January 2009

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.

 

 

Maddon’s “Thanks-mas ” 2008 Celebration

 


 


I was sitting here today at the computer in the house with the outside temps hitting the mid 40’s for the first time this season and thought I forgot something this year. It took me a short while, but I remembered that I did not write about the “Thanks-mas” project that Rays Manager Joe Maddon does for the area homeless every year he has been with the Rays.  I can not believe I forgot the one thing that brings the true Christmas spirit into my heart the last few years.

 
 

One of the things I look forward to reading about every year since Maddon came aboard with the team is the community involvement he has with the area charities and his demonstration of his great cooking skills. So in the middle of December of 2008, after his marriage and honeymoon European adventure, he made sure to come back to Tampa Bay and take care of some urgent culinary business.

 

 
 

 


But that is the kind of guy that Maddon is in life, he remembers the community . He is that guy you would want to meet you at the sports bar and watch the game with while eating a few hundred chicken wings while chatting about the little things in the game. I have had the pleasure of talking with him a few dozen times, and the guy it total class from the first word to the last. And he shows genuine passion for the area and it’s fans.

 
 

 


For that reason, I think the team and the community is so lucky to have signed Maddon to be our 4th club manager. Since his first days in office with the Rays, he has had an eye to the community, and had addressed the issue of homelessness and community involvement from everyone from the front office to the players. Rays staffers and personnel like Rays third base Coach Tom Foley, Head Trainer Ron Porterfield, and even Rays Radio announcer Dave Willis help distribute food and smiles during the event.  But the man of the hour is Maddon who truly  knows the advantages he has in life, and shares himself with the community anytime and in anyways possible to give back to the area.
 
 

And with his busy schedule after the 2008 season, you might think he would  shelve the project for awhile. But no, Maddon made sure that the preparations and the products was ready and available for his yearly foray into the kitchen to cook some home favorites for the folks in the Tampa Bay area.  He started this years adventure at the Bradenton Salvation Army where a roomful of anxious folks got to dine on Maddon classics taken from his mom Beanie’s recipe books.

 
 

 


Maddon understands that in the recent developments with employment dipping in the state and financial situation coming up almost nightly, that the community sometime needs a hand up, not a hand out. “Everybody just assumes that people within these circumstances or conditions are people who don’t want to work, or they’re lazy, or whatever,” Maddon said. “There are a lot of different reasons why people end up in that situation. And this economy is showing it right now, front and center. “
 


With the Tampa Bay area struggling, like the rest of the country during the holidays, Maddon understands that this is a national problem, but can only do what he can right now locally to help people understand they are not alone and there is hope upon the horizon. Maddon was quick to note that, “There are a lot of folks out there who would really much prefer having their steady job back and their homes, etc. This is a tough time. When you’re considering the homeless situation, it’s a wide variety of people and a wide variety of reasons why they’re there.”

 

 
 

 

 

This year is Maddon’s third consecutive year Maddon has hosted the event with the help of the Rays organization. As he has done in the past, Maddon prepared a traditional Italian holiday feast. With the help of Rays employees, Maddon shopped for the food earlier in the week before helping to cook and serve it at the Salvation Army. And if the meal was not enough, the Rays  also provided gift packs for the youngsters in attendance, and also passed out Wal-Mart donated gift cards to those receiving meals.

 


As the people began to sit down and eat his prepared feast, Maddon added that, “I’ve been wanting to just grow this thing to the point where we include families and kids, because people don’t even consider the children involved in this situation,” Maddon said. “It’s always about a male. It’s normally a male, 40-plus, or whatever, but it’s families.

 
 

 

 

“So the more we get the information out there, and the more we shed light on the situation, the more people gain an understanding. And I need to be more educated on it myself. But I do know one thing — it’s one of those things that sticks to me and I felt like I needed to do something about it.” 
 


Maddon wanted to add toys to the events this year because of a trend he was seeing in the past of the event where single parents and families were also being left homeless by the effects of the economy.  A displaced family sometimes has no choice by separate and find shelter and food in family members in the area, or even in shelters during the holidays. This broke Maddon’s heart because it sometimes separates the family at the time of the year where they need to bond and be as one. 
 


“Last year, when we went to the Metropolitan Ministries and at Bradenton, it was the first time we were exposed to families and single moms,” Maddon said. “And, my goodness, it’s tough, because you know where you came from, you know where you grew up. And you know what you’ve got right now and you see what you’ve got. And for me, it’s a tough thought.”

 

 
 

 

Maddon does not hide the fact that this situation gets to him deeply and sometimes he ends up in tears because of the suffering and the agony that these families must endure year round.  Hosting these events is just a small bit he can do for the community, but it is a very well received holiday tradition started by a guy who is just starting out on his own family this past off season. One of the participants in this year;s event was his new wife Jaye, who sported a “Rays” Santa hat and was all smiles as she helped serve the meals this year.

 

 


 

 

Ever since the movie, “Pay It Forward” people seemed to have taken a kinship to that phrase and made more of an effort to help people. I know I do, but is people like Maddon who can make a small gesture like these fantastic Italian fests that can be the fire that gets someone to the next level and back on the road to fulfilling his own dreams and goals in life. But during the holiday season, you want to believe in miracles and that everything is possible in this world.

 

 

 

“When I get over my crying, in a quiet corner somewhere, it’s great,” Maddon said. “The kids are appreciative. The parents, the people are very appreciative. And also the people that work in these places. We’ve really built a pretty good relationship with them also. And furthermore, it’s Christmas, man — it is the best day of the year.”  So there you go America. This is the kind of man you voted as the American League Manager of the Year. I can only say he is my candidate for “Man of the Year” based on everything he does on and off the field for the Tampa Bay Rays.



I want to than Barry Jones, one of my Facebook friends who is also the Rays Community Relations Coordinator and posted these great pictures of the event.

 

 

I Would Love to See Michael Young with the Rays

 

 
 

When Jon Daniels signed Michael Young to a five-year, $80 million extension two years ago, he said he hoped it would help the Rangers keep his good friend Mark Teixeira. Big Tex is long gone. Michael Young could be on the way. Young revealed over the weekend that he asked to be traded after a breakfast with Daniels a few weeks ago turned ugly when, Young said, Daniels gave him an ultimatum to move to third base

 

As a brand new third baseman, Young probably wouldn’t be the league’s best any time soon. And whereas Young committed 11 errors at shortstop in 2008,  heir apparent to the shortstop position, Elvis Andrus committed 32 in the minors. Throw in second baseman Ian Kinsler’s error totals, and the Rangers might give up even more runs this year than they did in 2008. 
 
 

I personally love it sometimes when great baseball players are asked to change from their All Star positions because they are blocking the path of some upstart rookie ( Elvis Andrus ) who is the future star of the franchise. But what is most upsetting in this situation is the fact that Young is being viewed as an afterthought even though he is  one of the best at his position in the American League. I have heard a few people say that current Texas Ranger Michael Young is being a baby for complaining about moving further to the left in the infield and now playing third base for the team. Hey, the guy has established himself on a team that fights to hit .500 every year. He has moved before for a player, and might just consider it a way for the team to get him close to the dugout, then out the door in Arlington.

 

 


 


Now let me see here, the guy was an All Star at second base and he was holding up Ian Kinsler from being able to play in the major leagues, so he moved over to shortstop to make the transition and the  second base spot opened up magically for Kinsler to move  faster through the system to the majors. Now that is the sign of a great team-first attitude guy. He moved over to another position to get another big bat to the lineup. That is the kind of guy you want on your squad, right?

 

So  here we are in 2009, and the Rangers are again trying to convince Young to move a little more to his left and become the team’s third baseman. Is this an indication that they are going to give up on the Hank Blalock at third experiment and hope that Young can find happiness at his third position while he has been in the majors. Now I agree that the first time he was a perfect gentleman in moving over “for the good of the team.”  But it seems like this time he has every right to not want to move over for another guy again.


Something to take into consideration here, Young has played a total of 8 innings, not even an entire game at third base in his career. So by asking a player to switch his position just before the season, or a trade happens is rare, but in Texas there is a previous action that can be deemed for the move. People tend to forget that 8 years ago, when Alex Rodriguez agreed to switch to third base to be traded to the New York Yankees, he also was not familiar with the position for an extended time. Considering he was a better defensive shortstop that Derek Jeter, A-Rod did the team oriented thing and manned up and switched to the Hot Corner.


