I'm 22 years old and a life long Braves fan. For about 2/3's of my life this time of year was exciting to me. Now a days the Braves are irrelevant, they've been eliminated from the playoffs for some time. There isn't much to do other than watch Chipper Jones try to win his first batting title (and further cement his place in Cooperstown) and watch the Braves help the Mets once again collapse down the stretch. But rooting for an individual (no matter how much I love him) and cynically hoping other teams choke is no where near as fun as rooting for your team to go all the way. So how do we Braves fans enjoy ourselves this October? That's easy, root for the Rays of course.
Why the Rays? If your like me it is sort of a tough decision to root for any American League team. I'm an NL guy all the way, I love the National League and think it's the only real way to play ball. But as a Braves fan I look at the Rays and I think about those '91 Braves.
Obviously going into this postseason a lot of people are going to be rooting for the Rays. After all they are the feel good story of the year. I think Braves fans though have a more special connection with the Rays in that they can see a little bit of their past in these kids.
First off both the '91 Braves and the '08 Rays went from worst to first (I know the Twins did it that year too but I don't think Twins fans are too enamoured with the Rays right now after they took 2 of 3 from them a few days ago in the middle of a pennant race). In 1991 the Braves roster was chock full of exciting young talent that took the league by storm. In 2008 the Rays roster is chock full of exciting young talent that has taken the league by storm. Similarities abound.
Both organizations, before their respective winning seasons, weren't just teams that had a bad year but rather teams that seemed like they would never climb out of the cellar. Atlanta had been so bad for so long that not even Bobby Cox could win with them (the first time around). The Rays similarly were unaffected by Lou Piniella's leadership of the team from 2003 to 2005. Despite no light being visible at the end of the tunnel both teams kept faith in their plans and would not mortage their futures for mild success in the present. For years the Braves and Rays had been the jokes of baseball.
No one's laughing now. Atlanta just recently ended an unprecendented (in all of professional sports) run of 14 straight division titles that included 5 NL pennants, 7 Cy Youngs, 2 MVPs, and 1 World Series title. For 14 years no one was better in the National League. The Rays are just beginning what will be a long journey of success. Their team is young, talented, and 100% in love with the idea of being a Tampa Bay Ray. Their pitching is deep and electric young stars in their lineup like Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton can start a rally every at bat. They are a fun team to watch. Just like the Braves used to be. The stars on this team will mature and become even better, but for now they are ready to finish their dream season off with a championship. Maybe they can take it one step further than those '91 Braves did. Either way it will be fun to watch, just like it was back then.