Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays relieved to be headed back to the Trop this week

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NEW YORK — After more than a week of worry, uncertainty and adjusting on a daily basis due to Hurricane Irma, the Rays were quite pleased Tuesday to get final word they are indeed headed home after this afternoon's finale to the series with the Yankees that was relocated from Tropicana Field to the Mets' Citi Field.

And further, they are fully expected to resume their normal schedule, hosting the Red Sox this weekend at the Trop as planned, or close enough to it pending approval from St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials. The primary remaining issue regards safe passage around the stadium tied to restoration of power to traffic lights that have been out, and Duke Energy is aiming to have full service in Pinellas by Friday night.

While no players or staff were said to sustain major damage to their homes, there is concern and curiosity about whether they have power, how much cleanup may be necessary, how their cars fared, things like that.

Getting back reasonably early tonight then having Thursday off and some free time Friday morning will help them deal with those issues, plus help the community overall get back to some semblance of normalcy.

It certainly was a much better option than the ones considered previously, such as heading to another neutral site (since they couldn't have stayed in New York due to hotel space) or, worse, having to go back to Boston to play there. (At the least, they should have then demanded the home clubhouse so the Sox could deal with the cramped visiting quarters.)

"We're going home, so good news," Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Tuesday's 2-1 victory over the Yankees. "We've got a lot of people, not just players, but our entire traveling party I would imagine is excited to get back home, assess the situation, what's taken place. And be supportive in whatever way, whether it's playing a game or reaching out in the community or whatever.

"I know guys want to get home, and I'm right there with them."

With at least half the traveling party having their families with them, getting home, in whatever shape home is, will have assorted benefits. Player rep Chris Archer said that sentiment was clear in a brief team meeting held before batting practice.

"It's not going to be the most ideal scenario with potential power outages and flooding and things of that nature," Archer said. "But it'll be nice to get some new clothes and some new underwear. And to be home, to check on our property to make sure everything is good."

The Rays are planning to start the Red Sox series as scheduled on Friday night and seem certain there will be baseball this weekend at the Trop, which didn't sustain any major damage.

There could be a scenario where area officials ask for more time. If so, the Rays could push the games back with a doubleheader on Saturday or Sunday or even into Monday's mutual off day. They'd view that as not much different than when games are in flux due to weather issues in Boston.

"The Red Sox are coming, (MLB) is expecting us to play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we are expecting to play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. "We all know that stuff happens, as happens all through baseball for 100 years."

Talking outside the Rays/Mets clubhouse before the game, Sternberg said he felt the organization weathered the unfortunate situation well.

He specifically cited decisions to charter a larger plane so players and staff could bring their families along to escape before the storm hit, and in closing the team offices last Thursday so other employees could take precautions.

"In retrospect, I wouldn't have changed a thing," he said.

Treading carefully to not sound insensitive given the damage elsewhere and what could have been in the Tampa Bay area, Sternberg did say what others have been thinking, that the worrying about the storm impacted how the Rays played over the past week in losing four of five. As a result, they went into play four games — and six teams — from the second American League wild-card spot held currently by the Twins, making it not impossible but certainly unlikely they can make up that much ground with 16 games left.

"The one issue I do think, and not incorrectly, that players and staff were focused on what was going on in St. Petersburg and Tampa, where they live," he said.

"They were concerned, and that certainly affected everybody, but that's understandable. It's unfortunate, but it's understandable.

"Instead of walking into the clubhouse and seeing baseball games on TV and ESPN, there's storm coverage. It creeps into you, which is perfectly acceptable and understandable.

"It's just not the best time of year for it happen, but (that's) way secondary to everything else."

He's probably right on all those points.

The worry over massive damage likely did impact their play. It is unfortunate that a major distraction would take place during the September stretch run. And it still is way, way, way secondary to what really mattered.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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