The Collegian
Wednesday, August 17, 2022

A World Series of underdogs

The Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies are two of the last teams I would have expected to be playing in this World Series, which is why I've enjoyed the 2008 postseason so much.

I've watched games during which I was rooting for my favorite team, games during which I was rooting against my least favorite team and games during which I didn't care who won because I didn't have a vested interest in either team. But it's truly rare to find a matchup of teams I want both to have a World Series title.

In a column I wrote at the start of the 2008 season, I joked that aside from changing their name and uniforms, the Tampa Bay Rays were the most consistent team in the American League East division - in that they were consistently known for losing. But since then, everything has changed.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays finished last in the division every year except for 2004, when they were second-to-last. But the Tampa Bay Rays finished first in their division, and their lack of playoff experience didn't stop them from winning the American League Championship Series.

As the many people on this campus who live "just outside Philly" will tell you, the city of Philadelphia hasn't had much to celebrate for the last few decades. The Philadelphia Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups during the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons, but never again.

The Philadelphia Eagles' only Super Bowl win was in 1980, the same year as the only World Series the Phillies had won. The Philadelphia 76ers won their most recent NBA title in 1983, and everything since then has been a series of missed opportunities.

If I don't have any particular interest in the teams playing for a title, I always root for the underdog. But with these two teams, I couldn't really decide which team was the greater underdog.

The Rays entered this season with no World Series titles, no AL pennants, no division titles and no winning records during their 10-year history. The Phillies have had all of those during their 125-year history, but most of their success came before I was born.

Before this year, their most recent east division titles were in 2007, 1993 and 1983. The 1983 and 1993 teams were the only ones to advance to the World Series, and they both lost.

The Rays had fewer successful seasons, but the Phillies - and the city of Philadelphia in general - have had a longer history of failure. They aren't like the Red Sox, who until 2004 could win every month but October; they just haven't won much at all.

Last week, I saw Dick Vitale on "SportsCenter," screaming as usual, but not about basketball. He wore a Rays jersey and hat, and it's likely he didn't buy them recently.

He told the "SportsCenter" anchor who interviewed him that he'd been going to Rays games for years, and a fellow student who worked for the Rays last summer told me he was indeed one of the team's best-known fans. The anchor asked him why he had supported a team that lost so often, but I don't think it's that hard to understand.

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Often, the most exciting part of a season is the beginning, because there is always the hope that this year will be different. Maybe an injured player is back to full strength, new players have come in from trades, a rookie shows promise or a change in the coaching staff has refocused the team under new leadership.

This season, the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies rewarded the fans who stuck with them through the (few) high points and the (frequent) low points. They carried that early season hope into the post-season and it was great to see new people making headlines during the playoffs.

This season, the MLB powerhouses watched from home as two of the league's less-renowned teams played for the World Series title. Instead of teams who treat anything less than a World Series title as a disappointment, there were two teams who fully appreciated each win.

Just watch the clip of Akinori Iwamura tagging second base to get the final out of game seven of the ALCS, which sent the Rays to the World Series and the Red Sox home. He jumped in the air as if he was 9, not 29, years old and the entire team piled on top of him in the center of the field.

Neither of these programs is accustomed to winning in October, which makes it even more exciting that they did. The Phillies are the World Series champions, but by making it to that final seven-game series both teams earned people's respect, which is much more than they could count on when their 2007 seasons were over.

Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at barrett.neale@richmond.edu

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