If you remember right, the Rangers kind of forced out Rodriguez late in the off season, and the Yankees made his position switch a prerequisite to the trade.  Why would you move a guy who has been an All Star at his position for the last 5 years to another more skilled and reflex-oriented position and bring up a 20-year old rookie who has only played below double-A ball. Let’s not forget that when A-Rod was traded for Alphonso Soriano, it was thought that Soriano would be the Rangers everyday shortstop, and not go to the outfield.  Because Young switched to shortstop at this moment makes the idea that he is not willing to move an inaccurate statement considering his history in the past. Or could it be that when Young signed that $ 80 million dollar extension, there were already seeds planted to make this move and were not brought up in the negotiations at all. 

 


 


Come on, the guy is an All Star at his position and is considered one of the best shortstops both hitting and fielding in the American League. Put the fact that he finally got some real recognition this past season by getting his first Gold Glove and you want to move him? Are you serious here guys. You want to bring up a rookie and pop him into the shortstop position and are not aware of the growing pains you are going to place not only on your first baseman, but on your entire team concept.
 

Well, I have a solution for you Texas. Since you do not seem to know what you want to do with Mr. Young, why hot trade him to the Tampa Bay Rays for a few missing pieces in your lineup and pitching staff.  I am here to offer you  a starting pitcher who has already pitched at the major league level, a infielder who can play third base, and an outfielder to make the deal an all around success. Now with the starting pitcher, you have a nice selection of ex-Rice star Jeff Neimann, tall reliever/starter Jason Hammel, and Mitch Talbot. 
 

All come with their own fantastic positives, but all have been to the big club level and need  more appearances to make their presence know in this league. With your young staff, such a luxury of getting a young savvy starter  would help Ranger G M Nolan Ryan move quickly to transform his rag tag pitching staff into a well oiled machine. I am willing to throw in a great up and coming infielder who I think will be a great star for you this season. Willy Aybar might be under arbitration right now, but the guy has pure upside and is one of the most underrated infielders in the league.

 
 


 


His ever increasing power and his ability to play the hot corner give you an instant solution to the “Young” situation, and he can play there for years until you develop or sign a young third baseman in the future. I do think tho, that Aybar could be your man for the next 5 years in that spot. And to round thing off, let’s include a young outfielder with a lot of intelligence and major league ability. Justin Ruggiano is a outstanding fielder who is currently stuck in his own logjam at the major league level with the Rays. By acquiring this young star, you can have an ample fourth outfielder who can play the corner positions without a problem.
 

If this is not enough, we might be able to include or exclude or even piece together the right package to get this deal done as soon as possible. Just be sure to let me know where your thinking is on the matter and we can respond accordingly.
 

Seriously here, this deal would be a total plus for the Rays. Hey, we might even be able to just give up a pitcher or Aybar and then give them current Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett as a throw in so they can trade him to Boston or another team looking long and hard for a able shortstop. This is not to say I think that Bartlett is not the shortstop for the Rays, but if you can make a major upgrade like this, in a year that will be faced with more pitfalls and holes than in 2008, then why not make the move.

 


 

 

To put an All Star like Young next to a young gun like Evan Longoria makes that side of the infield almost the Great Wall of Tampa Bay. The power solution is almost off the charts here too. Think about the offensive firepower of such a move.  You could have 3 guys who could hit 30 homers in a season in 3 of your 4 infield positions in the tightest division in baseball. And you would not be paying New York Yankee prices to get that offensive firepower. Young is on the hook for $ 16 million a year, but wouldn’t the offensive fireworks be worth the effort?
 

And let’s not forget that Young would be flanked by Akinori Iwamura, who might just be coming into his own in 2009 at second base. After 1 season getting used to the position, Aki might just propel his defensive numbers again skyward and prove to be the next All Star for the Rays at his position. And combined with his speed and clutch hitting, makes a great pairing in the lineup. 
 

But the biggest piece is that Gold Glover at first base for the Rays. Not only is he a offensive power, but he was a defensive marvel in 2008 to help Bartlett look even better on paper by leaning, jumping and blocking everything throw within range of him.  Not only can Pena do it with his maple bat, but he is the best option at first base in the American League. Think of the nice defensive numbers Young could put up with a guy who sacrifices his body for the ball and will go above and beyond for the team and his team mates.

 


 
 

Seriously think about the possible firepower and the defensive grip such an infield could have on the American League East.  Every team in our division has a solid third baseman, but non have a shortstop except for the Yankees who could even reach the potential of Young.  He could come into a situation with this team to be a major winner in a short period of time. Young has never been to the postseason while with the Rangers. If this trade were to somehow manifest itself, could he be holding up a nice gleaming piece of hardware in October?
 

I know this is pure fantasy. The Rays have already committed about $ 60 million to their payroll for 2009. Such a trade would have to be a wish list offering by Andrew Friedman to owner Stu Sternberg as the final piece of the puzzle to repeat and take that next step in 2009. I can not see Friedman make that kind of request first off, but then again, he has pulled off a few under the radar trades that have been internal blockbusters to the Rays. In comparison, if they would pick up Young, the Rays would be paying him the almost the same as the combined salaries of left fielder Carl Crawford and Pena ( $ 16.25 million).  But in all reality, Young might end up in the American League East, but not with the Rays. There are a few teams on the horizon who could scoop up Young without a problem with their 2009 payroll.


 

 

 

You have to know that by now,  Red Sox G M Theo Epstein is burning up Nolan Ryan’s cellphone minutes offering what he can to fulfill a nice trade to bean town. But the fact might be that Young might not want to go to Boston. But the nice part of who ever gets Young is that he is signed until 2013. That give a huge amount of security to whoever takes his contract. It might mean a set $ 16 million is gone every year upfront, but it also gives you the stability to know what you payroll will be even after your last game in 2009 for the following year.
 

I would love to see such an infield in Tampa Bay, but I know that it is illogical for Friedman to pull off such a great trade. The money involved with Young would be the deal breaker, but just for a moment, think of the offensive juggernaut that would make the Rays coming into 2009. It would put the team firmly up there as the team to beat in 2009, even without consideration of their young and talented pitching staff.



“Rickey” Sprints into the Hall of Fame

 

 
 

 

For the next few days people all over the country, including sportswriters will be writing about their favorite Rickey Henderson moments either in stories or in his wild quotes.  Henderson along with former Red Sox Jim Rice were selected today for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Now I will not be there, but you can bet I will as close to a television set as possible during the Induction Ceremonies to hear the speech that might either shock or amuse baseball for the rest of the year. the biggest surprise to me is the fact that he did not garner more than 94.8 percent of the vote. Now I did not think he was going to challenge Tom Seavers 98.8 percent, but thought he might hit the 96 plateau without a hitch.
 

 
So why did some people not put him on their ballot? didn’t this guy change the way we look at fast hitters and basestealers in the MLB? Come on people the guy who is the career leader in runs scored and stolen bases by a huge margin is nothing more than a scrub to some BBWAA voters. Maybe some of the voices are right, maybe we need to tweak this system a bit and weed out some of the naysayers who look more at off the field actions than on the highlights accomplished on the field.

 



 

 
Is there any argument that Henderson  because of his power and ability to get on base ,could change a games complexity with a  single hit or a walk? Do you think that this one guy could be responsible for the induction of speed demons in the lead-off spot and not buried down in the 7,8, or 9 slots in a lineup? And do you think that Henderson might have viewed himself like a cartoon character to actually not be bothered by the critics and naysayers who thought he was a destroyer of the game?
 

The answer to all three questions is  a huge YES.


Henderson did change a pitchers’ mind when he was on base. It brought  into the pitchers’ mind that he could steal a base on any pitch. I did not matter if it was a 100 mph Fastball, change-up, curve, it made no difference to Henderson, any pitch was a good pitch to steal a base.  His power made you respect his plate discipline enough to not try and finesse a pitch up there, or you would be getting a fresh ball from the umpire.   Henderson went to the plate 10,961 times in his career. 

