March 2009

Repost: Rays Last Spring Game in St. Petersburg

Update:

This blog was originally written on March 28, 2008 to celebrate and commemorate the last home game of the Tampa Bay Rays at their Spring Training home for the last 11 years. This day marked the last time the Rays would play as a team at the site, and would move to  the new sparkling complex in Port Charlotte in 2009. The writing style and the photos are also a sign of the changes made in the last year to my blog and the way I convey my blogs to you. So I hope you enjoy this “Blast of the past” that is a special part of the Rays history.

..

I am filled with both sadness and excitement on this perfect day for
baseball. I am about to see the end of an era in my hometown of St. Petersburg,
Florida. The local baseball faithful here in St. Pete., have been actively watching
and participating in M L B Spring Training games for over 80 odd years. And it all
comes to an end today. Our hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays, will be training at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida  starting next season.



                 



It is sad because my grandfather,who lived within a stones throw of former
Yankees’ training site, Huggins-Stengel Field, and spent many a day at the old
Busch complex off 62nd Ave. He spent many an afternoon near Cresent Lake watching Spring Training games
both there and at Waterfront Park. That my dad, who loved the game of baseball, and counted a few  MLB players
as friends could not say a fond farewell to this stadium that he saw built and
watched  hundreds of games there from 1947-1976.



Being a third generation baseball fan is a huge responsibility to me. It
involves my commitment, loyalty and a sense of knowing the sky will not fall
for my team. The ending of the era at Al  F. Lang Field/Progress Energy
Park/Waterfront Park is special to me.



                   

 
Special because I spent a lot of my youth here in the Spring and Summers.
Both watching MLB and Minor League teams leave it all out on the dirt and grass.
Watching the St. Petersburg Devilrays win a championship, and the hometown M L B
squad wrestle for wins. Special because my old job with Pepsi Cola had me at the Training complex and
at Al Lang almost every day in the Spring furnishing them with product and
watching some of these players’ develop into stars. I would be on the phone
daily getting orders and securing the items for the team and its clubhouses,
both at the Ray Namoli Spring Training complex, Progress Energy Field/Al Lang Field, or Tropicana Field, just a few miles to the west of the stadium.



 I have pushed,pulled and sweated in these clubhouses’, under
the grandstands, and in the dark recesses of Tropicana Field. I loved
working with the Rays’ and I consider them  very special people in my
life. They have bestowed on me a place in their Wall of Fame for my
loyalty, and I have received numerous phone calls and smiles from the
Executive and Front Office staff when we see each other outside of the
stadium. I also hold dear a million memories that would fill a Myspace
server. From winning players “Jersey’s off their backs”, to winning
roundtrip airfare to Seattle for a 4 game roadtrip.

                                  

But back to today’s final game.

It had all the fanfare and tradition of an Opening Day. You had the local
political forces out. Both teams’ starting players were announced and stood on
their respective foul line before  a barbershop quartet sang the National
Anthem. It was pomp and circumstance at it’s best.



                            


There was a special flyover by a Air Force KC-135 tanker unit that had the
sell out crowd on their feet applauding the sight.


                                  


An anticipated event that did not happen today is that Hall of Famer, Monte
Irvin was not able to attend the game. He is a proud supporter of the Rays’ ,
the fans missed a rare opportunity to talk and get autographs from this great
former player. I send  personal best wishes and hope for a speedy recovery to Monte, and
hope to see him at the Home Opener this year. Another item I picked up on the sly was the fact that there were no special
collectibles or items listing the “last game” on them for sale in the entire
stadium. I thought the Rays’ missed a monetary gold mine here. But was informed
that the Rays’ wanted to pursue this angle, but M L B vetoed the idea. They  might
be afraid of a future conflict if a team ever trained here again. I can see
their point, but this stadium might be gone by that time.


You see, the Rays’ had a spot out in Right Center that was the spot for the
new proposed stadium’s home plate. The Rays hope that the city’s faithful voters decide in a  November
referendum to change the zoning for the area, or sell the stadium land to the
county for future ballpark considerations. Most of this is up in the air right now, but the Rays’ new complex is already
being constructed, and there is no turning back at this time.



                             


The game featured the third sellout game( 6,759 attended) of the season for
the Rays’, and even had some odd places for fans, and creatures to watch the
last contest
.
                            

                    



They were treated to a great contest featuring three bunts for singles, a
ground rule double over the Left Center field wall. A long towering homer, and a
odd play in  Right Center by B J Upton and Eric Hinske. It saw Rays catcher Dioner
Navarro go 2-for3 with a perfect bunt single and a crushing hit to Left field. It
saw Carl Crawford hit two doubles, and Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips hit a
triple. It was great contest no matter what the score. Of course, we know that
the Rays did not win today, but it was a thrill just to be there on this
historic day.

                     

                               



After the game, the Rays treated the fans to a hot dog,chips and soda
extravaganza in the Right field corner of the field. It was a time for the kids
to “run the bases”, for the all fans to toss a few balls around like the pros’,
and a time for all to celebrate this Spring’s great record and team. It is also
a time to recharge the batteries for the upcoming season. It was a great event,
and one that should be a yearly event, even in Port Charlotte next year.

                            

                          



I can not end this blog without a few pictures of Carlos Pena. My other half
is a true Carlos mark and she should get some good pictures of her guy in
action.  So, here are a few for your enjoyment:



                                  

                                      


In honor of the last game at Al Lang today, I am going to leave you two
Trivia questions. Please fell free to answer them in comments and I will let you
know if you are right, or might offer a few hints.  Good Luck

1,) In  1947, who hit the first Home Run in newly constructed Al F. Lang
Field?

2.) Who made the last out in today’s game?

 Photo Credits: All Photos RRCollections

Checking in on some Ex-Rays this Spring

 

 

 
 
 
I mentioned in a blog a few months ago that they Tampa Bay Rays had changed a bit when 10 members of the 2008 American League Pennant winning team either left via trade or were not resigned by the team. Well, I was sitting here today and was wondering what might have happened with those guys after they left the team in the off season. Well after doing a bit of research, I can tell you pretty much what they have been up to with their posted statistics as of last night ( March 20th). 
 
 
 
Some of the guys have fallen off the total Major League Baseball radar, but a few are having the type of spring that the Rays envisioned them having when they were with the club.  I guess the best one to start with is the one player who left via a trade this off season that was greeted by some with cheers and other with the true ability of filling one of the team’s biggest holes with a future budding star. When the trade first went down, I was not totally with it, because I envision a breakout year for this pitcher once he gains some control and confidence on the mound. But with his team tying 14 wins in 2008, I was expecting a little more out of him this spring.

 


 

 
Edwin Jackson is currently in the hunt for a spot on the Detroit Tigers starting rotation. I think he has a good shot to make the final 25-man roster even if he is not a starter this year. His ability to start and relieve make him an enticing pitching piece to the Tiger puzzle. If the Tigers can not agree upon a closer, you might even see him taking a few turns late in the game on the mound to further make the Tiger’s mouths water. But this spring, he has posted a 0-2 record in his 3 starts. He has thrown for 9 innings and given up 4 hits and 7 runs. The worst part is he has surrendered 3 home runs this spring, which was his downfall last season.  He has not gained total control in his pitch command yet evident by his 6 walks and 8 strikeouts. 



 
 
Cliff Floyd was again as free agent after the Rays declined his option on November 3, 2008. At the time, Floyd was considering the same surgery as  B J Upton, but decided to rehab his injury instead. That might have been a great idea as the former Rays Designated Hitter is hitting a robust .381 this spring with a .667 Slugging percentage. He is also still seeing the ball well at the plate getting 4 walks this spring. The only downfall is that he has been mostly DHing with the San Diego Padres, and during the regular season he will either have to play in the field, or be just a bench player for the team most of the year. His 2 doubles show he still has some ability left in his old legs, but it is his power ( 1 HR, 5 RBI’s) that will get him a chance with the Padres. 
 

 
Eric Hinske was one of the Rays major finds in 2008. He was signed for a simple $ 1 million dollar contract and only hit like he was making over 3.5 million. Even in his limited at bats, he made them count for the Rays and was always a constant positive influence in the clubhouse.  But the Rays did not try and resign him and he moved onto the Pittsburgh Pirates who were seeking outfielders. This spring, on Feb 26th, Hinske suffered a left ribcage contusion after smacking into the wall at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. Until recently he has been held out by the Pirates as a precaution, but is now starting to get at bats and time in the outfield. His average is not “Hinske-like”, as he is only 1-7 right now, but his .400 On-Base Percentage shows that he still has a great eye at the plate and will be an asset to the Pirates in 2009.
 
 

 
Gary Glover was the kind of reliever that you either loved or hated with the Rays. He had an up and down love affair with the fans, and his pitching with the team never hit a consistent point. But after being released by the Rays, he cleared waivers, but refused a assignment to Triple-A and became a free agent on August 2, 2008. He signed this off season with the Washington Nationals and is currently throwing some great ball for the squad.  Glover is currently holding a 0-1 record with a 1.80 ERA in his 4 appearances for the Nationals this spring. In his 5 innings he has only given up 4 hits and a solo run. He has seemed to gain a bit more control as he has only 2 walks and 5 strikeouts in those 5 innings. 
 
 

 
Al Reyes and Kurt Birkins are two relievers for the Rays that currently do not have any ties with a single Major League Team. Reyes was designated for assignment by the Rays and was not claimed, but he refused an assignment to Triple-A and was released as a free agent on August 18, 2008.  He did sign with the New York Mets organization and did have a small part in the New York Mets minor league system before he was released on September 18, 2008 by the parent club. He has not been invited or appeared for any club so far this spring. Birkins was released by the Rays on August 29, 2008. He did not get picked up by another club that season and is currently not on a Major League Baseball roster.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli
 
did not have his 2009 option picked up by the Rays on April 1, 2008. The Ray decided to not exercise the option because of his growing health concerns with his fatigue syndrome illness. But Baldelli made huge physical and medical advancements and finally joined the Rays roster in September in Seattle. He performed amazingly for the team in the final month of the season and was a pivotal player during thei
r first playoff run. But the team decided to not pursue Baldelli and he signed with his hometown Boston Red Sox instead. Baldelli is being viewed as a fourth outfielder and occasional DH for the Red Sox. He has been used in 8 games this spring, and had gotten 24 at bats, which produced 5 hits, and 2 doubles and 4 RBI’s for his new Red Sox team. It is still a bit unnerving to see him in the Boston red jersey after his entire career as a Ray.
 
 

Trever Miller was another player who had his option declined by the Rays on November 3, 2008. But Miller, being a lefty specialist did not hang out long on the unemployed list as the St Louis Cardinals came fast to sign him to a two-year contract. But with their hunt for a closer for 2009, he might be a few reps trying to close out games in the late innings this spring and during the beginning of the year for the Cardinals. So far this spring he has appeared in 8 games and has an 0-1 record. He has posted a 3.86 ERA and given up 8 hits and 3 runs in 7 innings of work. He has hit 2 batters and also gotten 6 strikeouts in his limited pitching performances this spring. He will be a valued member of the Cardinal Bullpen when they leave Florida and head north this April.
 

