Commentary

Rays Fever

Updated: August 13, 2008, 11:34 AM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

I know I am supposed to be talking about college basketball.

Let me tell you, right now I have Rays fever, baby! That's right, the Tampa Bay Rays.

I have been a Rays season ticket holder for 11 years and I have sat through some tough times. They have been dismal, watching one beating after another. Getting close to mediocrity was a pipe dream. A goal was getting to the .500 mark for an entire season.

The 2008 season has been special. Just look at the standings and you see the Rays on top of perennial powers like the Red Sox and Yankees. Those two are the traditional winners.

It just proves that in the world of coaching, a key is to get the most out of your people. Playing with a passion, with feeling, as a unit, doing the intangibles, can lead you to the winner's circle.

I don't care if you are talking about basketball, baseball or football, the same elements are key. It is all about doing that little extra, making the move that helps your team win.

Right now, Joe Maddon's team is dealing with a couple of tough blows. Losing Carl Crawford, who may miss the remainder of the season, and Evan Longoria to the DL at this time of the season, is a difficult challenge. Trying to hold off the Red Sox and Yankees is not easy when you are not at full strength.

I can say that this Rays team has had everyone contribute. There really isn't one player having a monster season when you go down the stat sheet. Nobody hitting well over .300 or with 35-40 home runs; everyone blends in together and different guys step up in clutch situations.

In the minds of many, this team has average players. Guys coming through to win ballgames like Eric Hinske, Gabe Gross, Cliff Floyd and several pitchers out of the bullpen like Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell, Trever Miller have made a difference. The list goes on and on and they have contributed in a positive way.

There are stars in their own right in Crawford, Troy Percival and BJ Upton, even though he has not had a superstar season, not close to last year.

Maddon's team has won with pitching and defense. They play with passion. It is not about payroll and money, it is about playing as a team. They work hard together.

I love keeping track of the Rays, even when the team is on the west coast. That's right, I get up in the middle of the night and check the scores, baby!

It has been fun galore. I can't wait for the playoffs! It will be a fun time in Tampa!

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.