 

 

 


During his career from 1979 to 2003, Henderson had 3,055 hits, which in its own right should be a good consideration for the Hall of Fame. He hit 510 doubles and  66 triples. I think those numbers might have been a lot higher if he did not have a great thrill in running and stealing bases on any pitcher that took the mound. I could see him pull up at first or second base just so he could play that cat and mouse game with a pitcher then steal the base on him and give him that grin from the bag.

 
In his career he got 4,588 total bases.  He stole a grand total of 1,406 bases, and only got caught 335 times during his career. That seems like a low mark to be caught stealing, but Henderson made the act of stealing a base into an art form during his career. Think of the totals he would have left with if he had been active in the MLB, even at his advanced age. 
 

 

 


From 2000 on, he only appeared in over 100 games with one club. While he was with the San Diego Padres in 2000, he appeared in 123 and still stole 25 bases. But during his last year in the MLB, Henderson was mostly a bench player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and only made it into the game 30 times during the season. He did however steal 3 bases that year in his limited role.  But have to remember, not just did he have a few gray hairs by then, but defenses were setting up for him knowing he was in the game to get into scoring position and maybe score the winning run for his team.

 


 

 

I truly feel that the arrogance of stealing a base, along with is knack for sliding around the tags is the reason players like current Tampa Bay Rays speed demons Carl Crawford owe their careers to Henderson. Before Henderson made it an offensive weapon to truly steal a base with gusto, Lou Brock was the only other base stealer to command as much attention when on base.  But Henderson did something none of the other base stealers ever did, he tried to bait pitchers into balks and mis-throws to the plate based on his ability to steal and to take an edge off the team’s pitching game.

 

Henderson changed the lead-off position. Here was a guy who had 2,190 base on balls during his career, and could bring a new dimension to the game with four pitched balls. Every walk he was ever issued looked more like a doubler to him because he could steal a base and get into scoring position at any moment. Henderson also could hit the long ball. Lost in a lot of the translation into his base stealing is the fact he did hit 297 home runs in his career, mostly from the lead-off position. So as you can see, New York Met’s shortstop, Jose Reyes also owes a big round of applause to Henderson in making it fashionable to get dirty stealing bases in the MLB.




 

 

Now for why Henderson always talked about himself in the third-person. Some people have commented that it was a defense mechanism devised by someone for Henderson because it made his character on the field different than the man in the clubhouse after the game. It left him into a secondary world to rant, rave and just be “Rickey” while he wore the team’s colors. This might or might not be true, but if you really think about the image of being able to put your work suit on and take the punishments and the abuse while you are working, then shed those insults, opinions and wild lies when you toss them in the clothes hamper to be washed, it make a bit of sense.
 


Who among us would not relish a secondary personality or a persona that we could use at work and toss aside and forget the troubles and strife in a moments notice. This might not be the true reason for his third-person antics, but it does make good conversation for the next few months. But the antics and the stories concerning Henderson are many and both base in legend and in folly. 
 


But one of the best ones I ever heard was from a Oakland area sports story that told the story about the Oakland A’s front office finding a financial mistake in their bookkeeping. It was  showing that the team had a million dollars more than it was suppose to have in it’s coffers. After a series of check and double checks, it was concluded that they had only one conclusion to this error. A member of the Athletics management went down into the locker room and found Henderson and asked what he did with the $ 1 million dollar check the team had issued to him. Henderson remarked that he put the check under glass. Never cashed it, never even thought of the down the road consequences of the actions, just did what “Rickey” would do. 

 


 

 

I have a story of my own about Henderson based in 1984. I was a newly drafted snot nosed kid who came out to see a friend, Scott Hemond who was catching for the Oakland A’s at the time. I was in the locker room after a game and saw Henderson right before he left for the night. He was dressed to the nines, and I strolled up and introduced myself as a friend of Hemond’s and just wanted to tell him what a joy it was to watch him play baseball. 
 


He remarked how ” Rickey was happy he liked his personal style of play, but that Rickey did not like  to associate with friends of catchers’.”  It took me a second before I started to laugh and then remarked that was why I like “Ricky”, he was wihtout a doubt not predictable or even in the same league as the rest of us.   I saw him a few hours later when we went out to dinner, and Henderson came over and finally shook my hand and sat for a few moments talking to Hemond and some other players’ at the table. 
 


He finally got up and remarked to me, ” I hear you are fast?” I told him I could hold my own between the hash marks and on a  440 yard track. And then Henderson remarked,  ” Guess you never tried to push the bases around.” I only remarked that I played baseball from about 6 years old to college, but was never a demon on the base paths like him. Henderson in perfect “Rickey” form just muttered, ” There is only one Rickey, and he is leaving the building.”  I let out a huge belly laugh and pointed to him acknowledging his comment.

 


 


He was right, there is only one “Rickey.” No matter if you loved the way he played, or hated him for the flamboyant personality. The ability of this guy to get into a team’s head mentally made for a really exclusive career.  Thank goodness he is not the only one getting inducted on that Summer day. After his speech we will all need time to collect ourselves and get serious again. I do not know who will introduce him at the podium, but maybe he should research his stolen bases and find the pitcher he stole the most bases off of in his career.
 


The moment that guy steps to the mic, I will be glued to the television set watching him. Not since Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr gave their speeches when inducted have I waited for such a moment to happen. Those two men gave memorable speeches for different reasons. But you know that the world, and the entire baseball community are awaiting the final appearance of “Rickey” in all his glory and gruff. It will be an historical event that you do not want to miss.  Got to remember to TIVO that introduction.



 

ESPN Article with Q and A on Maple Bats… FYI for MLBloggers

I was out of town and forgot to write an article in advance for Sunday. Here is a reprint of an ESPN.com article I found interesting with a Q and A session about maple bats. It was originally reported by Amy K. Nelson of ESPN, and I found the results to this question very interesting. Hopefully you will enjoy this frank discussion on the bats that have made more than a few MLB players sweat during 2008.  In the coming weeks, I will try and write a 3-part series on the maple bat controversy and the steps being taken to fix this before 2009.



In search of more information about maple bats, we spoke to players
and two experts in the industry — Chuck Schapp of Louisville Slugger
and Sam Holman, owner of The Original Maple Bat Corporation — for
their opinions on the ash vs. maple debate.

1. When were maple bats introduced to Major League Baseball?

It’s
tough to know the exact date, but Holman says Joe Carter first used a
maple bat in a major league game in 1997. Holman, a carpenter from
Ottawa, Canada, first met Blue Jays scout Bill MacKenzie in a local
watering hole where Holman was asked to make a maple bat. By the end of
the 1996 season, Holman and McKenzie went to the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx
and got Fernando Seguignol
to use a maple bat. Holman thinks Seguignol is the first professional
player to homer with a maple bat. By the next season, word about maple
bats had spread and big leaguers with the Blue Jays asked for a
shipment. Schapp says he first noticed players using maple in 1998, and
a year later, Louisville Slugger began production of maple bats.

2. Who makes the maple bats used in Major League Baseball?

MLB
has licensed 32 companies to produce maple bats. Louisville Slugger and
Rawlings are two of the biggest. Holman’s company sells maple bats
exclusively.

3. Where does the maple wood come from?

It
depends on the company. For instance, Louisville Slugger has its own
wood production company, but also outsources with a few different
timber companies, most of them in the New York/Pennsylvania area.
Holman uses a company out of the Catskills, which he says produces
better quality maple.

4. What are the benefits of using maple over ash?

It’s
a very subjective decision. Most players prefer the feel of maple over
ash; ash bats tend to soften faster than maple. “It gets soft and the
grains separate,” Schapp says of the ash. But those players who like a
little more give in their bats, or what Schapp terms “flex,” usually
prefer the ash. “For me, it’s a feel thing,” said Angels second baseman
Howie Kendrick,
who has used an ash bat his entire career, except in 2006. “I like how
the ash has some give.” Holman said that Barry Bonds once told him he
preferred how the maple didn’t bend, so he didn’t have to compensate
with his swing as much as he did with an ash bat.

5. Are the characteristics of a maple bat any different than those of an ash bat?

Yes
and no. Holman says there isn’t a larger hitting area on maple bats.
Schapp adds that the specs are exactly the same for both woods and that
neither one has proven to hit balls any farther than the other. But
Angels center fielder Torii Hunter
said the only time he used a maple bat (for the month of April this
season), he felt the difference in how hard the maple wood made contact
with the ball. “It feels like a car crash at full speed,” Hunter said.
“It’s like you killed the ball. [They're] a little more powerful.”
Kendrick said his ash bat starts to splinter toward the head after just
a week of use, and he uses maples exclusively for batting practice,
because ash tends to break faster than maple. The irony is that maple
bats last much longer, but when they break, it happens with far greater
violence.

6. How many major leaguers use maple bats?

It’s
difficult to know an exact number, but Schapp says that 65 percent of
Louisville Sluggers sent to major leaguers are maple. Hunter said he
tried maple for a month because of all the hype. He quickly went back
to ash. “It’s a mental thing,” Hunter said. Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore
said he used ash for a year, but prefers maple. Sizemore said he
couldn’t really identify a difference; he just preferred the feel of
maple. Because of the recent controversy over the breaking of maple
bats, some players have decided to switch back to ash. Schapp said a
few months ago Jason Bay
decided to go back to ash in part because he wanted to readjust in case
maple bats were banned. “I hope they don’t decide to get rid of them,”
Sizemore said.

7. Who are the most noteworthy players using maple?

Manny Ramirez, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Giambi are a few. What about the balls that Josh Hamilton hit at Yankee Stadium during the Home Run Derby? Those were hit with an ash bat. Sizemore, Dan Uggla and Chase Utley were among those using maple for the contest.

8. Why are there more maple bats breaking than ash?

Part
of the reason is the wood itself, Schapp said. Wood is made up of cells
that identify its texture. Ash wood tends to be a longer, leaner piece
of wood. “Ash is longer than maple while maple is more rigid,” Schapp
said. “When [maple] fails, it’s catastrophic.” Each piece of wood also
contains a percentage of water. The water content usually ranges from 6
to 12 percent in a typical piece of wood at the lumber yard. All
Louisville Sluggers — both maple and ash — have 12 percent water
content. Schapp says Louisville keeps it at 12 percent so the bats
won’t dry out. Some players speculate that maple has a tendency to
break violently because maple is a harder wood. Holman, whose bats
contain just 5 percent of water, suggested that the quality of many of
the other companies’ bats might be subpar, thus increasing the chances
of breaking. “I don’t know what the other manufacturers do,” Homan
said. “But to me the quality of wood is not there.”

9. What would it take to make the maple bats safer?

Companies
are researching that now. Louisville Slugger is currently working with
its chemical vendors to find a way to enhance the bats’ durability
without adding weight. Holman said chemicals have nothing to do with
it, and what Major League Baseball needs to do is invest in paying for
better wood, which would raise the cost of the bats.

10. What is the difference in cost between a maple and ash bat?

The
difference is around $15-$20. Louisville maple bats are currently sold
for an average of $65 each, while ash sells for $48.

11. What is the process for ordering bats?

If
baseball were to ban maple bats, Schapp said his company would need a
minimum of six months to adjust. Schapp’s already submitted his 2009
estimates to the timber companies. He says November through January are
his busiest months; that’s usually when the teams place their official
orders for the bats needed in spring training. As for the players, they
normally have their team’s equipment manager place orders whenever they
need more. Sometimes, the players will speak directly with the bat
company representatives, who frequently visit baseball clubhouses.

Josh Hamilton’s “Homecoming”

 

 
 

I was sitting in front of the big screen last night flipping through the channel selector looking for something to watch about 9 pm last night. There was the usual movies, the movie channels had some interesting things, but nothing that stood out and made me select them. But then I strolled by the ESPN channels and saw a  small notation that only said, “Josh Hamilton.” Nothing else , just his name.
 


Well, if anyone knows me, they will know that Hamilton is someone who has always peaked my interest. From the moment in 1999 when he was selected as a Tampa Bay Devilray with the first selection in the amateur draft, to the moments during Spring Training when I would chat with him in the Rays Namoli field house between practices, Hamilton has always had my attention. So I clicked to ESPN2 hoping it was a real programs and not one of those preselected clips shows that really do not do the guy any justice.

 

 

 

 

But what I came upon was Rick Reilly’s show “Homecoming”. I had never seen the program before, but after the first 5 minutes, I can tell you I will try and find it again. The program started out with a huge panoramic view of the gym at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. That is the true heart of Hamilton country. The show began with a short monologue before Josh came out to a huge ovation from the crowd of friend, fans, and well wishers to this very special person.
 

 

It started with the story about how he was hitting homers at the age of 7 in his local little league games and how his older brother really was the beginnings of his career. Because his brother was older, he pushed Hamilton to play to the level of his team, and Josh delivered, even at such a young age. The show quickly moved  and contained a lot of great moments that Hamilton looked genuinely chocked up about sitting on that white stool.  there was a great segment about his High School baseball manger and Hamilton’s relationship and how they were as close as brothers, and how Hamilton, or “Hambone” was his best friend.

 


 

It quickly got into his selection by the Devilrays, and moved to the fact that it was Hamilton who wanted his parents there with him at all his games, and not the fact that the family just quit  work and became his touring company. I did not know the fact that he asked his parents to stop working, and that he would take care of everything since they sacrificed so much for him growing up. I was always under the impression that they were trying to protect the investment, and did not know the personal side of the story. It made me think more about him as a man, and how that gesture was really so sincere and almost unheard of from such a young guy to make at that point in his life.
 

 

It quickly got to the accident he was involved in coming back from a Spring Training game down in the Sarasota. He talked about how he saw the dump truck the entire time coming up to the intersection and reached over and pulled his mom to him before the  huge truck hit his smaller pickup truck. Hamilton spoke about the fact his parents went back to North Carolina to heal while he was still experiencing back problems and was alone for the first time in his life. The fact that he was without the two guiding points of his life lead to his experimenting and trying new things that would lead him down a rough and dark path over the next few years.
 

 

He talked about the first time he went into a parlor for some ink, and how it was one of the places that he felt safe, so he stayed there often during his rehab. Hamilton talked about how the ink on current Ray Carl Crawford got him interested in maybe getting one for himself. Hamilton talked about how a lot of the first tattoos’ had devilish and evil connotations and how some of them featured inkings with “soul-less eyes”. He talked about the night he went and did the three evils that changed his life. 

 


 

 

His “friends” at the parlor took him to his first strip club ( 1 ) where he had his first beer ever ( 2 ), and he also later in the night tried cocaine for the first time ( 3 ). From that point it was a fast and furious decline that both the Devilrays and some of his team mates saw in him. He did not talk a lot about it, but I do know of nights in Ybor City where he was the last guy to leave the bar, or parlor after a long night of celebrating his  new life. Because he was still rehabbing his back and a few nagging injuries, the drugs and the extra amount of time just sitting around doing nothing pushed him in the wrong direction.
 

 

Then came his suspension by the MLB after failing his drug tests. Now some people think it might just have been one test, but it was truly multiple tests that he had failed, and the league stepped in hard and suspended him for the year. As you might imagine, Hamilton spoke about how at that moment it felt like he might never play the game again. His marriage was starting to feel the effects of his activities, and no he was no longer associated with the one thing that kept him busy and clean. At this point in the interview, it kind of made me uneasy, not that I have even hit the kinds of lows or even tried anything remotely like he was talking about. 
 

 

But he went on about how the drugs slowly snuck into his marriage and how he once stole his wife’s wedding ring and gave it to a drug dealer for some drugs. The positive side of all of this is she went and got the ring back from the dealer. I have to say, this woman is a strong force in his life, and he is very lucky to have her in his life. One of the thing he mentioned at this point was the short season Rays franchise the Hudson Valley Renegades. He talked about how he also gave another dealer his championship ring from that season for drugs and really regretted the move. 

 

 

 

 

At that point Reilly introduced Eben Yager, who before today I only knew as one of my Facebook friends because of a friendship with someone else. He is the current General Manager of the Renegades, and he presented Josh with another championship ring on the stage. Hamilton quickly took off his All Star ring and replaced it with the newly acquired Renegades championship ring.  At the end of the show in the last few moments, you saw Hamilton hold up the ring, on his finger to the camera, and you could see the pure joy on his face about the ring.
 

