Thursday, February 14, 2008

A day 11 years in the making

The doors swung open 11 years ago, and out walked the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, led by manager Larry Rothschild, who shimmied out of the clubhouse like Ray Lewis taking the field before a football game.

OK, that didn’t happen.

But Rothschild did lead the first group of players into the first spring training workout in team history Feb. 15, 1998 – a cold, blustery day.

There was hope and optimism around that team, but largely because Tampa Bay finally had major league baseball.

A wiseguy might argue Tampa Bay is still waiting for major league baseball, and he (or she) might be right.

The Rays will walk through that same door Friday – on the 10th anniversary of that first workout – and no one can argue the current group isn't better than the first edition of Rays baseball.

Yes, major league baseball has finally arrived around here.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said Thursday each of the 25 players who make the Opening Day roster will be legitimate major league players. That wasn’t always the case during the first decade of Rays baseball.

It took some time — actually it took a new owner, a new front office and a fourth manager — but the team has finally turned the corner.

Yes, the proof will be in the win-loss record.

But the excuses have been pealed away. They are no longer the lowest paid and youngest team in the majors.

Winning is now expected.

Losing will be seen as underachieving.

For the first time in franchise history, people actually expect something from this team.

And all it took was 11 years.

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