Odd Thoughts with 30 Days Until Reporting Date
Holy Moly, in the last few days a lot of things have been coming up and out of the Tampa Bay Rays camp, But best of all, as of today, we have LESS than 30 days now until the boys’ hit the clay again in Port Charlotte, Florida for the first time. With this new Spring Training Complex comes new problems for the Rays players for the first time in their careers. This was the last team to report to their Spring Training home in the same town that they call home during the regular season. With the new complex a good hour and a half away from the St. Petersburg, Florida area, the guys might have to adjust to being away from the confines of their soft, warm beds for a month.
That can be a make or break moment for some teams. The aspect of not training locally has a double meaning for the Rays. First they are training this season south of their usual demographic area, and that will invite new fans from the reaches of the Port Charlotte, Naples and Fort Meyers areas to embrace the team and get more comfortable with the Rays. Considering that the Rays are establishing their Florida State League class A team here in the city will also help promote a hometown feel every year for the team as the local citizens get to know and watch their local guys move through the Rays system.
A baseball team to call you own can be a major thing for a city’s pride. It gives a town an outward appearance to the rest of the world as a destination and not just a name on a map. With the Rays playing in the sunny and beach-filled west coast of Florida, it will give people up north and in other regions of the country the chance to vacation during the cold spells and still have all the luxuries of Florida that the Tampa Bay area held for the Rays for over a decade in St Petersburg, Florida. But the best thing it can do is help the local economy and boost a city’s morale and visual focus to the world.
Do not take that lightly, a lot of teams play their regular season games in town that have huge reputations, like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit. Not only do these towns have long history with baseball and middle class America, but they have also trained in Florida for a long, long time. The aspect of escaping the snow, wind and sleet and have a month of warm sun and cool breezes can have a rejuvenating effect on the mind and soul. Sometime you think that teams did it to get their minds set right and with the warm weather you tend to relax and want to work out and your worries tend to drift with the winds.
So here we are within sight of the guys stretching and throwing some long toss, and with that we will probably see some changes in a few of the players physical states, and as always someone will have a different hairstyle or facial hair to show to the fans. It used to be Rocco Baldelli who has gone from baby faced peach fuzz, to a mustache on season, to a full grown Grizzly Adams rendition before finally shaving it in Seattle before his first start in 2008.
But the guy that will probably command the most attention upfront will be Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir. As we know, Kazmir suffered from some elbow problem early in Spring Training in 2007, and in this off season decided to do a bit of working out and building himself up to a point where he was no longer going to be carded every time he went into a new place for dinner or a beverage. Kazmir has put on about 20 odd pounds on his frame, and his arms are showing the bulk of the change.
This can be a double-edged sword for a pitcher. With some added on muscle and weight, sometimes your old release points will seem a bit off and might even bring about a change in your delivery that can either hamper or help you velocity. Now this not to say that he will look like a Blue hulk, but even to consider Kazmir with a little extra muscle means we might be seeing him finally take that last step to wanting to be an elite pitcher in this league.
No one has ever doubted his determination or his desire to be a great pitcher, but in the last few seasons, he has shown a bit of a vulnerable side due to arm situations, that thank goodness have not had lasting effects or brought up conditions that would limit his pitching beyond simple rest and flexibility training. This is a season where the youngest current member of the Rays rotation, and also the most experienced gets to lead by example and maybe finally take that last hurdle to become a household name in places besides Texas and Florida.
Kazmir has the likability and the up front bold and confident nature to speak his mind and back it up. Don not forget people, this is the guy who boldly said during last years Spring that the team would make the playoffs and go beyond. Such a statement at the time was met with snickers and belly chuckles. How could this young pitcher know more than the mass of sportswriters’ and columnists situated all over the green grasses. How could this pitcher, who was limited in his workouts make such a statement when he had to stand by and watch for a short period of time.
The boldness and the bravado of Kazmir was only a glimmer of the teams total personality in 2008, he portrayed and possessed the true spirit of this team in 2008, he was the young gun fighting for respect and nation-wide attention for the first time. Kazmir might not have been the poster boy for the Rays revolution, but he surely held one of it’s best weapon in his left shoulder. So is he the only one showing off season commitment and possible advancements in his career in 2009? He has another young player right there next to him that has been labeled a slacker and will transform to change his 2008 persona into a budding All Star.
People commented a lot last year that B J Upton looked like he was slacking off at the plate by not striding in and using his front shoulder to hit the ball for power. But these are the same people who maybe did not see that game in Baltimore when Upton went down in a heap and was in obvious pain due to his shoulder popping out of joint. It is a problem he has had his entire life, but in 2008, it became front and center to the world. He played the entire 2008 season with a tear in his shoulder and did not make a big deal out of it to the media or the fans.
When it finally came out that his power numbers were absent mostly due to that injury, people looked back and then remembered the incident and cut the guy some slack. It began to feel better about October of 2008, and Upton then went on a bit of a power tear showing that a healthy Upton is a productive Upton. In the off season, Upton underwent surgery to hopefully prevent the same injury from happening again. There are no 100 percent surgeries in life, but this one will help him develop that power stroke again that we saw in the playoffs. It will also help him relax a bit more at the plate and be able to take more pitches, which will make him more of a threat to walk and then steal bases in 2009.
But his progress has hit a bit of a snag, and he might not be able to swing as much as he would like in Spring Training. It is thought that he will be ready a week into the season, maybe after the team comes back from its first road trip through Boston and Baltimore. The prognosis is bad if you want a healthy Upton from game1, but isn’t it better that we have a 100 percent, ready to go Upton a week later than to maybe make him adjust and maybe even re-injure himself before he is ready.
Players’ make sacrifices all the time for the sake of the game and their teams. One week will not cost the Rays anymore than using another player in his spot for a few games, then they will have him back in center field patrolling the outfield for the rest of the season. I can wait for a healthy Upton. I also think this is the year he will awaken and raise a few eyes towards him finally taking steps to the All Star game and becoming that great player we all have seen in him since he first came up in September at the age of 17 with the Rays.
Life will be exciting in Tampa Bay in 2009. The team will strive nightly to bring home wins and also bring back the excitement of 2008. They will try and establish a winning baseball tradition in this area. Along with the joys and sorrows of 2009, we hope to see a few more of these guys take their games to the next level and establish themselves as players and competitors. 2009 is only 30 days away from starting its infancy, but in Tampa Bay, our team is all grown up and ready to take on the world………again.