March 2009

My Review of Kevin Kennedy’s Book

 

 

 

Okay, I went on our to the  Barnes and Noble bookstore in Tampa today for a 1 pm book signing by our MLBlogs.com Numero Uno lady, Lady Jane Heller. She was excited to see all the She-fans lined up waiting for to arrive, and I promised her while I was there, I would not write about her signing today. I will never steal the thunder from this smiling Yankee fan. Now there will occasions in the future where I will not promise anything, but today I took the noble approach and gave the visiting dignitary her rightful place at the top of our charts and hearts . But instead of doing a blog about her book and the signing, I am going to fulfill a promise I mad about a month ago about Kevin Kennedy’s book.
 

As you all might  know by now, Kennedy, the former Fox Sports baseball commentator is now employed by the Tampa Bay Rays to do the television broadcast color analyst position for most of the season. Kennedy still has some past obligation, like his XM/Sirrus radio show with Rob Dibble, and will not be able to do the entire slate of games this year. But while I was researching on him for my blog about the hiring, I noticed that he had written a book with Bill Gutman entitled, ” Twice Around the Bases.” Well it took me a little extra time to read it since I also try and keep current reading my ESPN, the magazine, Sports Illustrated and Maxim magazines every week when they arrive at the refrigerator box. So last night I decided to burn the entire tall candle and read the rest of the book so I could give you a Rays Renegade rendition or review of this book.
 


 
In the past couple of years,  new baseball fans people have become more and more obsessed with the statistics and the formulas of the game of baseball. There is a acknowledgment that the manager of a Major League Baseball franchise has a legitimate effect on the true outcome of the contest. Some still hold it tightly in their minds that the manager has very little input and connection with the ultimate result of the game. I disagree and feel that manager have a huge amount of information and scouting now to influence a game’s outcome.  So I began reading Kevin Kennedy’s book, Twice Around the Bases: The Thinking Fan’s Look Inside Baseball,  hoping I would finally find the insight and the knowledge I was looking for to finally come to an intelligent decision on this matter.

              
 
This book was about 260-odd pages.  I  was really excited when I picked up the book knowing the managerial success and the turmoil he had endured both in the Texas Ranger organization and during his short stint with the Boston Red Sox.
 
I was looking forward to the random stories of making his way up from the Winter Leagues to finally winning title with both American League clubs. I really thought there would be insightful personal stories about managerial decisions and conflicts made while sitting on the bench and having to make player decision at the end of Spring Training. I did like the first section of the book, but it did ramble and slowly move, which almost led me to put it down after 100 pages. It went forward and back in his plight to get his manager skills honed and spit-polished before he finally got the reins of the downtrodden team in Texas.
 
I got the idea about half way through the book that Gutman  had some trouble actually piecing together this book, but you can tell that 98 percent of what came out of Kennedy’s mouth made it to the page without editing a lot of copy. I did not enjoy some parts of it, but I might have been expecting more from it because of the high profile image of Kennedy.  Some pieces of the book fell from its format, and Gutman tried his best to put them into some easy flowing stream, but it got stuck on the rocks.

 

The book is split into two huge parts of his career. The first half of the book relies totally on  Kennedy’s  Los Angeles Dodger minor league coaching experiences, and finally concludes with his years in Fenway Park with the Red Sox.  It digs only just below the surface in his time down in the Caribbean Winter Leagues. I do have a thought here for Kennedy. There is not a great behind-the-scenes novel written on the true experiences in those Winter League environments. If you could channel more information and your personal experiences to show more insight into the real problems down in those ” finders” leagues, you might have another book   that would finally piece together the type of politics and goings on behind the doors in those leagues. 
 
 

You can tell you were not letting us know everything that might have been going on in that part of the world. But to really dig into that baseball sub-culture now would be a best seller waiting to happen. With American readers now looking south after the latest exploits in the Washington Nationals system, this area of baseball is ripe for some one to pick it off the vine. If I had the connections Kennedy has in baseball and in that region of the world, I would be all over writing about the conditions and ramifications of this yearly MLB-subsidized league. Just a thought Kevin, now that you have a steady job with the Rays, you even have a subject in your own locker room who went through this hostile “buscones” atmosphere in Willy Aybar.
 

Okay, I am sorry I got on a tangent,but I will bring that idea up to Kennedy the next time I see him outside of the Rays broadcast booth. I do like the way he did portray the differences in the game played there and here in the States. I mean where else can you find armed guards with guns on the dugouts and the gambling bookies sometimes  controlling the game played inside the fences.  Kennedy wrote of a personal experience where a local team almost rioted after a pitcher was removed for m a 14-strikeout appearance because of the local betting line on the starting pitcher getting 15 strikeouts that day. It gave the opinion that even in a fair play game like baseball, a criminal element can creep in and take control of a situation on the diamond, even when people are looking out for it. 
 

Another great story on how a stadium lost its electrical power the moment the game became official and the home side was in the lead in the contest. It seems from the stories that these bookies and gamblers have the ultimate say in the results of the game, even with everyone else playing on the up-and-up.  This region of the world might be the last frontier of baseball in its purest forms, but also the greed and corruption that can come without total authority was evident by Kennedy’s recollections throughout the first half of the novel.
 

Then he turns his attention to his first MLB gig in Montreal with the Expos,  and also talks about his stories while holding managerial jobs with the Rangers and Red Sox. He gets into his philosophy of the growing politics of managers jobs. In this section he also takes a shot at how awful the Red Sox were run in the 90s. That his eventual hiring by the Red Sox might be considered a bit forced because then Boston G M Dan Duquette played  hard-nosed politics with the GM of the Rangers during the strike season to finally get Kennedy for his team. Kennedy replaced Butch Hobson and went on to secure the American League East title for the Red Sox, but they did not fare well in the playoffs going down to the Cleveland Indians in their first action that season.
 

He felt that  Duquette proceeded to blow the team up and make a ton of moves without consulting him. He conveyed the idea that he was never in the loop in regards to player personnel decisions, and had to accept what the Boston front office dished out to him.  The team then sucked the following year but Duquette decided to make Kennedy the scapegoat for the Red Sox floundering. That in turn gave Duquette the perfect reasoning to fire him.  Kennedy was outspoken about the “good ol’ boy” network that was king at that time in the entire baseball hierarchy. He showed his frustrations that the old school of thought was being taught to the rising stars in the managerial ranks.  There was a rehashing of past prejudices and mis-guided information that confused everyone in baseball. Young baseball leaders in the front offices and dugouts kept the traditions and the mannerisms of the older generations of managers and baseball men. The cycle began to repeat itself in a very vicious circle.
 
 

The second half of the book starts off with a hodge-podge  collection of his personal views and scouting reports on the past, present and future stars of baseball. He takes his ramblings and forces them into 4 chapters where he debates and decides for himself who the best at their positions at this current juncture in baseball’s history. He divides them into position players, best pitchers, best hitters, best all-around players, and then shows his personal choices for best games he’s ever seen.  There’s an awful lot of back chatter and wishy-washy talk about “confidence” and “swagger” and an awful lot of  condemnation of players he has never seen personally play the game.
 
