January 2009

Tampa Bay’s Pursuit of Basball..A Short History Lesson

 

                            

 

The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the  1988 after  the  proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the  area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand.  The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new  domed stadium.

 


The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.


 

 

Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field,  ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.

 

 

Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams.  Professional baseball  in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.

 

 

 However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.

 

 

 

In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.

 


Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.

 


In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.

 

 


In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”

 


However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.

 


However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead  to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.

 

 


Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named  former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and  Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.

 

 

 Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager.  So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.

 


Tampa Bay’s pursuit of  major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring  a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.

 

 

MLB Network Shows 2008 World Series Game 2 Classic

 

 


Okay, I promise to really abandon and resign to the fact that 2009 is right around the corner here, and 2008 is just a past memory. But here we go on a crisp, cool night in January sitting there watching the second game of the World Series on the newly launched  MLB Network. I almost for got how huge the crowd was in the stands, and could still smell my loaded nachos and the sugary goodness of my cinnamon almonds.

 


It seemed like so long ago now that this game even was played. But then again, if you are a Rays fan, you have waited for this moment for 11 years. The aspect that this team could get to the playoffs was a distant memory until maybe July after the second half of the season started with a Rays victory via a Ben Zobrist home run. Not until the last out in a game on September 24th, did the team realize a long time dream by both those in the stands and in the dugout.

 


There were a handful of Rays employees who have been here the entire time. People from Bill Wiener and Mike Yodis, who have been driving forces in the procurement department of the team.  Executive Assistant Diane Villanova, who was once Vince Namoli’s executive secretary and has seen the entire evolution of this franchise. Then you have someone like Barry Jones or Kristy Capone, who sat in the sales department cubicles and might have wondered at time how long it would take to finally get here.

 

 


The re-broadcast of that game brought about a lot of emotion. A lot of sweat equity that so many have given for the Rays cause. But it did not match the joy and the total abandonment of logic as we celebrated the teams first win in a World Series contest. To say it was a typical Rays win would be pretty accurate. It showed the heart and the character of this team to the nation. Before that first win, people knew we had won over 97 games during the season, but had not seen the formula used to win a majority of those games.

 


Tonight the nation got to see how “Raysball” was played, and also saw the emotional and physical toll it had on fans and players. Baseball is truly a fickle game. A short blast that fall in between two out fielders can make or break a game. A single throw into the plate can make or break a game. And a single pitch, left over the plate can be rocketed to the outfield walls and beyond.

 


Watching this game can also make you yearn for more……….More Wins, more times like these again in 2009. To even imagine another run into the World Series right now would be  a little premature and crazy. But the pieces are in place to make a run  at it all. Several pieces will be replaced in 2009 from the 2008 crew, but these will be upgrades and not just fill in the blanks players as in the years past. The new winning tradition is now set in stone, and the clay and mortar are still wet on the basis of the 2009 roster.

 

 


In the next few weeks there will be optimism and renewed vigor about the 2009 season, but this small look into the past was just what I needed last night. I needed to remember the feelings and the emotions that gripped me on that night.  I as a fan, needed to remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I first slapped high fives to after the win.

 


It is a emotional and physical high I would hope on all the fans of baseball at least once in your life.  To say that night changed my life would be an understatement. I have attended 3 World Series games before this season, and got into the mood with the crowd, but did not have a center to grab a hold of and attack the event with gusto. This series had all my past feelings and tears in ti’s framework from the first pitch.

 


So it was pretty emotional to sit there and see again the high  sacrifice bunt by Jason Bartlett that scored Cliff Floyd from third base and Rays starter James ” Big Game” Shields reminded people that he strives under pressure shutting out the Phillies for 5 2/3rds innings, scattering 7 hits on the night. That was a lot of excitement for a Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

 

 


But from the beginning of this contest, you could tell it was all Rays tonight. Akinora Iwamura got on with a lead off walk, and moved to third on B J Upton’s drive to right field that was misplayed by Jason Werth to put both guys into scoring position with no outs in the game.  Then two straight ground outs by Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria put the Rays up first 2-0.

