November 2008

What is the Future of Jonny Gomes?

Jonny Gomes has been the emotional barometer of the Tampa Bay Rays for several seasons. You can tell the general attitude and outkook of the bench by staring at his face. He is truly one of those guys who holds his emotions out there for everyone to see and has no agendas.

 So what are we to expect now that Gomes has been relegated to the bench and sees only spot duty in the outfield due to injuries. He is not longer the go-to guy for platoon duty in rightfield, or even the first option off the bench against left-handers anymore for the Rays.

 He is seen most nights peering over the dugout rail cheering on his team mates and pumping up his team when they need it most this year. But do the Rays truly have reservations about Gomes coming into his first journey into arbitration. Does he stack up well enough to get a push upwards in salalry to the $ 1 million dollar mark, or is he still a project in training for the team.

          

 When Rays manager Joe Maddon first came on board 3 years ago, Jonny seemed to be one of his trusted foot soldiers. He counted on Gomes as either a rightfielder or a DH against some of the best in the AL nightly. But as time went by, did Maddon lose some of his confidience in number 31 and put him on the bench as a added weapon, or becuase he still doesn’t know how to use him right at times.

 Gomes can be a total nightmare or a rally energizing bunny in the outfield. On more than 1 occasion, you have seen him throw himnself towards a sinking ball and either make a spectacular catch or an odd miss by feet. Is the fact he is not the best running outfielder on a team blessed with speed his downfall. Or is there another reason he see spot duty when injuries pile up and he is needed.

 Early in the season I really liked the power hitting duo of Gomes and Hinske in the rightfield. It gave the Rays a power option from each side of the plate, and also gave them a veteran influence on the bench. Now that Baldelli is seeking a new contract, Gomes is fighting for his life to stay on this team.

 Gomes had dealt with bad hitting streaks before in his career and has either ended up in the minors or on the bench. In 2008, Gomes hit only .182 in 154 at bats for the Rays. Is that enough at bats for a guy who is dependant on quality swings and time at the plate to imporve his swing and timing. Batting Practice can only do so much to imporve your hitting. Game situations are critical to a guy like Gomes for consistant movement and fluid strokes with the bat.

Could the fact he was left off all the post season rosters be a sign on the wall that his days as a Ray might be coming to a close. Could it be that the Rays might hear his arbitration hearing and just decide to release him before Spring Training.

 Or, he could be given a chance to again DH fulltime with a short leash and the expectation raised as to his place on the team. We might not know what is going to happen for a few weeks here, but he is worthy to be on this roster.

 Gomes has had a rough time in the end of the season for the Rays, but if his line on September 28th is any indication, you have to believe he still feels he can compete and be productive for the Rays in 2009. Gomes went 2-for-2 that day with 2 RBI’s. Proof that he still has the killer instinct and can deliver for the Rays.

 But can an isolated scoring binge after going 0-14, with7 strikeouts  since August 3rd be a sign of decreasing talent or him just vegging on the bench without game action. Could Gomes be his own worst enemy right now and be pressing and trying to hit for the fences each time up instead of hitting the ball and letting the chips fall where they may. A single is still a hit, and a stolen base is still a premium on this team.

 In his limited at bats, Gomes till hit 5 homers and posted a .383 slugging percentage for the season. The talent is there, and the ability is anxiously waiting for a shot to explode at the plate. But his rushing of his swings and blatant uperc ut for the outfield walls is apparent to everyone in the seats at the Trop. 

 Gomes is trying to make a point by slamming the ball instead of hitting like the Gomes of the past. That Jonny would go barrelling into second base head first and be as pumped up by a double as a homer. That Gomes would be slapping George Hendricks hand at first base after a nice single through the hole. And that Jonny seemed to be enjoying baseball every day.

 For emotion and for outward attitude and confience you can’t beat Jonny Gomes, but the Rays have to make a difficult decision in the offseason as to if he is in the futre plans beyond even 2009. He is a great bat off the bench in a critical time of the game. But does this rob him of his life power by having him come up cold and not into the flow of the game.

 Gomes is the type of player that feeds off the games energy and responds accordingly. He is as excited as anyone at a great play or a huge out. Could letting him go to another team like the Oakland A’s be the answer. Or is letting go of this emotional locomotive be a downfall of the clubhouse psyche they tried so hard to build in 2008.

