I grew up here in Florida, and this was Braves territory for most of my growing up years. Though most of the people I knew rooted for whatever team their parents or grandparents grew up rooting for because most everyone came from some other part of the country (or their family did in a recent generation or two). For example, my mother’s family is from Northeast Ohio, so our family were Indians fans for most of my life.
Or people were football fans (and this was during the orange-saturated Buccaneers era). But mostly, everyone was either a Gator or Seminoles fan — this area takes its college football loyalties very seriously. (Still does, actually.) See in the world of professional baseball, with Spring Training and minor league games so big, MLB didn’t think there was much fan base for pro ball in the state of Florida. So Miami didn’t get their team until 1993, and the Rays didn’t move into the Tampa area until 1998. Not that I want to date myself or anything, but by the time the area was progressively converted to the new spectacle that was the “Devil Rays” in all the colorful glory and domed stadium in St. Petersburg, I was already a closeted Yankee fan.
There is still a bit of lacking when it comes to outright fan base in the area. The stadium doesn’t get many seats filled, even for a big-name team like the Yankees and even when the Rays are any good. And there’s been so much talk about moving the team to a “better location” in the area (read: new stadium) and trying to build that fan base. And believe me, I can talk and express my opinions with the best of them (and have); but now is not the time for this.
But I do have friends who are passionate about “their team”, upset over favorite players traded or signed away recently, bummed that they can’t make it to more games during the season, hopeful the management change is a sign of good things to come, and highly opinionated on how the Rays can be a better team. In other words, they have quite a fan base, much like almost every other team in the league.
And you could hear that fan base. At Yankees-Rays games at Tropicana Field, you usually get about half and half for a fan base, mainly because the Yankees are the second favorite team in the area (partly due to Spring Training and the minor league team and partly because the Yankees are America’s team). But tonight’s game featured cheering for the almost all-rookie team of Rays players louder than usual. Fans cheering at 2-strikes for the strikeouts and that anticipated build-up to catch that long fly ball on the warning track. For not being a big turnout, the Rays fans showed up to be Rays fans. And that’s rather impressive, especially as most of the area has hockey fever (the city’s NHL team is in the playoffs this week).
Adam Warren got the start for the Yankees tonight and started off pretty good. He threw just 46 pitches through his first 3 innings, but then things just fell apart for him in the 4th. Two runners on base with a single and a walk, with just 1 out, a big 3-run home run puts the Rays on top only to be accentuated by the solo home run of the next batter. Eventually getting out of the messy inning, Warren would end up with a stats line of 80 pitches over his 4 innings, giving up 6 hits, 4 runs, and 2 walks, and striking out just 2 batters.
Esmil Rogers came on to pitch the 5th and 6th innings rather flawlessly, only giving up 1 walk. He got one out of the 7th before reliever Wilson got his one out. Then the ball was handed over to Betances to finish the 7th and get 2 outs in the 8th (all 3 outs were strikeouts, by the way). Then it was the Andrew Miller show for the final 4 outs — 3 of them were strikeouts, and it was a beautiful save, his 3rd of 3 save opportunities this season so far.
But all of that would be nothing without hitting. And for hitting it really came down to two things — home runs and Alex Rodriguez. In the 2nd inning, Rodriguez started the ball rolling with an amazing 471 foot home run into left-center field. (For the record, the longest home run hit in the Trop was 478 feet by the Blue Jays’ Vinny Castilla in April 2001.) Then with 2 outs in the 4th inning, it’s Stephen Drew’s turn for glory — a solo home run to right-center field, his 100th career home run.
In the top of the 6th, the Rays are up 4-2 over the Yankees, so it’s time for some hitting. With 1 out, McCann walked and then scored on Rodriguez’s 2-run home run (this one only 400 feet into the left field seats). This would be Rodriguez’s 61st career multi-home run game, his most recent in May 2012 against the Royals.
And it’s into the 8th inning, with the score tied 4-4. Beltran singled and then was replaced by pinch-runner Brett Gardner (who would take over in left field on defense). Two outs and many pick-off attempts later, Gardner stole 2nd and then scored easily on (who else tonight?) Rodriguez’s single.
Final score from the Trop: 5-4 Yankees.
Injury updates: Brett Gardner’s MRI yesterday came back as predicted — a bone bruise, which made him day-to-day; but he jumped into today’s game as a pinch-runner and that definitely worked out for the best, so I imagine we’ll see him more frequently unless the arm tightens up again. And in Tampa today, Ivan Nova, in rehab after Tommy John surgery last year, threw batting practice, which makes him on target for some minor league rehab starts come May 1. Chris Capuano threw to Jose Pirela for their own extended Spring Training/Injury Rehab, both injured in March; Pirela is expected to begin regular games Monday, somewhere in the minor league system. And Brendan Ryan will be on his way back to Tampa for his rehab, beginning workouts next week.
Things are rolling, pieces are falling into place, the new normal has arrived. With shades of yesterday and hopes for the future, this is my kind of now.