 


The Rays again got to business fast in the second inning as Upton drove in Dioner Navarro and Baldelli was thrown out in the most photographed picture of the World Series at that point. His slide into Phillies’ catcher Carlos Ruiz would be plastered all over the Internet and the newspapers and finally made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated . It was one of those World Series moments etched in stone that will be remembered for decades. It might have been an out, but it showed the determination and the spirit of this franchise.

 

 


Then came the moment of truth with Floyd and third when Bartlett put down that safety squeeze and the Rays went up 4-0. Baldelli also helped out in the field on that night going a long way for a Chase Utley drive that looked more destined for the hole than into Baldelli’s glove. The action produced a double play as Baldelli was able to fire the ball to first base and he doubled up Jayson Werth on one of the best defensive plays of the entire World Series.

 


But what was remarkable about the night was the cool and calm demeanor of Rays rookie David Price when he came in to pitch in this contest. He came out there with 2 outs in the 7th inning and he walked Utley before going after Ryan Howard and striking him out to end the inning. In the 8th,  Price got started quickly getting two quick outs before leaving up a slider and watching Eric Bruntlett stroll around the bases for a solo shot and take away the shutout from the Rays.


 

 


But even after all of that, Price looked determined and strong on the mound and got Pedro Feliz to ground out to only surrender 1 run to the Phillies. In the 9th inning,  Carlos Ruiz got a quick double and scored on an error to put the Phillies within 2 runs of the lead.  That brought up Utley and Howard for a second time in his brief relief appearance for Price. He got Utley to strikeout, and induced a ground out from Howard.

 


It was a night of lost chances for both teams, but after the last out in the game, you could see the excitement and the emotion in Price’s face as he was leaving the mound. This put the series back at 1  win each and put the pressure on the Phillies gong back home for the next 3 games. We all know how it turned out by now, but at that moment you had to believe if you were a Rays fan.


 

 


The energy and the excitement in the stadium could not be bottled up and released again in Citizen Bank Ballpark, but you wish it could. It was a night when you saw the Rays mature right in front of you. No longer did you see a team that could blow a 5 run lead, or even strike out three times in the bottom of the 9th to preserve another team’s win. You saw a squad that was on a mission and a fan base that believed in them more than any other time in their short existence. It was a great time to be a Ray.

 

 

Will the Rays Fan Support Flat Line in 2009?

 

 

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays fans are a bit new at this winning tradition thing. Our fellow brethren in the American League East, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have established these traditions that we are striving for after a successful 2008 campaign. I can admire the courage and the determination it takes to follow a team with such traditions, but how is a team only around for 11 years to fight such a monster wall of expectations.

 

 

Heck before 2008, the Rays faithful had only one season where we  could cheer and find success, and even that was only a 70 game winning season. And because of that lack of solid confidence at times, I am tempted to remind people that there might be a short lived backlash into the past  ways for fans if the Rays do not get off to a great start in 2009. This area has always craved a winner. We have won Super Bowl trophies and Stanley Cups, but that World Series trophy was being salivated over by the millions who live in the Tampa Bay area.

 

 


So are we to believe that the hysteria and the mass explosion of excitement will be in the air in April when we first open the 2009 season after a short road trip through Boston and Baltimore? As fickle as that might sound, the team has only had that one brief practice into the realm of respectability. And because of that, there might be a slide or two in 2009 due to the increased awareness that this team is coming to play every night or day now.

 


No more will there be teams that will be surprised or caught unaware of this teams potential.  Teams around the American League will not be resting players or even expect to sweep a series against the Rays any time soon. The air of uncertainty is gone from the Rays sails and they are on course to come into each contest as a stepping stone back to the promised playoff lands. The Rays will come out hungry in 2009, because they have been in the classic, and they want to get back there as soon as possible.

 

 


But  can this team battle day in and day out with a huge expectation on it from the start of even Spring Training games? That sense of responsibility comes with the success of winning a  A L Pennant. You get a  huge target set straight on your back and you either back up your claims, or fall by the wayside and let the winners’ pass by waving at you. 

 


In the past, the Rays fans and the team have done a lot of waving at losing streaks and misplays in games. But with the increased defense and the Rays Bullpen coming to win every night, it made for a more interesting 7-9th inning in games in 2008. Can they build upon that experience and step it up a notch or two and finally contend nightly with everyone at anytime, or will 2008 just be a case of catching some teams napping and the Rays feasting on their downward seasons.

