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Thought makes me sick

The Baltimore Sun

First, let's stipulate the obvious: The fact that the Tampa Bay Rays are in the World Series is good for baseball.

Despite claims that economic disparity is destroying the game, baseball will crown its eighth different champion in the past nine years this season. That's a remarkable statistic that helps shoot down the excuse-driven theory that teams like the Orioles can't compete because they don't have the payroll the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have. The Rays, after a decade of on-field incompetence, have shown that if you draft well, make the right trades and lock up your best players at a young age, you can compete for, and possibly even win, a title.

As a sports purist, though, it makes me want to puke.

Rays fans wouldn't know suffering if it drilled them in the back at 95 mph, right between the numbers of their brand-new, wrinkle-free Evan Longoria jersey - the one that still has a price tag dangling from the sleeve. They're like the college kid who skips every class, never studies, stumbles into the last test reeking of whiskey and Taco Bell, and then aces the final. Nobody roots for that guy except his family, and even his family has their doubts until the miraculous turnaround.

On one hand, sports are almost better than elections because real life doesn't adhere to sentiment. The best team wins, regardless of back story. If the Rays win the World Series, the Florida Marlins and Rays - two expansion teams with lackluster fan support - will have won three Series in 11 years.

The fact that Duke apologist Dick Vitale is the world's most famous Rays fan only makes Tampa Bay's ascension feel all the more phony and unfair. For a team that suddenly has the most overcrowded bandwagon in the history of baseball, though, Vitale just might be the perfect spokesman.

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