February 2008

Rays Tidbits and Views for 2008

 

I used to cover a lot of sports in this area for a afternoon paper that ceased publication in the late 80’s. I also have played both in high school and college baseball for many years. It is with great local pride that I have followed my hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays since their inception. I was lucky enough to be one of the first group of local people to put down an initial $ 20.00 as a deposit for Season Tickets.



In this vein, I feel I have ample experience to comment on the sport and my team. The Tampa Bay Rays recently began their second decade with an transformed logo, and an eager emphasis on a new outdoor stadium proposal(which I support, and will get deeper into in another blog).

 


Their is an air of positive energy starting with coaching staff, and spreading to the first-time Spring Training rookies. I have been out to the complex a few times in the last week, and have seen a more relaxed group with an intense attitude to succeed this year. Everyone seems to have a confident stride, and a renewed vigor and vitality this year. Prior Spring Training squads did not displayed this trait. We have players talking about positive moves within the organization, critical steps and moves that will set the stage for success this season.  Off-season moves that were viewed as ” filling the holes” on the roster, and bold statements of a new clubhouse leader-in-training.

 


The new Rays logo has been viewed as a reconstruction of a franchise, a signal and symbol  that this franchise wants to go upward this year and remain in that sphere for a long time.

 

Gone is the playful swimming “Ray” on the uniforms, to will still be included this tear as a sleeve patch, but  might not survive after this year. Gone is his likeness on the caps, and in the main uniform design.  You have to know where you have been to understand where you are going. A common misconception or oversight  is the fact that the “Devil” has been removed from the uniforms for about 4 years.

 

 

In 2004, the vest jersey sported the simple word, “Rays” blazoned over the chest with our friendly “Ray” character confined to the green undershirt sleeve. Not since the 2004, has the word “Devilray” adorned a uniform for this team. the original 1970-disco induced  acid-trip jerseys did have the word “Devilrays” adorning the rainbow hued uniforms.

 

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I will hit a real fast misconception on the proposed stadium plans. The big negative voiced by  this plan has been that the proposed stadium and monies from the selling of the current stadium’s property would better suit the city’s budget cutbacks and be used to retain and train new law enforcement and firefighters. I understand that this might be seen as the “city’s” money to be distributed in any manner it sees fit, but the tax situation concerning the stadium,  and its property is under the city Parks and Recreation Department, and its monetary windfalls  can not be used for capital or central city government improvements.


If any money is made from this sale,or lease of the property, it can only be used in certain areas, like the Pier, Mahaffey Theatre, or any park renewals and upgrades. The tax situation in the current stadiums’ future redevelopment/sale can not help the general budget demise that the city will feel in the near distant future.

 

 

I actually see the idea of the Rays giving $ 150 million upfront, instead of 10 years of rent payments, as a general promise by the ownership group to see this proposal and construction succeeds from day one.

 


There will be a few surprises this Spring that you had better be ready for here.


We currently have a top three pitching rotation that is  all under 27 years of age, and under team control for at least 3 or more years. The trio of Scott Kazmir (last years’ AL K leader), James Shields( getting better and better every outing in 2007), and newly acquired Ray, Matt Garza ( former Twins first rounder ), will be the envy of ownership groups around the league.


Even the guys fighting for positions, like Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot. David Price and host of minor league All-Stars, will make this the most competitive and hotly contested  rotation slot battle in our  short history.



Never before in our franchise, have we had three slots filled by reporting date. David Price( LHP), out top pick from Vanderbuilt tossed his first 33 pitches in the live batting practice today. Pitching coach Jim Hickey did not show too much excitement about it, but I saw them sitting there talking the entire time. And I do not think they were discussing tee times. Coach Joe Madden said earlier in the week that he felt we could see Price sometime this year up with the big club. I agree with him in what I saw today, but it is only his first time out with the big boys, and a few months at Triple-A might actually prime him better for the future call-up.

