2008 Rays Team Photo……..No Where Else but Here
Finally I got my picture from theTampa Bay Rays today from the day that I took my Team Photo with the 2008 American League Pennant winning Tampa Bay Rays.
All year long I had this weird feeling about this years team, but not until the Rays Radio Pre-game host Rich Hererra started calling it a “Miracle Summer” did it dawn on me how special it could become in 2008. It seemed different, but I could not place the vibe in the air at the time.
I have been wanting to work in the Rays clubhouse for about 3 years. I missed the fun and the charades that went along with being in a loose locker room. Some of my fondest moments happened in locker rooms on teams I played with in high school, college and beyond. It is that feeling when you step into the room that this was your peaceful and energetic focuepoint. That this locker room was the beginnig of the whole sha-bang. There is truly nothing like the spirit and the bond that pulls together by a team on a streak, or a winning season.
Sitting there watching them come out in Feb. 2008 at the St. Petersburg Namoli complex for the first workout of the Spring, I had a gut feeling it was going to be one to remember. I yelled over to Chris Westmoreland, the Rays Clubhouse Manager and shook his hand and just chatted a bit about the upcoming year. The guys as they came out to the fresh mowed grass had a different air about them. Something felt different about this workout, and about 2008 in general.
A few days earlier, the Rays had their annual Fan Fest at the Trop., and as ususal I was there bright and early and checking out all the auctions and the items up for sale around the stadium. One thing caught my eye. “A photo opportunity with the 2008 team during the Team Photo Day.”
I jumped at the opportunity to jot down my name and have a chance to be positioned in a keepsake between these great baseball players. I went about my day and came back a few times before putting down my final bid and heading home for the day. I got a call the following Monday that I had won the auction and they would call me when the team had a opportunity to all get together and take the picture. That day turned out to be May 10, 2008.
I got out there around 3 pm on that day to get down to field level and get a white Rays jersey and chat a with a few of the guys I knew before everyone got into place for the pictures. I took these pictures as we were getting set into position for the photo. As the guys came out to the field, a few saw me sitting there and were laughing and wondering how I could of wrangled this opportunity. I had been the Pepsi rep for the team for several years and had worked around the clubhouse in the spring and during the year. Everyone who knew me knows how much this baseball team means to me personally.
Chris Westmoreland and Dave Barr, the Rays Strength and Conditioning guru came over and shook my hand before PR Direcotr Rick Vaugh started arranging everyone for the photo. By that time the guys were all chatting amongst themselves and just enjoying the moment. But little did all we know just how special this photo would end up meaning not just to me, but to each and every one of the team on that stage.
I was a bit nervous before getting out there and getting into position. Not because of the guys around me, I knew enough of them to know that they are a great group of guys and would make this picture a true treasure for my collection. I had seen alot of these guys come up as rookies ans now they were taking on verteran leadership roles for the first time and truly leading this club by example.
But what I truly found amazing was a few facts surrounding the picture that if you did not know the team well, or the players, you might miss the subtle differences in the picture.
So I had a few minutes to just take in all the surrounding before getting into the photo and saw some of these funny situations:
1) Usually in a team photo you try and put the tall trees in the back row or above the height-challenged members of your roster. In the back row today were Rays’ back-up catcher, Shawn Riggans and Reliever Al Reyes. Both are over 6 feet, but seem a bit short compared to the height of Reliever Gary Glover on their left and Outfielder Rocco Baldelli on their right. So becuase of this height ripple, it looked like a wave going across the front row and rolling up and down.
2) One of my favorites, Rocco Baldelli was in this picture on May 10th with a full on Grizzly Adams look-alike beard. The beard was a wild look for Rocco. But since he was the disabled list at this time, he used it as his own measure of coping with his situation. Little did wqe know at the time to what extent Rocco would play in this teams playoff push.
3) If you notice the two groups on the left and right of the players, you have the Clubhouse crew to the left, and the teams’ trainers and physical staff to rhe right. And among the characters to the right is Kevin Barr. He is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the team, and refused to wear the dark carolina blue polo tops that the rest of the staff wore that day. He stands out real good in his white top and black long pants, while the medical staff wore their dark blue tops and tan shorts.
Kevin is not a fan of the University of North Carolina, and it would be a personal insult to wear those colors. Kevin, I understand, you could never get me to ever wear any FSU colors even on a threat of death. You sometime have to make a moral decision on things. He stands out real good in his white top and black long pants, while the medical staff wore their dark blue tops and tan shorts in the picture,
4) in the official Team Photo, but not with the team much longer after the photo were: Rays reliever Kurt Birken and Elliot Johnson.
So then it is my time to get situated in the photo somewhere in the middle of everyone. You can definitely tell where I am in the picture, because I did something that intially looked a bit dumb at the time, but it makes it easier to find me because of it.
I have heard in the final picture that I am making into a 11X16 photo with a lettering spelling out “2008 American League Champions” I will look the same as everyone else.
What I did was cross my hands in front of me instead of behind me in the picture. Yes, that is me right behind Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who was laughing that I must have paid someone off to get that close to him. But he knows me from the “Maddons’ Maniac” group and we have chatted many times in rightfield during BP.
They decided to put me between Akinora Iwamura and Willy Aybar for the photo. Great choice considering we are all three about 5 10-ish and would make a better height blend for the photo. To get into that spot I had to cross over the feet of Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria and Gabe Gross. The chairs in front of the risers were right on the shins of the guys in the second row and it was a tight space to get in there for the picture.
As I was passing by them, my Bullpen buddies Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos were giving me a bad time as to not step on their toes since the guys had to play that night.
As if to curse me, I then stepped on Evan Longoria’s right big toe. I did not hurt him, but went gentle into position for the photo. Skip, the team photo guy then took about 3 picture before I pulled myself out of the picture for the official team photo in the media guide.
I did not get in that photo, but I do have a wall photo that is as orignal as the guys in the picture. We might never have a team like this in Tampa Bay again. Not because of talent or event ability, but the personalities from the Coaching staff up to our closer was one of the best I have ever seen on a field.
This team not only were impressive on the field, they were even more impressive as to how they reacted to each other off the field. This photo might have cost me a bit in money, but the experience was priceless.
And I know it took some time to get this photo finally up and posted, but Tricia Johnson, who works in the Community Relations department for the Rays did a great job hunting down the photo and getting it to me. She tried to get it to me by e-mail, snail mail, and finally we just put it on a disc and I came and got it after the World Series. I love the photo and the memory will be one that will be told over barstools for a long long time.
It is a memory not only of spending time with a team of champions, but watching friends mingle as they took a photo that would be priceless in the annuals of our team’s history.