 The Rays have a few huge decisions to make this offseason to contend for their AL East and AL pennant in 2009. Will Gomes be made a part of the team, or will he again be relagated to cheerleader staus and spot duty in the field or at the plate. Either way, I think Gomes will succeed not becuase he has to, but because he can…………anywhere.

Maddon’s New Number: 177 Games = 1 Fantastic Ride

 

                

 

It has been quite a year for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. It all began with a small pep talk outside the Rays Namoli complex on a bright Spring day with his 2008 squad, and ended  up farther into the Fall than ever before for his team.

 

Lost in all of the glory and pomp was the fact that in November 2007 at a rally to showcase the new logo and uniforms, you heard the words that actually started the uphill battle. Maddon talked about the spirit and the determination of this team. and that they will end up the year in better shape than ever. Now we all know he really did not envision the World Series for the team this year, but it was on his future to-do list.

 

So it is only fitting that the coach who led the Rays to 97 regular season wins, 27 more than the previous franchise best mark, be awarded the American League Manager of the Year award by the Baseball Writers of America today .

 

 

But Maddon has been celebrating a lot the past few days. Having just gotten married during last weekend in California, Joe and his beautiful bride are probably knee deep in a vineyard in Tuscany today when he get a call from Major League Baseball awarding him his prize.

 

It is only fitting that Maddon be in a vineyard during the call. Near the grapes and beverage that has given him a different persona of a major league manager. Maddon is not like your typical manager in baseball. He will not grill and castrate his players either in the newspaper or in public. He shows them respect and professionalism by doing it behind closed doors.

 

He is also a giving person who has made sure to make himself and the team accessible to the fans and the general public at all times. But his theories and his inventive saying and slogans will make him a legend.

 

9=8 will go down as one of the wildest and most accurate mathematical expressions in baseball. It is simply stated that if your 9 starters work hard for 9 innings, it will translate into one of the 8 playoff spots in Major League Baseball. The actual theory goes a bit beyond just the simple explaination, but I will save that for another time. The mathematical theory seemed a bit odd at first to not only players’ ,but to fans. Then when the Rays began winning and the tide began to  turn on energy and visual committment by the team, the slogan became a novel idea.

 

Even on the shirts the team was wearing as the squad secured a playoff berth in September, 9=8 was a center figure in the team’s minds. The emotion and the confidence that those 2 numbers pulled out of this team will forever be an inspiration to players’ and coaches’ around baseball.

 

 

Maddon got his first piece of hardware, at the altar this weekend. But on Monday,  he recieved a second wedding gift when he was named the Chuck Tanner Major League Manager of the Year.

 

In the second year for the award, named after the manager of the 1979 World Series champion Pirates, Maddon will join now-Dodgers skipper Joe Torre as a recipient.  The award selection committee  composed of former Major League players, executives and sports media,  deemed that Maddon best exemplified Tanner’s managing and leadership qualities and selected him based on his accomplishments for the 2008 season.

 

The 2008 Rays also improved their record by 31 games over ’07’s record — the third-best improvement in AL history — and became the first AL team to go from the worst record in the Major Leagues to the postseason in one year.

 

     

 

The award is annually presented by the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh and will be handed out during a banquet this Saturday. Proceeds from the banquet will support the club’s humanitarian service initiatives and Rotary Foundation Programs.

 

Maddon will not be attending the ceremonies, however, because he will still be on his honeymoon in Europe at that point. But he has a suitable replacement.

 

Accepting the award for Maddon will be Scott Challis, father of John Challis. At age 16, John was diagnosed with Stage 4 of Hepatocellular Carcinoma, an adult form of liver cancer, and died on Aug. 19.

 

John is fondly remembered for his uplifting message of faith and optimism while battling through the deadly disease. Before he passed, John and his family created a unique bond with various sports figures, but none grew quite as strong as their relationship with Maddon, who now has a special T-shirt for sale with all proceeds going to the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation.

And it all started with a meeting the two had in Miami during a Rays-Marlins series in May.  More information on Maddon’s contributions to Challis’ memory can be found at John Challis Courage for Life Foundation Web site.

 

 

Joe Maddon love for information might just be the hidden jewel of his winning the Manager of the Year award.  He was into the statistics and situational hitting or pitching aspect of the game way before stepping into the Rays dugout. It is generally thought that he was one of the first to carry a chart with an individual players’ or pitchers’ tendencies for use during the game.