 
                         

 

Jonny Gomes
has been called many thing when he was with the Rays. He has been an inspirational figure, a feared man at the plate, and a great guy to have in your clubhouse. but the Rays decided to non-tender Gomes on December 12, 2008. Gomes is now fighting for a outfield position with the Cincinnati Reds, and is making quite an impression on Reds Manager Dusty Baker. He is considered to be fighting with Chris Dickerson for the left field spot in the regular lineup. Gomes had made quite a case for himself this spring hitting  for a .286 average, with a .679 Slugging Percentage.  He has appeared in 17 games and gotten only 28 at bats, but has produced 8 hits, 2 doubles to go along with 3 homers and 10 RBI’s for the Reds. I can not see the Reds going north without Gomes this April. He has the ability and the confidence to again be a daily member of a MLB squad.
 
 

 
Scott Dohmann was the last pick for the Rays Bullpen out of the mix in 2008. He beat out Grant Balfour, who was none to happy to begin the year in Triple-A. But Dohmann did not keep his consistent pitching and was finally jettisoned as the Rays put him on waivers on May 14, 2008. He did clear waivers and was sent to Durham, where he stayed the entire season throwing great ball for the Durham Bulls. But this past off season, he became one of four pitchers to sign contracts with the Japanese Baseball League. He ended up singing a one-year $ 650,000 guaranteed contract with the Hiroshima Carp.
 
 

Tim Boggart, who was the Rays Quality Assurance Coach also left the team this off season. In that post he sat basically in the Press Box and overlooked the Rays during the game and watched for subtle gestures or even player movements that might tip off the opposition to what the Rays had planned on the field or mound. This was the first time the Rays had instituted this type of position, basically acting as a internal scout during every game. In the off season he accepted a contract to take over the Third Base Coaching position with the divisional rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
 
 

So the Rays have changed a bit between the last game of the World Series in Philadelphia and today. But the spirit and the confidence in this team have grown from the signings of relief pitchers Jason Isringhausen and Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse. The Bullpen, which was one of the true Rays strengths in 2008 has been fortified with a bevy of better situational and late inning guys. The Rays took care of their right field needs by signing Gabe Gross and acquiring Matt Joyce from Detroit for Jackson. But the signing of Pat Burrell to replace Cliff Floyd might have been the biggest indicator of the Rays commitment to getting back and finishing the job in 2009. It is going to be a rough and tumble year, but the team seems set to again strive for excellence, even with a few pieces swapped out from their 2008 model.
 
 
 
 
 
Photo credits:   1) RRCollections
                            2) Associated Press ( S. Rakocic )
                            3) www.tbo.com.sports
                            4) www.sarasota.com
 
 

Wild Hogs Invade Rays Complex

 


 
 
Rays 2009 Commercials and Print Ads.

 
I really love the job the Tampa Bay Rays have done this year bringing their commercials for the 2009 season down to a level where you feel you know the players. And in the original spots, Rays Manager Joe Maddon also put a great spin on the commercials by relating to the guys with his nicknames for them like “Los” for Carlos Pena, and also adding some of his Maddon-isms to the entire commercial. It gives it a more down-to-earth feel that makes you want to root for the Rays this year. If you have not seen any of them, I posted all five of them on my other site, or you can just go to http://www.youtube.com and you will find these instant bits of Rays karma.

 
Above is the print ad  that was in the March 2, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated  showing Carl Crawford doing a agility training exercise in the outfield of Progress Energy Park in St. Petersburg, Florida.  the ads bring to me a great sense of the open mindedness and honesty that Maddon had instilled in his clubhouse between himself and his players. If you ever have a chance to chat with the man, or hear him talk, you will have a different outlook to the Rays Manager. He doesn’t just walk the walk, he can talk it with the best of them. By the end of his tenure here in Tampa Bay, he will have left a legacy of quotes, very cerebral sayings and mantras that will stand the test of time.

 

 

Wild Hogs Trash Rays complex
 

It was a bit entertaining to me last night to pop on the blog, The Heater and see a short blurp on the wild boar population in Charlotte county maybe not being happy that the Tampa Bay Rays are training in their fertile munching grounds. It was reported that last night a small band of wayward hogs decided to root and destroy a little bit of the follage around the complex, plus they left some big reminders that they were there. That is one of the minuses of building in a completely rural area. Sometimes the wild life that is accustomed to roaming that area get a bit upset that they have fences and paved parking lot where their best insects and plants used to grow.

 
This is one of the things that happens when man treads upon years of grazing and breeding sites for wild animals. This is not to say that either is to blame in this aspect, but sometimes the two have to gain some level of medium where they can co-exist without problems. With most of the Charlotte Stonecrabs game scheduled for the night time, it might be wise that the team conduct some parking lot security patrols to keep a unsuspecting visitor to the ball park from meeting our wild friends by their cars side after a game. I am not a expert, but a frightened animal is not always the most stable thing in the world.  This doesn’t mean that the Florida Fish and Wildlife commission will even trap or move the animals to another location. But you can be sure it will be done in a manner that is befitting the wildlife nature of the region, and to consider the welfare of the animals in the near future.
 

But  with the Rays, being the ecological friends they are to nature, might just have to adapt a bit to their new found fans, and hope they do not send messages to their relatives of the abundance of great grazing fields and concession stands. Who knows at this time what steps will be made to stop the nightly raids into the outer fields and leaving deposits for field personnel in the morning. Considering the locale, I am surprised that the buzzards and vulture population has not set up shop around the complex. That has happened at other rural ballparks, and still might in the future. But I am also looking forward to the first hawk/osprey or eagles nest to be positioned up into the light towers. That is a sign that you truly have arrived and bonded with nature.

 
 

 
 

A Bit about the Florida Wild Hog

 

Florida’s wild hogs are often referred to as feral hogs, of which three types can be found in the wilds of South Florida.. These include free-ranging pigs or hogs that come from domesticated stock, Eurasian wild boar, and hybrids of the two. Although technically, feral refers to free-ranging animals from domesticated stock, all wild hogs are typically referred to as feral in Florida. Wild hogs are in the family Suidae (true wild pigs), none of which are native to the Americas. It is believed that hogs were first brought to Florida, in 1539, when Hernando De Soto brought swine to provision a settlement he established at Charlotte Harbor in Lee County.
 

However, it is possible that hogs had been brought to the same site in 1521 by Ponce De Leon during a brief visit. During the next 4 centuries, explorers and settlers brought pigs with them throughout Florida. Many of these animals were given to or stolen by Native Americans who expanded pig numbers and distribution in the State. Europeans and Native Americans alike often raised their swine in semi-wild conditions where the hogs were allowed to roam freely and only rounded up when needed. Many of these animals,and those escaping from captivity established feral populations throughout the area. These feral populations have been further supplemented through deliberate releases of hogs in many areas by private individuals and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to improve hunting opportunities (although the State no longer does this).

 
Eurasian wild boar were first released in the U.S. in New Hampshire in 1886. Boar were then released in
New York (1900), North Carolina/Tennessee (1912), Texas (1919), Washington State (1981), and possibly other locations to provide a new big game species, and increase the sporting and trophy value of feral hogs through hybridization. A few Eurasian wild boar and many hybrids naturally dispersed to areas around release sites, including neighboring states. Hybrids have been trapped and moved to many parts of Florida by private individuals. In addition, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has trapped and released feral hogs and hybrids in many areas to control hog-related problems in some areas and improve hunting opportunities in others. There are not believed to be any free-ranging, pure Eurasian wild boar in Florida, only feral hogs and hybrids.

 
 
 
Wild hogs are now found in every county in Florida, including most of the Southeast. Florida, second only to Texas, is estimated to have 500,000+ wild hogs in a relatively stable population, with 1 to 2 million in the Southeastern U.S. Some of the highest densities of hogs in Florida can be found north and west of Lake Okeechobee in areas with large forested tracts, dense understory vegetation, and limited public access. Hog numbers tend to be lower in areas with intensive agriculture and urbanization, and little water. So next time you leave the Charlotte Sports Park near dark and you see two beady eyes from the brush remember that the “Wild Hogs” are watching you and could leave a reminder of their presence near the doors of your cars during the night games.

 
 

Kevin Barr is on the left
 

Kudos to Kevin Barr

 

Just wanted to give a shout out to Kevin Barr, who is the head honcho in charge of the strength and conditioning of the Tampa Bay Rays. I have had the pleasure to chat with him over the past few seasons, and you know this guy loves his job. He is always smiling and helping the guys warm-up before games even willing to add some personal stretching on the foul lines to be sure they are  in tip top shape for that night’s game.  He does a fantastic job getting them ready daily, plus helping them rehab when the injury bug hits them.  From his rubber tubing exercises to the pitcher’s runs during the Rays Batting Practice, you know this guy take a huge amount of pride in his job and in his team.

 
During this past off season he was picked by the staffs of all the Major League Baseball staffs as the best Strength and Conditioning coach in the baseball. I can think of no one else who should have gotten this honor in 2008. The Rays only had a handful of hamstring and muscle related injuries during the 2008 campaign. That is a testament to his high standards and the height of the bar he set for these guys. Congratulations again Kevin for being one of the best of the best. And here is to hoping you can regain that title again in 2009 with another severe injury free season.

 
Photo credits:   1) www.sportsillustrated.com
                          2) www.raysbaseball.com
                          3) Andsheewas@Flickr.com
                          4) www.bradenton.com
 

Longoria is California bound for the World Baseball Classic

 

 
                     

 
You can only imagine the quick suitcase packing and the nonchalant look towards the clubhouse attendant when he told them he needed to get into the clubhouse after 5 pm today. the anxious look on Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s face as he told Evan Longoria that he was “going to the the Big Show in California this weekend. But most of all, can you imagine the hustle and bustle for tickets now from the Long Beach California area now that Longoria is in route to Tampa International airport with a trip to California firmly within his grasp.
 

He will be so hyper by the time he hits Petco Park, not just for the adventure, but because he can share it with fellow Rays player and California dude, J P Howell. Longoria is the rookie again, with Howell having been in the Team USA clubhouse sine they left him in Clearwater, Florida after the Rays versus Philadelphia Phillies game back on February 28th. always great to know you have a fellow team mate already in house to get you up to snuff on the activities and the daily goings on of the World Baseball Classic.  This is not to say the two might not have talked recently, but you can bet it is going to be a great opportunity for Longoria not only to represent the United States, but to play ( hopefully) both contests in his home state in front of friends and family.
 

You know that Team USA already has a small block of tickets for him, but I think they will need more. For the former Long Beach State University student will probably have a couple hundred congratulation messages and ticket requests in the next 24 hours. I do not know if he is taking a red-eye flight out tonight to even get into the groove of this event. I know I would have sprinted out the door and gone home and got my laptop, a few personal items and basically ran all the way to the airport. This is a major opportunity for him to showcase to the west coast of the U.S. that Longoria style we have come to know and love in the Tampa Bay area.

 
 

 
 

And it all came about because of two injuries to the original members of the team that man the “hot corner”. David Wright has been the heir apparent to the third base crown for a few years, but with him also limping a bit after fouling a ball off his foot and breaking hid big toe nail, it might be a game time decision on Wright. As for the senior member of the “3B” team, Chipper Jones will be sidelined with a right oblique muscle injury that will prohibit his playing and batting in the rest of the tourney.  the official announcement did not hit the Internet until after 9 pm tonight, but he is not the only one being called up for duty in this critical stage of the World Baseball Classic.

