Crunch time in Florida: On the diamond and at the polls

Monday, October 20th 2008, 4:08 pm
By: News 9

By Karin Caifa, for NEWS 9

Oct. 20, 2008

WASHINGTON -- It's October in Florida and the stakes are high. Not just for two presidential candidates, battling for the electoral votes of a crucial state. But also for a baseball team fighting for their first World Series title.

Last night the upstart, worst-to-first Tampa Bay Rays fended off a comeback from a rough-and-tumble, millennial postseason perennial Boston Red Sox team to clinch the first American League title in the young history of the franchise. The Rays' win sets up a World Series that pits two of the nation's hottest presidential battlegrounds against each other. The Philadelphia Phillies will represent Pennsylvania, and the National League.

So how did some Tampa Bay players follow up last night's champagne celebration? By taking the field with Barack Obama. Literally. Today's Obama rally was held at Tampa's Steinbrenner Field, the springtime home of the New York Yankees, and a handful of the newly-crowned American League champs came out to make a pitch for the Democratic presidential candidate. Obama nabbed assists from Rays outfielders Carl Crawford, Cliff Floyd, and Jonny Gomes, among others. One of last night's stars, rookie pitcher David Price, is accustomed to being a closer, but today he introduced Obama. (Like any good reliever hopes, Price's outing was brief.)

Obama's appearance did put him in a tricky political spot. At a rally in Philadelphia last weekend, Obama told a crowd, "I am a White Sox fan," he told voters there. "But since the White Sox are out of it, I'll root for the Phillies now."

But today he lavished praise on the Phillies' opposition - and the team that knocked his beloved White Sox out of October play. "I have said from the beginning that I am a unity candidate, bringing people together," Obama quipped. "So when you see a White Sox fan showing love to the Rays, and the Rays showing some love back, you know we're onto something right here."

For two teams in the final stretch of history-making attempts - Obama hoping to become the nation's first African-American president, and Tampa Bay aiming for their first-ever World Series crown - the plan for the next two weeks is largely the same.

"We're not going to be distracted," Obama said of his campaign today. "We're not going to be diverted, not this time, not this year."

(For tips on staying focused in high-pressure situations, Obama might want to consult with the Rays rookie Price, who slammed the door on Boston last night with three strikeouts in the final two innings -- including one with the bases loaded.)

And today may not be the last time Obama and the Rays share billing. Obama has purchased TV time across the major networks on October 29. That includes Fox, home of the World Series. If the October Classic reaches a Game 6, Major League Baseball will push back the first pitch between the Rays and the Phils by about 15 minutes, to allow the Obama campaign full use of their allotted time.