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The Martin Chronicles

All things sports and beyond.

Fennelly: Joe Maddon's return must be bittersweet for Rays fans

Joe Maddon got out at just the right time, as it turned out, Martin Fennelly writes.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Joe Maddon got out at just the right time, as it turned out, Martin Fennelly writes.

If you are a Rays fan, you might have left Tropicana Field a little down on Tuesday night.

It was Joe Maddon reunion night, Joe Ma back at the Trop for the first time since he left for his dream job with the Chicago Cubs, which he made even dreamier with a once-in-a-hundred years world championship.

And here are the Rays, stuck inside another losing season, their third under Kevin Cash, though remember: Maddon came up a loser in 2014, his final season in Tampa Bay.

But a Rays fan had to be a little down as they watched the Rays lose to the Cubs before a real, live and unusually large Trop crowd of more than 25,000. And on a school night! Many of them were Cubs fans.

Maddon remembered the good old days pregame and the Rays showed a video tribute to him early in Tuesday’s game. The crowd stood and cheered. Maddon took a few steps out of the dugout and doffed his ball cap. Here’s what ran through my mind:

Will it ever be that way again around here?

Or have we already had our baseball Camelot, those four playoff seasons, that 2008 American League pennant and the trip to the World Series?

It was out of this world, and Maddon made the trip that much more fun. …

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Fennelly: This is how USF is supposed to look

Octavio Jones | Times

TAMPA

Football was back. That might have been victory enough.

But there was more.

“Tonight was a major step forward,” USF coach Charlie Strong said.

We still haven’t seen No. 22 USF put together a complete game, even after a 47-23 win in Lovie Smith’s return Raymond James Stadium. It was as if Lovie never left.

But can I say something?

USF just beat the ever-living stuffing and put up nearly 700 yards on a Big Ten team, albeit Illinois, on just three days of practice after Irma.

The Bulls struck the proper tone heading into Friday night’s game. Strong invited high school football teams whose games had been canceled by Irma, no charge. The same went for first responders and their families. It was a wonderful gesture by Strong and USF.

Another wonderful thing: USF junior Anthony Beko and senior Spencer Adkinson led the team onto the field carrying the American flag and Florida state flag.

Okay, so maybe someone should have been carrying the penalty flag. It was a remarkably sloppy game at times – 26 penalties for 225 yards. And that was by halftime.

But can I say something? …

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Lovie Smith, Joe Maddon might be a welcome diversion for fans

Associated Press

Provided we all have power, eventually we’ll turn our minds back to games.

Or maybe we won’t. That’s fine, too.

Relief efforts across our state. That’s what matters.

But our sports might be some fun, a diversion.

Story lines galore.

Welcome back, Lovie.

Welcome back, Mike.

Welcome back, Joe Ma and Zo!

Dig in, deep-dish style. Home sweet Chicago. A reunion tour to beat all.

First comes Friday. USF hosts Illinois, and with it former Bucs coach Lovie Smith, now in his second season as head coach of the Fighting Illini after a two-year flop in Tampa Bay.

Full disclosure: Champaign, Ill., home to the Fighting Illini, is not Chicago. A toddlin’ town it isn’t. But Lovie coached the Bears, who are here on Sunday to play the Bucs. It’s all connected, kids. Play along.

Really, it’s bizarre. Think about it. Lovie happens to be in Tampa, where he still has a home, two days before the Bucs begin their delayed season against the Bears.

Yes, the same Lovie who, last time I checked, hired Jason Licht as Bucs GM, hired Dirk Koetter as Bucs offensive coordinator and drafted Jameis Winston as Bucs quarterback. They’re in and Lovie is out. Funny how it works. …

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Fennelly: Irma left NFL little choice

The Bucs take the field before their preseason game against the Redskins.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The Bucs take the field before their preseason game against the Redskins.

It was the right move.

It was the only move.

The NFL took the long way home, but it will make the Bucs and Dolphins play in Week 11, in what was once their bye week.

Sixteen straight games without a break isn’t easy. I’m sure the Bucs didn’t want this.

None of us wants Irma.

Once the dimensions of this storm became apparent, with its tracks toward Florida, everything else faded. Alternative game days like Thursday or Monday. Neutral sites like Orlando and Jacksonville.

This was the only way.

The NFL could have sent these teams packing to a neutral site. Bad optics. Just ask Major League Baseball, which dispatched the Houston Astros to Tampa Bay to play games while their community was ravaged.

Upon further review, playing this game anywhere else this weekend would have been a mistake.

Home is where the Bucs and Dolphins need to be this weekend.

From a competitive standpoint, it isn’t ideal. Bye weeks are very useful during a season, very needed.

Will it make the season tougher on Tampa Bay and Miami? Probably. But NFL teams have played 16 consecutive games before. They did it for 13 years, from 1978 to 1990. …

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Fennelly: Irma making the rules as it approaches

Evan Longoria scores in front of Twins catcher Jason Castro and pitcher Bartolo Colon Tuesday night.

Getty Images

Evan Longoria scores in front of Twins catcher Jason Castro and pitcher Bartolo Colon Tuesday night.

ST. PETERSBURG

The announced crowd at Tuesday night’s Rays game against the Minnesota Twins was 6,509 – the smallest crowd for a Rays game in their 20 years at Tropicana Field.

Normally, that would be cause for laughter or another attendance rant. How could so few fans show up for a game with actual playoff implications? I’m sure attendance will come up again down the road.

Tuesday wasn’t normal. Nothing is normal right now.

“I’d totally understand if there were 10 people here tonight,” Rays manager and Tampa native Kevin Cash said after the Rays beat the Twins, 2-1.

“It was definitely great to pull out a win,” Rays outfielder Steve Souza Jr. said. “But we’ve all got bigger things to worry about. We know what’s out there.”

Irma is out there.

Major League Baseball, knowing it dropped the ball when dispatching the Astros to St. Petersburg for three series here while Harvey ravaged Houston, should consider telling the Rays to stay home and hunker down with their community.

The NFL has moved the Bucs-Dolphins game to November. It was the right thing to do. It was the only thing to do. Irma is making the rules. …

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