 
Also meeting him in California will be a array of other sluggers ready and willing to provide some ammunition and power to the Team USA cause. Also getting a call tonight were Cleveland Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore, St Louis Cardinal Outfielder Ryan Ludwick ( who went 1-4 with a 3-run homer today against the Rays), 1st baseman Derrick Lee of the Chicago Cubs, and  catcher A J Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox. their first game will be held on Sunday, with a win, they will again play on Monday for the World Baseball classic Championship in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. But that is not all for Longoria. the Sunday opponent will also have a familiar face in Rays second baseman Akinora Iwamura, who will be on the field for Japan in the Sunday contest.

 

 

 

Congrats to Longo for his selection to play in this critical point in the WBC format. I am looking forward to the Sunday game now with great anticipation of a “coming out” of sorts for Longoria at third base. People in the U. S.  who follow baseball have gotten to see this unique rookie play for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 on his way to the American League Rookie of the Year award. But the people of Japan, Korea and Venezuela have not see the power and grace this young athlete has yet. But they will soon. So, let’s all make sure we set our DVR’s and other recorders for this game. I have a feeling this is going to be an instant classic match-up between two great baseball powers.

 
 
 
photo credits:   1) www.sports.espn.com
                        2) Donjohnson395@Flickr.com
                        3) RobertDBruce@Flickr.com
 
 
 

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.

 

Todd Kalas
 

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.

 
 

Shawn Riggan aka Rays Seacrest

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.
 

I have always called Riggans the “Brad Pitt” of the minor leagues, but now that he is considered a quality and able back-up to Dioner Navarro, maybe this is his first jump into broadcasting. Who would have known he could be so personable with a microphone in his hands. It might be the Rays tradition started by John Flarety, who is currently a part of the YES broadcast team. I am thinking this might be his first audition tape to take along with him to maybe follow Flarety and go high in the stands into the booth after his career is over…….The night’s winner was minor league catcher Steven Vogt, who mesmerized the judges with his smooth sounds and ample singing personalities. Coming in a distant second was the musing of fellow catcher Matt Springs and Chris Richard, who channeled a bit of Warren G and the Regulators during their time on the stage. But it was fun by all, and marked another chapter in the fun and adventure the Rays have had in the last year…………We out Dog!

 
 

 
 

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.
 
 
 

Photo credits: 1) RRCollection
                       2)  http://www.FSN.com
                       3)  http://www.Stpetersburgtimes.com ; (
                       4)  http://www.Bradenton.com ( Tiffany Tompkins )

Thinking About Rays Blogs Changes for 2009

 

 
 

 
So here we are, less than umpteen days until the Boys of Summer officially take the field for the first game of the 2009 Major League Baseball season. So with that coming up in the not too distant future, I have to really decide on how I want to report the games action in my MLBlogs this season. There are a multitude of ways I can approach this, but the one way that I have already ruled out is a systematic play-by-play that I have done this spring. Not that I do not have the time to type it, or even jot every nuance down, but that it gets a bit boring, and we will have television and radio for almost every game this year.
 

 
This will be the first year that the Rays will be almost completely broadcast in some form of the media from start to finish. We always have the radio crew of Andy Freed and Dave Willis to fall back on when we can not get our dose of Dewayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy. And because so many of the Tampa Bay Rays games will hit the airwaves in one form or another, I am not going to try and throw every pitch, at bat and out at you like I have done this spring. The real reason I did that this spring is for the people who do not have MLB.TV  or can not attend the game because of work, finances, or just the distance to Port Charlotte, Florida.
 

 
So with one way to report the daily game results down, let’s blow another out of the water while we are at it here. I am not going to attach video or even do a box score within the blog. I know we can go to a host of a hundred sports-driven websites that will promote and entice us with their slick designs and well known journalistic minded celeb-writers. I am know more by the common folk that sit in the stands than some of the people covering the Rays, but they also do not get out there and let themselves be known. I will however still institute a daily photo blog after I get approval from the Associated Press to use their photo files for game results and photos. I am currently in the process of getting this permission so I can post game day photos without the fear of a sharkskin suited lawyer showing up at my refrigerator box with a blowtorch.

 


 
 

I  used the format of “The Good, The Band and the Ugly” last season and even incorporated a few Clint Eastwood photos from that classic movie. But that was before I saw that another Rays-based website uses ,”The Good, The Bad and The Terrible” in their daily reports on the team. I did not even know about this website, Rays Index until really about late September this past year. I do not want any misunderstanding about me using the GBU format, so that will also be bye bye in the coming season. I still have a few weeks to come up with a catchy trio of segments to forecast my opinion on the games and their outcomes. 
 

 
I remember back in March 2008 when I used to start every blog off with a couple of paragraphs about nothing in particular, just game day sights, sounds and things that made me thin a bit.  I also used a daily Trivia Question in every blog until I saw that a majority of people really did not try to answer them, even when I put the answer at the bottom of the blog. I always put in the game header from that days game tho, as a reminder that you are about to enter the recap section of my blog and to illustrate the result towards the beginning of the blog. I even know that last year I also included a “Former Rays Player of the Day” segment at the bottom of the blog.
 

 
I actually liked doing that because it made me sift through the line scores and box scores seeking information, and in most cases I found out better information on players and situations around the MLB. I am actually leaning towards doing that again this season. I mean I got to highlight Brendan Harris of the Twins, Brandon Backe of the Astros, Jesus Colume and Jorge Sosa of the Washington Nationals, and  Chad Gaudin of the Oakland A’s/ Chicago Cubs. I miss these guys on the team, and I know there are a few people within the faithful at Tropicana Field who still cheer for these guys. So there , my first decision on the 2009 RR edition of the daily games.
 

1) We will have a segment at the bottom of the page based for the best game performance by a hitter/pitcher on that given day. 

 

 

So I know have the bottom third of my blog set up just by writing it out here. I have always said I come up with better ideas as I am writing, guess I got lucky here again. But who, why, where , when and what will change in the rest of the blog?  That is a good question. You can be sure that it will have a good dose of what my ideas and opinions are of events that unfold that day/night. But will I dig deep and look beyond the surface again? or should I just sit there and just give you the facts and let it be. Well, if I get something juicy, you can be sure I will use it to a credible source and also in good taste. 



 

I will not bring up “Huffapaloosa”
again, or event the idea of the Rays hiding guys on the DL that are healthy like a few situations in 2008. Hey, I can see and hear a lot of stuff from my right field seat, and I would love to get closer to even hear a bit more of the murmurs and the scuttlebutt. But that will come in time. With trust and confidence from a few of my insiders I will get a bit more in-depth, without embarrassing the franchise or a player. I am here to praise the team not tear it down. There are plenty of opponent website out here to discredit and battle the Rays chances in 2009. I might not be the flag bearer in the Rays Revolution, but I am not a foot soldier either.


 
So with that said, I am going to open the phone lines ( just kidding). So, what would you like to see different in my blog from last year. Here is an attached link to an older style blog written on April 27th,2008 :  http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com/archives/2008/04/sweep_caroline.html

This blog was written in the old style with the GBU-theme and also the former player aspect at the bottom of the blog. As you can see, no one commented on this blog back then.  But, I did change it through the year, and this blog written on October 30th, 2008 at least got two comments:  http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com/archives/2008/10/game_55_signals_the_end_of_the.html
Both show a huge bit of change, with the October blog the realistic model for my ideas for 2009. 
 

 
 
If you have noticed my blogs over the past few months, they have moved from any where from 5-10 photos to a small smattering of 4 or 5 maximum. A few months ago I wrote an article about blogers being accredited by the media to cover games. I had a comment written on that site about my blog had too many picture and was a bit confusing by looping all of them into the text. I thought about it and agreed with his logic and decided to tone it down to around 4 or 5 photos a entry. I am contemplating a separate photo blog when the wire services posts more than 10 photos of the game for both the Rays fans to have access, plus sometimes a picture can be worth a total blog entry. I am also open to keeping my multi-colored paragraphs to designate good, bad and ugly moments in the game……….but that is up for discussion because it might cause eyestrain to some people.

 
 


 

So, in closing, I am about to put some fine touches on a few “older” segments of the Rays Renegade blog. But I am still not sure what to do with the meat of the blog. I might just pick a few performances and just go opinion-crazy. The jury is still out, and I will only divulge the answer in the first blog posted after the Opening Day Boston versus Tampa Bay game in Fenway Park. But until then, i am open to hearing you thoughts and ideas. This might open a Pandora’s box for me, but I am strong enough to take it.  You forget people I supported an NFL football team that could not win for a long time ( Bucs) and a MLB baseball team that has just tasted the sweet nectar of winning.  If Jack Nicholson was standing before me today I would tell him……” I can handle the truth!!!”
 
 

Photo credits:
    1) RRCollections
    2) http://www.rottentomatoes.com
    3) RRCollections
    4) RRCollections

Rays beat Pirates in First Night Game of the Year

 
                      
 
I can tell you it has been a wild couple of days here in the old Renegade lair. I went to the game, as we all know on Sunday and my laptop worked pretty well during the draft. I was able to save my copy and only had to add the photos and the credits and it would be done. Well I charged the new little toy up and took it again to the game on Monday night to Bradenton and did my blog doing play-by-play with that game too. But when I got to the house, my new toy decided to act like a spoiled Christmas toy that stops working 24 hours after the kids play with it for the first time.
 

I was scared I might have gotten a virus or maybe even fried the hard drive already.  But I took it into a friend’s computer shop on Tuesday and he told me that there was  small cache of missing files that went along with Window Mail that would prevent the sending or even the opening of mail on that application.  Somehow the computer itself decided to deep six itself into the deep deep green of the cyber seas. So I took it to the store where I bought it, and they had a Tech Department. I told them how I had two word files and two recorded files on the computer, and I needed to extract them before I gave them the unit to send back or try and fix for me. I decided I just wanted to exchange the unit, but that I could not access them because of the touch pad and the odd files being missing in action.

 
Well, they attached a exterior mouse and got to the two Word files and downloaded them onto a disc for me that day, and I finally got Sunday’s game online tonight. I was only using the WIFI to connect to the Internet and check mail and do comments update left on my blog.  I had not tried to use the Mail system either on my Windows or Yahoo account until Monday night. But for some reason, and it had a time stamp of Monday afternoon, the files were missing that could coordinate those requests. He told me that maybe there was a glitch in the system at the source and during a update it might have erased it by mistake. So now I had to fear that a exterior source could swallow up a chunk of my internal programs.

 
 I asked if I did anything wrong here, and they stressed that sometimes things go wrong before we get our computer and usually programs inside them correct the situation , or at least alert you to a damaging scenario. I did not get a warning, a “Danger Danger Will Robinson” or any type of Bells or Whistles. But with the Cowbells around me the last few days I am not hearing all that well right now. Anyways, they happily replaced the unit and also threw in a 1 year maintenance program free of charge. Who say customer service is dead? But considering I paid about over $ 700 dollars for a top of the line system that will be obsolete by December 2009, I liked the gesture. So here I am finally getting Monday night game on here at 2 am on Weds.  No jokes, the things I do for my baseball love is sickening sometimes ( Not really, but it does tickle).
 

