Being a Pinellas County native, I was most excited that the Tampa Bay Rays had the opportunity to win the World Series and add that trophy to those won by the Bucs, the Lightning and the Storm.
Moreover, being a resident of Clearwater, I believed that a Rays-Philadelphia Phillies match-up would be a "win-win" for Clearwater and Pinellas County, if not the entire Tampa Bay area — a U.S. 19 series that would rival the Yankees-Mets "subway series."
But since the last out was made, I have had mixed emotions.
Like all Rays fans, Clearwater residents endured season after season of losing records and empty stadiums. Still, there was support for the Rays throughout Clearwater, and the Clearwater City Council and local businesses repeatedly expressed it.
Today, we are all proud of the accomplishments of the Rays — successes few of us believed would be realized in 2008. The Rays reaffirm that a strong work ethic, teamwork, practice, and a responsibility to and for each other can produce winners in an era of high-salaried ballplayers. The players and this organization have become role models for our area and the country.
The team's victories, and even its losses, helped each of us endure much of the political rhetoric and economic news that made headlines in recent weeks. It is right for us to thank the Rays for this season, and it will be important for us to encourage the team by attending next year's games in record numbers.
While Pinellas County's home team did not win the World Series, its residents, and especially residents of Clearwater, can also be proud of the Philadelphia Phillies' victory. "Why?" some will ask who do not realize the many contributions this team from Philadelphia has made to our area.
Only the Detroit Tigers organization has been in the same Florida city longer than the Phillies have been holding spring training in Clearwater. The Phillies and the Florida State League Threshers have been important members of the Clearwater community.
Unlike many major league organizations that have held their host hostage or have played Florida cities against offers made by communities in Arizona, Clearwater and the Phillies have worked together as partners.
The Phillies' home is Philadelphia, but the organization is also Clearwater-based. Do not dismiss the economic impact of spring training to Clearwater and Pinellas County. It is in the millions of dollars. Let us remember that for the Phillies, Clearwater is first stop for all its minor league players.
Also, throughout the year, players whose dream is to make it to the big league use Bright House Networks Field and the Carpenter Complex. These Clearwater facilities help host the Big East Baseball Tournament, high school graduations and many other activities all year long.
The entire Philadelphia organization, from its president to its minor league batboys, supports the community through activities and charities that benefit organizations such as Clearwater for Youth, All Children's Hospital, the Moffitt Cancer Center and our nation's veterans.
The Phillies may be Philadelphia's team, but Clearwater is part of the Phillies' spirit.
I hope that when Spring Training 2009 begins, we will greet the Philadelphia Phillies with the welcome a world champion deserves. While some of the enthusiasm expressed for the Phillies may be misunderstood because our Rays have been beaten, I hope what is clear is how much a part of Clearwater, Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay area the Phillies organization has been for more than 60 years.
As fans of America's pastime, let us applaud the Rays for the season and thrills provided, but let us also join in saluting the Phillies for the victory. Isn't that what sportsmanship is all about?
George Cretekos is a member of the Clearwater City Council.