Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' opening-day victory inspires a thought: Plan the parade, new stadium

ST. PETERSBURG —- The parade will start down by the old pier. It will march up Central Avenue, go past Ferg's, turn left on 16th Street then wrap around the Trop into the parking lot.

There on a big stage surrounded by thousands of screaming fans, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will hoist the World Series trophy in the air and announce that St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs all have offered to build the Rays a new stadium. For free.

Whatever you want, Rays. Wherever you want. I have a pickaxe and a bag of concrete. Just tell me where to start digging.

We'll race those dogs right out of Derby Lane. We'll clear out the State Fairgrounds. The Lightning will trade locations. We'll kick the Bucs out of Raymond James. We'll fill in North Shore pool. Heck, we'll bulldoze the Yankees complex on Dale Mabry.

Anything for our champs.

Kevin Cash for governor. Chris Archer for mayor. Start a reality show: Keeping Up With The Kiermaiers. And the way that guy boogies, no one is keeping up with him.

Happy days and good times are here again. The 2017 Rays are off and running. And winning.

Break 'em up. A sold-out Tropicana Field and a national television audience watched the Rays clobber the Yankees, 7-3, Sunday in the first Major League Baseball game of the season.

FIND YOURSELF in this Gigapan photo of Tropicana Field on Rays opening day.

"It was a good day," Rays first baseman Logan Morrison said.

One down, 161 to go.

Opening day was just about perfect.

Archer looked like an ace. Evan Longoria hit a home run into the leftfield corner that he made famous back in 2011. Morrison hit a moon-shot 407-foot homer that practically scraped the roof of the Trop.

There was Kevin Kiermaier, busting out hits and breaking hearts. The Rays played long ball and small ball, blasting homers, laying down bunts, stealing bases. Every guy in the lineup got on base at least once. And there was All-Star closer Alex Colome coming out of the bullpen to put out a late fire and seal the victory.

Undefeated, first place, best record in baseball.

Okay, so it's one game. Who cares? It's a nice way to open a season, especially with an off day Monday.

OUR OPENING DAY GIF TO YOU: Check out this page of animated Rays

"It's nice, there's no doubt," Cash said. "We all wanted this. I really wanted this."

Who can blame him? This is his third season as manager. It's the first time he has won the opener. No wonder 1-0 looks so fine.

"This will be nice to go spend an off-day with the family," Cash said. "Look, we played a really good game. The key pieces to our team played a big game and it was outstanding to see."

That's what made Sunday so fun for Tampa Bay. The Rays played a darn good ballgame. They actually looked like contenders.

Every baseball season is long, full of ups and downs, win streaks and losing slumps. Every team, at some point, looks like the best team in baseball. Every team, at some point, looks like the worst team ever assembled. That's the nature of this game.

If we're being honest, most folks don't think the Rays are going to be very good this season. The lineup has questions. The bullpen has holes. They start the season a little banged-up. The starting pitching, the strength of the team, is coming off a rough 2016. Even the most optimistic fans are taking a wait-and-see approach.

In addition, the Rays future in Tampa Bay is murky. That, too, is under the file of wait-and-see.

But we saw, Sunday, the best of what the Rays can do. Because of it, there's hope. About the future, both short-term and long, on the field and off.

"I think everyone was excited to get it going and come out of the gates," second baseman Brad Miller said. "It was a lot of fun to see everybody up and down the lineup contributing."

RELATED: More from Tom Jones

This season could be a lot of fun if the Rays can pitch and hit like it did on Sunday.

That parade thing? That free stadium? That's a little tongue-in-cheek.

Then again, if you can't dream after an opening day when you sell out your stadium and beat up on the greatest franchise in sports, when can you?

So pass a shovel. Let's get digging.

Right after the parade.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones

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