I used to be a New York Yankees fan, but allow me to explain myself.
I grew up about a half hour outside of New York City. My parents both used to work there, and my dad was actually born in the Bronx. Needless to say, both of my parents have been Yankees fans for some time.
You can imagine how that went for me, young, impressionable seven-year-old girl in 2009, surrounded by Yankees fans. Even the principal of my elementary school was a huge fan. She hung logos and pinstripes around the school and even made a big announcement when the Yankees won the World Series that year. It was all very exciting for seven-year-old me.
My parents took me to a game against the Baltimore Orioles that year at Camden Yards. I sort of knew what was happening. I played Little League softball, so that was about the extent of my knowledge. We ended up leaving pretty early in the game due to boredom, despite the fact that the Yankees were pitching a no-hitter.
Not too long after, I found myself hooked on the team. Once I find something I like, I get hung up on it for a while, and the Yankees were no exception. Mark Teixera was my favorite player and I got a big poster of Derek Jeter for Christmas that hung in my room until we moved. I was enjoying my time as a Yankees fan, though it was short lived.
As I just mentioned, we moved when I was pretty young. We went down to New Jersey and we’ve been there ever since. Of course, I switched schools, and my new school had a theater program. Needless to say, my Yankees days were done.
So, how did I become a Rays fan then? Well, fast forward about ten years or so to April 2019. I was a senior in high school still trying to figure out where I was going to college, and I didn’t have much time left. Theater had just about taken over my life at this point, and baseball was something I would only casually acknowledge. I was still involved in the baseball world, as I played softball, but I wasn’t very good. I’d ask my parents about the MLB from time to time, but I could only maybe name four MLB teams.
One of the schools on my list was The University of Tampa. It was the only school in Florida I applied to, and after we toured back in November 2018, it shot up to the top of my list.
We stayed in the Indian Shores for spring break that year. On April 20, 2019, my Mom said to my Dad and me, “The Tampa Bay Rays are playing in St. Pete’s tonight. Anybody interested in going?” I kid you not, my response was, “What sport do they play?” I think I asked another three or four times before we got there.
They were playing the Boston Red Sox that night, and being raised a Yankees fan, it wasn’t hard to root against them. I wore my brand new UT shirt and cheered for the Rays though at first, I was admittedly more interested in the stingray tank than anything happening on the field. That is, until I noticed the center fielder.
I couldn’t pronounce his last name. My mom said it was Kevin Kiermaier. And before any of you ask, no, he didn’t catch my eye because he’s handsome (although that is a fair judgement). He was dancing in center field. Not a care in the world. He started spinning his glove on his finger when the action died down. I don’t know how many frog jumps he did, but I was loving it.
He stopped dancing when the ball suddenly shot out his way and he argued with the umpire that a fan interfered. I got pretty heated when they ruled it a home run despite it obviously being fan interference. He didn’t dance anymore after that.
I was more interested in the game from that point on. They set the record for most triples at a home game that night. I picked up on more of the players’ names. By the end of the night, I knew Ji-Man Choi, Brandon Lowe, Austin Meadows, Yandy Diaz, Ryne Stanek and Kiermaier. All in all, I was off to a good start.
The next night, we had the game on at the condo and Tyler Glasnow was pitching. You could say I was glued to the screen until we went out for dinner. I kept checking the score on my phone while we were out, and I got pretty frustrated when they took Glasnow out after five innings since I didn’t know how the Rays (and baseball) worked at the time. I can’t remember how the rest of the game went, but I was hooked.
My mom bought me a Kiermaier shirt the next day, and I made my decision to go to The University of Tampa by the end of the week. Did the Rays have something to do with it? Possibly. I’m not quite sure myself.
Back in New Jersey, it’s virtually impossible to watch Rays games, so you would think I’d lose interest, right? Well, Twitter’s an amazing place (sometimes) and I’d get all of the updates from there. It was almost better this way; skip the boring parts of the game and just watch the highlights.
During my AP European History class, two guys at my table were talking about the Red Sox and the series they’d just played against the Rays. My teacher (who was a huge Yankees fan) joined in on the conversation. I vaguely remember one of the guys saying something about the Rays. I can’t remember if it was negative or not, but I looked at them and went, “You know, I’m a Rays fan.” My teacher bursted out laughing. He said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a Rays fan in my life!” That was the first time I declared that I was a fan.
After that, I learned the roster and refreshed myself on the game. I started telling more people I was a fan. I’d talk about baseball to anybody who would listen, which got me in trouble a few times. Even when my dad’s friend told him to disown me for no longer being a Yankees fan, my excitement for the team grew. (For anyone wondering, no, my dad did not disown me. In fact, both of my parents are now Rays fans!)
It was smooth sailing from then on. I went to two more regular season games, fan fest, two spring training games, and countless watch parties before the 2020 season was cut short. I cried on my couch when the Rays lost the World Series. I somehow grew on Rays’ Twitter and have made so many friends within the community in such a short amount of time. I’m the resident Rays’ fan for my family and friends, who all got me Rays’ merch for my birthday.
If you told me two years ago that this is where I would be today, I probably would’ve laughed at you. It’s crazy to think how I ended up here. In the face of all the confusion, frustration, and disappointment I feel from this team over and over again, I remain a fan. But why? Because this team has heart. They’re the underdogs. This team is disrespected over and over again by MLB, ESPN, and even their owner on occasion. All of the odds are stacked against them, but they consistently overcome all of the obstacles in their way, and it’s quite frankly incredible to watch. The energy this team has is unmatched by any other team in baseball, and not to mention, they’re simply just fun to watch.
The Tampa Bay Rays have heart. It’s what keeps me with the team. It’s what makes me want to be a fan. My heart has been broken by this team before, due to trades and losses and what-not, but I keep coming back. And I think I’ll stick around for a while, if you’ll all let this northerner join the fun.