St. Pete. City Council Puts Steamy Piles of Coal in Rays Stocking

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I’m dumbfounded and disgusted right now.

Not simply by the obscure comment I heard during today’s St. Petersburg City Council meeting made about the “arrogance of the Rays” in regard to this issue and if that is not the pot calling the kettle black then we seriously are in trouble as a city.

This Rays ongoing stadium stalemate is beginning to feel like a modern rendition of the tale regarding Sysphus.

I guess the best way to illustrate this point is if the Rays  mascot Raymond on in this case Rays-phus  begins pushing a boulder towards the tilted top of Tropicana Field and as he nears the cupola it  begins to rolling back and Raymond must again repeat the process again…and again…to infinity. 

3d2ce810-9185-4fff-b3fd-d2779e89c381_500I think the St. Pete. City Council has unknowingly finally jumped the proverbial shark and truly are not thinking about a lasting baseball presence in the city. But then again, what do you expect from a city that can’t decide on a Pier design and wants a modern masterpiece that will stick out like a sore thumb with the surrounding Mediterranean-Spanish influenced structures

Without a doubt this was a called Strike 2 on any baseball’s future in St. Petersburg, maybe even Tampa Bay.

Plain and simple, the St. Pete. City Council tonight might have finally made it morally and ethically for the Tampa Bay Rays to call the city’s lawsuit bluff and they might finally venture outside of St. Petersburg…. no matter the financial or legal repercussions.

l_72a6a5ac70604d8d88c220bbdd57d1f7I truly thought that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Rays President of Operations Brian Auld produced a fair and just starting pointof cooperation for the team to regain or provide some positive movement towards finding a new stadium for the team.

The St. Pete. City Council really had nothing financially to lose by approving this mutually arranged agreement with the Rays. Instead they might have caused the wheels to begin turning on the Rays exit strategy.

By them voting against this agreement the City Council might collectively risk St. Pete’s baseball future and force the hand of Major League Baseball who can without recourse oe worry pluck this team out of the region in a heartbeat and pay the Rays stadium contract out of their petty cash box.

901b1b4d-1deb-488c-9f54-7a2e14365d74_500So by a 5-3 vote to not approve the reached agreement by Mayor Kriseman and the Rays on a stadium exploration agreement outside the city limits of St. Pete, they must now accept the present and future consequences of this action.

First off, to St. Petersburg City Council members Karl Nurse, Charlie Gerdes (my Councilman) and City Council Vice- Chairman Daren Rice.. Thank you for your insight, confidence  and trust that by voting in the affirmative we can find a viable solution to the Rays stadium issue whether within out city limits or outside them.

To St. Petersburg City Council members from Chairman Bill Dudley, Steve Kornell, Jim Kennedy, Amy Foster, and finally Wengay Newton…..Shame on you for letting this stalemate continue and not bring some sunshine back into the darkness that has been the Rays stadium saga with our fair city.

Some will say I have not right saying this, but I was born in St. Anthony’s Hospital, educated in St. Petersburg and I have given my heart and soul defending it in the past to disapproving souls, but tonight I’m embarrassed by the tunnel vision and negative energy created by this vote for the city and its citizens. 

081Without a shadow of a doubt right now I understand some of the logic for the rejection, but to slam the door on the Rays like this hastens the team’s ownership’s want to leave this region in the dust and fall into the welcoming embrace of a city like Nashville or Montreal.

I expect a terse and very firm worded response from Major League Baseball to hit the wires proclaiming their frustration that the team’s host city wants to play “hard ball”, but in essence MLB and the Rays truly hold all the important cards.

fd4bab8d-0425-436c-9090-62f3fc61fad0_500By negating this agreement fashioned by your own Mayor it not only proves he doesn’t have true support on the City Council, he has a band of talking heads who vote with their perceived notions, not the true intention of their voting public.

I do not only worry about this decision for my own St. Pete Rays fans and residents, but I feel like I need to apologize to every other city and country within Tampa Bay region for the audacious antics of my hometown’s City Council.

But I shouldn’t have to do that. The Rays are one of our largest spring to fall assets within St. Petersburg. They employ so many of our citizens, pay taxes, support the local economy plus give endless amount of time , money and energy to causes outside the Trop’s walls within this St. Petersburg community.

Instead out elected City Council decides they know the opinions of their represented people and basically tell one of our greatest tourism tool to “go to their room” like they did something wrong.

17a635f7-ef96-48c7-914f-91c449a12624_500Seriously, if I was the Rays, I would not wait patiently with their bat on their shoulders awaiting the next St. Pete curveball.  I applaud Mayor Kriseman for his due diligence in trying to keep this matter from escalating, but you have to think the Rays have the advantage now

And I guess the St Pete City Council doesn’t understand basic baseball realities. The Rays now have a full count 3-2 against them and believe me they will not give the city of St. Pete. The satisfaction of a strike out.

They could simply stand there and take the pitch calling the cities bluff …and walking…never giving St. Pete a second glance.

