March 2009

Look Who I Found in a Old Photo File

 


 
 
I saw this photo today when I was going through all the fan photos on a certain newspapers site that can be purchased after the fact by customers. I think that we might have found ourselves a MLBlogger doing his thing during the 2008 World Series here. I remember him posting a blog about going to the World Series , with a sign and trying to get a World Series ball from one of the players.
 

 
As a matter of fact, I think this is the blog I had on my mind the entire time while trying to identify this blogger: “ When the Rays pitchers came out and started playing catch along the left field foul line, I changed into my Rays gear and positioned myself near Dan Wheeler, who was all the way out near the outfield wall. I didn’t shout his name. I didn’t wave my arms. I just stood there, and within FIVE seconds, he looked up (on his own) and spotted me in the crowd.”
 


 
Well wouldn’t you know it, my Bullpen buddy Dan Wheeler would be the guy to finally send a ball up to him over the dugout. Well Zack, before today you probably did not even knoew that this picture existsed of you with Tampa Bay Rays gear on at the World Series. Well it does, and I am happy to post it here for the rest of the blogging communtiy to know that you always get what you come for.  By the way, great sign, but the glove is the thing that get me laughing the most. If you can not get a ball with that glove, you are not trying hard enough. Well, dude, now you know that you are also famous down here in Tampa Bay.
 

 
So we know now that Zack the Baseball Collector is more than an author and a avid baseball fan. He is now ingrained into the Tampa Bay Rays psyche since this photo was taken by the St Petersburg Times during Game 4 of the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia. Further proof that he will go to any length to fulfill his destiny as the man………………..even in an enemy town.
 

I guess that is why we love to read and laugh with him and all his wild adventures.

 

Photo credits for this blog go to: www.snaggingbaseball.mlblogs.com, www.tbo.com.
 
 

Is 13 Really Unlucky, Even in Baseball?

 

 
 


I really do not understand the big thing about the number “13″. And the huge voodoo curse of doing anything important on this day is just plain nonsense to me. Come on, how many people actually suffer from Triskaidekaphobia, and is it more mental than physical anxiety?  I guess it depends on who you ask that question towards, and you might get a different answers every time. I mean maybe I am just not that effected because I was born on Saturday the fourteenth and missed this great day by about 6 hours. I mean when did this fear begin, and why is it that even today we are so afraid of anything 13-related.

 
 

Of course the common origin of this fear was brought about by the writing of early Christians who spoke of the thirteenth member at the table during the Last Supper of betrayal and dishonor. We all know the Sunday School story of Judas, but could this be the true origin of this cursed number. In actuality, the number is not all that forbidden and cursed in Christian literature.  Most religions and belief system still adhere to the thirteen attributes of God. The Torah and some Christian churches still use the attributes in sermons and teaching. But for all its evil intentions, the number is still just 3 plus 10 to some cultures, and doesn’t hold the bearing of  evil, or even impending doom.

 


In 1881, several prominent New Yorkers, including Civil War Captain William Fowler decided to test fate and formed the Thirteenth Club.  This was to be a dinner cabaret club where guests  guest met for the first time on Friday January 13, 1881 at 8:13 pm. To play further on the play of the number, they had thirteen guests  attend the dinner in room 13 of the venue. The venue also took upon itself to throw other superstitious behavior at diners as they had to enter the room under open ladders, and they were seated among small piles of spilled salt.  Even with them trying to evoke the evil spirits and summon danger to their personal well being, all 13 of the diners did survive the night.


 
 

But Friday the 13th still holds a fear in some Western cultures. In Romania, Greek and Spanish cultures, they still hold a fear of bad luck and terror on this day. They also consider Tuesday the 13th to also hold an evil connotation.  But why is it that baseball doesn’t really take to this superstition. Even though baseball players can be some of the most superstitious people on the planet, they do not hold a judgment on the number 13. Several famous players have garnered this numerical evil and done quite well for themselves in the sport.

 

So are there any baseball players who have taken it upon themselves to laugh at the devil and any evil that might surround the number and wear the 13 jersey. In actuality, there have been a few examples of positive and negative action and reactions to people who have worn the number 13 jersey.  If the numbered jersey really can have a mental or emotional effect on the person wearing it is going to be left to the guys with the big leather couches and the wood-lined bookcases. I mean the jersey has had it share of negative actions, but were these caused by the number, or could the player wearing the number just had a bad game or bad outing. It is just speculation and your own personal beliefs on the subject that will define your answer. Take for example  Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Bianca, who defiantly wore the “13″ jersey and even posed with black cats before the 1951 playoffs. He would become famous in the 1951 playoffs for surrendering Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” home run, one of the most famous home runs of all-time. 
 
 

Here is a little known fact, and the only people who might know this answer would be true baseball researchers and older Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Though this Hall of Famer was best known for wearing the number 21, Roberto Clemente started his career with the Pirates in 1955 wearing the number 13. Both a powerful batter and a brilliant right fielder, Clemente garnered many awards during his career with the Pirates, including National League MVP in 1966, 12 consecutive Golden Glove awards, and World Series MVP in 1971. He was the first Hispanic American elected to the Hall of Fame.
 

 


 

Even though the number can be considered evil, mean and nasty, is it all just hype, or does this number really have the power to take your best and make it change 180 degrees on you like Jeff Fassero,who wore no. 13 in 1999 for Seattle and Texas and compiled a 5-14 mark with a 7.20 ERA, the worst major league single-season ERA (for pitchers with 150 innings) since 1937.  But even battery mates can find the number to have a bit of an unlucky hue at times.  Buck Martinez is considered to be a great catcher, but was his decision to wear number 13 be his down fall during his career. Martinez wore no. 13 as a catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. He lasted 17 years in the big leagues but had a career batting average of just (gulp) .225. In 1985, he was bowled over by a player attempting to score and severely dislocated his ankle, effectively ending his playing career. He even wore the number again as manager of the Blue Jays in 2001-2002.
 

 

Current New York Mets closer Billy Wagner also wore the ill fated number back in 1998 with the Houston Astros and  missed time in 1998 after a line drive struck him on the left side of the head. He made a successful return in 1999 but missed most of the 2000 season after elbow ligament surgery. When he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005, he still dressed out in his usual 13 jersey. With the Phillies, he encountered  a shoulder strain that effectively shut him down for the season. Wagner again had this cursed number on his back in 2008 when he went down with a torn medial collateral ligament in his elbow and also in his flexor pronator
, which meant Tommy John’s surgery for the young star. 
 

Even though some found only pain and sub-par performances in the number, players like Jeff D’Amico of the Milwaukee Brewers did have  some mixed results while wearing the number 13. He did enjoy one truly excellent year, 2000, during which his ERA hovered around 2.00 for much of the season and he contended for the NL ERA title. Needing just a few innings to qualify for the title on his last start of the season, he surpassed the 162 inning minimum threshold, but in the process gave up enough runs to lose the title. He was expected to be the ace of the Brewers staff in 2001, but injuries kept him from ever returning to form.

 

Adrian Brown did not play long in the major leagues, but he did have the ability to play all three outfield positions, mainly center field. He reached the Majors in 1997 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, spending six years with them before moving to the Boston Red Sox (2003) Kansas City Royals (2004), and Texas Rangers (2006). His most productive season came in 2000 with Pittsburgh, when he posted career-highs in batting average (.315), home runs (4), RBI (28), runs (64), doubles (18), and stolen bases (13) in 104 games. Edgardo Alfonzo is a former Major League Baseball infielder currently playing for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. Alfonzo has worn the number 13 since his Major League debut, however switched to the number 12 in March 2005 giving former teammate, and current San Francisco Giants shortstop, Omar Vizquel the number 13 to honor not only the longevity of Vizquel wearing the number, but also because the wearing the number 13 is a term of respect and honor to Alfonzo and Vizquel’s fellow countryman Dave Concepción (all three from Venezuela ).

 
                  
 

Speaking of Omar Vizquel, he might be one of the most famous to wear the number and have success on the field. People forget he was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Mariners back in 1984. Omar Enrique Vizquel Gonzalez is currently playing for the  Texas Rangers organization. Previously, Vizquel played for the Seattle Mariners (1989-1993) the Cleveland Indians (1994-2004) and the San Francisco Giants (2005-2008). Vizquel is considered one of baseball’s all-time best defensive shortstops, winning nine consecutive Gold Gloves (1993-2001) and two more in 2005 and 2006. He also tied Cal Ripken’s AL record, since surpassed, for most consecutive games at shortstop without an error (95 between September 26, 1999 and July 21, 2001). On May 25, 2008, Vizquel became the all-time leader in games played at that position, passing Luis Aparicio.
 

 

And there are many current players including the New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez who find no fear or evil in their number on their back. In some instances it is considered a lucky charm to the players.  Recent troubles in Rodriguez’s life might be turned around and blamed on the number, but the instances might have happened without the uniform firmly on his back. If this does become a turning point in his career, would he consider changing his number to remove a jinx, or does he feel like several other players that it is just a number and doesn’t have evil intentions to it.
 

 

Current Tampa Bay Rays left fielder and All-Star Carl Crawford first wore number 8 when he came up, but quickly changed when the number became available since it was the same number he wore in high school while in Houston, Texas.  The number was my personal favorite all the way through college too. I have always found the numbers “1″ and “3″ to be lucky for me, so the addition of including them both on my uniform was just a progression.  I was wearing the number ” 33″ when i almost broke my neck playing football, so the 13 curse did not follow me beyond college.
 


 

I am also one of those people who do not walk around ladders, steps on cracks and also pets the black cats. I think that if you have positive thinking and a mental basis of knowing you make or cause your lucky to change based on your own intentions and action, then what number you wear will be a mute question. But I know there are people who subscribe to this level of thinking that the number has negative connotations. But that is what is so great about being individuals. We make our choices in life based on our belief system and our personal habits. I got to go right now, there is a black cat in the middle of the road and I have to go chase it beyond the cracked sidewalk…………Wish me luck!!!!
 
