A recent confluence of events (East coast timings,double-headers) meant that I had the misfortune to watch the Tampa Bay Devil Rays get an absolute shelling from the Yankees. Normally another team’s misfortunes are a source of constant joy to me, but with the Devil Rays there is very much the sense of "there but for the grace of God go I".
I was in Miami in October 1997 and thus every bar and restaurant was screening the Marlin’s surge towards the World Series title (I was naturally looking for somewhere that was showing the England versus Italy soccer game) and I realized that the game of baseball was one that I could very easily get attached to. I knew straight away that I couldn’t be a Marlin’s fan because they were obviously the power players in this sport and to follow them would be what we in England call "glory hunting", so I did some research and found out that there were two new expansion teams starting in 1998. It took me about a month to work out what an expansion team was, but in the end it came down to a decision between the Diamondbacks and the Devil Rays, and after weeks of careful research and studying the various demographics and political affiliations of each community I decided that,on balance, the Diamondbacks had the better name, and my allegiance was struck.
I also liked the idea that the the Arizona Front Office had a plan to start small and gradually build up a team through the use of a carefully nurtured farm system, but I also liked it when they abandoned that idea completely and spent money like there was no tomorrow in order to win today.
I would occasionally glance over at the Devil Rays with their constant struggles, their seemingly endless losing seasons and their inability to even vaguely contend for their division and I realized how lucky I was. Even to this day if the Devil Rays are on MLB.tv and I see a fellow Brit sitting alone in an empty stadium holding up a cardboard sign that says "Hello Manchester" or "Derbyshire Devil Rays" I can’t help but feel a mixture of pity and admiration for both their fortitude and their sheer unadulterated bad luck.