"Never would have thought this in a million years," Rays outfielder Cliff Floyd said -- and he was talking simply about his current team, though he was also on the '97 Marlins. "But I think a lot of people on our side know it's amazing what can happen when you put a bunch of athletes on the field that start to believe over the course of the season. It's only a matter of time before it became this."
So it took Florida -- a high school, college and Minor League baseball haven -- more than a century to land a Major League team. And once the state accomplished that, it took Florida just 15 years to produce three pennant winners and two World Series champions. That's a better rate over that span than every state in the nation other than New York.
The Rays did their part in even more surprising fashion than the Marlins, scoring their first pennant just one season after finishing in last place in the American League East. And unlike the Marlins, who disassembled the core of their World Series teams shortly after winning in 1997 and 2003, the Rays have enough young players and long contracts to potentially remain in contention for years to come.
"I don't know if people understand how big this is," Rays outfielder Carl Crawford said after Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.
Perhaps history can give them a guide.
The Marlins fell just shy of their first winning season in 1996, before taking advantage of the National League Wild Card to earn their first postseason berth the following year. They swept the Giants in three NL Division Series games, then knocked off the defending NL champion Braves in six games in the NLCS. Seven games later, a team that boasted Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou and Gary Sheffield finished off the Indians to give Florida -- both the team and the state -- its first World Series title.
The encore came six years later, when a new group of Marlins -- Josh Beckett, Derrek Lee and Mike Lowell among them -- again snared the Wild Card. Their route to the World Series was no easier, involving a four-game NLDS victory over the Giants, and a seven-game epic NLCS against the Cubs.
It was in Game 6 of that series that the Marlins, on the verge of elimination, caught a break when umpires ruled that Cubs fan Steve Bartman had not interfered with a foul ball that otherwise might have been caught. The Marlins rallied to win that game, Game 7 and the World Series, dropping the Yankees in six games.
And suddenly, Florida's history of Major League irrelevance had disappeared.
"I don't believe in history," then-manager Jack McKeon said. "That's in the past. We've got guys that are dealing in the future."
He might as well have been talking about the Rays, a team that's been dealing in the future since joining the league in 1998. Never owners of a winning season until this one, the Rays now famously went worst-to-first to capture the division crown, and now the AL pennant.
Their work, of course, is not complete -- a World Series date with the Phillies awaits. If the Rays are able to win and give Florida yet another champion, then the state will be able to rival any in the nation in terms of recent success. But pardon the Rays if they're focused solely on their own success.
"We've got all the momentum in the world right now," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We've exceeded all of our own wildest expectations, so this is all just a bonus."