 

My opinion is, that if Edwin Jackson does not win a starting rotation slot, he will be dealt to Seattle. The Mariners’ have been high on him for the entire off season, and with no minor league options left, might fetch something instead of a possible loss on the waiver wire. Now, I love watching Edwin “Action” Jackson pitch, I even have one of his Game-worn jerseys in my collection. So, to see him leave would not be good for my soul. In the second half of the season, I think that Edwin transformed his pitching style and saw positive steps to grow on this year.

 


Newly signed Outfielder Cliff Floyd told a local reporter the other day that he has not been in this great of shape and not hurting since his time with the Florida Marlins. By the way, that is where Cliff earned his World Series ring.

 


Troy Percival is already getting the clubhouse rolling. Ask any of the Clubbies about his water cooler next to his locker. Success has its rewards. It is actually a prank played by the Clubhouse staff when he yelled about water the first day. Welcome to the Rays, Troy, buckle up. it is going to be a wild ride this year.

 

The St. Petersburg Times also had a recent article where they asked All-Star LF Carl Crawford about the Delmon Young Elijah Dukes trades and situations. Carl commented, and the world took it wrong, that Delmon and Elijah were distractions and problems for the team last year. Carl is growing daily into the team clubhouse leader by example.


Carl is a pretty quiet guy. Those who have met him, know he is reserved guy, who has the passion of a warrior. In the past, I think he could have stepped up and been more of a force in the clubhouse, but probably did not feel it was his job to be “the Man” for people to look towards for inspiration or mire words. Carl reported in the best shape of his career to the complex, which going to mean trouble for the every AL pitching staff.


He built a gym and installed a pitching machine in his home in Arizona to get pumped and primed before the reporting date. Dedication like that will make him “the Man” this year. I think that second All Star nod also got him thinking that he has a chance to change the past of this team, and lead the guys towards respectability and new found glory. Go for it Carl, you are just the guy to be the face of this team. Smile, and let America see those dimples.

 

 

Let me get more into that trade smack talk here. Granted, Dukes had a mess of situations off the playing field that greatly diminished those pretty Home Runs in Yankee Stadium. He was given a bit too much leash to run and subsequently hung himself.


Another article in the Times, the the next day quoted Dukes as looking forward to his time with the Washington Nationals. You know, the team did him right from the start by having a staff member, James Williams tag along with Dukes daily to observe and keep and eye out on the 23 year old Outfielder.


We forget he is 23, and he is still learning who he is in life. His past is checkered and his future is as bright as the sun. Dukes was sitting in the Nationals locker room with his 3 year old son in tow, and looking forward to the adventure at hand. Here are a few quotes from Dukes in that article by the St. Petersburg Times:

 

“I was a real hard headed guy,” Dukes said. “It was at times hard for me to listen. I needed to be able to admit that I do things wrong and it’s okay to do things wrong, but to make good after that.” “I have tests in my life every day, trying to raise my son and stuff like that,” Dukes said. “I had my issues, but I overcame them without being on the front page or behind bars or something. So, obviously I kind of dealt with my things the right way.”

 

Dukes agreed with Rays All Star outfielder Carl Crawford, who told the Times on Tuesday that he didn’t think the “maturing part would have happened here,” for Dukes and Delmon Young. Crawford said that Dukes and Young had “too much free range to do whatever they wanted to do.” “You’re gonna need that veteran guy there sometimes to be able to stick it to you hard,” Dukes said. ” And we didn’t really have that many older guys that been through too much to experience things with. (But) not all people need that type of thing, so its not expected.” Before Dukes left, he offered one more – if not his last – promise, “From now on, everyone will get a chance to see the real Elijah Dukes.”

 


Let’s hope he becomes that big bat that he was destined to be in his career. Say Hello to Jesus Colome for me Dukes.

 

 

 Now on the Delmon Young tip, I have never been a big fan of him since he pulled that “he said/she said”, about not being called up in September. Now this is not the Durham Bulls area story touting Delmon and Elijah Dukes and B J Upton were bad-mouthing the Rays management, this was the 2006 season where it could not be confirmed if he ( Delmon ), or his brother ( Dimitri ) said the nasty comments.