 

Post Script:

If you want to read the Rays and Mayor’s mutually agreed upon document put before the St. Petersburg City Council today, here is a link to the file (thanks to the Tampa Bay Times).

Silverman Restoring Faith in the Rays, One Trade at a Time

 

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Matt Silverman, my cap is tilted to you.

Got to admit, I thought the Tampa Bay Rays might make a few moves to fill holes and bring competition into Spring Training, but I never imagined we would see the bodies fly this winter.

And that’s a good thing.

Sure I will miss the likes of outfield duo of Wil Myers, Matt Joyce and several of the Rays pieces that have left this team via trades this off season, but what you have brought back to the Rays with these trades will immediately make an impact on the Rays offensive and defensive alignments for many seasons to come.

images (2)That is what a true leader does. They go out and make a team better without a dollar spent or a moment of sleep lost. Right now the new President of Baseball Operations is healing the Rays Republic’s gaping mental and emotional wounds left by Andrew Friedman leaving for Chavez Ravine and bringing up morale and cohesion among the Tampa Bay fan base.

It took a lot of internal guts and fortitude to hire a first time Manager like Kevin Cash, but the guy has the energy, passion and baseball smarts to not only do the job, but have the rest of us want success for him right out of the gate.

An oversight most people are not connecting with is Cash will be an instrumental piece of the puzzle for the Rays young catchers as they come up and develop in the system or at the MLB level.

635542469625690263-Still1215-00001 (1)With Cash only a handful of seasons away from wearing the backstop gear, his insight and knowledge of the needed skill set of an MLB starting catcher cannot be taught or duplicated. It might not have been the most popular choice, but it will be one that works cohesively with the Rays style of play and should bring immediate results to this team.

For that, I want to say “Thank you”.

So many times when a team has the type of high level personnel changes the Rays have had since October, there is a shock and awe period where things stay the same and change is not aggressively embraced or executed. So far this off season, that has not been your game plan.

Instead you have shed several bulky salaries like Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta and gotten enough in return to satisfy not only your bottom line, but let the system restock itself and possibly build a few more trade assets heading into the not so distant future.

SBJ200703121901-32Even more impressive has been you commitment that no one on the roster or system is safe from trade, and by not only making that statement, but showing it by trading Joyce and Myers, you have made a great statement to the rest of Major League Baseball that the Rays might not have the biggest payroll in baseball, but they will have the talent to stack up against their AL East foes.

As Boston, New York, Baltimore and Toronto re-stock and re-focus for 2015, the Rays have aggressively looked for stop-gaps and talented individuals to fill holes, provide added strength and stay competitive without rewarding a single player with a contract that could cripple the Rays chances of being the Beasts from the East again.

images (3)I have said for a while that the Rays are at a proverbial tipping point in regards to talent, payroll and their fan base. Moves and trades like the ones completed by Silverman and crew will go a long way into enticing the Tampa Bay community to embrace the Rays and show the rest of the baseball nation that Tampa Bay is a place where baseball can survive after the spring thaw.

Again, thank you Matt for taking positive steps so early in the off season to bring back so many and so much to the Rays fold.

Myself, as a long-time Rays fan am extremely grateful for the job you have done so far this offseason.

Where There’s A Wil….There’s a Way

 

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There are so many ways you can look at this 11-player trade that will be finalized between the Tampa Bay Rays, San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals.

images (1)Some will point out that this deal might center on 2 young outfielders, one getting a fresh start (Wil Myers) while the other (Steven Souza) finally can fight for a MLB Opening Day roster spot.

Myers who had a wrist injury setback in his second season never seemed to be at ease at the plate after he returned from injury and quite possibly the Rays are playing the risk management odds and trading Myers now while he is a viable trade commodity.

images (5)Souza (#5 Nats prospect) unfortunately would have seen little or no play as the Nats outfield trio of Span, Werth and Harper would get the lion’s share of starts and even a great spring might not secure him a 25-Man roster spot. In Tampa Bay he will not only get a chance to compete for a possibly 25-Man slot, but quite possibly have an opportunity to see ample playing time possibly platooning with David DeJesus in left field.

Oh, and Souza is a part of MLB history. His acrobatic catch with 2-outs in the 9th inning secured Jordan Zimmerman’s No-Hitter…….Impressive indeed.

images (4)Others will see the two catchers involved in this deal as critical parts of the whole thing. One (Ryan Hanigan) will  give his team some much needed financial room, saving his team close to $8 million over the next 3 seasons. While the other (Rene Rivera) will get a second chance for success and has a willing and able ex-MLB catcher (Kevin Cash) at the helm of his new team.

Hanigan is a master at framing pitches behind the plate. This in itself could pay huge dividends this spring as Hanigan could mentor Padres C and #1 prospect Austin Hedges about the art of framing.

downloadRene Rivera will immediately come to the Rays as their main backstop as the only other catcher on the Rays roster with any MLB experience will be Curt Casali who only caught 29 games in 2014. In Rivera’s early favor will be his arm as he caught 33 out of 58 base runners in 2014. Rivera also seems to have a bit more offensive firepower than Hanigan putting up a line of .252 average, 11HR and 44 RBI that easily overshadows Hanigan’s 2014 marks of .218 average, 5 HR, 34 RBI.

