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Rays unrestrained in enjoying rise to World Series

ST. PETERSBURG

There are so many ways to measure how the Rays have grown up this season.

The resiliency they've shown after tough losses. The way they responded to a series of injuries to key players. Their handling of the pressures of showdowns with the best teams in the American League. The maturity they displayed in stepping into the spotlight of the postseason.

And now that they've reached the grand, reverent stage of the 104th World Series, they're prepared to run all over it, jump up and down, dance in the dugout, scream, yell, wear funny clothes — and celebrate wildly at the end.

"I was so happy to see the way we celebrated because nobody tried to play it cool, or was like, 'Oh, we have to be professionals about this,' " said first baseman Carlos Pena of Sunday night's reaction after clinching the AL pennant.

"I'm sorry, this is my childhood dream coming true, and I'm going to enjoy it. And I don't care what people say. If anything, I think it's refreshing to see a group of men crying and celebrating like little boys who just won the Little League World Series."

"The only way we can play is loose. Why change now?" said pitcher Matt Garza, the ALCS MVP. "The dimensions don't change. So why do we have to change? Because it's a different stage? No. If we would change every time we reached a stage, this clubhouse would be quiet, nobody would be talking to anybody, and it would be miserable. That's why we are where we are. We have a lot of fun and we keep it loose.

"When you see us flying out Friday (for Philadelphia) I guarantee you we're going to be in Ed Hardy (designer T-shirts), hats and maybe freakin' flip-flops just to change something up. I don't know, we might have wacky shorts day or something, like a rally week in high school."

Actually, high school might be advanced. For these Rays, and the enthusiasm they have, the energy they bring and the excitement they play with, Little League sometimes seems more age appropriate.

"It's a little bit like that now, a lot of grown men in here being kids," reliever Trever Miller said. "I think it's going to be a fun ride. We don't have any inhibitions in this clubhouse. We were told to turn down our parties, and that didn't really work out. We're just going to be ourselves."

"I don't think they're capable of letting the childish enthusiasm go away," said Tim Bogar, the quality assurance coach. "That's who they are, that's how they've been all year."

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said he not only expects the Rays to play the same way in the Series, he'd be "disappointed" if they didn't.

Reliever J.P. Howell acknowledged that their relaxed, laid-back style might come across a little differently to baseball purists. Manager Joe Maddon expects it to be well-received.

"I think it's going to play well in Peoria," Maddon said. "And I've actually managed in Peoria, so I know that. I think we have a likable group in regard to their personalities and how they interact. I also believe we're likable in the sense that we play the game hard. I think any real baseball fan likes to see a team play with effort and passion. And I think that even comes through a television set."

Really, the Rays just want to keep doing what they've been doing.

"I don't expect anything to change," said outfielder Gabe Gross, one of the squad's more staid members. "I don't expect the locker room atmosphere before the game to change. If we happen to lose a game or two here or there, I don't expect the atmosphere after that to change. We've been the same no matter what's happened, and I think we'll remain so.

"I think we'll remain loose. I think Carlos (Pena) will dance in the dugout. We'll all holler and scream. Garza, before he pitches he's going to listen to his headphone, sing a little bit, bob up and down in the dugout and stuff. It'll be the same. It's who we are."

And a big part of why they're here.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays unrestrained in enjoying rise to World Series 10/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10:35pm]
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