February 2009

Two Players trade Cardinal Red for Rays Blue

 

                      
 

The last time former St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen tossed the ball in Tropicana Field he was a member of the Oakland A’s. Has it really been so long ago that he and Jason and Jeremi Giambi were standing against the wall at Ferg’s following a Saturday night Rays game just enjoying the night and loving the cool breezes coming off the water. Well, now that he has signed a minor league deal with the Rays, he might just get another chance to lean on the wall near the pool tables if he can secure a spot on the Rays roster by the end of March.
 

 

Adam Kennedy had not seen been in the American League park since about 2006 when he left the Las Angeles Angels after a 6-year run with the American League west club. But people forget that he broke into the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals when in 1999 he played in 33 games for the Cardinals.  Both of these players might be considered long shot to make the Rays roster, but wilder things have happened in the Spring Training rounds for the two veterans. But their experience, and their willingness to work for their spots on the team might be a great visual for the young and hungry Rays as they begin their quest to defend the American League Pennant in a few days.
 

 

Kennedy might be the most interesting signing of the group considering the Rays have Akinora Iwamura, who is still in Japan training for the World Baseball classic. And considering the Rays just gave a nice hunk of change to current utility player Willy Aybar, it seems a bit odd to bring in a veteran second baseman to compete with someone you just gave a huge economical upgrade. But it might also help to spak some competition between Aybar and Ben Zobrist who will probably be the two utility guys for the Rays when they break camp in April. But if 2008 is any indication, you can not guarantee that either guy will be 100 percent healthy at the end of camp.

 



 

                                                              
 

 

In 2008, both Zobrist and Aybar went down either during or right after Spring Training, and maybe a bit of healthy competition will be good this year to bring the blood to the surface and make the team focus early for the task ahead. Kennedy played in 115 games for the Cardinals in 2008, originally drafted by the team in 1997, he was traded to the Angels in 2000 for outfielder Jim Edmonds. But with the Cardinals, being a second baseman really is not a solid position prior to 2008, the Cardinals have had 5 different players start the season at second base in the last 6 seasons. But what is so add is the fact that in 2008, Kennedy had his second best year as a pro hitting .280, with 17 doubles and 36 RBI’s. Kennedy did have 13 defensive gems in 2008, which was tops on the Cardinals squad. 
 

 

He is known more for his defense than for his bat, which makes this a bit of an odd signing. But with Iwamura out of the lineup until he returns from the WBC, it might just be the veteran’s best position to not only get noticed by another team, but might be kept in the Rays back of mind for future considerations. But unlike Kennedy, Isringhausen did not have a banner year in 2008.  This off season he also had shoulder surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon. He only threw 42.3 innings in 2008, his worst in the majors, and was not even considered the closer for the Cardinals late in the year.



 

                          
                       

 

His 1-5 record in 2008 should show his struggles to post effective numbers in the closers role.  He did save 12 games in 2008, but it is way below his previous year totals of 32 saves for the Cardinals.  2008 also ended a series of season where the right handers ERA went way above it customary mid 2.50 ERA. In may 2008, the frustrations got to huge for both him  and the Cardinals that he was considering a change after blowing 5 straight saves. Isringhausen was embarrassed and called for a meeting with Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa and Pitching Coach Dave Duncan to discuss his future with the team. 
 

 

For some reason his mechanics just left him and he could not effectively get the ball over the plate.  Isringhausen has previously been vocal about his want to finish his career in St Louis, but his ineffective pitching led to than not offering him arbitration in the 2008 off season. But this is not the first time he has dad to battle inconsistency on the mound. Isringhausen’s career was nearly left for dead in September of ’06, when he elected to have surgery for his degenerative hip condition.  He’s silenced that talk with a 1.45 ERA and 20 saves so far this year.  But is his signing with the Rays a way for him to show other teams he is ready to again take the ball, or is it a local team, Isringhausen has a home in the Tampa Bay area,  that will provide an outlet for other teams to see that he is 100 percent and ready to again battle in the end of a game. 
 

 

He is currently sitting on 269 saves for his career and has a set goal of achieving at least 300 in his career. It is not known 100 percent if Rays current closer Troy Percival will be throwing in Spring Training, or will be pushed to the disabled list to be sure he is also 100 percent before taking the mound for the Rays.  He could be insurance for the team, but with his ineffective pitching in 2008, maybe a minor league deal was a way for him to at least come out and prove he still has both the abilities and desire to hit his 300 save goal. 



 

                             
 

 

I really do not see Isringhausen anywhere near the Rays Bullpen in 2009. Not to cast judgment before he even throws for the team, but I think that the makeup of the potential Bullpen before the signing was an upgrade from 2008. Even if Isringhausen has a chance to crack the Rays Bullpen situation, what would his defined duties be?  Would he accept the fact that he might not close here and would be a set-up man for either Percival or maybe Dan Wheeler for 2009. But would the Rays even consider using him as a closer while Percival is out, then if he is effective, he could be dealt to another team for a possible prospect. If you really wanted to place a question mark on any of the signing in 2009, this would be the one that stands out in my mind.
 

 


Isringhausen has the past experience and the determination to get back to the top of the pile, but will his body and pitching mechanics respond enough for someone to give him a chance beyond March 2009 Both veteran players can provide something the Rays need in 2009, they can provide added leadership and give sage advice to the young Rays both on and off the field.  I am not sure either player is in the long range plans of the team. Even in the short term both players seems to be just pieces added for temporary segments missing in the Rays offense and pitching staff.  
 

 

I hope that both players can get something more concrete for 2009 after showcasing themselves this spring. Both deserve to be parts of squads in 2009. If either  player can provide depth and increase the talent level of the Rays, the sky might be the limit this year.  More to the reality is the fact that they will use this opportunity as a springboard to again show teams they can compete and be effective this season. But that is something that the Rays have never been before this season. Usually when a signing like this has happened in the past, it has been to upgrade the current roster. If either player was to make the squad, it would be for an upgrade, but might not be for a starting position, or even closing games for the team.



photo credits for today’s blog go to: http://www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com, and http://www.upi.com.


 

Letter to Commissioner Bud Selig

                                                                                                    

                                                                                                    February 20, 2009

 
Dear Commissioner Bud Selig,
 

I am writing you today to give you some opinions, facts and hopefully some  impulse to charge forward in this situation. I am sorry Commissioner, I am not writing about PED’s, rain-shortened World Series games, or even the dreaded salary cap issue that might be giving you nightmares. What has taken my mind to such lengths that I feel it must be addressed is this situation where baseball players from outside the borders of the North American countries and Puerto Rico are held to such a  high level of integrity and honestly, but we have failed out warm breezed cousins to the south.
 

The actions of few have impoverished the many in the Tropical belt of the Caribbean and South America. It is a land where a single soul can command the intentions and the dreams of hundreds that love to play our national past time, and we just treat them as hired help. The fact that a  single buscone or ” finder” can manipulate the system to become an instant millionaire on the sweat and blood of young boys yearning to fulfill the dreams of Roberto Clemente, or David Ortiz. How can we, as one of the biggest and baddest countries on the face of this earth stand back and let third world politics decree what player get a chance, and which one is destined to poverty.
 

You can make a huge difference in this situation Commissioner, you can be the guy who changed the regions history with baseball. In this country people line up at small stores to purchase a Lottery ticket that might be their ticket out of their country and penniless environment. You can be the beacon that makes it all sane again and brings the same order to the Tropic belt that past commissioners and image makers have to produce rules, regulations and even establish a draft system with players ouytside the confines of the current system. I am not asking for this in 2010, or even within the next 3 years. I know that you will need the backing of one of the most powerful men in baseball with you.
 

I am also sending a letter to Donald Fehr of the Major League Baseball Players Association asking that both administrative branches of this great sports combine energies to promote, provide and institute future avenues for players outside this country to be treated the same as the players we acquire via our current amateur draft system. I know that it will be consuming hours of dialogue, mountains of correspondence, and endless phone calls, but isn’t history of our game worth that sweat and struggle.  The game has evolved so much on the field in the last 25 years, shouldn’t our focus now be on the souls left behind by this progress.
 

Think about it Commissioner, you can be the savior of millions of future baseball players that will be discovered in MLB-sanctioned Baseball Academies set up in the early 2000’s by many of your teams with the intent to discover new talent and to input themselves into new talent streams in other countries. We have seen the first two players from India signed this year to MLB contracts. We have seen a  Japanese woman signed to a minor league contract. Why not give future rising stars in this hot bed of talent a chance to come on board with respected representation, and loose the stress of wondering if documentation, or even money has changed hands before a signature is even obtained.
 

Can you honestly say you have not felt the disgust and the embarrassment of the past few years when countless players are found to be illegally obtained by doctored birth certificates, name changes, or simple taking another person’s name for the sake of the game’s paychecks and prestige. I know that agents have been called the leeches of the modern athlete, but they do not suck dry the blood of their clients the way some of these buscones or even family advisers do in this area of the world. Every year more players come clean about the falsifications of their pasts, and we just slap their hands and let them fall back into line.
 

With establishing a set of rules and regulations and letting them have an ample picking of these great athletes, you might also begin a path to parity, which will help the teams grow more equal and competitive and make for a more excitement league  come the first days of April every season. By expelling the demons that pry on these players and their families we are ridding society of a parasite that needs to be exterminated, eradicated and made extinct. Commissioner, you can be the man that will be held up in future talks as the “man who brought baseball and the world together through equality”. That would be a legacy that would transcend anything else you have done as Commissioner of Baseball.
 

You would be remembered in the town of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic as the man who made fair and equal laws for everyone to play this great game. Baseball has been diligent in the past trying to erase these evils and bring honesty to the region. When we established a home base in the Dominican to combat these false records and documentations, still players funneled into the country and were exposed later. Underage players were found out and returned to their countries if they had not at least reached the age of 17. Can you imagine spending even a month in a country like the U S  after living in lesser condition in your home country. 
 

