tampabay.com

Rays need to find progress beyond wins

A .500 record and intangible gains are among the goals heading into the season opener.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 2, 2007


NEW YORK - Baseball success is usually measured in numbers.

As the Yankees run onto the field for this afternoon's season opener, they'll have the usual, legitimate expectations of 90-100 wins and the seasonlong competition for a playoff spot that comes with them.

Though the Devil Rays will be just across the diamond, they really couldn't be any further apart. And that's besides the $186-million to $23-million chasm in payroll.

The Rays are beginning another season, their 10th, as not-ready-for-first-place players, and their goals are understandably more meager.

Success for the Rays might be a .500 record - with the 81 wins 11 more than they've ever achieved, and 20 more than last year.

It could be something hard to quantify, such as enough improvement by enough players in enough areas so that next season they can be good enough to compete.

Or something intangible, such as manager Joe Maddon's quest to improve the culture.

It could be something general, such as playing the game the right way.

Or it could be a little more specific, such as principal owner Stuart Sternberg's stated goal - and admitted "bugaboo" - to expand their homefield advantage at Tropicana Field and win 50 of 81 actually 78 as three in May are being moved to the Disney complex, with the assumption they can win more on the road than the 20 they did last season.

For the Rays, the expectations and the measurements are different.

We asked a number of key team personnel to define what would make this season a success.

Carl Crawford, star leftfielder

"Me personally, I'd just like to see us have like a .500 record, or better. Development of some of the players to take another step closer to where we're trying to get as we become an all-around better team. Realistically, I'd like to play .500 ball - once. We can't say we're going to do something when we never even - ever in our history - played .500 ball. If we can do that first, that would be a big step for us. Play .500 ball this year; next year, build on that and keep building."

Matt Silverman, team president

"Fifty wins at home. Continued growth in the interest level - attendance, TV ratings, Web hits, media coverage. Deeper penetration into our region. We want our metrics to rise. That includes the win total and the metrics for interest."

Scott Kazmir, ace pitcher

"I'd take .500. You have to start somewhere. Have we ever had a .500 season with this organization? We have to change that around a little bit. We can't accept that anymore. We can't accept being 'not last place.' That attitude, everything like that, has got to stop if we want to actually start winning. You can't just coast in there with a 'we never had a shot' type attitude. You have to go out there and compete just like everyone else. Everyone has already seen we can beat the best in the league, we just have to do it on a consistent basis. We can do that. Everything we do, we have to shoot high."

Joe Maddon, manager

"Unity. Unity in the clubhouse and on the field, unity in the entire organization is a success. Developing a method of play, a method of operation. Developing the Ray Way so truly that going into next year, we know exactly what that means. So that when other people walk in our front door they know this is the way we do things here. Part of that is rebuilding the culture. I want our guys to be proud of wearing this uniform and conduct themselves appropriately on and off the field.

"Having all that in place, I believe in terms of wins and losses we are going to achieve the best number we possibly can this year. I think that gives us the best chance. If we're supposed to win 80, 85, 90, whatever that might be, that gives us the best chance of doing that. ...

"I'm all about the nontangibles right now. I'm not even focused on a record. I'm focused on getting all this other stuff in place, and it's coming along nicely. ... If we don't have all the infrastructure in place, it's fruitless to even worry about the number of wins."

Casey Fossum, veteran starter

"Just try to improve on our home record, which was really good last year. And just try to play on the road like we do at home. If we start winning on the road, things at home will take care of themselves."

Rocco Baldelli, star centerfielder

"I think it's that every one of our guys makes a tangible improvement from last year. Then this team is going to be better. If each person takes the responsibility to improve and make the adjustments they need to make and get better, then we're going to be better as a whole. ...

"We have to learn how to win. You have to play each game to win, instead of for other reasons. There should only be one reason."

Andrew Friedman, executive vice president

"Our young players continuing the development process in a positive direction. When we get to the end of the season - I don't want to put a specific win total on it - but that you can really see the makings of what we've been talking about.

"That we continue to press our homefield advantage. That the pitching depth we feel like we have at the major-league and Triple-A levels continues to develop to where we feel even more comfortable about it than we do today. And that the areas that we will need to focus on in free agency and/or trades crystallize even more."

Delmon Young, rookie rightfielder

"If we win. That's it. Bottom line. Enough to get in the playoffs. Why shoot low? I just want to win. Win at any cost. Whatever it takes."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays/