When I first heard that Dioner Navarro was going to go to arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays, I truly thought the guy might be the first player to win a arbitration case since Rays G M Andrew Friedman took over the reins. It seemed that put side-by-side with the Kansas City Royals catcher John Buck, Navarro has superior numbers and also meant more to his team. With that in mind, it also would have been a foregone conclusion that Navarro would have been granted his request for $ 2.5 million dollars.
But Navarro somehow did not get his dream, even though the final amount is still a huge increase from his 2008 salary, Navarro had to settle for the Rays amount of $ 2.1 million dollars. But the drama of the hearing was not that Navarro lost, it was the pre-hearing chatter of his representative Kendall Almerico might not have made any new friends in the Rays front office after issuing the following statement a few days before Navarro’s scheduled arbitration hearing to the St Petersburg Times : “It appears that we have reached an impasse and that we will be going to arbitration on Monday. After that, I hope to resume negotiations on a long-term deal so Navi can play in Tampa for the rest of his career. But that may depend on how the Rays present their case and whether the Rays treat Navi respectfully at the hearing as Navi has instructed us to treat the Rays throughout this entire process.”
Could this strong approach have any impact on the hearing. You bet it did. It might have postured the Rays up against the invisible wall and they came out fighting. We are not available to get access to the hearing notes and testimony, but you can guess that the hired dogs for the Rays went after Navarro because of the statements from Almerico. But did the statements also maybe bring the Rays talks with Navarro about a multi-year deal to a close, or will that chat begin again after both side lick their wounds a bit this spring.
With the victory, Friedman is now 3-0 in arbitration hearing as a boss. Sometimes I think it was not about the $ 400,000 but about the way his representative might have gone so boldfaced up against the team. Of course the Rays have Navarro under their control until at least 2011, so could this be the first of two stalemates between the two parties. Teams have been known to hold grudges, but so far in Friedman’s watch, the proceedings have been professional and without drama. So why would a representative of a player go “Rambo” on management and try to engage in a battle of words before a hearing?
It might have been show and go this year, but you can be sure that the same act will not follow in any talks after the 2009 season. Could Almerico have cost Navarro his extra salary, or did the Rays just come prepared no matter what? We might never know the true dealings from the hearing, but it might be a reminder to future Rays arbitration hearing opponents to not stir the pot before the hearing. Also a thought here, Navarro has 3 seasons until he is a free agent. Could this fiasco have cost him his multi-year deal for the next three years plus his first free agent season? You have to think that the Rays brain trust will be deciding that matter after this vocal outburst by Almerico.
And if they do go again to arbitration, or even consider a multi-year contract, will Almerico be at Navarro’s side? You might hope not because the Rays will have long memories concerning his 2009 outbursts, and a player doesn’t deserve to have his contract reduced because of the loose lips of his management team leader. Contract negotiation are hard enough without people bringing the drama and circus atmosphere into it all.
Going into the room in Phoenix, Navarro’s team might have thought they had an advantage over the Rays in regard to statistics and also his first All-Star selection, but in the end, could Almerico’s statements before the hearing just fired up the Rays team and they called Almerico’s bluff. You would think that most of the chatter before the hearing was to posture themselves into a better position heading into the room. But in actuality, it might have just worked themselves into a corner and the Rays went after the team with both fists to prove their superiority in the room.
After the announcement of the loss in arbitration, a more even toned and beaten Almerico told ESPN.com , “[Navarro] wants to thank the Rays organization for making this a fair debate and for handling the hearing with class. He is very excited to report to spring training and is looking forward to helping the team get back to the World Series.” Is there more of a story here, could the Rays have given any indication during the hearing that a multi-year contract might still be on the table, but they had to show their skills to Almerico to remind him who plays the money here.
I actually think the bluff that Almerico tried to pull on the Rays was comical at best. Here is an organization that is 4-0 overall in total arbitration hearing since they joined the league, and Friedmans group has squashed the last three himself. With Almerico taken down a few notches by the team in arbitration, could the Rays be now ready to swoop in and get Navarro at a good price. Almerico and Navarro both know now what they might have in store for themselves for the nest 3 years, and finding a middle ground for a contract might be the order of the day now.
Friedman doesn’t look like much of a poker player. He tends to show a lot of his thoughts on his young face, but in this negotiation, could he have become a stone cold poker faced winner, who now has set his sights on getting Navarro in the fold for the next three seasons. I would not doubt that they might already have a contract outlined and ready to submit to Navarro again, with the 2009 arbitration salary already in place within the confines of the contract. Navarro was not beaten in the hearing on his past efforts or even his increased leadership on the field. He was beaten by a guy who knows what he wants and strives daily to get just that. And I would think maybe Friedman went to Las Vegas for a few hands after the hearing………he is just money right now and might be for a long, long time.
Photo credits for today’s blog go to members dbadair and unforth of Flicker.com.
When Jose Canseco first came out with his book Juiced on February 14, 2005 ”, we had no idea of the extent and the lengths that steroids and illegal drugs were being used in the MLB. We all knew of certain players that were suspected of use or under investigations, but nothing concrete was brought up to support any of Canseco’s claims at the time. With the recent revelation of Alex Rodriguez using PED’s during his 2001-2003 Texas Ranger days, it is finally showing just cause that Canseco might have been right the entire time> And maybe it was the American baseball fans that were the ones naive to the entire extent of the steroid scene.
If Jose Canseco was seeking revenge, or even a ” I told you so.” moment, he finally got the last laugh or justified response. In both of his books, Canseco was exploring the culture and trying to educate us as to the extent and the flagrant usage problems in baseball’s past. All this from a guy who was in the drivers seat of using himself, and has never denied the fact, to gain an edge in the competitive arena of professional baseball. How enlightening it is to me right now that for years people in the media and in the high ranks in baseball have tried to prove him wrong, to say he was trying to extract revenge over the so-called “blackballing” of him out of the major leagues because of his outward voice towards the problem. And to this day, no one had proven him wrong yet.
I am not trying to paste Canseco up here as a saint in a room of devils, but he was right, and he has gained a huge amount of respect recently on the incidents he has written about, and the players he has been quoted about in both of his books. I know that Amazon.com reviewed his book back in 2005, and called it the ” Ball Four” for the new millennium, Canseco’s Juiced was intentionally written to show the rampant use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball (with steroids replacing the amphetamines of Bouton’s day). Canseco is a self admitted steroid devotee since his 20′s, and he goes beyond admitting his own usage to claim that he acted as baseball’s ambassador of steroids and is therefore indirectly responsible for “saving” the game.
Canseco says he was nice enough to educate Alex Rodriguez about steroids and even introduced him to a friendly steroids dealer in the late 1990s, but A-Rod returned the favor by trying to bed his wife, the former Bash Brother alleges in his new book, Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars and the Battle to Save Baseball. Whatever his motivation, Canseco writes that he is “confident” the Yankees star and three-time MVP used steroids and stated it in his book published in March 2008. “I did everything but inject the guy myself,” Canseco says in the book. Canseco said he introduced the future Yankee to a trainer named “Max.”
But despite the headline-grabbing claims in his first book, whether Canseco really knows anything about the problem beyond his own use was viewed as opinion and total speculation at the time. He was viewed as a “ teller of tales”, and with no one coming forth to back him up, or even claim “off the record” of steroid usage in the majors, he was discounted as a bitter former player looking for his last series of hurrah’s. Most shocking at the time of both of the books release dates that Canseco remains an unabashed booster of steroids, claiming they’ll one day be used safely under medical supervision to propel humans to better health and great feats. Doctors disagree, and it should be noted that doctors did not administer Canseco’s steroid use. “Is it cheating,” Canseco asks in a revealing moment of moral relativism, “to do what everyone wants you to do?” If that very question were asked by a Little Leaguer, its answer could not be more obvious.
So here we are a few days removed from the A-Rod fiasco, in which he might have truly come clean and began the healing process for himself and his team. But what about the holy integrity of baseball? Is the fact that since nothing in either of his books have been disproved, should we again read them both and look for other answers. Could there be other hidden facts and players within its pages that are still to be bought out into the light of day and discounted, or even shunned like Canseco has endured for so long. Or is the fact that the biggest star in the game today was caught be a indicator to others to come forward before they are also brought to light. That is the question before baseballs’ higher powers right now. Should the rest of the world know their business, that happened 6 years ago, or should we just let time and league handle the situation.
