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Tampa Bay Rays
Everybody loves Ray-dom

By Mychael Urban / MLB.com

The Tampa Bay Rays entered the 2008 postseason as lovable underdogs, with fawning fans from coast to coast. And those inside Major League Baseball were no exception.

It's what Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said made another formerly rag-tag baseball team the darlings of America once upon a time.

"People who know the game, people inside the game, they could see Tampa Bay getting better and better the past couple of years," Hunter said. "But still, nobody saw it all coming together this fast. They're like the Bad News Bears, man. They got good in a hurry."

Only the Rays were the Bad News Bears with Kelly Leaks all over the diamond.

"They can beat you a lot of different ways because they have so many great athletes," said Justin Duchscherer of the A's. "They have power, they have speed, they play great defense, they have great starting pitching, and they have a really good bullpen.

They also have a Joe Maddon, a former longtime Angels bench coach who worked countless miracles during the Rays' run to the World Series.

"I'm obviously rooting for Joe because he's a friend," said Halos skipper Mike Scioscia. "But even if he wasn't, you watch his team and see where they've come from to where they are now, and how well they play the game, it's hard not to love that if you love baseball."

Duchscherer, something of an underdog himself in that most scouts didn't think he threw hard enough to make it at the game's highest level, much less become a two-time All-Star, couldn't agree more.

"It's hard to say they're an underdog because they're so good, but when you look at where they've been, yeah, you have to say they're underdogs," he said. "And who doesn't love an underdog? Everyone does."

Count Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, who was originally drafted by Tampa Bay with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, among them.

Hamilton, who overcame years of drug addiction to emerge as one of the game's finest all-around talents, is the individual equivalent of his former club.

First season:
1998

Record: 97-65
(1st place, AL East)

Manager:
Joe Maddon
Hamilton waxed effusive in his praise for the Rays, leaving no doubt that Tampa Bay was his team of choice as he watched the 2008 postseason.

In fact, he sung that same tune in mid-July, when his presence at the All-Star Game in New York provided a platform from which he spoke of redemption and perseverance -- themes frequently associated with the Rays, who had never finished with a winning record prior to their magical 2008 season.

"I've been called the ultimate underdog, and that's why a lot of people seem to connect with me," Hamilton said of his record-setting show in the Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby. "And I think you can say the same thing about [the Rays]. Nobody expected them to be where they are right now, the same way I think a lot of people didn't expect me to be here."

And to think, at the time the Rays were only halfway into the Cinderella story that's captured the imagination of baseball fans everywhere. Now they're American League champions, one of the most compelling stories in the game's rich history.

Of course, Hamilton isn't alone by a long shot.

Everybody loves an underdog. It's why the movie "Rudy" resonated. It's what made the USA Olympic hockey team's "Miracle on Ice" such a cultural and societal touchstone.

It's what made the Rays such fun to root for in the 2008 postseason.

Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.