 

 


But what if the Rays do not get off to a monster of a  start in 2009 ?  Will the “boo” birds be ringing in the papers and from the stands even if we  start off near .500 in April. Will the once vocal and energetic fans still come in bunches to every game, or only for the “Prime” games against the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees.  Will a losing streak silence the cowbells and hide the home made signs for the blue and white clad Rays, or will the fan base again convert  back to whoever is winning more games at the moment.

 


That is the problem with living in a region that boasts only 10 percent population over 30 years of age who were born in the area. Everyone is from somewhere else in the country, or the northeast. And with that move came a sense of tradition in following your old team no matter what. But just because you have a relative or even a parent who is entrusted to another team, do you feel obligated to support your new local team.

 


I have always wanted to ask any of the Boston or New York faithful who come here if they support any of the other local NFL or NHL teams. Do they still hold a traditional place in their hearts for the Rangers or Giants. Or maybe even the Jets and the Islanders if you are from the Gotham city. And do all Boston fans still cheer for the Bruins and Patriots even if they might have down seasons.

 


The pitiful thing here is I think the region is still polarized  and not committed to the Rays even after posting one of the best turnarounds in the annuals of baseball period. I hate to say it, but after years of other sports teams in the area not living up to expectations, could the Rays be bunched into that bushel of apathy after just a short time again. I think it is the Rays responsibility to keep a good product on the field and in the stands.

 


Fans will come for the games, but they also come for the entertainment before and after the contests in Tampa Bay. Some of the best attendance marks in 2008 came during the Concert Series on Sat night, when the team regularly sold out the entire Trop. so people could sing and dance in the aisle after the games. But do we have to be as gimmicky in 2009? I hate to say it, but we still have about a year before the rest of the Tampa Bay area can trust that the Rays are on the right path here.

 



I think a good barometer of the support factor might come in a few weeks at the Rays 2009 Fan Fest. That is usually a good sign of the type of support and the excitement about the upcoming season. But could that even be a bit more downplayed this year because of the team being based in Port Charlotte instead of here in St. Petersburg. It will be interesting to see how the distance and the Fan Fest will be changed because of the long commute for the event. 

 


I know, I know, what else does the team have to do to show it wants to be winners, well it does go beyond the field. In the next few months the Rays marketing department will have ample chances to remind and entice the area’s fan to again come and support the team. Now you know that the Opening Day game against the New York Yankees will be sold out, but is that because of the pennant raising before the game, or because of the Yankees.


 

 


Fans in this area may have to make a choice in 2009. They might have to decide if the bandwagon effect works for them, or they might just want to hop on board and be a full time supporter of the local team. Who knows what is going to happen in 2009, but you can bet the team will fight until the last out in October in the 2009 season. I  not expecting a huge turnaround in 1 season after our greatest success on the field to translate into huge attendance numbers.

 


The team might be expecting a large increase, but that will come with the team winning again. I hate to say this, but this region is like a lot of small market teams, there is a lot to do besides baseball on any given weekend or even weeknight. But if the support is there, the team will again do everything in it’s power to showcase themselves again as the team to beat. But the crowd as a 10th man has been instrumental in the past in making the difference late in a contest.

 


So as I am again getting ready to go cowbell shopping for 2009, and buying 2 dozen fresh white balls for the upcoming Fan Fest.  I truly think that 2009 will be a closer contested divisional series than ever before in the A L East. There are three team poised to fight for the title, and 1 sitting back and might jump over the heap if we forget about them. I am looking forward to the first game, and cheering for my hometown team again.

 

 


The boys’ played longer into the season in 2008 that ever before, and might still be a bit shell shocked at the result, but the area is proud of them and want to again show their spirit and energy to the team. 40-some days and the guessing game starts all over again. It seemed like just yesterday I was writing about the World Series match ups and the rain delays.  And the Rays and the Phillies get to relive it all again a few times during Spring Training, both in Clearwater, and in Philly.

 

Let’s Go Rays!!!

My Selections for Proposed Stadium Giveaways in 2009

 


Well, one of the great perks in being a Tampa Bay Rays Season Ticket holder is the fact that we are guaranteed some of the promotional items that the team gives out during the year. So if I do not want to wait in the long lines for a B J Upton figurine, I always know I will get one with my Season Ticket bag before the All Star break. It was even better years ago when we used to get everything that was offered during the year, even the kids items for our collections.