Here are a few passages taken from Canseco’s book Vindicated that talked directly about current Yankee Alex Rodriguez and former Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens with Canseco’s personal observations on their careers and steriods :
“I’m confident it was the ‘roids ( that made A-Rod buff ). I believed it then, and I believe it now. I’ve been down this road too many times with too many guys. I know my ( stuff ), and I know the way it works. I may not have seen ( A-Rod ) do the deed, but I set the whole thing up for him, just like he wanted. I saw the changes in his body in a short time. Hell, if you ask me, I did everything but inject the guy myself.”
“I admitted to Mike ( Wallace, in 2005 ) that I had never seen Clemens shoot up, but that I had my suspicions. All those Cy Young Awards. The way he was throwing, hard and fast and steady, without seeming to break a sweat. The way he seemed to be getting stronger as he got older. What else could it be? Good genes? Hell, while most of Clemens’s peers were sitting on porches, in rocking chairs, with old dogs at their feet, he was still pitching rockets.”
Both the above quoted players by Canseco have been linked, or subjectively linked to steroids in the last few years. Clemens is currently fighting for his Hall of Fame career life among allegations and evidence that he has either used, or lied under oath about his past usage. The only difference in these two gentlemen is that one knows that by admitting it now, he can still regain some of his credibility in the next 9 years under his current New York Yankees contract. The other has been basically left in a lepers colony by baseball’s fraternity to fester and rot within his own misguided statements and falsehoods. I give Alex Rodriguez a lot of credit for coming clean and admitting and showing his true nature by not dodging the issue, but taking it head on, even if it garners him a suspension or even public ridicule for years.
Canseco talked about both of these players in his books, and the last few months have shown that more and more he is correct on all counts concerning them. But will the baseball community ever acknowledge that he was right?, or will it just conclude that the truth came out and Canseco got lucky in his estimations and accusations. Will he ever get the due credit for trying to soften the blow that was the extent of the steroid scandal and its short-lived era. Isn’t it about time that we all wised up to the fact that we were lied to, and manipulated to see the evil in what Canseco was writing at the time, but now he is coming out smelling like a rose after years of badgering and misinformation by baseball and the media.
But the current fact that the 103 other players might be listed on a document obtained by Sports Illustrated. Should their names also be leaked to the media, or would that collapse the entire foundation of integrity of the game to its core. And will it’s leadership be able to rebuild it quickly to keeps its fans and sponsors happy and coming back to the ballparks. Canseco will never be known as a prophet, but he did try and educate us to the darker side of the game that we did not want to see, or even realize until a top tier player’s name got put out there for everyone to see firsthand. So will this recent reveal make people again take notice of his two novels. I know I am personally going to re-read both novels and see if I can gain more understanding, or even investigate for myself that the game at that time was not clean, but it had a dirty underbelly that now must be cleaned to save what is left of its purity.
Canseco is not a trying to be a poster boy for baseball. To the contrary, he is the one player who had admitted and showed no remorse in his choices to use performance enhancing drugs to better himself and his abilities in baseball. Not unlike a pitcher who relied on spitballs and scuffed balls in the past to produce movement on the ball coming into batters, Canseco found and edge and used it to its fullest. But it was his knowledge and his frank honesty about the rampant usage throughout the major leagues that condemned him for years. I am not saying that he should be given a chance for the Hall of Fame. We all know the actions he took to get that edge will condemn him to baseball purgatory, but could his upfront honestly and revelations at least gain him some respect now with baseball fans?
I believe in Jose Canseco. I saw him as a memeber of the Rays highly touted ” Hit Show” in the late 90′s. He did garner some great moments in a Rays jersey, but the fact that he also tainted those multi-colored jerseys by using PED’s in that clubhouse takes him off my Rays favorite player list. I admire him more today knowing that he tried to warn us of a storm that was brewing off our bows. He also got us ready for the facts to finally come clean and the truth be known in baseball……………….that there will always be evil within all that is good with the game.
When the Rays faced the Baltimore Orioles in early 2008, they always had to worry about having submariner Chad Bradford come into the game in the late innings against them. Because of his off-kilter delivery it made the Ray’s batters adjust on the fly to the rising pitches and extreme curve of his ball. So it is no surprise that the team was excited that the Rays front office traded for Bradford on August 7th for a player to be named later. It was considered an odd trade at the time because the Rays had formed a Bullpen that took a 180 degree turn from 2007 and became very competitive from both sides of the pitching rubber. This news might be received differently by both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The Yankees had the most success against Bradford in 2008, hitting .333 against him, while the Red Sox hit a collective 1-6 against him for a lowly .167 average last season.
But the addition of Bradford was looked at as an extra weapon that teams could not stack lineup, or late inning substitutions because of his major league relievers leading 4.38 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio. Because of their increased defense, the style of pitching that Bradford brought to the team actually played into the teeth of the Rays infield defense in 2008. Another odd happening involving Bradford happened during this years off season.
Because the two teams could not agree upon a player to be named later for the trade, the Rays paid the Orioles $ 20,000 for the rights to Bradford to complete the trade agreement. That is the amount for the standard waiver claim fee paid in the MLB. So that concluded their business with the Orioles, and the Rays now had the righty all to themselves at $ 3.5 million dollars for 2009. But all that came crashing down yesterday when it was revealed by the Rays that Bradford could miss a small chunk of the beginning of the season after feeling some pain during his off season pitching program.
With only days until pitchers’ and catchers were set to report, the team medical staff the sent him to respected surgeon Dr.James Andrews, who performed surgery on his right elbow in Birmingham, Alabama this week. The surgery was to remove loose found to be inside his elbow. Bradford, who was performing even after the initial pain came up in his elbow tried to loosen up after the injury and the pain would increase and the joint stiffened quickly after throwing. It has been estimated that this recovery, and the rehab might take between 4-6 months to complete and will help solve a few questions about the Rays 2009 Bullpen setup.
Because of his downtime, Bradford actually might have saved a player currently on the Rays Spring Training roster a spot going into the season. This is not to say that they might still not pick up another body for competition before the final roster is announced, but it will at least make a few of the Rays players without options left feel a bit more secure as they set to arrive on Saturday for their first team workout on Sunday morning. “We decided that doing a scope would be in the best interest of him and the team,” said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told MLB.com . “We did that and we expect him to miss the first month or two of the season. But to focus on the positive, it’s going to be a great shot in the arm for us when he is back. And to be able to add that quality of a reliever to the mix at that point.”
The subtraction of Bradford to injury gives more chances to the incoming members of the Rays Bullpen to showcase their talents and make their case to be included in the Rays 2009 25-man roster. Three new high-profile members of the Spring Training staff, Lance Cormier, Joe Nelson, Rule-5 draftee Derek Rodriguez will begin the spring with a little more confidence in making the 25-man roster. Rodriguez, who has to be on the 25-man roster the entire year or be offered back to his former team will have the longest shot of making the squad this spring. But the Rays hold this young player in high regards and he might make it deep into the spring before a decision is made about his Rays future.
But these guys will also face battles from incoming invitees for a spot in the Rays Bullpen. Veterans like Randy Choate and ex-Ray Jason Childers and Winston Abreu. People might remember that back in 2006, Childers actually made the Rays 2006 Opening Day roster, but his time with the team was short lived as he was designated for assignment after only 7.2 innings in the majors. Abreu has major league experience with the Washington Nationals having pitched at the major league level both in 2006, and 2007 for the team. His major league totals are 0-1, with 3 holds and a 5.93 ERA in 29 appearances. Choate gained most face time to Rays fans as a member of the New York Yankees from 2000-2003.
These incoming Bullpen battery mates might make the Rays squad out of Spring Training, but it is the guys who are currently on the teams 40-man roster without minor league options pose the biggest decision by the team’s staff before April. We all know that Rays pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are two members of the squad that will be fighting for their collective careers this spring, but some decision by the Rays could also make their springs a little less filled with drama and suspense. Hammel began to settle in as a member of the Rays relievers corp in 2008. At times he looked rusty and unsure of himself, but as the year went on his confidence and his abilities began to shine on the mound.
His shining moment in 2008 has to be the 9th inning save opportunity in Fenway Park against the Red Sox on September 10th when he came on in the 14th inning to relieve Troy Percival with no outs and the bases loaded in the game. Hammel quickly got Kevin Youkilis to hit a weak sacrifice fly, he struck out Jason Bay and got Alex Cora to fly out to B J Upton in center field to secure his first professional save that night. Hammel began the year in the Rays rotation taking the spot of injured starter Scott Kazmir, and he officially went to the Bullpen on May 10th after Kazmir was brought back up off the disabled list.
