Which way, Rays? With the season over, the future for the team is cloudy

By the time this reaches anywhere near print, the Ray's woeful Game 5 will be forgotten, as will a good part of the team's 2010 season. The throngs of the faithful will have all filed out and Soriano, Pena and Crawford will have likely cleaned out their lockers. Tampa Bay will have attempted to wash away the collective stink of the three dreadful ALDS home games, and hopefully the Rangers will be well into beating the piss out of the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series (I cheer for the enemy of my enemies, namely New York).

But not all is forgotten, because the story of this ALDS Game 5 — and the series as a whole — reaches far beyond a single evening, a single game or its postseason implications. It very much encapsulates the Rays' season as a whole. Up until 2010, Tampa Bay was never really a road team, but that is where they got most of their wins this year; it's also where they captured their only wins of this post-season. This Rays team was schizophrenic, at best, in 2010, characterized by phenomenal highs (sweeping Texas, Boston and Detroit) and rather abysmal lows (read: June, month of).

After David Price and Evan Longoria felt the need to call out the fans, suggesting that the paltry crowds in attendance were "embarrassing," the fans showed up, only to be subjected to embarrassing play on behalf of their beloved team. I think this 2010 Rays team and its fan base are a perfect match for each other; both showed up only when they really needed to. It just wasn't always on coinciding evenings. The Rays put up their sorry showing in the first two games in front of sold-out crowds who had to be there. They took it to Texas in the two away games in order to stave off elimination, showing up only when they needed to. How many times did we, as fans, have to deal with stories in the media detailing lackluster attendance? All too often, but we sure showed up against the Yankees and Red Sox. We sure showed up when they gave away 20,000 free tickets to the final home game of the regular season. Was that opportunism? No, I think it was a realization that we needed to support this organization.

So the question remains, is the fan base reflective of the team or is the team a reflection of the support it gets? I'm really not sure. At Game 5, the seats were packed and the crowd was loud and decidedly pro-Rays. There were raucous goings-on at Ferg's beforehand, a regular sight for home games, especially big ones. But by the seventh inning of what was still a very close game, little bald patches of blue started to crop up out of the mass of people in the stands. What kind of fickle fan base is this that was so eager to snap pics of David Price before the game and yet so eager to leave when their team was down a meager two runs with three innings' worth of offense remaining? But still, I fault no one for leaving early. As I said, this game was never out of hand but, at the same time, the Rays were never in it. It was clear from early on that Price was a bundle of nerves, and the fielding errors were uncharacteristic of a team built on a foundation of solid defense. They weren't getting it done and showed no signs of getting it together in time to prevent disaster (as an extra slap in the face, Cliff Lee pitched a complete game).

With the Rays' 2011 payroll being slashed by a projected $20 million — from $70 million to $50 million — fans have likely seen the last of a few favorites, most notably left fielder Carl Crawford. As a free agent, he'll likely be able to command half of the Rays' total payroll, and while I like to think he'd be willing to take a hometown discount, I think the difference between the least he'll settle for and the most we'll offer is far too great.

Also on his way out of town is closer Rafael Soriano, taking with him the Rays' record for saves in a single season. While he was here only the one year, fans really came to like the intense right-hander. I think his absence will be sorely felt in the upcoming season.

Which brings us to Carlos Pena, the power-hitting Gold-Glove first baseman. Sadly, Pena was also known for his tendency to strike out, and I think that was the dominant thing fans saw from him this year. I think his paycheck will be too much for the Rays to carry, and it might be more than he's worth, to be honest. Nothing against C-Los, I'm just giving my honest opinion; I can live without him.

Where do the Rays go from here? You can hardly call 2011 a rebuilding year when it's been announced that there will be no money to buy the tools and supplies necessary to rebuild. Is this team destined to return to the obscurity in which it toiled for an entire decade? They still have a solid core of players, but I think what the Rays are losing will become far more evident as the next year rolls around.

In closing, I'd like to say "Thank You" to the Tampa Bay Rays and my fellow fans for a memorable year of baseball. Congratulations on having made it so far, and better luck next year; current implications suggest you'll need as much luck as possible.

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