Commissioner, you can be the man who is at the forefront of this movement to show that we are through with the lies and deceptions, that truth should be the common language and that players should be rewarded for their talents, not placed like meat in a showcase to be selected by the big money teams.  In closing Commissioner, I ask of you that we finally end this tyranny of the few that prey on the weak and poor who only want to play baseball in our country.  By establishing at least a dialogue to begin constructing a World Amateur Draft, we can show the entire world that baseball can overcome more than just money and power, but can improve lives and establish fair play beyond just the field.
 

I know I am only one person writing this to you, but a single voice in the dark can lead you into the light. If we are to keep moving forward as a sport, we have to take other sports lead on the outside countries rights to fairness and equality. the best way to show that is tp point to the NBA, which drafts players from around the world. There is the prime example for you to use if you want to leave a legacy no one can tear down. If you really want to leave this sport in a way that generations will remember your name, taking on the equality of the Tropics in baseball related matters might be a giant step for your immortality.
 

Thank you again Commissioner for your time in reading this letter, and hope to see you  someday soon again at Tropicana Field. I am just someone who loves this sport, and only wants to see it grow into a world wide phenomenon.
 


Sincerely Yours,
 
Rays Renegade
 
 
 

cc:  United States President Barack Obama, Washington Post, New York Times,  St Petersburg Times,  Matt Silverman, Presdient of the Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Club, Donald Fehr, Executive Director of the MLBPA.
 
 
 

Nationals Player Should Only get Part of the Blame

 

          
 
 
With the recent revelation that the Washington Nationals got bamboozled by a young Dominican player in such an elaborate scheme that the player received a $ 1.4 million dollar signing bonus in July 2006. What is more surprising is the fact that his age was not the only falsehood that escaped the Nationals security background check on the player. His name was also misrepresented to the team, they thought they had signed a 16-year old prospect named Esmailyn ” Smiley” Gonzalez when in fact he materialized into a 23-year old player who real name was Carlos David Alvarez Lugo.



 

 
                   


This has not been the first time when a Dominican player has been found out, or even admitted to an advanced age than has been reported on birth certificates given when they signed their first contracts. In the Dominican Republic one need not ask its children what they want to be when they grow up- the answer is always pelotero. The relationship between  young Dominican boys and baseball is one that transcends simple sentences and abstract thoughts, it can be traced back to simple life changing moments and making a family more secure in their lives.  Yet  the basics of life in the Dominican Republic can be altered forever if a player can get that first shot at baseball, and the professional teams are not wary at first glance when they see a promising prospect on the clay fields.
 
 

Dominicans love and pursue baseball with the passion and yearnings of an adolescent boy dreaming of being at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with the scored tied in the 7th game of the World Series. Young Dominicans boys do not “play” baseball because is not a game, but is something on which their livelihoods often depend  Can it be true that there is a tropical island of palms and warm tides that revolves around  America’s favorite pastime that has made me happy and sad in ways no other thing or person has in life?  But that’s not quite the whole story, is it? There is passion, but there is poverty. There is triumph and fortune to be had for the few, but there is failure and a per capital income of $1,600 a year for most of this impoverished country.

 
 
 
 I have to think about that for a moment. That would not even equal the cost of my Tampa Bay Rays Season Ticket seat in the Lower Box area of Tropicana Field for a year. And yet, there are people living and eating on that amount every day in the Dominican. I can not even fathom that thought process of living on so little, but hoping to produce so much out of an amount most of us make in a month in the United States. And we wonder why these players go to any length to fabricate a living and a dream in the same motion. I do not agree with the falsehoods, but I can respect the action to make their families lives more secure and financial matter disappear for their parents and siblings.



 
 


 

 
Ever since the early 1950’s, the United States have traveled to see the Dominican players that have embraced the American sport and they have been rewarded by it in return. In 1987 there were approximately fifty Dominicans playing in the major leagues, as of today over 1,443 Dominican players are signed to professional contracts. In addition, as Latinos obtain more ownership and management positions within Major League Baseball, issues regarding the treatment of Latin players will likely become a greater priority for the League. Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, baseball’s first Latino majority owner is a prime example of this as his team was built around Dominican powerhouses like Bartolo Colon, Jose Guillen and the 2004 recipient of the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Vladimir Guerrero.
 

 
It is easy to see how the system can be manipulated and certain deficiencies of the process evolve simply by the way in which Dominican recruits come to play for Major League Baseball.  There is a huge contrast to the process in which American players become part of the League. In the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, teams may not sign high school players, making the effective minimum signing age 18 years. If an amateur athlete enters the Draft from college he is afforded additional protections by various rules and regulations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association ( NCAA ) that prevent professional teams and agents from taking advantage of him. Once a player enters the Draft by asking that his name be placed on the Draft List, he is protected by the provisions of the current Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement. Upon signing with a Major League team the player is bound to that franchise for a term of six years and guaranteed a minimum salary.
 


These protections are guaranteed by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, also known as the Players’ Union,  and they believe these rules needed to be enacted for a fair playing field between teams and players in labor relations. These devices and rulings are in place to guarantees the rights of players and draftees have earned through negotiations with the League. These rules are considered vital in maintaining  a stable balance to teams and athletes during the process of signing American, Canadian and Puerto Rican players to fill Major League rosters. Drafting guidelines  currently apply only to the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
 


But can these same ruling be adopted or even expanded to include the Caribbean countries and maybe even spawn as far south as South America?   But getting back to the Dominican situation, Dominican recruits are not sheltered by  the same protections and the process by which they come to play for Major League teams.  There is a huge gap in the same rules and protections that are currently afforded to their American counterparts, despite the close geographical locations of the two nations. These differences in the treatment of Dominican versus American athletes by Major League Baseball has raised two main identifiable issues in the past:


1)  Is the signing of a 16-year old from one of these Caribbean countries also a violation of the MLB ruling that players must be at least 17 before they can enter into a contract with the MLB or any of its team?

 
2)Is the presence of buscones and the out-of-sight, out-of-mind policing of existing  MLB regulations by the buscones in the Dominican Republic bring into the foresight  the simple birth certificate forgeries or even alterations to benefit the only those who scout select individual  Dominican players. 
 

According to Major League Rule 3(a)(1)(B), a player not subject to the Draft may be signed at age seventeen, or at age sixteen, providing he will turn seventeen prior to either the end of the baseball season in which he is signed or September first of the year in which he is signed. If the national medias coverage of underage signings is a reflection of widespread practice, then over the past seven years such deceptions have become almost passe.  The Los Angeles Dodgers  have been rocked by this practice in the past when it was learned that Adrian Beltre was signed illegally and knowingly at age fifteen when a Dodgers scout altered Beltre’s birth certificate with white-out to make him of signing age.



 


 
  
A similar indiscretion in 1997, plagued the Florida Marlins  when they signed a Dominican pitcher Ricardo Aramboles for $5,500. However, a disgruntled US agent leaked information to the Commissioner’s office and it was proven Aramboles was only fourteen years of age. Aramboles was  immediately released from his contract. But teams centered in areas of high Latin populations are not the only culprits in this type of 3-card monte. The Cleveland Indians also violated Major League Rules by signing fifteen-year-old Laumin Bessa, dating relevant documents in advance so as to appear that they were signed after Bessa’s sixteenth birthday.
 

In addition to the signing of underage players, teams have been known to hide prospects as young as fourteen years old at remote Dominican training facilities to prevent the children from signing with another team.  And although Major League Rules prohibit the signing of a player under the age of sixteen, there is no prohibition against academies hosting children between the ages of twelve and sixteen for Instructional purposes. It has been suggested by past media coverage that the practice of signing underage players is widespread. This assumption is based on the belief that the player’s incentive to lie and the team’s incentive to accept that lie are too great for either party to avoid.

It is important that while this could be an accurate description of the widespread practice, there is to my knowledge, no empirical data or research of any other kind that suggests this is so.  While the problem of signing or dealing with children under the age of sixteen is perhaps the most vital age-related issue for the Dominican Republic and Major League Baseball, there also exists the problem of players presenting fraudulent documentation to appear younger than their true age in order to avoid seeming “past their prime” and less attractive to Major League scouts.

 The enormous rampant practice of this tinkering was exposed during an immigration crack-down that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. While deception regarding one’s age is recognized as a survival tactic for impoverished Dominican players anxious to make a living, it is also a clear violation of United States immigration law and persistent violations by Dominican citizens could cause strife between the two nations. Have you ever noticed the difficulty of some players getting out of the Dominican Republic for Spring Training in recent years. Forced to stay behind  in the country while their Visa is analyzed and finally granted permission to travel to the United States to perform their jobs.

     
 

A second major difference between the way in which domestic, Canadian and Puerto Rican prospects are signed, as opposed to Dominican prospects, is that while draftees are protected by state laws and NCAA regulations regarding the acquisition of agents, Dominican players are offered no such protection and thus find themselves at the mercy of buscones, or “finders” who take large portions of their signing bonuses as fee for getting them into the major leagues.  In fact, a Dominican player can expect to part with as much as fifty percent of his signing bonus, in contrast to the three to five percent commissions that sports agents in the United States receive.  

While there is no written accounts of the misguidance by buscones is rampant in the Dominican, the story of  current Ray infielder Willy Aybar bring out into the light the problems of informal representation. Enrique Soto, one of the most famous Dominican “finders”, discovered Aybar at age thirteen and molded his development as a player. Upon signing with the Dodgers, the team released the first half of Aybar’s bonus, $490,000, to Soto, who deposited the check in his personal bank account. Soto then paid the American agent, Rob Plummer, who negotiated the contract, $35,000, and finally awarded Aybar’s family a lump sum of $6,250 and a stipend of roughly $ 2,000 a month. Although Soto returned roughly $185,000 to the Aybars it is believed he is still in possession of over $200,000 of Aybar’s signing bonus. While Aybar received a signing bonus of $1.4 million, most Dominican players receive substantially less. Because non-draftees are treated and signed as free agents the player may go to the team with the highest bid for his services. 


