January 2009

2009 World Baseball Classic……Current and Former Rays Players

 

 


With the World Baseball Classic also about to have members of their teams report to their respective training sites within the next 2 weeks, I was wondering what current and past Rays might be included in the countries rosters. Now the list I am about to throw out here will be based on the provisional 45-man roster that was due a few weeks ago. People will come and go from this roster, and also might not make it onto the 25-man roster that will fill each teams squad when they begin their games.
 


The Rays have a total of 8 members who were originally selected for the WBC’s squad 45-man rosters. Now we all know that certain members of the team, like current Rays first baseman Carlos Pena ( Dominican Republic ) will not be attending the training camp due to a recent surgery to fix some  lower abdominal tearing suffered during 2008.  Pena underwent minor surgery in Philadelphia ( of all places ) on January 8th and will be ready for Spring Training. Also skipping the Classic will be Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. He was originally selected by the Mexican squad, but Garza had off season surgery in November 2008 to repair an old foot fracture on his right foot. According to Fox Sports on MSN, the team did not grant him a medical clearance to play in the classic.  According to WBC rules,  MLB players who undergo off season surgery are normally ineligible unless their clubs specifically give them clearance to take part in the event. At this moment, the Rays medical staff or the team have not granted this clearance to Garza.
 


Recently, Venezuela lost one of their two provisional catchers on January 20th when Rays current catcher Dioner Navarro decided he was not going to participate in the Classic.  That will leave the squad a little thin at the position with Cleveland Indian catcher Victor Martinez the only one currently on the roster.  Navarro did catch all 16 games in the 2008 Playoffs and the extra rest might do him good. Also considering he is going to his first arbitration hearing on February 9th, it might just be a nice good faith gesture to the Rays on his 2009 commitment to the team.
 


With those three players coming to the new Spring Training site in Port Charlotte, Florida for sure for the Rays, it will still leave 5 members participating for the team in the Classic. Another player who has garnished a lot of attention recently is Australian Grant Balfour. The Rays hard talking and hard throwing right-hander recently agreed to a one-year contract to stay out of arbitration with the team. It has not been announced if the contract would enable him to play in the Classic, or report to the Rays training facility instead.

 
 


 


If Balfour is able to pitch for the team, he will probably be their designated closer, and will certainly be worth the price of admission to just hear him chat it up with the ball on the mound. Balfour came into the public eye around the country more during the American League Divisional Series when Chicago White Sox shortstop Orlando Caberera took exception to Balfour’s shouting on the mound to be towards him and not the ball. Since that time he has widely photographed on the mound, and sound bytes have been recorded of his  mound conversations between pitches.
 


Even though the Australian team might have one of the most colorful players in the Classic in Balfour, his team has been pitted in the group with Cuba and Mexico in the first round. The games, being played in Mexico City could be a tough test for the young squad. If the Aussies were to fall out after the first round, the Rays could have Balfour in camp around March 14th.


 
 
 

 


The United States team will have their share of youth courtesy of the Rays when they selected pitchers Scott Kazmir and J P Howell for the team. Also making the 45-man roster is 2008 Rookie-of-the-Year third baseman Evan Longoria. Many people think that Longoria might not make the 25-man squad with the likes of New York Met David Wright and the Atlanta Braves Chipper Jones. But Longoria also might make it as a bench player based on his outstanding rookie season and his timely hitting for the Rays during their playoff run.
 


With both Wright and Jones selected on the team, the Rays might also see Longoria by February 23rd when the positional players are mandated to report to their complex. The situation between Scott Kazmir and J P Howell might have a different scenario entirely. On the US’s initial 45-man provisional roster, Kazmir is 1 of 3 starting left-handed pitchers on the squad. He will be joined by southpaws Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros and Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres.  I can see  all three pitchers making the squad without a problem.


 

 



When pitcher Jon Lackey of the Los Angels Angels announced he was not going to participate in the Classic, Kazmir might have been given a chance of  making the 25-man roster on February 24th, and with the current pitching rules it might just  be a more intense spring training outing for the leftie. the current WBC rules call for starting pitchers to only throw 70 pitches in the first round, 85 in the round two, and up to 100 in the semi-finals and finals. The pitch count was raised this year by the WBC steering committee for the 2008 games.
 


This might actually be good considering that might be the pitch count the Rays might also have for their pitchers in their first few starts of the spring. Kazmir might even get an early shot to start with Team Canada having a mostly left-handed lineup in the Opener in Toronto on March 7th, or he could see action in Team USA’s thrid game, which might be a winner-moves-on rematch with Canada in the double elimination round. But whatever does happen for either of the Rays pitchers’, you can be sure that the Rays will have scouts at every game that Kazmir and Howell might pitch in to watch their progress or spot and impending injury.
 



Rays reliever J P Howell made a name for himself in 2008 by giving up his dream as a starter and concentrating on his reliever skills. What it got him in 2008 was a banner year for the southpaw with a chance to play for his country. Among the relievers for the U S team, Howell is one of 5 current southpaws on the provisional roster. Howell has a nasty curve that is only a few clicks slower than his fastball. This has been is deception to hitters in 2008, but will the same magic come early for him during the classic. 
 



With the US roster having heavyweights like Matt Thorton of the White Sox, B J Ryan of the Blue Jays, George Sherill of the Baltimore Orioles and closer Brian Fuentes of the Angels, the team might be stacked high with left handers prior to the Feb 24th cut down date for their 25-man roster. But the addition of Howell with his off-speed pitches might be the answer for the hard throwing starters and relievers in the US pitching staff.  The WBC currently doesn’t stipulate any hard rules concerning the relievers, but a rule that was instituted this year might come into play down the road. If any pitcher throws 30 or more pitches in the semi-final, he will not be eligible for the finals. Hopefully that rule will not play out for any of the Rays pitcher, or the U S during the Classic.


 
 

 


That leaves one more Rays player to talk about, and he is playing for the reigning WBC champions. Akinora Iwamura played in 6 games in the 2006 Classic and batted .389 for the Japanese team.  Iwamura has not officially not committed to the squad, but he did suffer a hamstring injury during the 2006 Classic and might consider pulling his name from the roster. He is the one Rays player currently on the fence about playing in the Classic. The players are also reporting earlier to the Pool “A” training sites because they play the first games of the Classic starting on March 5th. 
 


But several ex-Rays players will be competing for spots among the WBC participants. Playing for Team Australia,with Balfour will be left-hand pitcher Damion Moss, who went 0-1, with a 13.5 ERA in the 2006 Classic.  Team Italy will have two former Rays in journeyman catcher Sal Fasano and  infielder Robert Fick, who are both trying to make their first WBC rosters.  Team Canada will have former Rays catcher Pete La Forest, who hit .300 during the 2006 Classic in 3 games for the squad.  Team Dominican Republic could have former Rays outfielder Jose Guillen  when they finalize their roster on February 24th.
 


Team Korea will have former Rays starting pitcher Jae Seo on their squad. Seo started 3 games in 2006 and pitched to a 2-0 record and a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings for the Korean team.  Team Mexico will feature current Florida Marlin and ex-Rays Jorge Cantu in their infield. Cantu played in 6 games in 2006, and hit .333, with 2 home runs and 8 RBI’s for Team Mexico. The Puerto Rican squad will feature two former Rays who might not make the finals squads in catcher Raul Casanova, who played for the New York Mets last season, and ex-Rays and Cincinnati Reds catcher Javier Valentin, who played first base for 3 games in the 2006 classic hitting .500 in those games.


 
 


 


Rounding out th
e squads will be former Rays pitcher Victor Zambrano, and Rays Expansion pick Bobby Abreu for the Venezuelan squad. Zambrano and Abreu both participated in 2006. Zambrano played mostly in relief for the squad throwing 2.2 innings and posting a 3.38 ERA, with 3 strikeouts. Abreu, a Rays for only a short time before being traded to the Philadelphia Philles for Kevin Stocker, played in 6 games and hit only .150 in the Classic. So as you can see the Rays have a decent history of ex-player playing in the WBC for their respective countries.

 


The WBC begins with Pool “A” getting started on March 5th in Tokyo, Japan with Japan versus China in the first contest. The Classic will conclude on March 23, 2009 in Dodger Stadium. With good luck and no injuries suffered during the Classic by the Rays players participating, the team might have all their players in camp by March 24th, with 10 games left in their Spring Training schedule. The Rays will get a glance at the 2009 Puerto Rican squad when they square off at  Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on March 5th at 7:05 p.m.
 


Up in the Tampa Bay area, the locals can take in games featuring the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies against Team Canada on March 4th at 12:05 p.m., and Team USA on March 5th at 1:05 p.m, with both games being played at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.  Also in Pinellas County, the  Toronto Blue Jays will get first crack at the Tam Canada squad on March 3rd at 1:05 p.m., with a Team USA contest set for March 4th at 1:05 p.m., both games at Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. And New York Yankees faithfuls can come out and watch their boys take on Team USA first on March 3rd at 1:15 p.m., and Team Canada on March 5th at 1:15 p.m. in Tampa, Florida at George Steinbrenner Field.



 

Mickey Rourke………..Is He Back, or Doomed to Fail Again?

 


People always fret about the “ones that got away”, or that the deserved “second chances” in life. But what do you do if you are a budding movie star who could have anything you wanted, date any woman alive, and still be yourself off screen. Well, if you were Mickey Rourke, you just sort of  distinguished your flame and fall into the abyss of the “what if’s” in life. But with his current film getting rave reviews for his performance, and Hollywood applauding and lauding his work as a down on his luck wrestler reduced to doing local shows and signings, is it a sign of a re-emergence of the great actor, or a bidding farewell before the bottom drops out again on him?

 

But almost two decades of wandering around the earth trying to find his purpose, Rourke finally gets to comes back with a vengeance playing a washed-up wrestler who can not find the courage ,or the will to give up his dream. I got to tell you, as a former football player who did not quit on his own terms, this film brought back a lot of the good and bad  emotions that athletes of every sport endure. They yearn to hear the cheers and the jeers equally and strive to play for the fans. The  constant mantra of a professional athlete is to leave it all on the field, ring, or where ever it is you perform. Less than 100 percent is not playing to potential, or to not honor the sport.

 
But in Rourke’s Oscar-nominated  balls-to-the-wall, hair-on-fire rendition of a washed up wrestler wanting to hear the fans cheer once last time in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” he might have pulled off the performance of his life. The realization of athletics is the human element sometimes gets taken from you by the expectations the public has about you as their hero or their player. You want to treat them to a show, with outstanding results every time you hit the field, and sometimes that takes a toll on your body that you brain doesn’t accept. The end sequence in the movie is striking in the abandonment of his own health concerns, but  how the noise of the crowd can overtake you emotionally and you take that last step towards your doom.



Rourke’s performance is brilliant in this flick. His problem has never been for a lack of talent. After his breakout role in the film ” Body Heat ” Rourke began a roller coaster ride of twisted soul role in the 1980′s. There was his great performance in  “Diner”, “Rumblefish”, and who could forget his  awesome acting rendition of a classic New Yorker in ” The Pope of Greenwich Village.”  He had that “bad boy” magic that endeared him to both men and women for different reasons. I know earlier in my life I loved watching him play in these roles and thought of how cool it would be to be able to be like him without the backlash or heartaches.


He mixed  his acting with an his own free spirited ways  that had him  fast comparisons  to film greats like Marlon Brando and James Dean. He would take on the role and throw out his magnetism and edge, then give you that curly lipped smile that made you want to like him after all the evil he had done.  Rourke’s problem was in his early years and was considered one of struggles and problems both at home, and in his personal life. Rourke did finally find an outlet for that strife earlier in his life by taking up his first real love, boxing.  But after a few nasty bouts and an extreme knockout, he was shelved from the ring by doctors before he took more damage to his brain due to concussions. He was a spirited fighter who did not go down often, and when he did, he would try and jump right back up as to overshadow the hurt and damage done to him by his opponent.

 

As his paying job, acting started to take off, Rourke started to display this violent nature and was labeled a malcontent by some people in Hollywood. He would get into fights in bars, restaurants, anywhere that people try to oppose or control him.  He argued with studio hotshots and was out late in the Los Angeles or New York bar scene, and tried to frustrate anyone around him most days. He then became the guy who would turn down roles that would become classic films for no reason. He was originally offered Nick Nolte’s part in “48 Hours”, Tom Cruise’s leading man role in ” Rain Man,” Kevin Costner’s role as Eliot Ness in  “The Untouchables,” the role as Gavin McLeod in “The Highlander”, and Bruce Willis’ boxing role in ” Pulp Fiction.” Instead he began to explore his dark demons and portray evil inspired characters in films like ” 9 1/2 Weeks”, “Angelheart”, and ” Wild Orchid.”
 

Rourke, was only in the Hollywood spotlight for a short time going from being an up-and-coming classic silver-screen rebel to a evil intended deviant. His  film and acting performances  seemed without emotion, and he seemed to fall back within himself and show himself more as an empty shell than as a serious actor. Could it have been those roles that pushed him deeper into that dark place where self respect and confidence in himself was non-existent to him and others. And that was before he starred in “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.” Not long after that film fell flat on its butt, Rourke tried to return to his first love, boxing and took to the ring as soon as possible. And as it turned out, Rourke wasn’t a bad boxer. He ended his career undefeated: six wins — half from KOs — and two draws. But his short time in the ring exacted a huge physical toll on him. He suffered  brain damage from all of those punches to the head and the effects of  the hits to his nose and face destroyed his boyish looks that endeared him to women in the 1980′s. Five time he went under the knife to repair damage inflicted on his nose and its cartilage. The  came the blow that truly knocked him for a loop, his long suffering marriage to “Wild Orchid” co-star Carrie Otis fell apart.


 

 


Rourke had fallen so low on the Hollywood pecking order that he was now appearing in such disaster flicks like the Dennis Rodman vehicle “Double Team,” while  still living way beyond his means. When it all eventually came crashing down, Rourke hit bottom. And he blamed only himself for losing his wife, his home and alienating his friends. But  he still fell into an hole.
 


Rourke brought all that suffering and anguish to his role as a spandex-clad has-been Randy the Ram in “The Wrestler.” His performance is so emotionally raw that Rourke  still claims to have not watched the entire film. It’s simply too painful for him to see on screen at this time. The parallels between his character and his life too obvious. Rourke finally started to climb back out of his hole both financially and career-wise in the late ’90s. He did act again, in bit parts in films like “The Rainmaker,” “Buffalo ’66,” and Sean Penn’s “The Pledge.” But his film career started showing  renewed signs of life with his role as Marv, a brutishly strong, socio-pathic good guy in Robert Rodriquez’s “Sin City.” The only problem was that he was under piles of latex makeup; no one recognized him. But if you really listened to the voice and the mannerisms, you knew it was him without looking at the DVD jacket for the actor’s name. It was that powerful.


 

 


After all the fanfare with his rejuvenated role in “The Wrestler,” his film career is starting to head skyward again. He has been signed for a role in Sly Stallone’s “The Expendables” and he’s in discussions with Marvel over playing the villain in “Iron Man 2.” Thanks to endless hours of psychotherapy, and Loki, his constant companion dog, Rourke seems to be coming to terms with his personal  past demons. He has no plans to backslide like his character Randy. Of course, Rourke is still prone to  bad boy behavior and tabloid-worthy antics. He was spotted tongue-wrestling his on-screen daughter Evan Rachel Woods during a Screen Actors Guild award after-party  He was also reportedly set to jump into the ring at Wrestlemania and square off against Chris Jericho, before his  personal management team talked some sense into him and he pulled out of the event.

 
 

 

 


So will his role as a wrestler who wanted the glory one last time get Rourke  his Oscar redemption, or will he go down for the count  against the performances of Sean Penn or Brad Pitt? And will this  recent comeback be the one that finally sticks?  Or will the demons come out and play again with Rourke and take him again away from us and the silver screen.

Why are Bloggers’ the Rodney Dangerfield’s of Journalism ?

 

 

 
 

I was sitting here thinking today as it was raining, what do real “journalists” think of bloggers. I got to attend the NFL’s Media day this week as a  non- media credentialed spectator. I saw  members from some of the world’s best news organizations from the 4 corners of the earth trample and exhaust player after player with great, and also stupid questions about the upcoming Superbowl game. I even heard some questions that got me to thinking that the average “Joe/Jane” would be able to decipher this media frenzy better than some of the high priced talent I saw hanging on some player’s every word looking for a lead or a sidebar story. 
 