 

It brought together another huge breakthrough for situational hitting and pitching and has set up a huge debate on if it takes the guess work out of baseball. With 2009 coming up fast, after Maddon comes back from his european dream trip, the think tank of the Rays will assemble and again go piece by piece to build a 2009 model that will go beyond expectations again.

 

So Joe, go grab an unqiue and subtle wine today and sit either by a raging fire or sunset and just take in all the beauty that you have provided this year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Take another sip for the future of the team and how you will envision running this team for years to come…………and last, but certainly not least, take a salute to the woman on your arm who might just be the missing piece to the Rays getting back to the World Series. 

 

9=8 Joe, and the only people not loving you right now are the Math teachers around Tampa Bay.

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.

 

 

 

Evan Almighty Picked as AL Rookie of the Year

 

 

 

Evan Longoria did not start at third base for the Tampa Bay Rays’ on Opening Day 2008. He was nestled in a room in Durham, North Carolina thinking about how to better himself and get back to St. Petersburg for the rest of the 2008 season.  But also in the works during this time was a huge contract for their young star that would relieve all stress and anxiety for him for a long time as a Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Most people were undecided as to if you give such a long term contract to a guy who has not even set foot on a MLB field during the regular season. Rays front office managment saw the deal as a precursor to the rising cost of keeping young talent, but also gave financial stability to the future payroll of their club. No one in either camp was sure what 2008 would hold for Longoria, but the future was set and he could relax and just play baseball until he got his shot in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

 

He finally arrived after 11 games, and the Ray’s rookie only missed playing time due to a severe wrist injury in 2008. Longoria became the first rookie in Rays history today to take home the  Jackie Robinson American League Rookie of the Year trophy.

Longoria was a unanimous choice by the Baseball Writers Association of America today. Longoria got 28 first place votes to outpace second place finisher, Chicago White Sox second baseman Alexi Ramirez, 140-59. All 28 possible first place ballots went to Longoria.

 

After coming back up to the Rays on April 12th, Longoria played in the next 104 games — 103 of those starts — hitting mostly fifth and cleanup, until he suffered a fractured right wrist after being hit by a pitch from Mariners closer J.J. Putz on Aug. 10 in Seattle. Longoria did not return to the lineup until Sept. 13.

 

 

Despite missing 30 games due to the fractured wrist, Longoria led all Major League rookies with 27 home runs and a .531 slugging percentage. In addition, he led AL rookies with 85 RBIs, 60 extra-base hits and 238 total bases.

 

Among the highlights from Longoria’s season were two game-winning home runs, the first coming May 9, when he hit a walk-off, two-run shot off Justin Speier to win it 2-0 against the Angels and make a winner of James Shields, who threw a one-hitter. The other came at Oakland, where he hit a two-run homer off  ex-Ray Chad Gaudin in the 13th inning to make it 7-5, Rays; Tampa Bay held on for a 7-6 win.

 

 

On Sept. 18, Longoria hit 3 home runs in one game against the Twins, making him the second player in Rays history to accomplish the feat (Jonny Gomes hit three on July 30, 2005 against the Royals ). By doing so, Longoria became the first rookie third baseman to hit three in one game since Eddie Mathews in 1952.

 

         

 

Longoria played excellent defense throughout the season and finished the season with a .963 fielding percentage, which ranked him sixth among AL third basemen. And he played his first professional game at shortstop on June 29 against the Cubs. It was alos against the Cubs that Longoria began making a name for himself in the AL.

 

 

With the game close, the Cub’s Reed Johnson put down a slow rolling bunt down the thrid baseline and Longoria sprinted in and threw off-balance to first to nail Johnson within a half a step for a critical out in the game against the Cubs. But that play was only one of many that made alot of people in baseball begin to sit up and take notice of this rookie.

 

Is the Book Closed on Percival?

 

 

The common chatter around the Tampa Bay Rays during the playoffs was if Troy Precival would be activated or just fade to black. At this moment, it is more a question of if he is going to have the knee and back surgery and even compete next season for the team.

Since the ALDS win the Chicago, the team has seen very little of their highly motivated closer. Percival, who was a teacher and a mentor to many of the young guys in the Bullpen has been absent from the sidelines and might not ever put on a Rays uniform again. There is speculation that when he did not show up for the Sat contest during the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, that he basically is done with baseball in 2008.

