Friday, October 2, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Game 1

I remember driving over the Sunshine Skyway and catching my first glimpse of Tropicana Field. The white, round building with the funny roof never looked better.

It was drenched in sun light. No kidding, it sparkled.

I was as excited as I had ever been to make the drive over the bridge and through the side streets of St. Pete to that ballpark.

It was Game 1 of the American League Division Series. The playoffs. And the Tampa Bay Rays were playing.

I remember thinking as I drove across Tampa Bay and watched the stadium dance under the sunlight that I never dreamed I would ever be making that ride for that reason.

The Rays had been the worst franchise in professional sports for their first 10 years. They finished last in their division and with the worst record in baseball in both 2006 and 2007.

But there they were, Oct. 2, 2008, the American League East champs, playing host to the Chicago White Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS.

We didn't really know it at the time, but the entire baseball world would head to the Trop last October, because the Rays would take care of the White Sox, out-last the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series and play the Phillies in the World Series.

I remember having a good feeling about the Rays a year ago today as I made the ride from my house to the Trop. Carl Crawford would be back in the lineup, and I felt they could beat the White Sox that afternoon, which would give them the advantage in the best-of-five series.

They did, winning 6-4 behind the pitching of James Shields and two home runs from soon-to-be rookie of the year Evan Longoria.

Much like Longoria, the Rays were babes in baseball's postseason, but the intense light never got in their eyes. Maybe the rain in Philly, but not the glare from the postseason spotlight.

Tonight, the Rays play the Yankees at the Trop in a game that means very little except to Yankee starter CC Sabathia, who needs one more victory for a 20-win season.

The talk around the Rays as they finish out the season with one final three-game series is, What went wrong?

Let's leave that for another day. Today, let's celebrate the anniversary of Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS, a day we never thought we'd see, a day we wish to see again.

No comments: