Culture club

Secret sauce to Rays’ success? A cultural club

CLEVELAND — Wide receiver Christian Bethancourt didn’t need long after his trade from Oakland in early July to figure out why the Rays have done so well, making the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

“It’s different,” he said. “It’s definitely a different culture here.”

New teammates welcomed him, regardless of his limited past success. The staff made sure he had everything he needed. The coaches conveyed information in a simple form, emphasizing the positives and building confidence.

And he quickly understood manager Kevin Cash’s main mantra: to put the players at ease so that they could perform better and the team could win more.

“For example, two days after I arrived, I felt like I had been here all year just because of the way they treated me,” Bethancourt said during Wild Card Series practice. of Thursday.

“They’re like, ‘Hey, we only care about what you do on the pitch. Don’t care about anything else. Like, don’t you want to practice batting? That’s fine. As long as you do what we ask on the pitch and take care of what you are supposed to take care of, you will be fine.

Bethancourt has played in seven other organizations and one year in Korea enough to know how different it was.

Some teams obsess over details like dress codes, matching practice gear, and other rigid rules. They focus on what players are doing wrong and need to fix. And they operate in an atmosphere that creates pressure from above.

“From what I’ve seen it’s coming from the front office, from Cash, from the coaching staff, and it’s being conveyed to the players that we should only be worried about what we’re doing on the pitch. “said Bethancourt. “It’s something that makes us, as a team and personally as players, a little more comfortable.”

Outfielder Randy Arozarena (56) celebrates with fans at Tropicana Field after the Rays won the 2021 American League East championship. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Veteran outfielder David Peralta arrived from Arizona in late July and was also struck by the difference and magnitude of the group effort in the Rays’ success.

“That’s it,” Peralta said. “It’s a matter of teamwork. It’s not just one person. It’s up to everyone to do their job. And that’s why we’re here in the playoffs. … We are a big family. And I love that. We eat together, we hang out together. And that makes a difference.

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The Rays needed time to get to this point, one of three American League teams and six overall to make the playoffs four straight years.

Their first wave of success under the ownership of Stuart Sternberg – reaching the playoffs four times in six years, including a shocking run at the 2008 World Series – seemed over when top baseball executive Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon left after the 2014 season.

As team president Matt Silverman initially ran baseball operations before handing over control to rising executive Erik Neander, the Rays hired Cash, who had never been successful anywhere, and plotted a return to glory.

“It’s one thing to talk about it and hope, but there were some tough years,” Cash said. “It’s not easy to do.”

The Rays finished below .500 three straight years before making the playoffs, albeit unsuccessfully, in 2018. They earned a wildcard berth in 2019 and have been playoff regulars ever since.

“No delays and a lot of ignorance,” Neander said. “You have to be naive enough to believe you can do it and get to work. There are a lot of really good people who just snack. We took our pieces for a few years, really trying to build this and build it right and rebuild it. And I think we did. This has certainly been the case for four years.

Obviously, it’s not enough to allow players to wear jeans and t-shirts on team flights, skip batting practice and listen to music or play video games. in the clubhouse.

Rays players celebrate after beating the Baltimore Orioles in Game 2 of a doubleheader in Baltimore to clinch a 2020 playoff berth.
Rays players celebrate after beating the Baltimore Orioles in Game 2 of a doubleheader in Baltimore to clinch a 2020 playoff berth. [ JULIO CORTEZ | AP ]

The Rays, especially on the pitching side, do an amazing job of taking in complex analytical data and presenting it in a simple, applicable – and personalized – way to convince players that it will help them.

They do an outstanding job of finding undervalued players to fill out the talented core they assemble and spend their limited money wisely. They bring in good people who share their team values. They emphasize communication and transparency in every way.

This year’s new reliever Jason Adam said the group’s openness, simplicity of messaging and selflessness stood out for him. Reliever Shawn Armstrong, a 2021 Ray who returned this year, is impressed with how “everyone supports each other” on and off the field. He noted that they share a common goal of simply winning, pointing to Boston’s upbeat flight on Wednesday as an example of being able to shake off their five-game losing streak for the playoff clean slate.

“It’s a really good environment to play a stressful game with a lot of anxiety,” said pitcher Jalen Beeks, a relative veteran considering his July 2018 arrival from Boston.

“I think the main thing is how comfortable it is for young people to come and play. And older guys at the end of life, they love it here. It’s just the environment and comfort.

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