 

 I do agree with Kennedy on one subject noted in the second half of the book. Kennedy is a huge proponent of a running game. It is well versed by SABRE members and statistics collectors who find this part of the game simply over rated. But Kennedy gets on his soapbox and makes a very valid point, that statistics won’t show you if a pitcher makes a bad pitch because he rushes the ball to the plate to prevent a steal. Also voiced loud and clear in the book is the fact that stats won’t show if the shortstop is moving to cover second and leaves a hole for a base hit or a hit that splits first and second because the first baseman is holding a runner

 



                            

 

The only raw statistics most people see on the running game, stolen bases vs. caught stealing, doesn’t really tell the whole story of being “aggressive on the base paths.” Could there be something to that? I think the jury is still out on that subject, but the tendency is to lean more towards the side of aggressive actions. the following was taken from the book to help illustrate his point on the running game.  Kennedy took over the Rangers in 1993. In 1992, the team was 74-88 with 81 stolen bases, 44 caught stealing (64% success rate), a team line of .250/.318/.393, and 682 runs scored in 162 games. Kennedy took over the same player personnel and went 86-76 with 113 stolen bases, 67 caught stealing (63%, indicates much more movement along the bases at about the same success rate), a team line of .267/.326/.431 , and 835 runs scored in 162 games.
 

Can you point to the fact that the opposing pitchers were rushing their throws to the plate, and that the Rangers got additional hits in the game because of this simple action. Or did it tend to pull either the second baseman or shortstop out of their position and create holes for grounders and liners to go through to increase the hit totals?  I think we can say “Yes” to these ideas based on the game statistics and the results of his teams. Could the 150 extra runs be from moving more guys into scoring position?  I would think by having the runners already in motion when the batter hits would increase their chances of scoring or even getting into scoring position for the additional runs.
 
 
One of the reasons that people tend to call moving on the base paths “running yourselves out of an inning” is because it’s usually practiced by some of the new aggressive base savvy managers. Ozzie Guillen of the  Chicago White Sox would be a prime example. Kennedy makes the argument that with proper studying of pitcher’s tendency, via a complete scouting report, that teams can predict  very accurately what a pitcher throws on each count, and how long it takes them to get to the ball to the plate. An intelligent  manager can control a running game that  can disrupt a defense and creates  pure chaos in the infield. Kennedy shows some of the ways a manager can take control of a game by stealing signs, positioning the defense, and studying player defensive tendencies. 

 A top notch manager today has to be both statistician and psychologist over the course of a 162 game season. Kennedy gives us a decent look at various types of signs… even telling us different ways that guys communicate on the field. For instance, a second baseman leaning on his left foot instead of a right foot can be a sign of who’s moving to cover second. All told, the book  seemed to be written in a very fast paced manner. Maybe the book editor was calling for their pages before the beginning of the baseball season, and they hap-hazardly pushed the pages of the second half of the book. The first half of the book was a great selection of interesting stories about the game of baseball both in the minor and major league level.
 But in the second section, it seemed more like they just ran through the gambit of baseball websites and collected statistics and ran their personal observations quick and furious to get the book done in time.   It had the pacing of a rambling mess in the second half. The  second half section on managing the game was excellent, but his “best” player notations could have been deleted and the book would have been more enjoyable. It is not the best book written by a former MLB manager about the sport. There are dozens of better written and more concise books by managers that can be quoted before this one. But his adventures in the Caribbean would make an entire book worthwhile if he dove into the subject. It was a great attempt at a first book by Kennedy. If he does do a second book, hopefully he will learn from the sins of his first stab at literary works. Hey Kevin……………Think Caribbean Winter Leagues.

Photos credits today go to: www.reddawg32@Flickr.com, wwworbitcast.com, www.grandstandsports.com.

 

Once Upon an American Idol……………………Baseball Style

          

I tried to tell all of you I was bored today because the Tampa Bay Rays decided to take a day off. Well, I had this wild thought in my mind of what MLB players would make the finals of American Idol when I remembered that dusty CD on my bookshelf from 2005. Long time baseball fans know the one I am talking about here. It was entitled: “Oh Say Can You Sing.” Well, I put it into my CD player on my computer and again began to remember the warbling of such stars as Coco Crisp, Aubrey Huff and Jeff Conine on this one-disc album.



So I decided to look into seeing if there was any information online about the CD, and lo and behold, our very own professor of J-Blog school did and article on the CD back on May 23, 2005. There was that name “Mark Newman”, who we all know is our overseer and guide dog through the blackness of the bloggers world. So I sat there and read his musings on MLB.com about the CD and loved this line in the article: ” Here’s the news flash: This isn’t your average karaoke bar.”  That is why we love the professor. He is always willing to educate us on words, vocals and the soft sounds of Coco Crisp with his original tune,” We Got That Thing.”



The CD featured 11 players in various types of music types, but one of my favorite was still Matt Ginter’s bluegrass rendition of “Dooley.”  Let me give you the 11 artists/players who have volunteered their golden pipes for charity and clubhouse amusement for the entire year.  You have Ben Broussard, Sean Casey, Crisp, Huff, Ginter, Conine, Scott Linebrink, Jimmy Rollins ( Doing his own tune),Omar Vizquel and Kelly Wunsch. The 11th singer might not be a surprise. Ozzie Smith also put his voice to a track, and we know his son can sing from his own American Idol auditions. I had forgotten how good some of these guys sing.



I know it was a running joke during Huff’s day with the Rays that he was the team karaoke god and used to go on stage a few times a year to belt out a country song or two on the road. I have even been told he has done a rock ballad that actually sounded better than the original. So I guess my thought at having some type of originality with a Top 12 American Idol/Baseball style might have already been played out.  I even still have the prank poster put up in the Rays clubhouse of a “Huffapalooza” event in Tampa a few years ago. I was told two former Rays players were the originators of that poster, but neither would confess up to it when I asked them about it.



 

 
 

But with the Wild Card round going on tonight on American Idol, I have decided to add a 12th player to this list.  I mean we all know that Conway Twitty was offered a chance to play with the Philadelphia Phillies after he finished high school, but he went into the U S Army instead and his baseball dream ended. But are their any former singers who did play baseball besides this group of 11 on the CD?



 
I mean who can forget the “Ed Sullivan Show” where the ’69 New York Mets featuring Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan sang ” You Got to Have Heart”. But who else came from the dugout and sang for their supper. Well, most people know that we used to have a singing owner on the west coast of the United States. I mean who really did not know that the singing cowboy, Gene Autry used to be the majority owner of the California/Aneheim/Los Angeles Angels. What is even more fitting was that his widow was the person who presented Rays Manager Joe Maddon, a former Angels employee when Autry was alive, with the American League Championship trophy at Tropicana Field in 2008.




There is that mix of baseball players who are also in bands like Brandon Arroyo, but a majority of them might just keep that passion to their home showers or away from the ridicule of team mates.  I mean is there a karaoke machine in any of the major league clubhouses? Not to my knowledge, but that doesn’t mean it has not been discussed before by members of teams. One guy who has made his musical passion as bright away from the diamond is former New York Yankee Bernie Williams. His classical guitar arrangements are excellent, and his concerts are amazing. I have to admit I do own one of his two CD’s, and they do a great job of relaxing me on long trips through the hectic NASCAR-like Atlanta highways.


 

               
 

I mean  we even have a singing umpire in the major leagues. Joe West, who has been in his blues since about 1979 when he began umpiring in the National League.  “Cowboy Joe” as some of his colleagues know him is known for his singing and his songwriting.  In 2008, his umpiring crew was known as Crew J and included C B Bucknor, Ed Hickox , West as the Crew Chief and Ed Rapuano. There have been no talk of a barber shop quartet from the crew, but you can be sure that West keeps his crew loose and ready with his singing.
 



                                   
 

West has sung with Merle Haggard,Mickey Gilley, T G Sheppard and both Mel Tillis and George Jone’s bands.  West released a country album called ” Blue Cowboy “and just finished his second CD called “Diamond Dreams”. In his second CD, West sings about things that have happened in baseball and has an up-tempo song about going to a baseball game. It’s distributed on Good and Western Records and this second CD was  released near the end of Spring Training in 2008.



 
I mean why wouldn’t music and baseball make a good marriage. Every player in the major leagues has a walk-up song or two pre programmed to play as they stroll to the plate. Baseball and music are interwoven by songs about teams, players, and memorable events in the sport. I mean, Paul Simon asked “Where did you go Joe Dimaggio?” So  maybe tonight as I am watching the Wild Card round I will think about Conine, Huff or maybe even Rollins up there getting critiqued by Simon Cowell. As long as Huff doesn’t wear that outfit he bought in Texas a few years ago, he might get props on his chops.




Photo Credits for today’s blog go to: http://www.target.com, http://www.goodandwesternrecords.com, RRCollections.


Day Off for Rays…………My Scattered Thoughts

 

 

 

 

Vanishing Rays Radio Broadcasts

 

I have been a bit upset with MLB.TV and the Tampa Bay Rays lately. I really do not hold MLB.TV responsible at all, but looking at the daily radio and television broadcast schedule and seeing the game listed at 8 am, then missing at 1:05 or 7:05 that day can be a bit frustrating. I know it has more to do with the local end of the spectrum, but hey, I paid my subscription to hear every game of the Spring Training season when the Rays are not at home. Even the local radio station that will broadcast the Rays, WDAE 620, the “Sports Animal” seems to have a limited Spring Training schedule. I mean I would love to hear tomorrow’s game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it is not even being broadcast by the Pirate’s media group.
 
 

That tends to make me feel a bit violated. Not to the extent of bodily harm, but I am missing some of the baseball I really would love to hear/see. Now I have been lucky enough to get to most of the game this Spring, but that is only because I have a friend who lives in Fort Myers and I have stayed there to cut down on gas traveling from the Tampa Bay area down to Port Charlotte, Florida for most of the games. But there have been a few times in the last week that at the last minute, the games, which should have been on Game cast, seemed to disappear from the radio guide.
 
 

 I was all ready to hear the St. Louis Cardinals versus the Rays game from Jupiter, Florida, and the airwaves were silent. The game was listed the night before, but when it came time for the pre-game, the listing vanished and so did my chance to hear the game. The same thing happened last night. I could not go to the Team Puerto Rico game against the Rays, so I was excited when it was originally listed on the radio listing for Weds. night. But during the day on Weds., it also went blank from the website listing for game that day. I know it is localized situations, but it frustrates me since I decided not to go, and the game got snagged off my computer speakers.

 


 

Matt Joyce MIA

I am so upset that newly acquired Matt Joyce has not been game ready to make the right field platoon decision more difficult for the Rays. The fact that if he had not gotten a calf strain earlier in camp, he would be right in the mix fighting Gabe Kapler for the right-handed bat part of the planned platoon action. The kid has a great arm, and he did pretty good in limited action for the Detroit tigers last season.
 

 
But a recent MRI revealed that he definitely has a calf strain and will be out for some time. It is frustrating that he can not make a play to stay up with the big club and win out this spot in his first camp with the Rays. Nothing against Kapler here. I think Kapler is probably in the best shape of his life, but he is also not the player he was 4 years ago patrolling the Red Sox outfield. Trips to Japan to play, and also limited duties in Brewer-ville did not help his situation. 
 

 
I just think that this camp would have been more fun with a definite race between these two guys, instead of having the job handed to Kapler by default. Even if Joyce get into his groove before March 20th, would the Rays send him to the minor league camp for assignment, or keep him up with the main squad until maybe April 1st?  I think this kid is the real deal and can be in the mix in 2009 from day 1, but his injury has made it difficult for everyone to even pencil him in at any spot. That might even give the edge to someone like Justin Ruggiano, who is hitting for a .429 average this spring. 
 

 
Maybe it is Ruggiano who should be paired up in a fight with Kapler for the right-handed spot in the platoon. Ruggiano has done everything the Rays have asked of him, but he has played mostly center field this spring. But Justin did play a good amount in right field last year, and does have that experience in the Trop. with the walls and the lights. Maybe this is the two who should be paired up because of the absence of Joyce. With that in mind, Gabe Gross has not been such a sure thing himself this spring.  He has only appeared in 4 games, but that might be more of the staff knowing what he can do, and they are giving more time to Kapler and guys like Jon Weber to impress them.

 

 

Fan Fest Suggestion

 

Back during my blog after the Rays 2009 Fan Fest I commented on some of the changes i might make to the event if I was in charge in 2010.  This is the main thing I would change, and it is more to give more exposure and attention to this group of fans. With the Rays opening the doors to season Ticket holders at 10 am, and the general public coming into the stadium at 11 am,  they had a unique situation that with the players signings not starting until noon to maybe highlight the Rays/Pepsi Wall of Fame Induction ceremony.

 

 
Now with the ceremony currently being held at noon, it is pretty well known that people wanting to get autograph were not going to get out of line to hear any of the inductions, or even see any of the event. Maybe that event should start at 11:30 and it would be done about 12-12:15 and give the fans being inducted a bigger crowd base for their ceremonies. Of course there will still be those who will get in line at 11 am when they enter the stadium, but there were a huge amount of people just milling around and wandering until the lines opened up at noon.
 

 
Maybe by centering the event before the players signings begin, we can gravitate some of the people away from the signing stands and make that area more open to walking around the stadium. This is just a thought, you can take it or leave it. I just think that there was a space of about 45 minutes there after every one initially got into the stadium that no one was doing anything special, and could have been focused on the third baseline for the event. But I do have to add that except for a huge line at stage one, the event seemed to go off without a hitch again in 2009.

Photo credits for this blog go to: Patmanfredo@Facebook.com, http://www.yahoo.sports.com, RRCollections.

 
 

We Will Miss You Barrie!


                              

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I was just informed that the Rays lost a very special member of
the Tampa Bay Rays staff. Barrie  Lee Jones was the Community Relations
Representative for the team, and I do not know of anyone else who could
have done that job with so much gusto and joy. I can tell you for
several years when I was delivering product to the second floor sales
area it was always a pleasure to get a wave and a smile from Barrie. He
is also one of the Rays long time staff members who got to go down on
the field after the game in which the Rays secured a playoff berth. 
Jones could be seen down on the field behind home plate with other
members of the Rays second floor sales staff celebrating with the team.

Jones had been recovering from a stroke he had suffered about three
weeks ago.  Barrie passed away yesterday after complications from that
event. Jones will always be remembered as the guy who passion for the
sport and this team transcended everything but his family. My thoughts
and prayers go out to his lovely wife at this time.

But, I can not think of a better person to represent the Rays in the
community than Barrie. He always had a smile and time to talk about the
team and their success in 2008. I will miss seeing him come through the
Bullpen Cafe area this season. He has been one of the visual people in
the Rays front office to me for a long time. I am so glad that he got
to share the joy and the excitement of the team’s first run at the
playoffs in 2008. He got to celebrate and live in the moment of one of
the greatest turnarounds in MLB history.

It has been asked that in lieu of flower a donation be made in his name
to the American Stroke Association and the Rays Baseball foundation. 
My condolences go out to the front office staff of the Tampa Bay Rays
and I want to express my deep sadness about the loss of such a devoted
fan and friend. Please keep Barrie Jones in your thoughts and prayers
this Spring.

  

Raymond D Ray

 

        
 

 
Since the Tampa Bay Rays are not playing until this evening, it gives me some time to have fun with my blog today and maybe get deep and into one of the real characters of the Rays family. For years people have wondered aloud and in their own minds as to the origins and the reasons for the fluffy blue mascot of the Rays.  Even during the radio broadcast on MLB.com yesterday, the Houston Astros announcers were discussing Raymond D Rays, the official mascot of the team. They were discussing how in 2008, radio broadcaster Dave Raymond had his picture taken with the “Big Blue One.”
 
