Senator Barack Obama held a rally in Tampa Bay today, and some members of the heading-to-the-series Rays joined him onstage. It was a fitting moment, and Sen. Obama's moniker of "change" took on dual meanings. The resurgent Rays stood with a "transformational" (as said on Sunday by General Colin Powell) candidate, how fitting.
Obama's rise is nothing short of amazing. He personifies the American Dream in nearly every sense, and his historical significance needs no mention. At this point, it is a miracle that he has managed to stay above the Republican campaign machine, and he has done it with a sense of calm and grace that has impressed even the stoic conservative archetype Pat Buchanan.
In this country, where we are barely 40 years past the grizzly decades of the civil rights movement, it is a testament to progress that we are sitting where we are today. However, the fight has not ended, and the crooks and the thieves could still steal this thing. The story is still without its final chapter, and everything up until now only qualifies as a moral victory.
The Rays sit in a very similar position. Fresh off an ALCS Game Seven win, they slipped out of another Red Sox baseball trivia punchline by riding the arm of a young man who was a collegiate pitcher at the same time Obama was wrapping up the democratic nomination.
All year long, the Rays have stood up to every test that they were supposed to fail.
They won what is possibly the most competitive division since the the advent of the three-division system. They held off the stalwarts, and despite a mediocre September, went into the playoffs as the Cinderella team to love.
We all have seen how the talking heads love their sexy Cinderella picks, but most weren't willing to suspend reality so far as to think that they would actually out-duel the veteran Red Sox in a theoretical ALCS matchup, if they could even get past the White Sox.
The Rays took care of those White Sox in Chicago, but after losing Game One against Boston, it was clear that the fairy tale had went far enough. They had a great year, but it was time to come back to earth you silly Rays, with your crazy coach and your lovable lot of young stars-to-be.
Baseball is a game based around accepted ideas. New ways of doing things are frowned upon, even downright ridiculed, because you cannot dare assault the integrity of the national pastime. Clubhouses are shrines of arrested development, and coaches all teach the same set of techniques they have for years.
They motivate mostly through fear and degradation in the same way that WASP fathers have motivated their sons for decades. I have seen it first-hand, having been involved with baseball for more than 20 years as a player and high-school coach.
Joe Madden is different. His enthusiastic and encouraging style is perfect for a set of players who have yet to realize their potential. The Rays were attempting to cultivate a winner, not by the standard combination of a couple rookies coupled with a majority of proven veterans, but by intelligently using the draft to build a stable of stars in the making.
But to most, they were in no way expected to contend this year. However, Madden refused to set a ceiling over their heads, and he never mentioned that they could be good "next year." For Madden, there was no time like the present, and he was unbelievably correct.
Halfway through the game last night, my friend Derrick mentioned how relaxed, to the point that they appeared bored, the Rays seemed. I couldn't help but agree and think that this had to have something to do with the atmosphere that Madden has created.
It is a testament to their coach and themselves that the Rays could have an abundance of confidence in such a pressure-packed situation after they had blew a 3-1 series lead, including the improbable Game Five in Boston when they blew a 7-0 lead late in the game.
Which leads me back to Sen. Obama. His composure in the face of a multitude of negative circumstances is astonishing. Lesser men have walked this road only to be dusted aside by the hands that be (see: Al Gore, John Kerry). Politics is an ugly game, but Obama has made it look dignified again.
But none of this will matter if the Rays can't finish the Phillies, or Obama can't put away McCain. The Rays will prove that they weren't quite ready after all, and Obama will prove he was just a pie-in-the-sky democrat. I, for one, am excited about the possibility of a pie in the heavens; it's much better than F-16s; and if the Rays can win the series, maybe big-market teams will realize shelling out $20 million a year to 33-year-old sluggers with diminishing skills is not always the solution.
Until then, we idealists can dream, for change and for hope. Amen.