T’is the season: maybe not the season to be merry but definitely the season to eat a hot dog, have a beer, and bask in the sun at your local ball park. Move over Santa, mistletoe, and reindeer poop: baseball season is here.
This sentiment is a particularly great statement for Florida folk: of all the places to be a baseball fan, Florida is one of the best; it was made for fun in the sun.
This year, Florida fans who aren’t rooting for the Marlins may find themselves filling the seats at Tropicana Field to cheer on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
As one of the youngest franchises in baseball, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have had their sea legs for several seasons: like many new teams, they are just finding their footing. However, it appeared that they had almost found it halfway through last season: at the 2006 All Star break the Devil Rays were only eleven games below .500. With a strong second half, they would have been able to make themselves into real contenders.
Upper management, however, had other plans. Rather than contending for a playoff berth, the Devil Rays traded many veteran players for younger players who could contribute more to the future of the team. The future, as they say, is starting this season.
When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays took the mound for the 2007 opening day, they had the youngest starting lineup since the Minnesota Twins in 1983. Youth, it turns out, didn’t win this one: the Devil Rays lost to the New York Yankees by a score of 9-5.
Yet, the season is just beginning and anything can happen. Fans hope that Tampa Bay will follow the footsteps of the other Florida team and start making their way towards a championship.
As for what the rest of the season will hold, the Devil Rays definitely have their work cut out for them. Not only do they compete in the AL East – a division that include the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox – but many of their players are young and unproven. No one knows for sure which way they will go.
This unknowing, however, is part of the excitement: watching a player grow to greatness is one of the things baseball is all about. Among the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who have to chance to do just that are third baseman Akinori Iwamura, infielder B.J. Upton, outfielder Delmon Young, and shortstop Ben Zobrist.
The strength of the Devil Rays rests on the shoulders of their outfielders: in addition to Delmon Young, Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli could also have breakout seasons. The Rays need great outfielders, and ones that don’t mind being busy. That brings us to the weakness of the Devil Rays: the pitching.
Last season, the Devil Ray’s rotation received the fewest wins in the entire league with 36. They were also tied for the most losses at 70. Yet on a bright side sits Scott Kazmir, a man who could become a great pitcher. But he certainly can’t pitch every game: the Devil Rays are going to have to get better armed, and better arms. This young team must also learn how to win on the road. Last year their road record teetered on ridiculous; they had 20 wins and 61 losses.
If the pitching can solidify and the Devil Rays learn to win when they aren’t in Florida, they might have a chance to contend. Playing in the tough AL East is also an issue; one they can only resolve by getting tough as well.