Don’t mention the Devil Rays

Most British baseball fans develop a daily ritual whereby one of their first tasks in the morning is to log on to MLB.com and check the results from the previous day’s play. You scour the scoreboard to see who won (and by how many runs) and then check the basic facts such as who was credited for the win, loss and save and who hit a homerun. You can then dive into the box scores to see how your fantasy players performed (counting the points as you go) before checking out the reports from the results that catch your eye.

Tampa Bay’s result stood out for me this morning, not least because they managed to hit B.J. Ryan for three runs to comeback from a 5-3 deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning. I watched the Condensed Game clip and was struck by the excitement of the occasion. This is a franchise that has yet to finish with a winning record since their first season in 1998, never mind make the play-offs. So it’s been a tough start for them, but things are beginning to turn around. Years of poor results have at least provided them with early draft picks and an opportunity to build from within. This process is starting to bear fruit and this was graphically shown in last night’s game Their rally in the ninth was brought about by Delmon Young’s two-run homer to tie the game. Elijah Dukes’s single moved Iwamura to third base before B.J. Upton singled in the winning run.

They are still short on pitching (Scott Kazmir being the notable exception), but there are signs that this is a team who are now well and truly on the right track. Having a young, talented ballclub brings with it a sense of energy, excitement and, most importantly, belief. After years in the doldrums, Tampa Bay fans have good reason to be optimistic. It’s no wonder last night’s game was sold out and I’m sure the occasion will make many of them come back for more on a consistent basis.

In some ways it as though, after nine seasons, the franchise is being reborn. That feeling will be reinforced when they introduce new logos, colours and uniforms for the 2008 season. This process has already begun and is what lies behind the title of this post. There’s every reason to talk about this young Tampa Bay team, it’s referring to them as the Devil Rays that is the sticking point. When I watched the Condensed Game footage it was very noticeable that the commentators kept referring to the “Rays” and when you read official reports of their games the “Devil” is conspicuous by its absence.

According to recent reports, the Devil Rays will officially be shortened to the Rays in 2008 and many reporters have already made the switch (as, no doubt, have people who simply use “the Rays” as shorthand). The team’s name has been the subject of a fair amount of discussion over the years and I guess it’s no surprise that some Americans have an issue with the use of the word Devil. So the Rays it is, or probably will be officially next season at least. Generally these corporate re-branding efforts are just superficial attempts to create a new identity, but in this case it looks like it will coincide with a genuine change in the franchise’s fortunes.

Whatever they are called, I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more about Tampa Bay over the next few years.

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