SPORTS> North America
Young Rays enjoying big stage
Updated: 2008-10-22 15:52

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—The manager wears thick-rimmed glasses and listens to everything from the Rolling Stones to the Four Tops. Mohawk is the haircut of the moment. Inspirational quotes decorate walls of the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse — and we're not talking conventional baseball wisdom.

Albert Camus weighs in with a thought, although it's not clear if the French existentialist had any advice for hitting a split-fingered fastball. Economist Alan Greenspan is represented. The words of college basketball coaching great John Wooden are cited.

"Integrity Has No Need Of Rules."—that's Camus.

"Rules Cannot Take The Place Of Character."—Greenspan said that.

"Discipline Yourself So No One Else Has To."—that's all Wooden.

"9=8." Now, that one belongs to Joe Maddon, the unconventional skipper who sold his young players on the motto that's become the club's mantra during an improbable run to the World Series.

"I didn't know what it meant at first," designated hitter Cliff Floyd said, recalling a speech Maddon delivered on the first day of spring training.

Some players rolled their eyes. Others stared straight ahead with blank looks on their faces.

Floyd, a 14-year veteran signed last winter to add leadership and stability to the clubhouse, gave Maddon the benefit of the doubt.

"It was a different speech than what you're accustomed to hearing when you come to spring training. It's usually, "We've got a good team, you've just got to believe it." It was different. So when he said it, people perked up. `Whoa. OK, let's figure out what this means and try to accomplish it."'

The rest, as they say, is history.

"9=8" essentially translates to nine players playing hard for nine innings every day equals one of eight postseason berths.

Maddon also sold the concept that the Rays, who won 66 games and finished with the worst record in the majors in 2007, could make the playoffs if they got nine more wins because of hitting, an additional nine because of pitching, and another nine because of defense.

Turns out he was prophetic. The Rays, won had never won more than 70 games in a season, clinched a postseason berth for the first time with their 93rd victory—exactly 27 more than a year ago.

"I'm so used to the eye roll. I'm so used to the scoff," Maddon said, looking back on that first day of camp. "I'm so used to it, and I'm really immune to both...At some point, corny can turn into cool."

While much of Tampa Bay's success can be attributed to young talented athletes such as Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Scott Kazmir, players say Maddon's insistence that things are done "The Ray Way" is responsible, too.

Although he's an intellectual type who prefers fine wine to a cold beer following a game, Maddon can be one of the boys.

When Upton decided on a whim to get a Mohawk haircut last month, the fad caught on in the clubhouse. Maddon joined in the fun, getting his hair cut and noting the importance of solidarity.

"That stuff all matters," he said.

It all promotes calmness that spills over onto the field.

"He's acts like he's one of us in here, and that's awesome. Guys appreciate that," rookie David Price said. "He comes in, we have gangsta rap music just blaring in the locker room. Does he say a word? No. It probably stops about two minutes before the first pitch is thrown. Joe just lets us be us. ... He has a relationship with every player, and no relationship is the same. That just speaks volumes about Joe."

Maddon's also shown he can be a disciplinarian.

The manager benched Upton twice for not hustling on the bases after Maddon first tried to get the player's attention in a private conversation. He preaches approaching every game the same—be it spring training or playoffs—and is convinced that's one of the reasons the team has not been overwhelmed by the postseason stage.

"Our program's been validated. Our concepts have been validated," Maddon said Tuesday."

"It's not anything complicated. It's the basic stuff. Running hard, good turns. Playing catch. Fastball command. First to third. Those kinds of things. Everybody thinks we're so fancy, but we're so basic.”

The Rays don't plan change anything now that they're in the World Series.

"We're going to be the same loose guys we've always been," Longoria said.

Fellow rookie Fernando Perez agreed.

"We're looking at it just like other games. It's a young attitude, but I think it's fitting," Perez said.

"I think we're respecting both sides of the coin. We know we may never ever be here again. But there's kind of a confidence that we think we will be back— not that we're taking this for granted at all, but I think that in a lot of ways we’re taking it the right way."

The Ray Way.