Building the fire internally, was the actions while with the Bulls in 2007,  on that,  where he threw a bat at the umpire and got a major suspension and fine, did not put him in better company, or in my good graces. If you saw the video, the opponents catcher knew something was going to happen, because he went out of the crouch and to the mound. He knew a war was about to blow….hard that night.


It all came to head this past September when Young decided to “lollygag” his way to first. Joe Madden told Delmon he was going to sit him for the final game. Delmon spouted back he might not even show up to the stadium that day.

 

 I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for him. I had heard he was a bit abrasive in the Rays clubhouse, and looked extremely bored during the Fan Autograph session a few days earlier. His time had come, and he is going to be better for it. You got to remember, this is not the first time we have drafted a member of his family into the Rays organization.

 


Dimitri Young was an original expansion pick of our team, but we did not want him, so we shipped him to an NL team. Delmon might have started to get a “older brother” mentality and feel he deserved more than a “rookies” status on this team. My personal opinion and view of him is that he is not happy here and should of gotten out at the trade deadline, but he showed a late splurge in productivity in September, and that might have helped his case.

 

His attitude cost him the AL Rookie of the Year award. His little base running blunder blew up in his face.

 

The Twins are a better team with him, and we are a better team without him. I would not be surprised if he is a 10-time All Star somewhere else…as long as it is not here.


See you at the ballpark soon. Remember, we might only have 4 more years to enjoy our 70 degree weather inside before the elements get us on Opening Day 2012. Anyone who is ever at the Trop., come down to Section 138, near the bottom. I love talking baseball with everyone,even Yank and Sox fans.


Baseball Rays Style

 

Hey there all,


Here we are,a little more than a month before the Big Day in Camden Yards in Baltimore. Season 11 has a great vibe to it. To make it feel even better was the Leap Years Spring Training opener that was won by our Rays.



Edwin Jackson gave himself a leg up on his quest for a slot in the rotation with a solid effort for two innings. Eric Hinske put a exclamation point on his search for a roster spot by producing a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning. Perfect start to a season with high and lofty goals.



An interesting sidebar to the game was that James Houser was the winning pitcher for the Rays. As you might remember, Houser was suspended by Minor League baseball last year for violations of banned substances. there is a wild technicality where, if the Rays ( they did) put him on the teams 40-man roster in the off season, he can be invited and participate with the parent club during Spring Training. He can be returned to the minors without worrying about the suspension if the Rays keep him on the 40-man roster for the season.  Stay tuned to this one, it might be interesting.



I was listening to my favorite Morning Show,Fisher and Boy on 97X, when they interviewed uber-stud Scott Kazmir about the upcoming season. This was before Scott had his elbow situation that will sideline him for a few weeks. Scott was on track to be the Opening Day pitcher again for the Rays. This will probably put a damper on that goal, but might resurface as he should be in line to be the Home Opening Day pitcher where we can voice and cheer until we are hoarse for him.

 

 

I have to give thank here to a special friend who has left the Rays family after many, many productive and joyful years with the Rays. I will miss John Franzone this home opener. For those of you who have not met john, or know him, he is the brainchild behind the “Rays vision” in-game productions. John was also the mastermind behind the commercials a few years back with Aubrey Huff( fishing) and Carl Crawford( Dog track) that were on local televisions.




He was a tireless worker who I used to see talking into his headset daily to anyone, and everyone who would listen to him. I used to love to chat with him and had the great pleasure to be in a Franzone production of “Braveknobs” a few years ago. I was graced with a speaking role and a central location for the commercial where I was seen in a lot of the scenes.



Whichever team now employs John Franzone is a lucky franchise. He is a true gem who will shine for a long time in the video world. I was not able to call him before he left the Rays and tell him how much his chats and his in game videos and production meant to me as a Rays Season ticket holder. John will never be “thanking the Academy,” but I hope a Clio or an Emmy is in his future.

 


Last, but not least. I will make a comment on Delmon Young here. I like him as a player and a future All-Star in this league, but as a person, he needs a bit of practice. I will never doubt or hide the fact that he is a true 5-tool player that has a mouth of a pre-teen boy. I applaud and laugh at the verbal exchange he ad with Carl Crawford this week. Carl is an honest and pretty shy guy when it comes to commenting on his teammates, or former teammates.



For him to even say those things concerning Delmon, he truly and honestly feels those comments in his heart. Carl is growing into a clubhouse leader, both by on-field example, and by standing up and being counted on by his peers. I applaud Carl, and laugh at Delmon.



You might be an All-Star for a decade, but I can not cheer for a guy who doesn’t respect rookie traditions and team practices, and the holy unwritten rules of the game. I wish him luck.
With that out of the way, I have been browsing the web and found a true Delmon Young gem that will show what talent he has when he loves the game. Minnesota Twins fan will salivate at this, and hope it can happen in the friendly confines of their dome in the not to distant future. 

 


See you in the Berm this Spring.  Do not forget, this is the last year we are training and playing at Progress Energy Field. Come catch the Rays before they head to Port Charlotte next Spring. Support our guys this year.


By the way, my tickets arrived today for the Bon Jovi/Daughtry concert at the St Pete Times Forum on April 27,2008, after the Boston Red Sox game. I will be sitting in Section 209 in the Canon private suite that looks directly at the stage area. Free food and drinks and my sexy lady by my side, and thinking of……….. 

Tampa Bay Rays Scribbles

I was trolling the Internet today looking for MLB news, and I found this great story about a prank pulled by Philadelphia Phillie’s Bret Myers pulled during Spring Training.  It happened in my hometown of Clearwater, Florida. This is the Spring Training site of the Philadelphia Phillie’s, and is located not even two miles from my home. 

It involves a young pitcher named Kyle Kendrick. The prank involved a few veterans like starter/closer Brett Myers and the entire coaching staff and some management. He also got punked by his agent in this prank. It is funny as all get out as the player was told he was traded to the “Giants” of the Japanese baseball league. His (pun) salary was $ 1.5 million dollars, thank god it was not Yen.

The next clip is a failed PDA by Philadelphia Phillie pitcher, Brett Myers. No, it isd not Brett Myer Day on my blog, just ran into a few really funny clips that I think can make your Monday feel better.Brett had a bit of problems up in Boston a while back during and Inter-league series with the Red Sox. He was out on the town, with his wife and made a bad character call. I do not condone what went down here, but I do know that he is making every step possible to help him in his situation.

I did my usual pilgrimage Friday morning out to the Rays Spring Training complex in St. Pete., and saw the pitchers’ and catchers’ come out in their new uniforms and greet the assembled fans and the new baseball season.
A few of the guys looked really eager to get out there and begin to finally throw some meaningful strikes and get set for “live” batting practice here in a few days. the first game of the spring is approaching fast.

Remember, we start our quest on Feb. 29th in our “turn-around” year.
Fitting we start playing on the Leap Year date, because this is the year we hope to change the national outlook on our squad. This is the year we hope to have a few heads pop sideways from Seattle to Miami. We are hoping in the next few months to finally have people at places like ESPN, love to show our highlighted without the jokes and puns included in the broadcast.

One of the guys I am keeping an close eye on will probably not make the Major League roster this year, but was a colorful addition to last years Southern Championship team in Montgomery, Alabama.Chris Mason is a major pitching talent for the Double-A Montgomery  Biscuits. He is known for his amazing pitching as well as his hair color.  Now everyone remembers the movie, “Summer Catch”, based on the Cape Cod Baseball League. 

In this movie, there is a hot shot pitcher who has his hair spiked in white and black to almost look like a Naruto character. Now Chris does not look exactly like this, but he did start the year as a platinum blond, shave it all off, go “goth” black, shave it off, and almost came out in a “pink caddy” look last year around the playoff time. Thanks Goodness his coach on the Biscuits vetoed that move. He wants to be on ESPN for talent, not showmanship.

