No Regard

July 3, 2008

My Tampa Bay Rays Conversion Story: Part 1

Filed under: MLB — Tags: , , , , , — hoyler @ 1:16 pm

I remember it like it was yesterday. 8 years ago this Monday, I moved to Palm Harbor, Fla. from New Jersey. On my way up Hillsborough Avenue after leaving Tampa International, I saw the billboard.

“The Hit Show,” a slogan sitting in the middle of pictures of Greg Vaughn, Vinny Castilla, Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff.

When I got to my new home, I saw the commercial for the first time, and still remember part of the stupid jingle. “Hit Show, Tampa Bay’s hottest plays, Hit Show, Devil Rays set the stage.” 

And that was my introduction to Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball.

I’ll be honest, I was born a Yankees fan. Born in the Bronx, in fact. But I never really cared that much about baseball. Even when the Yankees won the World Series four times in five years, I was more glued to the first two weeks of the NHL season watching my beloved New York Rangers or agonizing over what would inevitably be another playoff loss or regular season embarrassment for my New York Giants. Perfect examples? I fell asleep before they got the final out against the Mets in 2000. In 1995, when I distinctly remember my brother watching the Yankees-Mariners playoff game in Seattle on a Saturday night (the game was on ABC I think), I was downstairs watching the Rangers battle the Hartford Whalers in what was probably the 7th or 8th game of the year. The Yankees were a good team – a great team – and it was nice that they were winning. But I hated all the bandwagon fans and the atmosphere at the Stadium.  

Maybe it’s because I grew up with a Yankees team that won, so I wasn’t able to latch on to the team and feel like it was my own like I did with the Rangers and Giants, whose respective heydays were before I hit double digits in age. By the second half of the 90s, when I really started to understand sports, both teams were insignificant in the whole landscape of winning. The Yankees, on the other hand, were expected to win, which made everything seem so boring. It didn’t help that my father had fallen out of love with the Yankees and baseball in general after the strike in 1994; his love for the Rangers and Giants over any other team rubbed off on to me. On a side note, it still hasn’t paid off for the Rangers, and the Giants were maybe the most agonizing team to root for prior to this season. 

Maybe that’s why when I moved to Tampa, the only team I could back at first was the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League. I didn’t have a team to root for before I moved and I figured I had to root for something Tampa, right? I couldn’t back another NHL team besides the Rangers, especially an Eastern Conference team, and while I didn’t mind the players or coaches the Bucs had, their fans immediately struck me as privileged (meaning, they thought it was their right to win) and bandwagonny (I know, not a word) as Yankees fans. So…go Storm! It paid off when I attended the 2003 Arena Bowl, which the Storm won behind backup QB Pat O’Hara. 

But at first, I couldn’t care about the Devil Rays. I went to a couple of games, thought it was novel that they played baseball indoors in FLORIDA, and watched a few games here and there. But then I started to become bothered by the little brother complex some of the fans had toward New Yorkers (see: Whitney Johnson’s act on WDAE) and turned my mind off to the team.

That is, until Carl Crawford came along, and I attended a Yankees-Rays game in early August 2002. On that Saturday night, one three-base hit turned me into a (Devil) Rays fan. 

OK…that’s it for now. I’ll write the rest of my story over this weekend, including how I will forever have proof that I was a Rays fan before 2008.

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