                     

There is also no guidelines or even a unwritten rule for what a team may offer, and signing bonuses for Dominican and Latin players are small in comparison to those draftees receive. For instance, in 2000 the Cleveland Indians signed forty Latin American players for approximately $700,000. Their first draft pick, an eighteen-year-old pitcher from the United States, was paid more than one million dollars above that price. So do not be too quick to judge in this case of the falsehood of this player signed by the Nationals. He was scouted and recommended by a member of the Nationals  staff, Jose Rijos to be the “real deal.”

Because of the financial collapse of world wide currencies, Latin players, and also Dominicans will be quick to move towards falsifying and altering documents to get a shot at the big times. But that is just the world we set up for them. MLB set up an office in the city of Santo Domingo in 2000 to try and stop the practice of doctoring documents for players seeking to play in the US.  In the last crackdown on the Latin players in the major leagues in the early 2000’s , the MLB found at least 550 players had altered their documents to gain access to the baseball league. 

In one case, the player was actually one year younger than was stated on his documents. That player was Jesus Colome, currently a Spring Training invitee to the Nationals camp. So as you can see, a majority of Latin players might have a hidden agenda for getting to the majors and enjoy the lifestyle they could only dream about in their country. What we need to do is try and develop a  player draft system that will also incorporate the Latin countries and other nations not covered currently by the CBA. This will not this influx of mystery and misguided intentions completely dormant, but at least we might be able to celebrate a real birthday with a player, instead of always wondering just how old he really is……….or if that is his real name.

 

 

 

Photo credits for today;s blog: Jesse Sanchez@mlb.com, Associated Press Corp , Jungleboy and coderforchrist@ Flickr.com, www.news.yahoo.com

 

 

My Solutions for the Rays “Waterlogged Balls” Situation

 


 
 

Sometimes I just think that the Tampa Bay management just makes a deal with itself not to whine more than once a month. Seriously here folks, two months ago it was about attendance has to increase to even be able to afford a winning team.  Next it was the lack of Season Tickets, which numbers near 10,000 to increase at least 50 percent to provide financial stability for the team. But the latest one might be the best one of them all. I know that the new move south about 90 minutes might be difficult for some of the players, but the wild part is that now the baseballs are the ones in danger.
 

 
It seems that a lack of planning or maybe the addition of some better hitters has brought to light the problem of baseballs hitting the lakes behind the 5 practice fields at Charlotte Sports Park. What is amazing is that when they were setting up the drawings to lay out this complex, or event to upgrade certain fields and fence locations, the glint of the water and the parking lots did not pop into their minds as hazards. This is not the first time the team has had to endure a parking lot situation. At the old complex they had one field on the main4-field setting in the southeast corner who right-center and right field used to send balls into the players parking lot.
 

 
You would see the first 25 or so spaces empty when you first got to the complex and reporters and minor league players would take those spots not knowing the left handed batters would be seeking their cars windshields and looking to produce tell tale marks on hoods and roof tops. The Rays did find a way to combat that element by making mostly the left handed hitters’ play in scrimmages on one of the other 3 diamonds to take away the threat of car harm and rising insurance rates. Even at Progress Energy Field, the old Spring Training game site, you had a left field and right field shopping mall of cars to choose from if you hit it long and deep.
 


I remember going out to Progress Energy before an away game in Sarasota two years ago and watching the Batting Practice balls go out the left field fence and smash into about 5 cars windshields before the construction workers putting the upgrades on the neighboring Mahaffey Theatre finally got wise and moved their cars further from the onslaught of baseballs. They had already gotten about 7 cars either in the windshield or on their body parts and I scampered around and collected over 24 balls that day, just over the left field wall. But down the old right field line, players could hit paying customers cars parked along 1st Street South along the street sides. So what is so unusual about the Port Charlotte situation?



 


 

 

Well, if a baseball gets waterlogged, it is pretty much garbage for some time, or for ever depending on the total amount of time it takes a swim in the water. Maybe this Spring Training the Rays might have to suck it up and expect the added expenses, but in 2010 there might be some unique changes in the structures. Maybe they can develop a screen system like the City of Clearwater did along McMullen-Booth Road to combat balls going out of the softball fields and ending up in the windshields of cars going 45 mph down the road.
 

Or maybe they can contact that old golf driving range off of 66th Street just short of Ulmerton and buy those massive steel support poles and the screening they used for years to keep balls from hitting cars going down 66th Street every day and night. There are solutions in the air to fix this problem, the real situation is what they can do this year. Well, I have at least two ideas that might work or not work compared to what the Rays think the liabilities will be with both of them. Now these ideas are just that, ideas, and you can take and mold them anyways you want as long as you find a great solution that will fit your needs for 2009.



 

 
 

 
First off, maybe check with a local golf course and get the number of their golf ball guy. You know that guy you have seen during the early or late rounds of golf snorkeling or diving in the golf ponds bringing up those buckets of balls to be resold in the course Pro Shop as either range or practice balls. It might be keep and cost efficient because you could have him out there during B P  shagging the balls as the hit the water. The balls still might be wet, but they will dry faster than sitting out there for hours waiting for some kid with a fishing net pulling them out of the murky water before they finally sink to the silt and muck below.
 

 

Second, you could find people like me who would be willing to come out everyday and sit beyond the fences and consider it an athletic workout to get those balls and collect them in a bucket to get them back to the mound for more running and catching and, well exercise. You could even make a game or contest of it all. By selecting the number of guys you will need to cover the areas before the lakes, you could have them sign a waiver, bring their own glove and put them out there in a new Rays cap and let them go nuts for a few hours. Maybe the old lifeguard chair from Progress Energy could be put on one field near the clubhouse and someone sit in that chair.
 
 


 

 

Or maybe you can have the guys go nuts all day long shagging balls and give them each a player-signed ball after the day to show your thanks for a job well done. I hate to say it, but I would drive down there every day to get a bit closer to fulfilling that fantasy of playing baseball instead of football. These are only a few of the ideas that pop into my little mind daily that could help the Tampa Bay Rays in some way. Maybe that is one of the reason I write my blog, to get this stuff out of my brain before it explodes, or maybe I write it because I want this team to be here for as long as I live, and that might be a long time.
 

 

So, Rays Front Office, the choice is yours. Either you think about one of those ideas I gave you, or you have to suck it up and pay out the money for new balls daily. I know this complex is not Raymond J Namoli complex, but it has a beauty and a confined space that just says baseball. This is the infant stage of the new complex, problem will arise daily and be dealt with, but if the fact that baseballs are flying into the lakes or the parking lot might cause further financial damage to you, then think about a few of these solutions. I can be there at 9 :30 every day if you need me until April, then I have reservations to shag balls daily in the right field stands at the Trop. 
 
 

 
Photo Credits for Today’s blog:  www.scubadiving.com, www.texnet.com, falkensmaize and missannthrope723 @ Flickr.com
 
 

The Rollercoaster Year of Scott Kazmir

 
 

For years Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir has been considered one of the rising stars of Major League Baseball. As recently as 2007, he held off  a late season rush by Minnesota Twin’s fire-baller Johan Santana for the American League strikeout crown. It was a sign of greater opportunities for Kazmir.  At that moment, Kazmir was being thought of as one of the next big stars to grace the fields of the MLB, after his 2008 season Kazmir is only 47 wins away from 300 for his short career. In the past season, Kazmir began to not only believe the hype but also creat some of his own earlier in 2008.
 

Usually when you see a “Handle with Care” sticker on a package you tend to gracefully pick it up, move it and set it down. But if it is attached to one of your hard-throwing left handers, does the same thing apply?  Kazmir has gone through a interesting 12 months since the beginning of his 2008 Spring Training camp.  Kazmir had come into camp with a renewed confidence and an eager chance to put the Rays in the drivers seat in 2008. But on his last warm up pitch before throwing in a Inter squad game during the early stages of Spring Training, Kazmir felt some discomfort in his left elbow and the Rays quickly pulled him from starting the game.

 
 

On March 25, 2008 the Rays officially put Kazmir on the 15-day disabled list for a left elbow strain.  The MRI showed no damage to the joint, but was considered to only be down two weeks at the time. The injury actually was actually a bit more severe than originally thought, and the team extended his disabled list time until Kazmir could throw 90 pitches, or 5 innings of work.  After 44 days on the disabled list, the Rays activated Kazmir on May 3rd back onto the 25-man roster.  Kazmir has always been known as a public favorite when it comes to interviews and appearances during the season. 
 
 
He had always done a lot of preseason publicity for the team, actually going on local radio station 97X,  on the Fisher and Boy show and predicting 20 wins for himself and a post season or bust mentality for the team. At the moment, the Rays media and maybe the medical staff must have thought he had gotten into the good medications and made a off-the cuff remark. But Kazmir restated the prediction before the end of the interview and the legend began.  But the prediction would not be the biggest shocker of the season, when Kazmir and the Rays just days later revealed that they had agreed upon a contract extension . It was a 4-year deal for $ 28.5 million with a club option for 2012 of $ 11 million. 
 
 
At the time of the contracts announcement, Kazmir  had two years of arbitration eligibility before he would have hit the free agent market in 2010. The deal in essence sealed his next 4 years, including one year of his free agency before the club options will be considered by the Rays.  Kazmir only went out on May 27th and toss one of his best performances of the year in a  7-3 win over the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas. In the contest Kazmir struck out 10 batters and went 7 innings, giving up only 3-hits and 1 run in the game.  The game also increased his record to 4-1, in which Kazmir had a 4-game winning streak. Also of importance was the fact he has only given up 1 walk in the last 2 games.
 
 


 

 
The season looked to be turning around for Kazmir. First the great contract, and now heading to a 5-1 mark at the end of May.  In his last start of the month, Kazmir shutout the Chicago White Sox 2-0 on a 7-inning, 3-hit masterpiece. The year looked to be turning totally in his favor.  There was talk that maybe he had finally broken through the threshold that kept him from becoming one of the league’s elite pitchers.  June even started on a hot note as Kazmir again took on the Rangers and won his 6th straight game tossing 8 innings and giving up 2 runs and striking out 6 and issuing no walks in the game. It is important to watch his walks totals, in the past when that mark usually hits between 4 -6, the Rays leftie has problems in his starts.  His ERA was slowing creeping downward at  1.40, and he was listed among the American League’s best ERA’s at that point in the season.

 

But Kazmir’s luck finally ran out on June 11th when he lost for only the second time in 2008 against the  hard hitting Los Angeles Angels. In a pitcher’s duel with Angels starter Jon Lackey, both men traded strikeouts until finally Kazmir gave up a 2-run double to Macier Izturis that knocked him out of the game. Even though Kazmir got 10 strikeouts in the game, and threw over 117 pitches, it was his three walks that put the Angels  in a position to win that night. This was the beginning of a period when Kazmir would have mixed reviews on the mound for the Rays. His first hint of trouble came in the game against the Chicago Cubs when he lasted just 4.2 innings and struck out 7, but also gave up 4 walks in the game. 
 

From that June 17th contest against the Cubs, until his last start of the first half against the Cleveland Indians, Kazmir made 6 starts and settled into the All-Star break with a 7-5 record for the Rays. During that span he did have a lot of things go his way, In the June 27th game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Kazmir only lasted 5 innings, but an early rout by the Rays on  Pirates rookie Jimmy Barthmaier secured his 7th win of the season.  In his last three appearances of the first half, Kazmir went 0-2, with a no-decision. 
 

Kazmir was showing a huge difference in his pitches than earlier in the season. He seemed to be trying to place the pitches instead of just pitching his style. It was rumored that he had elbow situations again, but nothing materialized and it was just decided that his mechanics were just off right now. But what was evident to fans and players like was that he had almost abandoned his slider, which had been one of the best in the A L  when it was hitting its marks. Without that pitch, Kazmir relied more on his fastball and his change up in the first half of the season.

 

 

 
 
 

 Kazmir did have some good news in the first half of the season as he was selected to his second All-Star game. But the Rays sent strict directions to American League  All-Star team Manager Terry Francona that Kazmir was not to pitch extended innings and be kept out of the contest at all costs. That seemed to work into Franconas favor when in the top of the 15th inning, with everyone else used in the Bullpen and the bench as pitchers, he had to call upon Kazmir to throw at least one inning for the American League. Kazmir came in and on 14 pitches got one strikeout and give the American League a chance to win the contest. For his efforts, Kazmir became the first Rays pitcher to record a victory in the All-Star game. With that positive momentum, you would think it would have worked in his favor to boost both his confidence and his ability on the mound. 
 

Rays Manager Joe Maddon gave Kazmir a couple of extra days off after that All-Star game appearance before finally using him for his first start of the second half on July 21st. In his first start after the All-star game, Kazmir  went 7 innings in a 2-0 shutout of the Oakland A’s at home. In the contest, Kazmir only gave up 2hits, but he also posted 9 strikeouts and gave up 4 walks in the contest. He was not back yet with his control, but the contest helped him boost his record to 8-5 for the Rays.  Kazmir then went 3 starts with a no-decision before finally losing on August 12th against the Oakland A’s.  Over his next 4 starts he averaged only 4.5 innings of work and gave up a total of 21 hits, but only surrendered 11 runs in those games.
 

 

Kazmir was also starting to show signs of sporadic pitching in which he was exiting the game earlier than usual and not hitting his spots again. He was trying to hit the outside corners more, and the umpires were not giving him the corner and the frustration was evident on his face during his time on the mound.  Finally in his 3rd start of the year against the Rangers, Kazmir got back on the winning side by throwing a 4-hit, 2-run 7 strikeout game on August 17th.  But in that contest Kazmir again was showing a wild side as he also surrendered 4 walks to the Rangers in the game. Kazmir again took the mound on August 23rd against the Chicago White Sox and was rendered a no-decision after only going 6 innings in the game.
 

 

Kazmir finally got back on the winning horse when he won on August 29th in Baltimore with a 5.1 innings stint that produced a 3-hit shutout on 102 pitches. Also important on this day was the fact that it was the Rays 63rd victory of the year and it secured their first winning season in history.  Kazmir seemed to be riding the upward slope on his roller coaster year as he again blanked the New York Yankees on September 4th in a 1-hit shutout. Kazmir only lasted 6 innings in th contest, but again he posted 7 strikeouts in the game to go along with 4 walks. But it was the September 9th start against Diasuke Matsuzaka in Fenway Park that set the stage for the Rays claiming the American League East title.



 


 
 

In the contest, both pitchers showed early dominance until after 6 innings and surrendering 5-hits and only 2 runs Kazmir left the contest. The significance of this game was that it was the game in which Rays pinch hitter Dan Johnson took Jonathan Papelbon deep into the Red Sox Bullpen in the 9th inning before Dioner Navarro hit a double to win the game for the Rays. This victory snapped a win less streak in Fenway that had eluded the Rays all season long.  With the curse at Fenway now lifted, the Rays ended up securing the series and keep their lead in the A L East race. 
 
 
 

5 days later Matsuzaka and Kazmir again squared off at Tropicana Field and Kazmir lasted only 3 innings giving up 9 runs on 6 hits and only surviving 72 pitches in the contest. This was by far the worst appearance for the young leftie this season for the Rays, and it dropped his record to 11-7.  For one of the first times in his Rays career, Kazmir gave up as many walks as he got strikeout in the game…..4.  But it was his start on September 20th that he showed the big game presence and confidence for the Rays. In this contest against the hard charging Minnesota Twins, Kazmir threw 6 innings of 5-hit ball and shutout the visiting Twins to secure the Rays first playoff berth.  Not only did he improve his record to 12-7, but Kazmir looked amazing in the game starting to use his slider more and confused the Twins hitters at the plate.
 

 

In his last start of the regular season, Kazmir again had the chance to put his name in the Rays trivia book as he took the mound on September 25th against the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park to secure the A L East for the Rays. Kazmir was not sharp and got handed a loss while going 5 innings and posting 6 strikeouts in the game. The Rays would have to wait another day before finally securing the AL East title, but Kazmir was visibly upset after the game. But with the playoffs staring them in the face, the Rays knew that they needed their young ace confident and ready to handle almost anything. 
 

 

He got his first postseason start in the American League Divisional Series against the Chicago White Sox on October 3rd and posted his first postseason win in a 6-2 victory over the White Sox to take a 2-0 lead in the best of 4 series.  Kazmir went 5.1 innings and threw 98 pitches while surrendering 8 hits and 2 runs in the game.  The Rays took their 2-0 series lead to Chicago and came back with a ALDS series victory. Kazmir then began to get ready for a rematch against divisional foes, the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship series.  Because of Tampa Bay’s securing the A L East title, they got to host the Red Sox in the first two games.

 

    
 

 
 

Kazmir again got to face the Red Sox hitters on October 11th. But in this match up, it was the Red Sox who dominated Kazmir who only went 4.1 innings and threw 98 pitches before bowing out of the contest. He had given up 3 walks in the game and only posted 2 strikeouts, one of his worst pitching statistics of the season. His ERA skyrocketed to 10.38 for the postseason, but the Rays did come back in the contest to score the winning run on a B J Upton sacrifice fly to right in the 9th inning to win 9-8.  
 

 

On October 16th, Matsuzaka and Kazmir met again and this time it seemed as if Kazmir had the upper hand in the game. In the game Kazmir did his part by going 6 innings and throwing only 2 hits in shutting down the Red Sox offense. But after he left the contest, the Rays Bullpen had troubles and Kazmir ended up with a no-decision for his efforts that night en route to a 8-7 Red Sox win.  Kazmir did get to lower his ERA to a more respectable 4.35 with the outing. Kazmir did not get to pitch again in the ALCS, but with the Rays clinching a victory in Game 7 at Tropicana Field, they were heading to their first World Series berth.
 

 

Kazmir got the call for Game 2 at the Trop., and he proved up to the occasion as he go the start during the first game of the series. He was pitted against Cole Hamels, and the two pitcher were throwing a fantastic game until the Phillies broke loose in the game after Phiilies catcher Carlos Ruiz grounded out to Jason Bartlett to score the third run of the game and put the Phillies up 3-0 on the Rays.  Kazmir ended up throwing 6 innings of 6-hit, 3 run ball, but he also had control issues in the contest as the Phillies were waiting for his pitches outside and took advantage of his wildness. He ended up posting 4 strikeouts and 4 walks in the game on 110 pitches. That was the last time he took the mound for the Rays in 2008.
 

 

After starting his season later than usual, Kazmir did end up starting 27 games and going only 152.1 innings. He did end up giving up the least amount of earned run on the staff with 59 for the year, but also threw less innings in the season. Kazmir did not have a banner year or post season, and people were beginning to question his pitch selection and placement at the plate. Some even thought that he lost his confidence in his slider, and that he might not get it back in time to save a great career. But in the last two post season series, Kazmir did indeed use his slider more and more and it was pretty effective against hitters once again.
 

 

In the off season, Kazmir went to work on a strength program where he added about 20 pounds to his frame to help him endure the rigors of pitching more in 2009. When he came into camp earlier in the year there was a sizable difference to him in that his forearms and shoulders did have an added depth and his overall body core looked more lean. He was also selected to be a member of the Team USA squad for the 2009 World Baseball classic. Kazmir was looking to represent his country and maybe even pitch during the first round action against Team Canada in Toronto. But the Rays expressed their desire that he not participate in the WBC because of the workload he endured in 2008.
 

 

Even if he did throw less innings, they were worried that the short off season might have after effects on his pitching. So yesterday it was announced that the WBC was taking Kazmir off the Team USA roster because he spent 44 days on the disabled list in 2008. Tampa Bay had filed a request with Major League Baseball that would effectively prevent him from playing in the classic. Players who were on the disabled list for 45 days can be blocked from playing.  Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman told  Bill Chastain of MLB.com that, “We felt with the health issues he had at the beginning of last season, coupled with playing the extra month, we felt the prudent thing to do is to push him back a little bit this spring.”

 
 

 

I am going to tell you how it is in my world about this revelation by the Rays to prevent him from playing in the classic. I am appalled that the Rays will not let this guy participate. The WBC has pitch counts set, and also have precautions in place to help prevent injuries and problems that could linger into the regular season. you might only get one chance to represent your country, and it is a great honor to even be considered, much less told you will be a valued member of the staff. The Rays took a huge opportunity from Kazmir here that would be a highlight of his career. 
 

 

Ken Griffey Jr, and even Chipper Jones have stated in the past that this is one of the most memorable honors of their careers. For the Rays to take that from Kazmir is showing that management is not afraid to overstep the boundaries to secure their wishes.  Considering that the Rays are going to split their pitching staff into two groups during the Spring Training games shows that they plan on monitoring their pitching staff and also giving them minimum innings before the regular season. Why not let Kazmir play for Team USA, you are letting Rays reliever J P Howell play without any reservations to your Bullpen setup guy maybe getting hurt in the classic.
 
 

 
Photo credits for today’s blog go to RRCollections and the Associated Press Corp photo pool.

 

 

Two Observations for Tuesday

 

Pony Express Medical Reports


What is it lately with the Tampa Bay Rays and their medical reports. I mean we waited almost a week for the “official” signing of relief pitcher Brain Shouse. The big holdup was said to be the reception of the medical records. Either the Rays are doing such in-depth medical examinations that reports come in from multiple sources, or they might still be the only team still using the Pony Express to transfer documents. Come on guys, I know when I go for an entire check under the hood, the only thing that takes a huge amount of time is the blood work. 

 
 
 
 It is not as if we are trying to hide a bad drug test here, or even count nickels and dimes to make the salary requirements, it is a medical test that show and could be done in a timely matter. As a matter of fact, then why even leak a bit of this out to the public or the media until it is sealed in gold, with a definite conclusion in your hands. Same can be said for the now 4 day confirmation of the Rays only arbitration case left on the book for 2009 with infielder Willy Aybar. The scheduled arbitration hearing was canceled, and there was a hushed whisper that he had signed for two-years with a club option for 2011.
 

But then again, here we are waiting anxiously for the “official” word while the media giants have already told us the good news. It is like your best friend telling you what you parents bought you for your birthday as you are holding their gift in your mitts. I know with today’s surveillance and spy tool media we can find things out before you even get that first breath out, but come on guys, do not treat us like children. We want the good news. We crave the good news to not only make our lives seem better, but to show the world that the Rays have their stuff together again in 2009.  We all know the potential and the expectation of 2009, but do we also have to wait here like hidden guests at a surprise birthday party only to learn the birthday boy just stepped into the backdoor and surprised us.

 

                   
 
 
I am not faulting the Rays here in any ways. Sometimes information gets out and the press can pounce on it and the event is not finalized for a few days. Given the medical fields advancements, you might anticipate the results faster, but we do live in a microwave world nowadays. We have to have everything within minutes or it is a cover up. The Aybar contract is suppose to be announced today, but will the local press even be here since Alex Rodriguez is going to go to the podium 70-some miles north this after noon and discuss an over 6-year old test result with us. Lets hope that the event is met with wine and roses at the Rays Press Conference pertaining to the event. Aybar was an important piece of the puzzle in 2008, and will be counted on to go beyond that measure of success in 2009. He should be applauded and rewarded with a contract fitting his contributions to the team in their playoff run. But we will have to sit and wait for now.

 

 

 

 

 
DHL or UPS Mr Burrell?
 


During yesterday’s media session, we got word that Pat Burrell’s 125 pound English Bulldog Elvis was making his way from Arizona to the Rays Spring Training complex. Burrell had already taken down the nameplate off the neighboring locker to begin the renovation for his arrival. But my question here is, if Burrell is already in Florida with his wife, why was Elvis in Arizona?  Did he have his own off season workout going on to come into training camp trim and slim and ready to bite A-Rod’s ankles? Or was it a question of logistics because of his size, maybe he can not be transported by plane like like teacup dogs.

 

I got my answer in a service designed to get pets to their owners called  www.wemovepets.com.  It is a family-owned business that grew out of their own need to transport their furry and multi-legged extended family members. As I understand it, the company provides ground based transport for your animals from coast-to-coast  or anywhere. I found out an interesting fact that I did not know that animal activist groups frown on air transport for animals. I can actually see this reasoning without a huge article written about it on the website. Most airlines do not have  extreme pressurized cargo holds and the animals could suffer from heat or cold, and even the anxiety of the plane could cause situation with the animal.

 


The service sounds extremely catered to the dogs comfort, which if you were the 125 pound English Bulldog featured riding on the Budweiser float with your owner during the World Series parade, you want comfort and safety firsthand.  I had to include this quote on the website, because it is so true and pets do become more important to us in our lives.
” Pet relocation is serious business, only left in the care of trustworthy pet carriers and animal courier services. USDA- Licensed pet movers are the ideal choice, and guarantees comfortable travel for your dogs, cats, birds or reptiles. “
 


What I found interesting about the shipping of your ” best friend”, is that they schedule the event around your animal’s needs. That the transport driver only takes a limited amount of animals per trip and he is in contact with the home office at all times.  The fact that you can be told of your pet’s progress at any time of the trip, and have the driver’s cellphone number seemed a bit weird, but I also know how attached you can be to your pets. I am wondering if they stay overnight anywhere, do the animals get separate rooms or is it an animal house in the hotel ( Sorry had to do that).

 


But in the end, they have relocation centers in 48 states in the country, and can transport your pet safe and sound to you at any time.  I also was scanning the site and got a great kicker to this service. The transportation of your animal can be tax deductible. All you need to do is send for IRS Publication # 521 which states that, ” Pet moving is a tax-deductible relocation expense when your relocation and moving is for purposes of change of employment.”   the website also has a PDF link to the publication so you can print it right from the site. 

 


I got to admit here, Elvis Burrell might not have a better trip in his life. He can chat with the other dogs, cats and maybe even reptiles while being transported into the Florida sun to be with Pat and his wife in beautiful Port Charlotte, Florida.  But I think one of the last paragraph I found on the site says it all. “At We Move Pets, we love dogs. Like people, each one is an individual. We listen to what you, the owner says about your beloved dog’s personality and act accordingly. Not every dog likes to travel, while others love to take a road trip. Some dogs are friendly to everyone while others are loners. No matter the temperament of your dog, we will make sure to give them the same level of love and care they receive from you at home. “

 

Now it is only a matter of time until we will hear Burrell yell these iconic words in Charlotte Sports Park, ” Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis is in the building.”

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: Colleen0313, Brewercrazy and Bobindrum @ flikr.com

 

Kevin Kennedy Announced as the Rays New Broadcast Analyst

 

 

 
 
I was upstairs on the third floor in the Rays executive offices a few days ago and over heard a conversation that was going on between a few people about Kevin Kennedy. Now I knew that the Fox Baseball broadcaster had been contacted by the team in the past about their job opening, but I did not  know he was considering the position until I read it in another blog ( www.raysindex.com ) two days later. Where was my journalistic instincts that day. 
 

I could have broke a great story, or at least posted the same day as everyone else. But for some reason I did not think he was going to be on the broadcast team. I was under the mindset that he might be a guest during Fan Fest like Buck Martinez and would shed some great light on baseball today.  I was told on Saturday at Fan Fest that they tried hard to get him there for the Florida Sports Network ( FSN ) autograph signing to surprise the Rays faithful with the announcement. Not tell me that would not have psyched you out to go up to the table to see colorful Dwayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy sitting with Todd Kalas singing away like madmen.
 


So even if I am upset with myself for accidentally falling into a story, I am excited that we have a high caliber replacement like Kennedy for Joe Magrane. I was sorry to see Magrane go to the MLB Network. Not so much that I would miss his tall sense of humor and inside jokes during the broadcast, but I liked his analogies during the game. He had a special bond with these players having played at this level and had his own success on the mound.  I recently saw a review of the American League East, and Magrane looked troubled to have to chat about his former team. He will be great at MLB Network, and I truly wish him the best.



 
 

                             

 
Kennedy will be the color analyst for most of the Rays broadcasts in 2009, but he will have to leave the booth from time to time to take care of prior commitments with Fox Sports and will also  still do his daily XM radio talk show with Rob Dibble on  XM Satellite Radio channel 175.  Un known to some fans is the fact that Kennedy has been nominated twice for Emmys for his work at Fox Sports.  So with his new position, Kennedy also has some past commitments and in his absence in the booth, the Rays will have a familiar voice to fans stand in for him. During the 2008 season when Magrane was out of town in New York City for the Olympic baseball telecasts, former Cleveland Indians color commentator Brian Anderson would take off his Rays uniform and strap on his suit to help take over for him.  Pregame and post-game host Todd Kalas will also slide up into the commentators chair on select broadcasts in 2009.
 

