This is my second stint with Tampa Bay, but it's a whole different experience than when I left the club back in 2001.
Our personnel is the biggest difference. When I was here before we had a veteran approach, and now we have a nucleus built around young talent. I think it's great that they stuck with these young guys over the last couple of years because we're reaping the benefits of it now. These kids can play.
We have to so many good, talented young players. Carl Crawford's play over the last few years has been unbelievable. B.J. Upton is coming into his own, and Scott Kazmir and James Shields are pitching big games for us. Contributions are coming from up and down our lineup, and it's nice to see everyone meshing.
The front office deserves a lot of credit for allowing this young nucleus to grow and ultimately succeed together. That's what makes championship teams. If you look back at what the Yankees were able to accomplish in the late '90s, their core nucleus was from the farm system. I'm hoping we can build on that and have similar success.
It wasn't that the club didn't want to build a strong farm system in the beginning. They did, but there was also some pressure to win early, especially after Arizona had some success taking that route.
So they went out and signed a bunch of good veterans but it just didn't work out. Being in such a tough division was another big hurdle for the club.
I'm also a vastly different pitcher than the last time I played here; the difference is night and day. When I first started here, I didn't know anything about pitching in the Major Leagues. Over the years I've learned what I need to do to be successful and to help put myself in a position to win.
The winning attitude we've begun to develop is contagious. We all go out there, wanting to do the best we can to keep our team on this roll. It's been a blast. There's a lot of energy on the field when we're playing.
Dan Wheeler, who first reached the Major Leagues with the Rays as a 21-year-old starter in 1999, is back as a key figure in the club's bullpen. Now a 30-year-old setup reliever, he has a 1.88 ERA while compiling two wins and two saves over a team-high 38 appearances.
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