Cheering against the Rays is an unfamiliar feeling
If you're a fan of a losing sports team, as I and my fellow Orioles loyalists have been for 14 seasons now, you're likely to become practiced in the art of sports triangulation. Sports triangulation follows the proverb an enemy of my enemy is a friend. To put it another way, if I can't beat you, I hope somebody else can. It's a concept heavy on schadenfreude and light on consistency.
Sports triangulation allowed me to cheer for the Red Sox up until 2004 as they were an enemy of my biggest enemy, the Yankees. The 2004 schadenfreude quickly wore off, however, as the Red Sox bandwagon grew in size, collective ego and in-your-face volume. I soon found myself with two enemies and in need of an enemy of both my enemies.
Depending on the year, my triangulated team might reside in the A.L. West, the National League, or, during particularly desperate times, in the form of Mother Nature as all I could do was hope for rains that would wash away the whole polluted enterprise. I've cheered for the A's, the Rangers, the Angels, the Cardinals, the Rockies - heck, even the Marlins and the Padres - throughout the years in the hopes of denying one or both of baseball's evil empires any form of postseason glory.
Ultimately, my best and most consistent friend via sports triangulation has been the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have offered a counter to New York and Boston not only in the playoffs but also in the regular season. No outrageous payroll, a likable manager and players, no obnoxious fans - okay, at times almost no fans at all.
The Rays were the ultimate answer, an enemy of both my enemies who provided healthy doses of schadenfreude and some sense of optimism for Orioles fans as we could daydream by saying, "Hey, they were really bad for an extended stretch, too. Just look at them now." The triangulated love affair reached its apex last September during one glorious evening when the O's and Rays' combined efforts vanquished the once mighty Red Sox.
Which brings us to this season. I mentioned that sports triangulation is light on consistency, but it still feels strange given recent history to find myself now rooting against the Rays. There's reason to do so given that the Birds are actually competitive in the division for the first time since the Rays dropped the Devil from their name. Nevertheless, it's not as easy as it has been with my other baseball flings given all the secondhand glory I've enjoyed on account of Tampa's rise from the baseball ashes.
Should fortunes change and the O's fall out of contention altogether, I could well find myself cheering for Joe Maddon's boys once more. But for now, I've updated my baseball status with the Rays and am no longer in a relationship with them. What else can I say about sports triangulation? It's complicated.