 
 

Photo Credits: 1) PixelPackingMama@Flickr.com
                       2) Lizo18@Flickr.com
                       3) Subtle_Device@Flickr.com
                       4) RRCollections

Rays Take Phillies at Home

 

 

One of the thing I hate about trying to write a blog on a new computer is the fact you have to get used to doing some thing you usually do not have with your older model. I decided to update my computer and get a nice new 17 inch Toshiba laptop and replace my older model. Now I have now written this entry 4 times today, and I have to say right now my frustration level is beyond upset and bordering on ” throwing it in the trash can” mentality. But that is fine, maybe it will get better every time I re-write the blog. Well, maybe not, but at least I know the limitations to my big fingers on the smaller keypad.

Today’s match up bring to the mound the oldest rotation members of their respective teams. For the Phillies, they will send iron man Jamie Moyer to the mound. When he first came over from Seattle, I was sure how he would fit into this team’s make-up. But to no surprise, the veteran made a place for himself and excelled in his new city. I really loved watching him after Game 5.5 of the World Series as he was kneeling down getting that pitching rubber out of the mound clay. I am a bit puzzled as to where he might have put that awesome reminder of the series. Do you dig a spot in your backyard for it, or maybe just put it on a shelf and walk past it ans pat it on the top for luck. Whatever he did with it, you can bet he will cherish that piece of history.
 

The Rays send their old man James Shields to the mound today. It is kind of odd to still consider him the oldest member of the rotation with Scott Kazmir already been on the mound for a few years before Shields came up. But by age, he is the eldest statesman of the group. But how good does it make you feel as a Rays fan that you have this guy and the rest of your staff under control for another three years and can watch their development and wins just move higher and higher.
 

Shields  first faced former Rays infielder Miguel Cairo in the game. He quickly got Cairo on a fastball on the outside corner for his first strikeout of the game. Jason Ellison then came up and got caught looking at a Shield’s change-up on the outside corner for a second out. Raul Ibanez then hit a sharp fly to Carl Crawford in left field for the third out and the Phillies went down 1-2-3. Shields was putting the ball on the lower outside corner of the plate with great control in the inning.

 

Moyer came out and quickly got Jason Bartlett to hit a short hopper back to him, which he quickly turned and fired to Ryan Howard at first base for the first out of the inning. Crawford then hit a one-hopper to John Mayberry Jr in right field for a double. While Evan Longoria was batting, Crawford stole  third base on Moyer . Longoria then hit a high sacrifice fly to center that easily scored Crawford to give the Rays a 1-0 lead in the game. Carlos Pena quickly ended the inning on a ground ball and the Rays finished the inning with a 1-0 lead.
 

Ryan Howard was the first batter to face Shields in the second inning. He took a nice inside curveball for a called third strike for the first out of the inning.  Geoff Jenkins then was pitched inside and gave up a short popper in front of the plate that Rays catcher Dioner Navarro quickly got to and tagged Jenkins for the out. Jenkins did not leave the batter’s box saying the ball went off his foot. The Home Plate umpire appealed to the first base umpire who signaled the out…….end of discussion. With two quick out, Shields again pitched inside on Greg Dobbs and got him to hit a bouncer down the first base line that Pena took for an unassisted third out.

Former Phillie Pat Burrell lead off the inning for the Rays and singled to left field. Gabe Kapler then hit another single to give the Rays base runners early in the inning.  Navarro then came out and hit a sharp dying hit to center field that Ellison just barely got to in time for the first out. Burrell quickly had to regroup and get back to second base before Ellison could double him off the base. Gabe Gross then hit a double to center field that bounced to the warning track. Burrell scored on the play and Kapler also was coming in to try and score on the play. But a great throw from Ellision to Jason Donald to Phillies catcher Ronny Paulino got Kapler in stride to tag him out at the plate for the second out. Adam Kennedy then hit a ball to Donald who easily threw to Howard at first to end the Rays rally.
 
 

Shields came out again in the third inning after two straight 1-2-3 innings against the Phillies. He quickly got Mayberry Jr to hit a ball to Longoria that he completed to Pena for the first out. Shields then walked Donald to give the Phillies their first real base runner of the game. He then got Paulino to hit a grounder to Bartlett for a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. It was not technically another 1-2-3 inning for Shields because of the walk, but he only faced three batters and a total of 9 in the first three innings.
 

Moyer came on in the third and quickly got Bartlett to hit a grounder to Donald that he converted to Howard for the first out of the inning. Crawford then hit a ball to the same spot for a quick second out on a 4-3 play. Longoria then hit a sharp liner to Dobbs at third base that he did not have to move to field in the air to end the inning. Except for a little trouble in the second inning, Moyer also looked sharp today with two 1-2-3 innings himself today.

 


 

Shields came out in the fourth inning and gave up a lead-off single to Cairo, but he tried to stretch the play out to a double and was gunned down by Gross from right field. It will go down as the first hit for the Phillies, but also was the first out of the inning on the tag out at second by Bartlett. Ellison then hit a long fly to Kapler in center field for the second out. And Ibanez hit his second fly ball out of the game to Crawford in left field to go down 1-2-3 again. Moyer came out and quickly gave up a lead-off walk to Pena. Burrell then hit a fly ball to Ibanez for the first out. Kapler then hit another hard liner at Dobbs at third base for the second out of the inning. Navarro struck out to keep the Rays from expanding on their 2-0 lead.
 
 

Troy Percival then came out for the Rays. It would be his first game action since late in 2008 for the team. He was also trying to show the Rays Coaching staff that he is going to be ready by Opening Day and would like to be on the 25-man roster come that first game in Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox.  Percival had been a question mark until recently because of his off season back surgery. He quickly took control of the inning by pitching inside and getting Howard to hit a short bouncer in front of the plate. Navarro quickly scooped up the ball then threw to Pena to get the first out.
 

Still pitching inside, Percival also took the bat out of Jenkins hands by throwing up and inside and also getting him to chop a ball in front of the plate, which Navarro also scooped and threw to first to complete the out. Jenkins thought the ball went off his right front foot and did not leave the batters box on the play. He voiced his displeasure on the call and it was appealed to the first base umpire who signaled the out. Dobbs then hit another short grounder to Percival that he quickly threw to Pena to get out of the inning with no base runners and showed his control by throwing inside to all three batters.

Moyer, who is being stretch out early by the Phillies came back out for the fifth inning. He got Gross to hit a fly ball to Ellison for the first out. Kennedy then hit a single to give the Rays a base runner. Bartlett then hit a single to left field, but Kennedy did not stray beyond second base. Crawford then hit the first pitch from Moyer to Ibanez for the second out of the inning. Longoria then hit a grounder to Donald, who quickly threw to Howard to get out of the inning with no damage by the Rays. But they still led 2-0 at that point.
 

Dan Wheeler than took the mound in the sixth inning. It was kind of wild to see Wheeler come out after Percival. It was unusual to see the closer relieved by the set-up man, but it is the spring. Wheeler first faced Mayberry Jr and threw a wild pitch to the backstop before finally getting him to strikeout. Donald then comes to the plate and  pops it up to Pena for the second out of the inning. Paulino then got the count to 3-2 before striking out to end the inning.
 
 

J A Happ then came out again for the Phillies and got Pena to strikeout for the first out of the inning. Burrell then hit a long fly out to right field for the second Rays out. Kapler then hit a towering shot to left field that easily was a solo home run for Kapler. With two hits today, Kapler has now gone 3-20 this spring for the Rays. Navarro then hit another single off Happ. Gross hit a sharp grounder to second, but it was quickly tossed to second for a 4-6 force out to end the Rays inning. But the Rays are still up 3-0 at the time.

 
 
Grant Balfour came out for the Rays in his first appearance since being hit in the bicep/triceps region during his last outing.  Balfour ended up giving up a lead-off single to right to Cairo. Ellison then walked to give the Phillies the first two guys on base. Then tries to get Ibanez to ground out, but he he walks him to load the bases for the Phillies. Howard then came up with the bases juiced and hits a sacrifice fly to center field  to score Cairo for their first run of the game. Jenkins then struck out to record the second out of the inning. Dobbs then walks to load the bases again. With that, Rays Manager Joe Maddon goes out and gets Balfour and brings in Randy Choate to face the Phillies with two outs. Mayberry hit a high popper to Longoria, who caught the ball for the third out of the inning.

Happ came out again for the Phillies and gave up a infield single to Ray Sadler. Happ then caught Sadler leaning a bit at first and he threw to Howard who then threw to second for the tag out on the pick-off attempt. Reid Brignac then hit a fly ball to left field for the second out. Morgan Ensberg then walked to put another runner on base for the Rays. Rays Olmedo then came out and hit another shot to left field to end the inning for the Rays.
 

Choate again came out for the Rays in the top of the eighth inning. He quickly got Donald to hit a fly ball to right field for the first out. Chris Coate then came up and hit a long fly ball to the warning track in center field, but Justin Ruggiano caught the ball before the wall. Mike Cervenak then hit another fly out to Sadler in right field to end the inning. Happ again comes out in the bottom of the eighth inning and gives up a lead-off single to Ruggiano. Michel Hernandez then hit a sharp grounder to Cervenak, who tosses it to second to start a 4-6-3 double play and erase Ruggiano from the base paths. John Jaso then hit a ball in between Happ and first that he picks up  and tosses to first to end the inning.

 
 

 


The Rays replace Choate and send out Joe Nelson for the top of the ninth inning. This is Nelson’s second outing this spring. Ellison comes up first and hit a fly ball to left field for the first out. Pablo Ozuna then lined a ball to left field for the second out. So Andy Tracy came up with two outs for the Phillies in the inning. He then took a hanging pitch by Nelson down the right field line for a solo home run. the entire time the ball was in the air, it was fighting the wind down the line. Lou Marson then struck out to end the Phillies rally and the final score will ne 3-2 Rays victory.

 

Today we saw a question mark answered for the Rays. With Percival having his dominating inning, he showed that he is on pace to be ready by Opening Day. His inside pitching took the bat out of the Phillies hands and he got three quick and concise outs in his first appearance this spring. Also a good sign is the pitching of Shields who also seemed to be able to throw every one of his pitches for strikes and kept the Phillies guessing during his outing.  This was the second Spring Training game against these two squads. the next time they meet will be the scene of the Game 5.5 last out as they will play a two-game series in Citizen Bank Park April 3rd and 4th in Philadelphia.
 
 

 
  Photo credits go to: 1) RRCollection
                                 2) Associated Press ( Charles Krupa )
                                 3) The Enquirer.com
                                 4) Associated Press ( Charles Krupa )
 
 

Rays Run and Gun Outfield

 

 
 

For a last couple of years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the models people have used when they are considering re-tooling or acquiring players to fill their outfield slots. the team has used its draft picks and trades to fortify their outfield to be one of the youngest and fastest in the major leagues. And along those lines, they also have two of the best snipers in the outfield at gunning down runners from any angle or position.  And the Rays have truly done it from the draft and the trades they have made in the last several years.

 
This first piece of the current Rays puzzle arrived in July  20, 2002, when Carl Crawford made his major league debut for the Rays. All this guy did his first five years in the majors was increase his batting average and rule the bases in the American League. His speed has kept catcher and pitchers at bay since he first stepped onto the bag at first. In his first 7 years in the majors, Crawford has 1,111 hits and 84 triples. That figures out to 12 triples a year and around 159 hits a season. And you do not want to even try and consider what he has done on the base paths. Okay since you really want to know, how about 302 steals, or an average of  43 a season.

 
He might not have the strongest arm in the league by any means, but if the ball is in the air, there is a good chance he can get to it before it falls to the turf. He has one of the quickest reads in the league, and has demonstrated his ability to leave his feet to make plays countless times on ESPN Web Gems over the past 7 seasons. He is the 2-time All-Star who hit a monster homer in the 2007 All Star game in A T&T Park. He is recognized by his peers and the media alike as the cog that turns the wheels in the Rays outfield. With his two injuries in 2008, he did not spent his usual time in the Rays outfield last season.

 

 

His hamstrings and quad muscles seem to not play well on the turf at Tropicana Field. And an odd  finger injury shelved him for the last month of the 2008 year. A tendon on top of one of his fingers some how torn away from the tendon and it would flip and flap when he swung his bat. He tried to play through it, but it was no use. He finally opted for surgery, and made it back to the team in time to help the Rays in the 2008 playoff run. This off season he consulted a trainer to focus on his hamstrings and quads and strengthen this region and also learn better stretching and  observe more adaptability to the stresses of playing on turf. He is feeling better than he as in a long time coming into the Spring Training, and his 2 triples in a recent game shows he is here to play in 2009.

 

With left field pretty sewn up for the year, we turn out attention to center field and the budding star that decided to try his hand outside of the clay and grass regions of the infield for his place in this squad. B J Upton has become one of the rising young stars in the outfield because of his graceful effort  to gain ground an hard hit balls and make plays on them seem effortless and without stress. His long strides make him look like he is not running at full speed as he closes in on strongly hit balls even towards the gaps in the Trop. Some question why he plays so shallow in the outfield, but if you have watched the way he tracks the ball, you know he has the closing speed to get almost any ball hit within his range, at any time.   What is great about Upton is the fact he wanted to try out this new position.

 

That fact that he has had a few problems adjusting in the past have also been mirrored by the fact he has a rocket in his right arm and can throw out anyone, anytime, from anywhere on the field. His play is still a work in development, but it is rare for a ball to be out hit to him in the field. His arm was fully on display in 2008, when he gunned down a total of 12 base runners in 2008, third in the American League.  But where he is going to make the biggest impact in 2009 will be at the plate. Upton got off to a great start at the plate in 2008, but after suffering a separation of his shoulder in a series with Baltimore early on in 2008, he struggled a bit at the plate the rest of the year. But near the end of the year he found his stroke again and started to put up some power numbers that were very evident during the Rays playoff run.

 

 

During the 2008 off season, Upton underwent shoulder surgery to correct his problem and has yet to participate in Spring Training games for the Rays. He has been a recent participant in batting practice, but no tentative schedule is in hand for him to be back in the Rays lineup before April.  But the absence of Upton from the lineup has given certain Rays players time to show their stuff in hopes of securing a fourth outfielder spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Justin Ruggiano, who the Rays got in a trade for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson back in 2006. Ruggiano was the “player to be named later” of that trade.  His ability in the outfield has proven useful in the last year as he was the guy the Rays turned to when Crawford went down with his injury on September 19 of a groin injury.

 

He might have played only 7 games at the major league level in 2007, but his catch off the bat of Rod Barajas late in the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at home will be remembered for a long time. He went full bore into the left field wall catching the ball just as me hit the plastic of the outfield wall.  His bat was not his strong point during the 2008 season, but so far this spring, he is hitting .269, with a .423 Slugging Percentage. He has combined for timely hits and  has 2 stolen bases this spring.  He will probably get a long look by the Rays after the recent injury to Fernando Perez.  Ruggiano might get the call to start the season with the Rays during the first road trip as Upton gets in game shape to take over after the Rays return home on April 13th.
 

Fernando Perez has everything the Rays love in a out fielder. He had blazing speed on the field and the base paths, and he hit with intelligence. He came up late in 2008 and rallied the Rays with his base running abilities in the playoff run. He got 14 starts in 2008, 10 in center field for the Rays. In 2008, he was picked by Baseball America as being the fastest man in the International League. There was some talk around the dugout that he might have been able to supplant Gabe Kapler for the Rays right-hand platoon partner with Gabe Gross for right field in 2009. But his recent wrist injury will side rail him for at least three months with a dislocated wrist. This will put an end to the chatter in the stands  for him to break camp with the team in April. With Perez in the lineup, the Rays would have had the fastest outfield in the majors.

 


 

If you consider that Crawford stole 25 bases and Upton had 44  last year. Then if you factor in the 5 bases Perez stole in 23 games ( could be a total of 35 bases in 161 games) , you might have a trio who could steal over 125 bases in a single season. That would make the team threat anytime either of these three hit the base paths. But before his injury, Perez also was not lighting up the Spring Training scoreboards with hits or stolen bases. He might have only had 19 at bats, but he is hitting a lowly .211, with 2 stolen bases this spring.  But another face had emerged out of the darkness and might be on the Rays radar right now.
 

In a recent two-game home-and-home series against the Boston Red Sox outfielder Jon Weber was trying to make a name for himself on the base paths for the Rays. In that series he garnered 7 RBI’s in two games, with a timely home run and a 3-run dingle. Weber has been very effective in the field this spring and also is hitting .364, with 10 RBI’s and 5 stolen bases. He is making an outside run at making the Rays decision difficult for him to be sent down to Triple-A this year based on his spring numbers. But if his numbers are making the Rays salivate for their depth, the recent slump of Gabe Kapler is making them question his signing. 
 

 
Kapler was originally thought to be the right-handed part of the right field platoon action for 2009. But he is having and awful spring where he has only  1 hit in 18 at bats for a lowly .064 average. He has been great in the field, but the Rays need consistent power and hitting from that spot in the lineup this year.  He is one of the guys that the team is struggling to come to grips with on if he is just a slow starter, or if he might not be the right fit for the 2009 team. There is no question in his desire to play, but the hitting has to be there to make their decision easier this spring. But the left-handed piece of the combo also is not having a great spring, but he is contributing.
 

                 
Gabe Gross, who the Rays acquired on April 23, 2008 for minor leaguer Josh Butler, played in 78 games for the Rays in 2008. His bat and his outfield play were the reason for many of the Rays late innings triumphs, and his arm became a great weapon for the Rays. In one game against the Seattle Mariners at home, he was the first player to gun down Ichiro as he tried to stretch a double into a triple. He also combines to throw out a total of 5 base runners, which was second on the team. He is currently hitting .308 after getting off to a rocky start this spring.  He is currently tied with Pat Burrell for the team lead with 6 walks this spring.  Gross will be with the team this season in right field barring an injury. Who will be his combo mate might still be up in the air.

 


Another name that could be fit into the mix is super utility man Ben Zobrist. In recent games he has been a late inning replacement in center field as a insurance policy this year. He has regained an awesome power stroke and could be another guy who could help the team get over the first week absence of Upton by filling in for him until the home stand. No one can discount his abilities in the outfield where he played 3 games there in 2008. Last year was his first playing the utility role and he appeared in the outfield a total of 12 times in 2008. But his new power might be his ticket to getting more playing time this coming season. He hit 10 homers in only 189 at bats. This is a new addition to his game, which has always included solid defense on the diamond.

 

 
So the Rays are pretty set in the outfield in 2009. There are other names that have made huge strides for the team in spring training this year, but they might not get a chance to break camp with the big club. Another name to keep an eye on is Ray Sadler, who is currently playing a lot if the outfield for the Rays and is hitting a nice .316, with 3 homes and 7 RBI’s. But he probably a guy looking in from the outside of the current outfield package. All indications show that the Rays will have a great outfield in 2009. There is talk that Upton might have his breakout year this season following his off season surgery. He is capable of a 30-30 season, but his swing and his power will need to stay consistent during the year. Crawford, who feels fast and truly healthy this spring might also spell doom for catchers and pitcher this season.  This unit has a huge upside of potential, and they  might be the trio of outfielders’ to be feared both at the plate and in the field this year. But for the Rays to even consider making a run at their 2008 record, or another shot to the post season, this outfield unit has to play above its 2008 level. 

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: Associated Press Photo Corps. http://www.gettyimages.com, http://www.tbo.com.

Rays Will not Rush Price

 

 
 

I was sitting here last night re-reading some of the comments made during my blog about the fifth rotation spot for the Tampa Bay Rays basically coming down to two guys, with another having and outside slim chance of maybe slipping if some one implodes and burns on the mound. The fact that Rays tall Texan Jeff Niemann is showing the type of dominance and confidence they saw in him when they drafted him with the fourth pick in the first round years ago.  Also the fact I had Jason Hammel’s name tied to this two-some left people blank on him.

