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Re-Born in the USA

Published April 2, 2006

Charitable guy, the Boss.

Over the years, Bruce Springsteen has donated time, effort or proceeds to help fight world hunger, Parkinson's disease and pediatric AIDS. He has supported the Special Olympics, Amnesty International and the rain forests. Also, he seems to be fond of New Jersey.

On the other hand, it might take Springsteen a little by surprise to learn he is now benefactor to a whole new set of needy. As of now, Springsteen is in charge of baseball in Tampa Bay.

Coming soon as a CD: Devil Rays and Dust.

Formerly titled: Born to Ruin.

Yep, in the new incarnation of the Rays, Springsteen is the guy in charge of the soundtrack. Stuart Sternberg, the new owner, follows Springsteen with the same loyalty you would expect to find in, say, Nils Lofgren. So does Joe Maddon, the new manager. And Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman and pretty much everyone in the general vicinity of the franchise. It is impossible to conduct an interview with any of them without this lyric or that one being floated which, speaking for sportswriters, is great for tramps like us.

Now, I know what you're thinking. If Springsteen had to be associated with a franchise, why would it be Tampa Bay, a team with absolutely no Glory Days? If Springsteen were into the Rays, he would have written Blunder Road, not Thunder Road.

Isn't this more of, say, a Hootie franchise, particularly when you consider the mascot is its own particular breed of blowfish? Hey, Springsteen wins Grammys; the Rays pitch like them. So why not the Yankees (the Mansion on the Hill of franchises)? Why not the Red Sox or the Dodgers or the Cubs?

Ha. Were any of those franchises "born down in a dead man's town?" Have any of them ended up "like a dog that's been beat too much 'til you spend half your life just covering up?" Above all else, Springsteen is an underdog's rocker, a working man on a last-chance power drive. And that's why Springsteen and the Rays are perfect for each other.

After all, this town does sort of rip the bones from your back, doesn't it?

Sternberg, of course, would prefer the pretty songs to the gritty songs. He'd have you humming Countin' on a Miracle or Leap of Faith or Better Days. He doesn't want Janey to lose heart. Or you, either. As for the ever-optimistic Maddon, well, Waiting on a Sunny Day should be the guy's theme song.

As for the rest of us, well, it's going to take a while to get Wreck on the Highway out of our heads.

For years, this franchise has hit so many wrong notes, and Springsteen has hit so many good ones. Still, there is a perfect intersection of the two in the last cut of the Nebraska album, a song called Reason to Believe.

Seen a man standin' over a dead dog

Lyin' by the highway in a ditch

He's lookin' down kinda puzzled

Pokin' that dog with a stick

Got his car door flung open

He's standin' out on highway 31

Like if he stood there long enough

That dog'd get up and run

Struck me kinda funny

Seemed kinda funny sir to me

Still at the end of every hard-earned day

People find some reason to believe

For those who follow the Rays, it's the perfect lyric, a description of someone trying to be optimistic despite all the evidence to the contrary. For all the nice little moves of the franchise this season, the rotation still looks outnumbered, the closer is a mystery and the prospects are still on the farm. As for free agents, well, Sternberg left his wallet back home in his workin' pants.

Why, then, should you believe the new promises when the old ones came up empty? Perhaps because a change was overdue. Perhaps because Vince Naimoli (Nothing Man), Chuck LaMar (Cautious Man) and Lou Piniella (Lucky Man) are no longer here. Perhaps because Sternberg understands the words to Prove It All Night.

There are other lines, too, that seemed to have been written with Sternberg in mind. How about this one from Adam Raised a Cain: "You're born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else's past." Or this one from Thunder Road: "We got one last chance to make it real, to trade in these wings for some wheels."

And the band plays on. This season, if you happen by the Trop, located just off E Street, you'll hear it. When Carl Crawford gets on base, you're going to hear Born to Run. When Jonny Gomes hits a home run, you'll hear Johnny Bye-Bye. If someone manages to win the closer's job, you'll hear Tougher Than the Rest. And so on.

As for B.J. Upton and Delmon Young? Well, maybe a cut of Downbound Train. Or not. Like it or not, this franchise is still about developing players. When you get down to it, there hasn't been nearly enough of that. Too much potential has been wasted. Ask Josh Hamilton (It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City) or Dewon Brazelton (My Best Was Never Good Enough). Frankly, someone ought to sing a song for the guy in charge of player development. This Hard Land, for instance:

Hey there mister can you tell me

What happened to the seeds I've sown

Can you give me a reason, sir,

Why they've never grown

Reminder No. 5,829: The Rays will be decent when the Durham team doesn't look more promising than the Tampa Bay team. Or, as Bruce would say, "I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh when Scooter (Upton) and the Big Man (Young) bust this city in half."

In the meantime, there are songs to play and notes to hear. And for Sternberg, a few final words to remember about the journey ahead:

The house is haunted and the ride gets rough.

And you've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above.

[Last modified April 2, 2006, 01:24:20]

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