Sure only 4 MLB caliber players were included in this 11-player soiree, but do not discount any of the minor league pieces as each has the potential to make a mark in their new franchise’s farm systems.

The Padres will receive 2 pitchers from the Rays low level to complete their end of the trade.  LHP Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes are still young,18 & 20 yrs. old respectfully, and have more than a few seasons in front of them before they will begin their path towards the MLB.

download (1)Most Rays fans might remember Castillo’s as the young 16-year old Venezuelan left-hander who was signed by the team back in 2012 for $ 1.55 million.

He was considered the 6th best prospect on the International market that summer.  Castillo might be one of the dark horses of this trade as he has appeared in only 15 games the past 2 seasons all for the Rays Gulf Coast League (Rookies) squad.

download (3)Reyes spent his first professional season with the Rays Rookie short season team, the Hudson Valley Renegades and appeared in 20 games throwing 33 innings with a 2-1 record to go along with a 4.09 ERA and 39 strikeouts.

As you can see, both Reyes and Castillo will be in the Padres farm system for a few years before they even get a glimpse of the major leagues.

download (4)LHP Travis Ott was the second player sent by Washington to the Rays and has played a little over a season and a 1/3 for the Nats.

He started 13 games in the lower A levels in 2014 producing a 1-4 record over 44.1 innings while amassing a 3.93 ERA with 45 K’s. Ott will also have a get more than a few seasons under his belt before he reaches anywhere near the Rays AAA level.

The Rays will also receive from the Padres 2 players who might make a difference for the Rays in the next few seasons. One had a dark cloud over him during 2014 while the other advanced and could be a great addition to the Rays roister possibly in 2-3 seasons.

images (6)RHP Burch Smith (#16 prospect) is the player who had a dark cloud over him in 2014. He was shutdown with forearm tendinitis in April after only 2 starts at AAA El Paso. But before this setback he was streaming through the Padres system and even made his MLB debut during the 2013 season. He has a great fastball that can reach 97 mph with late cutting action that makes it extremely difficult for hitters to square-up on in the box. He has great secondary weapon in a clean change-up and curve, but the Rays might have him start in AAA to let him prove he is healthy and back on his game.

Jake Bauers might be  a guy who could rise through the Rays system and make a late 2015, possible 2016 appearance at the MLB level.  Sure the left-handed hitting 1B only rose to full-season Class A in 2014, but the Rays have a First Baseman weak system and if he has any success could find himself at Double-A easily in 2015.

download (5)Bauer played in 112 games for the Ft Wayne TinCaps of the Mid-West League last season with a .296 average with 5 HR and 64 RBI. plus 5 stolen bases. Recently Bauer drew comparisons to Blue Jays 1B Daric Barton, which could be a great thing for the Rays.

Scouts say he has a compact swing right now that as it expands will provide more power to go along with his great defensive skills at First Base. The key for Bauer now is to improve his hitting at each level and he could within 2-3 seasons fight for a Rays roster spot.

The last 2 pieces of this trade puzzle would have made their way to Tampa Bay if the Rays did not spin them on to the Nationals for Souza. Both RHP Joe Ross (#8 prospect) and SS Trea Turner (#5 prospect) might not make an MLB impression for 3-4 years with Ross being possibly the first of the pair to make his MLB Debut.

images (7)Ross, who is the younger brother of Padres hurler Tyson Ross advancing to the Double-A level in 2014 and posting an overall 10-6 mark in 22 starts with a 3.92 ERA and 106 K’s over 121.2 innings.

Turner is listed on the trade as the “Player To Be Named Later” only because he was drafted in 2014 with the 13th pick but has already played in 69 games at the Class A full season level.

images (8)He has blazing speed, a few years extra experience having played baseball at North Carolina State and could develop into a great top of the lineup hitter posted 23 stolen bases in 69 games in the minors this past season. He also put up a .323 average with 5HR, 2 Triples and 24 RBI splitting time between Eugene and Ft Wayne.

Still, the trade is in the books, physicals arranged and soon this trade will not only be put to bed, but be firmly in the Rays rearview mirror.

Let’s hope this one doesn’t end up stinging the Rays in the end….Only time will tell.

Joyce for Jepsen Trade Immediately Makes Rays Better

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It was written in the Florida sands that the Tampa Bay Rays might trade their left-handed outfielder Matt Joyce before spring training. 

Some would say it was out of the Rays usual character to trade 2 player’s straight-up for one another. But then again, until this afternoon we did not know of the Rays heightened want to find an immediate stop-gap to fill an early 2015 seasonal void left by an unforeseen pitching injury and subsequent surgery.

imagesSo the swapping of Joyce and reliever Kevin Jepsen takes on a far different hue than the usual off season trade of two players as Jepsen will be called upon immediately fill a late inning void left by the injury of Rays closer Jake McGee.

