Saturday, September 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Pack it up, pack it in: It’s Rays-A’s this weekend

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays and A's open a three-game series Friday night in the vacuum of Tropicana Field.

Scalpers, stand down.

This just in: loser gets a lifetime supply of packing peanuts.

Hey, we have to jazz this series up, don't we?

Win or move.

Yes, the surprising, entertaining Rays are chasing the surprising, entertaining A's for the second AL wild-card spot, but there really aren't true playoff implications, as the A's lead the Rays by eight games with roughly two weeks remaining.

But it's the Rays and the A's, two franchises joined at the wallets, which barely open, and the turnstiles, which hardly turn. Two clubs that are always finding ways to compete, despite being world leaders in seats covered by tarps. The Rays and A's, eternally trying to build new ballparks. The Rays and A's, chief grist for the eternal relocation rumor mill.

Why not go for it this weekend?

And we mean "go."

Park the moving vans outside the Trop. Each time the Rays or A's give up a run, load some of the other team's equipment in a van. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred will supervise. And hand out box seats to the mayors of Charlotte, Portland, Las Vegas, as well as the president of Mexico, if President Donald Trump lets him cross the border.

Think that wouldn't make this weekend exciting?

The See Ya Showdown, sponsored by the Montreal Office of Tourism and Old Dominion Freight Lines.

The Rays and A's have about the two lowest payrolls in baseball. The Rays have the worst attendance in the American League. The A's have the second worst. Once upon a time, 40 years ago, the A's averaged a measly 4,000 fans per game. The A's have been at this a while, with world championships thrown in, but remain consigned to their Oakland mausoleum, while the Rays have done a 20-year stretch under the catwalks.

Why not make this weekend livelier and put it all on the line? A's win and the Rays move. Rays win and the A's move. I'd pay to see it. I'll bring the packing tape. Talk about pressure.

It's too bad that someone must go, though that is not for certain. Baseball might see the light. Or Oakland might develop a stadium. Or the Rays could build one. Out back. In the big barn. And my Aunt Polly could make the costumes.

Meanwhile, the A's are a stunning 89-58, and the Rays are an equally stunning 80-65. The Rays aren't going to catch the A's.

But here's to trying. Here's to the Rays and A's. Here's to $12 infields and relievers as starters. By the way, Oakland is bringing 33 pitchers to this series. Here's to expanded rosters and imaginations.

Maybe the A's went first, with Billy Beane and Moneyball, but the Rays are fast learners. Both of these franchises, out of necessity, have had to find different ways to compete against the $200 million monsters. They have learned to do more with less. They should be lousy, but they find a way to subsist, so much so that other teams are almost jealous.

We could do that if it wasn't for all this dough.

Really, we should be building statues to the Rays and A's, though Brad Pitt as Beane is pretty good. Building stadiums to the Rays and A's seems out of the question.

I'd probably give the long-term edge to the A's, given that they play in the San Francisco bay area. Let's see the Rays sell a suite to Mark Zuckerberg. The A's have Silicon Valley, the Rays have a just plain valley.

Baseball's commissioner seems to think the A's still have everything to offer in a market. Meanwhile, at the recent news conference to unveil the Rays' proposed Ybor City ball yard, one of the speakers said he "couldn't think of another city with more mass transit possibilities" than Tampa Bay. Then the men with the butter­fly nets got him.

Where were we? The Rays and A's travel in the same circles, think the same way, which explains why there aren't tons of Rays-A's trades, though the Rays did ship the ever valuable and popular Ben Zobrist to the A's before the 2015 season in exchange for, among others, Daniel Robertson, who is part of the Rays' future. Value.

The A's then turned around during the next season and traded Zobrist to Kansas City for, among others, promising (but injured) lefty pitcher Sean Manaea. Value.

That's the game the Rays and A's always play, the same game. They would not know how to fight each other in a playoff chase if you asked them.
Let's make this weekend a party just the same. The A's are churning toward the post­season, and the Rays are churning toward a bright 2019. It's worth sitting back and appreciating them this weekend.

Good seats — very good seats — are still available.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029.

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