As much fun as the Tampa Bay fans --most of them coming out of the woodwork as we speak-- are having, the Rays' unexpected success this season has to appeal to an even larger segment of sports fans.
Those who are sick to death of the Yankees and Red Sox.
The author has long pined for an AL East team other than these two juggernauts to make a run at a division title. Unprecedented spending has rendered those desires more fantasy than reality since Baltimore won it in 1997.
Since then, either the Red Sox or the Yankees have won the division crown. If that isn't enough, the other team has won the wild card in seven of the past 11 seasons. The result? In addition to being inundated with 19 regular season games, we get up to seven over-hyped postseason contests between the two franchises.
The author realizes that this is probably the premier rivalry in all of sports. That's great. But he feels that the sporting world has an unappealing penchant for embracing decades-old rivalries, many of them just not that relevant any more, at the expense of accepting new ones.
That's why the bench-clearing, trash-talking affair between the Red Sox and the Rays has been so compelling this year. These teams have had bad blood for quite some time now, but the series has been so one-sided that we've been hesitant to label it a rivalry. With Tampa Bay flat-out outplaying Boston the games have taken on a new dimension and intensity.
The addition of a viable third party in the AL East sets up the exciting possibility of three-way battles down the stretch, more frequent do-or-die scenarios and a greater likelihood that someone other than the old stalwarts will get to make a World Series run. It's good for baseball.
Fight on Tampa Bay. You're the Ralph Nader of your division.