McGee who had been previously diagnosed with loose foreign bodies in his left pitching elbow and has undergone surgery and should not return to the team until possibly late May or early June. This leaves the Rays with two players, McGee and SP Matt Moore who both might not hit the mound until a third of the 2015 season is complete.

c2s_joyce092811_193072a_8colAn interesting side note to this trade by the Rays and Angels is that both players will be leaving their hometown teams and journey across the country to play in 2015. Matt Joyce of course was born in Tampa , Florida and Kevin Jepsen was born in Anaheim, California.

Another similarity between the two players in this trade is Matt Joyce (May 5th  with the Tigers) and Jepsen (September 8th ) both made their MLB Debuts in 2008.

So what kind of reliever did the Rays get when they traded for Jepsen?

If his stats are any true indication, the Rays will get a solid competitor who could be slotted in the Rays late inning 7th, 8th inning roles without hesitation. The injury to McGee and the previous trade of Joel Peralta would already redefine the late inning roles of the Rays Bullpen, but this injury takes one more talented and experienced arm out of the equation and demanded a direct sub sequential move to eliminate this hole in the Rays reliever corps.

A little background on Jepsen’s career with the Angels:

images (1)He come to the Rays after appearing in 315 games with the Halos, which ranked him 5th All-Time on their Career Appearance list.

Jepsen is only 1 of 4 relievers ever to play at least 7 seasons with the club. Interesting factoid, former Angel and Rays closer Troy Percival leads that list overall with 10 seasons playing for Angels.

He ended his Angels career in 10th  place on the Angels All-Time list with an career mark of 8.69/K’s per 9 innings.

Jepsen is currently under salary arbitration this off season with him projected to receive a salary of possibly $2.6 million and Jepsen will also be under team control for another season.

images (3)The trade could also have some financial relief for the Rays as the swap could save the Rays $2.4 million as Joyce was estimated to receive possibly $5 million for 2015 through salary arbitration.

2014 was Jepsen’s best season in the MLB appearing in 74 games with a 2.63 ERA with 75 strikeouts and .05 HR per 9 innings mark.

His 74 game appearances in 2014 ranked 4th in the American League and was bettered only by fellow Angel Joe Smith (76) and the Indians duo of Cody Allen (76) and Bryan Shaw (80).

Jepsen also ranked 8th in the AL in Holds with 22 and he earned 2 saves in 2014.

He throws a 4-seam fastball(95-99 mph), a 2-seam fastball (94-97) a cutter (89-93) and a curveball (83-86 mph). His cutter is usually reserved for right-handers while his 2-seam fastball is used primarily against left-handers. Jepsen also uses his curve in 2-strike counts on hitters.

images (2)Oh, and he is not related to former Rays Concert performer Carly Rae Jepsen  who was born in Mission, British Columbia. That is a good thing, remember Carly’s First Pitch.

With the injury to McGee the Rays had to act quickly to find an experienced relief option to plug right in fill the relief corps void. Jepsen has the statistics and experience to come right in this spring and compete for a Bullpen spot as well as be a viable and consistent option to place in the late inning role previously held by Peralta.

Rays were swift, did their due diligence and quite possibly got the guy who could be an extremely valuable asset to the Rays late inning machine for the next 2 seasons.

Perfect Holiday Glove to Step Up Your Baseball Game

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Some people say breaking in a new glove is one of the hardest tasks in baseball. You can spend what feels like an eternity getting that cowhide to conform and evolve into a perfectly forgiving pocket for that spherical rocket to settle in.

No matter what level you are currently playing at, or even if you want a glove for ball hawking or even as a method of protection when a line drive come swirling into your section, breaking in a glove can be the difference between it popping out, a stinging palm and sometimes even that embarrassing miss-cue or as I like to call it, a E-10…Error on the fan.

images (2)What if I told you there was now a glove out on the market, made by one of the most premier athletic gears providers, and you will never have to break your glove in.

That’s right…Never, ever will you have to sit a 1-ton car on your glove overnight, pop anymore rubber bands trying to get a pre-formed pocket in your mitt or ever again spend hours rubbing oil into the leather.

Of course this glove will not be cheap (it retails about $400), but you will never have to spend valuable time worrying about getting the rigidity out of your new leather glove, and with its neon green and black coloring, people will see your glove coming even in the most shaded parts of the ballpark.

download (3)The Vapor 360 glove by Nike uses a new glove construction method called hyperfuse to bring to reality baseball’s first ultra-responsive, lightweight mitt with the  time-saving aspect of being the only fielder’s mitt on the market that can be immediately on the field without the hassle or time drain of the usual glove breaking in process.

Seriously, this glove can be snagging fly balls and be used in long or short toss the moment it comes out of its shipping box.

And Nike did get professional advice on the product as Colorado Rockies All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove winning outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was a hands-on consultant during the gloves developmental stages.