 

With their mention of Raymond, I thought it might be fun to get back into the origins and the make up of this entertaining and animated of the Rays.  There is a wide spread rumor that the Rays scouts went out on a fishing expedition prior to the 1998 season and spotted a weird but highly energetic creature playing out in deep of the Gulf of Mexico waters.

 

The amused scouts had just begun eating their lunch of boiled hot dogs and sodas when a blue-hued creature was seen swimming towards the boat at a high rate of speed.  The creature, being the sea-actor that he was started to mimic and provide antics that the scouts found funny and entertaining. They rewarded him with unlimited hot dogs and chips.  During all of the excitement it dawned on one of the scouts to entice the blue one to come back to Tropicana Field and become the team’s first mascot.  The decided to use a piece of the teams name to bring his persona into reality for fans to enjoy. they decided after a few hours of throwing around names that Raymond was the perfect name for this creature.

 
 
         

They then tried to persuade the blue one to leave his lifestyle of frolic and mayhem out in the middle of the Gulf to entertain fans and kids at their new ballpark for their expansion team. The scouts, who have been getting prospects to sign for years had the right incentives to entice Raymond to work with the team. With the promise of all the hot dogs he could eat, all the high fives and belly wiggles he could stand, the scouts brought back Raymond for the rest of the Rays front office to enjoy. they also were quickly amused and loved the belly wiggling and dances that he pulled off with the radio being on in someone’s office. It was decided then and their that Tampa Bay had found their perfect mascot.
 
 

Raymond’s animal-like appearance causes confusion among fans of all ages. His fuzzy face is similar to a walrus and his bulbous blue belly likens him to a mutant manatee. So what exactly is he?  In 2005, scientists from Sarasota’s Mote Marine Institute  made a startling discovery; Raymond is actually a previously undiscovered species of dog known as “Canus Manta Whatthefluffalus” or in layman’s terms, a Seadog.  It common among these canines to show resemblances to all the traits of normal landlubber dogs. They also enjoy going for walks, playing with kids, and fetching. Unlike other dogs they are almost six feet tall, walk upright, are  royal blue in color. Some people have been quoted as thinking he is a product of Big Bird and Papa Smurf having a love affair on the Love Boat and Raymond fell overboard during the trip.

 
 

While other dogs live on land, Seadogs usually live in or around the water.  And now living in the St. Petersburg area, he has water on three sides of the city in which he is living. Seadogs have been known for their fun-loving nature and silly pranks, their true passion for baseball, and general good looks of a sea mammal. But one of things that quickly became part of his personality was his ability to use sarcasm and prat falls to evoke smiles and laughs from his new fans.  Raymond finally got to meet his new fans as he was introduced on the field before the June 21, 1998 game. He emerged from his egg on the third base line and  the Rays fans have not been the same ever since. 
 
 


 

His routines of using his ATV before games to tease and chat with other players, and his ability to mock and imitate both security guards and players has made him a fan favorite at Rays games. But early in 2001 he began to learn some new motor skills and began to sew new costumes and mild props for his adventures during the game.  Who will forget his first costume as a superhero named “Rally Rays”, who was called out in the bottom of the ninth inning to pump up the crowd and the team to bring a victory to the Rays. But with his new found love of the Rays he got to enjoy the company of other mascots around the league. He became great friends with Wally the Green Monster and Ace, the mascot of the Toronto Blue Jays.

 

He even was invited to their stadiums for events concerning their mascots, and they came to the Trop. to be with the fun-loving blue-hued creature. with his new found fame, he did not let it go totally to his big head. He began to be more community oriented and visited countless hospital wards around the Tampa Bay area to make children smile and to take endless amounts of photos with parents and kids alike. His personality grew, and so did the reason we all loved Raymond.  It was feared that in November 2007, when the Rays dropped the “devil” from their names that R
aymond’s day might be numbered, but the team renewed their faith in him by issuing him a new logo jersey with his trademark “00” number on the back. 

 
 


 

Raymond has been a part of the Rays since their inception. He is a small part of the fun and adventure that being a Rays fan encompasses when you enter Tropicana Field. One of the first things you see when you stroll down right field street is his small alcove where cartoon videos play all the time, and mascot bobbleheads line one wall.
 

 
As long as the Rays keep up their promise of unlimited hot dogs and a few cold beverages, Raymond will still come out and entertain the masses and tease the opponents team fans in the stands.  Some people think that mascots are not good for the game of baseball and take away from the action and the atmosphere. I think he actually heightens the energy level and entices the crowd to cheer and make noise throughout the game. Him just walking into a room can make a child run towards him for a huge hug, or even a photo opportunity. Raymond is not only a part of the team’s name, he is part of the culture of Tampa Bay, and its fans, and hopefully we will get to enjoy him for a long, long time.
 

 
 
Photo credits today go to: www.raysbaseball.com, Awinner@Flickr.com, http://raymond@mlblogs.com.
 

Rays Score 10 runs in Fourth Inning to Crush Astros

 

 
 
If you have noticed, I do a inning-by inning rundown on my blogs during the Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training games this year. The reason I am doing this is because the majority of these games are not online, or even on television, and you might not get the full effect of how the innings were progressing by the written newspaper articles. So I have decided to go batter-by batter to give both Rays fans and others an opportunity to see how the games progressed from the first pitch to the last out. I will not be doing the same during the season since the television and the many broadcast sports shows that are geared towards  mostlyhighlights will show these plays again in their broadcasts. So this is the style I am only using in the Spring Training phase of the 2009 Rays season. During the regular season I will be providing a different approach to the games.
 
  

 

 
 
So here we are at Charlotte Sports Park taking in a windy and chilly day at the ball park.  MLB Network is setting up and will be doing interviews throughout the game with fans and players down the right field line.  I do not get MLB Network on my cable provider ( even though I have offered to play more), so if you see my mug on the television, leave me a comment. I did go down and chat a bit with Harold Reynolds before the game, and really like the way he is thinking about this team for 2009. But I do agree wholeheartedly that we will not sneak up on anyone this year, and that might be a good thing.
 

 
But while I am sitting here freezing a bit, I decided to go to www.houstonchronicles.com and see what kind of action they might be portraying for this game. What I found was a website poll asking people to vote for their top 10 All-Time Rice University players. Well, the Rays had one representative in their pre-selected 10 for you to choose from online. Jeff Niemann, the starter in today’s game was pre-ranked by the newspaper as the 6th best player out of Rice. What I found interesting is that team mate Wade Townsend was not even on the list, but third member of that great NCAA Championship squad, Philip Humber was listed. Also missing from the list was former Ray Norm Charlton, who I hear had a monster time as a Rice pitcher.

 
 
                          


So here we are at Charlotte Sports Park getting ready for our only game against the Houston Astros this spring. The breeze has picked up a bit in the last 10 minutes, and might make for some interesting catches on fly ball hit deep into the outfield today. Starting for the howe town Rays will be Jeff Niemann, who has been pretty tough this spring on the mound for the team. He is fighting for that number 5 slot in the rotation that seems to be boiling down to him and maybe Jason Hammel at this time. But another great game by Carlos Hernandez could boost him name back into the thought process of the Rays staff before April.

 

 
 
Even after impressive outings by Wade Davis against the New York Yankees in Tampa, and yesterday in Jupiter against the St. Louis Cardinals might not keep his ticket from being punched for Triple-A Durham for the beginning of the season. But one thing is clear about Davis. He is a better pitcher this time around than a year ago. He has better control of his breaking balls and is getting pretty confident with that new change-up. He might not see the majors until September 1st, but after this year he might be another Rays that will be hard to keep down on the farm in 2010. Mitch Talbot had done a good job this year, but is not ready for the daily grind of the majors either in the Bullpen or the rotation. That should put those three guys in the mix for that last coveted rotation position.
 