 
Everyone was running David Price’s name across the comment line and wanting, no yearning to see if the Rays would do the right thing and put their “best” guy at their fifth spot. The problem with this scenario is not as simple as we all might want it to be. I am a huge Price fan, and I would love to see him throw from now until October by hook or by crook. But I also see the Rays front office and Ray Manager Joe Maddon’s side of things that we do not hurt the future to keep the present situation par for the course. Come on people, the oldest member of our pitching staff is not even 30 years of age yet.

 
And our youngest starter is Scott Kazmir, who has several Rays records already at such a young juncture in his Rays career. Kazmir is 25 years old people and has years of experience beyond what Price has right now. The Rays rushed Kazmir to the majors in part because he was the best they had in the system with no one even close to his talent and potential level near the top of the minor league system. If the Rays were competitive when they traded pitcher Victor Zambrano to the New York Mets for Kazmir, he would have started in the minors too. When your system boasts at least 5 of your minor league pitchers as your Top 10 list of prospects in your system, you can take your time and let them mature.

 

People tend to forget that Price went from Class-A Florida State League Vero Beach Rays to Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, to Triple-A Durham Bulls in less than a season. He started the year on the mend and did not pitch, but still accelerated through the system fast and furious. And he did nor suffer a loss until he hit the Triple-A level in 2008. 4 months, that is the total amount of time he has spent in the minor this year. Around 120 days and we want to rush him up for good? And even there, he had limited starting gigs compared to Wade Davis, Mitch Talbot and Jeff Niemann. For example, Niemann made 24 starts in Durham last years and 2 up with the Rays early in the year. So you would think that if Price has something to work on, and has options, why not use that to your advantage and send him down and let him get ample work without stress or high expectations.

 
I think the high expectation route will follow him from now on whenever he hits the big time. Because people threw the name “Bob Gibson” out there, he is going to get comparisons to everyone who was ever a left-handed pitcher in the major leagues. Funny, people forgot that Gibson got his start in a little hamlet in Florida when he was a rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals. What was the name of that town again…………Oh, yeah, St. Petersburg, Florida where the Cardinals held their spring training at the Busch complex out on 62nd Ave NE. Price has nothing to prove to Rays fans. He made a prediction that went unnoticed to some people that he wanted to be at the major league level at some point in 2008.

 
Well, we all know he got here. And where did he get his first professional appearance? Well, he got to give his own personal goodbye to Yankee Stadium when he came in to replace Edwin Jackson in that game and went 5.1/3 innings. He also gave up 3 hits and 2 runs in that relief appearance, which included a solo home run to Derek Jeter. But people focused more on the fact he had 4 strikeouts in that game, and put A Rod and the Yankee hitter on their heels for a bit that day. How many people remember that he did get one start in 2008 against the Baltimore Orioles late in the season while with the Rays. And also who knew that he made 5 total appearances in the 2008 regular season for 14 innings, and gave up 9 hits and struck out 12, plus posted a nifty 1.93 ERA in his short time up with the Rays.

 

 

So why is it that the Rays are willing to send down their best right now when he can help them at the start of the season this year? Well,  the Rays have always valued a young pitchers arm and have been very protective of their talents.  I was reading a recent  St Petersburg Times article that stated that the Rays: “did extensive research a few years back and discovered younger pitchers were at greater risk for arm troubles when they had an increase of more than 20 percent in innings pitched from one season to the next. Considering Price’s long-term value, it seems unlikely the Rays will allow him to jump from around 130 innings in 2008 to more than 200 innings this season. They’d probably prefer 170. They might push 180. Anything else is a game of roulette. “
 

Now it is beginning to make sense right? With the great rotation already in place, why risk a future top of the line guy right now for a few extra innings in April.  The best case situation for the Rays is that another team comes sniffing around looking for a starter and either Hammel or Niemann get plucked to make the Rays decision easier. But they still might not put Price right into the rotation based on his possible innings he could throw. He might just slip into the Bullpen like in the later part of 2008 and mature and study the American League hitters. Some pitchers never get that luxury in their careers to sit back and learn by watching other pitchers dissect and manipulate batters. They do not get the top of the line scouting reports and the video breakdowns as consistent in the minor leagues.

 
Believe me, Price’s day will come. He is not only bound for glory, people have already put him to almost cult status after a few months. Everyone remembers that Game 7 strikeout of J D Drew to seal the Rays trip to the World Series. It made him a star in both leagues and cemented his name in Rays lore for life. But what we fail to remember is that when a guy come out of the Bullpen into a game, he is really concentrating on two pitches to get him through the battle. When Price came up he had a major league level fastball and slider, but lack a consistent third pitch. Relievers can blow people out of the box with well-placed pitches, and most of them only rely on two types. The Rays told Price to put his change-up in his back pocket and concentrate on his big two pitches.

 
This bring about the biggest reason for him to go down for a short time. He was a reliever in the last part of 2008. It takes a different mindset to be a starter than a reliever. Most people think that is BS, but the preparation is different. He just has to get that rhythm and flow again to start games and last through 5-6 innings. To add some more finesse to his increasingly improved change-up will only further make him a better pitcher. To understand why you need three pitches, let’s go back to Kazmir. For most of 2008 after his injury in early Spring Training, he did not throw his former “out” pitch, his slider. This gave batters more of a chance to guess right on his other two power pitches and he got hammered a little more than usual.

 
The Rays know that their future is in the left arm of Price. They also know that for him to be a productive member of this staff for a long time will take some delicate moves and maybe baby him through the process for a short time. It might seem to be a waste right now, but in the end, he will be a better pitcher and a more successful Rays player for it.  I did some research and found out that the Rays might have Price under control due to his present contract to 2014. With this contract, it looks as if they might not have the arbitration worries I brought up before as a reason to keep him down on the farm. I can admit when I am wrong, and in this case I left one high and hanging over the plate.

 
      

Worst case scenario is that he is down in the minors for most of the season. But people also forget that he only had 4 starts at Durham total. And in those 4 starts, he averaged 17.5 pitches per inning. If you really add that up to be a usual 6 inning outing, he was at 105 pitches. Price is the future of the Rays, and with the recent success, they do not need to rush him or themselves to make harsh and hasty decision in 2009. With a 162 game season, the first 5-6 times through the rotation will not Price or the Rays with him up in North Carolina getting stronger and developing that change-up to be a “out” pitch for him.  With other options that are not dangers to the club at the fifth rotation, throwing him into the fire would not be to anyone’s advantage. But by bringing him along slow and easy, he can transition perfectly into his major league career and never have to look back or wonder.   
 
 

photo credits for today’s blog go to: ( James Borcheck)www.stpetersburgtimes.com, www.knucklecurve.com, Dbullsfan@Flickr.com,  www.yahoo.sports.com.

Rays Rotation Spot might be Down to Hammel and Niemann

 

 
 

The most anticipated fight this spring has finally shown some wear and tears, and a few true contenders are beginning to fall by the wayside. When the Tampa Bay Rays camp began back on February 15th, you knew that 5 members would be fighting and clawing to gain some type of leverage for that fifth slot in the Rays rotation. You knew the usual subjects of Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel would be at the top of the pile trying to keep their respective major league uniforms on their backs in 2009. But you had the questions about two minor league prospects who wanted to make that leap into the majors this spring. With weeks still ahead of us here in Spring Training, this assessment could change at any moment due to injury or even a change of heart by the Rays staff. But these are my opinions, and they usually pan out pretty good in the long run. So let’s take a look at these great pitchers and see if we can honestly gauge their chances this spring at grabbing that fifth slot in the Rays rotation.

 

 
Wade Davis and Mitch Talbot both covet that spot in the rotation and their first real spot in the Rays plans for the future. Both have been discussed multiple times, with Talbot actually coming up on July 1, 2008 for 2 nights before again going back to Durham back on July 3rd when the Rays optioned him back and brought up Reid Brignac. Both have been listed in the top 10 of the Rays prospects lists, with Davis being the only one of the two to never put on a major league uniform during the 2008 season.  But then a odd figure gets thrown into the mix that upsets the balance between the regulars and the minors leaguers battling for this spot.



 

Former Houston prospect Carlos Hernandez, who the Rays picked up during 2008 after the Astros let him go, is also being considered for the spot. Hernandez spent most of his time in 2008 down in the Rays minor league system still trying to shake off the cobwebs and adjust his mechanics after a two years absence from the mound because of injuries and surgery. The fifth spot would be an open tryout for these 5 players, with the added bonus of the top two maybe getting a slot in the Rays final 25-man roster. Even if one of these five did not get that coveted fifth rotation slot, they might be considered for the Rays Bullpen, which would keep them within the Rays eyes and they could still maybe get a shot if an injury occurs or someone starts off slow in 2009. 
 


This spring, one pitcher in this group seems to have stepped it up a bit in the Rays eyes. There has always been the hint of promise and even major league dominance in his swagger, but before this spring he did not act like he belonged here long term. Wade Davis might be the guy who could have secured this spot if not for the fact that two of these guys do not have any minor league options left. He has improved his change-up and slider control to be more effective and dominant around the plate. But during the last series of the year when the Rays invite their minor leaguers to Tropicana field for their year end awards, Davis received the Montgomery Biscuits award as the Pitcher of the Year. He seemed genuinely upset he did not get a call-up to the Rays this past September, and that might be some added motivation in his stride this off season to improve on the mound.


 
So this spring he came on and dominated early on in his first two starts before having a faltering moment this weekend against the Boston Red Sox. As of today, his spring numbers are  3 starts for 8.1 innings while allowing 9 hits and striking out 7 hitters. His 6.48 ERA is not a great illustration of his early dominance as he was tagged for 6 runs in his last start. But maybe the fact that the media and maybe now even Davis himself believes he will be in the minor league camp sometimes this week. But make no mistake, this kid is a major league caliber pitcher right now, but his shot to impress, at this level might be over right now.He has the confidence and the ability to be on this staff right now, but the limited spots will affect the ultimate decision here.  But you can be sure that his early efforts have awaken a few eyes in the Rays pitching staff. He will be with the team again at some point in 2009. He has developed enough to take that leap up to the majors, it just might not be in April this year.
 