Nike stands by their claim of the glove needing no break-in time, and its ready to use application makes it an ideal glove option for everyday use by both professional as well as amateur players and for that fan who wants the gear the players use.

downloadNike Baseball senior designer Matthew Hudson told online website Stack that: “Traditional leather baseball gloves can take up to 3 months of break in. We’ve taken a traditional leather for the palm and perforated it to remove some of the structure so it forms more quickly.

That means less sweat and toil oiling the heck out of the cowhide, putting it under your mattress and sleeping on it, or using your car as a machine press to quicken the breaking in process.

Gonzalez used the Nike Vapor 360 on the field during the last season (of course in a more neutral and approved MLB color scheme) and raves about the product.

images (1)Once I put it on and played catch…everything clicked.” Gonzalez also added: “This is what I was looking for. I wear this glove and I feel like I can catch any ball.”

So even if you do not have a professional baseball fan on your Holiday gift list this season, even the most dedicated and savvy baseball fan would cherish a glove like the Vapor 360 the next time they line up on the field, or reach out with their glove for that screaming foul or Home Run ball into the stands.

The Vapor 360 is available now on Nike.com

Will the Rays Thanksmas Evolve Post Maddon?

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It was an event that made spaghetti, pierogies and hand-formed meatballs fashionable at holiday time. Served meals to many who would not have a holiday meal in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Sarasota/Manatee counties. Thanksmas had become more than just a symbol of the season here in Tampa Bay.

B47s7BlCAAATUIyIt was a time for the Rays staff, front office and the community to celebrate after another great season as well as see old familiar faces and new smiles while dining on Hazelton, Pa classics. Sure 4 seasons ago Rays former Manager Joe Maddon inspired and perspired in the first carnation of this event, but as it grew so did the locations, participants and the joyous goodwill and harmony this embodies the holiday season.

But now that Maddon has traded his Carolina blue Rays jersey for Chicago Cubs pinstripes, what is the future of the event?

imagesMaddon is adamant that the holiday event will continue in some form for years to come, but you have to wonder if the Rays might want to have their own face front and center starting with the 2015 event, or maybe even embrace a pairing of Maddon and Cash in a compassionate solidarity towards promoting a holiday harmonious event of giving back to Tampa Bay.

Maddon, who is also a part of Ava’s ownership stake spoke with his Ava partners and they were onboard with the Cub’s new skipper’s idea of bringing hot food and maybe some cold cash into the hands of the area’s homeless and unfortunate as sometimes a little extra money can transform a life on the streets into something amazing and uplifting.

B47pTHYCIAEkrXPLast night former Rays and Tampa native Tino Martinez and current Ray Kevin Kiermaier joined in with Maddon at South Tampa bistro Ava, to help collect $22,000 in donation to this year’s event which also will have some cash assistance and donation to its participants.

Maddon was proud to tell participants at last night’s fundraising gala: “This is the message I wanted to get out to the shelters and people connected with this…This is not going away.”

So we know that Maddon is committed to continuing the seasonal event, but you have to wonder if the Rays might also fashion their own version of “Thanksmas” in the future with Cash holding the golden spatula.

B47ji1ACQAA-P-lThe 2014 Thank-Mas schedule has been announced and Rays front office and team personnel will once again come together to embrace the essence and wonder that is the Thanksmas experience.

Thanks-Mas was a brilliant brainchild of Maddon’s to help the Tampa Bay community. It got people from all walks of life involved and wanting to give back to our community during the holiday season as well as be a great inspirational story for everyone involved.

We truly do not know what will happen in the future for Thanksmas, but we can dream.

B47ji1DCAAAcEGvSalvation Army Tampa area commander Major James Chip Hall probably summed it up best regarding Thankmas when he stated: “It’s important for people here to know they matter. That was the one thing Joe was good at. He told them that they’re not invisible. That they’re not forgotten.”

images (3)Maybe we should tinker the recipe of the event to include a dash of Cash to go along with the present ingredients of a cup of the Rays, an ounce of Maddon combined with a pinch of compassion and pound of giving that has made this event flourish.

That sounds like a perfect recipe for future success of the holiday event not matter what its future name might become.

                                            Here is the 2014 Thanksmas Schedule:

Monday, December 15          Sallie House

Tuesday, December 16          St. Petersburg Salvation Army, Tampa Salvation Army

Wednesday, December 17    Homeless Emergency Project

Thursday, December 18        Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida

Friday, December 19              Bradenton Salvation Army

St. Pete City Council to Decide Mayor’s and Rays Stadium Exploration Agreement

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I was sitting in a downtown Central Avenue wing and brew establishment with a view of Tropicana Field when the local news hounds blared the news the Rays future stadium site impasse between the City of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays had finally been resolved.

People around me were clinking glasses, hoisting glassware full of adult beverages while saluting the efforts and powers that be that there would finally be sun light at the end of this stadium tunnel.

imagesNot so fast friends, this announcement should not be time to openly celebrate. There will be stormy days ahead before all the fuss and bothered are cleaned away like a city street after an afternoon downpour.

