The sun is shining- not a cloud in the St. Petersburg sky, you can smell coconut shrimp as it co-mingles with the salty bay air. Folks are whistling "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as they stroll down the boardwalk walking their Scottish terriers with their cute little Carlos Pena jerseys. Birds chirp as the sound of the surf methodically washes away ten years of frustration... and somewhere in the distance you can still hear Sox fans crying softly into their lucky charms.
So with their heads held high and their chests puffed-out, fresh off a series sweep of the defending World Series Champs- the Rays march back to the Trop for a series against the almost last place Kansas City Royals...
This has disaster written all over it.
How many times in the history of sports has a team risen to the challenge and beaten their arch-rival, or the "unbeatbale foe" just to follow it up with their poorest performance of the season? I'll tell you; it happens a lot.
Preparing yourself mentally for the big game is easy, adrenaline does the work for you, but getting pumped up for the run-of-the-mill games- well that's a different story altogether.
Even if you consider it from a fan's perspective, its difficult. I was so excited about the Sox series I couldn't wait until first pitch each night, it felt like I was a kid in school waiting for the eighth period bell to ring or lying in bed waiting for Santa to come on Christmas Eve- the games just couldn't start fast enough.
The Royals series? I love watching the Rays regardless of the opponent, but really- how pumped can you get about the Royals? Even if Bo Jackson himself marched out onto the field as the Kansas City clean-up hitter it would still be difficult to even begin to garner the same type of excitement as the Sox series.
This is where inexperience can get you caught with your pants down. This is that series where veteran teams know that by winning big they can start a snowball effect that will carry them to the Break, but the inexperienced team can just as easily start to sef-destruct.
Coming off a huge series in which they've built themselves a nice little division lead, and heading into a series against a much lesser opponent is dangerous for any team, but a young team that is just now learning how to win is doubly susceptible to the prototypical let-down.
These are the series that the Rays are going to have to dominate if they plan on being contenders all season long, after all (as Sox fans are so quick to point out) you don't get anything for having the best record in baseball at the All-Star Break (although it does have anice ring to it).
No, I don't believe that if the Rays lose this series that they'll just fade away into a second half of disappointmnet and mediocrity, but I do believe that if they aren't careful, they just may give away a game or two that they'd give anything to get back come September.