ST. PETERSBURG — There is a room a short walk from the Tampa Bay Rays' dugout at Tropicana field, less than 100 steps, actually, where pride still matters. It's the Rays' clubhouse.
Not the happiest place in town these days, but far from a morgue, despite the on-field showing by those who call the place home during the season.
The Rays are in last place. They have the worst record in baseball.
They have not, however, given up on 2014.
“I know that from the outside looking in, it can be tough to see that as the viewpoint for everybody in this locker room,” pitcher Alex Cobb said, “but we're expecting to win every night going out there.”
Manager Joe Maddon still puts on the cheery face, still talks about resting rookie Kevin Kiermaier to keep him fresh for October, keeps talking about how the offense will get things going and all that is wrong will be right.
And scouts from assorted major-league teams descend on the building when David Price pitches. Others show up more frequently to watch Ben Zobrist. The Tigers could use a shortstop. The Giants are looking for a second baseman.
Fans are calling for a fire sale. They are calling for heads to roll and for Maddon to call out a player or two or three.
As frustrated as the fan base is, it pales in comparison to the level of frustration inside the clubhouse.
“Not even close,” outfielder Matt Joyce said. “This is our life. This is our job, our career, our dream. Everything that we've worked for our entire lives is to be here, and sometimes that can get into your head, where you put too much pressure on yourself. We have to remember it is a game. You have to have fun. You have to enjoy yourself. When you're able to free yourself from the pressure and all the stuff that goes on in your head, that's when you're more successful.”
It will be interesting to see how executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman handles things around the trade deadline. The Rays have never been in the position of a seller since 2008. Of course, Friedman's never been much of a buyer in-season, either.
Meanwhile, the Rays held spring training in June as they participated in defensive drills before batting practice during several games last week.
Evan Longoria checked the message board in the clubhouse before Saturday's game to make sure it reflected the late change in starting pitchers for the Astros so his teammates would know who to prepare for.
Maddon said before the game he still believes his team can reach .500 with a 50-50 record, even though they will have to play better than .800 ball to get there.
Maddon also knows people are getting tired of his positive attitude, but he said he's not going to stop.
“I hate to be having to give you guys the same rhetoric on a daily basis, but I'm not going to give up, I'm not going to give in,” Maddon said earlier in the homestand. “From my perspective, if I don't maintain the level of optimism that I do in this office, then where is it going to come from? So I apologize for the same rhetoric, but we got to keep pushing until it comes back to us.”
So, while many in the Bay area are looking toward the Buccaneers as a source of hope, the Rays continue to push, fully expecting for it to come back.
“I feel like the pride thing comes into play, and nobody in this locker room will throw their jersey out there and not play 100 percent, because there's accountability being in the big leagues and having the opportunity to play that you're not going to let any situation take away from how you play the game,” Cobb said.
Joyce said he agreed with Cobb.
“There's so much pride in here,” Joyce said. “We're used to winning. We turned it around in this organization for the expectations of making the playoffs and having the chance to win the World Series every year. If we're not mathematically eliminated, we're still thinking playoffs. Absolutely, without a doubt.”