Hidden from view to most of those here was the simple fact that even though Rays President Brian Auld and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman stood on stage ceremonially hand-in-hand on this day, the agreement, is simply words and totally moot until the “St. Pete 8” also known as the St. Petersburg City Council give their blessing or denials of the document.

images (1)Per the St. Petersburg City Charter, the City Council during their meeting cannot change the agreement’s parameters, alter the language or even suggest subtle or economic changes. The recent decision by Mayor Kriseman to postpone the planned Dec 11th vote on the agreement and rescheduling the vote for Dec 18th has merit.

The delay in the City Council vote will give Mayor Kriseman him and his staff 7 more days to educate and answer any stumbling blocks in regard to the financial or binding aspects of letting the Rays explore Hillsborough County for a possible Rays stadium site, and the city’s financial rewards if the Rays do chose another locale for their stadium.

images (2)Some might view this as a simple delay tactic, but the Dec 11th City Council meeting’s agenda was already stuffed to the gills with awards and presentations from the city and quite possibly this agreement vote would overshadow some of the deeds and accomplishment of others.

Also, the Dec 11th City Council meeting would not have on their agenda a time set for public comment or interaction. The Dec 18th meeting will adhere to Florida state law that requires the public to have a say( voice) in an item that hasn’t and will not receive any public vetting.

Auld when asked by the Tampa Bay Times about the voting delay stated, “We don’t mind waiting another week. We’ve been working on this for a very long time. We hope to get to yes when the time comes.”

images (4)To the Rays credit, they have reached out to St. Pete City Council member Karl Nurse who was a member of the Protect Our Wallets and Waterfront (POWW) group that was a thorn in the Rays side when the team wanted to put a stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront area where historic Progress Energy /Al Lang Field is located.

downloadSo fellow Rays fans, let’s all wait a spell before raising our glasses to any positive resolve or advancement for the Rays being able to look Tampa Bay-wide for a new home.

For until the St. Petersburg City Council give tally their respective votes and a resolution is announced, the Mayor’s agreement with the Rays right now is simply “written in the sand”  and the whole positive step by the Rays and Mayor Kriseman could still be washed away thanks to an unforeseen public tidal wave, or the St. Petersburg 8 voting against the present agreement.

 

 

 

 

Balfour to Visit Homeland as an MLB Ambassador

 

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Say what you want about Tampa Bay Rays reliever Grant Balfour. Some comments center on his spiral anger issues, while other wonder why during years with even numbers his stats tend to go a bit south.

imagesPersonally, I think the guy is a great competitor and even with a few terse moments on the mound talking to baseballs and angering foes, the guy always enjoys and looks forward to giving back.

So it is no surprise to me that Balfour along with Chicago Cubs P Andre Rienzo and Milwaukee Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke will make up an extremely diverse Major League Baseball trio of Ambassadors during their trek to Balfour’s homeland of Australia from Dec 12-21st.

Some people say the “Angry Aussie” has easily compiled the best career mark ever in the M L B among those bearing Aussie roots, and so many around the baseball world and in his home country view him as a bit of a cult hero because of his tirades with those white Rawlings baseballs, and has ruffled quite a few feathers among M L N hitters.

downloadFew players display their passion on their sleeves like Balfour in the game today and his outward pouring of high energy emotions and a few choice words can polarize some baseball fans opinions of the pitcher.

But that persona of anger and disdain for baseballs of aspects of the game is not the true essence of Balfour, or the Balfour I have known during his times with the Rays. He has always been cordial to fans, stopping to talk with them, hold endearing conversations and offering friendship to many who sit around the area of the Rays Bullpen.

images (4)During my time in that same area of Tropicana Field, I have not seen Balfour refuse an autograph, not stop to at least acknowledge a fan calling out his name and for the most part being a great ambassador of the Rays.

So it must be thrilling for Balfour to get the chance to visit his homeland and I imagine a stop in his hometown of Kings Langley which is a suburb of Sydney.

But the fact is Balfour has done some amazing things over his 11 years playing professional baseball in the U.S. with visits to the World Series with the Rays, plus being selected to the American League All-Star squad during his tenure with the Oakland Athletics back in 2013.

images (6)Balfour has gotten a chance with 3 different teams to pitch in the M L B postseason and sports a career ERA of 3.46 over 528 appearances with 84 saves and 571 K’s in 535.1 innings.

Balfour and crew are expected to arrive in Sydney on Thursday, Dec 11th and enjoy a free day before commencing on the 8-day M L B Ambassador Tour.

Here is a tentative sampling of the events and activities that Balfour will attend and participate in during the 8-day MLB Ambassadors Tour:

On Friday, Dec 12th, Balfour will be present at a Welcome Home Press Conference in Sydney and then to Blue Sox Stadium and will meet fans before throwing out the First Pitch at the Sydney Blue Sox  and Adelaide Bite game.

