October 1, 2008

Phillies Fan’s Biggest Postseason Fear: The Tampa Bay Rays

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Hundreds of miles south of the New York border, and even farther from the Cornell campus, living inside the Capital Beltway for the last month has been a pretty exciting adventure. When I left Cornell for summer break, I was thoroughly convinced that there wouldn’t be a single thing I’d miss about being away from Ithaca for nine months. In the last week, however, I’ve surprised myself by missing something (or more accurately, someone) I despise: New York sports fans.
This past Saturday when the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Washington Nationals, 4-3, and the confetti flew and the neon bell at Citizens Bank Park lit up in with victory lights, I was ecstatic! National League East champs two years in a row, what more could a Philadelphia sports fan hope for (aside from the obvious, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). Still, an almost imperceptible flicker of disappointment crossed my face as I turned and realized there were no token Mets fans, or even Yankees fans, to mock and taunt about how neither team managed to make a killing in the Hunt for October. After three years of less-than-good natured ribbing between me and the most obnoxious fans in professional sports, I was at a loss. Even I’m not low enough to brag to Nationals fans here in the district, it’s just not right.
With the postseason festivities scheduled to kick off this evening, I’ve contemplated writing one of those prediction columns where I pretend to have ESP (or ESPN Insider, take your pick) and hypothesize about who I think will walk away with the big cheese. But, I’m not an ESPN sports pundit and The Sun doesn’t pay me so I have zero motivation to predict that anyone but the Phillies will win. In short, I’m too loyal to admit in print that the Phillies might not win it all.
Instead, I’ll take the safer route and confess what my biggest fears are for the postseason: the American League. It may seem like I’m counting my chickens before they’re hatched and it is certainly against my superstitious nature to entertain thoughts of the future but I can’t help myself, the American League terrifies me. During the two weeks of interleague play in June, the Phils went 3-for-9. It was far from a stellar performance and probably two of the worst weeks in the whole regular season. And the one team in particular that’s got me biting my nails is one we haven’t even played yet.
No one can pinpoint the one particular thing that has sent the Tampa Bay Rays on a whirlwind of winning in the regular season, but I’m fairly positive I’ve got it all figured out. It’s the name change. Dropping the “Devil” from their moniker apparently cleansed their aura and gave them good karma because they went 97-65 in the regular season. If you compare their success this year to their notorious failures in the last 10 years, you’d be tempted to call them the “God” Rays, that’s how good they’ve been. After all, they usurped the Red Sox to win the AL East Championship and no one, especially Red Sox Nation (ew), could have predicted that.
When you take into account the fact that the Ducks won the Stanley Cup as soon as they stopped telling everyone they were “Mighty,” it makes you see Romeo’s infamous query — whether a rose by any other name smells sweet — in a whole new light. Anyway, after the outcome of last year’s playoffs when the Rockies came out of nowhere to dash Philadelphia’s postseason hopes, I’ve learned to be suspicious of any team that is suddenly simply too good to be true. Unlike most other things in life, sometimes they really are that good.
Do the Rays “smell sweeter” with a new name? It certainly seems so. I’m not suggesting that the Phillies should change their identity between now and 3 p.m. just so they could possibly change their karmic balance. Still, I’m willing to bet I’m not the only Major League Baseball fan who’s concerned about the Rays going all the way. Upsets are practically a rule in professional sports, which Boston fans have learned the hard way in the past year (Superbowl, anyone?).
Down here in D.C., where people look at you funny if you don’t mention the economy or the election at least once every 10 seconds, it’s almost refreshing to worry about downfall coming from something that doesn’t go by the name “Wall Street” or “Palin.” And, with plenty of times and games separating the Phillies from American League competition, it’s nice to know the Mets (and the Rockies) are out of the picture.