Are the Rays better without Upton and Sheilds? Evan Longoria has an interesting take.

Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times had a fascinating interview with Evan Longoria in which he offers his perspective on the changes in the Rays clubhouse. He was careful not to criticize either player. As Joe Maddon said, they both had huge roles in making the Rays come to stand for something. But because they were two of the last players from the bad old Rays days, they sometimes say the world differently.

“There was a lot of history with B.J. and Shields and this organization, and I think there were some things that it was tough for them to get beyond. They were really the only ones that were left in here that were here before the Rays were (renamed) in 2008, when we started to be the team that we are now. And I think some of those things kind of stuck around, and as much as you try to instill the new way, some of those things, it was tough to get some of those thoughts out of their head. And so, I think, obviously they were great players, but as far as an over-arching belief in what we try to do here, I think with the new people that we have now, it’s a completely new belief in what we’re trying to do here.”

And…

“Bottom line, we don’t have guys in here anymore that knew how it was. There’s no, ‘It was … It used to be …’ It’s all here and now. And what we’re doing now. And that’s the biggest thing. In this game, we always talk about how important it is to play in the now and be in the moment, so to speak. It’s tough to do that when you’re thinking about the past.”

And…

“It’s kind of like a long-term girlfriend that you’ve gone through a lot of tough times with and you’ve had your good times, but when stuff starts to go bad again then you just only remember the bad times. It’s tough to see the bigger picture, it’s tough to see what’s happening right now.”

It’s interesting hearing his perspective. For a lot of us on the outside, especially those of us who aren’t around the club everyday, the Rays seem to be one of those places where players love being and know they’re lucky. Joe Maddon appears to be the manager that players on other teams would most like to play for. He’s demanding in terms of effort and playing smart, but everything else is simple.

In fact, those are almost the exact words Kelly Johnson used this spring in discussing his first weeks with the Rays. Ben Zobrist said he has looked around enough to know he’s lucky to be playing for the Rays, and that when free agency comes around, he’ll take less money to stay. 

It was also interesting to hear Maddon’s perspective on Longoria’s thoughts. He praised Shields and Upton, but he also said he’s privy to only about “10 percent” of the clubhouse chatter because he believes that’s their sanctuary.

I just hope fans in Tampa Bay know how lucky they are to have this club. I hope they understand that the current management team isn’t going to be there forever and that Maddon and Zobrist and David Price and the others aren’t going to be around forever.

This is a franchise that’s easy to root for, with players easy to root for. They’ve remade their image so dramatically that it’s getting harder and harder to remember they were once a laughingstock. No one laughs at them know except maybe when opposing players think of how much fun they’d have playing there.

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