On Saturday, Dec 13th , Balfour and his fellow Ambassadors will hold a MLB Training with the Pros session at Sydney’s Blue Sox’s stadium for local junior players.  If you have not heard about the Training with the Pros sessions, it is a long standing MLB program in partnership with Baseball Australia and the teams of the Australian Baseball League which provides hands on skill-training from Australian and foreign-born professional baseball players.

B4nUp52CIAExNEdDuring this visit, the Ambassadors will present the Ambassador’s Cup Trophy to the ACT Junior Club with the most new baseball recruits this season.

Balfour and the group will then travel to meet fans who attend the Canberra Cavalry and Melbourne Aces match later in the day.

On Sunday, Dec. 14th, Balfour will be in attendance in Sydney and also take part in what should be an emotionally-charged tribute to his father, David Balfour, acknowledging his contributions to Australian baseball. Balfour will also be on hand to meet fans pre-game who came to watch that days Sydney Blue Sox versus Adelaide Bite game.

The group will take Monday off as a travel day and land in Melbourne.

On Tuesday, Dec. 16th, Balfour and his fellow Ambassadors will hold a press conference at Melbourne Ballpark and meet with the Australian Baseball All-Stars team members.

On Weds., Dec 17th, Balfour will serve as an honorary Team Australian Captain during the Australian All-Baseball League All-Star game that pits the best home grown Aussie talents against the best of the imported players in the league.

On Thursday, Dec 18th, the group will travel to the Gold Coast and hold a special Training with the Pros session in Coomera with local junior players.

On Friday, Dec 19th the Ambassadors will travel to Brisbane and hold a MLB Training with the Pros session at AFA  Stadium at Holloway Field. The group will then meet fans and attend the Brisbane Bandits versus Canberra Cavalry game.

muu_jOoHIsQT1J7mB3P-5NAIt is great to see Balfour and his MLB  colleagues hit Australia this off season and give back. You have to believe it will be especially satisfying for Balfour to see how the game has grown in his home country and the heights it has reached in each of these vistas he and the MLB Ambassadors will visit during their trip.

I have no worries Balfour and his MLB crew will not only make a difference, but I know Balfour will bring back so many grand stories of how much the game has changed and how it has further impacted his life.

Can’t wait to hear a few of them while leaning on the Right Field rail this spring.

 

 

And Then There Were Two……..

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So now the Tampa Bay Rays choices for their new Manager are down to the dynamic duo of Don Wakamatsu and Kevin Cash. Both former MLB catchers have their positives and distractions and we wind down the last hours before the Rays front office makes their official announcement.

Will the Rays follow the current MLB trend of hiring a Manager who will develop and mature on the job, or will they select the candidate who has taken a few knocks and has learned from his bumps and bruises as a Manager.

imagesWill age play a factor and the Rays decide that quite possibly Wakamatsu, who is 51 as the leader of their next generation of stars or will the team go with youthful route and select Kevin Cash who will turn 37 on December 6th   and who is only several years removed from his own MLB days.

Could the fact Cash has 2 World Series rings as a member of the New York Yankees (2009) and Boston Red Sox (2007) show he knows what it takes to play within the highly competitive American League East. 

images (1)Will the differences between the 2 candidates go even deeper taking into account their MLB careers that might benefit young Mr. Cash as Wakamatsu only played with Chicago White Sox (1991) while Cash played for 5 different clubs, 4 of which played in the AL East (Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays).

Can the true aspect of game day experience on the dugout stoop be the deciding virtue on whether Cash or Wakamatsu get a chance to manage the Rays?

Would the Rays be more inclined to check mark Wakamatsu’s obvious game day experience as he has had stints in coaching with the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics, and the current AL Champion Kansas City Royals as well as a year and a half at the helm of the Seattle Mariners.

download (1)Or can Cash in his limited 2 years coaching window show his skill set is larger than his resume and that his time in advance scouting as well as his tenure in the Cleveland Indians Bullpen and around Terry Francona will merit brownie points from the Rays.

Neither candidate has huge black marks against them as players or coaches, but Wakamatsu’s only dent in his resume might be his past inability to keep control and respect of his clubhouse in Seattle.

Will Wakamatsu’s undoing be his lack of keeping his clubhouse in check and losing the respect and confidence of his players and upper management, or will he address this frankly with the Rays and provide a different recourse and path if it ever happens again.

Could Cash’s limited tenure as a Coach be a defining line in the sand that the Rays will not cross, wanting more dugout time in hand than the game day views from down in the Bullpen area.

download (2)Can Wakamatsu’s recent trip with the Royals into the World Series show he has the tools and hunger to again want to play deep into October and this time claim the trophy?

I must admit, I really would have loved to be the fly-on-the-wall during both their recent in-depth interviews to learn each candidate’s personals views, goals and aspirations for the Rays over the next 3-5 years. How Cash or Wakamatsu would implement or bring in changes that would elevate the Rays both on and off the field.

Would they both utilize advance scouting reports in-depth and embrace the art form that is sabermetrics to enhance their team’s successes, while also playing to their intuitions and game experience to play the odds to turn defeat into victory.

download (3)Can they educate, inspire and build on team interaction as well as provide moral support and understanding as needed. Can they build upon the foundation left by Joe Maddon in St. Petersburg and grow the Rays Way into a tweaked and refined version of their own that will be embraced by the team, organization and fan base?