 

It was at that moment that I wondered why there were not more credentialed bloggers with established sites or even talented new bloods with fresh outlooks in attendance. Now I am currently trying to find a way to get credentialed by a major league team, and I do have a journalism background, and at least 4 years in the industry, but I am also a blogger, and that has put me at a disadvantage.  Even some of the media giants do not have respect for blogging, and in some cases it is totally warranted to think that way. ESPN’s ” Pardon the Interruption ” co-host Michael Wilbon said, “”The notion of blogging scares the hell out of me, and … this is why. There’s no accountability … stuff isn’t edited. It just goes out there as gospel. What it is is opinion, there’s way too much rumor.”




 
And with this fact comes the question, If I am qualified and able to produce a good article, or even  submit a entry to get out another aspect of the team without bias or prejudice, shouldn’t I have the opportunity to showcase my talents too ?  Why do I have to work for a large Fourth Ward employer to even get a taste of a pregame or post-game interview. I may not want to ask a single question, but it would be nice to get a quote, or even a comment from someone and fashion it into a great blog piece for everyone to enjoy. 
 

 

A great example would be doing a piece on Scott Kazmir and why he felt the Rays had the right stuff in Spring Training to go to the playoffs. Or maybe even survey the players and get their favorite cities, or activities on the road and transform it into a nice article for traveling fans. I know in the future, every so often I am going to write a fan-based travel blog on the stadiums I have been to in the MLB. It is more for my enjoyment, but could benefit someone down the road. Okay, lets get back to the issue here.



 


 

 

Blogging is not found to be totally ethical at this time. That  might be another reason that Mark Newman, our MLBlogs.com professor is doing the Jblog school of learning for us.  If we are to put blogging up there with the media, we have to adjust our thinking and educate ourselves to bring reliable blogging to the forefront. We are not held to the copyright or even basic fact gathering guidelines that the media must endure and do daily. We are our own editors and copy clerks, and in that some people become nervous about blogs. We gather, interpret, and send the articles to the Internet without remorse or consequences.  We can harbor frustration and lash out without worrying about the pulling of our credentials or sanctions from the league or team. But is it right that the big guys get all the fun ? I know I got into a Rays staff party after Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series . 
 

I was given a wrist band to attend the open bar event, and I saw people from the Rays executive offices who could not figure out how I got into the event. But could it also be the fact that a blogger  was there and might have dealt out falsehoods or even misconceptions without a PR department there to do positive or negative damage control.  I was there like them to celebrate, but a few people did phrase their words differently to me that night.
 

So why not let bloggers have limited access, or even day-today credentials to help demonstrate and produce articles about the games and team that can be viewed in a positive nature by the Public Relations department that most of us are not looking to do hatchet jobs on the team or players’.  But that might be the reason we have a bias, or a lack of trust towards the blogging community. There are people out there who are waiting for the bad news and pounce like a cat on a mouse. Also the fact of “on the record” and “off the record” comments can be confusing to someone who doesn’t have the experience.



 


 

 

That is a good example for reasons not to give credentials right there. A player joking about a situation could be written as a credible quote, when in fact it was sarcasm or even a comment made in anger at the moment. That is why I love the fact that Rays manger Joe Maddon, and a lot of team have a “cooling off” time before the media hits the clubhouse or interview room. I know personally I got hoodwinked one time on a story by a guy looking to make bulletin board fodder for a team. It never happened again, but I lost a little credibility with myself and that team.
 

 

Just because I want to cover your team does not mean I want a seat in the Press box. I love my seat at the Trop., and would love to casually stroll up there, but I do not want to sit up in the Press box. I would enjoy using the Wifi  so I can rewrite and retransmit by blog throughout the game. To be able to get a printed copy of the pregame notes that other journalists get on a game basis would be a blessing. Even  the option to contact the P R department and request an interview with a player would be a great step in the right direction. 
 

 
ESPN’s Basketball guru, Stephen A Smith also had a comment about blogging, he stated “And when you look at the Internet business, what’s dangerous about it is that people who are clearly unqualified get to disseminate their piece to the masses. I respect the journalism industry, and the fact of the matter is …someone with no training should not be allowed to have any kind of format whatsoever to disseminate to the masses to the level which they can. They are not trained. Not experts.” Okay, here lies the full ruse for all of us. Since we are considered unreliable and unbiased by politics, are we the new evil to teams, or just a fresh alternative to the newspapers and media giants?
 

 

I understand Smith’s comments, I truly do. I have said the same thing when I was younger working on an afternoon newspaper writing human interest and in-depth stories on sports. The fans always have an opinion, that is true in any circle of life, people love to give their opinions. But why is it that in sports blogs we are more condemned, less of a reliable source. I have a journalism background  in the media, but I am still considered to be unqualified. I would think that being in the top 25 on an MLB-supported website for blogging shows I might have some sense of credibility or even popularity.


 
 




But the end result is that teams and the media now have their columnists and staff  ” blogging ” and writing about the team in their daily editions. Is the fact they have a banner above them proclaiming they work for a Fourth Ward credentialed media member make them anymore reliable, or that their opinion is gospel.  I understand that blogging can be viewed as  a new and unreliable source of journalism. I also think personally that most sports bloggers do perform a simple set of journalistic reporting methods, and adhere to principles in their submissions.

 

 

But should they be biased based on age, content or even views.  Do people really read blogs with the same intensity that they do their local medias stories? I would hope that they do. Sometimes we can hit upon issues and also events that happen away from the reporters eyesight. We are the ones in the stands and know if the energy is out of this world ,or it is just the anticipation of the free concert after the game. We are the ones who speak to other fans and team personnel and hear and see things that the Press box crowd never get to know before we write about it. Some of my best blogs and ideas have come after in casual  after game conversations with fans and team members.
 

 

In past few years, blogs have become a media giant that has not been regulated to the satisfaction of the journalistic giants. More and more people are reading blogs, and  some bloggers have been granted the access to cover live sporting and news events.  Blogging is not the true vessel of journalism, and it should never attempt to be. It’s a completely different media outlet that has absolutely nothing in common with the current media sorts. They aren’t the same types of writers, and they aren’t supposed to be. 

 

 
 
Here lies the true evil or good of the news source.  A blog is a blank website entry until we write our words and post them to the Internet.  We can post personal events, activities, or even that trip to your favorite ballpark, but we still are not held liable for a fraction that the media is in real life.  No ethics, no  A P style book, and a basic empty space to be filled by any array of words. In this way, blogging is not journalism, we are not held to time tested sets of rules dictating how to practice the art. 
 

 

The basic reason for journalism is to inform, and also interpret.  But why is blogging not offered the same sources and be able to grow to be a Fifth Ward, or protector of the journalistic integrity of the media. Maybe it already has reached that point, and that is why it is feared vy some. Sam Smith, of the Chicago Tribune  might have a point, “How is it I can work for decades developing contacts around the NBA and traveling regularly around the NBA and talking with the decision makers and some guy in his basement in his underwear is writing something that has credibility?”



 


 

 

But in the age of computers and instant connectibility, can’t we evolve the blogging community to become more accepted and viewed as a possible public relations marvel. MLBlogs.com’s Jblog school is a great start in the right direction for blogging online. With more reliable and more concise blogs, the sky is the limit in the future for blogging and sports.  There will always be blogs that want to tear apart a team or bring out negatives. But should this hurt those of us who can bring insight and afresh spin on a team?  Maybe not in the future, but right now, being in the stands and believing in the team is the closest some of us will every get…………..and I am not fine with that, but I understand the rule and will play the game by them.

 

 

Rays Fan “Love” Fest set for Feb 14th

 

                      
 

Just got the official word from the Rays that the 2009 Fan Fest will be held on Saturday, February 14th from 11 – 6 p.m.  This is the same day that the pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Port Charlotte for Spring Training. I am getting the distinct feeling that the team will actually be reporting to Tropicana Field, then be bused or take their personal modes of transportation down to the new Spring Training site later that day.
 


So here we are within 17 days of  seeing our boys of summer again on the signing stages within the field of Tropicana Field. It has been a long off season, but thank goodness it is getting shorter every day. Again we can mingle and chat with fellow Rays fans about the upcoming season, the team’s trades and signings since October 2007, and most of all bask in the glow of the 2008 American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.


 


 

 

As usual, there will be a Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame induction ceremony in which the 12th class of members will be presented their official team jerseys and trophies starting at 12 p.m. that day.  I know first-hand the honor and the excitement that comes with getting a nod to be on the Wall of Fame. I was inducted in 2004 along with ESPN personality and Rays Season Ticket holder Dick Vitale. I still have the sign from his seat that day and I will be seeking you out in 2009 to sign it finally.
 

If you have never been to a Rays Fan Fest, it is a free event for all ages and will feature events and a live silent auction of Rays collectibles. Also, you will be able to take your picture in the Rays  home dugout and go on a locker room tour to see how beautiful the Rays home locker rooms are, and get a glimpse into Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s office. Do not forget to look on the window of Rays Clubhouse Manager, Chris Westmoreland’s office for photos and great events featuring our Rays.

   
 


 

 

There will be events for the kids as usual, like the home run derby event and the batting cages. Also there will be a timed  90 foot run to see how you stack up with your friends running the base paths like the team. But the event that everyone comes out to, is the player signings. At select times, the Rays will gather in four clusters of signing area to meet and greet the fans for 2009. Among the most anticipated signers is former Phillie Pat Burrell, who the Rays signed in the off season. But as usual, you will have players and coaches from both the major and minor league squad here for sign items for you………the fans.

 


 

 

Every year the event seems to get better and better. Also on tap will be giveaways from the Florida Sports Network ( FSN) and local radio stations, including the Rays new flagship station for game broadcasts, 620 WDAE, the Sports Animal.  Progress Energy and several other sponsors of the team will also be on hand to also provide information and exciting gifts for selected fans.  Behind the baseball diamond will be baseball collections and also the second annual Metro PCS event where you can get an actual Rays player to chat on your phone to someone. There event was so popular last year that the line was so long some people did not get to partake in the event.

 

And as usual, the Rays Sales teams will out in force to help you with selection of Season Tickets, or oyher ticket packages at the event. If you are thinking of buying tickets, but are not sure, the Rays will again be offering the 20 game vouchers that can be used throughout the season for 20 selected games of your choice. This is a great option for the fan that doesn’t know when he might have time ti attend, but wants to support the team.  Multi-colored sheets will be located on seats throughout the stadium for fans to have a gander at the full season or partial season prices for that section. Sales people will be happy to chat with you about any section of the stadium for the upcoming season.


 


 

 

Also on hand on the field will be the 2008 American League trophy won by the team after they defeated the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 to earn the right to play in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. There has been word that people will be able to take pictures of the trophy, but no confirmation of personal photos or standing with the award.
 

 

But as usual, the event is to celebrate a new season and a renewed vigor about our hometown Tampa Bay Rays. I hope you can attend, and I look forward to meeting some of you there to celebrate and chat about the Rays. 

 

 

Baseball Fans in Tampa for the Superbowl

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Kevin Costner is a popular guy around Tampa Bay. He’s a regular at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in Lutz, and last fall, his band, Modern West, composed a rah-rah jingle for the Tampa Bay Rays.


Now he’s plotting his own Super Bowl party in Tampa.


Costner and Michael Strahan will host this year’s Saturday Night Spectacular at 8 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Pepin Hospitality Centre. The event will feature a performance by the avant-garde circus Circue USA; Starship Supergroup, a classic-rock supergroup composed of members of Jefferson Starship, Toto, Survivor and the Dazz Band; and, yes, Costner and Modern West ( in case you just can’t get enough of It’s All Up To You ).

The charity listed as a beneficiary of the event is named for Matthew Tryson Bryant, Bucs kicker Matt Bryant’s 3-month-old son who died suddenly in September. (The charity is still in the works.)

For Individual tickets to the party, visit http://saturdaynightspectacular.com.

Dioner Navarro versus the Rays……….Arbitration 2009

 

 

 


With only two members of the 2008 roster still up for Salary Arbitration hearings, it was recently reported that Rays catcher Dioner Navarro will have his hearing in Phoenix , Arizona on February 9th . At that time an arbitrator will decide between the two totals, one submitted by Navarro’s representative, Kendall Americo,and the other from the Rays representative and then the arbitrator will submit their recommendation for the players 2008 salary for the Tampa Bay Rays in a few days. 


With the exception of Willy Aybar and Dioner Navarro’s arbitration award totals, the Rays are sitting at a round $ 60 million dollars in payroll for 2009. That is a great climb in salary for the Rays. In yesterday’s blog I went over the season for Willy Aybar and my prediction of his chances to increase his salary to around $ 1 million a year.  Rays G M Andrew Friedman better have some cards up his sleeves, or he might get his first loss at the Arbitration gaming table when Navarro’s turn comes up.
 


Today it is Dioner Navarro’s turn, and even thought the catcher lead  his pitching staff by example in 2008, it is well known that Navarro has stood up and taken the lead in the clubhouse and behind the plate for the team. His confidence and leadership have skyrocketed since 2007, and he is finally considered a force both at the plate and behind it for the Rays. Navarro has submitted a proposed salary of $ 2.5 million dollars for the year, while the Rays have countered with a $ 2.1 million dollar figure. That is a $ 400,000 difference, or almost his entire 2008 salary ( $ 412,500 ).

 

 

 

 

To begin with, let’s get to know a little bit more about Navarro, the player before I post my opinion on his arbitration hearing. Dioner Navarro was signed by the New York Yankees as a free agent in  2000. As he rose through the Yankees system there was a day they could see him behind the plate in pinstripes. He was suppose to be the heir apparent to Jorge Posada’s spot behind the plate and was to be with the system for a long time. But as we all know, baseball is a fickle mistress and she can change her mind in a matter of seconds about you and your worth to the club. 
 


So in 2005, after only 5 years in the Yankee system, Navarro was given a second chance as he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers to help behind the plate before prospect Russell Martin would man the dish for the men in blue. Navarro did his best in Spring Training in Florida and actually made the decision difficult for the team in choosing him over Martin as the Dodgers Opening Day catcher. But Navarro got an awful start and soon Martin was there breathing down his neck wanting playing time.

 
 

 

 

So after a period of time, the Dodgers decided that he would not be as adequate as a back up catcher and traded him along with pitcher Jae Seo and outfield Justin Ruggiano on June 26, 2006 to the Tampa Bay Rays for catcher Toby Hall and pitcher Mark Hendrickson. Navvaro came into the Rays lineup trying to prove too much too soon to the Rays and almost cost him his chance to start with the team in 2006. The team brought in experienced catcher Josh Paul, who had played with Rays Manager Joe Maddon with the Los Angeles Angels to push Navarro to that next step. 
 

 

Navarro did not hit well in the first half of the season, only posting a .177 average and had the Rays discussing his future with the team. But during the All-Star break, something finally clicked for Navarro and he posted the third best average after the All-Star break in the American League for a catcher ( .285). He also seemed to be able to execute a solid and hard throw to second base on steal attempts. In 2007, he also lead the major leagues in errors by a catcher with 14. Even with his great second half, Navarro was only able to post a modest .227 average for the season.

 

 


 

 

 But good things were on the horizon for Navarro. In a series against Seattle, Navarro gunned down speedster Ichiro twice stealing in consecutive games.  Navarro also upped his ante in slugging at the plate, posting  a .475 Slugging Percentage, which was the third best total in the majors for a catcher after the break. But in September 2007, Navarro began to experience pain in his right throwing wrist and he batted the rest of the season from the right side of the plate, limiting his switch-hitting skills. 2007 ended on a high note for Navarro, and he finally felt that he could lead the Rays behind the plate.



 

 


During the off season, Navarro participated in the Venezuelan Winter League leading his team with a .312 batting average. Navarro came into Spring Training camp in 2008 with a renewed confidence and a slimmer body as he dropped weight while playing in his home country and came into camp in better shape than before for the Rays. He also knew this was the turning point year for him as Maddon and the pitching staff would be taking their keys more from Navarro and he was up to the challenge. 
 


In 2008, Navarro’s batting average was consistently sitting around .300 the entire year. Only during a small slump in August when he hit for a .187 average and allowed his overall average to fall below the .300 mark, before finally settling in at .295 for the year. Still, that average was only 2nd among American League catcher to Minnesota’s Joe Mauer’s  American League batting title .330 average.  Navarro also had personal bests in almost every category but one. He did not steal a single base in 2008, and was caught 5 times during the year and the playoffs. But his 54 RBI’s were 10 more than he posted in 2007, and his timely hitting did produce amazing results for the Rays.  But his greatest hitting moment had to be in Toronto on May 8th, when he came up in the 13th inning with the bases loaded and hit a Grand Slam off ex-Rays Shawn Camp into the right-center field stands to give the Rays a victory over the Blue Jays.




 

 


In September. he batted .317 , including a career best 9-game hitting streak.  And on September 4th, during the night time half of a doubleheader he tied his career best with 4 hits in the game. He continued to produce for the Rays hitting a walk-off game winning single on September 16th against the Red Sox’s Justin Masterson to give the Rays their 11th walk-off win of the year.  And on July 6th, got notice of his selection to the American League All-Star game as a reserve catcher. 
 


In making the All-Star roster, Navarro became the first Rays catcher and the 4th youngest Ray to ever appear in the mid-summer classic. Navarro came in late in the contest and lead the American League to their victory by getting a 15th inning single that was part of the American League’s winning rally.  He caught a total of 8 innings in the game, and threw out 1 of 2 base runners.  But it was his familiarity with pitcher Scott Kazmir that finally got the win for the American League. Kazmir was the last pitcher out of the Bullpen, and because Navarro was his catcher, it created an instant confidence and relaxed atmosphere to take the game away from the National League in the bottom of the 14th inning.



 


 

 

Navarro also paced the Rays during the playoffs in 2008. He hit a robust .293, with 5 RBI’s and made several great plate blocks to get runners during the post season. He truly showed that he was becoming one of the best catcher in the American League and was learning to take control of this young starting pitching staff. But one adventure on April 4th in New York city almost cost him the chance to lead the Rays. While in Yankee Stadium for the game, Navarro cut his throwing hand on the netting in front of the dugout after slipping on the wet stairs leading to the dugout. 
 

 

He missed a total of 16 games for the team as he healed, but stayed alert and active working with the other catchers on the bench. This adventure almost took his season away from him, but after that he helped lead the Rays to a  record of 88-54 after coming off the disabled list on April 22nd. But that would not be the last time that Navarro would face adversity in 2008. During a televised game in Arlington,Texas on June 10th, the audience and his team mate saw the young, quiet catcher become a team leader. 



 


 

 

During the game, Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza got off to a rocky start and beginning to get angry and frustrated on the mound. During one mound conference the television audience could see that Garza was yelling into his glove out of frustration at Navarro and Navarro stood his ground and gave it right back to Garza. After the inning was over, both players had a short tussle in the landing leading from the dugout, but came out for the next inning and performed amazingly as if nothing had happened. That was the day the Rays got a veteran catcher who was going to lead his team to the playoffs.
 

 

Several members of the team expressed amazement that Navarro went after Garza with such confidence, but welcomed the sight as the killer instinct taking hold of him and sparking him to action. I know I felt that the event actually did more good for Navarro than he imagined at the moment. But from that point on, it seemed that Garza and the rest of the young staff followed Navarro’s lead and it got them into the World Series.  Behind the plate, Navarro also had one of his best seasons as a catcher.

 


 

 

In 2008, he carried a 984 fielding average in 2008, a huge improvement over 2007. And in that span, he did not commit his first error until July 1st, in his 428th chance.  He also was ranked 4th in the American League among catcher for the year, and was 2nd in the AL, and 3rd in the majors throwing out runners with a 34.8 percent success rate.  Among A L catcher with at least 100 games player, only Cleveland’s Kelly Shoppach     ( 36 ), also an ex-Yankee, allowed less stolen bases than Navarro’s 42 in 2008.



 


 

 

So as the statistics and the facts show, Navarro stepped forward in 2008 to help both the Rays lead the American League East champs to the World Series, but also step up as a clubhouse leader. He showed that the promise he had in 2000 was still alive and well in him and he brought it out for the entire league to see both during the All-Star game and in the 2008 playoffs. So is it enough for him to garnish a salary of over $ 2 million a year. In comparison with A L catcher, who have gotten arbitration raises in the last two years, he is in the top of the list.

 

 


 I can see the Rays losing this arbitration hearing, but it really is not a loss for them. They will still have the services of the young rising star in 2008, and he is ready to go for the Rays. I can see an award of at least $ 2.5 million dollars coming out of his arbitration hearing, and might see more if they arbitrator feels he low-balled his offer. Either way, the Rays will get  the playoff experience and confidence to go higher in 2009. Navarro might not be the household name anymore in New York, but in Tampa Bay, he is the shining star behind the plate gleaming and beaming with a smile.
 
 
 
 
 

Willy Aybar versus the Rays………..Arbitration 2009

 

 
 

 

It is only a matter of time before Dioner Navarro is again celebrating. But this time it will be for a arbitration hearing settlement against his team, the Tampa Bay Rays. But he might not be alone that night celebrating as utility player Willy Aybar is also scheduled to go to arbitration with the Rays in 2009. Since Andrew Friedman took over the  player contract reigns  3 seasons ago, he has only been to two hearing for the team. What is surprising is the fact that both of those hearing were for former Rays catcher Josh Paul, and the Rays won both hearings. So for the next 2 days, lets dig into the background and the career numbers for the Rays still arbitration eligible players. Both Navarro and Aybar are seeking substantial raises in 2009, and will go before an arbitrator for the first time to secure their 2009 contracts with the Rays.
 

 

But this year will be different for the Rays. Navarro, who is also a catcher posted personal bests in several offensive and defensive categories, and when compared to recent catchers in the MLB, is considered a bargain even at 2 plus million dollars a year.  Navarro also went to his first All-Star game in 2008, and that just might be a nice piece of hardware to push him over that $ 2 million dollar plateau with ease.. The Rays started the off season with 6 members eligible for arbitration, but 2 were eliminated by trades, and 2 signed a contract with the team before the team’s  12 p.m. deadline on January  20, 2009.



 


 

 

Former Rays starter Edwin Jackson was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Matt Joyce and finally agreed to a $ 2.2 million dollar contract wit the Tigers, with a chance to earn an additional $200,000 dollars through innings pitched incentives. The Rays were not as kind to emotional and energetic cheerleader Jonny Gomes as the team cut ties with the fan favorite and he eventually decided on a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds for $ 600,000, with production incentives of $ 200,000 possible in the deal. Gomes also will have a chance during spring training to secure a left field spot in the Red’s outfield.
 

 

Rays 2008 Team MVP Jason Bartlett signed a contract with the Rays at 10:50 a.m. on January 20th, to just get under the wire of the Rays set deadline to discuss contracts with arbitration eligible players. Bartlett signed for $ 1,981,250 dollars on a 1-year deal, but the Rays control him until 2011. Rays platoon right fielder Gabe Gross avoided arbitration by signing a 1.255 million dollar contract on January 14, 2008 for a1 year deal. Gross will compete with Joyce and Rays new comer Gabe Kapler for playing time in 2009.



 

 

So that leaves the Rays with 2 very important members of their 2008 American League Pennant winning squad still on the outside without a contract. Both Navarro and Aybar can take a huge amount of credit for the surge of the Rays in 2008 based on their newly set career bests. Aybar can also put on a tag of  “always ready” on his resume by coming in and taking charge several times in 2008 due to injuries of star players Bartlett, and Evan Longoria. So let’s begin with the Rays utility man, who played above and beyond his expectations in 2008.
 

 

Willy Aybar came to the Rays in a trade with the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2008 season. He had been a handful for the braves in both injuries and personal situations that almost got him a bad label in the league. Aybar had been obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and went straight into the Braves minor league system. When  the Rays considered Aybar for a trade prior to the beginning of the 2008 spring training season, they had a lot of information and problems to sift through before finally completing the deal.



 

 

After consulting with their scouts and members of their new Dominican Republic complex staff, Tampa Bay  began to really talk with the Atlanta Braves about a trade involving 24-year-old infielder. Aybar’s off-the-field issues, most notably a stint in a substance-abuse rehabilitation program that wiped out most of his 2007 season, could be an impediment.
 

 

The Braves  had suspended Aybar indefinitely in April 2007 after he left the team without permission. He was supposed to report for treatment on a sore wrist that had him on the disabled list to open the season but instead drove from Atlanta to Boston to see his older brother for help dealing with drinking and drug issues. Aybar finally completed his rehab program in August 2007, but a broken hamate bone in his right hand kept him from making it back to the majors.

 

He underwent season-ending surgery and didn’t take the field again until October, when he began the winter-ball season playing for Licey in the Dominican Republic. He has had a strong season in his home country,hitting .339 and posting a .415 on-base percentage in 15 games during Licey’s run to first place in the league’s January semifinal series. So the Rays decided that Triple-A pitcher Jeff Ridgeway would be good enough bait to obtain the troubled infielder.  But the Rays could not have anticipated the trouble in the off season prior to reporting for the Rays.

 

 
 


 

 

Aybar was arrested in February 2008 for suspicion of Domestic Abuse in the Dominican Republic and was initially held without bond. Even though Aybar’s lawyers have told a local magistrate that Aybar’s wife is dropping all of the charges, the infielder was still incarcerated in the Dominican for several days. After finally getting the situation solved Aybar went about getting ready to report to the Rays Spring Training complex in St. Petersburg, Florida for the 2008 season.  
 

 

Then on February 20th it is learned that Aybar, Joel Guzman and Juan Salas are still being detained in the Dominican Republic on visa issues.  The Rays consulted MLB about providing help to get their three players out of the country in time for Spring Training.  Aybar and Guzman were both finally granted their visas and reported to camp in late February. But that was not the end of the frustration for the young infielder. During Spring Training he suffered a pulled or strained hamstring and it put him under suspicion that he might not be ready for the regular season. 
 

 

When camp finally broke in April, Aybar had been given a spot on the 25-man roster and a starting gig at third base as the Rays sent their budding superstar, Evan Longoria down for more seasoning in the minors. With a regular spot in the lineup it looked like it would be Aybar’s year to shine in the major leagues. But 10 games into the season, Aybar was put on the disabled list because of the same hamstring injury and lost his starting shot at third base for the Rays as they finally brought up Longoria to stay for the season.

 

 


 

 

 

During 2008, Aybar started 79 games for the Rays. 40 of those were at third base during the early season and Longoria’s stint on the disabled list after the Seattle series.  On September 17, 2008, against Boston’s Tim Wakefield, Aybar and Fernando Perez set a record by both switch hitters hitting a home run off Wakefield from the right side of the plate. That was the first time since 1969 that two switch hitters hit a homer against the same pitcher in a division play.
 

 

But it was during his stint at third base after Longoria injured his wrist in Seattle that he showed his versatility and power to the Rays. Starting all 30 games while Longoria was out, Aybar hit .308, with 5 homers and 18 RBI’s. During that span he hit 14 extra base hits and also walked 11 times for the team. But it was as a third baseman that Aybar made his number for 2008. Playing those 40 games at third, he hit .297 , with 6 homers and 20 RBI’s for the year. Elsewhere in the field or at Designated Hitter, he only batted .206, with 4 homers and 12 RBI’s. He had made a statement that third base was home for him.



 


 

 

But Aybar also played shortstop on occasion during one of Jason Bartlett’s disabled list ventures and performed a great job in the middle for the Rays. But he did go through a streaky pattern at the plate in 2008, hitting .309 on June 9th, before going 22-188, or a .186 average from June 10th to August 6th. He dropped his average all the way to .222 before taking over for Longoria after his injury.  In his first game at third after the Longoria injury, he hit a career best 2 homers in a game against the Mariners’ and had a career high 4 RBI’s on the day.  His 10 homers in 2008 are 5 more than he has ever gotten in his career.

 
 


 

 

But on the dark side, he did miss a total of 45 games due to his hamstring injury, but later in the season did  go without incident or injury for the rest of the year. So his 2008 average of .288 against left-handers was one of the best averages on the Rays against southpaws during the season. Buy Aybar did save his best for last in 2008 as he went 3 -4 against the Red Sox at home on September 17, 2008 to help the Rays defeat the Red Sox.

 

The unfortunate side of Aybar in 2008, is that 8 of his 10 homers were solo shots and did not help get extra runs for the Rays during the season.  But Aybar was the middle hitter in the June 9th game against the Los Angeles Angels at Anahiem where Longoria, Aybar and Navarro all homer in sequence for the Rays. Aybar did have 13 game-tying or go-ahead runs in the year, and also had 3 infield hits for the Rays. He also put down 3 bunt singles for the team, and was picked 6 times for “Web Gems” by the Rays PR staff during the year for his defensive plays. 

 

On defense, Aybar had a total of 118 total chances on defense in 2008, with 29 putouts and 84 chances. He however committed 5 errors on the season to put his fielding percentage at .958. that is pretty average for a guy trying to fight to get playing time every day.   I do not have a total breakdown of if must of these errors came from other positions besides third base in 2008. That total would put him in the middle of the pack with respect to utility men in the league, most of which make over $ 1 million a year.

 


 

 

 

So is this enough for Aybar to get rewarded with an arbitration figure higher that the Rays suggested contract of $ 900,000 dollars for 2009. Aybar did counter with an offer of $ 1,050,000 for the season, a difference of only $ 150,000 dollars.  The proof might actually be in Aybars’ post season numbers as he went  9 for 23 during the playoffs, posting a .417 average, with  2 home runs and 6 RBI’s in 10 games.  the fact that he hit for 16 total bases and only struck out 4 times in the playoffs might be enough to get him that extra $ 150,000 dollars in arbitration money.
 

 

Aybar has been one of the American Leagues hidden gems in 2008. He can hit, play defense and is a great clutch player for the Rays. I was actually surprised not to hear his name mentioned throughout the off season as trade bait for a big time hitter or reliever. Who knows if Aybar will even make it past the trade deadline in 2009 with the team. His stock has been going up all throughout 2008, and 2009 might be the year he can finally break through that utility player mold and become a starter with someone else during the stretch run.

 

 
 

 

 

Time will tell, but I am thankful that we have Aybar as a reliable and constructive member of the Rays bench.  With a new contract in hand, and a chance to retain his psot on the Rays 25-man roster for 2009, Aybar might just be the happiest guy to report to the new training complex in Port Charlotte. But then again, maybe Navarro will spring for dinner that first night.
 
 

First Annual B J Upton Golf Tourney

 

 
 
 

Just in time for the grand Superbowl events this week, one of the Tampa Bay Rays will be holding his inaugural Golfing Event to aid St. Vincents de Paul charities throughout the Tampa Bay area. Starting tomorrow, the Tampa Bay Rays starting center fielder B J  Upton will host the  First Annual B J Upton Celebrity Golf Classic at the Hunter’s Green Country Club in Tampa, FL. The tournament, which will be attended by many of B J’s Tampa Bay Rays teammates, local athletes and celebrities, will benefit St. Vincent de Paul.
 


The Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides three meals a day 365 days a year for the hungry and homeless of St. Petersburg, FL. They also prove a night shelter and other services for those in need. The Rays and their coaches’ and players’ have volunteered during several events this past year for this charity, but with the economic times being so unstable the Tampa Bay area is experiencing high need for food and shelter this winter.
 


As St. Vincent de Paul is just a few blocks away from Tropicana Field, BJ took an interest in their work in the community and wanted to help. By holding this golf tournament, he hopes to raise money for the hungry, the homeless, and the poor of St. Petersburg. This is Upton’s first venture into the  hosting of a local charity event and hope that the timing with the NFL’s top event can also help his event flourish in it’s first year.
 
 

 

 
 

Registration for the event will begin at 9:45 am on Tuesday with a  scheduled first tee off time scheduled for 11 am. The tournament will be followed by a dinner and a baseball and other sports memorabilia auction that will include signed jerseys, balls and memorabilia from superstars in all sports and will include many items from the 2008 American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays. 
 


If interested in playing in the tournament please contact Latricia Goding at ( 757 ) 532-8701 or ( 727 ) 836-970 or email her at LaGoding@hotmail.com. Pre registration and confirmation would be appreciated to enable the events coordinators to estimate the events capacity before Tuesday. If  you can not make the event, but want to support the charity by submitting a donation, please make checks payable to St. Vincent de Paul and send to:

 

 
                                
                                  BJ Upton Celebrity Golf Classic
                                        C/o Latricia Goding
                                        1620 Sweetspire Dr.
                                        Trinity, FL 34655

My Favorite Baseball Flick

 

With so many  MLB bloggers posting their favorite baseball movies the past few days, I thought I might have to include my personal favorite movie that I have to watch almost institutionally before Spring Training. It is a movie that everyone knows, but might not put on the top of their prospective lists.  I put the German version DVD cover on the top of the blog to show you that this movie has made the move to International, and is not just a US baseball classic.