Good thing this guy has some really great true talent, or this “hair statement” phase might not go well with the parent club. 

This next weekend is the 11th Annual Fan Fest at Tropicana Field. It is held only on Saturday and is a great place to get the vibe started for the upcoming MLB season.
Now, I have only missed 1 of these events, and that was by choice. It is a great time for kids of all ages.

It features a Pepsi/Rays Wall of Fame induction for the new class of fans that demonstrate a talent, special charm or endeavor for our hometown team. And yes, I have been on the wall for almost 5 years now. I am the guy who looks like a coach in his picture. It is a great time to see what spirit and commitment some of us have for our team. This is not a celebration of the “bandwagon” fan, but the true die-hard fans that can make or break the stands in a close game.

Along with this event, there will be baseball displays through the venue featuring items from Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and other Rays notables like Wade Boggs. 

 Also, there will be tons of events for the kids. there will be a base running timed event, a batting cage area that looks like old Ebbetts field, and face painters and tons of events for all ages. There is also going to be a silent auction going on all day to benefit the “Rays of Hope” foundation. That is the arm of the franchise that awards grants and scholarships to deserving teams and players throughout the year in our community. I am a huge supporter of this cause and would love for everyone to also be a part of it in some way.

There will also be a tour of the Home Rays’ locker room. This will give you a glimpse of the area that these warriors get ready to face the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees’ firsthand.

Harold Reynolds of ESPN fame will be on stage in the Budweiser brew house taking questions and meeting with the masses. A few years ago, Peter Gammons was here before his injury, and he gave a fantastic speech on what he saw in our future as a team. It was a fantastic look into the mind of one of the greatest baseball writers, and recent inductee in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Last but not least, there will be an autograph signing involving the Rays players, and some veterans from the past. Players like Carlos Pena, Scott Kazmir, and Cliff Floyd will be signing for the fan.

If you have never been to this event, it is free parking and admission. Well worth the time and an experience the kids will remember for years to come. I will be there almost all day. Just look for the guy with the Cheshire cat grin, that would be me. See you there.

 

Shiver me Timbers Captain Morgan!

Well, Shiver me timbers and wash it down with a grog of rum and ale. My
adventure at this years Gasparilla Invasion sendoff will remain a huge memory
for me even after the old age and creaking bones take their toll on me. I was a
lucky contestant winner from my favorite rock station, 97X, to board and watch
the Invasion on the Captain Morgans’ flotilla.




It was a fine party boat filled with the likes of pirates and cute ladies,
and a few scalawags for good measures. Everything started out simple and quite
tranquil in the A.M. The boaters’ en mass had not gotten up yet, or gotten into
position near the Platt Street bridge when we took off from the dock at 9 A.M.




The Captain had furnished us with a “what ya want” omelette breakfast and a
nice addition fo beverages before our open seas adventures began. The Captain
greeted us on the dock and gave all the lucky souls a bag of booty to have fun
with during and after our faithful cruise. I have to admit, only the bandanna
made it home with me that day. My pirate hat and few hundred medallions were
heaved at the masses that day. the boat station right in front of us housed the
wild Krewe known as the Krewe of the Sainti Yago They had a killer DJ and the beverage of
choice, even at 8 A.M. was a slightly chilled Bud and a rum-soaked cigar. These
guys were getting primed and ready for a long day of throwing beads, coins and
anything else they could find at the parade watchers from Bayshore to the
hallows of downtown.

 


About an hour later, we were stationed by the mouth of the point and the
bevy of boats had begun to converge on us for our precious medallions and
T-shirts. Little did they know, that we were armed with water guns, balloons and
a few well placed slingshots to deliver a barrage of water, medallions and fabric
to the lucky ones to venture close to our vessel.




