Rays bounce back from 1-8 start to climb above .500

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Tampa Bay began the season 1-8 as many people rushed to write the Rays off after numerous key players departed as free agents, but with last night’s win over the Twins they’re now 12-11 overall, going 11-3 since the dreadful start.

What’s particularly remarkable about the Rays climbing above .500 is that they’re winning with the same pitching-and-defense equation they thrived on last season despite losing Gold Glove left fielder Carl Crawford and basically their entire bullpen to free agency, trading shortstop Jason Bartlett, and being without third baseman Evan Longoria since the second game of the season.

Yet the Rays’ relievers rank fourth among AL teams with a 3.06 ERA that’s even better than last season’s league-leading 3.33 mark and their defense ranks second in the league in converting balls in play into outs. And their rotation has been strong too, with James Shields looking like his old self following a career-worst 2010 and ace David Price picking right up where he left off last season.

I’m not sure how long Sam Fuld is going to play like an All-Star and the Kyle Farnsworth closer experiment remains risky despite his being 5-for-5 converting saves so far, but this Rays team is very much a legitimate contender thanks to some shrewd low-cost pickups by the front office, a remarkable farm system that continues to churn out young talent year after year, and a manager in Joe Maddon who excels at mixing and matching to make the puzzle work no matter how odd the pieces may look coming out of the box.

Frontier League team names itself the “Florence Y’alls”

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If you’ve ever found yourself on I-75/71 in Kentucky, just over the river from Cincinnati, you’ve no doubt noticed the water tower for the city of Florence, Kentucky.  Its top is painted with red and white stripes and, instead of featuring the town’s name or the name of the local water concern, it says, “Florence, Y’all.”

The water tower is a nice welcome to Dixie, even if Kentucky isn’t really Dixie. The point is that, if you’re from Ohio or Michigan or someplace and you see it, you know you’re on your way to Lexington or Louisville, or points south. To warmer climes, southern charm and hospitality and, hopefully, a nice little trip.

The folks who support the Frontier League baseball team in Florence no doubt realize the kind of chatter that surrounds that water tower, because they just voted to rename their team:

And they added a handy dandy explainer:

I like it. And I like the idea of naming a baseball team after a notable and much talked-about roadside sign. Which is to say that, if I ever get a baseball team here in Ohio, I’m also gonna name it after a famous sign you see while driving on the interstate not too far from me:

Yeah, that’s a thing. And my baseball team would not even be the first sports thing named after it.

Alternatively, I could put one closer to my house and call it the “ODOT SUCKS.” May be better.

Viva local culture.