 



I have every lunchbox that the team has issued now for 10 years, except one that was recently damaged by my room mates 8 year old when he was throwing the basketball back in my office area. But that is fine, because I have them because of my love for the team, and as a retirement fall back plan. Now I am not thinking that it will fetch even $30 dollars in 15 years, but it might be a nice collectible for Ebay someday for me to post and sell to an avid buyer.


 

But that is what a lot of Rays season ticket holder do with their stashes. After our bi-yearly cache of promotional items are given out, I have seen a influx of items posted on Ebay and selective sites for collectibles. Considering the rise in people wanting to collect these both as keepsakes and as assets for the future, the market is growing for Rays merchandise. But not everyone buys them to sell them. You have people like myself and a friend, Jeff McKinney, who has one of the biggest  Rays collections of signed players baseball  and collectibles in the entire Rays kingdom.

 


Some people collect because of their obsession and their love of the game. That is why I collect them and the autographs. Heck, I even have a used 2000- 2004 Rays on-deck circle in my house that I was given right after the 2004 season ended by a Rays employee. I also have a B J Upton figurine that says “Bossman Junior”, instead of  “B J Upton” on the base. I do not know how many of those are in circulation, but I do know it is rare and I plan on keeping that until my death.then someone can sell it.

 


So with this new crop of 2009 promotional items still up in the air for the Rays, they sent out our yearly survey to the Season Ticket mongrels and asked what promotional items we might desire to see in 2009. I decided to give the public an insight into the items that the team is considering for 2009. The items that I voted for will be put onto the list in RED type  so you can see where my mind is on these items. So let’s check out the types of things that the Rays marketing arm is considering for the fans in 2009.

 


I actually believe that this presentation, or turnkey survey I completed was a tool of the MLB Advanced Media section of MLB, and not the front office survey of the Tampa Bay Rays. But it really doesn’t matter who did it, or why, it is important that we get a chance to decide what we might see at stadium giveaways in 2009.

 

 

Here is the first grouping of items that the team has asked us to pick from in 2009:


Replica Championship ring

Commemorative DVD of 2008 season

World Series Cowbell

Replica of Championship Flag ( smaller version of AL Pennant flag to be hoisted on 4/13/2009.)

License Plate holder

Championship Scroll.

 


Quite an interesting list here. I can imagine buying the license plate holder on my own, and what is with the idea of a championship scroll? Are we now competing in the ancient Greek division of baseball?  The Replica flag of the Championship Banner is a close second for me, and I got a free World Series cowbell during the playoffs thank you very much. But the Replica Championship ring is something I would love to see. I have seen several other items like this that other teams have done in the past, and it would be a nice collectible, and maybe even a great party conversational item to have, even if it is a knock-off of the original ring.

 



The team then asked about children related items containing the likeness of our favorite overgrown smurf/ seadog Raymond. Here are the items for consideration for Raymond related giveaways for 2009:

Raymond Mr. Potatohead Doll

Raymond Hand Puppet

Stuffed Raymond Doll

Kid’s size T-shirt

Nesting Doll ( 3 egg shaped inner sections to complete one large sized doll)

Raymond small Pillow

Raymond Cereal Bowl

 

Wow, another fine mess of items for us to think long and hard about for 2009. I think the team had their hand enough up in Raymond this year and we do not need a hand puppet. The stuffed Raymond might be a great idea, but there are still 1,000′s of them in the Rays Team Store for sale and might corner the market on them.

 

 

A T-shirt is usually a easy way out of anything. People make T-shirts for simple and cheap advertising of their products ans services.  Even Raymond is worth more than a simple T-shirt. The pillow is an interesting item, but might be a bad item if you get a kid who might have allergies because of the stuffing or materials. Unless the pillow is 100 percent hypo-allergenic, it might pose a small public relations night mare on the backside of it.



The cereal bowl is another close tie for second here. Who would not want to eat a bowl of cereal and see Raymond’s big nose poking out after you eat all the Raisin Bran in the morning. But the one item that truly caught my interest is the nesting doll. I got one a few years ago of Ichiro when I was in Seattle for a Rays series. It has been a great conversation starter because no one has even seen one before in Tampa Bay. It is mostly a Far Eastern influenced item, but I love my Ichiro one to death. 

 


But the Raymond Mr Potato Head is by and far the best item for the kids. I can see someone’s kid playing with it in the stands during the game, or even in the car on the way to the ballpark and it take s a huge amount of stress off the parent at the time. I have attended the game with a group of 4 kids ranging in ages from 5 to 12 , and the attention span of those kids is about less than 1 full inning of play. Thank God for Nintendo DS.

 

 


The next section that they wanted us to consider was “Rays” branded items. This would include anything that would have the “Rays” logo or symbol on it, or be realted to any MLB award or property. Here is the list of items that were presented to us:


Carlos Pena Gold Glove

Dioner Navarro Mini Catcher’s Mask

Evan Longoria Rookie of the Year figurine

James Shields Magic Set

Carlos Pena Catwalk Pinball Machine

Carl Crawford Wind-up Toy

 


Talk about a wild set of items. Just look at this list and you will see a total gambit of items that might amaze and confuse you.  Now the Carlos Pena Gold Glove item was an instant hit in my book because of the significance of it being the team’s first Gold Glove ever awarded to a player. This is one section where I thought two items should be picked, with the Gold Glove item tying for my selection.

 


The Dioner Navarro mini catcher’s mask was a wild item, but mostly a secondary item to me. It might be a better item in 2010, after he has established himself a bit more in the minds and eyes of the MLB and the Rays faithful. The Carl Crawford wind-up toy is just not right. Seriously here, I would be ashamed if I had to present that toy to a kid. It would be broken in 5 minutes and then you have a crying kid in the stands and an upset parent……..Bad choice from top to bottom here.

 

Carlos Pena Catwalk pinball machine certainly sounds like a wild game, but how can you configure the Trop’s catwalks into a game and still have some sort of motion and flippers in the game?  This might be a wild item to see firsthand, then a better decision can be reached about it. Now when did James Shields become a magic guy? This is another one that puzzles me. Is Shields a closet magic guy who has a top hat and a rabbit at home?  I actually think this won would be better to make itself disappear before we even see it for the first time.


But the Evan Longoria Rookie of the Year figurine should be on the list of 2009 promotional items period. This is a no-brainer. The guy might be our first “Rays” home grown Hall of Famer by the time he is done playing baseball. This is a fantastic item for a super guy who exceeded expectations and rode the victory train all the way to the World Series with the team. To say this team should not be on the list of giveaways would be a true crime.

 



The next section is probably the most popular items given out during the year by the Rays. The figurines are considered the holy grail of stadium giveaways, and the team has a great set of names to consider for 2009.

 

Evan Longoria  

Jason Bartlett

Joe Maddon                     ( 2 ) 

Matt Garza                       ( 3 )

David Price                      ( 1 )

Dioner Navarro               ( 4 )

 

Considering the team usually gives out 4 of these a year, I picked my top 4 choices above. The selection of these is not too hard considering the type of year each of the selections had in 2008. But some of the selections might also be a bit premature for 2009. I truly think that Jason Bartlett did an amazing job helping us upgrade our defense in 2008, but I also feel he is not the main reason, and by posting more errors than any other time in his career doesn’t give a guy a bobble head.

 

Dioner Navarro would be a great choice. He had grown a lot in 2008 to become the type of catcher the team can count on for years down the line. He is also becoming a team leader in the clubhouse and behind the plate and is fulfilling his destiny when he was drafted in the 1st round by the New York Yankees.

 


Matt Garza as a bobble head would be a great and fitting salute to his confidence and his strength in the playoffs for the Rays.  Garza rose above and beyond in 2008 after having a few bumps in the road to become a superstar pitcher in the making for the Rays. Maybe a bobble head with him clutching the ALCS MVP award would be perfect.

 


Both Joe Maddon and David Price deserve a bobble head/figurine. When Maddon was first selected as the Rays Manager, I was not in the group who was totally happy with the selection. But in the first few months of the season, I got to see how the guy worked and how he ran his team and he got my respect and I have been a true believer in his system.  His low key approach has worked for him because his players’ and his staff have total confidence and respect in the way he runs his ship.

 

David Price, what can you say about this guy. He said in the Spring of 2008, that he expected to be with the team by the end of the year. He also said he was going to work hard and make the decision hard for them not to bring him up sometime during the season. He also stated he loves the pressure and strives on it. All three  statement became what came to believe was David Price.

He went above and beyond on the diamond, and was a pleasure to talk with and see interact with fans on the sidelines during the 2008 season. He is going to be a the pre-season favorite for the 2009 Rookie of the Year award, and it just might be his to lose during the season. But the former Vanderbilt star is also smart enough to know that anything can happen a a 162 game schedule……but he should have his own figurine late in 2009.

You notice I did not even consider Evan Longoria for this figurine section because I am confident the Rays will do a Rookie of the Year bobble head/ figurine. If for some reason, the team doesn’t take into consideration that Longoria is our first representative to win the ROY, then maybe they are missing the entire boat here on any of these items for 2009.  If the Rays do not include a Longoria figure somewhere in the 2009 promotional schedule, it will be a error of judgment by the team’s front office and marketing department in a big way.


 

 


The last selection section that the survey asked us to consider was the Rays brand items.  This has always been a selection of flags, caps and even coozies in the past. But the selections offered for 2009 ran a wide variety of items from the usual to the unusual. Here is the final list we were asked to pick from in 2009:

 

Rays logo License Plate Holder

Remote Control holder

Welcome Mat

Retro Team Card

Animal House  style College T-shirt

2009 Team Card Set

Fan Designed T-shirt

Rays Calendar

 

I have to say that was another wild selection  process. The first item, the Rays license plat holder was just a plain item that we could pick up anywhere during 2009. I think we need a bit more imagination in 2009.  With that in mind, the remote control holder was a new idea and just might be a great item. I guess you have to see it first to consider it for the list. Is it a slip on “Rays-themed” holder, or something a bit more elegant.

 


I can’t believe I used the word elegant with the Rays.  The welcome mat also seemed like a great idea, but might be a secondary item to be given out during the Boston series. I know, that would be cruel, but hey, We did sweep them 2 times in out house for the first time ever in 2008. The retro card set might be a great kid’s item, but not in this category.

 


The Animal House style T-shirt is a great idea. I would wear it, but then again I am a DTX fraternity brother.  It would all depend on the design of the T-shirt as to if it would be a hit or miss in 2009. With hit or miss in mind here, the team card set and the calendar would either be a plus or a minus depending on the individual fan.  Some people would love the idea, while others would see it as a lame excuse for a stadium giveaway and toss it in the trash or leave it in the stands after the game. It is a gamble either way on these items.

 


But the idea of letting fan submit a design for a T-shirt is actually a bit of a great P R  move. Think about it, you would have both professional designers and even kids doing double time to present a prototype of the shirt to be distributed to the masses in the stands. How proud would a fan be that his print was selected either by the team or the fans as the item to be given out during the “Fandemonium” celebration during the last home stand of the season.

 


You could make the selection process for the design to be done online or even an in-stadium display maybe by Gate 3 with voting and balloting done during 3 home stands in the season. You could also then let the winning fan not only get credit for producing the work of art, but maybe do a Ceremonial First Pitch or an autograph signing during the day it is distributed to the Rays fans. You could make someone life by showing their talents and their abilities for everyone in the stadium to enjoy.

 


Well, here you go. the above was all the items that the Rays and MLB Advanced Media asked the Rays season Ticket holder to  consider for promotional item for stadium giveaways in 2009.  What is really amazing is the way that these items have changed over the seasons. Most Rays fans will remember the small 4 inch tall bobble heads given out years ago, or the floppy hats and trucker hats extended to the Rays’ mass population in the past.

 

 


Such stadium giveaways are special, and should be treated as such by the Rays management. Not only is it free advertising for the sponsor of the event, but for the team in the Tampa Bay area. Must we forget that when Rays Manager Joe Maddon was on his honeymoon in Italy, he actually saw and took a picture of a Rays fan overseas from the bay area. The team might never hit the plateau of some of our American League East brethren in total uniform and promotional sales, but we can start a trend where the Rays are no longer the bottom feeders in merchandise in the MLB.

Possible Rays 2009 Resolutions

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions can be the best or worst thing in your life for that short period of time where you are truly planning to follow them like a life changing moment.  They can either benefit you in the long run, or might be a  short term fix to a enduring problem. But whatever the reason, or the matter, a resolution can find a solution to a nagging situation or problem.

 


But when you resolution pertains to 25-guys sitting on a major league roster, it might take on a whole different set of rules and expectations. So here we are on the first day of the new year, and I am thinking about a few simple resolution for my hometown Tampa Bay Rays. They are simple resolutions that will help the ball club and also maybe send them back into the playoffs in 2009.

 


Now I know some of these might not have a chance to happen at all, but that is the beauty of a resolution. Sometimes we pick things so wild and out there that they have a marginal chance at best to even succeed.  These resolutions will give the team a better sense of what is needed to now compete in the competitive American League East. The division has gotten a lot more pitcher friendly in the last few weeks, and the Rays have stayed a bit pat on the past roster and need to make a few moves to combat the increase in pitching prowess in the division.



 

Resolution 1:

Find a right-handed bat that can help the offense take it to the next level.


There are a few bats still out there in the Free Agent pile that could come in here and help the team right from the “get go”, but they might want a small fortune in cash and a contract that might last a few seasons.  With the Rays, A’s and Jays pretty much going to be fighting over the last few big bats in the marketplace, the Rays need to step up and take the first one off the board.

 


Now if he is a big bat that can also play right field, that would be a plus- plus for the squad. With that in mind, I am thinking that former Angel Garrett Anderson might be perfect for the spot. He has a consistent bat, and also a fantastic work ethic, that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has seen from his past years as the Angel’s bench coach. He is also a pretty slick outfielder, who has a above average arm, and can still run the outfield real well.

 


Sure there are still guys like Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu out there who could also get the job done for the Rays, but they will come with multi-year contracts and a huge amount of baggage. Burrell had been considered to be heading into a slow downward spiral in his career. The last two seasons have shown modest offensive outputs compared to early 2000-2005 seasons for the big right-hander. 

 


Bobby Abreu would come to this squad over 12 years after we selected him as our first field player back in the Expansion Draft. I would love to see the prodigal son play for the Rays, but watching him the last few seasons in right field just a few steps from my seat, I have seen that his speed and also his quickness to the ball in the outfield have suffered. His bat is still mighty, but  a multiple year contract might include a year of decline at the plate and in the field for him.

 

 

 

Resolution 2:

Find a southpaw reliever to compliment the Bullpen:

 

Ever since Trever Miller left for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rays have been down to only J P Howell in the relieving corp as a southpaw. The team might be able to get away with only one leftie in the Bullpen, but I think it is an oversight if they try this out in 2009. Balance on a squad is essential to its survival. And having a second southpaw might be enough to sway a contest in their favor in 2009 either by situational pitching, or even my middle relief to give Howell some breathing room.



The number of left-handed relievers still sitting out there on the Free Agent shelf is getting smaller ever day. I know the Rays have the mentality that the longer they wait, the more value they will get for a player in 2009. But isn’t it about time we think of quality and not quantity in 2009. For years the team has gotten low priced players who are just that..below the market  on both value in talent and they are expected to extend themselves to greatness.

 


Even with the numbers of lefties dropping like flies, there are still guys like  former Atlanta Brave, Will Ohman. Now during the 2008 trade deadline, the Rays were very interested in Ohman as a left-handed addition to their staff late in the season to help them through the playoffs. I can see no reason to just let someone else come on out and take him off the pile now that he is free and clear and will not cost a single player or multiple players to acquire for the Rays.

 


There are still guys out there like Joe Biemel, but he has been here with the Rays before, just like Trever Miller, and he will have to want to come back.which I do not think he wants at this point in his career. Then you have guys like former Rays Casey Fossum, who played for the Detroit Tigers in 2008. I like Fossum, but not for this squad, they have evolved way past his pitching style and we would not mesh well into this mix of guys. Then you have guys like former Cub Scott Elarton and former Cardinal Ron Villone. Both who are in their declining velocity years and might just be an older version of J P Howell circa 2007.

 

 

 


Resolution 3:

Get 1 of the 2 best young players on your team a contract extension:

 


This one might be tricky for the Rays, but something they truly must do if they are wanting to be as successful in 2012 as they are today. Now in the past few seasons they have locked up pitchers’ James Shields and Scott Kazmir for multi-year deals, and are about to hit the big money plateau with former All Star Carl Crawford. But is it in the team’s best interest to maybe lock down a young star with a multiple year deal when they are just budding in their craft?

