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Think of them as Rays of sunshine

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© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 1, 2001

The jack-hammering has stopped. The scaffolding is coming down. The remodeling (or should we say demolishing?) of the Rays is pretty much complete.

Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline ended, for the most part, the Rays' grand restructuring plan. As is typically the case with these things, the Rays didn't get everything they wanted in their payroll-dumping binge the past few weeks, but generally they are pretty satisfied with what they got.

But are you?

Look, it would have been nice if the Rays had gotten a bunch of talented and proven players in return for all the high-priced veterans that were cut loose.

But the Rays were more after payroll reduction than player production. So, they got what they got. A frightfully inexperienced squad, the youngest in the majors, and $11-million in payroll savings this year and next.

Some of these guys you probably hadn't heard of (Ariel Prieto? Victor Zambrano?) and may hear very little of in the future. And some of them are going to be quality major-leaguers one day and restore luster to the team name.

Whether you like this eclectic band of youth and maturity isn't really the issue. Because, like them or not, we're stuck with them for the rest of the season.

"I think the two criteria we should be judged on at this trading deadline (payroll reduction and getting younger), I think we did very well," general manager Chuck LaMar said.

Sure, the Rays might get some contender, desperate for a little more boost down the stretch, into taking Greg Vaughn and his $19-million salary over the next two years. Or Ben Grieve. Or John Flaherty.

But, by and large, the team that took the field Tuesday night in Baltimore is going to be ours until October. So, get used to it.

At this point, there's no point in whining. The front office has a plan and is sticking to it. The decision has been made to turn the kids loose and there's nothing we can really do about it.

Except perhaps enjoy it.

Okay, so it's going to get a little ugly at times. There'll probably be a few more routine fly balls dropped. A few more missed cut-off men. A few more swings at some really bad pitches.

And before it's all over, there might be a few embarrassing records set, a new team benchmark for single-season futility.

But if you spend these final two months complaining about the lack of talent and the ugliness that comes with it, you could miss something kinda cool. Like the early blossoming of rookie pitcher Joe Kennedy. Or the precocious gifts of Brent Abernathy and Jason Tyner. Or anything the club gets out of guys like Nick Bierbrodt, Jason Standridge and Jesus Colome.

Did you see Bierbrodt's American League debut the other day? He looked good in six strong innings, giving up just four hits and one run and striking out five. And Kennedy has had great stuff in his past few outings despite what his 3-6 record might suggest.

If nothing else, you know these kids are going to bust their rumps every night. They're going to play the game with a brand of frivolity and unbridled enthusiasm that you don't always get from veterans.

Granted, it's not the same as watching A-Rod or Barry Bonds or anybody on the Mariners. But, again, this is all we've got. For now, anyway.

The players are going to make the most of it. We might as well, too.

Eventually, help will arrive. The Rays will meticulously add more talent next season and the seasons beyond. We hope they'll be a little more discriminating this time around.

Please, nobody mention the phrase "Hit Show" ever again.

At the moment, though, we are entering a new phase, which requires us to have a new attitude. Forget about wins and losses, and learn to appreciate effort and development. Don't groan about today, but muse about tomorrow.

I mean, with all the talk we've heard about contraction, this team with all its pimples and warts is better than no team at all, right?

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