Rays Jots and “Idol” Rays-style Chatter
Man oh man, here we are, another beautiful day in the Florida sun with the smell of Cheese steaks hitting gentile winds coming across the ball park. I do not mind coming down here and riving almost two hours now to see a game. Ever since the minor league teams began their exhibition games, you can always stroll on over and maybe see B J Upton getting his licks in, or maybe Matt Joyce getting his legs under him before the season begins. But, see those two guys again out there running and fielding shows me that the season is upon us, and it is time to celebrate some of the other things going on down here in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Rite of Rays Spring
Today is also the first locally televised broadcast of a Tampa Bay Rays game this season. That is always a sign of the season coming up quickly on us when we see that strapping young lad, Todd Kalas doing reports from the Tiki Bar, the Cheese steak Hut, and also along the railings over the Rays Bullpen and the left-center field Boardwalk area. But it is not until I see that man-fro of Dewayne Staats that I truly know the year is about to start. If you do not know anything about Statts, then you are not a old time Rays fan. Staats has been stepping to the mike now for 32 seasons, and his 11th season covering the Rays. In 2003, he hit a high note point in his career when he called his 4,000th broadcast. He has come a long way since his first timer up at the mike in a MLB booth when he started with the Houston Astros back in 1977.
But today he was seen walking into the booth with the Rays Assistant Pitching Coach/ Broadcast partner Brian Anderson for this broadcast first by the Rays Television Network in Port Charlotte this year. Missing in today’s initial broadcast was new Rays analyst Kevin Kennedy. But seeing both Staats and Anderson standing up there in their dark blue Rays polo shirts brought a level of normalcy to the Spring. It is like the birds returning to Capistrano, it is a rite of spring. But, the true rite of spring was seeing Kalas wandering the sidewalks and Tiki bar seats shaking hands and just being a true Rays ambassador to the crowd of 6,969 who came out to see them play the St Louis Cardinals today.
American Idol Rays-style
The location was kept unknown to most fans, but the results were mixed as the Rays held their own version of the popular Fox Television show this week. The judges were not as picky or prim and proper as the regular shows lot, but it was a wild mix of young and old music styles. You had the Latin goddess Carmine Molina ( No relation to the catching Molina’s) as our resident Paula Abdul, Troy Percival maybe playing the picky Simon Cowell, B J Upton as the new judge Karla De Guardio and the veteran Carl Crawford did his best Randy Jackson moves. The pick of the Rays to do the MC duties might be a bit odd to some people, but Shawn Riggans as Ryan Seacrest would make sense to the women fans of the Rays.
Now Pitching Number 19……………..
Only during the spring can you have this kind of problem. During the regular season, players do not seem to mix jersey numbers or play a game of jersey roulette. But during Thursday’s game, we saw two different sides to the usual number 19 of the Rays. We first saw Scott Kazmir start the game and throw a wild first inning where he gave up 3 runs, one a 3-run shot to Ryan Ludwick into the left field boardwalk area. After the first three batters had tacked an early 3-0 lead on the Rays, Kazmir began to settle in a bit, but still got hit two more times in that inning after throwing around 31 pitches. It started to look like vintage 2008 Kazmir.
But unknown to the fans, and even the broadcast team at the time was the fact that Kazmir was a victim of that gastro-intestinal situation that has come and gone all spring within the Rays clubhouse. He did not feel good from the get-go, but wanted to try and take the mound in support of his team. You could tell his off-speed pitches did not have the usual snap, as Ludwick took his slower than usual change-up long and deep in that first inning. Even during the second inning, a hanging slider was hit over the boardwalk in right field and into the restaurant patio area for a solo shot. In the third inning, he faced the minimum three batters, getting a double play to help matters after he hit Yadier Molina in the foot with a bad breaking ball.
For his four inning of work today, Kazmir gave up 8 hits and 5 runs, with only 2 strikeouts. It was not vintage Kazmir at all, but considering he was under the weather, I can give him a mulligan today. He has looked good in his other two appearances this spring, and you knew that a set back was going to happen to each of the starters at some point this spring. So this was Kazmir’s “gimme” for the spring. After his outing, Kalas interviewed Kazmir, and you could see by his face that it lacked color and he did not have that usual confidence or Kazmir charm going for him today.
But then again in the top of the ninth inning , the Rays faithful saw another number 19 take the mound for the home team. But this time it was not the leftie, but a rightie who was wearing the telltale Kazmir number. Now granted, the minor leaguers do wear the same type Rays B P tops in their camps also located on the adjacent four regular size field here in the Charlotte Sports Park. But couldn’t the Rays have done what the Red Sox, and even today’s opponent, the Cardinals have done and just send the guy out their without a name on the back of a “19” jersey. I had to get the old binoculars out and strained to see that the guy on the mound was actually the Rays 2002 46th round pick, Jino Gonzalez.
If you have not heard a lot about Gonzalez, then you must not be a Montgomery Biscuit fan. You see, he spent most of his 2008 season with the Double-A affiliate where he appeared in 37 games last season earning a record of 2-4. He also started 11 games for the Biscuits and went over 87 innings picking up 68 strikeouts last year. but here he was today, helping the big club fight off the Cardinals in the ninth inning to try and secure a chance for the Rays to get back into this game. He ended up only going 1 inning today, but he quickly took care of Cardinal Joe Mather grooving a nice breaking ball on the inside corner for a called third strike for the first out.
He then tried to get the same pitch in on Brian Barden, but hit him in the stomach to give up his first major league base runner. He then pitched Tyler Greene tight inside to get him to hit a short bouncer in front of the plate that Gonzalez quickly picked up to throw out Braden for the second out of the inning. After another hard pitch in on the hands of Brendan Ryan, he got him to op up the ball towards the backstop and Rays catcher Steven Vogt held onto the ball for the final out of the inning. It was an impressive outing for the minor leaguer, and might have opened some eyes about his future with the team.
Short Page Scribbles :
Now not only does Elvis, the English Bulldog of Pat Burrell have a locker with a nameplate, but the young son of Rays closer Troy Percival also has that honor in the Rays clubhouse. The 10-year old was given a space by Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland today, and the first thing hanging in his locker was his customary “401.2” jersey. But I guess that is better than the locker room setting for both Ray Sadler and Jon Weber, who have seen all the people around their assigned lockers either get sent to the minor league locker room, or moved to other areas of the clubhouse. But you can be sure
that they too might have to vacate the lockers soon, with one of them hoping to actually have a chance to take their gear to Tropicana Field for the season.
Something was very usual today around the ballpark. The Rays usual Juggs radar gun seemed to be a bit off today as it showed a slow breaking pitch by Rays Reliever Brian Shouse going 96 mph to the plate. It even tallied a slow 12-6 curve by the Cardinal’s Ryan Franklin going 99 mph. Who knows what is up with the gun, maybe a ball hit it and the calibration was smacked right out of the stadium piece. Hopefully it will be taken care of before the next game so we do not have a random 102 mph reading hit the scoreboard and freak out a few of the Rays faithful.
B J Upton got his first live batting swings in today over the Minor League section of the complex. He did not fair well, but was happy to finally get the bat off his shoulder and swing at some live pitching in a game situation. He did not get to take the field, as he was designated at the DH for the Triple-A squad game today. But his 09-2 performance can not be discounted as he was seeing the ball great and just seems to have his timing off a bit right now. Upton told the St. Petersburg Times that, “My biggest concern was swinging and missing and seeing how it felt,” Upton said. “I took my normal swing and I didn’t feel anything, so it’s another roadblock we’ve passed. I really had no idea how it was going to feel, and to finally get it out of the way it feels good.” It is just great again to see him in uniform and ready to take a bat in his hands for the Rays. The timetable is still in place for him to be ready by the time the team returns from their first road trip of the year to Boston and Baltimore. But for him to make his 2009 debut in front of the home crowd might just be what the doctor ordered for Upton.