Hammel opened the season in the number 5 slot for the Rays and posted a 2-2 record in 5 starts, with an 4.88 ERA. He did win two consecutive starts during that time, on April 17th in Minnesota and April 23rd at home against Toronto. Hammel also went a career high 7.0 innings in a no-decision April 12th against the Baltimore Orioles. Because of his familiarity of the Rays system in the Bullpen, he might have the early lead on retaining his long reliever spot. But Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann is just getting acquainted to the major leagues.
But because of early injury problems in his career he has been an after thought in the Rays plans for a few seasons. After completing a great season in the minors and spending the beginning of the year up with the Rays starting, he also might be an extremely long look before the Rays make any decisions in the Bullpen. Niemann got an early chance to make his statement to stay up with the Rays difficult when he started for the team twice in April 2008 after being recalled due to a Matt Garza elbow injury. This was his first extended stay up with the Rays and he won his major league debut against the Orioles on April 13th, going 6 innings giving up 6-hits and a lone run and 5 strikeouts in the contest. Niemann was recalled after the Durham Bulls loss in the International League Cup on September 13th and went straight to St Petersburg to meet the team after their road trip.
Niemann was used 3 relief appearances late in the year, and he responded by going 6.2 innings with 7-hits and 3 earned runs and 8 strikeouts. Because of his height, the tall right hander can make it look almost like he is throwing it downhill towards you at the plate. Niemann is currently only 1 of 6 pitchers in the MLB who stands at least 6″ 9″ tall. But with his Rays history, a lot is going to be placed on his 6′ 9″ shoulders in 2009. The fact that he was the Rays first round draft pick out of Rice University in 2004. Because of those pitching injuries, his progress between the minors and the major leagues has been extended and almost exhausted by both himself and the Rays. With no minor league options left for him, it might be “put up or shut up” time for the big guy.
But he also will face some questions since most of his time while with the Triple-A squad were as a starting pitcher in 2008. In Durham, Niemann made 24 starts and posted a 9-5 record with a 3.59 ERA. His .207 opponents average was the 7th best in the minors, and he held right handers to a .162 average for the year. He also posted some great number overall in the International League, his 3.59 ERA put him in 7th in the International League and his 128 strikeouts put him 5th in the entire Rays organization for 2008. He also tied for first in the International League in complete game, with 3 for the year.
These two players will have to face some incredible odds to remain with the team in 2009. But with the injury to Bradford, the task got a bit easier for them. But they are not the only guys seeking that coveted spot in the Bullpen each one of these guys could make it because of their past success in the major leagues, and with the team in the past. You might consider that the Rays will sign more more member to the spring roster to give more competition to these young guns. But in the end, both Hammel and Niemann will either both be on the Rays roster, or be traded to another team before the start of the season. It is anyone guess right now on the future of these two shining lights in the Rays pitching staff. Hopefully the team can find spots for both of these players until Bradford comes back from his injury. If they can not, the hope is that the player that leaves the squad finds a team that can use his talents and keeps growing to secure a spot on a major league roster in 2009.
When I first wrote this on Saturday I was not aware of the recent revelation by Alex Rodriguez to his usage of the stimulant from 2001-2003. I do not condone this action by him, nor do I fully condemn him for it. I am not at liberty to know his personal struggles or mindset before he first injected a steroid into his body. But I do acknowledge the effort and the initial actions to coming clean on the past, and I respect the fact he is owning up to his errors in his past instead of hiding away until it dies down.
I have been thinking about this issue for a few days now, and either you will agree or disagree with me totally here. I really did not want to write anything pertaining to the Alex Rodriguez situation because I have been guilty of the same crime, and I was not proud of it at the time. I am not saying I am a steroid user for a long period of time, I only did it once like so many other athletes did in the mid 1980′s to just see what all the fuss was about. I did it like some teenagers try alcohol before they are 21, for the reason that it was not okay and to see what all the fuss was about with it. At the time it was not condemned yet in the NCAA or even the professional ranks and was lightly viewed as a bad thing.
I am not going to try and justify anything he did in the past, or even try and justify my usage. Mine was out of ignorance and not education at the time. In that period of my life I was looking for an edge, a advantage over my competitors. I tried it that one time and then decided to flush the rest of the vial down the toilet. It did not seem to me to be an advantage. It seemed more mental that physical. My addiction was for more speed. To be faster off the line and stay with that gazelles that were playing in my league at the time. I also decided that it would effect not only my on-field life, but harm my off the field life if I used it for any amount of time.
This is my blog to say I understand the pressure and the yearnings and wanting to be the best year in and year out. But it has always comes with a price. Alex Rodriguez is beginning to see that price in the headlines, blogs and the attention to everything he has done on the field since that 2003 positive test. I got lucky enough to stop myself before it got out of hand or was discovered, but A Rod now will have to weather a pretty heavy hailstone storm of controversy and accusations for a long time. I was not a MVP type of player by a long shot, but he is, and will suffer for many years for his mistakes and people will always question his ability because of it all.
The person, or persons who will be hurt most by this is not even A-Rod. It is the little kids or teenagers who have idolized the guy for years, or who want to play just like him. I hope they discover the fact that this man made a mistake and we can learn from it and not venture into the same realm of confusion and misguided intentions. But the reality is that some younger fans will find a justification for maybe trying them and then put themselves on a bad path to either ruin or major injury. The common fan has wanted to be like him for years, and with this positive test it brings with it a credibility for the choice to try, or even maintain a usage of the illegal drug.
The guy will not be the same after this, and he has no one to blame but himself. The youth of this country already have enough role models who have failed them, this is just another long line of athletes who wanted the top spot and took their chances. How many young girls idolized our female Olympic hero Marion Jones before she was found out to have enhanced her abilities by using steroids. Baseball has been plagued with this demon for a while now, and if you really think about it, who are the other 103 members who failed in 2003 also. Could some of them be the hero’s and stars that we looked up to and enjoyed watching play the game, and are they just as tarnished by their tests.
But will it all of this make a young kid think he needs it too. Will there again be a market in the lower levels of education that will sell and distribute these drugs to our kids. And will there be a justification now that steroids are the answer to playing at a top physical level?
I really hated writing this. More for the fact that I am exposing myself and the 80′s culture I grew up with as underlying confused people who tried to find an answer in a vial of unknown substances. I know the pain it has caused me to wonder if I did the right thing, and if I didn’t, would the world shun me for it. I have come to the reality that it was wrong long ago and consulted with my coaches’ back then for their opinion. It was told to me if that was the only time, then forgive myself and work harder to gain the edge the right way and things would even out in the long run. That by working hard the right way I would cleanse my mind and soul in the long run. That consultation now seems a bit weird and vague to me, but at the time I only wanted to get back on the right path.
But can A-Rod even be granted the same treatment. I think his location in New York city will be the worst location to even expose or come clean with this revelation. It is going to ruin whatever credibility he had with the local media and also destroy any hero worship he ever had with the young baseball fans in America. I have not heard the extent of his usage with the drug, and I do not want to know about it. I just hope that he can come clean and admit the mistakes, like Andy Pettitte, and hope for the mercy of the media and fans. No doubt there will be signs that say “A-Roid” up in the new Yankee Stadium on Opening Day this year, and he will have to cope with the rumors of the past.
It is for this reason I can not cast a stone at him. I have been in that situation once in my life, and because of it, I am guilty too. I can feel for the pain and misery he will feel in the next few months and into the season. But if he is true to himself and the world, he will again get back on track and be the best in the game. The worst part of all of this is even his years in Seattle as a young shortstop will be questioned. All the records and the accolades he has received during his career are all being cast in a shadow of doubt now. And you know even his Hall of Fame appointment might be rising and falling like a barometer right now………..with a low pressure right now because of the impending storm of controversy to hit him for a long, long time.
Pictures on today’s blog acquired from Getty Images and http://www.NewYorkYankee.com
Well, shiver me timbers and wash it all down with a grog of rum and ale. It was time again for the Gasparilla Pirates Invasion and this being the third adult holiday of the year, I had to get on another boat this year. I had a friend who has been trying to get me into his Krewe for about 10 years. I finally agreed if I could venture out on the water again with them this year. He made a few calls and got the okay for me to stowaway on board during the festivities this year.
I got down to the dock behind the Tampa Convention Center and he greeted me on the gangplank to the boat. I loved this boats, it was an old fishing boat that did day charters out into the Gulf of Mexico fro grouper and red snapper. The boat was decorated in red and black and had a pirate feel to it. My buddy was dressed to the nines as a pirate, and he got me a costume top and a leather pirate hat to wear with a huge feather in it. About 50 people had already arrived at the boat ans were in various stages of celebration or cigar smoking.
If you do not know about this annual event in Tampa, it is the celebration of Jose Gaspar, a ruthless pirate who plundered this fine city a long time ago. And being that we are on the Gulf stream just off the west coast of Florida, pirates and scalawags were known to come into port and do pretty much whatever they wanted until the U S put a military garrison in the city. So we have this annual event to celebrate the pirate tradition and the various adult activities that surround it. I had been selected by a local radio station to come out on the water last year and see what it was like from the water-side of the parade.
It was an exciting time and one that stuck in my mind all year. So when the idea came that I should join a Krewe and really see how the event is celebrated by the participants, how could I refuse. The best thing about this Krewe is it was both men and women in the organization, and I was happy as a clam about that fact. I got on board and quickly was presented with a huge bag of booty to throw off the boat during our cruise today. The bag must have weighed about 60 pounds and had T-shirts and beads up the ying yang. So I put the bag down and strolled over to the galley to get a breakfast bagel and a Pepsi and take in the ever changing atmosphere of the boat.
I looked out on the water and saw a sea of glass as the channel was free of boats and the activities were slow and meandering at 9 a.m. But I already knew of what would await me when I got back in at 1 p.m. The scene the year before was chaos mixed with some energetic confusion, and I love it all. So we all boarded the boat, about 125 of us and we began the slow trip out into old Tampa Bay to wait for the lead vessel to arrive from another location. Already the seawalls on both sides of the channel were becoming crowded with people and there were a fair amount of party settings going up at homes bordering the channels streets.
The smell of roasting BBQ and meats were in the air already and I took it in with the sea air and felt amazing today. The boat finally got into the channel area and we were ready to begin some serious fun. The Captain brought out the water cannon and the slingshots and about a few hundred balloons to be filled with warm water. He asked us to do warm water because of the chilly air, and to also be a good surprise when they hit the boats or the people. I liked that idea and my friend and I went up to the top deck to scout out opponents to fire upon.
The Krewe of Roughriders were right besides us and their D J on board was cranking some serious music, The blue uniformed soldier Krewe were all teasing us with their 34 degree Budweisers and rum-soaked cigars. So you know they were the first boat to get a bombardment of balloons and water cannon shots. We all just basked in the warming sun for a bit until the first water balloon hit the side of the railing just beyond us. It was now on like Donkey Kong, and we got the slingshot positioned and began to fire shot after shot. Of course we were taking on shots at the same time, but they did not know we had a water cannon that could boost water 50 yards if we wanted to use it.
I think the Roughriders knew this and got about 30 yards away, just within the range of the slingshot, but far enough for no thrown shots at them. At this time the smaller boats with hordes of women and bead hungry crews began to stroll by the boat. We pelted some with beads and balloons and a few with younger kids got T-shirts and cups and bandannas. A few of the boats also flashed via Mardi Gras style and that got cheers from both boats. No I do not condone that kind of activity, but I am a single guy, so I cheered too.
Anyways, the lead boat finally arrived and we got into line about 4 boats behind them and we started back into the harbor towards the Platt Street bridge area again. Boats were again coming along side and we tossed a huge amount of beads on them and I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the day. From hearing the cannon shots to the firecrackers the air was full of gunpowder smells mixed with suntan oil. A very unusual smell in deed. While we were coming back into the docking area, I saw a huge cabin cruiser with a guy sitting in a dinghy on the stern area. I was so taken back by this I had to have a picture and got my camera out and was laughing so hard at this great antic by the guy.
We slowly got to the mouth of the channel and that same area that earlier in the day you could shake a stick and hit only air was now filled with hundreds of boats and people surrounding the seawalls. We went back up on the top deck and began to throw the rest of our bags full of booty and beads to the waiting crowd. I knew how crowded the dock could be by my past years adventure, but it seemed like there was an endless sea of people this year and I began to get caught up in the energy of the area. Throwing beads and medallions as far as I could to get people away from the seawall as we docked, I finally threw my hat to a cuter, young brunette on the dock.
As we disembarked to a hero’s welcome my buddy asked me what I though of the adventure. I must looked at him in the eyes and asked him where I sign up, I was caught up in the moment and was loving every minute of it. He told me it was not over yet. I did not understand until we were standing in front of a charter bus and he asked me if I wanted to continue this on the parade route. Okay, I am not a fool of course I went on the bus and threw beads to the kids and crowd for about what seemed like 4 hours from Bayshore to the middle of Tampa’s downtown. I had a blast, and I was hooked to become a member of this Krewe from that moment.
Tampa is the only town I know that has this event to this extreme. Town like Destin have the Billy Bowlegs event, but it is not on this grand a scale. If you ever get a chance to attend a Gasparilla event, you should. It will change your life in some ways, but always remember, about 350,000 people hit the streets of Tampa for this event. And even like the pirates that hit the city years ago, you have to plan you day, or you will be gobbled up in the excitement of the event.
All pictures aquired from the RRCollections.
I decided to venture over to Myspace the other day to check my
mail and maybe tweak my profile a bit when I noticed that I had a message. I
clicked on it and lo and behold had an email from the Cowbell Kid. Now anyone
who knows me will tell you I had a few small run ins with him, but nothing
serious about respect for the game and some behavior I heard about in the past.
But I do have to throw this compliment out there to him, he has made efforts to
clean and polish his act up a bit since late last year, and for that I sit back
and say thank you.
who has ever taken in a game at the Trop will know that he was famous, or
infamous for yelling at players during Batting Practice about certain
inconsistent behaviors in their past or in their playing styles. It is no secret
that he got more than one player a bit upset. I personally know of one incident
last year that got one player almost to the point of jumping into the stands and
taking him on during a weekend series against the Astros. I am not going to name
the player, but if you were at the Trop that Saturday night, you know who he is
by the yelling and screaming go to and from the
was part of his game psyche, to try and get into the head of mostly the
relievers or right fielder in the league. Now there have been a few moments
where personal stuff might have popped down between himself and another player
that were not above board, but that is in the past, and that play is no longer
on the New York Yankees, so it is in the vault with the rest of the deeds. But
since that has been one of his focal points over the year, he emailed me with a
problem he is just now starting to develop because of some recent trades or
actions by the Rays to change their
going to take the quote directly from his email so you can see that I am not
making this up, or trying to embarrass him. He said, “Here’s where it gets
tricky I have grown fond of some of the players that will no longer be a part of
our team, usually I will abuse any opposing players just because they are not on
the Rays team! But because of the respect some of these guys have gained in my
eyes I am going to have to be selective about my targets. ( never thought that
would ever be a problem for me ) oh well .”
know that will be a problem for him in 2009 and the season that will go on for
the Rays. I know he has a fond friendship and a game day type of bond with
former Rays players like Jonny Gomes, who is now with the Cincinnati Reds, and
Rocco Baldelli, who is now a dreaded Boston Red Sox. Because he is one of the
most vocal fans about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, it is going to be
interesting what will happen during B P in 2009. But then again, he will also
see Gomes during Spring Training games, and it might be a tense moment for him
to see Jonny in red and white for the first
I know I
have had the same situation since the Rays began play. I would begin to talk
with a player and develop a bit of dialogue and when they were in the Bullpen or
out in right field I used to chat it up with them a bit, but when they left, I
did not stop trying to chat with them. My reasoning for this is that we are both
in love with the same thing………Baseball, and that common ground has a huge
amount of conversational pieces. A great example is former Rays right fielder
Jose Guillen. I used to yell out to him every game and even try and tell him if
a player was taking a wild turn at this if the ball came into the corner near
not to confuse or to even play coach, but to be his eyes when he had his back to
the field. I got to know him better and every time he comes back into the Trop.,
he comes over and say hello. Other players like Shawn Camp, who is now with the
Toronto Blue Jays have come over and shook hands and then got to their business.
But the best at keeping his old Tampa Bay baseball friendships up was former
Rays catcher Toby Hall. Every time the Chicago White Sox came into town, he would
stroll down to the corner and we would talk about his time in Chi-town and how
his kids were growing. Hall and I never went out fishing or even for more than
beers at Ferg’s, but we always seemed to have time to talk even during games
when he was in the Bullpen.
It is a
fine line and a personal choice if you want to remain friends or just change it
to a buddy who plays for the enemy. I was talking with former Rays player Joey
Gathright about that last year after a game and he said that it was tough
sometimes to come back here and see the people who cheered for him now booing
some of his actions. But he also knows that he can not pull punches or even
slack off a moment in front of his former home crowd or it would give them
another reason to boo louder to him. And there lies the problem. Can we as fans
of our team separate the player from the team, or are they a whole not matter
takes that problem and decides for themselves. I stood up and cheered for Texas
Ranger outfielder and former Rays Josh Hamilton the first time he came up to bat
at the Trop., and I am not ashamed of it at all. Some things happen in life that
you need to celebrate or show your appreciation to a player. The first time
Rocco Baldelli comes to bat I will also stand and clap. It is my way to salute a
great player that we will miss not only in the lineup, but talking with
field-side before the games. But then again, I have also mourned the loss of
two great former Rays players who I think were stand up guys and died way before
speaking of former Rays pitchers Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle. I am not going to
go into the moments or the reason for their deaths, but they were moments that
made me question baseball and life in general for a moment in time. I was not a
close friend of either guy, but we did have conversations and used to talk down
in the Checkers Bullpen area any time they came into the Trop. It was a baseball
buddy kind of bonding that you just wanted them to be successful and have a
great life. I have written blogs about each of them, and my blog to Lidle was my
first sports entry in years on my old Myspace page. I have since removed the
posting and it is sitting in my blog scrapbook where only I can read it
So it is
now my place to celebrate baseball, and when it comes to our former players, I
try and keep in touch with them when they come into the Trop. Be is chatting
with Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch, who last year told me about his new
home purchase in a great area west of Pinellas Park, Florida, or Brandon Backe
standing there talking with a group of Rays fans talking about nothing in
general, but loving every minute of it. So do we as fans, try and keep these
small friendships or baseball buddy situation alive and well, or do we let them
die because they are playing for another
to decide on a individual basis. There are players who I do not chat with that I
used to laugh at jokes with and see outside the stadium all the time. Even if
the player did not leave here without throwing insults or comments at the team’s
management, I do not hold them accountable because they spoke their minds and
the issue is closed. But it is hard to gain some face time with a player and get
to know them and then they get traded or sign as a free agent somewhere else.
best example might be Rays relievers Dan Wheeler and Trever Miller. I was not
close to either of these guys the last time they were here. We would exchange
comments and glances as they passed my seat, but it was not until they came back
to Tampa Bay after stints with the Houston Astros that the respect and the bond
grew. Every day they would pass my seat area and we would chat with them for a
few moments, and during the year, if I missed a game , they noticed and asked me
where I was, like friends sometimes do. And that meant a lot to me. But it was
the day after the Rays clinched their first playoff berth that really set the
tone for me with my Bullpen guys.
given one of the champagne bottles used in the celebration by a member of the team, and I asked Wheeler
if he would mind signing it for me. He took the bottle back in its bag and it
stayed back there for about 4 innings. He ended up having everyone in the Rays
Bullpen sign that bottle and then brought it back to me. I stood there and just
stared at the bottle for a bit then remembered why I like to talk to these guys.
They are good people, and even the short times we chat with them are remembered.
Guess sometimes there can be bonds outside the foul lines in baseball. So with
that, here is a question for you. Do you maintain your friendships and
conversation with your ex-players, even if they are playing for a division
All pictures used in this blog were obtained from the RRCollections.
And with their move to Port Charlotte, they also moved their old Vero Beach Florida State League baseball squad across the state to occupy the facilities after Spring Training is over for the Rays. The Ripken Baseball group then came in and formed a partnership with the Rays in running the lower Class-A Charlotte Sand Crabs. But will this move be a short term success or a growing franchise with unlimited potential? With a well respected baseball ownership group like Ripken baseball in charge of your affiliate, you usually can expect great thing to be happening in the 2009 season. The anticipation of the new team playing ball has made the local community excited and motivated to buy 3,000 Spring Season Tickets for their first campaign. The Rays averaged about 300 while they were playing at Progress Energy Field in St. Petersburg.
So if the team can show success in the Spring venue, will that also translate into sales and attendance in Tropicana Field for the Rays? That question will be answered soon enough. The Rays currently have around 10,000 Season Ticket holders, but have stepped up with an aggressive ad campaign to try and increase that number 50 percent to 15,000 before Opening Day. Could such an increase be possible in the economic climate where almost 10 percent of Pinellas county residents are out of work or experiencing financial hardships? The Port Charlotte experience might be tied closer to the fact that the team is new and the community is bonding together to promote and attract more people to come down from the Tampa Bay are aand make a weekend out of their baseball adventures.
So will this pre-season event be a great indicator of the excitement and the energy that will flow starting in April. I would hope so, because we will not have our team nearby for a change during Spring Training, we will have to show our commitments early to the team before they head south for the month and half of Spring Training. But also, this season the single game tickets will not be up for sale during the Fan Fest. usually the first official day of selling the single game tickets is coordinated with the Fan Fest. Could this keep some fans away who do not want to fight the crowds in the autograph lines, or will they still come out and stand for hours to chat with the players for a few moments.
You would think the signing of Pat Burrell and Joe Nelson would be an indication of the team’s commitment to finishing the job and going back to the World Series. Trading Edwin Jackson for young Matt Joyce should be viewed as the Rays looking both to today and tomorrow by getting a young up and coming outfielder who could be here for a long time patrolling the outfield for the Rays. But will the team’s increased payroll and fancy commercials be enough to show they want and need the fans in 2009. If the promotional giveaways are any indication, then the Rays are banking that collectors and fans will be seeking the Championship Week items and pushing that entire weeks schedule of games to the sellout point.
But will the true test be in the early parts of 2009 when the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles come in and the stands are not sold out. Will the Trop then again be thrown all over the national news as the true home of the fair weather fans, or will there be cowbells and Rays gear everywhere. I think the month of May will be the time that the fans let the team know if they are behind them. or waiting for a sign. In that month, the team come home to a quick weekend 3-game series against Boston before bringing in the Baltimore Orioles for two games. Through the month, the Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins will come in and play the team a total of 13 games. These 13 games might hold the key to the teams attendance in 2009. Traditionally, the Oakland series is a low attendance series, the Indians and Orioles are predicted to have aggressive teams, but might not feature that competitive bite yet to bring out legions of Rays fans. And the Minnesota series in 2008 was during the last home stand of the year, which is always a huge attendance draw because of the end of the yea events for the fans.
I am hoping for 2 million fans in the Trop this year. That would be a great indicator to the Rays front office that we finally have turned the corner and believe in this team. But we also do not have the concentrated population of New York and Boston to pull from during the year. And we also do not have a winning tradition to make people scramble for the tickets. But 2009 will be a great year for the Rays faithful. The only question will be if you have someone right next to you to high five after the game, or you have to move a few seats to get that satisfaction……………….I am betting on 360 degrees of hand slapping fun in 2009, what do you think?
Photo credits for today go to: Tampabay.rays.mlb.com, and to Mike Stoller and Caviler92 of Flicker.com
wrote a blog last week about why bloggers do not get the respect they deserve and
are not even thought of for credentials in sports. The blog brought a bit of a
firestorm to my door from the local blogging community, and to say I was taken
back a bit was an understatement. But I also see and understand the points made
in each of those pieces, and even in the comments made by other people. I am a
better writer for knowing what people think around the Tampa Bay area on this
issue. So what I truly have learned the past week is the extent of the changes
in the media machine in the past 10 years. Now I am not saying I have lived
under a rock and kept my ears closed to the noise coming out of my television,
but I am naive again to the do and don’ts of the modern media contingent. It
grew up faster than a weed in a Bermuda grass lawn.
So I went
over to the 2009 Superbowl activities at Raymond James Stadium. I had planned
on taking in the media feast from a distance and hoped to leave the event with a
renewed vigor and vitality to learn a few new things in the whole process. The
first few minutes of the annual media day still give me goosebumps. I never got a
chance to play at the Superbowl level, my teams only got to the playoffs once in
my time there, and we got beat by a division rival and had to sit on our couches
and watch the game like the other 30 teams.
I started the day off kind of undercover as I
went around the pre-set stages around the stadium. The NFL’s Media Day was a
new experience for me and I got basically a Day pass to kind of audit the event
and take home some new steps for the future. The one great thing about having a
good connection with the league, I can ask for things like this and unless I
write something trashy beforehand, it can be done with a minimum of trouble. I
do not write NFL-base blogs or stories, but my past relationship with a member
of the NFL media corps helped cement my place in the audience to watch and learn
from beyond the microphones and tape
still amazed at the lack of true football knowledge that some cultures in the
other hamlets of the world displayed that day. But then again, I do not
understand Cricket, so if I went to India to cover a national match between
Pakistan and India I would not understand the huge commotion either. The NFL
has done everything in their powers to educate and keep an open door to other
countries that want to expose the world to this great event. But you got to
admire a journalistic team coming half way across the globe to cover an event
and learn on the fly about the sport and the passion of the players, coaches
and fans towards this frenzied weeks activities.
But something I have always loved about a majority of today’s NFL
guys is that they embrace the truth that everyone is not a football nut around
the world and they show empathy and understanding for the people who do not see
the game on the level of the usual American fan. I have seen guys on teams
berate media members from other countries in the past, and that was totally
unacceptable in my book. But then again, I have seen a guy explain for 20
minutes what a blitz is, and why they do it to a very interested Japanese media
member wanting to understand the term to educate his readers or
When I was playing, I was lucky to have secured a
degree in Mass Communication, and I never forgot the fact that it is a media
members choice for them to interview me, and that I should be honored and really
take my time to be sure they have it right, or I could look the foolish in a
foreign language. But then again, I have seen some people treat the media like a
burden instead of a sure fire way to get their voice out there for millions and
millions of potential fans. And that used to frustrate me. Especially when I
see someone like Warren Sapp pick up a Japanese magazine with his picture on the
cover and take it home only to find out it is actually a bad story on him
written in Japanese about him downgrading the public on some comment he made in
an interview over a year ago.
After the initial group of
players came out and did their media segments, I saw a few people I knew from
the Indianapolis media group and sat down and asked them how much their job has
changed since the last time I saw them. One guy began to take 4 different
electronic items out of his bag to show the magnatude the industry had changed
beyond my imaginations. He first popped open his bag and showed me his top of
the line laptop with the WiFi and media programs and components to send his
story instantly anywhere at anytime. To me that is the biggest change in the
last 10 years. the fact that you can update and send in your stories 24/7
compared to the times when I had to be sure to either race down to the papers’
offices or call into a Copy Clerk to transfer my story in time for the 11 pm
cut-off for submission in the next days paper.
fact that he could do a story in the airport, or in the cab, or even while
sitting in the stadiums stands 5 minutes from now and send it electronically to
be updated throughout the day and placed on the papers web site within minutes
was amazing to me. Plus he told me he now does a blog almost daily to bring
information and even breaking news instantly in the sidebar of the website. Now
I know that this has happened locally for some time. I have seen the
transformation of some great newspaper guys into media based bloggers in the
past few years, but to hear someone who I used to see run searching for an empty
phone to submit his story after a Thursday night game just blew me
The he threw down his “second body part”, or his
Blackberry. How he could use it to do research and update statistics and
information in a micro second to get the information that keeps people coming
back to his blogs and columns. But then he grabbed a second mini computer that I
saw was a Palm notebook and he showed me how the voice recognition system on the
unit was better than his old hand held tape recorder to get interviews typed out
and ready to browse for articles and quotes. I told him I needed one of those
for just everyday use and he advised me to wait a few years until the price
comes down…….sane advice after he told me the price of the unit and the
I then told them I remember the day when a simple pad
in your back pocket was the ultimate form of media gathering, and a tape
recorder with a working microphone was essential to simple reporting, even a
High School football game. We laughed a bit about missing deadline and having
Copy Clerks misquote a players or coach and the ramifications that it took in
the past to get on good ground. I even told them about one of my first stories I
did during my Internship one summer at a magazine where 4 members of the team
told me their name was ” John”, and I accepted it verbatim until I got the
roster from the P R department before I left the complex. I almost wrote their
names as “John” when only one of them had that first name and the rest was
hazing the rookie reporter.
also reminded me that those same mistakes today could cost them their jobs since
they have advanced ways of getting it correct the first time. I came away from
that small gathering with a new respect for the industry. I saw the changes and
the adjustments they even had to make to be relative to today’s media needs. That
couple of hours in the bright sun seemed to open new possibilities that I had
never imagines 10 years before……..and even still can’t fathom
Times had changed so much I almost did not even recognize the
art form anymore, but the basis still remained, sports is life to so many people
in this world. I remembered what brought me to want to write in the first place,
my passion for the moment and to tell a story to a blind man as if he had eyes.
That was the true reason I began writing and researching stories in High School,
to entertain and inform with no prejudice.
the second tier of player appearances began, I just sat back and watched the
guys pull off their musical number of waltzing the questions and answers back
and forth like a pair of skilled dancers. This is another point that made me
fall in love with reporting, the way that the story can flow right out even as
you are sitting there talking to the person while you were writing the story and
not have a clue what your lead will be, or how you are going to close your
But the great thing about media today, you do not even
have to produce that great article to get the idea across and the word out with
accuracy and speed. I saw one of the media guys pull out his Blackberry and peck
a few dozen keystrokes then send the words off like I would text a friend from
the baseball game. He learned during the Q and A session that a certain player
might be a “game day decision ” and wanted to leave an entry for his blog
post. So daily I am learning the changes and the new duties of the Fourth Ward.
Gone are the days of simple times of calling in your story before deadline and
even worrying about it getting rewritten by the staff writers sitting in the
bullpen and your entire stories meaning changed in the translation. Today you
can write, edit and post within a few minutes, and hopefully it is right the
first time, or the water will flow through that little hole in the dam faster
than any other time in our short history.
So I headed home and
wrote a blog that inspired me that day. And by the end of the night I was
feeling that the industry might have passed me by with the comments that came
toward me. I had worked in another industry that did not use this type of
technology or skills for years and knew that my talents were rusty now
because Journalism and blogging is different. But the lines are getting more and
more twisted and confusing all the time now. Journalist are blogging, and bloggers want to
be media savvy journalist. But that same group before me that used to write my
quotes down in small pads put in their back pockets, now use devices unheard of
in my early years covering sports. It really showed me how far I was behind in
the modes and methods and that I needed to move forward to even be considered
close to modern in the ever changing media
used today were obtained from Newsday.com ( Ross Frankin ) and from
Www.TheScoutingBook.com said even before the Rays made him the first pick of the 2007 Amateur Draft, David Price had already run up a polished resume, beginning with the 0.43 ERA he posted as a high school senior. The Dodgers drafted him in the 19th round in 2004, but Price chose to attend Vanderbilt on scholarship instead, where he became a powerful (if overworked) anchor to the school’s very strong rotation. When the Rays Price with the first pick in the 2007 Draft, the website. www.TheHardballTimes.com was gushing about the uber prospect from Vanderbilt University because of his aggressive finish to the plate. they also remarked that Price’s slow tempo to the plate and they began to think that what I said above about his tempo may be a tad nitpicky. This dude is good, really good. Leave him alone and let him pitch. Now that is a great scouting report…………leave him alone and let him pitch!
Price went 11-1 with a 2.63 ERA and Division I-leading 194 strikeouts for the SEC Eastern Division Commodores. He is the fourth left hander taken with the top pick and first since Brien Taylor went to the New York Yankees in 1991. Price’s dominant season came to a surprising end in the NCAA regionals when his top-ranked Commodores lost to Michigan. In that game, he came on in relief and took his first loss of the year after striking out 17 against Austin Peay three days earlier. Projected as a future staff ace in the majors, Price has a fastball measured in the mid-90s. He mixes it well with an outstanding slider and change up.
Price did not agree to an $ 11.25 million, 6-year contract with the Rays until August 15, just beating the newly imposed signing deadline. Price, a hard-throwing left hander from Vanderbilt, is guaranteed $8.5 million under the deal, which includes a $5.6 million signing bonus. after singing, the Rays quickly decided the send their new prospect straight to Class A Columbus Catfish in the South Atlantic League. It is unlikely that he will pitch in any games until the Instructional League this fall under the direction of pitching coach Bill Moloney. But getting the extra time to work on mechanics and get used to the grind of the minor leagues will be a good education for the young southpaw.