 You wonder if either of them have hidden in their arsenal a new innovation cohesion or program that could be utilized from Day 1 by the Rays franchise-wide and bring the next generation of outside the box thinking to the Rays.

It is going to be interesting to see who is finally selected as the Rays next skipper as each has merit and the ability and where the Rays drew their line in regards to experience over room to grow.

Whoever is announced and subsequently featured prominently in the Rays Press Room on Friday or Saturday, let’s hope Tampa Bay fans quickly get behind this choice, find a common ground and ready ourselves for their tenure as the Rays Manager.

So, who you got making their Rays Managerial debut on the stage?

 

 

 

Rays Need to Find Some Relief for First Base

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When Sean Rodriguez was designated last week by the Tampa Bay Rays, then dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the move left a huge question mark on who might man the Rays First Base bag if something happens to James Loney?

This is not to suggest Loney will be hampered by injury or fall off his current offensive groove in 2015, but weirder things have happened under the tilted cap.

images (4)Early thoughts suggest that current Rays INF Logan Forsythe might be carrying an extra glove in his bag this spring, or quite possibly will be doing some additional reps this winter and during Spring Training learning the 1B nuances.

If you were wondering, Forsythe has lined-up at 1B once in his career and mans a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage on 1 career putout.

So with that small career sampling by Forsythe you might think the Rays would be better vested if they found another option at 1B, or at least someone with a little more experience scooping bad throws into outs.

First Base is not a spot you can master as you have to basically multi-task constantly throughout a game to keep runners, guard the line while also being a stop gap on the right side of the infield.

And I have not even ventured into the mental and physical bumps and bruises associated with those high throws, balls in the dirt that somehow bounce up and leave welts, bruises and nasty tell tales signs.

download (3)So I wonder if Ben Zobrist might be asked to take additional training and reps at 1B where he could bring another facet to his game and he does have a .983 career fielding percentage playing 1B 17 times in the past for the Rays.

There also could be a few guys outside the Rays system who could be viable candidate too. 

Maybe recently non-tendered guys like Justin Smoak (Jays) or Gaby Sanchez (Pirates) who come into the fold with viable game experience, but might cost the Rays upwards of around $ 2 million plus a season.  

Smoak might be in the Rays wheelhouse as a player who has experience at the position and has been a DH Smoak has had an up and down career since he was drafted in the First Round (11th pick) of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers. He was then traded to the Seattle Mariners, then after the 2014 season the M’s became disenchanted with him and he was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays on October 28, 2014.

download (1)Seattle paid Smoak $ 2.6 million in 2015 during his first venture through the arbitration process. Even though Smoak’s career batting average of .224 and 74 career Hrs might not set your mind ablaze, his .995 career fielding average in 5 MLB seasons as a First Baseman plus the added bonus he could be a great bat off the bench (DH in 21 career  games).

This current bit of fall from grace might benefit the Rays as well as offer  Smoak a chance to re-establish himself as a MLB First Baseman.

Gaby Sanchez was a surprise non-tender by the Pirates, but you have to wonder if his 2014 offensive numbers were a fluke or a sign of aging. With the Pirates wanting to put versatile Josh Harrison at 3B bag, and move power hitter Pedro Alvarez to 1B for the 2015 season, Sanchez quickly found himself a man without a contract and team at the Arbitration Deadline

download (2)Like Smoak, Sanchez definitely has skills at First Base, but his offensive pedigree has taken a hit since he was dealt to the Pirates by the Miami Marlins 3 seasons ago. In his 5 years with the fish, Sanchez maintained a .243 average and showed power with 74 HR and 184 RBIs, but his 3 years with Pittsburgh he has maintained only a .241 mark with 18 HRs and 82 RBIs.

 Sanchez main attribute might be his consistent glove and has a .995 fielding percentage mark.

There is also an outside chance that the Rays could just take a wait and see posture as the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Home Run Derby winner, Allan Dykstra (no relation to Lenny) could come in an further impress the Rays and quite possibly garner a utility and bench spot on the Rays 25-Man roster.

images (5)If Dykstra can keep up the .280 average with 16 HR and 74 RBis he set in Triple-A Las Vegas in 2014, he could quickly go from dark horse Triple-A farm asset to a MLB uniform.

Darkening Dykstra’s chances might be his less than marvelous .981 fielding overage in 2014, and his career .986 mark might be fodder that he needs more seasoning before breaking the ceiling and making his MLB debut.

Even if the Rays do not have a clear leader in who might tag-in during the regular season for Loney at First base, there are many viable options and the off season is still young.  

There is more than enough time for another name to surface, a trade to be formulated and quite possibly someone come to the Rays before the report to Port Charlotte, Fl in February.

Who knows, maybe Smoak or Sanchez could be there, or Dykstra could improve his glove skills and hit the cover off the ball.

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