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Rays' owner expects more success

Rays' owner expects more success

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg was all smiles on Friday night as he walked around Tropicana Field.

While meeting with the media prior to the Rays' first appearance in the American League Championship Series, Sternberg couldn't help taking some delight in his position.

"I've got a number of friends who are Red Sox fans asking for tickets," he said, "and I just can't bring them into this place wearing red gear."

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Sternberg looked around the Trop, which was quickly filling with fans wearing Rays-blue T-shirts. Sales of Rays merchandise have more than doubled from last year.

"We really had the belief that baseball could [come to] this region, and that the populous didn't quite understand it, in fairness," Sternberg said. "They hadn't been exposed to what baseball could mean. And everybody's getting it right now."

That's what an American League East crown and a franchise-first postseason appearance will do for you. The Tampa Bay region has flocked to the Trop, with eight regular-season sellouts, doubling the previous club record.

Sternberg sees the 2008 version of young, AL East champion Rays as just the beginning.

"We've got the nucleus here," he said. "We've got practically every player in that clubhouse, the ability to bring them back next year. So there's no reason why we can't continue with some good success."

Under the third year of his regime, Sternberg stripped the "Devil" from the Rays name, changing the team's colors, uniforms and mindset. The off-field changes may be unique, but Sternberg shies away from any assumption that Tampa Bay is a model small-market franchise.

"There's nothing in particular we've done that needs to be, or can be copied," Sternberg said. "There's nothing that's unique. ... The key was really the patience that we exhibited and the patience that our fan base had with us. And fortunately it was rewarded maybe a year or two earlier than we might have expected."

Although Sternberg is quick to say that 2008 has been a dream season, he also is convinced that his team is no Cinderella story.

"If you had asked me before the year what are the chances we would win 90 games this year, I would have said there's a reasonable chance," he said. "I suppose maybe in the year before that, there was no chance of it happening ... [but] there was a reasonable outside chance of us getting to 90 wins this year."

With 100 victories for the Rays, including the postseason -- just one shy of the Angels for most in baseball -- the curtain has yet to close on Tampa Bay's shining season.

"I just don't want to be done," Sternberg said. "But I'm pretty satisfied."

"I genuinely hope we get a lot of nail-biters. It's postseason atmosphere, and it's great. Really, if we can extend and get those 4-3 games that I like -- I don't like those 12-8ers -- I think it would be outstanding."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["league_championship_series" ] }
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