices of Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson, who I would come to adore, resonated throughout my living room night in and night out.

Me and my Grandmother celebrating a Game 4 victory in the 2019 ALDS at Tropicana Field.

The Rays had shifts, weird and funky lineups, and a group of electric young players led by their mad scientist, A.K.A. manager Joe Maddon. They didn’t just beat their opponents, they outsmarted them, and boy did they outsmart a lot of teams that season.

The roster was stacked starting with the franchise icon Evan Longoria, who was always a thrill to watch, especially in his prime. They had a crazy amount of defense in the outfield, so much so that a young prospect who was renowned for his stellar glove didn’t get a chance to play until a Game 163 tiebreaker against the Texas Rangers. His name was Kevin Kiermaier, you may have heard of him.

They had Sam Fuld, known as Super Sam for his acrobatic catches, super utility player Ben Zobrist, who would get time in the outfield along with the underrated Matt Joyce, who seemed to deliver more times than not. They of course also had Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, who wasn’t the best with the glove, displayed by his missed fly ball in the ALDS in Boston, but had a fantastic bat.

The Rays’ pitching staff was dominate and every game was a must watch to see the likes of ace David Price, underrated starter Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, a young Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi. It seemed everyday each starting pitcher was trying to top the last Ray who stepped to the hill the previous game.

That rotation was incredible, and if opposing lineups weren’t frustrated enough, they had to deal with dominate closer Fernando Rodney and solid set up man Joel Peralta. The 2013 Rays were so unbelievably fun they were impossible to ignore, even for a Cubs fan (at the time) like me.

Overall, that Rays roster was one of my favorites, and much like today’s Rays, they didn’t lack the love for drama. So much so, they felt the need to play a Game 163 with the Rangers just to see who could move on to play the Indians in the Wild Card Game. I, now completely invested in this team after only watching them for a couple months, was on the edge of my seat.

The Rays were on the brink of elimination, but also on the brink of clinching their fourth postseason berth in six years. Pretty impressive for a team that had been in the basement for the first decade of its existence. When you’re in a must win scenario who else to turn to but the two pillars of the organization David Price, who threw a complete game to secure the win, and Evan Longoria, who hit a two-run home run to break the game open in the third inning.

The Rays would go on to win that game 5-2, and then go into Cleveland and beat them in the A.L. Wild Card Game 4-0 behind the dominant performance of Alex Cobb.  It was a pretty special couple of days, but nothing matched what I was about to witness in Game 3 of that ALDS against Boston. The Red Sox had won the A.L. East and held the best record in the American League. It was the year of the Boston Bombing, and behind the mantra of “Boston Strong” it was just their year.

After two tough losses on the road the Rays faced an elimination game down 2-0 in the series with Game 3 at the Trop. Knowing it could be the final game of their season and never having been to a playoff game, I begged my mom to go. She folded and we headed up to Tropicana Field that night. Little did we know what was in store for us.

Walking into the Trop, with all 35,000 fans in attendance it was insane. Admittedly there was more red in the stands than I would’ve liked, but it was still an incredible scene. The game didn’t start off great with the Red Sox jumping out to a 3-0 lead. However, the always clutch Longoria made sure the Rays wouldn’t go home quite yet with a booming three-run home run to tie it. The fans chanted “Longo! Longo!” and of course I joined in. Born was my love of Evan Longoria.

My favorite Rays polo with one of my favorite hats, “The 98ers,” made famous by Kevin Cash’s postgame statements after the Brosseau/Chapman fiasco.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Rays took the lead and with Rodney warming, it looked over. However, the Red Sox refused to lose as they tied it in the ninth. The energy that had been there since the first pitch started to fade when Koji Uehara ran in from the bullpen to pitch. He was arguably the most dominant bullpen arm in the game at the time.

With the first two outs recorded swiftly, Jose Lobaton, the backup catcher, stepped up to the plate. It seemed all hope was lost. Uehara got ahead 0-1, and then he made a mistake. He left his devastating split finger up enough where Lobaton could get to it. All that I heard was a loud crack and then the stadium went wild, followed by a somehow louder cheer from the Rays’ faithful when the ball cleared the right-center field wall and landed in the Rays tank.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZaFglEkoUs

The Rays had lived another day behind the unlikeliest of sources. Rays fans were delighted beyond belief and absolutely beside themselves. On the way out all you could hear was the chants of “TAMPA” followed by a louder “BAY!”

I was hooked. From that day on I was forever a Rays diehard fan. Not only was it the underdog story we all love but it was the idea of the band of misfit toys ganging up to try to beat Goliath. I would never look back, I am now a Rays fan till death. From an Indiana boy raised to surely be a Cubs or Yankees fan, was turned to a diehard Rays fan who is now writing articles about his favorite team. I wouldn’t change a single thing, and it was all started by that pure pandemonium at Tropicana Field.

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