 
Mitch Talbot is another of the Rays prospects that will be surely doing battle in the minor league than at the major league level to begin this year. Talbot also made huge strides in the last year, but his inability to make adjustments on the mound might be his downfall this spring. He had gained some more break on his curve and slider and they both are just below the norm for the majors, but his mental adjustments and conditioning might just be a bit off for now. He too will see action sometime in 2009 with the Rays, but it also will not be in April.  Talbot just needs to gain a bit more knowledge and skill at changing his game plan on the fly, then he can take that last step to becoming more effective on the mound.


 

Carlos Hernandez was a huge question mark coming into the Spring Training workouts on Feb. 15th. The Rays liked what they saw out of his limited pitching down at Class-A Vero Beach last year, but did he still have the stuff to be a major league pitcher. Rays Manager Joe Maddon thought he might and the team penciled him
in as a long shot to make the fifth rotation spot. Hernandez has gotten a few good outing, he has pitched in 3 games this spring, starting 2 of them. He is the only one of the Rays starters who still sports a spotless 0.00 ERA, even after he has thrown 8 inning and given up 0 earned runs on 7 hits. 

 
 

His strikeout and walk ratios are low, but he has also not shown that killer instinct that will be needed for that fifth slot. He did start the first game of the Spring for the Rays and has been impressive this Spring. But he still might have an outside chance of making the team’s 25-man roster, but in reality he might be another of the guys down in the minors itching for another shot at the major league level.  I actually like the way he pitches, and can see him up here contributing for the team. Barring a trade, or even a injury before the team heads to Boston for the regular season, I do not see him making a move onto the major league roster. But, the team will take a long hard look at him, with his name being maybe one of the last ones to be plucked off the Spring roster.
 

So that leaves two pitchers who will be fighting for this spot in the rotation. Both of them have major league experience both starting and pitching from the Bullpen. That is two of the obvious reasons I think these two guys will break camp with one of them winning the fifth spot, and the other winning a spot in the Bullpen. Both have been dominant at times this year, with one setting the bar high so far this spring. Everyone knows Jason Hammel from his smile and his lanky walking style. But when he gets on the mound this spring, he has been all business for the Rays. Having made a late 2008 charge in the Bullpen both in confidence and in performance, he might be the guy to watch all year long no matter what spot he earns with the Rays. 
 

 
This spring tho, Hammel has again shown he can rise up and take whatever the Rays want to dish out at him. He also dominated in the early stages of the spring and got rocked a bit in his last outing. But he has rebounded and  has shown some amazing ability in 2009 of getting out and adjusting on the mound. His versatility both as a starter and a reliever serves him well. But his late season save in the close of a severely contested game in Fenway Park might have made Maddon a believer in him. Hammel has take the mound 3 times this spring, with 1 start. Some people might read into this as the Rays showing their confidence in him coming into the game after the first few innings as a reliever more than a starter. 
 

 
But as we all know, during the spring sometimes starters can be inserted after the first few innings of a game. But a part of Hammel’s game that has improved this year is his ability to get strikeouts.  His 9 innings pitched are tied with Niemann for the team lead this spring, but his 10 strikeouts show that he has developed his killer instinct and is setting batters down more this year. Some might say that his team high 10 hits might be an indication of some troubles, but half of those came in one bad outing this past week. His control is better this season, which can be best illustrated by his 1 walk this year. The fact that he is versed both as a starter and a reliever sits well with him getting his slot in the 25-man roster this spring.  Barring any type of pitching disaster or injury, he should be the team’s long reliever, and first option as a replacement starter in 2009.

 


 

That leaves one pitcher still in the mix who has a shot at the fifth slot. Jeff Niemann has been successful before he even got to the Rays. His pitching ability in college has set him apart, but early injuries while he was coming up through the minors set back his development until 2008. Last year, due to the early spring injury to Matt Garza, Niemann showed his ability to start at this level and produced some impressive results.  He won his major league debut on April 13, 2008 against the Baltimore Orioles and only surrendered one run, a homer to Nick Markakis in the game. Neiman was finally sent back down again on April 20, 2008. But with the Triple-A Durham Bulls he went 9-5, with a 3.59 ERA. But his 133 inning and 128 strikeouts showed that he was finally healthy and throwing strong.
 

 
They Rays called him up right after the Bulls were eliminated from the International League playoffs, and he joined the team again in St. Petersburg following their road trip on September 13, 2008. Even though his last stint only lasted 2 starts for the Rays, his job this time around for the team was out of the Bullpen. Niemann seemed to have made the adjustments needed to come out if the Bullpen and made his first relief appearance on  September 18th, against the Minnesota Twins. He retied all four batters he faced, and it was only the fourth time in his career ( 3 times in Double-A ) that he had worked relief in a game. He again took the mound on September 23rd during the     game of the double-header and went 2.1 inning and got the win in the come-from behind victory for the Rays.
 

 
But this Spring, he seemed to have a new focus and determination knowing that he no longer has the chance to go back to the minors. He was out of options and the Rays would have to sneak him through waivers for him to even report to the minors. The reality is that he would not go unclaimed and would no longer be in the Rays system if they tried such a move. So with his last chance firmly in front of him, he had emerged as my favorite for the fifth slot in the rotation. His spring has been impressive. His ball seems to have great control and his velocity has increased a little to give him more of a tool on the mound.  He has appeared in 3 games this year also, and he has started two of them. But the true measure of his improvement might be  the fact that he has thrown 9 innings and has given up a team low 5 hits. His control is spot on, evident by his 8 strikeouts and 2 walks this spring. But his ERA of 1.0 has opened a few eyes that he is ready to take the next step and be successful for the Rays.

 

 
But even with his previous outings, his 4 innings of work against the Twins on Monday might have sealed his spot in the 25-man roster. He worked 4 innings at the back of the game and gave up only 2 hits. The start might have been a double-edged sword as it proved he could work both ends of the game and could be used in either role with confidence this season. By shutting down the Twins offense, he showed he can handle the pressure and the pace of the game as either a starter or a reliever for the Rays. I truly think he is the guy who will get that fifth spot in te rotation, and I think he has shown a mountain of change over the past year and deserves a shot at proving to everyone  he is a major league pitcher. And at 6 foot 9 inches, he is only 1 of 6 guys that tall in the MLB right now. Pitching downhill has never been so much fun to Niemann before today.


Photo Credits for today’s blog go to: http://www.TBO.com, http://www.theStPetersburgTimes.com

Red Sox Dissect Rays Pitching for Win

 
     

 

Okay,
here we are with the second half of the home and home series today in Fort
Myers. The Rays kind of put the Red Sox fans in the back of their seats
yesterday, but today’s contest is a whole different ball game. Not only will the
Red Sox be in their home stadium, but they will have the multitudes of Red Sox
fans who love to cheer on their team. I do have to make a note that yesterday’s
game had a total of 7,148 fans in and around the stadium, which is a new record
for this young stadium location. I do have to say that at some point in the
berms and the outfield it was total standing room
only. 

 

 
I do
have a huge suggestion to the Rays and the Sandcrabs for future games in this
stadium. It seems that we need a secondary speaker system throughout the
outfield section of the stadium. Maybe a series of those upside down speakers
that look like  free standing light poles could be put in areas around the kids
area and near the boardwalk and Tiki Hut. You can hear the game, but you get a
delayed  sight to sound response because of no audio out in that area of the
ball park. I play my game day audio from my laptop to hear it no matter where I
am in the stadium, but some games are not on the radio.  Just a thought. Now
let’s get back to our Sunday recap of the Rays versus the Red Sox
game.

 

 
The Rays
sent Wade Davis, one of their top prospects from Triple-A to the mound today.
Davis has been tweaking a few of his pitches and has had a few outstanding
performances this spring. But he is penciled into be sent to the minor league
camp sometime in the near future to begin his season in Triple-A again for the
Durham Bulls. Davis will make his major league debut sometime in 2009 with the
club, but I do not see him winning the fifth rotation spot this spring. With
that said, another guy who might have pitched his way out of contention for the
fifth spot is Mitch Talbot. But if you really consider the top three pitchers
for the Rays at their Triple-A level in 2009 of David Price, Davis and Talbot.
There are club throughout baseball who would love to have that kind of
consistent staff starters in their
ranks.


                       
 
 
The
game got off to start with the Boston Red Sox sending Justin Masterson to the
mound. The wild thing about Masterson is that he can be in the same boat as Jeff
Niemann and Jason Hammel this year. He can be both a starter or a reliever for
the team and might make some heads turn with a great outing today. With Brad
Penny not throwing yet in Spring Training, he could get a start or two early in
the year, then settle into the Bullpen for 2009.  Fernando Perez lead off for
the Rays today and quickly hit a grounder to Julio Lugo, who was
playing shortstop today for Boston. Adam Kennedy then struck out. Evan Longoria
then hit another grounder to Nick Green  who threw out Longoria to end the
inning 1-2-3 for Boston.

 

 
Wade
Davis came out for the Rays and gave up a sharply hit single down the third base
line that eluded Longoria. Rocco Baldelli then came up and hit a ball to
Longoria that he quickly threw to Kennedy at second base to force out Lugo.
Jason Varitek then came up and struck out.  J D Drew then walked to put me at
first and second base. Lars Anderson then hit a RBI single through the hole at
short into left field and the throw to the plate was cut off and Baldelli scored
to put Boston in front 1-0. Zack Deages then struck out to end the Boston rally
stranding two runners on base.

