August 30, 2008
All season long baseball fans have been wondering whether the Tampa Bay Rays could sustain their amazing pace and make it to October. As August comes to a close with the Rays having just won another dramatic game (edging the Orioles, 10-9), the answer has to be a resounding yes. So what's their big secret? With the second-lowest payroll in the majors (after their neighbors in Miami), it's definitely not high-priced star power. Their success stems, rather, from young star power, plus a lot of teamwork. Two veterans clearly stand out: slugger Carl Crawford, who has spent his whole career in Tampa Bay (since 2002), and Carlos Peña, who seemed to come out of nowhere to take second place in the American League home run race last year (with 46), is doing almost as well this year (with 27 so far). More typical, however, are young guys like Scott Kazmir, winning pitcher of the All-Star Game. Much has also been said about third baseman Evan Longoria, a contender for rookie or the year. (I keep wondering if he is the twin brother of Desperate Housewives TV star Eva Longoria, but they don't look much alike. )
A few key injuries threaten to derail the Rays' magical season, however. Carl Crawford has been on the 15-day disabled list since August 10 with an injured right middle finger tendon. It was feared that he would be out for the rest of the regular season and possibly the postseason (!) after injuring his. That could make a huge difference. Evan Longoria fractured his right wrist almost at the same time, but is expected back in the lineup in the next ten days or so. Troy Percival is another key player on the Ray's DL. See MLB.com. It's amazing that the Rays keep winning so often without those two guys.
I saw Scott Kazmir being interviewed on TV a couple days ago, being asked about the low attendance at Rays' home games this year, even as the team plays better than anyone could have expected. Is it the lousy ballpark? Traffic issues in a metropolitan area full of congested bridges? You could tell it bothers him, and it's a shame he and his team mates aren't getting more fan support from the St. Petersburg area.
Here's another (almost) "Cinderella story" from not so long ago that Washington fans may recall: The Nationals, who had just relocated from Montreal, were in first place in their division for six whole weeks in June and July, 2005, sparking baseball fever like the Nation's Capital had not seen since the 1930s. Then they lost to the Mets on July 4, and thereafter fell into a losing streak, ending their hopes of a trip to the postseason. Clearly, the Nats were not ready for prime time. Whether the Rays have all the necessary qualities to keep winning games into October will be one of the most suspenseful questions baseball fans ask as the final month of the season progresses.
And then, we will deal with another chapter in the long-running saga of funding a new baseball stadium in St. Petersburg. What about tearing the roof off the Trop, and rebuilding the seating sections beyond the infield? Just a thought...
I just checked the "The Official Tiger Stadium Demolition Thread" at baseball-fever.com, and found to my horror that the demolition crew in Detroit has kept up the pace during the latter part of August. So, I updated the "demolition" thumbnail image.
Thanks much to Marc Myers for the photos he sent of Jack Murphy Stadium from the mid-1980s, including shots of Steve Garvey and Bruce Bochy. That leaves five current and three past major league stadiums for which I am still seeking photographs from fans. From now on, the " Wanted" list will be posted in the right column of the baseball blog page.
I still have other e-mail messages to get to. My apologies to fans who are still waiting for a response.