I had one encounter that I am truly sorry for here. I had a huge water
balloon set in my slingshot and shot it towards a boatload of woman who were,
well showing some assets, and I caught the video camera operator right in the
face as she lower the camera. I asked the captain of that vessel to come closer
and I gave her a few T-shirts and medallions for the galliant effort. Now, that
was not the first set of “assets” to be shown, imagined or filmed that day. I
can attest to being a bit befuttled for a few second when a boatload of 20 woman
did a shirt salute to our vessel that made the Captain glad to be an American.



We were using the water cannons ans slingshots to get our fellow Krewes wet
and ready for the upcoming day. It was a blast that I will never forget. It will
be a true memory that I will cherish in my old age and beyond. I got to use my
good arm to sling a few hundred medallons, and I still have really good aim.
I had the pleasure of meeting my local Morning show host, Fisher that day,
and he was a great guy to talk to about the Rays, and to show how to use the
slingshot to his advantage. He was a gracious host with the Captain. He had a
event the night before at a local bowling hall, Splitsville, that probably did
not end early, or too late for him and his crew.


 


I know the Captain provided us with lunch, but I was having too good of a
time drinking my new favorite rum, “Captain Morgan’s Tattoo”, and watching the
festivities from my high perch. The sights and sound of the Invasion are
incredible, ans worth all the early effort and planning to get out there and ride
in with the Mystic Krewe


 

     

 

We were lucky enough to be only a few boats back of the main boat and had a
thrilling time just waving and throwing beads to the boats slowly cruising up
the shipping channel with  the vessels.
As we neared the Harbor Island area again, the scene was a bit different this
time. Where at 9 A.M. I could swing an anchor around and only hit air, now was a
zoo of beer and babes wanting our beads and medallions.

                       



I know now how the Krewes feel on those boats and parade floats seeing the
masses and masses of people all day long until you finally see the end and just
faint from the excitement and.maybe a few well timed beverages during the trip.
We were slowly getting to the dock again that was vacant when we shoved off, but
now held hundreds of souls waiting anything we could throw to them.


                                    

 


I got carried away and threw my bandanna to a cute multi-colored haired wench who put it
right on her head and paraded around the dock with it. We threw cups, hats,
bandannas’, and the occasional Captain Morgan’s medallions to the masses wanting
everything we had that day. We got off the boat to a hero’s welcome and I rambled out into the day
looking for a great place to catch a few hundred beads. I picked a spot near the
end of the parade route and made sure to have my Captain Morgan’s shirt on, and
a Captain Morgans banner that I ” borrowed” from the boat.


I had a ball getting beads for the kids around me, and the
“Rays” floats pelted me with bags of beads that I threw to the kids and older
kids( like me) around my parade area. I was feeling like a true spirit that day.
Having the time of my life and wishing someone else was there with me the entire
time. She had to stay home that day and watch the kids, but she was with me in
spirit the entire time.

 

Well, maybe not while I was watching the many “assets” being shown that
day………just kidding. I was feeling great and started to walk back to the
98Rock stage to see the AC/DC cover band when the brunette I threw the hat at
gave me a 6-pack of really good beer( my favorite), and told me I had made her
day by throwing the hat to her. I enjoyed the thought of making a great memory for someone else, and I am
planning on again being a member of the Captains’ crew, if fate deems it for me.
It was a great day.


I got a few hundred beads and met a lot of great new friends and hopefully
future revelers in the Captains good times.


If you ever get the chance to sit by the waterside, or get on a friends’ boat
and hit the Bay for the Gasparilla Invasion, you should run with it. It is an adventure you will not regret, and it will
give you stories for years and years about all the great times on the water that
day. So, mark you calendar for the event in 2009.

 The Superbowl will be in Tampa next year, and I guess the Invasion will take
place the day before the big event to make it a weekend to remember for all of
us, and the NFL visitors. I have to go now to the local rum shop and look for my
favorite “tattoo.” It left a true mark on my taste buds. Arggggggggggggggggggg!

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