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Tuesday, Aug 21, 2018
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Henderson: Help casual fans onto Rays' bandwagon

This column isn’t aimed at you.

You, of course, are a savvy baseball fan. You are probably already breaking down matchups in the American League Division Series. It begins today at Fenway Park between your Tampa Bay Rays and the pagans from Boston, also known as the Red Sox, but you already knew that.

No, this column is for the come-lately locals, the ones who think Carl Crawford still plays for the Devil Rays. Or, even worse, Pat Burrell.

These people are about to stop talking about Josh Freeman long enough to seek you out, the knowledge­able Rays fan, seeking enlightenment. Treat them kindly. The Rays need all they local love they can get.

Note to my tea party friends: That “bandwagon” reference is a whimsical metaphor and has nothing to do with light rail or any other large-scale system of moving people efficiently through the area. Please breathe slowly into the paper bag.

Anyway, the wise fan is not surprised to see the Rays in this position. This is their fourth trip to the postseason since 2008, Everybody in baseball knows how good they are — even though, judging by the attendance at Tropicana Field, it can seem like they play in the Witness Protection League.

That means we still have to hear national pundits marvel how the Rays “win on a budget” (a not-too-subtle slam at all those other fans who never venture out to the Trop until this time of year).

While it’s true they don’t have as much cash as Boston, they don’t need it. The Rays win without spending hundreds of millions on players because they are the smartest, best-run organization in professional sports. Yes, even smarter than Boston.

Especially Boston.

For example, consider rookie outfielder like Wil Myers (and remember, only one “l” in his first name).

The Rays traded for him last winter (it was football season, so the casual fan here may have missed it). It was a great deal. Myers was in the minor leagues for the first couple of months of the season, but now he is a big-league stud and will be for many years.

So help out later-comers and tell them how Myers is going be the Most Valuable Player in the league within two or three years. Smile benignly while you do it.

You may have to explain that whole shooting an arrow into the sky thing Fernando Rodney does when he closes out a game. On the other hand, you can’t explain it, so don’t worry about it.

A series like this gets personal. The Red Sox are kind of like the Yankees, only less likeable. It seems like they’re everywhere, too, and they’re easy to spot. Just look to your left or right. Don’t make eye contact, though, or you’ll have to hear how Fenway Park is the greatest place on earth, and Tropicana Field stinks.

Sure, you’ll ask them why they live here if Boston is such a paradise, but they won’t hear you. They’ll prattle on about Dustin Pedroia and Big Papi, so you can throw Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist right back at ’em.

But then they’ll bring up the Green Monster, and it’s really best to mute your response at that point. Otherwise, they’ll put catwalks and cowbells in your face and that won’t be pretty.

The game is played on the field, though, so instruct the local newbies that proper smack talk demands they remind their Boston friends about 2008. That’s when the Rays beat the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, and I think they’re still in therapy all over New England about that.

The first two games of this series are in Boston, but it shifts to the Trop on Monday. That’s the big building with the tilted roof in St. Petersburg. Everyone is invited, even the fan wearing a Jose Canseco Devil Rays T-shirt with moth holes.

It’s the most wonderful time of the sporting year. Even if someone hasn’t paid much attention all season, it’s OK to jump in now.

Scream, holler and clang that cowbell. That means you, too, know­ledge­able baseball fan. The playoffs are here and the bandwagon is filling up, about to leave the station.

Better jump onboard. There is no guarantee when it will roll by again.

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