 


Heck yes, you can seek and get that security from players like B J Upton and maybe even Matt Garza. Upton might be the easier of the two because the Rays have dealt with trying to get him an extension a few years ago, and might already know the parameters of the discussions. I also think that to get him under a long term deal this off season might be a shrewd deal considering he is about to have a breakout season in 2009, and it would be cheaper to get him now, while he is recovering from shoulder surgery than after he explodes at the plate.

 

 


Upton played most of the season with his banged up shoulder suffered in an early season series against the Baltimore Orioles. Almost everyone in the stadium saw a change in his batting style, but we had no reason to believe anything was wrong at the time. When it finally came out about the injury, it made a huge amount of sense considering his front shoulder was not striding into the ball, so his power was decreased considerably in 2008. When his shoulder felt better towards the end of 2008, you saw the result as the ball was flying off his bat, and his swing looked more fluid and compact again.

 


Matt Garza, now here is a guy who did a complete 180 degree turn into possible stardom in 2008. He had an early wrist nerve situation that could have hampered him all season, but it subdued and he went on to have a great season for the Rays. The young star had a highly publicized meltdown in the Texas heat, and came out the next time and showed no ill effects from the fallout, and a renewed vigor on the mound.


 

 


Towards the end of 2008, he was consistent as any pitcher in the A L and the team’s confidence was high in him as he took the mound twice in the ALCS and won both games to garner to MVP trophy for the series. His transformation was huge, and if he even steps up gradually in his career, his ceiling has now been set high and he should achieve that plateau in the next 2 seasons.

 

 


Resolution 4:

Sign Jason Giambi already:


Now I am one of the people who do not like old serial killer eyes a lot. I think that Giambi might come with some baggage, but we are not getting him to play first base for the Rays. As long as we hide his fielding glove after Batting Practice, he will be a solid choice for the Designated Hitter position. The guy is a true hitting machine when he is motivated. And how could you not be motivated when you get to play 17 games each against your two worst enemies, the Yankees and the Red Sox. Not only that, but with 3 squads currently seeking his services, it might be prudent that the Rays be a the aggressor here before Giambi feels neglected and signs with another team.

 


I think that it might take a 2 year deal, but it will be well worth the money and the pain to have this guy on your roster. He is a huge community service guy, which the Rays value a lot in their players the last few years. He is also a great clubhouse guy and can just build on the work that Cliff Floyd did for the Rays last year.  The deal might bog down the Rays for about $ 20-25 million dollars, but Giambi also is worth ever cent if he strokes the ball the way he did at Tropicana Field last  few seasons.

 

 

 


Resolution 5: 

Keep the team chemistry up high and the success will come again:


You have to admit that Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s slogan for 2008, “9=8″ went a long long way into pulling the team towards their playoff goal. The mental workup of the Rays was high from day one, and the team continued to compete and succeed towards that goal in 2008. Because of this, I ma actually looking forward to the new motto or credo that Maddon brings out in 2009.

 


Maddon is an avid reader, and you know that during his travels to Europe in the off season, might have picked up a few new quotes and stories to translate and morph into baseball related folly for the team. He is one of the best motivators I have seen in baseball due to his low key approach to players and the media. But if you have seen him behind the scenes, you know he has true intensity and the drive to excellence in everything he does in life.

 

 


By keeping up that same credo and positive energy in 2009, he will again give the team a support to lean on when they get down or begin to doubt themselves or the system. With his coaching staff, Maddon can affirm and display this mantra for everyone to see, and to believe in again in 2009.

 


So here we go with 5 simple resolutions for the Rays in 2009. Some of them might involve a little money, but then again with the increased Season Ticket holders, and the new interest in our team, the Rays will have a new revenue stream that had been nothing more than a trickle from the facet in 2008. Hard work and also strict contractual situations are ahead for the team in the next 40-some days.

 


With Arbitration hearing coming soon, and the young stars getting healthy raises in their salaries only a few years away for the team. The future is bright for the Rays, but only if they also secure the past with success and the formulation of a winning attitude and tradition. And it all begins on this first day in January, 2009.

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