 

 
Masterson again came out for the top of the second inning and got
Carlos Pena to strike out to lead off the inning. Dioner Navarro then hit a long
fly ball to left field that Zack Daeges caught for the second out. Gabe Gross
then hit a single to right center field for the first Rays hot of the day.Morgan
Ensberg then came up and struck out to end the Rays chances in the
inning.

 

 
Davis
also again took the mound for the Rays  and got Jonathan Van Every to hit a ball
down the first base line and covered first for a flip from Pena for the first
out. Green then took the first pitch from Davis and drilled it past the left
field fence and onto the adjacent field’s dugout for a solo home run. Ivan Ochoa
then put a nice bunt down the third base line to get an infield single. Lugo
then came up and hit a screaming RBI double to left center field to easily score
Ochoa. Baldelli then struck out. Varitek came up and hit a single to left field
that split the outfielders, but Lugo tired to score from second base and was
thrown out at the plate by Ray Sadler in left field to end the inning. Boston
was ahead at that point 3-0 over the
Rays.

 


 
Masterson came out for his third inning and quickly got Sadler to
hit a grounder to Lugo, who got him in time at first base. Elliot Johnson then
hit a  fly ball to Drew in right field for the second out of the inning. Perez
then came up and hit  a ball to the left of Masterson that he quickly picked up
and fired to first barely getting Perez in time. At that point, Masterson had
gone 3 innings and had given up only 1 hit, with 3 strike outs against the
Rays.

 

 
Davis
came to the mound in the top of the third again for the Rays and got Drew to hit
a quick fly ball to Gross in right field for the first out.  Anderson then
walked to give Boston their first runner of the inning. Daeges then hit a
2-run home run to right-center field. Van Every hit a foul pop-out to Longoria
and quickly the Red Sox had two outs in the inning. Green then came up and hit a
double to left field and after that Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to make a
pitching change. The Rays brought in Calvin Medlock, who quickly gave up a RBI
single to Ochoa to right field.  Lugo then came up and hit a double to left
field that scored Ochoa. For the day, Lugo went 3-3 against Rays pitching.
Baldelli then came up and hit a foul pop-up to first base to end the inning with
the Red Sox up 7-0.

 

                  

In the fourth inning, the Red Sox sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to
the mound to face the Rays. He got Kennedy to strike out to lead off the inning.
Longoria then took his first pitch to right-center field for a single. Pena then
struck out to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Navarro hit a single to
left field, but Longoria stopped at second on the play.  Gross then came up and
struck out to end the inning. Even though Papelbon gave up two hits in the
inning, all three outs were
strikeouts.

 

 
Dewon
Day came out for the Rays in the bottom of the fourth inning. He quickly got
Varitek to ground out. He then fooled Drew with a nice breaking ball for a
strikeout.  Anderson then came on and hit a hard smash to Chris Richard, who was
now on first for the Rays. Day was backing up Richards on the play and Richards
tossed the ball to Day, who dropped the ball. Day was given an error on the play.
Daeges struck out to end the Red Sox
Rally.

 

The
heralded prospect Daniel Bard then took the mound for the Red Sox. In a recent
game, Bard had thrown over 100 mph on the stadium’s jugs gun.  He got Ensberg to
strikeout for the first out of the inning. Sadler then followed with a
strikeout. Bard completed the trio as he got Johnson to also strike out to send
the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning. At that point in the game, the Rays had
struck out swinging in six straight at bats, with only Gross being a called
third strike.

 

Day came
out again for the Rays and walked Van Every to lead off the inning. Green then
hit a fly out to Sadler that he easily caught for the first out. Ochoa was
fooled on a breaking pitch outside for a strikeout. Lugo then walked to give
Boston two men on base in the inning. George Kottaras then pinch hit and was hit
by the pitch to load the bases with two outs. With Varitek at the plate, Day
threw a wild pitch and Van Every tried to score from third base on the play.
Navarro quickly got the ball to Day, who tagged out Van Every before he reached
the plate for the third out of the
inning.

 

                      
 

Japanese
pitcher Junichi Tazawa then came on to pitch for Boston. Tazawa was the young
pitcher that did not go into the Japanese Baseball League before signing with
Boston this off season.  He might not make the 25-man roster of the big club
this year, but this was the first time the Rays would see him pitch outside of
Japan.  Tazawa’s first pitch to Perez was rifled into center field for a lead
off single. Kennedy then hit a double into left center field that scored Perez
from first base.  Longoria then struck out for the first out of the inning.
Richard also struck out, and Varitek threw a strike to third base to nail
Kennedy who was trying to advance on the play for the final out of the
inning.

 

 
Winston
Abreu then took the mound for the Rays. He got Varitek to quickly fly out to
right field for the first out. Josh Reddick, who came in to replace Drew in
right field then hit a fly ball to Johnson at shortstop. Anderson then hit a fly
to Longoria to complete the first 1-2-3 inning for the Rays today.  But Boston
still lead 7-1 in the game.
Tazawa came back out for the eighth inning and quickly got Reid
Brignac, who came in to play shortstop to strike out. He then got Ben Zorbrist,
who came in to play second base to fly out to center field, The Ensberg struck
out to give Boston a 1-2-3 inning against the
Rays.

 
 

 

 

Abreu
again took the mound for Tampa Bay and he went straight to work striking out
Daeges to lead off the inning.  At that point, Abreu had gone 4-up, 4- down for
the Rays Maddon again came out and swapped Abreu for Chad Orvella with one out
in the inning. Orvella, who is fighting for a roster spot after coming back from
a shoulder injury gave up a towering solo shot to right field to the next
batter, Van Every. This is the second homer in two days against the Rays for Van
Every.  Gil Velazquez  then hit ball to Chris Nowak at third base. Nowak got off
a bad throw that seemed to two-hop before Richard dug it out at first for an out.
Ochoa ended the inning by striking
out.

 

 
The Rays
sent Rule-5 player Derek Rodriguez to the mound for the 8th inning.  Rodriguez,
who the Rays picked up off the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox, quickly got
Argenis Diaz to fly out to right to start off the inning.  Kottaras also hit a
long fly ball to right that Justin Ruggiano caught for the second out. Pinch
hitter Carlos Maldonado then hit a slicer to Brignac at shortstop that he
quickly threw to first to get Boston 1-2-3 in the
inning . In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox sent Michael Bowden to the mound. Rugginao lead off the inning with a single to center field. He then stole second base to put himself in scoring position for the Rays. Johnson then walked. The Rays then attempted a double-steal with Johnson and Ruggiano taking second and third base respectively. John Jaso the  struck out for the first out of the inning. Jon Weber then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Ruggiano. Weber has no produced 7 RBI’s in the last two games for the Rays. Chris Nowak then hit a pop-out to first base to end the rally for the Rays.

 

 
Hunter
Jones took the mound to try and preserve the Red Sox victory. Jones is a
prospect in the Red Sox system who once broke his arm in three spots and had to
have multiple plates in his arm to heal the bones correctly. He gave up a
lead-off single to Richard to right center field. Brignac then struck out on a
nice called third strike. Zorbrist hit a ball to center that was easily caught
by Van Every. that left the Rays with one out to play with against the Red Sox.
Tim Beckham came up as a pinch hitter and hit a sharp ball to Diaz, but he
quickly threw the ball to end the game for the Rays. the final score was 8-2
Boston. It also marked the first win in three tries against the Rays this
spring.

 

 
For the
Rays, the game seemed to bring out some impatience in the Rays batters. For the
day they struck out 15 times, including 4 times to Tazawa in the game. For the Rays to
be productive against any team, mush less the Red Sox, they must be patient at
the plate. Tomorrow the Rays will again travel to Fort Myers where they will
take on the Minnesota Twins in a 1:05 contest. Leftie Scott Kazmir will be
making his spring debut on the mound for the
Rays.

 
 
Photo credits for today’s blog
go to www.boston.com,
and
www.tbo.com

 

A Rod Opt for Surgery………and More?

 

                  

 

Am I the only one who is questioning the timing of Alex Rodriguez’s surgery now? Could I be the only guy who think he might have given up on his World Baseball classic teammates. Why is it now that he decided to forgo the entire first month of the 2009 season after a modest showing by his WBC team. Wouldn’t it have been more productive to just have gone under the knife in February and be back in time for a mid-April return.   Here is a guy who says he was going to go through an entire season of pain in his hip region before having the surgery in the 2009 off season just two weeks ago. He told us of the cyst and torn labium that will require treatments and eventual surgery, but opted to play WBC ball instead.  I still do not know how you go an entire off season in 2008 without wanting to take care of this situation before it comes out and people can blast and second guess you for your actions. But I guess the cow is out of the barn now, and we have to think about it all here.

 

 
Why now. Why is today or a month from now a better time than 6 months ago, or even 8 months from now? What is significant about the time frame of this surgery now rather than having off season surgery. Is he really thinking about his teammates and his style of game if he is going to leave them without his bat and his defense for an entire month in the season. Is the fact that New York was not an effective offensive weapon in 2008 a faint back light to the fact he could come back healthy and make an explosion on the field and bring the city and the team’s confidence sky high after his time away from the game. Could he plan a rebuilding of the A Rod legend after coming back from this surgery and leading his team to a division title. Or could there be another reason for the announcement now?
 

 
Could the media pressure have finally gotten to him and he needs a bit of time to regain and re-construct the A-Rod machine. You have to admit that the public relation hits he has taken in the last few months would have destroyed other athletes. Will the time mending both physically and rebuilding his persona on and off the field be effective. Could the constant pounding on the field be pale in comparison to the pounding he takes daily in the media.  I actually think he finally cracked a bit and decided to get it over with to regroup himself mentally and physically.  You have to believe that injury has become more a front item since all of the drama of the past few months. I know personally, I do not think I could have taken the beating he did and still have a smile for everyone. You have to also think that his psyche has taken a major blow, and the time away from the game to heal could do wonders in all phases of his life.

