Some fans of the Tampa Bay Rays might be asking, what have you done for me lately? The Rays have started the season 0-6 after today’s loss to the Chicago White Sox. There is another team in major league baseball who have started the same way and they are in the same division as the Rays. That team just happens to be the Boston Red Sox. It’s a silver lining, you have to admit.
Unfortunately, a team in the National League was also oh for the season, the Houston Astros, who are dreadful. They won today. Sad.
Now that that ugliness is out in the open and those of you who know me probably feel my pain, I will go on to explain why I’m with this team for better or for worse. A lot of you know the story, but I can’t tell it enough.
I don’t have to ask the question of the what have you done for me lately variety of the Rays because just their existence influenced my life in ways I’ll never communicate in a blog post. I only wish I could tell them.
After losing my vision in April of 2008, my life was shattered. One of the hardest adjustments to make, and one I’ll never fully be able to make, is no longer having the ability to play pool. I was an amateur pool player, but a competitive one, playing on two teams at the time I went blind. After first losing the vision in my right eye in 2006, I thought I’d never play again, but found I actually shot better with only one eye, and luckily enough, I lined my pool cute below my left eye. My skills just got better after losing the right eye. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do it with no eyes, at least not one I’ve experimented with. I have some ideas, but who knows if I’ll ever get the chance to try.
What does playing pool have to do with baseball? Finding baseball has helped to bring me back into some kind of competition, even though it’s not me who’s participating. I’ve since tried playing Goalball which was awesome, but too much on me physically. We’ve got a beep baseball team here, but it’s too hot for the MS. So by listening to baseball, I get to participate in competition as a third party, so to speak.
I wasn’t a baseball fan until towards the end of the 2008 season when I was a few months blind. B always had it on and one day I heard ‘Down and Out’ by Tantric. “Hey, it’s that song, why’s it playing?” I asked B, being fond of the song.
B went on to explain that it was Evan Longoria’s walk up music. He told me all about the Rays and how terrible they had been until Joe Maddon took over the team and dropped the Devil from the Devil Rays. Suddenly the team was winning with a shot at the post season. Cool story, I thought, as I went back to whatever it was I had been doing, most likely laying in bed listening to stupid stuff on TV.
I remember when B told me he ordered MLB Extra Innings on our cable package and when I expressed consternation at the price, he said not to worry, he’d pay for it. “Unless I find you watching baseball in the bedroom,” he had said, to which I rolled my eyes.
Ahem, well yeah, I ended up with baseball on in the bedroom during the first round of playoffs. Ever since that day I heard Tantric, I had followed the Rays’ journey through B.
Eventually B told me the games would be on the local sports radio station and might be easier for me to follow. Were they ever! I caught every game of the post season in 2008 and cried when the Rays lost to the Phillies in the World Series. The Rays made me a baseball fan in the space of a couple months.
B figured it was a fluke and that I’d never stay a baseball fan. In the off season however, I caught wind of a support desk for blind computer users. On an email list I’m on, there was a forward about the help desk and what they do and it mentioned helping blind people tune into radio broadcasts of baseball teams from all over the league. Really? I instantly emailed the help desk and found out about what was then called Gameday Audio at mlb.com. The help desk is through Lighthouse, I believe, though I’ve since lost their contact info.
There I was, a new Mac user, learning how to navigate the web using a screen reader, which was very slow going. As the 2009 season approached, I waited anxiously to try Gameday audio and start following the Rays from the start of a season. How awesome it was when it was finally time! Dave and Andy, the Rays radio announcers, quickly took up residence in my apartment daily, calling the games and and giving me daily lessons in baseball. Before I knew it I was reading Rays blogs and posting on the forum at mlb.com. The Rays didn’t make the post season that year, but I listened to every game.
Nothing changed last season except that I was an even bigger fan, more experienced in the game, more knowledgeable about the rules and intricacies and more informed about other teams. B laughed one day when I said I was listening to the Rangers since the Rays were playing them next and I wanted to scout out the players.
It’s only gotten more fanatic. I don’t know how much Rays apparel I have now. I made my first ever online purchase using a screen reader at mlb.com to get my first Rays shirt. I’ve called the post game show and Talked with Rich Herrera and he sent me a gift box laden with giveaways they give fans at the park. Just last month I talked to Matt Joyce on the phone after a Rays fan on Twitter arranged it at Rays FanFest.
Every day since opening day I’ve listened to games, not just the Rays, but the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Rockies, Cubs, whatever game is on. I listened to the spring training games to get a feel for the prospects. I’ve read baseball books available in audio format like ‘Moneyball’ and ‘The Yankee Years’, which gave me even more insight to the sport and how it works behind the scenes, how trades work, what free agency means, etc.
Regular readers will know how much I love ‘The bullpen Gospels’ and the writer, Dirk Hayhurst, and how excited I was when he signed with the Rays. I learned about the minor leagues from him and even emailed him and had a few Twitter exchanges. He has inspired me as a writer. I’ll follow him closely as he pitches in AAA this season and when I listened to his pitching appearance in spring training, I got tears in my eyes.
This team is personal for me. This team is so much more than a collection of guys who throw balls around and swing the bats. This team is something I can put my energy into, a way for me to participate in competition again, something for me to learn about, something for me to cheer. Hearing the crack of the bat and Andy and Dave call the games brings me joy I will never express with words. I cried when men celebrated like boys last year when they won the AL East. I love this team.
This year is just sad and heart breaking. Evan Longoria had to come out of the second game with a strained oblique and has gone on the DL. The rest of the team just seems to be trying too hard in his absence, scoring just one run in every game save for one in which they scored three but lost. The starting pitching has been good and the pitchers don’t deserve the losses on their records. It’s heartbreaking. I’m with them though even though each of these last six games have made me want to vomit. I have been so tempted to turn the game off just about every day but I just can’t do it. I can’t desert them, not after everything they’ve done for me.
I wish I could show my support by going to games at the Trop but that’s rather impossible living here in Arizona. B and I are talking about going to see them in Anaheim though, so I might just get to cheer for my guys in person.
It’s great when your team is winning. It’s heartbreaking when they lose. Sticking by them no matter what makes a true fan though, and a true Rays fan I am and will always be. They’ve given me a gift they’ll never know they gave, the gift of baseball in my time of darkness.
This post isn’t going to be polished and perfect, because when I’m writing about things that mean a lot to me, I like to truly capture how I felt at the time of writing it. Maybe that’s what has been so hard about writing my story, as Dirk Hayhurst inspired me to do. Not only do I know how every chapter ends, I have a hard time editing it down haha! Maybe that’s what is so great about baseball. The game tends to mimic life. Just when you think you’ve lost the game, a tremendous play happens behind you and you’ve won.