 
Rays 6, Pirates 4
 

 
During the second game of this home-and home series with the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two days, the Tampa Bay Rays have seen their offense and their relievers show some polar opposites in plus and minus situations. Today would mark one of the first night games of the season for the Rays and they now know that the season is just around the corner. With less than 21 days until the ball goes to the plate for real, the team can  now focus on their seasonal objectives and get ready for the second run at a divisional title or pennant. Starting for the Rays today will be their number four starter, Andy Sonnanstine. You know the thing I love about this guy is that he is the consistent member of the rotation in 2008. If it was not for a stroke of bad luck in late August and September, he would have lead this team with over 15 wins last year. No one has ever done that as a Ray, much less a guys less than the number 3 starter for the team.

 
 
               

 

Pittsburgh will take the field wearing their St Patrick’s Day green caps because this is their last home game before they hit the road tomorrow to play the New York Yankees in Tampa. On the mound for the Pirates will be Paul Maholm, who is predicted to be one of the front runners of their rotation this season. Leading off for the Rays tonight will be shortstop Jason Bartlett.  Maholm gets an 0-2 count on Bartlett before he get s nice call over the outside corner for a called third strike  and the first out of the game. Gabe Kapler then comes to the plate and hit a hard grounder to Adam LaRoche, who takes in the ball and throws to Andy LaRoche at first base tonight. Evan Longoria then swings at an outside breaking ball for a swing strikeout and the Rays are retired 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning.

 

 
Sonnanstine ends up with his warm-up tosses and  faces Nyger Morgan as the first Pirate hitter tonight. Morgan hit a long fly ball to Justin Ruggiano in center field for the first out. Freddy Sanchez, who is playing second base tonight then comes up and hits a soft grounder to Ray Olmedo at second base. He takes the ball and quickly throws it to Willy Aybar, who is manning first base tonight for the Rays. Nate McLouth then hit a swirling ball of the end of his bat that drops in front of Bartlett, but he can not get control of the ball in time to get the swift outfielder. McLouth is on with an infield single.  On the third pitch to Ryan Doumit at the plate, Dioner Navarro can not control a breaking ball in the dirt and McLouth scrambles down to second base, and into scoring position for the Pirates. Doumit then misses a great breaking pitch by Sonnanstine for a swing strikeout.
 

 
 
One of the wild thing about the stadium tonight is the green bases. That is right, the usual pearl white bases have a green paint job tonight in honor of the Irish holiday tomorrow, but there is no green beer in the stands.  Maholm again take the mound for the Pirates and faces Pat Burrell for the first time tonight. Burrell quickly strikes out to put one out on the board for the Rays. Aybar then comes up and hit a grounder to Sanchez at second base, that he quickly gets over to LaRoche in time for the second out.  Ben Zobrist then comes up and hits a single into center field for the Rays first hit of the night.  Dioner Navarro then comes up and hits a ball straight to Jack Wilson at shortstop and he flips the ball to Sanchez to complete a 6-4 force out of Zobrist to end the Rays chances this inning.
 



 

Sonnanstine again came out for the Rays, who will have St Patrick’s Day off and will probably spend the day working out at the complex. Tomorrow also marks the first day of the minor league players beginning to play inter-squad games with other teams to get ready for their season. The first batter to the plate this inning is Adam LaRoche. He hit a sharp ball towards third base that Longoria takes in stride and quickly throws to Aybar to secure the first out. Jose Tabata then comes up and is  a victim of Sonnanstine’s off-speed pitch for a called third strike, and the Pirates second out. Craig Monroe, who has been pretty successful on the base paths this spring then comes up and hits a long fly ball to Kapler in right field for the third out of the inning. It is an easy 1-2-3 inning for Sonnanstine and the Rays.
 
 

 
Maholm again comes out in the third inning and the sun is setting here in Bradenton, Florida and we get set for our first time under the lights this year. Ruggiano comes up first for the Rays and gets walked by Maholm to start off the inning. Olmedo then hit a sharp grounder to Sanchez, who tosses the ball to Wilson who then throws a strike to first base to get a nice 4-6-3 double play on the Rays. With two quick outs, Maholm is in control and get Bartlett to strike out for the second straight time tonight to end the inning.
 

Sonnanstine comes out again for Tampa Bay and first faces Andy LaRoche. He then hit a ball up the middle out of the reach of Bartlett and Olmedo to lead off the inning with a single. Wilson then comes up and hits a weak grounder to Olmedo, who turns and fires to first bases because LaRoche is almost to second by the time he gets the ball in his glove. Morgan then hit a sharp ball towards Aybar who get the ball and tosses it to Sonnanstine for an easy 3-1 put out. The Pirates now have a man in scoring position and two outs in the inning. Sanchez then hit a ball down the third baseline past Longoria that travels to the corner for a RBI double. LaRoche scores on the play and gives the Pirates an early 1-0 lead in the contest. McLouth however hit a grounder to Olmedo that he easily get to Aybar to retire the side.

 

Maholm then comes out again for the top of the fourth inning with his first lead of the night. Kapler is the first batter he faces and he drive a ball towards Adam LaRoche at third base that he misplays and over throws first base for an e-5 on the play. So that give the Rays a base runner to lead off the inning. Longoria then hit a ball off the end of his bat high in the air over second base, and Sanchez takes it in for the first out of the inning. Burrell then comes up and hit it towards Adam LaRoche at third base and he begins a perfect 5-4-3 double play to get the Pirates out of the inning.  At this point in the game, the Rays only have a single hit by Zobrist in the top of the second inning. 
 

Sonnastine does not come back out for the bottom of the fourth inning and the Rays send out reliever Brain Shouse. For the night, Sonnanstine went 3 innings and gave up 3 hits and a single run and two strikeouts. The first batter to face Shouse will be Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit. He hit a hard ball toward shortstop the handcuffs Bartlett and he can not get the handle on the ball in time to get Doumit. He ends up with an infield hit on the play. Adam LaRoche then  gets fooled on a sidearm breaking pitch from the Rays leftie for the first out of the inning. Tabata then hit a double down the right field line and puts both men in scoring position with one out. Monroe then hit s a ball to Bartlett that his only play is to first base and Doumit scores on the play.  Andy LaRoche then walks to put two men on base again for the Pirates. Wilson then hit a bouncer back to Shouse on the mound that he throws to first base to get the third out if the inning. At this point, the Pirates have a 2-0 lead on the Rays.
 

Maholm again comes out for the top of the fifth inning and faces Aybar first in the inning. Aybar hit a ball towards McLouth in center field for the first out.  Zobrist then hit a high fly ball to Tabata in left field for a quick second out in the inning. Navarro then comes up and hit a ball towards Wilson at short stop that he can not get a good handle on and  he is on the outskirts of the infield when he attempts to try and get Navarro at first base. He is awarded a infield hit and the Rays have a base runner with two outs. But Pirate Manager John Russell has seen enough and goes out to relieve Maholm with Dave Davidson. For the night, Paul Maholm went 4.2 innings and gave up only 2 hits and got 4 strikeouts for the Pirates. Ruggiano is the first Rays batter to face Davidson, and he quickly hit a ball to LaRoche, who fired to Sanchez at second for the force out of Navarro to end the inning.

 
The Rays send David Price to the mound in the bottom of the fifth inning. This is Price’s second appearance of the spring. the first batter to face him will be Morgan. He hit a solid liner towards third base that is snared by Longoria for the first out.  Sanchez then hit another ball towards Longoria that he easily scoops and tosses to Aybar for the second out of the inning. McLouth then walks to give the Pirates a base runner with two out. With Doumit again at the plate, Price ends up throwing a wild pitch and McLouth advances to second base on the play. Doumit ends up hitting a ball to Ruggiano in center field to end the inning for the Pirates.

 

Davidson again takes the mound for the top of the sixth inning. Olmedo then walks on 6 pitches and steals second base during Bartlett’s at bat. On the next pitch, Bartlett hit a ball down the third baseline past LaRoche for an RBI single. Kapler the  comes up and is walked on 5 pitches to put men on first and second with no outs in the inning. At that time, Russell again comes out and takes the ball from Davidson. In comes reliever Brian Slocum to pitch for the Pirates. To this point, the Rays have scored a run, and have gotten two walks and a hit in the inning. With Longoria at the plate, the Rays call for a double steal and both Bartlett and Kapler move to third and second base  safely on the play.
 
 

Longoria is also walked and the bases are loaded with no outs in the inning.  Burrell then comes to the plate and gets an RBI without hitting the ball as Slocum also walks him for the second straight walk of his outing and ties the game for the Rays.. Aybar then hit a hard shot to Adam LaRoche at third base for the first out of the inning, but he scores Kapler to give the Rays the lead in the game, 3-2. Zobrist then comes up and is walked to again  to put another runner on base for the Rays. Navarro then hit a shot down to first base that Adam LaRoche take unassisted for the second out of the inning. But on the play, Longoria came in to score to put the Rays  up 4-2. Ruggiano then came up and also walked to give Slocum 4 walks in the inning. But Olmedo hit a fly ball to Tabata in left field to get Slocum out of the inning. But the Rays had scored 4 runs on 1 hit and 7 walks in the inning.
 
 

Price again took the mound for the Rays in the bottom of the 6th inning with the first lead of the night.  He gave up a lead-off ground rule double to Adam LaRoche that was touched by a fan down in the right field wall ( wearing a Yankee hat ) area right before the Pirates Bullpen cut-out.  the ball would have been at least a double, but if the fan had not touched it, he could have stretched it into a triple. Tabata then struck out swinging for the first out of the inning. Monroe then hit a ball  that one-hopped to the wall in the gap in left-center field for an RBI double. Andy LaRoche then walked to put two Pirates on with one out. Wilson then came up and struck out swinging to give the Pirates one more out in the inning. Morgan then was called out on a called third strike and Price got out of the inning only surrendering the lone run.  But the Pirates pulled back within one run 4-3.

 
Darryle Veal came out to pitch the top of the seventh inning for the Pirates. Adam Kennedy got a single to left field to lead-off the inning for the Rays. Veal then walked  Ray Sadler to put two men on with no outs. Gabe Gross then hit a long fly ball to McLouth in center field, but it was not deep enough for Kennedy to advance on the play.  During Michel Hernandez’s at bat, Veal threw a wild pitch and both Sadler and Kennedy advanced a base on the play. Hernandez ended up being called out on strikes to give the Rays their second out of the inning. Morgan Ensberg then walked to load the bases for the Rays. But it was short-lived as Reid Brignac hit a foul pop-up to Adam LaRoche at third base for the final out of the inning.