To count, I have seen this movie only about 6 times this past off season, but the movie never seems to be dull to me. Maybe it is the fact that in each viewing, I sometimes try and  find something new I have not seen in other viewings. But beyond all of that, For the Love of the Game  is by and far my favorite ” go-to ” movie when it comes to baseball.

 



I actually see this movie as two movies in one: A Baseball movie and a romance. The sporting sequences are easily worth the price of admission. Little known fact here, Costner threw every pitch you see in the movie. He did not use a “stunt” pitcher. Every pitch came from his shoulder and there is nor CGI magic or photographic magic to render his image over another pitcher’s body.

That to me spells out the love that Costner truly has for the game of baseball. I know you might think that this is a fantasy for him, and it is, but it is also the type of role that he is born to play. He is that type of guy you can believe in this role. Not like some other sports movies made in the past, this movie you could believe that he was the character, and not just someone propped up on the mound for publicity shots. But then he is also the kind of guy you would root for if he actually had a chance at a perfect game.

As for that second part of the sequence, the romance. I can also see him with a woman as complex and beautiful as Kelly Preston in real life. I got an off chance to meet his wife, by accident at the Rays Rally in November 2007. Costner has great taste in women, I can assure you of that 100 percent.  What most people do not know about professional athletes is that they do have women and people thrown at them all the time.



Most are people who have loved the way you play, but women tend to love the way you fill out your uniform.  I remember when I was playing ball one time in Cincinnati this pretty little thing came up to me asking for an autograph, but the paper already had her phone number on it and I asked where she wanted me to sign since she did not want me to ruin this piece of paper. Well, let’s just say she did not have the autograph showing when I left the stadium parking lot.

That is why the romance scene actually make sense to me in the movie. I know of a few ball players on the Rays that sit in the Bullpen area and check out the stands every game. A few phone numbers have trickled down to the bench, even if they are not wanted by the players. That is a part of life playing a professional sport. Romance is on your own time, and sometimes you have to juggle a lot to even get a simple kiss.

 

Being the Renaissance man that I am, I can dig a good romance. Being a regular guy, I love baseball. While this movie isn’t perfect, it’s a great “compromise video choice” for couples at the video store. As tough as it seems to achieve a balance between the game sequences and the lovey-dovey stuff, director Sam Raimi acquits himself a lot better than most directors would have.

Aging pitcher Billy Chapel ( Costner ) is having one rotten day. He finds out that the only team he has ever played for, his beloved Detroit Tigers are being sold and that he’ll consequently be traded to the San Francisco Giants at the end of the season.  And if that might not derail you enough for one day, he then learns that his girlfriend Jane (Preston) is moving to England to pursue her editorial dream job. (The nerve. ) But the third strike in all of this is that Chapel is scheduled to pitch his final start of a losing season during that same day, and he’s basically in a sour mood.

Through the course of Billy’s preparations and the game itself, the movie flashes back to earlier points in his career. While most of these deal with his romance with Jane, some are memories of distant friendships and unhappy decisions. Granted, the constant ‘back-and-forth’ gimmick may grow a bit tiresome, but by that point you’ll either hate the movie or be completely caught up in it.

I actually took it as reflective moments that we all have sometimes at work. A simple 30 second day dream can sometimes take you out of the dull drums or even elevate your mood and confidence before going into the boss’s office. The moments in this picture that bring the focus to the character are poised around these flashbacks. You get a better sense of the man  because of the sequences you see about his past  career highlights ( Tigers World Series appearance), his regrets and his accident in the off season at his winter lodge.


 
I fall into the latter category, I enjoy that kind of playful reflection into a character and actually find the movie a better picture because it is played out like elements of the game as he is pitching.  Given some of  Costner’s recent films, there’s no real reason to expect this movie to be any good. But it actually is quite an entertaining movie, thanks mainly to the direction of Sam Raimi ( The Evil Dead series, A Simple Plan ).

Whenever Dana Stevens’ (City of Angels) script veers close to true corn, Raimi pulls
up just short, flashes to the present, and presents some fantastic baseball sequences.
I still think that the film crew did an outstanding job making old Tiger Stadium look like Yankees Stadium for the production. And even though they had to do multiple shots of the crowds moving around the stadium and then CGI-ing them into position all over the ballpark, it is a great job of creating the New York vibe in the film.

Costner plays Billy as melancholy and regretful, the very things that cause him so much trouble in his love life. Unfortunately ( and as usual ) Costner never loosens up at all; he’s always stoic and mellow. He offers the typical “Don’t get too close to me or I’ll end up hurting you” role with his usual professionalism, but he’d seem more real if he
smiled maybe twice. Kevin Costner suffers from “Movie Star Syndrome”. When he plays a real character, like in Tin Cup, he shines. While she’s no Oscar threat here, Kelly Preston easily holds her own as Jane, although her character is a bit underwritten for the female lead a romantic film.

What matters most in a movie like this is whether or not you care if these characters have a happy ending or not. There are several things that can ruin this for you: poor performances, a cliched and lazy script, or just an air of what I can only call ‘fakeness’. ( See Fools Rush In or Costner’s own Message in a Bottle for examples of such romantic ‘fakeness’. ) For Love of the Game avoids these romantic maladies ( for the most part ). If Costner and Preston don’t always click as a couple, that’s OK because she’s really beautiful ( I sometime hate John Travolta for getting to her first ).

If the baseball sequences seem a tad forced or convenient, that’s OK because it’s a damn well-made baseball movie. The scenes are pretty fresh. My favorite is still the one where a rookie is playing in the outfield in Fenway Park, and a ball ends up bouncing off his head aka Canseco and the Boston crowd just laugh as he looks up at them. Now I know for a fact that if that happened, it would have to be in right field at Fenway, and they would more than just laugh at or with the guy the rest of the series.

Maybe you just need to be a baseball guy like me who likes winning and happy endings, and  truly loves baseball as much as breathing. But let’s put it this way: Male OR female, if you pick up the box at the video store, and it already looks pretty good to
you, you’ll like it.

 

In between mediocre Hollywood flicks ( I still do not get “The Bodyguard”, but have been hit in the head with the DVD a few times ) , Costner does another baseball movie. As a matter of fact, there is a rumor circulating throughout baseball circles that there might be a Bull Durham 2  being passed around as we speak. And in that movie, you might see Costner actually finally play that manager he was thinking about at the end of the original movie.

While it might not compare in the same breath as some of his other impressive baseball works like Bull Durham or Field of Dreams.  But the true test to if you might love this movie is the simple fact that you want to and can believe that Chapel can evolve during the movie. I actually see this film as a morphing of him from the top flight ballplayer to  finally seeing his life without the game with Jane. And in that last scene you see that he truly can let the game go without remorse or regret. And as an athlete, that is an huge thing.

 



 

As a ‘baseball movie’, neither one of the above mentioned films those can claim to have as romantic a heart and soul as For the Love of the Game  does. ( Another example: If you found the previous sentence really sappy, you probably won’t like this movie, you cold-hearted cynic you. )


Rays Revisited……………August 6, 2008 Encore Broadcast

 

 
 
 
 

Last night I was sitting on the couch just starring at the big screen checking out the cable listing and flipping by ESPN, MTV, VH-1 and the Food Network when I saw a listing that really caught my eye. With less than 3 weeks now until the guys take the field for the first time, I was excited  about the upcoming season, but maybe a dose of the past would get me more than excited for the first official workout on Feb 15th in Port Charlotte, Florida.
 


What I saw on the screen was a Rays encore game from August 6th, 2008 on the Florida Sports Network ( FSN ) against the Cleveland Indians. At this point in the season the Rays had already won 67 games and were on pace to blast the former wins mark of 70 wins out of the water for the season. The energy was getting more and more intense at the Trop., and the team also could feel it in the air.  The night before, the Rays had beaten the Indians the night before 8-4 on 3 homers in the 7th inning. So with momentum on the Rays side, it was time for something magical to happen.

 


 

 

 I settled in with a nice cold beverage and a warm bowl of popcorn and again wanted to get caught up in that 2008 Rays-mania again.  And the action started even before the first pitch that night.  The Rays completed their waiver wire trade for submariner Chad Bradford  from the Baltimore Orioles, and had brought another unique weapon into the Rays Bullpen arsenal. No one was sure what kind of pitcher Bradford would be for the Rays, but considering how he dominated against us with the Baltimore Orioles, we were betting for more of the same out of this tall right-hander. Bradford would be meeting the Rays in Seattle as they began their long road trip.
 