 
So let’s get to know a little bit more about the guy who will be up in the Rays booth this year with Staats. Kevin Kennedy did play organized professional baseball, but was limited to the minor leagues as a catcher in the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.   He began his trek into coaching with stints in  the Caribbean Winter League before finally getting position in the minor leagues. In 1983 he began his coaching career as a catching instructor in the Los Angeles Dodger organization and in 1984, he began his first full season coaching in the Pioneer League with the Great Falls Dodgers.  He stayed with that franchise until 1986, and he appeared in the conference finals twice in the last two years, winning the championship in 1985.  In 1987, he moved up to the Bakersfield Dodgers in the California League and  78-65 record for the season. 
 

 
Kennedy then got his first taste of life in Texas when he went in 1986 to the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League and lead them to a 73-60 record. The team ended up in second place in the conference and lost in the first round of the playoffs that year.  From 1989-1991, Kennedy again stayed put in the  Pacific coast League as he took over as manager of the Albuquerque Dukes. He finished the regular season all three years in first place, but only won in the PCL’s playoff championship in 1990.  That season  the team posted a 92-51 record, which became his best minor league managerial records.
 

 
             
 

Kennedy finally made it onto a major league squad as a coach with the Montreal Expos in 1992. He  was hired by Tommy Runnels , but ended up coaching  under Felip Alou after Runnels was let go by the franchise. He only stayed in Montreal for one year before getting his big break in 1993 when he was hired by the Texas Ranger to take over as manager of the team. His squad posted a 86-76 record for the year and placed second in the American League West division. But the best was yet to come as in 1994 when he won his first divisional title.  Kennedy is still the only manager to ever win a division title with a sub-.500 record. When the 1994 strike put a premature end to the season, the Rangers were standing atop the four-team AL Western Division, with a record of 52-62. They had finished ten games over .500 in 1993, and their record in the strike-shortened season was considered a serious disappointment, leading to Kennedy’s dismissal. 
 

 
But Kennedy did not have to wait long for another opportunity to manage in the major leagues. He was hired by Butch Hobson to coach for the Boston Red Sox and was the Red Sox managements choice to succeed Hobson in 1995. Kennedy pushed the Red Sox to a 86-58 record in 144 games, and they won the American League East title that season.  But in 1996, the Red Sox struggled and posted only a 85-77 record in 162 games. The  overall team record and his teams being swept in the playoffs by the Cleveland Indians was viewed as a travesty and Kennedy was replaced by Jimy Williams in the off season.

 


 

              
 
 

Kennedy then went on to work at ESPN in 1998, where he spent two years as an analyst on their national Wednesday Night Baseball game telecast, and on ESPN Radio’s Sunday Night Baseball games.  After leaving ESPN, Kennedy began work with Fox Sports Net as an analyst for the ” National Sports Report “, providing commentary and in-depth features. In recent years, Kennedy has been on the Fox Saturday pregame show with Jeannes Zelasko.   I also did not know that Kennedy was co-author of a baseball book entitled, ” Twice Around the Bases”. I am going to have to hit Amazon.com in the next few days and see if I can find a good copy of the book to read, and then get Kennedy to autogrpah. Maybe I might even review the book in a blog sometimes during an off-day during the season.

Within the last two months it has been learned that Fox will terminate the pre-game show featuring both hosts and that might have opened the door for the Rays opportunity for Kennedy. MLB on Fox has not decided on their 2009 direction, but they will now have to stay the course without Kennedy on board the ship. I think this hiring is an excellent decision by the Tampa Bay Rays. They get a guy who is respected for his baseball knowledge as an ex-manager, and as a network show co-host for several seasons. Kennedy was also very pro-Rays during the 2008 season and will bring great insight into the managerial and network side of sports for the viewers.  He will also be a great speaker for the Rays in civic events and will be a firm foundation for the broadcast team in 2009.

He comes on board with Staats who has now done over 4,400 broadcasts in his career, and is always a finalist for the Hall of Fame’s Frick award.  Kevin Kennedy might not have been my first choice to fill that position, but I also did not even know that he was available at the time. People like Bobby Valentine were mentioned for the job, but Kennedy bring with him the clout and the prestige that the Rays need to push their image nationally in the coming years. Again the Tampa Bay Rays front office get kudos for their smart decision and quick grasp to get Kennedy into the Rays fold.

photo credits for today’s blog include Reddawg32on Flicker.com, http://www.orbitcast.com, http://www.grandstandsports.com.

 

Rays Fan Fest 2009 Photo Blog


 
 
I promised you a photo blog today, and I am going to deliver it. I will also make sure to put some captions and explanations to some of the photos. Some have an interesting background that I did not cover in my Fan Fest blog that I finally got online after 9 pm on Saturday. I can tell you that I was a bit late coming back to the house after my laptop died at the stadium because my cord for some reason did not work in the outlets today at the Trop. But have no fear, the pictures are here…………Hope you enjoy them as mush as I did taking them today.

 

 

 

 
 

I came through the center field opening about 9:03 a.m., and it was a sight to see how well spread out the Rays had done the event this year. It was also the clam before the storm as over 35,000 fans ended up coming into the dome today to meet and greet the 2009 Rays team members at either the autograph tables or during the many team player events throughout the Fan Fest.

 
 

 
 

I do not think this sign needs any more introduction other than to tell you it is the last thing the Rays team players see before they step down into the dugout and onto the field. To say that the Rays have their own brand of doing things might be an understatement. They are a team that takes on the personality of their manger Joe Maddon and fights to the last out every inning, every game.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
As you can see by the above two pictures, Rays Manager Joe Maddon is big on quotes of inspiration and influence. Maddon is a firm believer in the mental side of the game, and it effects on a team. All throughout the clubhouse you will find saying and antidotes bringing up character and honest effort on and off the field. 

  
 
 
 
 

 
 
As you can see by the last two photos, the Rays clubhouse is an awesome place to relax and get into game mode. Chris Westmoreland, the Rays Clubhouse Manager was selected as the leagues best at his job in 2008. And by looking at the comfort and the extreme luxuries he has given the team, from laptops usage in the clubhouse to food services, he is about making sure everyone in this locker room get what they need daily. The second photos is a side view into Maddon’s office where he has several uniforms framed on his wall. One is a team mate jersey from Lafayette University where Maddon played baseball in college.  He also has a very unique feature in there, a wine rack that Maddon regularly uses after games to relax with coaches and players.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 
This is the scene at 10 a.m. just after the front door were opened to regular fans who did not have a season ticket. As you can see, the lines in the autograph area have not truly formed yet.  Near the end of this photo blog, you will see the chaos that unfolded around 2-3 p.m. in the dome. The second photo is a from my seat right there at the bottom of Section 138. One of the great features of having Season Tickets is that you get a black nameplate on your seat to show that you are a true fan, and that you sit there. Believe me, during some of the series in the Trop., you have to shoo people away with a bat from that prime seat for foul balls in Batting Practice.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
These photos are of the kid’s zone area that catered to young Rays fans and tested their skills out in front of the crowds. Talk about pressure cooker situations.

 

 

 
 

 

 

 
In the first photo is famous boxing corner man Angelo Dundee who was signing today for fans and also taking pictures. Many people might remember him as the corner man for boxing champions Muhammad Ali, and Floyd Whittaker. The second photo is of the tandem of Dave Willis and Andy Freed who do the Rays Radio broadcast of every game. These guys have an awesome chemistry and are some of the nicest people you ever want to meet in baseball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Here we have Dick Crippen, local sports legendary sports anchor announcing the members of the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame. The wall now hold the names of over 100 enthusiastic Rays fans who have been nominated by the Rays management and the Fans for their spirit and involvement in the Rays games. I was inducted into this wall in 2004, and up until 2007 I also helped build the Pepsi displays that served as the background for the events.   I have to say, that the displays have been getting bigger and better evey year. I can not wait to see what the 2010 display will look like and how big it will be. Pictured above is Pieter Wiemken, who was enshrined today in the Fans Wall of Fame. Most people might recognize him for his wig and his signs during the Boston series this year and by him banging his cowbell in the upper deck right behind home plate. He is a great addition to the Wall of Fame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Here we have the awesome Rays calliope that was a piece featured in the Schrader’s baseball collection display. The collection is touted as being the “World’s Largest Privately Owned Baseball Collection.” The calliope itself is an amazing centerpiece to the display. Also pictured is the styrofoam “Maddon’s Maniac” character that graces all of that special Rays club’s cowbells and t-shirts given out to the club’s members. I will talk more about the 2009 expectations of this great club in the future.

 

 
 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 
Starting with the first photo here, we have Rays starting pitcher James Shields and speedster Fernando Perez taking a photo with a Rays season Ticket holder. The event went on all afternoon long with two players each standing their for photo opportunities from 1-5 p.m. At one point, the line stretch about half way into the right field street hallway before finally slinking down towards the 5 p.m. time. The second photo is of Pat Burrell recording a voice mail message on my cellphone for people to hear when they call me. This event sponsored by Metro PCS went on from 1-3, and also featured Rookie David Price and other players calling friends and family during the event. The third photo is of  the Rays Radio team doing an interview with Buck Martinez in the Budweiser Brew House. This is the event that Martinez talked about the uphill battle the Rays might have to take in 2009, but he sees it as a positive for the team, and stressed that this is also a better team than the one that won the A L Pennant in 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
In the first photo in this set we have Rays reliever Grant Balfour and new Rays Matt Joyce up on the signing tables waiting for the fans. You might notice that I am sitting in my Season ticket seat right now taking in the last few hours of the event. I even have a pretty good sight line when I am at Fan Fest. In the second photo, you see Rays reliever Jason Hammel looking over at Carlos Pena, who also has his charming young daughter up on stage with him drawing during the autograph session. In the last picture is the greeting between Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pena before he leaves the stage at the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an idea to show how crowded the autograph areas got during the day. The first photo was taken at about 1 :30 p.m. and you can see that the line snakes around past my seating area and into the hall beyond right field. The second one, I wanted to get the time in the picture to show you how it got even more congested just before 3:00 p.m. around the stage one area.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
The first photo shows Rays Bullpen coach Bobby Ramos holding court up in the Stage one area with Maddon and Rays Hitting coach Steve ” Hendo” Henderson sitting their listening to Ramos. This group of coaches all seems to fit so well together. I have seen them after games at a few places, and they truly like to spend time with each other. The second photo is as Pena was leaving and dn he was shouting over to see if I was still going to be sitting their in 2009. By the way Carlos……….where else would I be except maybe the dugout…I wish. In the third photo, Scott Kazmir was coming off the stage area and asked if I was going for chicken wings. I hate that some of these guys know me so well they know I am bound for Ferg’s and his world famous chicken wings anytime I am down in St Petersburg.