 
Price again came out for the bottom of the seventh inning and Luis Cruz lead off for the Pirates. He ended up sending a Price change-up back up the middle for a lead-off single. Jeff Salazar then hit a ball to Ensberg, who took over for Longoria at third base and he threw to Kennedy at second to get the force out.  Rays Manager Joe Maddon then came out and replaced Price with Randy Choate. for the night, Price went 2.1 innings and gave up 3 hits and a lone run, but also had 2 walks and three strikeouts. The first batter to face Choate was Robinzon Diaz. He hit a single up the middle to advance the runners, but they did not test Ruggiano’s arm in center field. Garrett Jones then came to the plate with two men  on and one out. He hit a ball in front of the plate that new Rays catcher Nevin Ashley took and threw to Chris Richard for the second out. Both men advanced on the play.  Tabata then hit a ball to shortstop that Brignac threw to Richard to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

The Pirate then sent Jesse Chavez to the mound for the top of the eighth inning.  Ashley lead off for the Rays and walked on 6 pitches. Jon Weber then hit a towering shot to right field for a two run homer to put the Rays up 6-3. Richard then hit a liner to Tabata that he did not have to move to field for the first out of the inning. Kennedy then struck out, but the ball got away from Diaz behind the plate, but he regrouped and threw to first to record the put out. Sadler then hit a ball down towards third base that Neil Walker took in and threw to Garret Jones to end the inning.
 
 

Choate came out again for the Rays in the bottom of the eighth inning. Monroe was first to the plate and hit a single to left field to start off the inning.  Walker then struck out on a nice breaking pitch from Choate for the first out of the inning. Brian Bixler then was called out on strikes to get two quick out on the Pirates. Morgan then hit a ball sharply towards Brignac that took a high bounce near the side of the mound and he could not control it in time to get Morgan at first base. So the Pirate now had men at first and second with two outs. Cruz then came up and hit a ball towards Ensberg at third base. He took the ball and stepped on the bag to complete the force out of Monroe to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

Jeremy Powell came out for the top of the ninth inning. the first Rays to face him was Gross, who hit a ball down to Jones that he easily took and stepped on the first base bag for an unassisted out. Hernandez then walked on 6 pitches to give the Rays a base runner. Ensberg then struck out swinging to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Brignac also hit a slow roller towards Jones that he easily took for his second unassisted play of the inning for the third out.

 

 

The Rays Rule 5 Draftee Derek Rodriguez took the mound for the Rays trying to preserve the win for the team. The Rays will have to make a decision in the next 20 days to either return Rodriguez to his former team, or try and find a spot for him on their 25-man roster. they could also offer him back to his old team and then work out a trade to keep him in the Rays farm system. First up in the bottom of the ninth is Salazar who hit a fly ball to Ruggiano for the first out. Diaz then comes up and rips a ball down the first base line past Richard and it hits the wall and bounces out to Sadler in right field for a double. Jones then also hit a RBI-single down the line past Richard for his 8th RBI this spring. Tabata then hit a ball towards Brignac that he flips to Kennedy to get Jones. With Tabata on with a fielder’s Choice, the Pirates have a man on base, with the tying run at the plate. Steve Pearce then  hit a ball towards Kennedy, but the ball is rolling slow since Pearce shattered his bat on the play. Kennedy easily get to the ball in time to throw out Pearce and end the game with the Rays taking it 6-4.

 
 
Photo credits:          1) RRCollections
                                 2) Associated Press ( Keith Srakoci)
                                 3) Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
                                 4) Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
                                 5) www.Bradenton.com 
 
 
  
 

Rays End up Tying with Pirates

 

              
 

Oh this is going to be a long day, a stressful day and maybe even a day where I will be so tired I will just sleep here at the Spring Training complex then head north in the morning. The reason is complex. You see, I have a 1:05 pm game today in Port Charlotte, Florida, plus I have a 3 pm “live” ESPN MLBloggersphere Baseball draft. I am going to try to multi-task and keep my eyes on the game and the computer at the same time. I am anticipating a huge headache, so the Tylenol is loaded in the car, plus the sheets for me league can not spread out over the seats of the sold-out stadium.
 

So I am going to have to find a semi-quiet, but good view of the field so I can do both items at the same time without compromising either of them. This is a huge task, but I am up for it. I have my large Dr. Pepper at my side, with a huge chili dog and a bag of peanuts for the munchies during the draft. It should be exciting because everyone online seems to be anxious to see what kind of game everyone has with their drafting skills. Me, I am going to keep it simple and go for the big boys as early as possible, then take a few sleepers everyone forgot about in the later rounds. Either way, it is going to be a blast.
 

So here I am finally finding a spot, but it might be a bit noisy down by the kid’s play area down the right field line. But I have the permission of someone here in the stadium to pop my laptop into the electric plug and away we go with the pre-game rituals and the pre-draft anxious moments. I almost forgot what time it was and looked on my laptop to see that it was 2:30-ish. Time to crank up the volume and remove my eyes from this great game going on in front of me. So as I get ready to joy down a few names to search for that did not hit the top 200 players, I am cyber-wishing everyone luck and hope we have a great draft.
 
 

So, here is the non-draft portion of the blog. Here I am going to try and go play-by-play with you in the Sunday game. I always love coming down here to Charlotte Sports Park, but starting next week, I will be able to hustle on over to the other fields in the complex to check out the minor league games before the Rays play at 1 pm. I am excited to see some of these future stars of the Rays or other clubs take the field and show their stuff. That might even be another great thing to do before the Rays game the rest of the month. Come down and get 2 games for the price of 1. Check out the future of the Rays, then go watch the present guys take the field.  I think that plans is now written in stone for me.

 

Okay we have the Rays sending starter Matt Garza to the mound today for his second appearance of the spring. As we get started, the 6,968 fans in attendance seem to be poised and ready for a barn-burner today. It is extremely hot for this time of year with a small breeze blowing in from right field at game time. This is the first game of another home and home series for the Rays. Today in Port Charlotte, and tomorrow night in Bradenton for the first night game this year for the Pirates. You can always tell when it is about time for the real guys to get more at bats, the teams will play more games under the lights to acclimate themselves to the nightly routines of the regular season.
 

 
**********************************************************************************************************************************

 

 
Garza is done with his warm-up pitches and we are set to go today. The Pirates send center fielder Andrew McCutchen to the plate first today. He swings at the third pitch and sends a short squirming ball in front of the plate that Rays catcher Shawn Riggans picks up and throws down to Carlos Pena at first for the first out of the game. Jose Tabata then hit a one-hopper to Gabe Kapler in center field for the first hit of the day for the Pirates. Adam LaRoche then hits a towering fly to left fielder Carl Crawford, who puts it away for the second out of the inning. Tabata did not try to advance on the ball hit to left field. Craig Monroe, who has been hitting the ball for Pittsburgh then comes up and strikes out to end the inning.
 
 

The Pirates send Tom Gorzelanny to the mound today to face the Rays. This is not the first time the Rays have seen Gorzelanny. They also got to see him on June 29 in PNC Park during the Inter-League schedule. He pitched the Sunday finale and went 6 innings giving up 8 hits, with 2 runs and 2 homers, with 8 strikeouts that day.  He did not get the loss, but did pitch a great game. Justin Ruggiano comes to the plate first for the Rays and hit a ball to Andy LaRoche at third base on the first pitch. He easily takes the ball in and throws to Steve Pearce, who is playing first today for the first out. Crawford then come up and works a full count off of Gorzelanny, then ends up popping out to LaRoche at third base. Gabe Kapler then comes up and hit a sharp grounder again toward LaRoche that he easily fields and complete the play for the third out of the inning. All three outs in the first inning had LaRoche’s fingerprints all over them.
 

The Rays send Garza back to the mound for the second inning. Pearce is the first batter of the inning and he hit a high fly ball towards the right-center field gap that Kapler adjusts to and finally brings in for the first out. Kapler was moving around a lot in the outfield before that play and might have been blinded for a second by the sun. Andy LaRoche then walks to give the Pirates their first base runner of the inning. Shortstop Brian Bixler then comes up and hit a single to center field to put 2 men on base with one out in the inning. Garza has been having a little trouble so far in the game by falling behind early against the first three hitters. Luis Cruz then comes to the plate and hit a sharp liner right to Morgan Ensberg at third base, who quickly catches LaRoche off the second base bag for a L-5, then a 5-4 force out on LaRoche to end the inning .
 

Carlos Pena leads off for the Rays and gets Gorzelanny to a full count before flying out to McCutchen in center field for the first out. Pena doesn’t seem to have his timing down yet this spring. But with almost three weeks until Opening Day, you can be sure he will be ready in time for the season.  Pat Burrell then comes up and ens up fouling the ball off into the glove of Pirates catcher Jason Jarmillo, who holds on for the second out of the inning.  Ensberg then comes up and drills a ball to left field over third base for the first Rays hit of the day.  Reid Brignac, who started at shortstop today then hit a fly ball to McCutchen for the third out of the inning.

 
                              

 

Garza take the mound for the third inning as the Rays are starting to let their starters extend themselves more this spring. Jaramillio comes to the plate and hit a short grounder towards Garza that he fields and quickly get to Pena for the first out of the inning. If teams knew that Garza has a weakness fielding the ball, they have not focused on it this spring. McCutchen then comes up and strikes out swinging to get two quick outs in the inning. Tabata then comes up and hit a monster towards the center field gap over Kapler’s head and it two-bounces to the wall for a double. Adam LaRoche is now at the plate for the Pirates. After the second pitch to LaRoche, Riggans fires a ball towards second and almost gets Tabata looking. It was a strong on line throw that only missed the tag out by a milli-second. LaRoche then lifts a fly ball to Ruggiano in right for the last out of the inning.

 

Gorzelanny, who will be in the starting rotation for the Pirates takes the mound for the bottom of the third inning. Riggans comes to the plate and hit a nice hard grounder that comes up on Cruz and he is on with a infield single to start off the inning. Adam Kennedy then comes up and take a pitch inside that he fights off for a bloop single beyond the second base bag for the second straight Rays hit. It seemed he broke his bat on the ball, or Cruz might of had a play on the ball. Ruggiano then comes to the plate and hit a nice single down the line at third for the third Rays hit in a row off Gorzelanny.  Crawford then hit a ball towards the right of Pearce, who fields the ball and throws to second to get Ruggiano with the force out, Cruz tries to turn two, but the speedy Crawford is already past the bag with a fielder[s choice on the play. Riggans scored on the play and Kennedy moved to third base. Kapler then  hits a screamer towards left field  for a RBI-double, but Tabata fields the ball quickly and fires towards Jaramillo who tags out Crawford right before he reached the plate. Pena then hit a ball to Cruz, who throws to Pearce to end the Rays rally. At this point, it is now 2-0 Tampa Bay. This would be Gorzelanny’s last batter and he went 3 innings with 5 hits and 2 runs and 1 strike out in the game.

Garza again comes out for the Rays and now is in his deepest outing of the spring. Monroe comes to the plate first for the Pirates and hit a pop up just into fair territory for a fly out to Rigggans. Pearce then hit a sharp ball down toward third base that seems to handcuffs Ensberg, who then throws a late ball towards first base. On the bobbling of the ball, he is given an error on the play. Andy LaRoche then hit a fly ball to Kapler for the second out if the inning. With Bixler come up to the plate and Pearce still on first the Pirates are down to their last out in the inning. After three pitches to Bixler, Pearce tries to steal second base and is thrown out easily by Riggans to Kennedy for the third out of the inning.  This would complete Garza’s day in which he went 4 innings, with 3 hits, a walk and 2 strikeouts on the day.
 

Jeff Ka
rstens take the rubber for the Pirates and Burrell quickly get a single to left field to lead off the inning for the Rays. Ensberg then hit a short blooper towards center field that McCutchen dives for and just gets the ball for the out. He was moving so fast that he lost his cap upon contact with the turf. Brignac then come out and hit a long fly ball to right field, but it is not deep enough for Burrell to try and advance on it. Riggans then comes up and goes down swinging to set the Rays down in the inning.

 

Troy Percival comes out for the second appearance of the spring. During his first outing he was hitting the inside corners of the plate trying to jam hitters and produced a beautiful inning of work. Today Bixler leads off the inning by striking out swinging on an off-speed pitch by Percival. Cruz then comes up and gets jammed inside and pops a high fly ball towards Ensberg that he fights off the glaring sun twice before finally being able to bring it into his glove. He pumps his fists in the air high and the crowd goes wild for him. Jaramillo then hit a soft grounder to Kennedy for a quick 1-2-3 inning for Percival. This is his second 1-2-3 inning of the Spring. Percival still sports a perfect 0.00 ERA in his 2 appearances this spring.
 

Karstens takes the mound again for the Pirates and faces Kennedy first. He ends up hitting a fly ball to left field that is easily handled by Tabata. Ruggiano then come on and hit a grounder to Bixler at shortstop for an easy 6-3 play to Pearce. Crawford then fights off a few pitches and again hit a grounder towards Bixler that is taken in and throw to Pearce to complete the inning. It was an easy 1-2-3 inning for Karstens.  But the Ray are still ahead in the game 2-0.
.

 


 

The Rays send mending reliever Jason Isringhausen to the mound for his first spring action for the Rays. Isringhausen came to the Rays after a wild and turbulent 2008 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is trying to re-establish himself with the Rays, and if he does, he will be a tremendous asset to the team in the Bullpen. That would give the Rays two men who have over 290 saves on the All-Time save list. McCutchen comes to the plate first this inning and hit a triple to Kapler in center field. Kapler can not handle the ball before McCuthen is past second and only get the ball back into the infield when he strikes the third base bag. Tabata then hit a sacrifice fly to Crawford to score the first run of the day for the Pirates.  Adam LaRoche then hit a ball to the right of Pena, who ends up flipping the ball to Isringhausen for the second out.  Monroe then comes up and strikes out on a nice breaking pitch from Isringhausen to end the inning with the score now 2-1 Rays.
 

Karsten comes out for his final inning in the bottom of the sixth and faces Kapler to lead off the inning. Kapler hit a grounder to Adam LaRoche at third base, who gets Kapler in time for the first out. Pena then hit a ball high into the sun in left field and Tabata has to shade his eyes three times before finally taking the ball in for the second out of the inning. Burrell then hit another single down the third baseline for a single, his second of the day. Morgan Ensberg then comes to the plate for the Rays. After the fourth pitch to Ensberg, Burrell takes off towards second and is easily thrown out by Jaramillo to Cruz to end the inning. Karstens went 3 innings and gave up 2 hits and got 1 strikeout in his outing.
 
 

The Rays send set-up man Dan Wheeler to the mound for the top of the 7th inning. This is also Wheeler second appearance this spring. First to bat for the Pirates will be Pearce. He quickly hit a grounder towards Brignac at short and is thrown out in time for the first out of the inning. Andy LaRoche, who is on fire at the plate this spring for the Pirates then hit a long deep homer into left center field over the Boardwalk for a solo home run. Still out of sorts a bit by the pitch Wheeler then gives up a triple to Bixler to the left center field wall.  Cruz is next up for the Pirates. During the at bat, Wheeler throws a breaking ball 55 feet to the plate and Riggans blocks it and pushes it toward the front of the plate in case Bixler is coming in from third. the play might have saved a run for the Rays. Cruz is then hit by a slow breaking ball and the Pirates have men on the corners with one out. Jaramillo then comes to the plate and hit s ball towards Chris Richard at first base, who turns and fires toward Brignac at second for the force play, but he can not take in the return throw and gets charged with an error on the play. Bixler also scores to put the Pirate ahead in the game 3-2.  McCutchen then comes up and strike out to end the Pirates rally.
 
 

Tyler Yates come out for the Pirates in the bottom of the 7th inning. He first faces Ensberg, who gets a full count before hit a long fly ball to McCutchen in center field for the first out of the inning. Brignac then hit a monster solo home run that misses me by about 20 feet to my right. I did not hear the ball even come off the bat since I was typing in a search for a player I was going to draft deep in my “live” draft today. The homer by Brignac tied the game at 3-all.  I would have gotten up and tried for the ball if I saw it in the air. Riggans then comes up and goes down swinging for the second out. Kennedy then completes the inning by also striking out to end the Rays chance for more runs in the inning.
 
 

Grant Balfour came out to the mound for the Rays in the eighth inning. Tabata quickly went down after a nice fastball over the outside corner for a called third strike. Adam LaRoche then hit a nice flair to center field that one-hopped to Kapler for a single. Garret Jone, who came in to play first base, then hit a breaking ball for a single to right field to put two men on base with one out. Pearce then came up and hit a ball to Sadler in  shallow right for the second out. Neil Walker then came up and hit a single to right field to load the bases with two outs. Bixler then ended the drama by striking out on a called third strike to strand three base runners in the inning. This would be the only inning for Balfour, who allowed 3-hits and no runs, but also got 2 much needed strikeouts.

 
 

 

Sean Burnett came to the mound for the Pirates in the bottom of the eighth inning. Ray Sadler lead off the inning with double down the right field line that trickled into the corner. Jon Weber then struck out on 5 pitches for the Rays first out. During Weber’s at bat Sadler stole third base. Elliot Johnson then hit a line drive to left field that scored Sadler. Willy Aybar the  came up and Johnson stole second base, then moved onto third after Burnett threw a wild pitch into the dirt. Aybar then hit a hard shot towards Walker at third base that he ended up coming in on, but could not get Aybar in time for the infield single. He also could not prevent the run from scoring. Ray Olmedo then hit a blooper down the right field line that was bobbled by Jones at first and the Rays had men at first and  second with two outs. Tim Beckham the Rays 2008 First Round Draft pick , then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score both Aybar and Olmedo. Beckham could have gotten a triple, but he fell down between second and third and had to go back to second base. Matt Spring then came up and hit a blooper in front of the plate that Jaramillo easily threw to Pearce to get out of the inning.
 
 

With the Rays now up 7-3 in the top of the ninth inning, they sent out veteran reliever Joe Nelson to complete the game for the Rays. Anderson Machado came to the plate first for the Pirates. He ended up getting a flair single to right field off of Nelson on a hanging breaking ball. Jaramillo then hit a liner to Beckham at shortstop for the first out of the inning.  McCutchen then struck out swinging for the second out.  The Rays now needed one out for the win. Tabata came to the plate ans was hit by Nelson. Pedro Alvarez then pinch hit and drove a ball half way up onto the Batter’s Eye blackout spot in center field for a 3-run homer and brought the Pirates to within one run of tying the game.  Jones then came up and took the third pitch he saw up and over the Rays Bullpen for a solo shot and to tie the core at 7-7.  Again, another ball hit within 20 feet of me, but I was in the middle of the 5th round of picks and could not get up in time to even think of chasing that ball down. And no one was out here…..argggggggg. Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and replaced Nelson with Jason Childers. He only had to face one batter as he got Pearce to strikeout to end the rally. 
 

 
Jason Davis came out for the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth knowing he might have to shut down the Rays for his team to have a chance in this contest. He got lead off man Chris Nowak, who was now playing third base to hit a grounder to Machado for an easily 4-3 play for the first out. Sadler then came up and tried to end the game on one swing with a long fly ball to right field that was cut down by the wind. Weber then struck out for the second time today to end the Rays chance to win this one in regulation.
 
 

The Rays sent out non-roster invitee Winston Abreu for the top of the tenth inning. He first faced Walker, who struck out swinging on 5 pitches. Bixler then came up and also struck out swinging. Then Machado came up and hit a soft grounder to Olmedo at second, who quickly threw to Richard to get out of the inning fast. Davis came out again for the Pirates in the tenth inning. Johnson came to the plate first and hit a high fly ball to left field that looked to confuse Tabata before he regrouped and finally caught the ball for the first out of the inning. Richard then struck out for a quick second out in the inning. Michel Hernandez then liner to right field for a single. Olmedo then hit a single between the holes between first and second to give the Rays a chance to walk off with a win. But Beckham ended that by striking out to end the Rays rally.
 

At the top of the eleventh inning, the umpires advised both benches that this would be the last inning of the ball game. If no one has taken a lead by the end of the inning, it would be a tie contest. With that in mind, the Rays sent Julio DePaula to the mound. Pirates catcher Steve Lerud was the first man to the plate and hit a fly ball out to left field on the first pitch of the inning. McCutchen then hit a single to left-center that split the two outfielders. Tabata then hit a sharp ball to Beckham that he threw to first base to get the runner in time. This put the go-ahead run on second base with two outs in the inning for the Pirates. Alvarez then hit a ball off the end of the bat to DePaula, who quickly turned and threw to Richard to end the inning and the Pirates chances to win this game.
 
 

Evan Meek came to the mound to try and seal the tie at least for the Pirates, Meeks, a former Rays farmhand had been the Pirates 2008 Rule 5 pick and was trying to seal a spot in the Bullpen for 2009. He first faced Spring, who popped out off the handle of the bat to Bixler at shortstop for the first out of the inning. Chris Nowak then hit a hard grounder to the right of Pearce, but he smothered the ball and tossed it to Meek for a 3-1 put out. This gave the Rays one last out in the game for either a win or a tie score. Sadler the struck out to end the game and  preserve the tie for the Pirates.
 
 

At the time this was going on I was in the middle of the 22 round when I picked Jason Giambi, who people forgot was on the board. Anyways, the pitching of Joe Nelson doomed the Rays to a tie tonight. This is only the second time he has also taken the hill this spring and it is good now that he is seeing the problems and not in the late innings of a game in April or May. With time his command and his placement will get better and better. But at this time he is not in the right pitching mode to be a consistent reliever for the Rays. But as we all know, we have more than 20 days until doom and gloom can hit the pages for real, and with that this was just a bad outing …..period. That is the lifestyle of a MLB reliever. Some days you have the world striking out at your feet, and on other they are hitting you like a pinball machine. I hope Nelson can get it together because he is a great signing by the Rays and just might lack the in-game workouts to further his development this spring.
 
 
 

  

Photo credits:             1)  Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
                                    2) RRCollections
                                    3)  Associated Press ( Keith Srakoci )
                                    4) www.TBO.com 
 
 

First Dive into “Live” Baseball Drafting

 

 


So there I was yesterday staring at the ball field beyond my laptop screen and wondering what the day will bring. I am I know I will see some great Rays baseball, but I also had a 3 pm “live draft on ESPN.com for the newly formed MLBloggers League. I man in the last week people in the league have been sending up all sorts of smoke signals that they ” did not know how to play”, or that they ” Were there just for fun. Well, I am not sure about the first and last part having much reality considering the first few draft rounds of the draft.

 

I mean I do have a few teams on ESPN.com, and I do play Fantasy games on there year round, but this is the first time I have participated in a “live” draft and a league setting. I usually go it alone, except for Fantasy Football, which I won my division for the fifth year in a row.  But I was note if I was up for the unsettling reality that the guy on my board might be picked right before me, and I would have less than 2 minutes to regroup and find another way to get it done.  So as I was sipping a cold Dr Pepper at the Rays complex in Port Charlotte, Florida waiting for the league’s time to come up, I watched the Rays versus the Pittsburgh Pirates game from a shady area near the Rays offices in right field.

 
 

I wanted to sit at the Miller Lite Tiki Bar, but decided that I might have too many armchair managers if I tried to even involve one person in my decision process. So I sat out by the Kid’s area among the young moms and their kids rambling around me like the Indians to Custer. I even had a few Rays officials strolling back to the office and locker rooms come on over and tell me a few sleepers picks they had on their minds. I have to be honest, I am using one of them tomorrow when the players come off waivers. I will explain it more a bit later in the blog.

 

So I wander on into the chat room segment of the draft and do my usual run around the room and see what the climate was like. Believe me, these people were set for a winner takes all poker challenge and no one really let their hand be known ahead of time. I mean I had two different lists of the top 4 guys for my selection next to me ready for the first pick. I was going for power ans steals in my offense, and wins and strikeouts on my pitching staff. I was getting more and more anxious as people were beginnig to bluff who they might want…or might be willing to trade for in the daily doings of the draft.


 

 
First Round
 

I mean we had the youngest member of our league picking first in Elizabeth of The Future Sox Blog. And considering we had 14 members in our two divisions of the league, I was too upset getting the eighth slot to start my draft. So as it gets hit the 3 pm hour, Elizabeth of course takes the top player on the board, Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins. But then we had the first pick of the day that mystified me, not because of the pick, but it was only the second pick of the draft. Mets Main Man decided to take Phillies starter Cole Hamels with the first selection. I am not sure if that was a wise decision, but if he goes and wins 20 games………..I will be the first to admire that pick.  Julia of “Julia’s Rants” picked Red Sox Kevin Youkilis with her pick, but that was not a huge shocker to anyone in the room.  the only thing that worried me was why she did not get Dustin Pedroia, who by far the best second baseman on the board.

 
 


My first selection was all power. Ryan Braun of the Brewers had a great second half, and I have the feeling he is now feeling more secure in his MLB skin. He is also having a great World Baseball Classic tourney, so he was a no brainer for me. The  we had the first controversy of the day. “Braves World” decided to mess with “Team Clemson” by drafting Grady Sizemore. I could feel the tension through the computer screen knowing that “Team Clemson” missed it by one draft spot of getting her man. But Melissa of “Team Clemson” rebounded nicely and acquired Dustin Pedroia with her first pick. That was actually one of the guys that I thought would never fall beyond the first 8 picks. Maybe people are believing that MLB2009 commercial.

 
 


The next two draftees went toward their team alliances when Jen, from “Team Diatribe” stayed true to her White Sox roots and took Alexi Ramirez, who will be getting a bulk of the time at shortstop in 2009. Then “How Bout Them Orangebirds” took his hometown hero, Nick Markakis with his first round pick. Was is interesting about Orangebird is the fact he dad was helping him in the selection process. I only mention this because he proudly admitted it in the chat room that he dad was awesome at Fantasy Baseball. So he might be the guy to watch today.

 

 

 


 

Second Round:

 
 
So we meander on to the second round and my first guy I was secretly wanting comes off the board when with the first pick of the round, “The Metsblog of Raleigh” take Tiger Miguel Cabrera. then Orangebird come rolling out of left field with a pick of catcher Matt Wieters. I am not sure if he is going to be with the big club come April, but for future consideration, and a possible chance at the Rookie of the Year honors, I think we might see him by May.  Then “Team Diatribe” get my third guy I coveted on my list when she stole Evan Longoria from me. I do not have to say anything else here do I Jenn?  With my second pick I took the guy who I respect and can call my friend, Josh Hamilton. There is no way I was going to have a team without him on my roster………..period.
 
 
 
The second round rolled along with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Manny Ramirez falling off the board. Then in a wild shocker, “Team Future Sox Blog” took Orlando Hudson of the L A Dodgers with her second pick.  I think it was a gutsy move, but truly , I do not see it as a huge plus right now, but the year has not even started yet. What I am seeing in this first two rounds is that most people have followed the common thread of getting the best possible athlete and player for the squads. Some of the picks might be out there, but in the end, it is going to be fun. that being said, I am going to just hit the third round, then I am going to highlight my picks and some insight into the MLBloggers League draft.

 

 
                        
 

Third Round
 
 
The first closer to come off the board is  a no-brainer, but “Bob’s Boston Green Sox” picked him with the fifth pick of the third round. Considering the highly motivated Red Sox bloggers in this league, that might have been a very wise decision to get him off the board early.  My pick was originally going to be Roy Halladay, but he was snatched up just prior to my pick by “Austin James Dreamers”. This would not be the first time today I thought he had a spy over my shoulder picking right before me. I instead took my second pitcher on the board, Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres. This team might not a huge boatload of wins this year, but Peavy will be like Scott Kazmir did for the last three years when the Rays were not winning. He is just going to go out there and pitch and hope his offense and defense can get him the wins.
 
 
 

I ponder back and forth if I should pick Cleveland ace Cliff Lee or Peavy. But considering the power that is coming to light in the American League Central, I decided that the National League West might be more compatible for wins this year.  That being said, two picks later team alliance again came to light as “Team Clemson” took Cliff Lee, and “Team Diatribe” put her faith in a full recovery for Carlos Quentin of the White Sox. Both are solid picks and should do great for them. The last pick of the third round did make me scratch my head. Joe Mauer of the Twins is going for a second opinion now about his back pain after having his off season operation on his kidneys. I am not seeing this as a positive reinforcement to take him so early in the draft. But, if he comes back soon ” The Metsblog of Raleigh” might have a beautiful sleeper pick.

 


 
 
Fourth Round:   Arizona Diamondback Starting Pitcher Dan Haren.
         Power pitcher who also gets a lot of strikeouts and limited walks 

Fifth Round:      Tampa Bay Rays Left Fielder Carl Crawford
          Increasing power and steals and triples are a bonus

Sixth Round:      Seattle Mariner Starting Pitcher Felix Hernandez
          He is power all day long, and his walks are decreasing finally. 

Seventh Round: Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol
          I am banking on him getting it done with a low Opponents B.A.

Eighth Round:    Baltimore Orioles 1B/3B/DH Aubrey Huff
          I think this one might have upset Orangebird a bit. Power and great numbers throughout his MLB career.

Ninth Round:     Los Angeles Angels closer Brian Fuentes
          First he is a leftie, plus a closer……….double whammy on hitters.

Tenth Round:      Chicago White Sox DH Jim Thome
          I always see power number from Thome, plus he is in a good lineup to see pitches every at bat. You can not walk him to get past any good hitters.

11th Round:         Tampa Bay Rays Left Fielder/ DH  Pat Burrell
         I just think he is the real deal. I also got a Trade Request to give him up for Josh Willingham…….Please…………
 
12th Round         Colorado Rockies  Outfielder Brad Hawpe
                            25 Homers, 85 RBI, .283 average

13th Round:           Florida Marlins Starting Pitcher  Ricky Nolasco
                             15 wins, 182 strikeouts, 1.10 WHIP

14th Round:           Cleveland Indians Shortstop Jhonny Peralta
                              23 homers, 83 RBIs and 104 runs scored last year

15th Round:           Detroit Tigers catcher Brandon Inge
                             I consider this one of my sleepers. He is due for another breakout year.

16th Round:          Colorado Rockies 1st Baseman Todd Helton
                            He might be hitting the twilight of his career, but he can still hit the ball. 

17th Round:          Milwaukee Brewer 2nd Baseman Rickie Weeks
                             I always thought the Rays should have drafted him. He is about to have a breakout year in 2009…………..Sleeper.

18th Round:          Tampa Bay Rays Set-up Man Jason Isringhausen
                           The guy has 283 saves and he fell to the 18th round. He pitched great in front of me why I was drafting him yesterday.  Nydol Sleeper Pick.

19th Round:         Tampa Bay Rays Reliever J P Howell
                            I love watching this guy pitch. He also got plugged by a Curtis Granderson B P ball and has not pitched since in the WBC.
 

20th Round:         Detroit Tigers Starting Pitcher Armando Gallerraga
                           Another sleeper. Had 13 wins and 126 strikeouts last year.
 
 
Rest of the picks:

Kahili Greene, SS, St Louis Cardinals. Change a scenery will do him good also at the plate. Could ne a light SLEEPER.

Jason Giambi, DH Oakland A’s.    I got him in the 22nd round. He might not a great fielder, but 32 homer and 96 RBI’s for the 22nd round is a STEAL.

Jeff Niemann, SP Tampa Bay Rays.   I might be going out on a limb, but I am picking him to be the winner of the fifth rotation spot for the Rays in 2009.

Bronson Arroyo, SP, Cincinnati Reds.    I am still shaking my head as to why he fell to the 24th round, but I am predicting a come back year.

Willy Aybar, Utility Guru, Tampa Bay Rays. To me he is the best super utility guy in the league. He hit 10 homers and 33 RBI in less than 330 at bats.

Frankiln Gutierrez, OF, Seattle Mariners.    Another great young outfielder that was traded in the off season and maybe people forgot where he went.

Aaron Heilman, RP, Chicago Cubs.  I have had this guy on my teams for three years and he has always given me good numbers. Stabilizing career, no big highs or lows.

Ryan Church, OF ,Washington Nationals.    He was the best available player, but 12 homers and 49 RBI’s was during an injury plagued season.

Edwin Jackson, SP, Detroit Tigers.     I have made no secret I am a “Action Jackson” fan. His 14 wins in 2009 was not a fluke… Mild SLEEPER.

David Purcey, SP, Toronto Blue Jays.   With the flux in the Blue Jay rotation this guy will be the number 3 guy, and no one knows him. The Rays faced him twice last year and he held them to a .196 batting average…MAJOR SLEEPER.
 

 
 
My last eight picks after that were to fill my roster and most will not even start the season on my team. When the waiver period ends tomorrow I am going to go on a hunt for a few hidden gems. I know of a few that were not picked, including one pitcher who is coming off an injury-filled 2009, but rumors are he is throwing harder than  he did in 2007 when he was totally healthy. I am not going to tell you his name, because you will then just go out and scam him for yourselves. But he was a starting 5 pitcher for a division leading team. That is all I will give you.
 

 
Now come the time where people are going to evaluate and re-evaluate their teams in the next few days and trades will be passed along by the league members. I only have three concerns, and they are not huge ones with my squad. I have gotten a few trade requests, but I have declined both of them so far. I have designated my three “keepers“, or players I want to retain again in 2010. If you really must know, they are pitcher Jake Peavy , outfielder Josh Hamilton, and Carl Crawford. I did get a bit of a surprise today when I went into the message boards on the league site. So far I have 3 votes as the Draft Champion. The total votes are only up to 6 right now, and that could change, but I am happy with my draft and only missed out on maybe 4 guys I wanted.
 