On that Sat. night, he had communicated to Rays Manager Joe Maddon that he would be in the clunhouse by 5:30 pm, and might even dress to go sit down with his Bullpen mates. He did not come into the clubhouse, and did not leave any messages for fellow team mates on his missing the game.

To further complicate matters, the Rays have not heard anything concrete from Percival on his knee or back situations since he last hit the DL in late August. The Rays had to put Percival on the DL 3 times in 2008, and the rumor is that if he is not in tip top shape, the Rays will seek a closer for 2009.

 

 

 

It is not to be a slap at Percival, but as a business decision, you have to prepare for the season as early as November sometimes. And with the best closers going for top dollars now, you have to adjust your payroll and thinking to amend to the situation.

Percival has not been in uniform since the game in Boston where he blew the save and left the game in a huff after surrendering the tying homer to Jason Bay.

One of the big things I have seen from him since the beginning of the season is his stretching has changed. Early in the season, he would come out to the Bullpen and do about 5-10 pushups, then do a Yoga-inspired stretching of his back before long tossing beyond the mound.

Since his second stint on the DL, he did not do these exercises in the Bullpen area. He could have done them in the back region of the Bullpen’s bathroom area where a Yoga ball and mat are located. But as a fan, I took great pride in seeing him get into his zone with these exercises. It seemed to focus him and pull him into the moment before going into the game.

 

                  

 

But then again, from my Season Ticket seats’ vantage point, I could almost see the sweat on Bobby Ramo’s eyebrows at times. The Rays need to kno within the next few days, before the Winter Meetings, if they are seeking a closer for 2009. I really do not see Maddon going with a closer-by-committee outlook any longer for the Rays.

It might match up well with the stats, but it bring an inconsisitant manner to the team and it’s Bullpen. Relievers are a different breed of pitchers’. They have to be ready at a moments notice, and to tempt fate with changes in their routines can some times damage all the good a pitcher has done in prior appearances.

If I were Andrew Friedman, i would be putting out feelerrs to guys like ex-Diamondback reliever, Juan Cruz or maybe even chatting with Kerry Wood’s agent. Woods was rumored to be high on the Rays lost a few years ago as a closer replacement, maybe now is the time for him here.

But the options will disappear fast as the off-season progresses, and the Rays have to be mindful that if they sleep too long………..they will be waiting for clubs to release guys in late March for a closer.

 

David Price, Rocco Baldelli, and Jim Hickey Tidbits

 

       

 

Starting on Monday, November 10th and running until November 17th, Tampa Bay Rays fans can support Rays rookie pitcher David Price in his quest to be on the cover of the December 5th, ESPN, the Magazine’s  “Next” issue. This issue is the magazine’s yearly guess as to the movers’ and the shakers’ of the coming season.  It will be focusing on 4 key figures from 4 different sports who might be the people to watch in 2009.

With Price set to enter his second Spring Training this year with the Rays, even money will tell you that he will break camp on the 25-man roster for the team. A plus would be a  number 4 spot in the rotation, and a chance to finally prove to the league that he is the next great leftie in the American League.

With the pedigree growing daily, Price, who was the Baseball America choice as the Minor League Player of the Year this past season came up to the big club for the post season push and excelled beyond the team’s wildest expectations. Price became the first rookie in MLB history to record a win and a save in the playoffs without recording a decision during the regular season. 

His shining moment of the playoffs has to be his mastery of the defending World Champions in Game 7 of the ALCS at the Trop. against the Boston Red Sox. Price came in and dominated the final inning to put the exclamation point on the series and send the Rays to their first World Series appearance. 

Along with Price running for this spread on the cover will bethe NFL’s Atlanta Falcon rookie quarterback sensation, Matt Ryan. He has led the wingless Falcons air attack in 2008 on their climb back to the top of the NFC.  From the world of auto racing we have Joey Logano, who in the words of NASCAR  legend Mark Martin is the “real deal.” And winding up the quad will be Spanish basketball wizard Ricky Rubio.  He has been compared to the late great “Pistol Pete” Maravich in ability and range on the court.

 

 

So do not forget to go to www.ESPN.com  and vote for our next great pitcher  daily to earn him the right to be the coverboy on the December 5th issue of the publication. It is time for the Rays Republic to sound off and show that we have a voice and are not afraid to use it.

