St. Petersburg, Florida -- T-shirts with the mathematical motto "9=8" went on sale just last week at Champs Sports stores around Tampa Bay, and already store managers have ordered up a second shipment.
Joe Maddon, the Rays' manager, cooked up the slogan during a 15-mile bike ride. What's it mean? We asked him to break it down for us.
"[I] wanted to be able to -- not sell -- but really have our guys understand, or give a tangible way that they can understand us making the playoffs," he said on the field before the start of Tuesday night's nail-biting game against Boston.
"Nine guys, playing nine innings hard every night means being one of the eight teams in the playoffs," he said, summing up the concept. A similar quote from Maddon is printed on the Champs Sports t-shirts, along with the Rays logo and the phrase "Mission October".
But Maddon says there's more meaning behind the unlikely equation. "Furthermore, nine more wins out of the offense, nine more wins out of the defense, nine more wins out of the pitching equals 27 more wins than we had last year," Maddon said. Take those digits -- 2 and 7 -- and they add up to 9, leading back to the 9=8 motto.
Maddon had shirts made with the motto just for members of the team earlier this year. Champs Sports, which is based in Bradenton and became the official retailer of the Rays this season, worked with apparel maker Majestic to make shirts with the slogan available to fans, too.
The Rays' skipper said he's psyched about sharing his slogan with fans. "[I] want everybody to be on board with the concept. I know our guys are. I wear my shirt all the time, and I'd like to see it come all the way to fruition," he said.
The navy blue shirts sell for $20 each and are available only at the twelve Bay area Champs Sports stores.
Quick sales of the 9=8 shirts will only add to an already incredible turnaround for Rays merchandise that mirrors the team's amazing on-field transformation.
Last year's Devil Rays were among the bottom five Major League Baseball teams in the amount of apparel sold in Champs Sports stores nationwide, a spokesman said. This year, the Rays are among the top ten teams across the country.