Monday, May 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays opener couldn't have gone better

ST. PETERSBURG

There is a calm, collected way to look at this, of course. It's a good start, nothing more. It's a fine first step, but the season is a thousand-mile journey.

That's the way a measured fan will look at the Rays' 9-2 bashing of the Toronto Blue Jays in Monday's season opener. It was just a notch in the belt. A small sample. Nothing more.

Then, of course, there is the infinitely more fun, excitable boy approach.

As in this: Whee!

As in this: Get a load of those guys!

As in this: Watch out, American League. Here they come!

The Rays kicked in the doors on a new baseball season, then they kicked the Blue Jays. This time, the crowd showed up but the opposition did not.

And now, the rest of us are left to figure out what it all meant.

That's the thing about opening day. It always feels larger than it actually is. It feels like hopes and dreams and promises of things to come. It feels like coming attractions and presents under the tree and promises of October.

You want to believe this game promised more to come. Maybe. But you can say this: Monday went about as well as an opening day can go. David Price was terrific, and Wil Myers drove in two runs and Matt Joyce drove in three more, and Desmond Jennings made a diving catch in centerfield. The Rays won on opening day by seven runs, which they hadn't done since 2001.

The defense was good. The offense was good. The pitching was good.

Yes, the Rays were good.

It is always better to temper optimism than to argue against pessimism, of course. But the truth is that much of the feel of opening day is symbolic. The uniforms always look whiter, and the bunting around the park looks newer, and the fifth banner hung from the rafters celebrating last year's playoffs looks impressive.

As games go, this is just one out of 162. A mathematician will tell you it is no more important than another brick in the wall of a building. It isn't as if this one counts double.

Still, when a team pops the cork on a new season, it feels as if there is a purity to it. It feels special. It feels like the start of something magical. People pay attention on opening day who don't usually pay attention for months afterward. So, yeah, it feels better than a single victory.

It isn't. Not to spoil anybody's party, but keep this in mind. From the 2000 season until 2004, the Rays won five straight season openers, and they scored 38 runs in doing so. And in those years? The Rays averaged 97.6 losses per season. So, no, a good season doesn't always follow a good start.

So what does this tell us about this team?

Pretty much, the same thing that we have all agreed on before: It has a chance. For openers, that's a start.

Ask manager Joe Maddon, who came to the park feeling grateful to be here. This is nine opening days for him, but this one hit home Saturday when the Rays went to Montgomery, Ala., for an exhibition game.

"You go back to the minor leagues, and you think about how hard you worked to get to this moment," Maddon said. "If you fail to recognize what you went through to get here, then you're really missing the point."

It was with those same feelings in mind that Maddon turned his first lineup card into a fortune cookie. Scrolled across the top was this: "The process is greater than the outcome."

"If you don't believe in the process, you're going to get lost in the minutiae," Maddon said.

Then, there was this message: "Do not let the pressure exceed the pleasure."

"Play like a 12-year-old with that kind of enthusiasm," Maddon said.

For third baseman Evan Longoria, this was seven opening days. To him, it is time to report to the factory for work.

"It's the start of a grind," Lon­goria said. "Everyone's hopes are high. Everyone has a positive outlook. Everyone has the expectation of a world-championship caliber year. We come in every year expecting to win. That will not change this year."

And so it begins. There are 161 games left. If you wish, you can start figuring magic numbers.

Or not.

"You can have two different views," designated hitter Joyce said. "When I'm playing, I want to look at it as just another game. But when I'm not playing, I think about opening day having so many different meanings. It's about hopes. It's about goals."

Sometimes, it's also about opening statements.

This one? This one shouted "nice start." And maybe, it whispered that there is more to come.

   
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