 

 

       

 

Forgotten in all the talk about free agents and the trade chatter going on last week was the forgotten fact that Ray’s pitching coach, Jim Hickey is currently without a contract with the team. In 2008, while most of the team’s coaches were given 2-year contracts, Hickey was given a 1-year deal because of an off the field activity.

The activities of the night of the last game in 2007 have played out in the media and the courts and I really am not going to rehash it out here for respect of the team and Hickey for taking a professional and responsible solution to the event. 

 

      

 

So, as of this time, the Rays are currently without an “official” Pitching Coach for the team under contract. With Andrew Friedman returning from both the MLB GM’s meeting and Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wedding in California this weekend, this might be high on the agenda of thing to complete before the Winter Meetings in a few weeks.

To Hickey’s credit, the Rays Bullpen and their starter’s did perform absolutely outstanding during the season and during the playoffs. I put alot of that on the work he has done the last few years’ with the team and in letting the guys mature and evolve both on the mound and off during the year.

 

 

His philosophy of pitching to  location spots instead of letting his pitchers’ throw has sometime caught the wrath of myself and some of the Rays’ fanbase.  Some of the control issues of  young ace Scott Kazmir can be related to the action of changing his pitching style to throw to locations instead of challenging the hitters with his superior fastball. By making Kazmir conform to location pitching it has caused Kazmir to loose some of his velocity and confidence on his slder during the season. 

With off season training and work Kazmir will become a better pitcher in 2009 for the Rays. That being said, I do hope that the Rays retain Hickey for 2009 on a 1-year contract and see if he can perform another miracle season with his staff.

 

 

Joe McDonald of  The Providence Journal  sat down with Rocco Baldelli recently and asked him about his 2008 season and his aspects for the future. The article  covered how Baldelli’s year with the Rays was a rollercoaster that went from a huge low to the ultimate high of playing in the World Series with the Rays.

It also went into the subject of if Baldelli could see himself play for the Rays bitter rival, the Boston Red Sox. Considering the newspaper is based in the Northeast, it is no wonder that the article pulls a mostly favorable view for the Red Sox.  But with Baldelli also being raised in Rhode Island, it does go into the pride and the lifetime dream of playing in Fenway Park for family and friends.

I said that there were about 6 clubs currently looking at him and that the Rays have not been able to sit down with him yet and discuss any situations for 2009 with the team.  Considering the wild week at the GM meeting, and the nuptuials of his manager this past weekend, Baldelli might get a call to discuss thing during the next week.

 

 

I still have a gut feeling that the Rays will get the first chance to make an offer and entice Baldelli based on their past actions of working with him during his injury and having faith in him upon his return to the 25-man roster.

The ball might now be in the Rays court as to how Baldelli decides where he will play in 2009. He can be an effective right-handed bat off the bench and also be a truly effective 4th outfielder for any team in baseball. The fatigue situation can now be controled by rest, medication and monitoring, but the true measure will be in who wants him more, and to what extent in the upcoming year.

 

 

 

 

 

Are Rayhawks a Fanatic Follicle Requirement for Fans?

Fellow Mlblogger and Dodgers fan, Alyssa Milano pulling off her own ‘hawk

 

I was driving down the US 19 in St. Petersburg, Florida a few days ago and I saw a homeless guy on the side of the road with a sign that read: ” Will get a Rayrehawk for Food” and it caught me totally by surprise. He we are a few weeks removed from the World Series and the ‘hawk is still in our collective lifestyles.

Have we now come upon a time in Tampa Bay history where we are now considering this as a regional sign of being from here. Having a follicle apparition high in the middle of our heads, with a blue hue to command the attention of the crowd is now more southern than a drawl or a moonpie .

I remember punk rock real well, and I know people did not do it back then to be a part of the crowd, but more to seperate themselves from the norm. The general sense was that it was done more for a sense of rebellion and personal style then for sports confidence and crowd recognition.

 

 

But the Rays hawk is our local symbol now that “we live here”, when it should signal that we support the Rays.But are you any less of a fan if you can not pull off the Rayshawk with class or  are follicle challenged ?  

 If you are a bandwagon fan, does getting a Rayhawk make you support the team more?  Or does it just give you a sense of belonging to the whole positive energy going around the Tampa Bay area during the playoff run.  I think that we still have that mentality that if a crowd starts to do something, we respond in kind more for acceptance than for having a true opinion on the matter.

