The Tampa Bay Rays are an incredible story and they seem to have captured the hearts of their city, if not the nation. They went into the World Series as slight favorites and have the home field advantage. Newspapers across the country have been printing side-bars on teams that have gone from "worst-to-first" over the years, some even suggesting that the current Rays are the most impressive group to do so.
Of course the Phillies have thier own history, a much longer one than the Rays. They have a World Series Title, from 1980, and a heartbreaking bottom of the 9th Game 6 clinching loss from 1993 that will probably still win you a black eye if brought up inside the city limits. Philadelphia, for a town that has a team in every major sport, has been in a championship drought.
Now, finally, they make an incredible run, passing by the Mets in the final month of the season for the second year in a row, blowing through the first two rounds of the playoffs, only to get a week off and watch the Rays all of sudden become America's favorite underdogs.
I was not above the spell they cast, it was easy for me, they were playing the Red Sox, and as an admitted Yankee fan, my only other baseball interest is seeing the Sox go down. It wasn't hard to like a young team without superstars, grind it out against the defending champs, even when it looked like the Sox had righted the ship, the Rays somehow managed to stay poised enough to hold them off in Game 7, where Boston has thrived this decade. Impressive.
So the Phillies took Game 1 on Wednesday night, and by the time I post this they could be up 2-0, but something kind of struck me about this improbable run the Rays are on while watching the game: Where were all these fans last year? Was there 55,000 strong watching this team in 2007 or even this April or May from their couches, too ashamed to show their face at the home of perpetual basement dwellers? Was anybody at Tropicana Field on Wednesday night wearing an old DEVIL Rays shirt or did they wear the freshly pressed ones they ordered after the division was locked up?
Of course this isn't the first, or worst, example of front-running, however, Florida has now had the Rays since 1998, and the Marlins since 1993, which if you combine those years would equal the last time Philadelphia won a championship, in ANYTHING, (anything being basketball if you're keeping score).
Now, it might not be fair to compare a city to a state but with parity slowly creeping into baseball (and by parity I mean talent-wise, not payroll) it's getting a little more difficult to find hard-luck cases, with my apologies to Cubs fans.
So, maybe the Rays are the better story, and maybe Philadelphia is the same city that once threw batteries at Santa Clause during half-time of an Eagles game, but having fans who suffer through the misery in the stands, to me, is more passionate than having empty seats fill up just because the team started winning.
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