 

 

     
 

 

So A Rod might be taking a month off  from the Yankees to get physically and mentally healthy for the season. He can get his hip surgically cleaned out and finally remove some of the pain, plus  he gets some much needed time away from the game to gain his prospective again and come back full charged. But what effect will this have on his New York Yankees teammates? I have not heard a huge amount of worry out of the New York Yankee camp right now since Cody Ransom is already in the Yankee fold. Could he be the guy who can handle the pressure of stepping in for A Rod and contribute both on and off the field. Or will the Yankee brain trust not even trust the actions of Ransom on the field and bring in a heavy hitter for the time that A Rod is out of the fold. One solution that might not have hit the minds of the Yankee brass is that current Rays Spring invitee Morgan Ensberg is seeking a major league job. He will probably not make the teams 25-man roster, and is on a minor league contract but in the coming weeks might be looking for an alternative solution to staying in the minors for the season. This situation might just work right into his hands as a power bat, and a experienced third baseman.  It might be a great short term solution for both the team and Ensberg.

 

 
 

 
If I was A Rod, I would have Ransom on my speed dial. Not to badger the kid, but to work with him a bit during the coming weeks. Pump up his confidence level right up to the first game of the year. The kid is a professional baseball player, but he is also stepping into an arena that could eat him alive if he doesn’t keep a healthy prospective on the entire affair.  Even off the field A Rod can contribute by keeping this kids mentally on top of his game, and being a positive influence on him. That is the one thing I liked about Cliff Floyd last year with the Rays. He took Carl Crawford and B J Upton under his wing and just talked to them and made them see things they had never seen in a baseball game both from the mental and physical sides of the sport. A Rod can do the same for Ransom, if he desires. 
 

 

The Yankees will be a different team without him in the lineup. They are not sure of the pressure they can put on Jorge Posada yet, but he will be ready to give 100 percent. Without A Rod, the team is missing a huge chunk of offensive firepower, and teams can use this to their advantage until he returns. The way the Yankee pitching staff works the first month of the season will decide the year end results for the team. They need to win those 3-2 games this year. Last year the Yankees were involved in 70 3-2 games, and did not always come out on top. So as A Rod heads off for his mental and physical operations, you have to feel for the Yankees. The season has not even started and already some fans have begun groaning and moaning and we have not even played one contest.
 

 

But the true nature of the Yankees will be tested in that first month. How good a bond does this team have, and can they use this to their advantage. Some teams rise to the occasion and actually play better when they are under the knife. But with Rodriguez now under the knife, can this team still lay claim to the top of the division?  Or will they again be treading water in hopes their regular third baseman comes back early and take them back into the playoffs?

Photo credits today go to Getty Images and the Associated Press Photo Corps.

 

Rays Make Red Sox Errors Count

 

 
 


Over the past weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox played a home and home series for the first time this year. Much like the regular season in 2008, the home teams got the better end of the bargain in the final scores. But what is amazing is the set-up this is going to play in future Spring Trainings in Florida. With Tampa Bay moving down 2 hours from their regular season home to Port Charlotte, they have seen incredible increases in attendance and in merchandise sales this spring. But is much of that subject to the new location and the initial buying of the team wares by the locals, who also helped sell out the regular seating areas of the stadium before the first pitch was ever thrown in this ballpark. 

 

 
Rays 2009 Opening Day starter Jame Shields took the mound for the first time this spring.  Jacoby Ellsbury lead off the game with a fly to center field for the first out. Shields then  got Jed Lowrie to strike out to get two quick outs in the inning. Chris Carter then  came up and hit a nice single to get the Red Sox started in the inning. But he was stranded on base as Brad Wilkerson got a quick out to snuff the Red Sox attack.
 

Tim Wakefield then came out for the Red Sox and hit Rays lead-off batter Jason Bartlett to start the game.  He then stole second and Carl Crawford hit a grounder to short that pushed Bartlett to third base with one out. Gabe Kapler then hit another grounder to second, but Bartlett was already running on the play and the Rays went ahead 1-0 in the game. Gabe Gross then walked and stole second base before Adam Kennedy struck out to end the Rays inning.
 


Shields came back out to the mound in the second inning and gave up a lead-off double to Jeff Bailey who put the ball down the third baseline. Paul McAnulty then hit a shallow fly ball to left field, and Bailey did not advance on the play.  Then catcher Josh Bard came to the plate and Shields threw a wild pitch to the backstop that advanced Bailey to third with 1 out. Bard then hit a ball to second that Kennedy quickly got to Chris Richard at first, but Bailey scored on the play to tie the game at 1-1. Nick Green then  hit a fly ball to Crawford in left field for the last out of the inning.
 

 
Wakefield again came on for Boston in the second inning and Ben Zobrist quickly got on base after a Bailey error in center field. It seemed like Bailey had a good read on the ball, but was using his glove as a sun shade and totally misplayed the ball as it got to his glove. Bailey was given Boston’s first error of the game on the play. Shawn Riggans then came up and hit a RBI single to center field to score Zobrist.  Richard then hit a long fly ball that hit off the Carraba’s sign in right field to give Richard a double and score Riggans on the play. Ray Olmedo hit a ground out that advanced Richard to third. Bartlett then hit a RBI grounder to Green at second, but Richard was running to home on the play and Green’s only option was to get the out at first base. Crawford struck out to end the Ray inning.

 
Shields did not come back out in the third as the Rays sent reliever Brian Shouse to the mound. Argenis Diaz lead off with a sharp shot to Olmedo at third base, but he bobbled the ball and then overthrew Richard at first for an error on the play. That gave the Red Sox a runner at first base with the top of the order coming up in the inning. Ellsbury then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase Diaz from the bases. Jed Lowrie then hit a single into left field to give Boston their second base runner of the inning. Chris Carter then hit  a grounder to Kennedy that he quickly converted to first to end the inning.  Wakefield came out again for Boston in the third inning and got Kapler to hit a grounder to Lowrie at third base that he easily threw to first for the first out. Gross then hit a long fly to right field, and Kennedy hit a sharp liner to Green at second to send the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning.
 
 

 
Grant Balfour came on to relieve Shouse for the fourth inning. This was also Balfour’s first action of the spring. Brad Wilkerson hit a fly ball out to Gross in right to start the inning off. Bailey then hit a ball to the right center field wall for a double. McAnulty then popped up to Balfour for the second out of the inning. Balfour then showed some of his own rustiness as he walked Bard to put two men on in the inning.  Balfour then had a liner hit right back at him by Green that hit him between the bicep and tricep muscle   oh his pitching arm. He quickly got the ball and threw to first to complete the inning.  Balfour just shrugged off the bruise and walked to the Rays dugout.

 
 
      

Wes Littleton came on in relief of Wakefield in the fourth inning and lead off the inning by walking Zobrist on four pitches. Zobrist then stole second base and put himself in scoring position for the Rays.  Riggans then hit a sharp ball down the third baseline that Jed Lowrie had a bit of trouble with, but got off a throw to Carter. But Carter could not turn and tag Riggans and he was safe with an error on the play.  Littleton then hit Richard with a pitch to load the bases for the Rays with no outs.  Olmedo then came on and got jammed and hit a ball back to Littleton that he threw to Bard to force out Zobrist at the plate. With the bases still loaded, Bartlett hit a shallow fly ball to center field, but Riggans did not try to advance on the play.  Crawford then hit a ball to the right of Carter at third base, but Littleton came over and took the toss from Carter to get out of the inning with no runs scored against him.
 

In the fifth inning, the Rays sent Jason Hammel to the mound. Hammel, who was still in the running for the fifth rotation spot also is being considered by the Rays for a reliever role.  He quickly got Diaz to hit a grounder to third that Olmedo got to Richard in time to post the first out. Ellsbury the hit a triple over the head of a pulled in Zobrist in center field. On the throw back into third base, they almost got Ellsbury, but the relay throw was a bit high coming into the bag. Lowrie then hit a sharp ball down to first that Richard snagged, but had no play at home and covered first unassisted for the second out.  With Ellsbury scoring on the play, it put Boston within two runs 4-2. Carter then struck out to end the inning. 
 

The Red Sox then sent Devern Hansack to the mound for the bottom of the fifth inning. Kapler lead off the inning with an infield single to third. Gross then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase both players from the base paths. Kennedy then walked to put another Ray on base. Kennedy then hit a grounder to Green, who quickly threw to first to end the Rays inning. Hammel returned to the mound in the top of the sixth inning and got Wilkerson to strikeout. He then got a called third strike on Bailey to get two quick outs in the inning. McAnulty then hit a sharp grounder to the right of Richard, who scooped the ball to Hammel, who came over to cover first for the third out.

 

 
 

Hansack again took the mound for the Red Sox, and Riggans took his first pitch to center field for a single to lead off the inning. Richard then struck out. then the Red Sox game plan started to come apart a bit on the field. Olmedo hit a hard grounder to Diaz, that he juggled but could not get either man out on the play. He was given and error on the play. Bartlett then hit another ball to shortstop that Riggans seemed to straddle and then break Diaz’s concentration and it lead to his second error of the inning.  Morgan Ensberg then  hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Riggans. Kapler then walked to load the bases. Fernando Perez then came on to pinch hit and slammed a liner to Green at second base that he could not find the handle on and Olmedo scored on the play. Jon Weber then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score three Rays runs as the ball 3-hopped to the wall. Red Sox Manager Terry Francona then came out and replaced Hansack with Marcus McBeth, who got Zobrist to strike out to end the inning with the Rays on top 9-2.



Hammel again took the mound in the seventh inning and gave up a quick homer to right field to George Kottaras on a hanging fastball in the zone. He then hit Green with a pitch to put him on base. Diaz then struck out for the first out of the inning. Jonathan Van Every then hit a 2-run homer to left field into the Red Sox Bullpen. It was an opposite field homer for Van Every. Gil Velazquez then hit a single into the right-center field gap. Lars Anderson then was hit by a pitch and the Red Sox had two men on base with one out.  Chip Ambres quickly struck out to give the Red Sox one more out in the inning.  Bailey then hit a sharp ball towards third base that was quickly converted for the third out.
 