 
 

On the screen I had to relive that first inning where Rays starter Scott Kazmir got lead-off hitter Franklin Gutierrez hit a 3-2 count change up into the seats to give the Indians a early 1-0 lead in the game.  Then after 2 outs, Jhonny Peralta started again on his roll and hit a single into center field. Tonight would be magic for Peralta, but more on that later. Kazmir got Shin-Soo Choo to foul out to Evan Longoria at third to end the inning. 
 

 

Then the Rays made this game interesting as they went to work on Indian starter Jeremy Sowers. After an out, Ben Zobrist, who was playing center field tonight because of a B J Upton benching for slowly running out an out in the 8-4 win the prior night, singled center field. Carlos Pena then came up and Zobrist stole second base on Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach before finally walking  after being down 0-2 in the count.
 

 

Evan Longoria then came up and Rays Manager Joe Maddon tried a double steal on the play and Shoppach this time threw out Pena, with Zobrist sitting on third base with one out.  Longoria then threaded a ball into center that was misplayed by Gutierrez and after Zobrist scored, Longoria  ended up also on third base with one out and the game tied 1-all. Dioner Navarro then came up and got the count to 2-0 before hitting a 2-run homer to left field to give the Rays their first lead of the night.

 


 

 

The second inning went pretty eventful, but no scoring by either team. Cleveland saw a nicely laced double off the bat of Sal Fasano, but both men were stranded on base that inning. In the bottom half of the 2nd inning, the Rays also had a few chances, but came up empty.  Jason Bartlett lead off the inning with a hard hit double to deep right center field, but was stranded on second after three straight hard hit ball right at Cleveland defenders in the outfield.
 

 

In the 3rd inning, Peralta cam up and quickly got Kazmir into a hitter count 3-1, before hitting a long homer to center field to bring the Indians within one run 3-2.  The Indians substituted Ryan Garko out for Andy Marte, and he hit a low flying single to left field. Marte was stranded on base after Andy Gonzalez flied out to Eric Hinske playing in left field.  The only action out of the Rays in the bottom of the inning was a 9-pitch walk issued to Pena. But at the end of the 3rd inning, the Rays still lead 3-2.
 

 

The 4th inning saw both team go 3-up and 3-down as the innings went fast and furious. But in the top of the 5th the Indians quickly came out and Jamey Carroll lead off the inning with a 6-pitch walk. Peralta again came up, and this time got a nice ground rule double to left field that just skirted over the short wall next to the foul pole. That put two men into scoring position for the Indians with no outs in the inning.

 


 

 

Choo then came up and hit a single to right that scored Carroll and Peralta went to third, and still there was only  one out in the inning. Marte then came up and hit a sharp double right down the line and Peralta and Choo both scored, and Marte moved to third on a error by Longoria. Gonzalez then came up and Kazmir issued him a walk on 4 straight balls after going 0-1 on him. Maddon then came out and got Kazmir and J P Howell took the mound for the Rays.
 

Kazmir again went only 4.1 innings and threw 97 pitches in the game.  Howell did come in and get both of the Indians batters in the inning to stop the bleeding and the Indians were now up 5-4 over the Rays.

  
 


 

 

Sowers got 2 quick outs before Gonzalez, playing first base misplayed the ball and Zobrist was sitting on second with 2 -outs in the inning. Pena then walked for the third time in the contest to put two men on base for the Rays.  On the second pitch he saw, Longoria then hit a single to left and scored Zobrist. The inning ended 1 pitch later as Navarro hit into a fielder choice and the Rays pulled within 1 run of the Indians 5-4 in the game.
 

 

In the 6th inning, with Howell still on the mound,  Gutierrez grounded out to second base before Carroll singled to left to put a man on for the Indians.  Ben Francisco then also grounded out to second and Carroll moved over to third on the play. Peralta then hit a double to deep left center ans was 4-4 on the night for the Indians. Carroll scored on the play and the inning ended with the Indians going up 6-4 on the Rays. The Rays went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 6th inning and only saw 10 pitches in the inning.

 

 

During the 7th inning, the Indians went down in order 1-2-3, and the Rays seemed to finally have an answer for the Indians offensive power tonight. Howell went 2.2 innings and got 4 strikeouts on the night for the rays in relief of Kazmir. But the Rays did not capitalize on the situation and only got an infield hit by Akinora Iwamura in the inning. So after 7 completed innings the Rays were behind by 2 runs on the Indians and some in the stands did not see a Rays victory coming today.
 

 

In the 8th inning, Trever Miller hit the mound for the Rays, and  only a  double hit by the Indian’s Gutierrez to deep center was the only hit by either team to go past the infield. Time was running out on the Rays and they only had 3 more outs to try and get this 68th victory of the year. So the 9th inning started with Miller , but after issuing Peralta his 5th hit of the night,  Miller knew he had one more batter until he was replaced by Rays closer Troy Percival.

 

 
 

 
 

 
With Peralta on first base after only one pitch in the inning, the Rays were gambling on a bunt, and Choo did end up bunting to Miller who spun around and threw to second base to retire Peralta.  Percival then came in to relieve Miller and get the final outs of the inning for the Rays.  Choos, who was still on first  base after the fielder’s choice then stole second to put himself into scoring position. Marte then hit a sharp ball to Aybar at shortstop. Aybar double pumped the ball and threw from behind second base to throw out Marte for the 2nd out.  
 

 

On his third pitch to Gonzalez, Percival threw a wild pitch under the glove of Navarro and Choo walked in without a problem to put Cleveland up 7-4.  3 pitches later, Gonzalez hit a long fly to Eric Hinske in left field for the final Cleveland out of the game.
 

 

With their back to the wall, the Rays would end up coming up with one of the most impressive displays of offensive power in the bottom of the 9th inning tonight.  Edward Mujica cam out for Cleveland with the mission to shut down the Rays offense and give the Indians their 50th win of the season. Bartlett, who was the designated hitter tonight then hit the second pitch he saw into deep left field and put the Rays into early position to try and get at least one run back on the Indians. 

 
 


 
 

Hinske then came up and took the first pitch he saw to right field down the first baseline to post two quick doubles on Mujica. Bartlett ended up scoring on the play and the Rays were thinking they might have a chance in this contest.  After 4 pitches, Gabe Gross hit a 2-run 434 foot home run to the base of the right field outfield seats to tie the game up 7-all, with no outs in the inning.

 


 

 

Mujica’s night was over as he was quickly relieved by M Kobayashi.  Iwamura hit a ball to the second base side of first base and Gonzalez went over to make the play. Kobayashi was trailing the play to first base and was just short of scraping his foot across the bag to get Iwamura. With Aki now on first base, the Rays had a chance to win the game. Zobrist then walked on 4 straight pitches and set up a man on first and second with no one out for the Rays.
 
 

 

Pena then came up and homered to deep center field right under the windows of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant for a 10-7 Rays victory. With the entire team waiting for Pena at home, the crowd and the team were both screaming and yelling for Pena. As he neared the plate, Pena’s batting helmet went high into the air as he went into the mob standing on home plate waiting for their leader.  Not lost in the fact that the Rays scored 6 unanswered runs that night without surrendering an out in the inning.

 
 
 



 

FSN sideline reporter Todd Kalas quickly brought Pena to the side and asked him to explain what just happened. Pena was quick to say that he could not even describe what had happen and that the energy was fantastic in the Trop. that day. As he was being interviewed, Longoria tried to sneak up on him and give him a cold water shower out of a Gatorade cooler. But he only got the back of Pena, and that was the only cold moment for the team in that 9th inning.
 

 

I spilled my soda and was jumping up and down on the couch the same way I did in August during that afternoon contest. It was a feeling I was missing during this off season. I needed that jolt to remind me what we are again going to be fighting for in 3 weeks. But the feelings and the emotions of watching that game will not dampen before we have our home opener and we can see both those banners unveiled in the rafters of Tropicana Field. 
 

 

Last night reminded me of the sorrows and the tears of 2008, of hard work and sacrifices by everyone on that roster. But it also reminded me of the team that never quit, and of the guys who daily stepped up and made this team the Rays top winning club in their short history.  And how great it is going to be to again sit in my seat and cheer these guys on as they try and duplicate their feat against some of the toughest competition in major league baseball.
 
 
 
 

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