Laid-back rivalry set to resume
Rays look forward to Interleague series against Marlins
ST. PETERSBURG -- Interleague Play for the Rays begins Friday night in Miami at the park now known as Land Shark Stadium.
Yes, the Rays and the Marlins, expansion franchises housed in the same state, will resume their fledgling rivalry that some feel is sure to be a great rivalry while others feel it never will be.
The Rays went 5-1 against the Marlins in 2008, which stands as the most wins they have had in one season against their in-state rival. Overall, the Marlins lead the series with a 35-26 mark, but the Rays are 11-7 since Joe Maddon took over as the Rays manager in 2006.
Troy Percival doesn't feel that Rays-Marlins has the markings to be a big rivalry.
"I came from Dodgers-Angels, [a] pretty big rivalry -- like hatred when you go into their stadium, [like] Yankees-Boston," Percival said. "I don't see this ever getting to that."
If anybody on the team can appreciate a true rivalry, Gabe Gross is the guy. Having played quarterback for Auburn University, Gross has lived the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.
"I think it's a little bit difficult to have this heated rivalry that baseball's looking for when we're not really playing for the same thing, so to speak," Gross said. "I mean, they're playing in the National League, they're trying to win the NL East. We're in the American League, trying to win the AL East, and so I don't know.
"[Rays-Marlins] is somewhat of a rivalry, because they are right down the road from us. But to me, for it to ever get to a level like even what we've had with the Red Sox the last couple of years ... the reason that has been such a rival is because we're banging heads trying to get to the same thing. And it's tough to create a lot of heated rivalries when you're not really doing that."
In contrast to Auburn-Alabama, Gross noted that the bitter Southeastern Conference rivals are competing for the same thing.
"They're butting heads every year, trying to beat each other," Gross said. "They're in the same tournament, so to speak. ... [Interleague games aren't] exhibition games. But as far as that same type of deal [as Auburn-Alabama], it's just different."
Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco doesn't believe much of a rivalry exists.
"No, because we don't play each other enough," Nolasco said. "I don't think it'll be that big, like our New York rivalry or something like that. We have to play them more often."
Joe Nelson has the distinction of having played for the Marlins in 2008 before coming to the Rays as a free agent this past offseason.
"Rivalries happen when there's some bad blood or both teams are winning," Nelson said. "The Marlins have won a couple of world championships and the Rays were in the World Series last year. So there could be a chance for a rivalry.
"But rivalries happen more when both teams are fighting and competing for headlines, like the Yankees and Mets. I don't know if it will get to that level. We're far enough away in the state that it's not like competing for the back page of the New York Post. But there is a rivalry. What do they call it, the 'Citrus Series'?"
B.J. Upton believes Rays-Marlins can become a serious rivalry.
"We both play in the state of Florida," Upton said. "We both have good teams. And I really don't feel like either team is going anywhere. We're going to be around for a while. Last couple of seasons we've had pretty good seasons. I think it could definitely turn into a rivalry. I can maybe see down the line a World Series between the two of us."
Upton believes both teams are overlooked where recognition is concerned due to the markets in which they play.
"I mean, you see the Chicago series, the New York series, the L.A. series get more [publicity] than we do," Upton said. "But at the same time, we're sitting down here in the smaller markets -- but we still have good ballclubs."
Based on the talent playing for each team, J.P. Howell believes this year's series will be akin to a true rivalry.
"They got off to a hot start," Howell said. "Last year they were real close and just couldn't get that last push. This year they're a little different ballclub. They have a little different attitude. We understand that, and we think this will be the year that it's a little higher level of ball than it's been in the past."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.