 

 
Billy Traber took the mound for Boston in the seventh inning. Justin Ruggiano lead off the inning with a grounder to Lowrie at third for the first out.  Rays Sadler the hit  another hard grounder to Diaz at shortstop, who easily threw to first for the second out. Olmedo completed the 1-2-3 inning by grounding out to third again. Jason Childers took the mound for the Rays in the seventh inning. He quickly loss control of the inning as he walked both McAulty and Kottaras to start the inning. With two men on base with no out, Green then hit a flair to right field that loaded the bases for Boston. Diaz then hit a RBI single to center that scored McAnulty. Van Every struck out and Rays Manager Joe Maddon emerged to take Childers out of the game.  Lance Cormier replaced him and got Velasquez to hit a ball to short that forced Diaz at second base to get two outs.Kottaras did score on Diaz’s grounder to give him an RBI in the game. Anderson then struck out to end the Red Sox inning. The score was now 9-7 Rays.

 
Dustin Richardson took the mound for Boston in the bottom of the eighth inning. He quickly got behind and walked Michel Hernandez on 4 pitches. He then walked Ensberg to put two on with no outs. He then walked Tim Beckham to walk the first three batters in the inning for the Rays. With the bases now loaded, Fernando Perez came up and hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Hernandez.  Jon Webber the  came up and hit a 3-run homer to left center field. That gave him 6 RBI’s on the day for the Rays.   Chris Nowak then hit a grounder to Velasquez at third that produced the first out of the inning. Francona then popped out of the dugout and replaced Richardson with Mike James.  Ruggiano then hit a grounder to Velasquez that was bobbled and Ruggiano reached on an error by the third baseman. Sadler then hit a 2-run homer into the pond beyond the left field fence. Olmedo hit a grounder to Diaz at short that he quickly converted to get the Red Sox out of the inning.

 
 
Cormier took the mound again for the Rays in the top of the ninth inning. He quickly got Ambres to pop out to Nowak at first base for the first out of the inning. Zack Daeges then hit a double to left field that gave the Red Sox a chance in the inning. But the next batter, McAnulty hit  a grounder down the first baseline that Cormier took a pitch from Nowak to record the second out. With one out left in the inning and a man sitting at third, Kottaras struck out to end the Red Sox hope of mounting a comeback.  Final score  Rays 15-7 over the Red Sox. The win gave the Rays a record of 5-4 on the year, their first above .500 this spring.  the game also saw Cormier get a save because when he came into the game, the Red Sox had the tying run at the plate.

 


 

So tomorrow they strap it on again and this time play in the Red Sox home park in Fort Myers.  One of the Rays top prospects, Wade Davis will probably be making his last start of the spring before being put into the minor league camp sometimes during the  next week.  The Red Sox will be putting Justin Masterson on the mound for the contest.
 
 

The Legend of Garfoose

 

 

 

I was introduced to a wild new character in the annuals of baseball this week by a couple of my Rays friends. Well, actually by a picture she had taken while attending the Toronto Blue Jays versus Team Canada game a few days ago. Christin and Pat Manfredo are also members of the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame and are pretty well known around the Trop. for their signs and their  great relationships with some of the Rays players.  I have heard of such a character existed around the boundaries of baseball, but through their bond with the player that originated the myth. legend, or maybe the honest truth that is hidden by the bigwigs of baseball. 

 
The origin of this mystical character first graced the pages of Baseball America back in August 2008 and tells of the origin of the Garfoose, the hidden creature of baseball. There is not a lot known of Garfoose. If you try and find anything online or in the Wikipedia  you get a mumble and a jumble of words and locations, but nothing shows any type of concrete answers or even questions about this mythical animal. So is it so unusual that you would find the answers in a Toronto Blue Jays Bullpen during the Spring of 2009.
 

The teller of this tale is relief pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, who originally was drafted in the 2003 Major League Baseball Draft by the San Diego Padres. Hayhurst made his major league debut 17 days after this story was told in Baseball America, on August 23, 2008. In that contest he faced Barry Zito and the San Francisco giants in AT&T Park. But that season in San Diego did not end well for him as he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays on October 6, 2008. Recently he was released by the Jays to make room for pitcher Matt bush on their roster. He was again brought back into the Jays fold via a minor league deal on February 13, 2008.


The following is the tale of the Garfoose told by Hayhurst in his Prospect Diary inside the pages of Baseball America. Be warned that small children and farm animals should not read this passage as it might incite nightmares and even odd sightings of the creature during both day and night games around the Toronto Blue Jays home during the Spring, Dunedin Stadium. Do not say I did not warn you in advance. So without further ado…………The Legend of the Garfoose:
 

                                    

 

The ball rolled all the way to the pen. Struck foul with no one to give chase, it made it’s way to us, the lazy pack of minute men sitting down the left field line. Nonchalantly, I stepped on it to catch it.

Immediately cheers erupted. Fans know fouls go into the stands and so they began petitioning for it.

Unfazed by their urgent, desperate pleas, I leisurely reached down to pluck the new ball from under foot.  It dawned on me, as I turned the ball in my hand, the balls in the catch bag were not as nice as this freshly foul pearl. I decided I would switch it out with a tarnished ball so we could extend the life of this good one. I started to walk away from ball suitors to make the exchange. The crowd let me have it. I expected as much, they assumed I wasn’t going to sacrifice to them, but they were wrong. I made my way back with a downgraded ball and tossed it into the maw of hungry hands. Before I could return to my seat a teenage boy in extra baggy clothes with choppy hair shooting out under a hat turned at that annoying half-cocked angle, bellowed at me with voice of rude expectation indicative of little punk,  “hey, why choo didn’t gib-me-dat ball? Gib-me da other one, the good one. I saw you switch it! You gotta whole bag dawg!”

“Are you really asking me why I switched it or why I didn’t give it to you?” I asked, in a slow, tired draw.

“Both, man. I come to like every game and stuff, like all the time. I deserve a ball.”

“Your a big fan then huh?”

“Yeah bro, I love da Beavers. I’m like the number one fan yo, you should give me a ball.”

“Ok, well, what’s my name then?” It was on my jersey, but my back was turned.

“I, uh…”

“Right. Biggest fan.”

“Still, I seen you had a bag full a dem, hook me up man?”

“I can’t do that. Sorry.”

“Yo, you suck then man, why you can’t? I mean, seriously, yall be millionaires and stuff.”

“Oh, If only that were the truth…”

“I had a buddy tell me you get those balls for free.”

“That’s not true at all. These balls are expensive. More expensive then you’ll ever know.”

“Whatchoo mean?”

“Well, it’s a long story, but since your such a big fan, I’ll tell you…”

“Every year, in the spring time, hopeful monks wishing to enter the sacred order of the Stitched Moon make a pilgrimage to a land deep in the Tibetan mountains. They take very few supplies with them, barely enough to make the journey, resting upon faith they will accomplish the task before them.

They travel night and day, rarely stopping to eat or rest. Some are over come with fatigue, others by starvation. Some are carried of by predators. Still, a select few fulfill the journey and find themselves in a paradise untouched by the poison of the modern world.

You see my friend, legend speaks of a valley in those mountains, a second Eden if you will, where beauty blossoms with out limit. It is a land of magic and fantasy.

They sky of this paradise is arrayed with exotic birds. The ground littered with precious gems. There is a sapphire blue lake where mermaids live, the water as sweet as ambrosia. There are fields of flowers, each bud more magnificent then the next, where unicorns frolic. Sometimes, when not singing to the sounds of their lutes and harps, the native elves ride the unicorns, though that may just be an old wives tale.

The journey is full of temptation, yet there is none greater then call of this paradise. “Stay,” it bades, “forget about the order of the Stitched Moon.” Many monks are seduced, and in their careless self indulgence, they fall victim to the lands only guardian, the dreaded Garfoose, a fire breathing half giraffe, half moose, whose only known prey is man.

Stealthily, so as not to alert the Garfoose, the monks travel into the heart of the paradise to an enchanted grove. It is within in this grove they find the treasure they so desperately seek. For the trees of this grove are baseball trees with limbs bursting with perfectly formed baseballs. The monks collect these baseballs and carry as many as they can back to their villages.

Upon return, the monks are met with celebration. Weeks of feasting are held in their honor before they are warmly excepted into the order of the Stitched Moon. The baseballs are proof of their commitment but they also serve another purpose. The collected baseball are sold to Major League baseball for a healthy profit to the monks. The money is then used to buy new initiates their robs and Sacred Moon text books.

Major League Baseball then takes the baseballs and sorts them. The best balls going to the major leagues, the next best to triple A, and so on. Over the years science has tried to replicate the the perfect harmony of a naturally created baseball from the enchanted, Garfoose guarded, groves of the legendary mountain paradise. But a real baseball player knows the difference. Don’t ask me how, but there is just something special that you can feel when you hold it…”

I finished the tale looking out into the distance, my hand extended as if pointing to some heavenly  paradise.

“That, my friend, is why these balls are so special, and why I can’t give them out to just anyone.”

“Man shut up, quit playing.” Said the boy.

“It’s all real man, I’m not playing.” I was stark serious, staring at him like it was all true, like he was a crazy person for doubting me.

He paused, looked left and right then leaned toward me and with a small, timid voice whispered, “You being for real about that?”

“Of course not, what kind of idiot would believe that story? The balls all say made in China on right on them! I’m not giving you a ball because your a lying little punk in need of a grammar lesson. Now get a hair cut and fix your freaking hat, you look like a two year old trying to wear his dads clothes.”

He made that tongue-tisk sound, and threw his chest out at me, “Man, you suck! Dat’s why you be in da minors, you ain’t never gonna make it, looser!”

“Thats alright, at least I’m not going to have nightmares about the Garfoose coming to get me.”

 

Thank you again to Christin and Pat Manfredo for letting me know about this awesome baseball story.
Photo credits for today’s blog go to: ChristinManfredo@Facebook.com, www.sportsvite.com, http://www.baseballamerica.com.
 
 
 
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