Friday, March 28, 2014

What made you become a Rays fan: My Story

(also posted on DRaysBay on SBNation)

My name is Manny Stiles. This is how I became a Rays fan:

In February 2007, I put my MLB fanship for one year on ebay to be won by the highest bidder (for charity). It happened partly by accident and partly out of a stunt for fun and a challenge. I was writing heavily for different blogs and various outlets and was beginning to get a ton of harsh criticism for not having a "favorite" team. I didn't care.
Rosters change, players get traded. Logos get altered. Stadiums are imploded. There is no allegiance in baseball except with its past. I'll always root for the 1980 Phillies, remember EXACTLY where I was when Gonzo hit that blooper off Mariano, seek out the coolest caps from the defunct Federal League or simply adore reading the exploits of Mike "King" Kelly, Pete Reiser or Joe Charboneau. I love the game, its history and enjoyed particular players, wherever they played.
I was called a front-runner and a bandwagon jumper. Though neither of those definitions were true. 
I had never really had a "favorite" team to root for year in and year out. I liked certain teams more than others but always with reason. And no matter how or when those reasons changed, I still LOVED baseball. Sure, I had favorite players - Wally Joyner, Fred McGriff and Will Clark to name a few. But since youth I thought I was going to be in the big leagues one day and it never mattered for which team I was going to play. I had no allegiance to logos or colors. Whoever paid me the green would be my favorite team. Well, fate had other ideas for my playing "career" and in March of 2007, fate had better ideas about which team I would learn to love.
Writing opinion pieces about baseball came easy. I was pumping out thousands of words a week on various sports, but baseball was always favorite. I figured I would trade my MLB fanship for a year for charity and write 50 blog pieces about one team during the 2007 season. The bidding began slow until a couple different media outlets caught wind of my "wacky" exploits. Then it got a little crazy, to say the least. The Sporting News wrote a blurb about it. Deadspin mocked the idea. Radio shows in Seattle, Phoenix, even Montreal asked me why I was doing it! I wasn't trying to become a media whore as much as I was just trying to put on dedicated fanship with one team for a season. Why not?
On the final days of bidding, the number to "win" me jumped from $150 to $300 to $400 and let's be honest... who spends that kind of money just to make sure some random whackjob living in Arizona will root for and write about their favorite team? On the final day of bidding, some guy from Florida shoved the bid up to $535. I'm fairly certain he didn't truly intend on winning as much as he was trying to get the bids up because he had his reasons to support my charitable cause. Nevertheless, he won me as a fan for the team of his choosing for one year.
When I saw the St. Petersburg address of the winner, of course, I assumed my life would become loathsome because let's face it: there's a lot of Yankees fans around that area... especially in 2007. But this guy didn't want me to root for the Yankees. 
He was a huge Rays fan! He even added $1,000 to the charitable cause and made me a Tampa Bay Rays fan. I followed them closely the whole 2007 season.
In April of that season, I flew into Tampa and met the guy who made me become a Rays fan. He showed me why he was a fan. And I saw it, too. And I believed. I was ON BOARD. I told others what I saw. This team was built to be a power for years to come. And he was right.
The Rays went 66-96 that season. I loved every inning of it... minus a few Elijah Dukes texts, of course :)
Well... here it is 2014, with Opening Day mere hours away... I'm STILL a Rays fan! Damn right. And I can't imagine rooting this way for any other team. This ride could not have been any more magical... and it just keeps going.

They may have "won" me for a year, but they won me over for life!

- - - - - 
So... what made you become a Rays fan?

What? You thought I left? Why?

616-519 since I became a fan. Six straight winning seasons. 1 World Series appearance, 2-time AL East Champs, and two more Wild Card showings.

David Price has a Cy Young. Evan Longoria, Jeremy Hellickson and Wil Myers have won RoY awards. AND... Who can forget "Game 163"?

Sure, LOTS has changed since 2007. But more has stayed the same...

Matt Silverman is still Team President. Joe Maddon is still manager. Rick Vaughan is still very prominent in the organization. Even my guy Marc Topkin is still pumping out quality copy with the Tampa Bay Tribune.

Ben Zobrist is the only player still on the roster from "the season of the charity blogger". The Rays still need a more viable home and the general public outside of the Gulf Coast of Florida still spews out inanities and misguided opinions about the team...

But I am STILL a Rays fan.

I never dreamed I would be so dedicated to one team. But here I am. Why would I have EVER dream of leaving?

I haven't and I will not.

They got me by accident, they've kept me on purpose!

- - - - - My absence has only been online (for reasons that will not be explained now). I've been a hardcore Rays fan in the real world the WHOLE time since March of 2007 - - - - -

THREE days until opening day!

Let the season BEGIN!