 
I do have to admit, sitting in the shade with the Rays baseball game going on right beyond me made me a bit flustered and nervous at time, but I was able to track the outs and also do my draft without only one incident. My last two picks were fast picks because my touch pad on my laptop began to act funny and did not work correctly. So I just drafted whoever was up on my draft board in the left side of the page. They are drops anyways, so it was no biggie. Well, I hope everyone else had fun. Now it is time to read just and fine tune all our rosters and look forward to the 22 match ups during the season. In advance, everyone I wish you luck, great waiver pick-ups and no crying in baseball.  It is almost time to PLAY BALL!!!!

 

 

 

Photo credits for today’s blog: 1) WelcometotheWitze’sWorld@Flickr.com

                                                 2) Edgarlin@Flickr.com

                                                 3) www.Bleacherreport.com

                                                 4) www.Brunosdraftkits.com

                                                 5) www.Rotolabs.com

 

 

 
 

Rays Take Down Reds 3-1

 


It is always good to see Jonny Gomes at a game. Iman the guy always has a smile on his face and is always eager to see fans and player he knows while traveling around during this years Spring Training. So here I am in Gomes-land, the Sarasota complex where the Cincinnati Reds will call home for only the next month. If Gomes does make the Reds 25-man squad, we will not see him here in Florida in 2010. that is right, for the first time in a long while, next season’s Grapefruit League might not have Gomes to kick around anymore.


The main reason is that the Reds have decided to move their spring operations to Arizona next year. This will make most of the team still here in the Grapefruit league have to play split-squad games because there will only be 15 teams left in Florida. You know that MLB will be laboring and straining to again get a 16th team back in the Sunshine State, but who could it be. Everyone who currently play out in the Arizona sun seemed to be happy and pleased with their complexes, and none of them have voice even any unhappiness about their next year. So this spring might be the swan song of Mr Gomes. It will be a said day when the Rays last play the Red  here again on March 29th.

Today’s game will be the second start of the spring for Scott Kazmir. He is still fighting some of the rust of the short off season, but he reported to camp with 20 pounds of additional muscle and lean throwing ability and wants to regain his edge again this year. That should be a great thing to hear if you are a Rays fan. When this guy feels good, it is usually a bad sign for opponents in the American League.  So he takes the mound today looking to gain more control and to stretch his inning totals for the first time this year. And that could also be a bad thing for batters.

Brandon Arroyo took the mound first today for the Reds and was trying to seek some early rhythm in his second start of the spring.  Jason Bartlett lead off the game on base for the Rays as he was hit by a Arroyo pitch.  Carl Crawford then hit a single to right field to put two men on with no out in the game. Evan Longoria then hit a nasty liner to Keppinger at shortstop who grabbed the liner and then tossed to second base to get Bartlett who had wandered too far off the bag for a double play. Carlos Pena then hit a double that scored Crawford from first base and gave the Rays a 1-0 lead. Pat Burrell, who was playing right field today then came up and hit a RBI-double down the left field line to score Pena. Willy Aybar then struck out to end the Rays rally, but they now led 2-0.

Willy Taveras is the first batter to face Kazmir today and he was selective with Taveras before getting him to strikeout on a breaking pitch for the first out. Jeff Keppinger then came to the plate and hit a solid ball through the hole between short and third for the first base runner of the game. He then  stole second on Kazmir, who seemed to take an extra amount of time between pitches today on the mound. Layne Nix, who is fighting for a spot on this team then hit a grounder to Willy Aybar at second. Aybar then flipped the ball to Pena for the second out of the inning. Keppinger moved over to third on the play. Daryle Ward then struck out to end the Reds attempt at a rally.

                         
 

 
Arroyo then took the mound in the top of the second inning and got Dioner Navarro to hit a grounder to second that was easily tossed to first for the first out of the inning. Ben Zobrist then hit a short fly ball that Arroyo fielded for the second out. Since we are playing in a National League park. It was the home teams decision on if the Designated hitter rule would be sued today. Cincinnati Manager Dusty Baker decided to let the pitcher’s hit to get his team in mental shape for the regular season. So Kazmir came to the plate for his first chance to hit in 2009. He proceeded to strike out to end the inning for the Rays.

Kazmir came to the mound again in the second inning and Juan Francisco to hit a hard grounder to Aybar, who threw to Pena for the first out. Craig Tatum the hit a single to left field to put a man on for the Reds. Norris Hopper then hit a fly out to center for the second out of the inning. Paul Janish then hit an RBI-triple off the top of the left field wall to score Tatum. With the game taking part in a National League park, it was the Reds decision for the pitcher’s to bat today. So with two outs in the inning, Arroyo came up to bat in the inning. He ended hitting a deep fly ball to Ben Zobrist in center field for the final out of the inning.

Arroyo came out again in the third inning only down one run and with the Rays top of the order coming up in the inning. Bartlett started the inning by striking out. Crawford then struck out. That made it six Rays batters in a row to go down to Arroyo today. Longoria then hit a fly ball to right-center field to end the inning. That again sent down the Rays 1-2-3 for the second straight inning. Sine his first inning, Arroyo has settled down and has hit his marks for the Reds.

In the third inning, the Rays again sent Kazmir out to the mound and he quickly got Taveras to hit a grounder to Aybar that was easily thrown to Pena for the first out. Keppinger then got his second hit of the day on a ball that just missed a diving Pena down the right field line. Nix then came to the plate and hit a fielder choice to the right of Pena that he threw to second to get the lead runner for the second out. Ward then connected for a single to center field to put two men on base. Francisco then struck out to end the Reds chance to try and tie the score.

 

 

 
Arroyo, feeling a bit energized by his last few innings came out ready for the fourth inning. Pena started off the inning by hitting a ball to right of first base and Arroyo came over to take the pitch for the first out in a 3-1 put out.  Burrell then hit a fly ball to left field for a quick second out. Willy Aybar then came up and hit his first homer of the season out against the wind for a 3-1 Rays lead. Navarro then hit a ball to left field that was easily taken for the third out of the inning. So the only base runner since the first inning took Arroyo deep for another Rays run. Kazmir again came out in the fourth inning and  Tatum again made an attempt to go 2-2, but Zobrist made a great adjustment on the ball in the last second and recorded the first out of the inning. Hopper then made another solid hit towards that same area of center field, but Zobrist again was there for the out. Janish then hit a sharp ball to longoria, but was thrown out for the third out of the inning.

Arroyo came out for the Red again in the fifth inning. He quickly got Zobrist to hit a ball to second that was trapped and thrown to first for the first out. Gabe Gross then came on to pinch hit for Kazmir. He hit a soft ball down the first base line and again Arroyo came over and took the pitch  and step on the bag for the second out of the inning. Bartlett then got on base after a walk and moved over to second on a wild pitch by Arroyo. At that point Reds Manager dusty Baker came out and replaced Arroyo with Daniel Herrera. He then got Crawford to hit a long ball to right field for the final out in the inning.

 
Lance Cormier came to the mound for the Rays.  He got Kevin Barker, who was pinch hitting for Hererra to ground out to Longoria, who then threw to first for the out. Tavera then singles to right field and then stole second base to get into scoring position for the Reds. Keppinger then hit a slow grounder to Cormier who threw to Pena for the second out. Nix then struck out to end the Reds chance at trying to tie the game.

 
The Red sent reliever Arthur Rhodes to the mound for the sixth inning. He quickly got Longoria to hit a ground out to lead off the inning. Pena then walked to give the Rays only their second base runner since the first inning. Burrell got jammed and hit a foul ball out to first base for the second out of the inning. Aybar then hit a long fly ball out to center field that was converted for the third out of the inning. The Rays sent Cormier out again for the bottom of the sixth. He got the first batter Ward to hit a grounder to Aybar at second that he quickly converted for the first out. Maddon then came out and called in Jeff Niemann from the Bullpen. Niemann is one of the last three guys effectively fighting to fill the fifth spot in the Rays rotation this spring. He quickly got Francisco to fly out, but gave up the first walk of the day by Rays pitchers to Chris Kroski. He then got Hooper to line out to Brignac at shortstop to end the inning.

 
The Red sent reliever David Weathers to the mound in the top of the seventh inning. Weathers is trying to come back from injury this year to make the Reds Bullpen. He first faced Justin Ruggiano, who struck out to start the inning. Michel Hernandez then hit a hard ball to third, but it was easily thrown to first for the second out. Gross then struck out to provide a fast 1-2-3 inning for the Reds. Niemann again came out to the mound in the bottom of the inning. He got the Reds lead-off hitter Danny Richar to hit a bouncer down to Chris Richards at first that he easily stepped on the bag for the first out. Joey Votto then came up and hit another ball to Elliot Johnson at second base, which he threw to Richards at first for the second out of the inning. Darnell McDonald then hit a sharp grounder to Rays Olmedo at third for the final out of the inning.


 
        
 

Francisco Cordero, who like Weathers is trying to come back after injury took the mound in the 8th inning. He quickly gave up a single to right field to Reid Brignac. Rays Olmedo then hit a grounder to second that was thrown to second and then to first to complete a 4-6-3 double play. It was the first one of the day against the Rays. Johnson then came up and hit a deep ball to center for the third out of the inning. Niemann again took the mound for the Rays and faced Luis Bolivar first in the inning. He got him to hit a short grounder back to the mound that Niemann threw to first for the first out of the inning. Maddon then came out and pulled Niemann from the game and brought in Wade Davis.

Davis, like Niemann had started Spring Training with the idea of trying to secure that fifth rotation spot. But the Rays seem to have other plans for Davis this season. He will probably be the first pitcher the Rays bring up if an injury or a trade makes an available spot open in the Rays roster for a pitcher. First batter to face Davis is former Ray Jonny Gomes. Davis tries to pitch around Gomes, but ends up walking him. Then former Rays farm hand Wes Bankston comes to bat for the Reds. Bankston hit a long fly out to center that is easily converted for the second out of the inning. Adam Rosales then hit another ball into deep center, but it is caught for the third out of the inning.

 
Jared Burton takes the mound for the top of the ninith inning for the Reds. Hernandez hits  grounder to short that is quickly thrown to first for the first out.  Chris Richard then hit a ball down the first baseline that is quickly scooped up by Bankston for the second out of the inning. Then Rays 2008 first round draft pick, Tim Beckham, who is getting a bit of extra time with the big club this spring comes to bat. He ends up striking out swinging to end the inning for the Rays.

 
Davis takes the mound in the top of the ninth with a chance to garner a save opportunity. He gets Kroski to ground out to shortstop for the first out. Then Jacque Jones comes up and hit another grounder to second that is easily converted for the second out of the inning. Richar then hit a swirling ball down the left field line that Beckham circles and then lunges and finally secures in his glove while slipping on the foul line for the third out and to preserve the Rays victory.

Jeff Niemann did nothing to discount his stride to take the fifth rotation spot. He ended up going 2 innings and only gave up a walk. but he also lowered his spring ERA to .082. I am thinking that barring a bad outing in the next two weeks, the spot in the rotation might have been decided today. I am not going to put it in stone until the next outing by Jason Hammel, but the writing is beginning to be written on the wall. Carlos Hernandez also still has an outside shot at maybe gaining ground and maybe a roster spot with a great spring.


 
Photo credits:  1) RRCollections
                         2) The Enquirer ( Michael E Keating )
                         3) The Enquirer ( Michael E. Keating )
                         4) The Enquirer ( Kathy Willens)

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