I am not going to get into the social ramifications of such a thing because I am not well versed in the subject. But I did see people that  were shunned and looked at as less than loyal Rays fans if they did not conform to the clippers and dye.

 

AWESOME RAYS HAIRCUT!

 

I have heard a few comments during the playoffs that you are not committed or totally on board unless the hair was altered. What kind of crock is this? When was supporting a team based on your hairstyle. Why is it that the  Rayhawk has now gone above the cowbell, or even the new logo Rays merchandise as the game item most needed to show support.

 I have never heard myself yell louder or harder with less hair. If that was true, I would be getting a fresh haircut before every home stand.

It was one of those fashion statements like orange hair on St. Patricks Day. I was also browsing through the Internet wondering what other figures might enjoy a Rayshawk when I saw this amazing pitcture of Dodger and fellow Mlblogger, Alyssa Milano on her website. Now she can pull off a ‘hawk with no problem.

 

Rayhawks at Work

 

What is it about this wild hairstyle that pulls society, and people to chop, mold and gel themselves into a huge wall of hair in the middle of  their heads. I have always been one who has been hair-envious. Not because I do not have any hair, but because I have that baby-fine hair that looks bad with 90 percent of the hair styles. Believe me, I have tried a few in the youth, and evena wave doesn’t go with my type of hair…trust me here.

People tried to coax me to get a Rayhawk, but I would not chop my locks because of job committments and the possible implications from employers about my hair selection. I have always wondered how you would apply for a new job with a fresh ‘hawk and blue hair. Do you boast about being” committed to your views and being a team player” during your job interview, or do you just limp back and tell him it was a weak moment in your life.

 

Tropicana Field in Legos

 

I am not going to say I am a fashion nightmare because I will not go hawked, or even faux hawked. I am the guy who is dressed in the team issued jersey with a fitted cap and sitting there in my Season Ticket seat  with my latin percussion cowbell and thick drumsticks. It is my way of supporting my team. Just as the Rayshawk was the statement by a select set of Rays fans.

Come in Febuary, some of the Rays hawks will be just growing out and the blue dye would have leaked into our brains by then. At that moment you have to ask yourself if since it is Spring Training, do I re-hawk up? or wait until September like 60 percent of the Rays fans?

It is a personal decision to be with the style or not. It doesn’t make you more or even less of a fan to push the hairstyle to the side and rock the Trop in your own way. Some people even don wigs and costumes to be set apart by the crowd at games. But who among us would really come to a game dressede as a hot dog in 2009?

 

Is Baldelli Waiting on Rays?

 

 

 

The Tampa Bay Rays hope to start talks soon on a new contract with right fielder-designated hitter Rocco Baldelli. Recent trade rumors have surfaced that Baldelli, a free agent has been linked to several teams. These teams includes the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, who defeated the Tampa Bay Rays for their first World series since 1980.

Baldelli, who was selected by the Rays in the 1st round of the 2002 draft, hit a solo homer in Game 5 of the World Series, and was one of this season’s  MLB’s most inspirational stories.The 27-year old returned to play part time on Aug. 10 after missing 240 games due to mitochondrial disorder, which slows muscle recovery and causes extreme fatigue. For the regular season, Baldelli hit  only .200 during the 2008 playoffs, but in the postseason he posted 2 homers and 6 RBI’s for the Rays, and had a slugging percentage of .500 for the entire playoff series for the Rays.

During his limited time with the Rays in 2008, Baldelli hit .263 in 80 at bats, and hit 4 homers and 13 RBI while posting a .475 slugging percentage during his limited  appearances in 2008. 

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rocco on and off the field,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Thursday.

 

        

 

“We do have a special relationship. To be a part of what he’s gone through, and see him at the lowest of moments, I think, has created that personal relationship. I’m sure we’ll talk in the next few days.” In March, Baldelli thought his career might be over because of his physical problems. He went on two minor league rehab assignments before rejoining the team.

Rather than exercise an option for 2009, the Rays bought out the final three years of Baldelli’s contract for $4 million at the end of spring training.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Baldelli said. “This is the only place that I’ve ever played in. I’m very comfortable here. Everyone’s been very supportive through all this stuff that I’ve been dealing with. I’m thankful for it.

 

        

 

“(Some) teams would have probably turned their back on me when I was going through a lot of these troubles. It is a business. I love playing here, and I’m just going to wait and see what happens.”

