Written by Nic Fraraccio // Graphic by Ben Evans
The world of sports can bring the best and worst out of people. When your team wins, it gives you that little kick you need to get through another day. When your team loses, it gives you an excuse to lay in your bed all day and mope.
Emotions run high in the world of sports, and one team made me question my fandom during 2023. After watching this team since I was 4 years old, they taught me a valuable lesson during the last eight months: Great moments always have their dreadful downfalls.
The Tampa Bay Rays provided their 36 loyal fans with one of the wildest seasons in recent Major League Baseball history. You might be wondering, “36 fans — how is that possible?” Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in a second.
The Rays tied an all-time record to start the season, winning their first 13 regular season games. I was shocked. This was some of the best baseball I’ve ever seen us play. Our bats were on fire, the pitching staff was lights out and the fans made Tropicana Field a madhouse for the first month of the season.
However, as we all know, there has to be a downfall somewhere down the line. The downfall started with starting pitcher Jeffrey Springs. The tall lefty looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball to begin the season.
Unfortunately, the season was cut short for Springs after undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction) in April. That was only the beginning of the injury bug for the Rays. Shane McClanahan, one of the best starting pitchers in the world of baseball, would also require season-ending surgery in August.
With injuries piling up, someone had to provide a spark plug for the Rays. Fortunately, the all-stars on offense would get the job done on multiple occasions. First baseman Yandy Diaz, outfielder Randy Arozarena and shortstop Wander Franco came in clutch for the Rays offense day in and day out.
All three players made the All-Star Game in July, giving Rays fans a glimmer of hope for a first World Series title. What could possibly go wrong during the second half of the season? The simple answer: a lot.
Arozarena’s bat was ice-cold during the second half of the season. Díaz continued to dominate but did not have much help. That leaves us with Franco, the man who completely changed our season Aug. 13.
Let’s just say Franco got put in a temporary timeout and might not ever play the game of baseball again.
Despite the craziness behind Franco’s troubling story and the constant injury woes, the team finished with 99 wins ahead of the 2023 postseason.
We matched up with the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card series. Despite having a young squad of available players, I was confident in our ability to win.
Also, I was excited to see the Rays play a playoff game at home for the first time since 2021. My excitement turned into frustration in the blink of an eye.
The Rangers dismantled the Rays in two games to move on with ease. It was arguably the most embarrassing showing in team history.
The manager and players did not look like they cared at all in front of the small group of fans. Small group of fans? Yes, you read that right. The stadium was not sold out for either game during the Wild Card series matchup. Game one recorded the lowest playoff attendance since 1919 with a total of 19,704 fans.
Maybe if Stu Sternberg, the team owner, wanted to actually play baseball in Tampa we could get fans in the stands. The Rays play their home games in St. Petersburg, Florida, drastically hurting their attendance season by season.
The whole situation is embarrassing for Tampa Bay Rays fans like me, and I hope Sternberg somehow comes across this column.
Your team cannot stay healthy, your players don’t know how to act off the field and you want to continue playing baseball in St. Petersburg instead of Tampa. Show us you care this offseason so we can bring a title to Tampa Bay.
Stu, it’s your move.