At 2:30 this afternoon, time will stop in Tampa Bay. Watching the scoreboard will be more important than watching the Dow. The maneuverings of Maddon will be monitored more closely than those of McCain — or Obama. Carl Crawford and James Shields must come before Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. The Tampa Bay Rays play their first-ever playoff game against the Chicago White Sox this afternoon at Tropicana Field. For nine innings, everything else can just wait.
The Rays are the brightest spot in a grim fall. They are the champs of the American League East, the upstarts who leaped over the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. After losing at least 90 games a year for a decade, they won 97. They are a feel-good story in an angry political season, the reason the HDTV strays more frequently to ESPN instead of CNN.
Remember how long it took to reach this moment. The years of begging and plotting for a major league franchise for Tampa Bay that began in the '70s. The decision to build the dome on hope in the '80s. The disappointment 20 years ago when these very White Sox were so close to moving here and instead stayed in Chicago for a new stadium. The engagement to the Giants in the early '90s, broken when the other team owners forced them to stay in San Francisco. The thrill in the '90s when the Rays finally arrived, and the dull pain of years of lousy teams and empty seats.
This is a day for the baseball believers, including several who worked so hard for so long for a team for Tampa Bay and did not live to see this. It's for the fans who were in the Trop for Wilson Alvarez's first pitch, Wade Boggs' 3,000th hit and more losses than anyone cares to remember. It's for a community that can use a break from home foreclosures, job losses and bank takeovers.
On a Thursday afternoon in October, there is playoff baseball in Tampa Bay. Regardless of the outcome, there will be a silver lining even as we are forced to turn our attention back to the economic crisis and tonight's vice presidential debate: Game 2 is Friday night.