 

If you would like to see a blog I wrote earlier in the month about the Rocco Baldelli Press Conference, and the complications of his fatigue syndrome. Please consult the archives on my blog site and read about the syndrome and the huge change that medication and his personal aggressiveness for change made him a MLB caliber player again for the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

 

Gold Glove Finally in Pena’s Hand

 

 

                        

 

Carlos Pena of the Tampa Bay Rays has always had a knack for being as good defensively as he was with his bat. In recent years he has improved both at the plate and at first base. Finally during the Rays golden season, Carlos Pena has been awarded the Gold Glove at First Base for 2008.

This season the Rays surrendered less runs than ever before in their exsistance. And at the head of all that was the improved defense in the infield for the Rays. But the defense was anchored by the increased play of Pena at first base in his attempts to snag, block or even leap to get any ball thrown within his reach.

 

 

In winning the award, he became the first Rays player in history to win a Gold Glove. Last season he was the first Ray to ever win the Comeback Player of the Year award from Major League Baseball. But this award is icing on the Ray’s first baseman’s cake after a playoff run and the first winning season in franchise history.

Pena posted a .998 fielding percentage this season for the Rays and only committed 2 errors all year. One of those errors was a throwing error trying to set up a double play late in the season and he overthrew Jason Bartlett at second base. 

 

 

The Rays went from last in th majors last season with 944 run allowed to a total of only 664 runs allowed in 2008. That was good enough to rank 3rd in the majors for the 2008 season.  the teams’ Fielding Percentage also rose from .980, which was ranked 27th in the majors last season, to .985 to improve only .05 percent, but tied for 8th in the league in 2008.

 

                   

 

Rays Have a Few Pots Bubbling on the Stove

 

 

 

 

Leave BJ Alone

 

Okay, Okay let’s nip this in the bud before it gets a serious life of it’s own on the Internet. You can not have B J Upton. Unless you have a front of the rotation starter and an All-Star in the making to replace him, he is off limits. What does any team in baseball have that will compare to what Upton can bring to this team for the next 4 seasons. He has speed, agility, poise and above all mountains of potential still uncapped in 2008.

 

Sometimes his desire and motivation were questioned in 2008, but he is one of the reasons we went so far in the postseason. Why would you give up a talent like that even before it blossoms. I still think he could play any position on the field besides catcher, or first base. And the Rays control him for 4 more years……………..you better have the winning 6 Lotto number if you want a pry Upton from my dead cold hand.


Is he the future face of the Tampa Bay Rays’ franchise?…………well,  that depends on what you are looking for there. He will be featured in more promotions and advertising in 2009. Remember before 2008, you saw Jonny Gomes in almost every form of advertising in connection with the Rays. In 2008, he was only seen in the dugout  by the railings and in promo shots because of his highly emotional state during games.

 

 

Upton will have the chance in the next 2 years to make himself a “brand” in the major leagues. If he wants to be that popular or significant to the franchise, that might be his personal question right now. We know he has the unlimited talent  to be whatever he wants from today forward for the Rays.


I personally have known the guy since he came up as a 17-year old and have seen a huge amount of change in his lifestyle and his demeanor off and on the field. His stride has also become more refined and at times looks like he is loafing. In reality he does try and save energy at moments, but unfortunately in 2008, he made errors in judgements at the wrong moments. But he is the guy you want on your team based on his attitude and his commitment to winning. He is growing up in the majors, and sometimes you have to give a little to get alot out of a young player.


His shoulder kept him from extending his arms in 2008, but he is either going to have surgery or rehab the daylight out of it before Spring Training. It is similar to the injury that Cliff Floyd suffered during Game 2 of the World Series. Floyd has been told he would be ready by Feb. 2009 if he had the surgery in the off season.

 

To get rid of Upton would be the wrong signal by the Rays front office management. There is no need to extend effort or money to even consider the decision logical at all for the Rays. And there is not a desire by the player for a change of scenery, unlike the subtle demeanor and attitude of Delmon Young……..So leave B J  alone in center field, he is about to break out in 2009 and maybe become the first 30/30 guy for the Rays.

 

      

 

Did you know that the Rays Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations does not have a signed contract for 2009?  Isn’t that amazing that neither Andrew Friedman or Stu Sternberg are afraid of not having a contract in stone before Friedman headed off to the GM meetings in California this week.


