Ozzie: Rays have come a long way

Ozzie: Rays have come a long way

CHICAGO -- Ozzie Guillen once joked that players could hear the fans talking at Tropicana Field when he played the last year of his career for the Rays in 2000, and that the media consisted of one or two reporters who would track players down by their cars after the game.

Times certainly have changed for the team entering Friday's series opener in Chicago tied for the best record in baseball with the Angels and the Cubs. And Guillen, who has a vast appreciation for the game that extends past his little corner, couldn't be happier.

"This is one of the best, to me, the best news in baseball besides [Josh] Hamilton in the last 10 years -- and besides us winning in 2005 and the Boston Red Sox," said Guillen with a smile.

Guillen gave credit to Joe Maddon for the Rays' huge turnaround, although he fell back upon an old favorite piece of analysis of his by adding that a good team is going to make a good manager. But Guillen appreciates Maddon's ability to teach, even if it's through tough love for a young stalwart such as B.J. Upton, whom Maddon recently benched for not hustling on the back end of a possible double play.

"Not too many people can do that," Guillen said. "One thing about it, it's a good thing it worked for him. If he does it, he's a genius. If I do it, I'm crazy.

"He should be Manager of the Year, no doubt. I don't think there's any competition against him."

That managerial field includes Guillen, who has led his team far above preseason expectations and prognostications, and into the American League Central's top spot for 121 days this season. But Guillen wants wins and another World Series title, not more managerial honors.

So, he stands proud of the Tampa Bay organization for which he once played. His pride won't get in the way of winning games this weekend.

"Hopefully, we [beat them up] the next three days," Guillen said. "But they deserve to be noticed. This is not a one-year thing. I think they will be good for a long time."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.