After throwing in the Rays Instructional League during the off season, the young prospect performed great and was rewarded with a trip to the big clubs camp in St. Petersburg, Florida. Price came on and pitched his heart out before finally getting have his professional debut against one of the best hitting teams in the American League East, the New York Yankees. With a group of excited teammates watching on TV from the visiting clubhouse and a Legends Field-record crowd of 10,869 watching in person, Price stepped onto the major-league stage Saturday for the first time. And wowed them all. Using a live fastball that was clocked unofficially as fast as 99 mph, Price hit the first batter he faced, Yankees C Francisco Cervelli, then struck out, in succession, Shelly Duncan, Jason Lane and Wilson Betemit.
Even Price, who last pitched competitively on June 1 for Vanderbilt, was a bit awed by the radar reading in his first spring game for the Rays, a 4-1 victory against the Yankees. “There’s a lot of adrenaline, of course, being utilized,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said to the Tampa Tribune. ”I liked it. The delivery was good, the ball was down, it was alive at the end. And again, it’s all about his composure. He walks in, this is his first professional moment, and he walks out there like he’s pitching against Clemson on a Saturday.”
Price, 22, said he felt a bit of nerves in the beginning during his morning warm up at Progress Energy Park but the butterflies were gone by the time the team arrived in Tampa. Once there, the baseball fan in Price came out. “Before the game starts, Johnny Damon comes over and shakes my hand and tells me good luck,” Price said. “You don’t think about that stuff and it happens. I’m standing out there down the left-field line kind of star-struck. I’m 300 feet away from Derek Jeter, A-Rod’s hitting. It’s definitely a lot of fun.”
Price threw two sliders, the rest fastballs, as he recorded 11 strikes in 17 pitches. He caught Duncan looking and got Lane and Betemit swinging on fastballs. None of the four batters he faced so much as fouled off a pitch. “When I got that last strike three, I’m running off the field and I’m tearing up,” Price said. “Because I hadn’t done that in so long. That’s easily, hands down, the greatest feeling ever.”
But his dream of maybe making the major league roster out of Spring Training were quickly dashed on March 11th when he was assigned to the minor league camp for assignment for the 2008 season. Price had an impressive spring. After being hampered by tightness in his left shoulder, the hurler appeared in two spring games, garnering a 0.00 ERA and retiring six of the seven hitters he faced. Following Spring Training, Price experienced a minor strain in his left elbow, and the Rays cautiously placed him on rehab assignment in St. Petersburg.
But first they wanted Price to pitch in one more extended Spring Training game on May 18th against the Yankees extended spring squad. But there was a method to all this madness as the Yankees had a prolific hitter in Alex Rodriguez on that squad who was down in the minors trying to rehab a right quad muscle strain and would be playing that game. Price twice got the three-time American League MVP to strike out, allowing Rodriguez one hit — a solo homer over the right-center fence at the Al Naimoli Complex in St. Petersburg, the Rays’ Minor League facility.
The young hurler said the fastball Rodriguez hit over the fence was something he would “make a mental note” of and learn from. “He’s arguably one of the best players in baseball,” Price told MILB.com. Rodriguez had similar praise for the Price, who tossed a blistering fastball with speeds around 95-97 mph for the majority of his five innings. The young hurler previously topped out at 100 mph, in a Spring Training game against the Yankees. “I wish he was on our team,” Rodriguez said. “He has a very bright future. The Rays are doing a fantastic job of drafting these young guys.” After the game Price was notified that he would be joining the Florida State League Vero Beach Devilrays in Clearwater, Florida to begin his professional career on May 22, 2008.
Price did not stay long in Vero Beach as he spent only a month in Vero Beach before being promoted to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League. Price started 6 games with the Devilrays going 4-0, with a 1.82 ERA and 37 strikeout in 34.2 innings. He also was paired up with a pitching legend on May 27th when Pedro Martinez, who was down on a rehab assignment for the St Lucie Mets. Price dominated that game going 6 innings and giving up only 2 hits in the game with 9 strikeouts. Price gave up both hits to St. Lucie catcher Robinson Cancel in the contest.
Price quickly made his mark in Montgomery as he started 9 games for the Biscuits and went 7-0, with a 1.89 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 57 innings. He made a quick impact on the Biscuits pitching staff and made his Double-A debut against the Mobile Bay Bears on June 26th. In the contest he went 6 innings and gave up 4 hits and got 7 strikeouts in the game, winning his first start for the Biscuits. Price went to 5-0 on July 26th with his win over the Huntsville Stars. Price kept up his aggressive pitching until the Rays decided to promote him to the Triple-A Durham Bulls on August 11th.
Price got to work fast in Durham too starting his first game for the Bulls on August 13th, but came out on the losing end for the first time in his professional career in a 7-6 loss to the Norfolk Tides. In the contest, Price only lasted 4 inning and gave up 7 hits and 3 runs. But Price again took the mound on August 18th against the Indianapolis Indians and again had a rough outing as he went 5 innings and gave up 5 hits and 3 runs on the night. The International League was not giving the prized prospect of the Rays any respect for past efforts and Price quickly learned the distinctive differences of the minor league hierarchy.
Price took the mound for the August 23rd and again got rocked as he went 4 innings and gave up 6 hits and 3 runs and only got 3 strikeouts on the night against the same Indianapolis squad that beat him earlier in the week. % days later on August 28th, Price got his first Triple-A victory after going 5 innings and giving up 5 hits and only 2 runs to even his record at 1-1 in a 11-9 Bulls win over the Richmond Tides. Price then started the game against the Louisville Bats and posted his first post season win after going 5 innings and giving up 3 hits and shutout the Bats in the series opener.
In the International League finals against the Scranton-Wilkesboro Yankees on September 9th, Price was again roughed up a bit and lasted 6 innings, giving up 7 hits and 4 runs in the game, but he did post 9 strikeouts during his no-decision start that night. Price was on the bench on September 12th when Scranton finally got the better of the Bulls and took the International League crown with former Yankee starter Phil Hughes on the mound. But the sorry and disappointment was short lived as the pitcher was told after the game that he was being called up to the Rays while they were on their current road trip.
When the Rays finally brought up David Price on September 13th , he quickly got on a plane with Designated Hitter/Outfielder Jonny Gomes who also got called up to the big squad. You know that the conversation turned to what to expect for the young rookie, and Gomes might have been the right guy to sit near him and talk about this team. Gomes had been here from the beginning of the rebuilding process under Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but the Rays didn’t go the usual route to rebuild, they only had to tweak the system because of the depth in their farm system.
But Price did not get to wallow in the defeat at Durham for long as he quickly found himself in his major league debut on September 14th in Yankee Stadium coming in to relieve Edwin Jackson who had gotten rocked for 6 runs in 2 innings of work. Price quickly got to work and got his first six batters 1-2-3 to end the 3rd and 4th innings. But in the bottom of 5th inning, Derek Jeter took an 2-2 pitch and deposited it in the right field bleachers for a solo lead-off home run. Price then regrouped and quickly got the next three batters in order to end the 5th inning. Price ended up throwing 5.1 innings and gave up 3 hits and 2 runs to the Yankees, but overall threw effectively and with power.
Over the course of the rest of the Rays regular season, Price was used exclusively out of the Bullpen as a hard throwing lefty alternative to the slow throwing J P Howell and the medium speed Trever Miller. Price could come in with his overpowering fastball and slider and take over a ball game for the Rays. In his time with the Rays in September, he made 5 appearances and went a total of 14 innings and produced 12 strikeouts for the Rays. He did not get a chance for a win in his short time up in September, but that was just a prelude to post season and his ability to showcase his talents.
Price would soon show that he had ice water in his veins on the mound as the Rays began their first playoff games in their history. With their rookie pitcher ready and willing to do anything for the team, Price was added to the post season roster for both the American League Divisional Series and the American League Championship Series. Price did not have to produce for the team in the short lived series against the Chicago White Sox, but he did have plenty in the tank when the Rays took on their American League East foes, the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS series.
Price was ready at a moments notice and got his first chance during game2 of the ALCS when Rays reliever Dan Wheeler walked Jed Lowrie in the top of the 11th inning. Price came on with 1 out in the inning and walked J D Drew before inducing Coco Crisp to hit into a double play to end the inning for the Rays. B J Upton hit a fluke sacrifice fly down the right field line, and the Rays took the contest 9-8 and evened the series at 1-game a piece. Price for his 2/3rds of an inning got his first Major League win. But the Rays did not need Price’s services again until the top of the 8th inning when Chad Bradford ran into a little trouble and he came on to get J D Drew swinging to stop the Red Sox threat.
