This week's electronic conversation between Times sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton:
JR: Gary, I haven't been this excited about a team on opening day in a long, long time. So, what do you say, are you going to come with me to watch the Durham Bulls play?
GS: No, but I'm glad you're taking your demotion well. Work on a few transitions, and you'll be back up before you know it.
JR: It was all about service time. If I write obits at the Durham Herald-Sun for five weeks, the Times can freeze your salary for the next five years.
GS: If we send you to Montgomery for 10 weeks, can I have a raise?
JR: You promised not to mention that. Seriously, though, Evan Longoria and Jeff Niemann both handled their demotions well even though they outperformed guys who made the Rays roster. I think we both agree these were wise business decisions by the Rays, but does that make it right?
GS: One of the finest lines ever spoken came from North Dallas Forty. "Every time I call it a business, you call it a sport, and every time I call it a sport, you call it a business." Yes, it's the right move for financial reasons. But if I want to cheer for good business moves, I'll buy a Merrill Lynch jersey.
JR: If I were running the Rays, I would have done the same thing because of the low-cost, high-reward factor of service time. But here's another consideration: Sluggers cost a lot, starting pitchers cost a lot, and, sometimes, credibility costs a lot. Because they didn't want to pay, the Rays lost some credibility in the bleachers and in the clubhouse.
GS: No doubt about it. But credibility in springtime, or the lack of it, won't matter when they start keeping score. So who comes back first, Longoria or Niemann?
JR: A month ago, Longoria was the obvious answer. I still think he makes it back quicker. But Niemann was strong in the spring, and the Rays rotation looks a little shaky this morning. Who's the biggest surprise on this team, good or bad?
GS: How about Andy Sonnanstine? I think he'll eat a lot of innings and win 12 games. Your surprise guy?
JR: How about Michael Kalt? I think he'll eat a lot of chicken at civic clubs and lose the stadium vote.
GS: If the vote for the new stadium passes, we could call it "The House That Alka-Seltzer Built."
JR: Hmm, I wonder if the Rays would be willing to build the stadium in Durham first. You know, just for a little extra seasoning.
GS: It's a fine idea. The Rays could save a little money, and they could call the new stadium up three weeks into the season. Provided, of course, that it doesn't get hurt.