Niemann took the mound today and gave up a lead-off single to Michael Bourn. The single was a slow roller to Jason Bartlett at shortstop that he could not get into his hand in time to get the speedy Bourn at first base.  Bourn then decided to test Niemann’s arm and stole second base to put himself in scoring position early in the inning.  Niemann settled down a bit and got Edwin Maysonett to strikeout. Darin Erstad then came up and hit a high towering fly ball to right field that Gabe Kapler took off the wall for the second out of the inning. Jason Michaels came up and Niemann quickly put him away by striking him out finish the inning.
 

Brandon Backe, the ex-Ray took the mound for Houston today and gave up a double to Bartlett to lead-off the game. Bartlett kept strolling farther and farther off the bag and finally Backe tried to pick him off at second, but the throw was a bit off and rolled into center field. Bartlett advanced to third and Backe received an error on the throw. Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist quickly both struck out to give Backe control of the inning. Pat Burrell came up with Bartlett only 90 feet away for the early lead and walk to put men on the corners for Kapler. He could not capitalize and the Rays let two men on base, and let Backe get out of the first inning with no runs scored against him.

 
In the top of the second inning,  Niemann went back to work and got  Designated Hitter David Newhan for a fast out before setting down both Chris Johnson and Jason Smith with two straight strikeouts.  With the 1-2-3 inning, it seemed that Neimann was in control of the game for the Rays.  The team sent up Dioner Navarro to face Backe first in the second inning. Backe quickly got Navarro out on strikes and was setting a fast tone for the contest. Adam Kennedy, who was playing third for the first time in the majors, hit into a 4-3 out. Ray Sadler then came on and hit a rocket at about shoe level towards Maysonett who snagged the ball for the third out and send the Rays down 1-2-3 in their half of the inning.
 

The third inning saw Niemann take the mound again and  he got Mark Saccomanno to hit a deep ball to center that was easily caught by Sadler. J P Towles, who will be counted on to win the catchers battle got fooled on a split finger fastball for an easy strikeout. Bourn then came up and walked to put a man on base with two outs. He again stole second base off Niemann and Navarro. The steal was his fourth of the spring. Maysonette hit a low liner down the third baseline that Kennedy had a bit of the glove on, but could not squeeze it in and it rolled down to left field. Bourn scored on the play and gave Houston an early 1-0 lead. Erstad then hit a fly ball to Sadler in center to end the inning.
 

In the Rays b
ottom of the third, Backe took the mound again and gave up a towering home run to Reid Brignac on the first pitch of the inning. Brignac broke an 0-11 mark this spring with the round tripper. Bartlett then hit the first pitch he saw to get on base for the Rays.  Backe then walked both Crawford and Zobrist before leaving the game. Samuel Gervacio came in with the bases loaded and no outs. He walked Burrell, Kapler and Navarro to put the Rays in front 7-1 at the moment. Astros Manager Cecil Cooper had seen enough and replaced him with Polin Trinidad. He started out the same as the other two Houston pitchers, walking Kennedy and then giving up a 2-RBI double to Sadler down the left field line.

 

Brignac then came back up in the inning, and got struck out to stop the Rays merry-go-round. Bartlett, who finished the day going 3-3, then hit a single to right field to score another run for the Rays. Trinidad then got Crawford to strikeout for the second out of the inning. Zobrist then came up and hit a ball that split the Houston outfielders for a 2-run double. Cooper again came out to the mound and took the ball from Trinidad. He put in Jeff Fulchino who got Burrell on a called third strike to end the Rays rally. In that inning, the Rays sent 14 men to the plate and scored 10 runs on 5 hits and 6 walks.

 

        
 

The Rays sent Brian Shouse out for the fourth inning with a 9 run lead. Michaels started the inning of with a single and David Newhan hit a liner to right field that Kapler quickly came up firing towards third and got Michaels before he could touch the bag. It was a screaming throw that easily got the runner at third base. With Kapler fighting for the position in right field, this will show Rays Manager Joe Maddon that he has two great arms to platoon with in right field this year.  Shouse got Chris Johnson to strikeout and got Smith to hit a fly to left to end the Houston scoring chances.
 

The Astros sent Fulchino back out in the bottom of the 4th inning. He quickly got an out on Kapler. Navarro then came up and hit a double to get himself into scoring position for the Rays. Kennedy then hit a squib hit down to first that Saccomanno took himself, but the play moved Navarro to third base. Sadler then came on and hit a RBI double to score Navarro and put the Rays up 11-1 in the game. Brignac came on and struck out to end the Rays fourth inning.

 
Saccomanno came out first in the inning and hit a ball back to Randy Choate, who had come on for the Rays. Choate got the ball and threw to first to Zobrist to get Saccomanno in time. Towles  then walked to give Houston a base runner in the inning. Bourn then hit another short ball to Choate, who turned and fired to Brignac at second to force out Towles. Maysonette then commited the third out to get Chaote out of the inning clean for the Rays.  Fulchino again came out for Houston and  got Rays Olmedo on a grounder to second, Crawford on a grounder to shortstop for two quick outs. Zobrist then hit a hard grounder to short, but was also out at first in time to send the Rays down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning.

 


 

The Rays sent Dewon Day out to the mound for the sixth inning and he quickly got Erstad to hit a grounder to Zobrist that he stepped on the bag to complete an unassisted play at first base. Michaels then quickly converted a second out and Newhan struck out to send the Astros down 1-2-3 for only the second time today.  Promising non-roster invitee Bud Norris then came out for Houston and dominated the bottom of the sixth inning. He got Burrell to hit a soft fly ball to left field for the first out. He then got Kapler inside to hit a foul pop-up that Towles got without problems. He then struck out Fernando Perez, who is hitting only .167 this spring for the third out and another 1-2-3 inning for Houston pitching.
 

Jason Childers then  took the mound for the Rays and Johnson led off the inning with a single to center field. Smith then struck out for the first out. John Gall then came up and hit a single to left field to move Johnson to second and put two Astros on base in the inning.  Humberto Quintero then came up and hit  a ball down to third that Chris Nowak stepped on the bag to force out Johnson, then fired the ball to Brignac to complete a double play and get Childers out of the inning.  Norris came out again for the Astros and got Tim Beckham to hit a grounder to short that was quickly converted into the first out of the inning. Sadler then came out and hit another ball that was quickly thrown to first. John Jaso then came up and hit another ball towards short that was converted to give the Astros now 3 straight 1-2-3 innings against the Rays since their blow out inning.
 

Childer again took the mound for the Rays and gave up a lead-off single to Reggie Abecrombie. Maysonette then got another single to put two men on with no outs. Brian Bogusevic then came up and hit  a short grounder to Childer who turned and fired to Richard at first for the first out.  Matt Kata then came up and struck out. that was the end of the day for Childers as Maddon brought in 2008 Rule-5 pitcher Derek Rodriguez to finish out the inning. Rodriguez needed to have a good outing to keep himself in camp. He got Brain Esposito to ground back to him and he quickly got the ball to Richard to get the Rays out of the inning with no runs scored against them.
 

Danny Graves took the mound in the bottom of the eight inning for the Astros. Graves is the only Vietnamese-born player to every play in the MLB.  He quickly got Olmedo to fly out to third base. Elliot Johnson then came up and hit a long fly to center field that Abecrombie got with no problems for the second out. Richard then came up and hit a deep ball to center that it seemed that Abecrombie has in his glove, but it was seen dropping to the grass for an error on the play. Matt Spring the
n came up as a pinch hitter and hit a RBI double down the third baseline to score Richard.  Grave got Nowak to hit a ball to short that Maysonette quickly converted to stop the Rays rally. At this point, the score was 12-1 Rays.

 

In the top of the ninth inning, the Rays sent out Rodriguez again. He got Esposito to hit a soft grounder to Beckham at short, who quickly threw to get him for the first out.  Smith then walked on 5 pitches and the Astros had man on for the third inning in a row. Gall then hit a single to right field to put two men on the in the last inning. Abecrombie then hit a single that scored Smith. But Rodriguez got out of the inning when Maysonette hit a ball towards Beckham, who tossed the ball to E. Johnson at second to force out C. Johnson for the last out of the game.

 


 

A couple of Rays players were working in unfamiliar position today, but none committed errors. Adam Kennedy was playing third base for only the first time in his major league career. He did have one ball squirt by him today, but he did man the hot corner today for the Rays. Zobrist was manning first today for the first time this spring and also did a great job defensively for the Rays. Brignac was again at second base and this might be a sign of things to come for the Rays. With Bartlett manning a secure shortstop position, Brignac might have to adjust to playing second in Triple-A to get a shot again in 2009 with the Rays.
 

Tomorrow the Rays do not play a Grapefruit League team. Instead they will have their only World Baseball classic tune-up game against Team Puerto Rican at Charlotte Sports Park.  the team is expected to send Mitch Talbot ( RH ) to the mound tomorrow with  Lance Cormier ( LH ), Winston Abreu ( RH ), and Chad Orvella ( RH ) scheduled to pitch in the Rays first night game, which will start at 7:05 pm.
 

The Puerto Rican team has a wealth of big name hitter and pitchers coming to Port Charlotte, tomorrow. They will be led by three  excellent MLB level catchers in St Louis Cardinals starter Yadier Molina, National League Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto of the Chicago Cubs and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. they will be catching pitches from the likes of  Frenando Cabrera, Javier Lopez, J C Romero, Ian Snell and Javier Vazquez.

Some of the heavy hitter in the infield for Team Puerto Rico will be Carlos Delgado, Alex Cora, Andy Gonzalez and Felipe Lopez. In the outfield they will have Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios and Bernie Williams.  this will be the first game type action for Williams since he left the New York Yankees in at the end of 2007. the team should have great hitting matched with good starting and relief pitching. They will play their first contest on March 7, 2009 against Team Panama in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 
Photo Credits today got to:  Dirk Shadd of the St. Petersburg Times, and the Rice University Archives
 

Rays Game was Secondary Today

 
         
 

I was all excited that the Tampa Bay Rays were going to be on the radio today as they traveled over to Jupiter, Florida via a small fleet of buses to play the St. Louis Cardinals. It was one of those games where you can measure your team against someone who you think has a playoff caliber team early in the Spring Training process. So I went on out to a local burger joint and got me a few chili dogs to get into the gastronomical mood for the action and turned the radio on in the car at 1 pm today.
 

 
Nothing, but Jim Rhome on the radio. Dang it, where are my Rays, and why are they not announcing the starting lineups, or for that matter just talking Rays baseball. I thought WDAE 620 was the place to be this afternoon. It was originally posted on the MLB.TV site that Game day Audio would be available for this contest. Now It is not like I  am not accustomed to disappointment, come on, I am a Rays fan, but I really wanted to hear that game today. But I do not blame MLB at all here. I wish it was on, but that is petty compared to other problems in the Tampa bay area right now.
 

 
As most of the community and the country know right now we have a crisis that is beginning to turn bleak involving a group of four guys who just wanted to go out amberjack fishing this weekend.  the guys were great friends, two of them NFL current players, and the other two were former team mates at the University of South Florida. They left a small municipal marine off the inter-coastal waterways near the Clearwater beach bridge area and ventured about 35-50 miles deep into the choppy waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday afternoon.
 

 
If anyone saw the MLB.TV game against the Phillies and the Rays, you saw what kind of winds were kicking up onshore, just imagine the type of waves were being produced offshore where there were no land resistance or even a buffer zone to absorb some of that wind out of the south. A Small craft Warning was in effect, but sometime people think they are above such precautionary warnings and that their experience and luck can produce great results. We might not what happened out in the Gulf for a few days, but the time is running out for the three men who were not found on the overturned boat with Nick Schuyler today.
 


 
 

Schuyler, who was rescued holding onto the outboard motor on the capsized boat talked to authorities that all four of the men were together on the boat as early as this morning, but Schyler admitted he some how lost consciousness and when he came to, they were no longer holding onto the small craft. The first thing you wonder is if this will have a happy ending, or if the idea has been put into place that this is going to turn from a rescue mission soon to a recovery mission.  the idea that the human body without the proper clothing can usually submit to hypo-thermia after about 18 hours in that semi-frigid water tends to give you the idea now that maybe the other three men are eother fighting for their lives, or have been engulped by the environment.
 

 
As a child I used to go out Spanish Mack fishing with my dad about 20 miles off the Florida shoreline. I can attest that the state looks small and far away even from that distance. I could never imagine the idea of swimming back into shore, or even going into the water even in the summer time when the water is in the high 80’s. All four men were wearing life vests, but could they have decided to try for shore as a team, or did something else happen out on the cold, dark night at sea.  Now that the boat has been located, it has made the efforts of the United States Coast Guard more concentrated on this smaller section of the Gulf. But even in 6-8 foot swells in the water, if a person can not wave, scream or even make any identifying motions they can do unnoticed in the vast blue hue of the water out there. 
 

 
Even the thought of using heat imaging tech might be past it time right now with the body temperatures of each of those three men in all reality under 90 degrees. But what can we do besides believe until we know anything better. The thought that their loved ones have to suffer kills me inside. I have seen both my parents taken by means that could not be reversed. But the ocean does sometimes give a second chance to people out on her waters. Can these three men possibly be swimming for the Florida shorelines and be within sight of land, or could a current have swept them off the boat and they are further into the perils of the deep waters?
 



 

 
I want to believe that they  have already been spotted by a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter and a tender is on their way to them right now. But as each hour passes tonight, it has the more realistic feel that recovery will be the news of the morning. It is a shame that two great NFL players, and another local hero from USF might have perished on that vast blue water we all take for granted at times.  Since the boat was found closer to land could the party have been working their way back into shore. It is common for fisherman to go to the most remote spot first then make their way back into shore before finally putting it back on the trailer and calling it a day.
 

 
Could the trio be swimming towards shore right now since they were 15 miles closer to the coast than expected. Or could the wind have pushed the boat that far into the sight of land since its capsize on Saturday afternoon?  You have to think that all four knew that a cold front was beginning to push its way into the Tampa bay region before they set out into the Gulf. Even with the waters so clam and clear in the morning, you have to think that they all knew the extended weather and only planned on being out for 6-8 hours then return before the squall line got close.
 

 
But even with the Weather Channel transmitting data 24/7, we can not effectively dictate the weather in a 3-4 hour cone of time. Sometimes weather can get sucked up into the jet stream and fly towards this region, other times it can take days after it runs into a stronger warm front. So when they left, the 2-foot seas did not look menacing. But the fact is that the boat was anchored out in the Gulf, which bring the fact they were fishing at the time a rouge wave might have toppled the 21-foot craft. The weather might have creeped up on them and they were inside the squalls before they realized it. Because the boat was not free floating give the impression that everything happened in a split second.
 


 

 
Hypothermia is a bad thing to have happen to you for any reason. The Gulf temperatures were about the mid 60’s on Saturday, and within hours you can start to have the effects of hypothermia.  It is not one of those dangers that hit you fast and furious, it creeps up on you and you might realize its effects right before it takes you. The first thing to go is your judgment, then your motor skills can deteriorate. Even a English Channel swimmer will tell you that a strong swimmer can battle the elements for four or five hours, but at some point you have to get out of the water to regain you body’s core temperature, or it has you in its grasp. 
 

