When Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia discusses the Rays' strengths, he first points to their stellar starting pitching and style of play.
But Arencibia believes one key aspect goes beyond the numbers.
"You watch Tampa, those guys look like they're having the best time of their life every game out there," Arencibia said. "That's what it's about."
The fact that Charles P. Pierce from Grantland.com labeled the Rays the most fun team in baseball in a story last week comes as little surprise to many. Ever since Jonny Gomes donned his custom-made white robe and Rayhawk hairstyle in 2008, the Rays have set the trend in taking the wild — and sometimes weird — side to the World Series. Just this year, they've worn Gladiator helmets, sported bow ties for a nerd-themed road trip, and greeted Hideki Matsui with a music-filled, strobe-light celebration before his first game.
And to hear the players tell it, the loose — sometimes partylike — atmosphere is one reason for their success in recent years.
"I think it's everything," reliever J.P. Howell said. "They allow us to have this kind of environment, you can be yourself, and you're never limited on how you can think 'outside the box' — and you're not a weirdo. You learn more about yourself, and eventually, it makes you a better ballplayer."
Pitcher James Shields said the fun helps them forget about losses, get through the grind of a 162-game season and get the most out of themselves.
"I really feel like if guys are too tense or too intense out there, they're not going to play to their capabilities," Shields said.
The environment has enabled reliever Fernando Rodney to thrive, converting his first 15 save chances while starting his tradition of shooting a pretend arrow from a pretend bow into the sky afterward. And it has made it easier for new Rays to feel welcome and contribute quickly. Injured outfielder Brandon Allen, who hit a walkoff homer in his eighth at-bat with the club, joked that "if you're not having fun, you're an outcast."
Matsui, a 10-year veteran who homered in each of his first two starts with the Rays, said he has never experienced anything like his wild welcome Tuesday afternoon; players mobbed him in the clubhouse as if he had won them a game.
"He went right with it," Howell said. "He was shocked, but he acted like he just hit the walkoff hit. I thought he might be thrown off, but he fit right in."
When Matsui was asked if he ever had that type of moment in his seven seasons with the Yankees, he smiled, saying through interpreter Roger Kahlon: "They're not quite the team like that."
Not many are.