That the Rays are this good comes as no surprise
Knew it. Knew it all along. Seems folks are just figuring out that those Tampa Bay Rays are legit.
I, on the other hand, had no doubt the perennially inept Rays would be elbowing -- sometimes full-on punching -- their way past the Red Sox and Yankees to the front of the AL East pack this summer.
The "surprising" Rays? Hardly.
Oh, never mind the fact that it took my wife a few tries to convince yours truly to drive down to St. Petersburg and catch a Rays game during our family vacation to Florida in April.
It would be a chance to poke out of our Disney cocoon, it's just an hour-and-a-half drive from Orlando and we'd have a chance to see a Major League Baseball game, she reasoned.
"Yeah, Major League Baseball -- sort of," was my smart-mouthed retort. "C'mon, this is the Devil Rays we're talking about ... I mean Rays ... or whatever the heck they want to be called this week. Seems like an awfully long drive to go see some Triple-A team kick it around."
After all, Tampa Bay hadn't mattered since we were subjected to the bizarre image of Wade Boggs in a D-Rays uniform homering for his 3,000th hit in 1999. And any delusional pennant hopes in central Florida usually didn't survive April, leaving Tampa to play out the next five months in its lopsided indoor ballpark.
But after finding out a "real" team -- the champion Red Sox -- would be in town, and with an afternoon at an outlet mall as the alternative ... well ... point the way to St. Pete.
Turned out, the Rays would come to us. Tampa Bay happened to be playing its annual series at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex during our stay at the Magic Kingdom. So after a few spins on the teacups, we caught the second of what would be six straight Rays wins as they beat Toronto ace Roy Halladay.
Win No. 6 would come on our Sunday excursion south for the end of the Red Sox series.
That day's edition of the St. Petersburg Times included a sidebar on the Rays' frustration over the amount of red in the stands whenever Boston visited. Walking around the concourse before the game, it was apparent that would again be the case for the finale.
But with the Rays taking the first two games of the series, some of the "faithful" were hedging their bets, sporting Red Sox caps and Rays shirts or vice versa.
While Josh Beckett blew away the Rays early on his way to 13 strikeouts, James Shields buckled the knees of Red Sox hitters throughout a sparkling performance that was equal parts impressive and agonizing as memories of picking Jeremy Bonderman in a fantasy draft flooded back.
The 3-0 win pushed the Rays into first place, but the weekend sweep would surely be just a pleasant memory by midsummer, when Tampa had rejoined the AL East's downtrodden and ESPN resumed hyping all things Sawx and Yanks.
Here it is, a little more than halfway through the season and Tropicana Field, worn out Field Turf and all, is home to baseball's best team. With another series sweep over the Red Sox just completed, these guys are insisting on being taken seriously.
Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir lead a dynamic young pitching staff backed by a solid defense. And if you aren't yet familiar with B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, well, maybe it's your fantasy team that needs help.
Bottom line, the Rays are simply a fun team to watch.
So if you catch me wearing a blue TB cap, it's not a bandwagon thing. I knew Tampa would be baseball's next big thing.
Yup. Knew it all along.