 

 

 

 
And this last photo says it all. Here we are at the apex to spring training and the Rays have the enthusiasm and the confidence to even provide a “Magical Number” for 2009. It was a fantastic day to again chat and revisit  with friends and players alike and dream about what might be in 2009. I hope you enjoyed my photo blog of my adventures at the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest.

 

 

All Photos today were obtained by the RRCollections and can be copied or used for advertising and promotion of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

 

Fan-tastic Rays Fan Fest

 

 

 
 
Every time I head out for the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest in the middle of February, I head out with a renewed vigor and vitality for the expectations and the anxious excitement of the upcoming season. Well, if the sight I saw at 8 :45 a.m. is any indication of the community support for the team in 2009, the rest of the league will not see a huge amount of blue seats during the ball games. I know it is too early to even imagine over 2 million fans in the seats at Tropicana Field, but that is what today is all about………dreaming of the future and celebrating the good fortunes of 2008 with 35,000-40,000 of my closet Rays fans.
 


I seriously did not expect to see over 4 ,000 people standing in line outside waiting for the 9a.m. Season Ticket holder opening when I pulled into Lot 6 off of 1st Avenue South in St. Petersburg. I also did not expect that most would be as excited as me to the possibilities of the coming year, and wondering who might sign, or not sign inside today. From the moment they left us in early to be able to a few circles around the field and check out the sights, it was by far the best Fan Fest that the Rays have put on in their short history.
 


Kudos go out to Mark Fernandez and Brian Killingsworth for the awesome display booth and sights that greeted your eyes when you first walked into the stadium in center field. Some people just love to be able to walk on the Field Turf, but if you have been a Rays fans for years, you know the turf can be a bit hard on your legs after a few hours.  The sights that first hit your eyes is the grouping to the left that featured several of the Rays big time sponsors who gave away free items for fans in attendance. There were the free Rays 2009 TV schedule poster by Florida Sports Network ( FSN ) that also featured several members of the Rays Television crew signing for the fans. 



 

 

 
 
Then you had a booth set up for famous Nathans Hot Dog Champion Joey Chestnut, who is a two-time champion of the annual Nathans event now. Later in the day, Rich Herrera, who does the pre and post game shows for the Rays challenged Chestnut to drink a gallon of milk without spilling or………. Chestnut downed the gallon of milk in under 45 seconds, and came up smiling to the crowd. Then down near the right field corner you had a booth set up for the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. They presented such former stars as ex-Rays Doug Creek, Billy DeMars, Bill Denehy, Joey Jay abd Tom Neidenfuer to the fans for questions and autographs.
 


A few hours later, former greats like, Wayne Garrett, Gary Peters, Jim Archer, Darold Knowles, and Mark Whiten also came out in support of the MLBPA event. The place was already a buzz with excitement and it was only 10 am. The autograph lines quickly filled up with Table 1 being the place to be today. At one point today, the line stretched out the right field gate and swirled into the tunnel under the stands twice to form a line of about 1,000 fans seeking autographs from the players ib just that first table. The first table got the first bit of bad news at about 12 noon when it was announced that Rookie of the Year winner Evan Longoria would not be signing at the event. Rays pitcher James Shields jumped in and rescued the hour by staying and signing for fans in place of Longoria.
 
 

Rumors quickly spread about the missing Longoria from a family emergency to missing the event because of an autograph contract with a company. I do not know the correct answer, but I will give Longoria the benefit of the doubt unless something else hits the fan. During the signings you could see the Cow from Cick-fil-A and Stewie from family guy going around and chatting with kids and fans waiting in line for autographs. 
 

 

 
 

If you left the autograph area and moved down the first baseline, you were met by the Metro PCS table, where from 1-3 pm today, a Rays player could phone someone you knew and chat for a minute or two. I got new Rays Pat Burrell to leave my new voice mail message on my cellphone for my website. But other players like 2008 first round pick Tim Beckham and David Price were over at the tables during the day. If you kept going to the first baseline, you saw that Chevrolet was out giving Rays fans free gifts and presenting the 2009 models close up and personal. Then  you would come up on the Baseball America table where you could sign up to win a special prize from them throughout the day and receive the newest copy of the magazine. the MLB Network also had a small table set up giving away more goodies for the fans and giving them an opportunity to check out the new network that started on January 1, 2009.
 
 

The Rays Golden Rays club, which caters to its fans 55 and older was stationed right next to them and was taking applications and giving out the 2009 edition of the Golden Rays shirt, which was a striking gold shirt with royal blue lettering. After that it was a smattering of Rays booth featuring the Charlotte Sports Park, where the Rays will be playing their 2009 Spring Training games and hold all training session before the Spring games begin in 2009. On the opposite side were the Clear Channel radio stations lining the fencing for the “Kids Run the Bases” event that is so popular after Sunday’s Rays games.  Then you would come upon the Rays Radio Network, which had both their Spanish and English radio teams signing for the fans. 
 
 

Right next to them near the entrance for the Clubhouse tour was WDAE 620, the Sports Animal booth that was broadcasting throughout the Rays Fan Fest event. To their right was the Rays Maddon’s Maniac booth that was already taking applications and giving out collectibles for the 2009 season. I am going to write a blog in the coming week on the events and the new procedures for this great Rays booster club.  After that you had the Rays season Ticket folks and Raysbaseball.com situated right behind home plate to help you with your seat selection, or to view the website on a laptop set up on the table for you to browse the website.
 
 
 
A new item offered this year was an event by Raysworld, which does the in-game entertainment for the Rays games. They featured a event where you could do a “shout out” to your favorite Rays player, or give a motivational speech to the team. Some of the selected video from today’s taping will be featured on the Jumbotron during a 2009 Rays game. Then you had the world famous Rays Baseball Foundation table which listed silent auction items like a playoff “magical season” package that had items from every stage of the  Rays 2008 playoff season. Also up for bid was a team signed champagne bottle with every member of the 2008 Rays team members signing the bottle. 
 
 
 
Another item was a chance to be placed within the 2009 Rays Team Photo. I won this one in 2008, and I had a fantastic time that day. They also provided $ 20 grab bags that included a ball signed by a Rays player, past or present. You never know who you might get………I got a  Fred McGriff signed ball today.  Strolling down the third baseline you had the Moffitt Sun Safety squad out there giving away free sunscreen to Rays fans. Just a reminder to anyone heading to Port Charlotte. It is not on the water like the Tampa Bay area, so be sure to take sunscreen to the game to combat that nasty red burn on your nose and shoulders this spring.
 

 
 

Then you had two very special groups, the Rays  Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities ( RBI ) program. This is a fantastic program, and the Rays All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford once participating in a Houston area branch of this organization before being drafted by the Rays. Next to them is the Rays Wheelchair Softball team, which is currently ranked 7th in the nation, and is the reigning National Champion in Division II. Then you wander on down to the SABRE table, which asked Rays fans to find Rays players listed in a word search puzzle today for a prize. 
 
 

After that you wandered around the fencing of the infield to come upon the Ted Williams Museum table where a raffle went on all day for awesome autographed and limited edition photos and keepsakes from baseball and the world of boxing. Famous boxing corner man Angelo Dundee spent several hours here today signing autographs and taking pictures with Rays fans. The you came upon ” The Little Cooperstown” baseball display. It is a display sponsored by Rays season ticket holders, the Schrader family that holds over 3,500 baseballs in its collection. It is currently the “World’s Largest Privately Owned Baseball Collection”, and features a unique Rays calliope.
 
 

Then you come upon one of my favorite Rays collectible displays, the McKenney family Collection.  This is a very unique collection because it hold a baseball signed by every coach and player who ever put on a Rays uniform. It is also the pride and joy of Jeff McKenney, who fans at the Trop know affectionately as “The Sign Guy”. McKenney also has an amazing banner that he started that he has also gotten almost every Rays player to sign. The banner and the collection are a great look into the history of the Rays, and some date even before the first game in 1998.
 



 


 
 
 
But over in the left field Bullpen area is the first place you would find me today. At the Rays /Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame. Pepsi TSM Joanna Moore outdid herself this year with an amazing piece of sculpture using the new logo Pepsi 8-pack cartons. As usual, it was one of the most anticipated construction events at Fan Fest. The event held it’s 2009 Induction Ceremonies at noon, and 5 new members were inducted onto the wall. There are now 100 members of this elite fans display that is located in the Ted Williams Museum on the North wall. If you strolled between the walls of the Corona Beach Club you saw the fans that were taking their pictures with the 2008 American League trophy. 
 
 

To the right of them beyond the left field tunnel was the Rays Season Ticket opportunity where fans got to take their picture with two Rays players at the same time. Players like James Shields, Fernando Perez got things started at noon today and were followed by B J Upton and Matt Garza, Dioner Navarro and Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Bartlett and J P Howell, and Jeff Niemann and Troy Percival closed out the event at 5 pm. But it was the areas lining the left field walls towards center field that had the most action today. That was the location of the kid’s game area where speed pitching and hitting rules the day. But if that was too much for you right now, there was a three-story  little sluggers zone with wiffle balls, and a few of them even made it over the big white monster wall today. You then would stroll down to the big league batting cages and the wiffle ball home run derby event, where the little one were fed balls from a machine and aimed for the wall that resembled old Ebbet’s Field in Brooklyn, New York. 