Well it was not like he was going out there to interview for another job, but the reality is that Friedman knows he will be retained and will be helping the Rays for many years get back to the World Series. To predict a few years ago that he would be considered one of the best Executives in baseball would have been as far a cry as the Rays in the World Series.


Now that both have happened, Friedman is not going to worry about his future right now, but worry more about upgrading and re-loading this team for the hard fight in 2009. No longer is this team going to be able to sneak up on anyone in baseball. they will have to earn each win in 2009 as the team to beat for the first time in franchise history.


And to think that in the first years as a executive, Friedman looked nervous and not ready to pull the plug or push the buttons for trades and signings. But since that time he has looked smart and downright sinister on some of the deals he did under teams noses in 2007, and 2008.

 

 

Teams have been salivating over Ray’s starter Edwin Jackson for a few years based on the fact that this guy has improved every year since being converted from the outfield to the pitching mound. He has blazing speed on his fastball with limite movement, and has a nice breaking slider that will be an out pitch after the control is fine tuned on it.


That is worth more than a draft pick to most teams. Here is a guy who is improving daily in a position he was not drafted in, and he can either start or relieve for your squad. Last season, the Seattle Mariners’ and the New York Mets’ had a huge interest in Jackson. In 2009, both have expressed again their willingness to acquire the fastballer from the Rays.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I am a huge fan of Jackson. I have posted numerous responses to people wanting his head, or doubting his ability. He tied for the team lead in wins, but people have called him the 5th best starter on the team. Granted he comes with a few control problems, but he is working them out at the major league level after being a ping pong ball both here and in the Dodgers organization.

 

 

He has been sent up and down in both organizations to the point he has no options left. Line that up with the fact he is up for a huge pay raise this off season, and the Rays have a nice bargaining chip for either a right fielder, or a DH via a trade. I personally do not think he will be reporting to Port Charlotte in Feb. for the Rays. But then again, he has been relieving late in the games for the Rays, and with his blazing speed, he could get a chance to close in 2009………….This might be interesting to keep your eyes on in the Hot Stove season.

 

                  

 

The Rays are in a very envious spot this off season. Not because they hit the big stage at the World Series, but because their minor league and major league level has a pitching surplus this season. Because of this, it is going to be a wild time this off season for Friedman.  There is a huge desire in the MLB for good starters this coming season. And if you have a few young arms with a few years of control, that is a plus, plus situation for any franchise. The Rays have a backlog of at least 3 good MLB ready pitchers in the Triple-A level, and have 3 guys on their 25-man MLB roster who could be changing uniforms before Feb.

Most people have Jackson heading out of Tampa Bay before the Spring, but I also think we have to give attention to Jason Hammel and Andy Sonnanstine. Both are great pitchers who are coming into their own on the mound. Hammel has not had the starts that Sonnanstine has this year. Because of that, most teams might still think Hammel is a project with potential. Whereas, Sonnanstine, you already have MLB scouting reports formed that show what he can do as a starter.

For the longest time, Sonnanstine was flirting with the team’s win total of 14 games. For at least his last 6 starts, he had a chance to also post at least 14 win in 2008. But he fell one short of that number, but considering the Rays had every one of their starters get at least 11 wins is a victory all in its own. Hammel has shown a lot of guts in the past season. His performance during the 9th inning in Fenway Park to protect the Rays lead and save the game put him in the spotlight of a few teams. But he is also up for a raise  in 2009,and out of minor league options, and might be used as a secondary piece of a trade. He has also gained the eyes of the Seattle organization, and might be flying west by Opening Day.

 

 

But with a basket load of pitchers sitting there waiting for their chance at Durham, you got to think one of them will be plucked in the off season. Jeff Niemann has been a bit of an enigma that last few years, but got a chance to start because of injury early in the year. He also got a September call-up and pitched well for the team. But his potential has not reached the point where teams consider him a front line guy, or even a 4th or 5th starter yet.

 

Injuries have put doubt in team’s minds about him, plus the fact this was the first season he has pitched without injury in his career. During the trade deadline, the Rays submitted Niemann’s name into trade talks and got only lukewarm responses.

 

Hopefully with his better pitching at Durham in August and up with the big club in September, his stock has risen. He needs to either be traded or used at the MLB level soon before he gets labeled as a “lifer” in the minors and is a label that can haunt him the rest of his career.

 

 

 

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