 

I then got to the point where Hamilton was down in Clearwater, Florida working for Winning Inning, a local christian-based baseball school and facility working daily and having to earn time in the batting cages. No one knew that he was there at the time besides the staff and students of the academy, and might have been the best thing for him as he was trying to come to grips with his addiction. The Rays did have a small segment in which Hamilton talked about the phone call from Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman telling him about his reinstatement to the team. At that point they moved quickly to the fact that the Rays tried to sneak him trough the Rule 5 Draft, but the Cincinnati Reds pulled off the draft move of getting in front of the Florida Marlins so they could select Hamilton.

 

 

 

 

It moved quickly to the first at bat in Riverfront Stadium for Hamilton and how on that day he got 3 standing ovations during the game. It was then that his former Reds manager Jerry Narron, and his brother, Coach Johnny Narron were introduced and Johnny spoke about being Josh’s shadow during the season. He spoke on how Hamilton never had any money, credit cards or even checks so the temptation could not come back to him. And that the two of them were  just that, shadows of the other on the road that season. Reilly asked Hamilton who was Narron’s shadow to keep him from temptation, and johnny quickly spoke out “Jesus” as the shadow that kept him from taking advantage or keeping things from Hamilton.

 


 

 

Then  it spoke of that day in Yankee Stadium during the Home Run Derby and how he had asked Clay Council to throw his batting practice pitches three weeks before the event. There was a great heartfelt segment where the two of them talked about the adventure and Hamilton talked about how his B P was so sweet and perfect for his upper cut swing. It then had an outdoor scene set somewhere in Raleigh at a baseball diamond, and heard that first pitch come off the bat and knew it had found the grass beyond the fence. If you have ever listened to Hamilton hit the ball, I mean really listens to it, it does have a unique sound when it strikes a ball. It might be the type of bat, or it might be the wrist action the last second before impact, but it is a sound you will remember.
 

 

After that, the show quickly got to a point where you knew the journey was about to end tonight. The show had come through the horrors and the bottom rung of the ladder and showed his strive to reach the top again both in baseball and in life. Another segment near the end that caught me by surprise was with his wife. It spoke how she went to her pastor asking for help and guidance during Hamilton’s dark moments and got simple advice to just forgive him. It is amazing sometimes how a simple phrase or action can sometime see the solution to life’s problems. She spoke of the promise that she would talk about it once, and never bring it up again.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the show there was Hamilton exposed to the world. If you were a Devilrays fan back in the early days of his career you found a like-ability and sense of greatness out of this guy and truly wanted him to succeed in baseball and life. I have to say, I am not a family member, or a close friend or ally of Hamilton’s, but the strength and the distance he has come in such a short time is truly a miracle. I have to say I do check out his stats almost daily during the season to see how he is doing in Texas. 
 

 

The guy will always have a place in my mind from the first time I talked to him, to that last day I spoke with him in the clubhouse before he met the camera outside the Spring Training complex. You see that genuine strength and power now in him that if you ever saw him in 1999 or 2000, you saw in his eyes. He is again on his way to maybe setting numerous records before he is done with his bat. I truly hope that someday we can see him again in a Rays jersey. I know he would get a standing ovation that has never been seen in the Trop. Every time he has come up since he came back up into the major leagues, if I was in the stands, during his first at bat, I stood and clapped for Hamilton.
 

 

Some people just strike you personally for different reasons. Josh has stayed in my mind for the raw talent and the enthusiasm he has for the game of baseball. And beyond the past and the future that holds a lot of great moments for Hamilton, the fact that he is smiling and again playing his first love……….baseball is the true reason you got to love the way this guy plays………..Truly.

 

 

 

 

Gator Nation…………….Alive and Stoked Around the Globe

 

 

 

 

In the next couple of days you might see me not talk about baseball for the first time in about a year. I am on a high right now that I have not felt since, well 2006. I am still up after watching one of the closest National Championship game I have ever seen in person.  I did not even try and talk to Florida AD Jeremy Foley about field passes to the game, you could see his head about to explode from pressure three days before the game. Yes, I  was sitting in the stands for that game, in which the stands did have a nice mixture of blue and orange to combat the crimson and white of Oklahoma’s rabid fans.

 
 

 

 

 

So here I am sitting here in a dark hotel room in Fort Lauderdale 3 hours after the game ended anxious still and full of bottled up energy. But I am not thinking of going out to the Candy Store and watch a Wet T-shirt contest, or even stroll down to the Elbow Room to celebrate with the masses out in the parking lot here at 4 am. I am about to head out to the beach with the other vibrant Gator faithful to howl at the moon for a few hours. There is nothing like winning a championship. I have had the honor of winning 2 straight SEC titles, but they got stripped away by some coaching misconduct and player allegations in the middle part of the 1980’s.
 


But tonight it is all about Gator Nation and its followers all around the world. There are serious fans in the wide reaches of the earth who have come from this small hamlet in Florida to take on the worlds greatest challenges. Now having put on the blue and orange, I can tell you the tradition and the honor that overtakes you before you head out into the stadium. But the combined chemistry and total focus of this Gator team can only rival my other favorite team in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays. Both squads had small missteps in the year and came out to become champions in their own rights. Florida had a huge misstep in a loss at home against Mississippi that took them out of the Top 5 in the football polls until late in the year.

 

 

 

 
 

 
The Gators were the team to beat before that stumble, and after the loss, they were the team to fear the rest of the year. Florida never trailed at halftime in any game in 2008. And they only came out on the losing side once, that debacle in the Swamp that Florida’s charismatic QB, Tim Tebow took as his own personal downfall and vowed that the team will unite and play like a champion the rest of the year. This is a guy who is above and beyond the scope of the usual college football athlete. He has the faith and the insight to call out his team to adjust and return to greatness after adversity. He has the athletic ability and power to carry this team on his back if need be to achieve that goal.

 


 

 

So here I am sitting near the Atlantic Ocean looking out at ships way off shore and thinking about that fact that I have just seen the promise of  Gator quarterback/ positive thinker Tim Tebow take this team upon his back late in the fourth quarter, one more time and lead them to a 24-14 win over the Oklahoma Sooners. But what I find more satisfactory is the fact they did it against ex-Florida defensive Coordinator Bob Stoops, who helped orchestrate their first title in 1996. The game was hyped so big here in Florida to be a showdown of the Heisman winners’ for the past 2 seasons. That part of the game lived up to it’s hype and went into the heavens.
 


Both quarterbacks, both Tebow and the Sooners accurate rocket thrower Cody Bradford put on a beautiful show behind center tonight. I can tell you that the Sooner offense would have driven me nuts as a player due to the fact that the QB comes out of behind center and gets a second read of the play to be executed by the sideline and upstairs coaches. In my old mentality, I would have jumped the line and tackled him the first time he did that in a game. But that is just me.  Both teams were held under their team’s usual destructive ways throughout the first half of play. Only a lone scoring drive by both team kept them from being blanked out in the first half of play. Both squad were pushing, pulling and wrecking havoc the only way they knew how tonight, but came up just short.
 


So at halftime the nation and the world settled back and listened to a former Sooners coaching great, Barry Switzer talk about what they must do to win the second half and the game. But little did Switzer know that Tebow was holding court in the Gator locker room and pledged to his team the win, and that he wanted them to also rise up and be one to bring another crystal football to the hallowed trophy case in Gainesville. The team responded with gusto playing a more up tempo second half before finally starting to pull away a bit from the Sooners.

 


 
 


It was not like either team was either letting down, or pulling ahead of the other, the game just began to fall into the Gator’s hands. Much like a few interceptions and thrown passes, the game took on a surreal feel for about 5 minutes. After blocking a field goal attempt, it seemed that momentum was shifting fast back and forth between the team with no one taking it reins until Tebow made a huge run up the middle for a first down and then began to trash talk and point at one of the Sooners’ corners. Then a anti-Tebow thing happened, he drew a penalty of 15 yards for his outward display at the opposing player, but you saw no one get upset at Tebow.
 


That was because if it was not for him, the Gators might not even be in this position. After the play he caught his composure and lead the team to their only field goal attempt of the night. On the sideline after coming off the field you saw former Gator QB, Chris Leak go up to Tebow and pat him on the back and whisper a few things into his helmet ear hole. You might remember that Tebow was a freshman during that last championship run, and was backing up the versatile Leak at QB that season.  You know something was whispered to Tebow that this was his team, and even if he made a mistake tonight, the team was behind him 100 percent.