 

 


 


 


One of the most popular photo opportunities was at either of the Rays enlarged baseball side displays, or the cutout where you could put yourself in the Rays home plate celebration. It has two cut out points to put yourself into the action. All in all the Fan Fest had its ups and downs. The autograph areas were saturated as usual by fans and some did not get to the front before the signing time was over for the players. That has happened in the past, but with the increased attendance today, you had to be in the right place at the right time today to get everyone you wanted. That is one of the sad points of the day. Some players like Carlos Pena did not arrive on time, but he stayed beyond his time and signed for the fans.
 

 
 
Scott Kazmir also sat down for an additional 15 minutes after his was done signing since he was the last one signing today. But as I was leaving, Rays catcher Shawn Riggans was still out by the right filed foul pole signing autographs and taking pictures for fans. Shawn remarked that “It was part of his job to show the fans we care.”  I sat there chatting with Riggans for a few minutes before leaving, and he was still in that same spot signing for the young and old fans alike who came up to him. The Fan Fest was about family, and the Rays players also brought out family members today.  Jason Bartlett and his wife brought their infant girl to the Fan Fest today, and she slept through the entire bit of noise today. Carlos Pena also brought his daughter up on the signing stage with him and she was sitting their making designs throughout the signing hour. 
 
 

All in all, the event was a huge success for the team. Some people grumbled about the autograph lines, and others did not understand that the $ 10 autograph donation for a wristband to stand in line for an autograph was to go to the Rays Baseball Foundation which provides money and scholarships throughout the Tampa Bay area. The group also renovated local Little League fields and donates their time and efforts in Habitat for Humanity and the local homeless shelters in the area. But he crowd was here in force, eating, drinking and enjoying themselves as the filed in and out of the stadium. 

 

 


 


 
 

Even with all the pressure on the Rays to continue their winning ways, the players and the Rays management teams can grow in confidence by the display of the fans turnout for this event.  I have a few suggestions for 2010, but I will leave that for another time. It is time to rejoice and also relax and take in all the positives of the 2009 Fan Fest and show some real deep love to the Rays on this Valentines Day.

Excitement Growing for 2009 Fan Fest

 

 


Here we are less than 24 hours until the players begin to get
comfortable in their chairs in Tropicana Field and they get their wrists loose
to sign hundreds of fans autographs at the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest.  How fitting
that this years event falls on February 14th. For it was the play of this team
that they tried to get America to fall in love with them in 2008. More or less
they got to complete that mission, but the 2009 campaign is for you to fall for
them all over again.

 

 
 

The
event will be the first time most of the fans have seen the American League
trophy since it was handed from player to player on the turf after the thrilling
Game 7 defeat of our division foe, the Boston Red Sox. The events is the rite of
spring that all Rays fans are excited about and anticipate the entire winter
long. It is the time of the year when we know that resin bags and glove oil is
only a few days away. That the crack of the bat in the crisp Florida air is only
moments away and that 70 mile drive will seem like minutes from the Tampa Bay
area to the new complex in Port Charlotte,
Florida.

 


But
tomorrow is about so many other things. It is about celebrating the new class of
2009 Rays/Pepsi  Fan Wall of Famer’s getting their jerseys and awards over on the
third base side of the stadium at noon. It is about the silent auction put on
during every Fan Fest where you can bid on prizes and even purchase some game
used and autographed merchandise from past Rays seasons. It is also a time to
stroll by the SABRE table and see just how well you know the past of both the
Rays and baseball in their yearly quiz to the fans. But as we all know, the real
excitement is watching the kids frolic and play in the interactive games during
the event.



                    
 
 

Watching a kid at bat in the smaller replica of Ebbets Field hit a
ball out over the plastic fencing, or even hit one back over the middle towards
the pitching machine. Then to watch them scream and clamor over to Raymond, our
fuzzy Sea Dog mascot who will dance, hug and sign autographs that will be pinned
to their walls for years. Or maybe you enjoy the stroll over to the media and
corporate areas to get posters and small keepsakes like a poster featuring the
on-air personalities of the Rays. Then put your name into the ringer for a
number of daily prizes picked during the event and announced over the
loudspeaker and on the Jumbotron.

 

Or
maybe you enjoy some of the past and will stand there for extended period of time
looking into the display cases at bats used by Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Ted
Williams displayed out in the middle of the field. Or maybe even stroll beyond
the clay of the Rays outfield at the many collectibles stands featuring Rays
items and the rest of baseball.  Or maybe the new events that started in 2008
will peak your interest from Metro PCS where a Rays player will phone someone
for you to show them your Rays commitment. All in all there are a hundred thing
to do during the day. And some of the best might just be to interact with other
Rays fans to celebrate last season, or chat about the possibilities of
2009.




 
 


But whatever brings you to the event, be sure not to miss one of
the two most popular events of the Fan Fest. The clubhouse tour. I know when I
was working with Pepsi a few seasons ago I got to see the remodeled clubhouse
before the rest of the fans because I was helping stock it with soda coolers and
merchandise. At that time it was one of the most beautiful places I had even
seen in my life. It was plush without the air of over indulgence and it seemed
like the perfect place to get ready for battle on the field. So it is a true
treat that people can stroll through the stalls and halls to see what players
get to live every day and every game while with the
team.

 


But
we all know what most people have come to the event for, it is the autograph
sessions that run from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event is one of the most popular
events of the entire Fan Fest, and for a good reason. I have noticed in the past
that certain players are easier in the beginning of the season for signature
than after the games begin, or even near the end of the season. Added to the
magic this year is a special event for Season Ticket holders where players will
be there for pictures with their special wristband holders. Also of importance
is the fact that this season, only kids under 14 and Season Ticket holders will
not have to pay for the right to obtain
autographs.

This
years Fan Fest will promote a $ 10 donation for a chance to obtain a wristband
to gain your favorite Rays players autograph during these session. At the bottom
of the blog, I will provide a list of the scheduled players and their times so
you can coordinate you day to get some face time with your team favorite. The
donation will go to benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation, which is the large
charity started by the Rays to promote giving and services throughout the Tampa
Bay Area. The Rays Baseball Foundation is committed to
supporting youth and education programs throughout the Tampa Bay region. In
2008, the Rays Baseball Foundation proudly invested more than $600,000 in youth
and education programs in the Tampa Bay area through grant programs and
community outreach initiatives.



 
 

Whatever you reason for coming out
for the Rays 2009 Fan Fest, it should be a exciting event with many of the fans
that got to cheer and support the team during their 2008 playoff campaign. Fans
will have a chance to take their picture with the 2008 American League trophy
during the event. The trophy might look small now, but think of how much it
means to this community and the fans. It is a symbol of the yearning of this
area and its fan to support and cheer for a leader. So, why are you not coming
to Fan Fest? If you live far away, that is okay, because I will try and post two
blogs in the next two days about the event. Who knows, it might just be such a
great event that more than two blogs finally get put down on the
Internet.


 
The excitement is building every
moment in me, and I will be sure to take a host of photos to try and covey the
excitement and the anticipation of Rays
baseball in 2009.  Before I go
today, let me include the signing schedule here provided by the Tampa
Tribune
so we can all coordinate our baseballs and bats before coming into
the stadium. Also listed in red will be the special
photo opportunities for Rays Season Ticket holders at the event.
Here is the autograph
schedule (subject to change):

 

 
 

12-1 p.m.

Table 1- John Jaso,
Gabe
Kapler

Table 2 – Juan
Salas,
Ray
Olmedo

Table 3 – Pat
Burrell, Randy Choate,

Table 4 – Tim Beckham, Reid
Brignac

Table 5 – Carl
Crawford


(Season-ticket
holders line, photo only) – James Shields, Fernando
Perez

 
1-2 p.m.

Table 1 – Joe Nelson, Chad
Bradford

Table 2 – B.J.
Upton ,
Willy
Aybar

Table 3 – Chad
Orvella, Michel Hernandez, Derek
Rodriguez

Table 4 -
Julio
DePaula
, Jacob
McGee

Table 5 – Jon
Weber, Jason Cromer,
Calvin
Medlock


(Season ticket
holders line, photo only) – Evan Longoria, Matt
Garza

 
2-3 p.m.

 
Table
1 – Matt Joyce, Grant Balfour

Table 2 – Carlos Pena, Jason
Hammel

Table 3 – Craig
Albernaz,
Ray
Sadler

Table 4 – Jeremy
Cummings, Elliot Johnson

Table 5 – Neil Frontz, Chris Nowak, Dan
Wheeler


(Season ticket
holders line – photo only) – Dioner Navarro, Andy
Sonnanstine

 
3-4 p.m.

Table 1- Steve Henderson,
Joe
Maddon

Table 2- Wade
Davis, David Price

Table
3- Dave Martinez,
George
Hendrick

Table 4- Lance
Cormier,
Brian
Shouse

Table 5- Chris
Richard, Jason Childers, Dewon Day

 
(Season
Ticket Holders Line- Photo Only)- Jason Bartlett, J.P.
Howell

 
4-5 p.m.
 
Table 1
-Bobby Ramos,
Jim
Hickey

Table 2 – James
Houser, Mitch Talbot

Table 3 – Shawn Riggans, Justin
Ruggiano

Table 4 – Scott
Kazmir, Carlos Hernandez

Table 5 – Brian Anderson, Tom Foley, Todd
Greene


(Season ticket
holders line, photo only) – Troy Percival, Jeff Niemann

Photo credits for today’s blog go to  http://www.Raysbaseball.com, Porkfork6 and Mother of Einstein on flicker.com

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