You Can Call Me Ray

November 8, 2006 was a day that I will never forget. In my life it was the equivalent to asking where I was when Kennedy was shot or what was I doing when man first landed on the moon. It was an historic day to day the least. On that day much of my life changed and I have yet to figure out whether it was for the better or the worse. The evening of November 8 at the Valley Ho resort in Phoenix the Arizona Diamondbacks unveiled their new color scheme during a fashion show. Gone were the comfortable and unique purple, turquoise, and copper replaced with Sedona Red, Sonoran Sand, and Black. This led to a dramatic change in my life as I went about replacing all of my old team memorabilia with ones that fit the new color scheme. I wondered how in the world a team could turn its back on 12 years of history and start over. I’m sure a lot of my family and friends thought I was crazy for getting so worked up over something as trivial as a team changing its colors. But to a fan there is nothing more sacrilegious as messing with your favorite team’s colors; unless perhaps a franchise goes one step further and changes its name.

Yesterday in Tampa Florida, the Arizona Diamondbacks expansion brethren Tampa Bay Devil Rays went through the baseball equivalent of an extreme makeover. Because both of these teams came into the league at the same time and were awarded on the same fateful day on March 9, 1995 they have forever been linked. Each team unveiled their logos and colors to an excited group of fans and the competition began. One thing they both had in common was the unique look of their logos and the inclusion of the color purple in their color scheme. Like the Diamondbacks the Devil Rays logo and uniforms changed throughout the first ten years of existence. Arizona made the purple more pronounced while Tampa Bay moved to more green as their primary color. While the two teams shared a tendency to continuously change their fashions, they differed substantially in how they built their teams. After the first season Arizona took an approach of bringing in veterans and making a fast run at the post season. Tampa Bay took a more conservative approach of building from within. Arizona found success quickly becoming the fastest expansion team to reach the post season and winning the World Series in only their fourth season of existence. Tampa Bay on the other hand has endured 10 seasons of baseball without a winning record. They are the only Major League Baseball team to have no post season experience and one of only 4 teams to have never appeared in a World Series. That amount of failure for that length of time can take its toll on a team and on a fan base.

When the Arizona Diamondbacks changed their colors, they used it as a metaphor for a new beginning. The 2007 team would be substantially different than the teams before it. The youth movement was in full swing and with it came the new colors. The ball players responded to the change in colors and personnel and had a magical run that ended a mere 4 wins from a second World Series berth. The team far exceeded the expectations of the baseball world.

Tampa Bay continued along the path they had been walking for the past 10 years and the results for 2007 were very similar to the previous 9. They ended with a 66-96 record giving them the worst record in Major League Baseball assuring them of yet another number 1 overall pick in the draft. Perhaps it was time to take a page from the Arizona Diamondbacks playbook and make some changes. Yesterday at the Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa the team held a “Picnic in the Park” celebration and unveiled changes. raysjerseys.jpgThis was not just an evolutionary change of color hues. This was an all-out attack on the past to distance themselves from the memories of failure they have endured. Gone was the purple and green replaced with two shades of blue. The colors have a very traditional look to them in fact they look identical to the colors now being worn by the San Diego Padres. (This was a similar argument that Arizona fans heard as their new color scheme was compared with Houston and incorrectly deemed identical.) It wasn’t just the new colors though. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays shortened their name leaving out the word “Devil”. They will now be known as the Tampa Bay Rays. The Devil Rays signified the magnificent sea creature with the graceful gliding pattern in the water. The Rays signify the rays of the sun playing off the fact that the team plays in sunny Florida. No offense but unless you are a vampire it is hard to imagine anyone being afraid of a little ray of sunshine. I can totally understand the fans being less than thrilled with the changes. I am sure there are fans as dedicated to the “Rays” as I am to the Diamondbacks. There is probably at this moment some guy in Tampa Bay laying in bed in his purple and green Devil Rays pajamas with his green team blanket pulled up over his head wondering how in the world he is going to get up and face the day knowing every team item he now has is obsolete. He’ll initially think he will keep the old colors just to show the team he is committed to the history albeit short history of this franchise. He’ll endure countless questions from his friends and acquaintances who will ask why the team changed their colors and name. He’ll respond with an answer that sounds like a team press release while deep down wondering whether Bud Selig’s goal is to finally get all 30 teams to wear either red or blue. Ultimately he’ll give up and slowly start to purchase the new merchandise because he will never be able to look at himself in the mirror while wearing the old team colors and name. And a year from now he’ll go into his closet which felt so comfortable with green and purple and he’ll see that it is filled with two-tone blue and he’ll wonder whether the team’s fortunes were really linked to the colors and name or if this was just one big marketing ploy to reverse the fortunes of fans such as himself.

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