|ESPN.com: Spring 2009||[Print without images]|
|The Rays will have left-handed phenom David Price for a full season in 2009.|
“"And the thing people haven't even paid much attention to," said one AL executive, "is that a lot of their key players didn't even have great years. If you said to me that B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria would all be even better this year than last year, I wouldn't be surprised. They have the kind of players who could take huge leaps forward." Now add in the journey these men have all taken in their minds and you have a much more dangerous team than the rest of the Yankees-and-Red-Sox-centric universe has fathomed yet. But there's also a reason most of the planet is still picking them third in the AL East, behind, uh, guess who. The Rays are still a team whose entire payroll ($61 million) will make $17 million less than the Yankees will just pay their starting infield. And the Rays are still a team that forgot to sign any $180 million free agents, for the 12th straight winter. Their entire starting rotation figures to be 27 or younger. And maybe their biggest challenge -- besides the division they play in -- is this: Is it even possible to duplicate the magic of a season as enchanted as the one they just finished? "Absolutely not -- but I don't think we're looking to," Friedman said. "We don't want to. It was a magical season in a lot of ways. And it's something we'll all look back on fondly. But this is a completely different season." There's no feeling in sports like winning the first time. But this group gets that. So this is a team trying to change the subject, not the outcome. "Our hope and expectation is to get back to where we got last year," Friedman said, "through a completely different road." And that's where the local philosopher-king, Maddon, comes in. He thought all winter about how to communicate the psychology a team needs to repeat. But just talking about wanting to win again wasn't enough, he decided. "Of course we want to repeat," he said. "Of course we want to do this again. We want to be back in the World Series. Anybody can say that. But for me, I thought it was important to give them something to think about beyond 'We just want to go back.' That's way too easy. So I thought about it a lot. And it came down to two words: 'gratitude' and 'humility.'" "Gratitude" means: Savor what you've already accomplished. But "humility" means: Never lose sight of how little you've already accomplished. So those are the words now rattling around the brains of a clubhouse full of men determined to prove that 2008 was The Beginning for this team, not an aberration. "There has never been a more opportune moment to shape the future in the history of this organization," Joe Maddon said. "And if we let this moment pass, we're foolish." Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
There has never been a more opportune moment to shape the future in the history of this organization. And if we let this moment pass, we're foolish.” -- Rays manager Joe Maddon