New Yankees boss Hank Steinbrenner scoffed (to put it politely) at the notion of Red Sox Nation last week, claiming "this is a Yankee country" and they would "restore the universe to order."
Could the Rays have at least a small corner of that world?
Coinciding with the new look and improved outlook, the Rays have been enjoying an unprecedented splash of (positive) national publicity.
B.J. Upton is on the cover of ESPN The Magazine and a regional edition of the Sporting News preview edition, Evan Longoria is featured in Sports Illustrated, Forbes is doing an article on their better business practices, ESPN is featuring their improved operation for its E:60 show. There was seemingly a national debate over their internal discussions about Barry Bonds. One recent night, SI.com had three Rays stories on its home page, and espn.com has had several large features.
"The exposure is good, and the hype is entertaining," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "We'd certainly rather have these types of stories than the ones that may have been written in the past."
Or as principal owner Stuart Sternberg said: "The humor is there, but the jokes have stopped."
Silverman said the national recognition is good because it validates the local fans' excitement, and the exposure for their new uniforms and colors can't hurt.
"It's a good story, and the media is always looking for that good turnaround story," Silverman said. "Certainly our first 10 seasons have set us up for a good turnaround story."
So, is this the beginning of Ray Nation?
Not quite yet.
"We'll be happy with the Rays' State of Florida," Silverman said. "We want to be Florida's team before we take it nationwide."
HOUSER LOOPHOLE: The (unprecedented) reason LHP James Houser's suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine was cut short is a result of the players union not adhering to the minor-league drug policy. Under the joint agreement, once Houser was put on the 40-man roster, he was no longer subject to minor-league rules (50-game suspension for the first positive test). The MLB program doesn't suspend first-time violators.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Baseball Prospectus projects 88 wins for the Rays, a stunning increase of 22 from '07. … Upton said having his contract renewed (and his salary cut $10,000) was "a nonissue" and won't impact future negotiations. … Gov. Charlie Crist's prediction? "They're going to have a winning year. I'm hoping for the playoffs." … The Bonds chatter may have cooled, but if there is a spring injury, the Rays could quickly start talking again. Executive VP Andrew Friedman, by the way, told ESPN's Peter Gammons: "If I didn't entertain ideas, be it a signing of a great hitter like Bonds or a trade, I should be fired." … Vanderbilt 3B Pedro Alvarez, a top option for the No. 1 overall draft pick, could miss six weeks after breaking a bone in his right hand. … Longoria will be at International Plaza Champps sports bar for Monday's 6-7 p.m. Countdown to Opening Day radio show on 620-WDAE.