 
I am truly hoping for a great ending to all of this adventure. Maybe they are sitting at Shepperd’s right now with blankets on them and a gallon of hot coffee being pumped into their bodies. Hopefully they are either just off shore by now and still swimming towards the lights of Tampa Bay. But then the stark reality hits that most people die within sight of land after a tragedy at sea. We all want a happy ending here. It is what we crave and what each of those remaining three guys deserve. But what the Lady of the Seas gives us sometimes is a reminder that she is a wild beast that will not be tamed. Hopefully for these three men, they will survive and have their lives and their family’s again to warm them. But at what time does a person’s mind turn from rescue to recovery when you can see the lights, but the body doesn’t respond?

 


 
 


Schuyler was taken to Tampa General Hospital where he remains at this time in stable condition. One would wonder if the three might have taken it upon themselves to try for shore to save Schuyler becuase of his condition. Sometimes you can not make sense of a situation even with solid and concrete facts in front of you. I am just hoping that whatever transpires in the next 24 hours, that the sea will grace the families of the other three men with closure and not prolong the ned of the events. I am not trying to predestine or even preach that hope is ticking away for the threes till maybe in the wate.  God Bless you gentleman,please  still come home safe.

 
 
Photo credits for today’s blog go to: Alexandra Zayas, Martha Rial and Paul Lamison of the St. Petersburg Times, and to the USCG Photo Corp.
 
 

Schilling Will Not be a Ray

 

  

 
Curt Schilling had been known to toss a few baseballs in his long career. He has also not been shy when it comes to spiking controversy or even dabbling a bit in fantasy. So it was only fitting that he throw out the idea that he wants to play again maybe for the Chicago Cubs, or the Tampa Bay Rays when he again starts throwing in 2009. Fitting that Walt Disney World, where dreams come true, is the place where he made his plans known to the rest of the baseball world. The Cubs might be more of a team that needs to believe in a dream right now than the Rays. Chicago needs to believe that the past will not come up and bite the Cubs again in 2009. The Rays will be fine without the former Red Sox hurler.
 

 
The only problem with his logic is that he thinks he can make the Rays rotation after being out of the game for almost an entire year.  First off, he is not even throwing yet, but is throwing out situations and even notions that he can even make either of these teams rosters. I under stand the competitive mindset of thinking positively, but shouldn’t you first get clearance to throw, then show you still have the right stuff before vocally auditioning for a job? He is not a 21-year old prospect, and even if the Rays listen, he might have to wait another 3 years  in their system before they can slip him in….and even that is not concrete. 
 
 

                         


 
We all know about the urban legends that he applied Hunt’s tomato catsup or even red modelers’ paint to his white sock during the World Series with the Red Sox.  I think the ankle really did have sutures put into it in 2004. I hope it is a just one of those legends that opponents throw out conjecture to hide the fact the guy has guts. Even if those legends are true or false, is this the kind of drama and actions we want out of one of the mentors for our  current Rays starters? But with even that out of the way, do we need a guy who sometimes needs a muzzle to control his vocal lashings. We all know about his rants and raves on his website, http://www.38pitches.com in the past.  And he has not been too timid on his weekly radio show when he was with the Red Sox. They can be both entertaining and also controversial at the same times. But do a team like the Rays really need a guy who has been out of the game for a few years when they have a few young pitchers who can throw as well, if not better than him right now. 
 

 
The 42-year old Schilling missed the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury discovered in February 2008. But with the bickering back and forth about treatment concerns between Schilling and the Red Sox,  The Red Sox Team Doctor Thomas Gill diagnosed Schilling a tendon injury and recommended to him a course of action. But Schilling did not agree with the team’s approach and went for a second opinion by Doctor Craig Morgan, who recommended surgery for the ailment. But Schilling chose to follow the Red Sox non surgical method and had hopes of pitching by the All-Star break in 2008.  On June 18, 2008, Schilling left the mound feeling pain and was again examined by Dr. Gill. Two days later he announced to WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan Show that he was going to have surgery and might have thrown the last pitch of his career.
 

 

On June 23, 2008 during the bicep tenodesis surgery on the effected area, a small under surface tear on the rotator cup was discovered and  a separation of the labrum was also repaired.  the prognosis was the he might be throwing within four months. During the American League Championship Series in 2008, Schilling again took the mound for the Red Sox. But this time it was as a ceremonial first pitch candidate, and during that throw he one-bounced a ball to the plate. He filed for free agency at the end of the 2008 season.  Now where has Schilling been since he threw that pitch? Has he regained the velocity and the control of his pitches to even consider such a move, or is it just a premonition of his impending good fortune?

 

                      
 

Schilling has basically come out and considers himself a blessing to both teams if they can get him on their roster. Is Schilling really a “curse-killer” or is he just a guy who was in the right place and the right time. I truly think he was a dominating pitcher years ago, to the point where in 2007 when he talked about joining the Rays, I listened to the babble. But now I think it is more commercial advertising than product. As Janet Jackson once said, “What have you done for me lately?”  Schilling has been out of the limelight for a bit, and might just be wondering if the twilight of his career went by without him noticing. 
 

 

But we do not want or need him on the Rays. Where would we put him?  Should we sign him to a John Smoltz kind of incentive-based contract that will only give him riches if he preforms to his 2006 level, or give him nothing but dead air if he flounders by the foul lines. I like the guy’s moxy, but not in Tampa Bay. He used to curs
e and whine and smack talk about the Rays like they had the bubonic plague, but all is forgiven because he needs a job?  Sorry, Rays pride runs deep in some of the faithful, and if he was signed it might not sit well.

 
 

Does anyone still remember his August 2005 comment about then Rays Manager Lou Pinella, calling him an “idiot”.  If you need a reminder of the comments by Schilling, let me print them for you again:  “The problem is when you’re playing a team with a manager who somehow forgot how the game is played, there’s problems,” Schilling said on a Boston radio station. “This should have been over a little bit ago. Lou’s trying to make his team be a bunch of tough guys, and the telling sign is when the players on that team are saying, ‘This is why we lose 100 games a year, because this idiot makes us do stuff like this.’ They [Rays players] said that on the field.”

 

             
 

 
Karma can be a mean woman. Pinella said back in 2005 days after the comments that he lost respect for Schilling because of his comments. Does he really think that Pinellas will have a short term memory and forget all about the incident, or even chalk it up to competitive nature?  And what do you think Pinellas is saying now, as the Cub Manager about a possible Schilling  and Pinellas reunion. I would not bank on that happening either. Lou has a great baseball mind, but even today, he still knows more baseball than Schilling could ever forget.
 

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.38pitches.com, NJIT Alumni Relations@Flickr.comwww.sportstable.com, Andy wirhaven@Flickr.com.

 

 

Jays Score 6 Unanswered Runs against Rays

 


 
 

I think the worst thing to play in as a baseball player is wind. Rain you can physically see, and you can take some kinds of precautions and safe guarding to catch a ball that is coming down in  a liquid shower, but with the type of wind that was swirling in Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday, you have to leave it up to the baseball gods and hope you get under it squarely. The wind was a monster while I was driving down to the ballpark. I must have used at least an extra 1/4 of a tank of gas trying ot make some sort of headway in the gale winds.