But it was in the top of the 9th inning that Price made his presence known inside Tropicana Field, when he came out to the mound full of fire and needing 3 outs to send the Rays to the World series for the first time. Jason Bay came up first for the Red Sox and worked the count to 2-2 before being issued a walk to start off the inning. Matk Kotsay and Jason Varitek both struck out on a total of 10 pitches to give the Red Sox one last out. Jed Lowrie then came up to pinch-hit for Alex Cora and hit into a fielder choice to second that Akinora Iwamura stepped on the bag and began the celebration for the Rays. Price was given his first career save for his actions and became the only rookie to post a win and a save in his first two post season appearances.
Price got his first taste of World series action in Game 2 at Tropicana Field in a mop-up duty for the Rays 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. That evened the series at 1-all and sent the series to Philadelphia for the next 3 games. Price went 2.1 innings giving up 2 hits, 2 runs and got 2 strikeouts on the night. Price did not get another chance in the series until the restart of Game 5 when he came on in the 8th inning for the Rays. Price went 1 inning and got 2 strikeouts on 20 pitches to get the Rays into position to maybe win the game. They could not convert in the top of the 9th and Price and the Rays ended their season while the Phillies celebrated out on the field.
The past years has shown the Rays faithful that this young left-hander will be here a long time. He has the composure and the talent to become a top fight starter in the major leagues for a long time. There is chatter that he will spend at least the first month back at Triple-A Durham to try and adjust to the Triple-A game before coming back up to stay in the majors. You can bet he will be here again by the All-Star break and this kid will not look back. He has the ability and the talent to alreay cement the number 4 slot in the rotation, and might be a number 1 or 2 within 3 years time.
Along with his maturity and confidence, the Rays got a true gem in this first round pick who boldly stated he would be back with the Rays hopefully by September. Little did they know that he has the stuff and the stamina to post one of the best post seasons by a rookie reliever. But when he finally gets to starting in this league, he will show his true colors and shine for a long time.
Photos included on this blog provided by Associated Press and RR private collections.
Earlier today, the St. Petersburg Times ran a story telling who the Tampa Bay Rays are going to be very aggressive in their push to increase their Season Tickets throughout Spring Training. The Rays are currently on the bottom of the list in the American League when it comes to Season Tickets, and the plan is to make the benefits more attractive and showcase what myself and over 10,000 Rays fans already know, that Season Tickets give you options. Television ads will be showing up and TV’s around the Tampa Bay area beginning today showcasing Rays players and narrated by Rays Manager Joe Maddon.
Most people look at Season Tickets as an expensive investment, but you do not have to buy two seats in the Home Plate Club for $ 12,400. a season. There are as many options as their are Rays jerseys right now. And just because you select a seat in the Upper Deck or the T B T Party Deck, you are still considered a prime member of the exclusive Season Ticket membership. Now I have sat in my section of the Trop in the same seat for the last 8 years, and I can not even imagine sitting anywhere else. but some people might not have the time or money to invest in the team to that level.
Take for example that a full ( 81 games ) Season Ticket in the Upper Deck area of the Trop is about $ 754. a season, which will come in at a savings of $ 215 over the entire season. But the Rays have thought about you fans that can not make 81 games, or have kids who play sports in the early spring and summer. They have a huge list of options that could fit into anyone’s budget. There are half season Season Tickets that will let you pick from two great options” weekdays and weekends. You weekday plan which will cost you $ 727.50 for an outfield seat and includes the Opening Day game and every game played from Monday to Thursday during the season, including games against the Boston Red Sox, Philladelphia Phillies and New York Yankees.
Also back will be the popular 20-game package, which will cost you about $ 550. for a Baseline Box seat. The package will be configured around the weekend games at the Trop. There are three options here, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games. The most popular option might be the Saturday night games to secure a spot for the Rays Concert Series, and also get you an wristband to be able to go down to field level to watch the concert. But this package can also offer you games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.
Then there is the Weekend plan which for a Outfield seat will cost you about $ 678.50 and will consist of games played on Friday through Sunday, and will include the always popular Concert Series nights in the package. This package will also include Opening Day and games against the Chicago White Sox, Red Sox, and Yankees. All of the half season and limited game packages have a reduced level of Season Ticket benefits, but include such great items as postseason ticket purchases before the general public, 10 percent discount for merchandise at the Tropicana Field Team Store, and your own personal Season Ticket representative from the Rays.
But there are other goodies like you can use the same Season Ticket door at Gate 1 for faster entry to the games, and also can purchase discounted parking in Lots 2 and 6 for games. I used this option a few years ago, and I could actually park within 35 yards of the back door of the Trop and get to my car in less than 2 minutes after leaving the confines of the stadium. This comes in handy during those wild rain showers we tend to have in the summertime here in Florida. You also have priority if at any time you decide you might want to either upgrade your seat, or even decide in the off season you want to move closer to the rail or aisle end, you can contact your Season Ticket Representative and he will work with you to get that desired location or seat for you.
If Season Tickets for the Rays were to increase from the level they are today to about 15,000, the team would have a guaranteed attendance of 1.8 million fans in 2009. That is one of the reasons for the big push to increase the season Ticket base. Another is that the team has increased their budgeted payroll for 2009 to a level that is 2 1/2 times the 2007 payroll for the team. With the estimated payroll exceeding $ 60 million this year, it will be the most talented and expensive team in Rays history. And as a Season Ticket holder you can get in on the action.
A Full Season Ticket gets you a lot of great benefits besides the ones listed above. Full season patrons also get a guarantee of your seat every game, a personalized nameplate on your seat, and an opportunity to purchase extra tickets to games during the Spring Training and Regular season before the public. Another great benefits is the exclusive events and parties that the Rays provide every year for the Full season crowd. One of the best events every year is the Team Photo day held usually right before the end of the regular season on a Sunday.
In the past we have had events during the All-Star game where the Rays have invited the Season Ticket folks to places like Game Works in Ybor City for a party and gaming with players and other fans. That event last year attracted numerous Rays players like Grant Balfour, Jonny Gomes, Edwin Jackson and Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Players played video games and raced simulated car races against fans and Raymond during the event, which included free food and drinks and numerous prizes given out during the event. And yes, that is me doing the chocolate fountain in the photo at last years event.
Another one of the pluses of having a Season Ticket is the fact that the Rays will give you an additional item from selected giveaways two times every year. They are equally divided between before the All-Star break and before the last home stand of the season for the team. I can tell you as a Full Season Ticket holder since 2000, and a half season ticket holder since 1998, that it is one of the best investment I have ever made in baseball. Along with the tickets, you can get to develop dialogue and personal face time with players and staff that is beneficial to having the true baseball experience. And with this, it gives you a deeper understanding and knowledge of what Rays baseball is really all about.
Another Season Ticket plus that people might find pleasing this year is the fact that non Season Ticket holder over the age of 14, will have to purchase a wristband with a $ 10 donation to the Rays Foundation to get autographs this year. Along with your free wristband, you will get early admission to the Fan Fest an full hour before other fans. Not only that, but throughout the season you get birthday and holiday cards from the team, and also develop friendships and a common bond with your fellow Season Ticket buddies.
Another great item that the Rays give to their Season Ticket fans is the option of going down on the field during the Concert Series events. I know I took full advantage of this even though my seat was just a little to the right of the center of the concert stage. So be sure to check out some of the great options being offered by the team this year in their Season Ticket packages. As with most things in life, the more expensive the seat, the more extended benefits you can get with your Rays experience.
Not having the money to get the plush spots in the Trop should not keep you from wanting to come enjoy this team as they defend their 2008 American League East title and the American League pennant. Exciting things are in store for 2009, and if you decide to join the Rays train you can be on the ground floor with the rest of the 10,000 excited Rays faithful Season Ticket fanatics. Even if you can not afford to put out extra money right now because of the economic situation, please come out and support the team when you can. 2009 will be another year of expectations and surprises from the Rays, and it would be a shame for anyone to miss out on the excitement.
Think if we all could afford the Home Plate seats like The Heckler. We could eat and drink every night for free, and also have a parking pass in the Lot 1 right outside the 16th Street entrance to the Trop. But this group also get an outstanding benefit that the rest of us would die for……..they get a batting practice attended by Rays personnel every year. What a treat it would be to hit the cages and hit one out in left field and maybe have the video camera on. It would be totally worth the price.
All the photos in this blog were provided from the private collection of RRProductions.