No matter what ends up happening in the World Series, experience never caught up with the Tampa Bay Rays. The pressures of September and October were right there and Upton and Longoria and Kazmir and the rest of ‘em met them head on. This season, age didn’t matter and let me tell you something, it might not matter ever again – in any pro sport.
That’s the feeling I got Saturday night as I watched Ohio State’s cocky superstar freshman Terrelle Pryor play flawless football for three quarters and almost upset one of the best teams in college football. Here was a kid, still in high school five months ago, that has had his every move followed for over a year now playing in front of 80,000 fans on primetime national television and handling himself like the senior he replaced a few weeks ago. His only mistake was trying to do too much; he fumbled while eyeing the end zone when he only needed a first down.
You can bet Pryor will be hardened by this experience and the constant scrutiny he’ll continue to receive before he ends up in the NFL three or four years from now. Think he’ll be ready for a wild card weekend in January? And that’s just football. In baseball and basketball, guys like Upton and Kazmir and of course, LeBron, were considered prodigies before they could even define prodigy. These players are already ranked with their peers by 11 years old. Imagine that, a kid not old enough to play on a big diamond getting called the next Ken Griffey Jr.
Late season pressure isn’t close to what some of the young Rays have faced. Upton and Kazmir represented their country before finishing high school. Today’s star high school athlete is playing for national championship in front hundreds of scouts every weekend in some AAU tournament. Longoria was on a national team in college and was the MVP of the Cape Cod League, the most prestigious summer league in the country.
Tampa Bay has followed a trend that was probably set by LeBron, who single-handedly led his team to the NBA playoffs at 20 years old. They weren’t going to collapse because they were too young to handle to veteran Red Sox or Yankees. 162 games are nothing when you probably played 250 a year from the time you were 16. Of course, a World Series, NBA Finals or a Super Bowl means a lot more than any youth championship. But the point is that young teams like the Rays and all the young athletes of today are facing a lot more pressure at a much younger age. Once they make it the pros, they are trying to prove themselves to whom, the media and the fans?
In high school and college, it’s about showing the people who really matter that you belong -the scouts.
You tell me who’s under more pressure.