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For nine years, Joe Maddon called the shots for the Tampa Bay Rays. Before coming to the team in 2006, Maddon had spent decades with the Angels organization at multiple levels. Enter 2014 and a move that shocked the baseball world in the Tampa area – Joe Maddon opted out of his final year with the Rays and not long after would sign as the new skipper of the Chicago Cubs. This would come after Andrew Friedman jumped ship to the Dodgers and some speculated that was a big reason for Maddon’s decision to leave, as well.
So what were the Rays to do? For the first time in nearly a decade the search for a new manager was underway in St. Petersburg.
Rays fans remember a young man named Kevin Cash who used to play backup catcher for the then Devil Rays back in 2005. His playing career came with few personal highlights to speak of – but winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 sure was a nice memory to lock away. After retiring as a player in 2012, Cash went on to become a scout for the Blue Jays and then joined Terry Francona’s coaching staff in Cleveland as the bullpen coach.
All those things represent who Kevin Cash was. Who is he now? He’s coming into his sophomore year as the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays after going a surprising 80-82 (three wins better than Maddon’s final year) in his first year at the helm. Why is this surprising? 2015 was Cash’s first year managing at any level of baseball. It was also a year laden with an injury bug of historic proportions. Despite those facts – the Rays were playing meaningful games in September and in the thick of the AL Wild Card hunt most of the season as well as spending almost a month in first place in the East.
A man who was the definition of a rookie manager had this team winning for most of the year in 2015. He overcame obstacles that some seasoned skippers would have had problems with. Now, heading into a 2016 season with plenty of new faces mixed in with plenty of returning faces who contributed greatly in 2015, Cash seems poised to get even better with this season’s club.
How much better can they be? Fans in the area seem to be pretty hopeful that come September, this team is once again contending under Cash. But this time – a post-season birth seems like a not so crazy idea. Can Kevin Cash get the Rays back to playoffs? Time will tell. The one thing that is absolutely certain looking back a year ago is that the Rays organization made the right move bringing in a hometown boy who spent his youth playing at Northside Little League in Tampa and went on to call himself a Florida State Seminole. He just turned 38 back in December and is, by far, the youngest manager in the big league.
But if 2015 told us anything – age is just a number. The Rays have always been among the youngest teams in baseball.
Sounds like a match made in baseball heaven to me.
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