 

 

 
 


But what this game really showed me was how far the Gator team has come since my 1984 squad won the first ever SEC title in Florida football history. Now everyone knows we had that title taken away from us for a few recruiting violations ( not my me), but by the Head Coach Charlie Pell. In hindsight, the violation were not huge enough to warrant taking that title away, but at the time there was a call for the cleansing of college football.  Today’s squad are educated even before the recruits sign on the bottom line on what they can and can not take, use or even associate themselves with to considered eligible for play in games.

 

 

 

 

 
The evolution of Gator football has been huge since I last put a set of pads on in 1984. That season we did not get to go to a bowl game because of the violations, but finished by winning 9 straight games to post a 9-1-1 record on the year.  After that came the era of “The Old Ball Coach” Steve Spurrier and the school first title in 1996 after defeating our biggest rival Florida State in New Orleans’ Sugar Bowl.  Then  came the Glendale Arizona moment in 2006 when the “Urban Warfare” Gators took apart Ohio State to claim Urban Myers first title with the team. 
 

 

So does this mean that the Urban Myers era is considered the best in Florida history, or is this sign of things to come for a few years out of Gainesville. Could this have been Tebow’s swan song as a Gator, or will he come back and try and win a third title in 4 years, or leave for the riches and fame of the NFL.  There are a lot of questions being asked less than 12 hours after the team won their second title in three years. But one question that is not being asked is if you believe the Gators are not the best team in college football in 2008. I know there is a team in Utah that will debate this with me for a few months, but the fact is, the best beat the best for the title, and we will have to wait until next year to re-visit this controversy.
 

 

So with that let me leave you with 2 Florida Gator classic cheers and songs for the 2009 Fed Ex BCS Champions, the University of Florida Gators!!!

 

 
We Are the Boys:

We are the boys from old Florida

F – L – O – R – I – D – A

Where the girls are the fairest,

the boys are the squarest

of any old state down our way. ( Hey!! )

We are all strong for old Florida,

down where the old Gators play.  ( Go Gators!! )

In all kinds of weather,

we’ll all stick together. for

F – L – O – R – I – D – A

And I would be committing a major blunder if I did not include another famous Florida Fight Song to my blog.


 

The Orange and Blue” 
 

So give a cheer for the Orange and Blue

Waving for-ev-er

Forever Pride of old Flor-i-da

May she droop nev-er…

We’ll sing a song for the flag to-day

Cheer for the team at play!

On to the goal we’ll fight our way for Flor-i-da.

 


 

 

 

I have to go rest now. Gator Nation is alive and well in the Everglades regions of South Florida today. And there is a adult somewhere in the far reaches of the world cheering for his Alma Mater and knowing that it is great to be a Gator. 

 


 
 

Ken Griffey Junior Adds a New Role to his Career……. Diplomat

 

 

 


If there is one player I wish we could have found space and money for him in Tampa Bay for 2009, it has to be the guy who will go into the Hall of Fame having played for my second favorite MLB squad. With the  Tampa Bay Rays recent signing of  former Phillie Pat Burrell, it ends that secret hidden deep in my heart to see Ken Griffey Junior play and succeed in a Rays uniform. If you really consider what this guy has done in such a long and productive carrer, he is a one of those guys who I believe will be a  sure thing first ballot Hall of Famer, without a question.  I was justing looking forward to watching that swing 81 games a year at the Trop., but I will just have to buy the MLB Package and watch him play maybe in my second city, Seattle again in 2009.

 


From the days at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, where he was a twice voted the best baseball player of the year, to at 19, being the youngest player in the major leagues. The guy has always been at the top of his profession. And to even imagine that he had the chance to do it side by side with his dad is beyond words. Now that is something that I find truly amazing to me. I know I would have loved to play baseball or even box against my dad, or his uncle as a kid growing up, and  would have really learned how it was to play the Philly type of street/ parking lot football and baseball. But Griffey Jr. got to do it along side an All Star dad, while playing for the team that made his dad a star, the Cincinnati Reds is truly amazing to me.

 

 


He is one of the first player to ever be on a major league roster at the same time as his father and playing in the MLB. And if that was not a huge event, he also got to finally play along side his dad after his trade from the Mariners to the Cincinnati Reds. Both Father and son did appear in several lineups that season. And his  outward enjoyment of the game of baseball is clear to see by anyone watching him before, during and after the games. For the art of baseball with all of it’s simple parts and complicated segments never seemed to get him down or stress him out at all. He has always been that care free and smiling figure on the sidelines signing autographs or posing for photos with the fans. He respects the game and pay homage to those before him for letting him have the honor of playing this great game.

 


He is the essence of what you want your teams’ professional baseball player to be, and what you might want you own kids to become someday. He might go out with the boys’ to nightclubs and dinner while on road trips, but he also has been clean and clear to others that he is happily married and loves his lifestyle. The Daily pressures and expectations might take a toll on him, but  doesn’t show the effects or even the worry because when he hits that field for Batting Practice, he tries to convey a sense  of fun and pranks, almost child-like play, and  does not take anything serious around the ball field before the first pitch of the game.  How can you not like a guy with that kind of idealistic joy.  And how can he not be on your list of people in baseball to admire and respect.

 


And people tend to forget he was the youngest player to ever hit the 350 home run mark. He also still hold one of the best  career batting average marks ever in All Star play by hitting over .571 in the mid summer classic. And if that was not enough, the guy also won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves as a center fielder in the American League. He also hit a homer in 8 straight games once during his career, and  has hit a home run in every ball park in the American League, and still will be in uniform to maybe hit one in 2009 in the new Yankee Stadium. Depending on what team finally signs him in 2009, he might still also have a chance to hit a home run in the New York Mets new dig, Citi Park this coming season. If he does sign with the Mariners, he will not get a chance in Inter-league play to go beyond the Mississippi River in 2009. But if he did resign with the Chicago White Sox, he as an option of going back to Cincy during the Inter-league series form June 19-21, 2009.

 


But Griffey Jr. is entering a new phase in his playing career. Ever since 1995, when he broke his wrist while with the Mariners, small injuries and mishaps have taken him down a road he hates to admit might have derailed a lot of his career. Simple injuries have cost this guy a chance at maybe beating Barry Bond’s home run record. He was for years the heir apparent to the crown before his string of injuries cost him at bats and chances at homers over the years. In 2008, an errant foot locker left out in the area near his locker caused him to suffer a knee injury that plagued him the entire season. This off season he has taken measures to correct the injury and should be ready by the Feb. reporting date to again pratice and regain strength in the knee.

 


He is about to enter a second career of sorts for a few months in 2009, maybe setting himself up a bit with a life after baseball motivation.  I could see him maybe in a political role somewhere down the line, but did not think it would go hand in hand with his baseball career. Well seriously folks, for a few years there he could have ran for mayor of Tacoma or Seattle and won by a landslide vote. But recently, United States Secretary of the State Condoleeza Rice named Griffey as a Public Diplomacy Envoy. In accepting the honor, Griffey Jr. is challenged with a new goals and set of parameters. He is entrusted with the act of spreading the values of the United States by helping to spark interest  in America and  in our culture. Griifey also will share this honor with former figure skater Michelle Kwan and  former television star, Fran Drescher, better known for her role and voice as ” The Nanny.”



Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., who was appointed in 2007 to the same post will accompany the newly appointed envoys when they begin their adventures in January with a trip to Panama Since Griffey Jr. has played both on the U S Olympic and World Baseball Classic teams for the United States, he seemed like the logical and most visual player to ever be considered for the post.  ” Public diplomacy must be a dialogue” Rice said recently after a meeting with Griffey Jr.  “This dialogue must extend to every citizen in every country, especially to the young people.”  Because of his still boy-ish looks Griffey Jr. will convey a sense of All American values and be a great example of the type of person an American youth should use as an example for life. Griffey Jr. is excited about the position and is looking forward to his missions for his country.

 


Well-known athletes and celebrities, who exemplify the best in their sports and professions, and as a individual citizens, are appointed by the Secretary of the State to be American Public Diplomacy Envoys.  This special envoy not only reaches out to youth though sports and communications, but promotes the best aspects of American culture and democratic principles. So our latest diplomatic weapon to show people the values and great traits of our country has 611 home runs and has just reached 39 years of age. Griffey Jr is only the 3rd athlete to ever hold this position with the U S government.

 


He also got an honor a lot of people never knew about unless you lived on the west coast of America. In 1989, Ken Griffey Junior got to taste a chocolate candy bar named after him, and it sold over 1 million bars before they ceased production of the bar. Just another great fact about this very like-able baseball player. He has had countless  video games produced and released with his likeness and name upon the packaging. Who can forget the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 games with his name on them that we all played for hours in our family room around the country.


 

 


So what does the future hold for the great Griffey Jr in 2009?  You would think that during the World Baseball classic he would be doing the tours along the sites to promote and entertain the ideals of this great country, while maybe serving in some role for the United States team. But nothing is guaranteed for him in 2009 with the W.B.C. But what might be of concern now is where will he be reporting to after the classic is over in 2009? In a recent article online, it was stated that Tiger’s center fielder Curtis Granderson called Griffey Jr about his time in the 2006 WBC and asked his advice if he should play for the team.  It is not known what Griffey said to Granderson, but the player accepted a invitation to play for the U S team today, and he might be one of  the heir apparents to Griffey’s center field spot on the squad.

 


Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Burrell, it seems that he will not be near home in 2009, unless the Rays can find a way to bring him on board at a reduced price, or maybe shave off some payroll in other areas of the team. Now personally, I would have been honored if the guy had chosen my Rays as his team for 2009. I think the guy is all class, and I got to meet him briefly before the ALDS becuase of an old friend who is playing for the Chicago White Sox. I found him refreshing and totally accessible, and he signed a ball for me without me even asking him for an autograph. We chatted a few minutes before he had to get into the locker room, but it  will remain as one of my best baseball moments. It will sit right along side of photo memory of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris  both holding me for a picture at Al Lang Field when I was young ( 1961 ).



No, the likely destination for Griffey Jr. might, and should be the place where it all began for him. He should be allowed to return to Seattle and help the Mariners during their rebuilding years and to finally play his last game in the stadium that he helped get built in the Emerald City. He has had that town in his mind ever since they drafted him in the First Round in 1987. He finally made it to the big leagues in 1989, and has not looked back since then. He was a part of the Mariners first post season berth, and still has a soft spot for the team’s ownership and the town in general.

 

 

I know I would love it if he was still playing in 2015 ( doubtfully, but I can dream) when I retire to Seattle to see this great player stride to the plate in his last at bat, in that last home game. I know it will be an end of a era of sorts not only in Seattle, but also in baseball. We might never see another player like Ken Griffey Jr. in our lifetime. There are a lot of ballplayers I grew up with that I see at Legends games and charity events throughout Florida during Spring Training, but the games I alsways have looked forward to were the contests against the Reds and the Rays to watch Griffey Jr. just hit the ball during B P . His troke is so pure and seems without effort at times. It is a wonder to just stare at the bat and watch it go through the zone to make contact with the ball.


 

 


Just as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig mesmerized and produced a baseball love affair  for my dad and millions of other fans who never even saw them play some 80 years ago, Griffey Jr. will be one of the true baseball icons we remember when we are sitting on the porch remembering the greatness about baseball in our old age. And you know the one thing I will remember most about this great guy…………..that boyish smile that starts at BP, and grows until the last out of the game. I have never, ever seen him get angry or even get ejected from a ball game, even though it  might have happened a few times in his career. 



Griffey Jr. deserves to be a first ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame after his career.  I think the guy has a few more productive years in him before he might even think about hanging up his Nike spikes and spending the rest of his life in Orlando, Florida with his wife and kids. But, you never know with baseball. In all probability he will be signed before Spring Training and report as usual to begin another great year on the diamond. And to see him having fun in the sport that has given him and us so much to always remember.


 

 

Are the Rays Finished Adding Pieces for 2009?

 

 

 

So after the latest signing of former Phillie Pat Burrell to the roster, are the Tampa Bay Rays going to stand pat for the 2009 season, or is now when the real magic is going to happen for the team. You want to believe that the Rays holy trinity of Stuart Sternberg, Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman have not closed the coffers and still might have a few tricks up their sleeves for 2009.

 


You have to believe that the recent activity by the team is not the total resetting of the roster. That there are still a few deals sitting in the corners gathering a bit of dust, but not without merit here. I see the roster as 75 percent complete, with some Spring training signing recently maybe pushing it to 80 percent done for the season.

 

 


With the signing of former Marlin Joe Nelson before the New Year, the Rays did more than just get a qualified reliever for their Bullpen. They got an upgrade to the Trever Miller or even Gary Glover or Scott Dohmann additions in 2008.  Nelson can carry a bit more of the load than either of those three guys by actually closing games if called upon to do so for the Rays. And with the health of Troy Percival basically being that only he knows EVER if he is healthy, and even then still wants to pitch in games.

 



There is a time when being a  strong competitor can actually weaken you ball club. If you need any examples of that, just look to the mound conversations that Rays Manager Joe Maddon had with Percival during the season in Boston, Oakland, and even at Tropicana Field. You have to admire the bravery and the commitment to your team, but the sacrifice has to be mutual. You do not give up yourself if you also upset the balance and the strength of your Bullpen, which Percival did for a short period of time twice in 2008.

 

 


Some people have already called out the  signing as Pat Burrell as mediocre at best for the Rays. I do not understand how you can even signal such a sign to the nation when the guy has been consistent with his bat almost his entire career. And also has been a key member of his last squad and not a replacement or second tier player. The signing of Burrell will help protect Evan Longoria, and it is a role that Burrell knows well from doing the same job with the Phillie’s for years.

That is right, Burrell’s numbers might be a bit weaker than you might want, but after years of sitting in the order behind Ryan Howard and giving teams the option of who to pitch to in games, he might actually see more of those meatball pitches this season because of the two guys in front of him. With Longoria and Carlos Pena penciled into the lineup in front of Burrell, he will see more pitches, and considerably more fastballs than he has seen in recent years. And to top that off with the fact that Stat guru Bill James thinks that with Burrell added to the power grid in Tampa Bay, the Rays “Big 3 ” might top 100 homer in 2009.

 

 


But what about the other holes in the Tampa Bay armor that need to be addressed. The two mentioned above are upgrades on the 2008 model without a doubt. But people are still pointing to right field and saying that the team did not get better there in any shape or form. Again, that is your own perception, and to forget about either outfielders’ Gabe Gross or even new Rays Matt Joyce is an insult. Both of these guys could be great parts of the Rays puzzle in 2009. Both are great professionals who work hard and hit the ball with power.

 


You never know, Joyce could surprise everyone on the Rays coaching staff and come away with the starting nod in Boston for the first game. I actually loved the trade for it’s youthful side, plus the added feature of Joyce played well against the Rays in 2008, so there is a track record of the guy rising to the occasion. If this was to happen, then you have someone like Gross who could fetch a good level player in return in a trade, or even maybe two if a team is desperate for a great outfield addition.

 

 


2009 will have more surprises before the guys clean out their Spring Training lockers in Port Charlotte. I actually think that there is about 2 more trades that need to be addressed even before the beginning of the season.  Another guy who might not be a member of the Rays when they head to Boston is reliever Chad Bradford. He did exceptionally well in 2008, but his over $ 3 million dollar salary might be a problem more than a solution in 2009.

 


Bradford is a extremely unusual pitcher in his style of pitching and also his way of inducing those ground ball outs for the Rays. I remember when he played for the Baltimore Orioles, I could not imagine watching his pitches come in and actually rise towards you instead of break away from you. The adjustment and the concentration needed to hit that kind of pitch is extreme indeed. So Bradford might not have a different home in 2009, but it is not like the Rays do not have options in the matter.

 

 


We actually have a guy invited to Spring Training who might equal Bradfords ground ball numbers, and if the both make the roster, it could be a two-fold gift for the Rays. Randy Choate has played in the American League before, and is another guy who throws sidearm with gusto. Most of the Rays fans might remember him as a member of the New York Yankees, who was a leftie specialist, and also a great ground ball pitcher. With both of these guys on the Rays roster, the Rays defense will see more possible plays in the infield, which translates into more possible outs by that stellar group.

