Rays' feel-good story will have happy ending

October 22, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Now, this is the kind of change you can really believe in.

It's not that phony, vote-for-me kind of change that is being peddled by the two presidential candidates. It's real change involving real people who really are going to have an impact on your lives. Of course, you have to be at least a casual baseball fan to identify with the kind of change the Tampa Bay Rays represent, but I'm pretty sure Joe the Plumber and Mike the Mechanic (wasn't that an '80s band?) would rather see some of their wealth redistributed at a World Series game than at tax time.

Maybe that's a bad example because Joe the Plumber is from Ohio and almost certainly is a Cleveland Indians fan, which means that nobody really cares what he thinks, but you get the idea. The Rays are exactly what America and Major League Baseball need right now.

They are the baseball embodiment of the American Dream. The little expansion team that could. The first major league team managed by a librarian. I'm just glad there aren't any more debates because you know both presidential candidates would be climbing over each other to use "Joe the Manager" as some kind of symbol for their vision of the future of our great nation.

The Rays have come out of nowhere, lifting themselves to the top of the American League after spending almost their entire history at the bottom of the standings. They are the team from Hope. They are the nice guys who finally didn't finish last. They are the team that really does taste great and really is less filling at the same time.

No disrespect to the Philadelphia Phillies and their legion of fatalistic fans. They had a great season, and they dispatched the National League West-champion Los Angeles Dodgers faster than the Eagles can blow a 10-point lead in a must-win game. They've got a nice-guy manager, too, and they've got some fresh young players who are going to look good on the national stage. They just aren't the rags-to-riches Rays.

The Phillies actually have a payroll ... and a history that dates before the Clinton administration. Who cares about that? If I wanted to see one of the old-guard, $100 million teams win the World Series, I wouldn't have sat around biting my nails during the final two games of the AL Championship Series. I would have just rooted for the Boston Red Sox and hoped that if I spent the rest of my life helping the weaker members of society, God would eventually forgive me.

I know. I know. The Phillies have waited a lot longer than the Rays to win a world title. The last time they did it was in 1980. The Rays have been in existence only since 1998. I've still got the logo shirt from the expansion draft, and it almost still fits. I'm going to wear it while I watch Game 1 tonight and will not change it or wash it until the Rays lose a game.

I'm guessing they lose one or two because they aren't the kind of team that would embarrass an opponent. They'll lose Game 3 and maybe Game 5, just to be polite, but we all know how this is going to turn out.

B.J. Upton is going to break the all-time record for home runs in a single postseason, which stands at eight, even though he'll have to equal his total for the regular season (nine) to do so. Evan Longoria is going to shake off the whole Desperate Housewives thing and further establish himself as the next baseball superstar. Starting pitchers Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine will take care of the rest, and they'll have to because the bullpen looks a little shaky.

The Rays will win because their manager really wears those square glasses and reads books, and finds new ways to inspire his players. They'll win because they've already won the hearts of baseball fans around the nation by just getting to the World Series, so the pressure is all on the Phillies.

And the Rays will win, of course, because the AL won the All-Star Game to give them home-field advantage, though that doesn't bother me quite as much this year because they had a better regular-season record than the Phillies anyway.

The Rays have to win because they have become the inspiration for every downtrodden team in every downtrodden sports town. They had the worst record in the majors last year, but they believed in themselves and their plan and they climbed all the way to the top of the baseball world with barely two nickels to rub together and a dream nobody else would have believed.

Say it is so, Joe.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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