 

 


So the Rays might need to hope that Choate makes the squad to boost that percentage up to 90 percent prior to the 2009 Opening Day. One piece that I still fell might be missing from the Rays actually might be their own device right now. Rocco Baldelli has been approached and swooned by a few clubs this past off season, but they have not gotten him to sign. I think the Rays need to open the coffers just a small bit and sign him as soon as possible. You know he will give the team a bit of a discount because of everything the team has done the last few seasons.

 

 


Truly, do you think if you matched an offer from Cincinnati or even Boston, Rocco would not sign with the Rays?  You have to know that the team must have been thrilled to learn the news that the first prognosis of his illness was incorrect. The Rays must have been jumping for joy in the aspect that Rocco maybe could become an everyday player again in the league. And if that happened, doesn’t that also open the door to him taking right field as his own and truly pushing the naysayers away with gusto that the Rays upgraded themselves in every position that was weak in 2008.

 


The Rocco possibility is just that right now, a possibility, but it gives a new light and a new direction to the team that was not there a few months ago. The only weaknesses on this team to the eye was at Designated Hitter, Right Field, and another possible “lights out” reliever. With the past two signings, and the possible addition of Choate as a left-hander to the Bullpen, the team might have improved  even more than in 2008.


 

 


And it is what the Rays will need to do in 2009. They must improve in a few areas to even try and make a run at a post season bid again in 2009. The Yankees have loaded up and will have a few kinks during the season as always, but then Boston is retooled in their pitching to stop people in their tracks in 2009. The AL East will be a battleground in 2009, with maybe the winner of the division only winning 90 games this coming season. 

 

 

 

Also do not forget that Toronto and Baltimore will have a lot to say about who gets the crown in 2009 for the American League East.  All 5 of the squads in this division know that it is “put up, or shut up” time in the division. Teams are beginning to look at the Rays method of success and will try and build their team in a shadow of that image in 2009.  It is not a question of “Who will be the Rays of 2009″. It is more a question of, “Are the Rays batter in 2009?”  If the answers come out right, there will be more champagne celebration in our future. And a lot of second guessing by other teams.

 

 

 

Hooray for the Rays…We got Pat the Bat !!

 


The last time Tampa Bay Rays fans saw Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell was right after his double off J P Howell to put himself in scoring position to score the Phillie’s winning run in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series. But Burrell did not get to have that honor as Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel sent out pinch runner Eric Bruntlett, who slide into home after a few spotty hits to produce the winning run, and the World Series title for the Phillie’s. This plays upon a well known fact that Burrell loves the pressure of a situation, and is usually the first person to act upon it for the betterment of the team.

 


So you can imagine the turn of events that have brought this consistent and powerful bat to the lineup for the Rays. Burrell was thinking that the Phillies might offer him arbitration in 2009, or at least make an attempt to try and sign him to a small deal. He had played his entire career in the Phillies system and was loved and adored by many of the Philly faithful. But in his spot in the lineup pretty much helping protect Ryan Howard the last few seasons, he has seen his number pretty much decrease, but not below acceptable levels.

 

 

 

Now, with a new ring on his finger, and a future bright in the Florida sunshine, Burrell is happy to be a Ray. Considering he still owns a home in Clearwater was not a factor in the negotiations, but it did not hurt matters at all. Speculation has been brewing for months that he was the target out of the corner of the Rays managements’ eye. Because remember, he was also the guy in the 2008 World Series who was fighting a monster slump,  and like Evan Longoria and  Carlos Pena, came alive in that last contest. He has earned the reputation in Philly as a guy who can get you that timely hit or run to set you up to win a game all by himself.

 

 


Burrell was a combined 0-13 before hitting that monster off the wall in center field to set himself up at second base. I can guess without a doubt that he wanted to pull a ” Roger Dorn” and refuse to come off the base because of the significance of that hit. Burrell had to know that the next run would win it for the Phillies, and he wanted to be the guy to cross that plate. But instead, he got the front float for the World Series parade. So there he was perched on the Budweiser/ Clydesdale wagon with his dog, Elvis waving to the millions of adoring fans…………for the last time.

 

 


Now this signing by the Rays pushed the estimated payroll for 2009 to about  $ 60 million dollars. This is the highest payroll of the Rays in their short existence, but will it be enough to get them back to the playoffs and beyond in 2009.  Considering Statistic guru Bill James had predicted that the 3-pronged attack combination of  Longoria, Pena and himself is projected to hit a staggering 100 homers between them in 2009.  And also considering that James also has put current New York Yankee Mark Teixeira’s home run total at 36 for the season, Burrell’s  2009 numbers of 32 home runs look like a huge investment in power for the Rays.

 


Considering that Teixeira’s 180 million dollar contract comes out to about $ 22.5 million per season, the 2 years at $ 16 million dollars that Burrell signed for look like a major bargain for the Rays. Tex’s will have to make those 4 additional homers in 2009 a spectacular event to even equal Burrells possible damage in the Rays lineup. This signing also effectively gives the Rays a huge right-handed bat that actually hits lefties well.  But considering that Burrell has been called slow and prone to slumps during the season, is this a wise move for the Rays?

 

 


Burrell was once pictured in a poster by the Phillies players with the caption, ” Man or Machine”.  That brings to mind the physical presence and powerful ability of Burrell to work to extremes to perfect his craft. With the Rays, Burrell will not have to have his glove handy to go out and play right field for the Rays, except maybe in the Inter league games in a National League park. But the one trademark of Burrell during his entire Phillie’s career has been consistency.

 


The guy is pretty predictable at the plate, with a few surprises, but mostly you can pencil him in for a .250 average for the year with about 100 RBI’s. With that, you can also estimate about 31 homers and a huge bunch of strikeouts.  The Rays might be putting Burrell in the number 5 slot right behind Pena, who is also prone to the strikeout during the past few seasons. But on the plus side, Burrell has been up in the top of the pile in walks the past few seasons in the National League. In 2008, he was 3rd in the NL with 102 walks.

 

 


But another plus for Burrell, which has become a staple of the Rays type of players is his involvement in the community. Burrell will again be one of the Rays players’ who will be giving to the Rays Foundation with a slice of his contract, but that is a minor set back to him. He is a well recognized team chef in the Phillies clubhouse and has been known to volunteer his efforts to charity to cook or even entertain at cooking events while in Philly.  This will be very useful as the Rays faithful are just beginning to truly understand the art of baseball tailgating. Hey Rays Foundation, maybe a Pat Burrell cookout after a Spring Training game might be a great Fan Fest auction item………just trying to help here.

 

 

 


Most people view this signing as a guy who fell into the Rays hands via their first and second most desired selections coming off the board with other teams. I actually had him up in the top 2 for the Rays to even consider for 2009. I had Jason Giambi at the top slot, while Burrell was slotted number 2 based on his consistent number’s. Either player would be a huge plus for the ever evolving Rays franchise. But Burrell is a guy you can pencil in every night knowing that he will bring his “A” game every night.

 


The Phillie’s fan will get their first look at Burrell in the Rays jersey during their Spring Training game at Brighthouse Networks Field in Clearwater on March 12. It is also a “Thristy Thursday” game and will have an extra factor of being one of  only 3 games played by the Rays in Pinellas county before the season begins in April. The other two will be played against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin on March 1st and 10th. And with the Rays not retaining Rocco Baldelli, the number 5 jersey is currently available for Burrell if he wants to keep the same uniform number he has had for years with the Phillies.

 

 


But do not fret Phillies fans if you can not make the afternoon game on March 12th, because you can again cheer or jeer at Burrell in your home ballpark in Philly as the Rays usher in the last two Spring Training games up in Philadelphia on April 1 and 2 in Citizen’s Bank Ballpark.  So, the signing of Pat Burrell will be felt in the Rays clubhouse for the next two seasons. This is a great signing of a guy who can bring some consistent hitting to the Designated Hitter spot in the Rays’ lineup. But, best of all, we got a guy who has shown he already has the Rays mentality of getting hits and runs when the team needs them in a game…….and you can not put a price on that kind of consistent action.

  

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