 
 

It was the type of wind you see during a real bad Florida storm. The type where your car is bounced around a bit, but can keep control on the road. But then when I got to the ballpark, that is when the thrill really hit me. As I was standing out on the boardwalk, it occurred to me that the wind was actually doing a bit odd diagonal running in from left field and doing a wild wind stream towards first base, not right field. Now on Saturday in Clearwater, the wind was coming right over the grandstands and into your face, so you knew that the ball would be pushed up a bit in the wind. In today’s little breeze, you would have to make a calculated guess as to where to try and catch the ball, then make a great play even getting it into your glove. I knew form the moment it hit me in the face that today’s game might have some wind aided assistance.

 
 

The Rays Jason Hammel was going to the mound again for his first start of the Spring Training season. Hammel got two shutout innings  during the first spring game and was making an impression on the coaching staff as he was trying to nail down that fifth rotation spot. Even if he is not considered for a rotation spot, Hammel made some huge improvements over the 2008 season as a reliever for the Rays. Since he was out of options , like Jeff Niemann, the Rays would have to either find a place for him on the 25-man roster, or lose him to another team if they tried and sneak him through waivers. There was a bit of a whisper in the stands that Hammel might be auditioning for another team today who had called about his availability.

 
So as Hammel took the mound in this windy day in front of 6,074 fans, he knew it was now up to himself to either boost his stock or have a setback in his drive for a rotation slot. Hammel got Toronto lead-off hitter David Cooper to hit into a grounder to Jason Bartlett, who was playing short today for the Rays for the first out. Then Russ Adams came on and hit a towering shot to right field that sent Pat Burrell to the wall where he had to go up and get the ball for the second out. Burrell had to rush to the wall and adjust a few times before finally taking it off the wall for the out. the wind was definitely a factor in right field on that play.  Hammel then issued his first walk of the day to Adam Lind, and gave Toronto their first base runner of the contest.  But Scott Rolen struck out to end the inning for the Blue Jays.

 
                              

 

Former Rays batboy Jesse Litsch took the mound for Toronto today with a bit of a mission. He is considered one of only three pitchers set in the Jays rotation for this year, and being penciled in at the number two spot, would have to have a great outing to pout confidence in himself and Toronto Manager Cito Gaston about his spot in the rotation. Bartlett came up first for the Rays and quickly hit a long ball into left field that Jason Lane handled easily for the first out. Carl Crawford then came on and got another fast out to put Litsch in control of the inning. But then Evan Longoria came to the plate and hit a screamer down the third baseline that hit the field sidewall and seemed to stop right there. Lane had to rush over and get the ball to keep Longoria to a double.  Pat Burrell then came up and walked to give the Rays a man in scoring position. Litsch then  threw a nice slider to Ben Zobrist that he put down towards shortstop, but could not beat out the throw to extend the inning for the Rays.

 
In the second inning, Hammel got Lane to hit a long fly ball to Justin Ruggiano in center field for the first out. Hammel seemed in control of the game when he quickly got Brian Jeroloman to hit a crazy high hit ball to Crawford in left field. Hammel then got a nice breaking ball over that Adam Loewen, the former Baltimore pitcher turned fielder, hit to Bartlett to get the Rays out of the inning without giving the Jays a base runner. Litsch came back out for Toronto and got a quick 1-2-3 inning by getting Dioner Navarro to hit a soft fly ball to right, the striking out both Gabe Kapler and Morgan Ensberg to end the inning with the Rays and the Jays still scoreless.

 
Hammel again took the mound for the Rays in the third inning and was headed for his longest outing of the spring. He gave up a lead-off single to Cooper before getting John McDonald for the first out. Then Evan Longoria made one of his two awesome defensive plays in the game by coming in and catching Wayne Lydon’s bunt attempt in foul territory to give the Jays just one more chance in the third inning.  Hammel quickly got Lind to fly out to Crawford to end the inning and give up only the one hit. Ken Tagahashi then came on in relief of Litsch and got a quick out from Fernando Perez to start the inning. Then Bartlett got a nice double down the right field line to again put a man into scoring position for the Rays. Crawford then took a pitch up in the zone down the right field line to score Bartlett from second. Crawford ended up with a triple on the play, but it was the ease at which he ran the bases that was simply a sight to see. He did not have that hesitation in his hitch of his stride, and that off season work on his hamstrings and legs was already showing results for him. Longoria then walked, and Burrell came up and hit a deep long fly ball to left field to bring in Crawford on the Sacrifice Fly. Zobrist ended the inning for the Rays and they now led 2-0 on the Jays.

 
 
       
               

 

Hammel again got to take the mound in the fourth inning for a bit of a bonus by the Rays coaching staff. It might be there time to let Hammel expand a bit in his pitch count since the starters might be getting some of the 2008 starters will get some extra innings in the next week or so. Hammel actually responded well to the additional work by getting Lind for the first out of the inning. He then gave up a infield single to Rolen, who put a nice ball down in front of Bartlett that he could not get to first in time to nail him. Brain Emaus came on as a pinch runner for Rolen.  Lane then  hit a liner straight at Zobrist at second base for the second out. With two men on, with two outs, Hammel then got  Jeroloman to hit  a sharp grounder to Longoria who stepped on the bag to force out Emaus, then threw to Zobrist to complete the double play.

 
 

 
Toronto again sent Tagahashi to the mound and Navarro sent a ball towards the warning track in left field for a lead-off double in the inning. Kapler then hit a long fly ball to right field for the first out. Ensberg then  hit a high fly ball to center field that was dropped by Lydon. It seemed that the wind was moving the ball on him and he could not make the right adjustments before it fell to the grass. Navarro advanced to third on the play. Perez then tried to put down a nice squeeze play, but the ball was too far out in front of the plate and Tagahashi tossed the ball to Jeroloman, who tagged out the sliding Navarro before he hit the plate. 
 
 

Tagahashi had to leave the game after apparently twisting his ankle a bit on the play. Brian Wolf came in and got Bartlett for the third out of the inning. Rays pitcher Carlos Hernandez then came on for the Rays in the fifth inning. Hernandez is also trying to secure that fifth rotation spot, and started the first game of the spring for the Rays, and Hammel came in to relieve him in that game.  For his efforts today, Hammel went 4 innings and gave up 3 hits and 3 strikeouts and still sports a nifty 0.00 ERA for the Spring. Hernandez quickly got the Jays in order 1-2-3 to again shut them down in the contest. Brian Wolf came out again for Toronto and Crawford again got another triple in the game.  This time the ball was coming towards Lydon and seemed to take a abnormal turn at the last moment the ball rolled all the way to the center field wall and Crawford had a stand up triple. Longoria then hit a hard ball that bounced off the wall to score Crawford and put the Rays up 3-0. 
 


Hernandez came out again in the sixth inning and gave up a lead-off single to Lydon, who was replaced by pinch runner Shawn Shoffit.  Adam quickly produced the first out and held Shoffit to first base. Lind then sent a low liner to center field that Jon Weber caught in stride for the second out. the ball was slowly dying in the air the entire time it was coming towards Weber, but he got the ball before it got below his waist for the out on a beautiful run.  Emaus then hit a pop fly to Bartlett to end the inning. The Blue Jays sent reliever Brain Bullington to the mound in the 6th inning. Kapler hit a fly ball to left for the first out. Ensberg then hit a single to right center field. Justin Ruggiano then hit a nice ball into the right center field gap that fell in between Shoffit and Loewen for a long single. Ensberg only advanced to second because of the last second drop in of the ball.  But the innning was quickly erased as Ried Brignac hit into his first of two double plays in the game to end the inning.

       
 
 

Hernandez got to come out again in the seventh inning and he quickly got Lane to hit a ball towards third base. Elliot Johnson had taken over for Longoria at third, and his inexperience at the position showed quickly as he bounced his first throw to first to Chris Nowak for an error. Hernandez then threw a wild pitch to get Lane into scoring position for the Jays.  Jeroloman then hit a single to right field to move Lane into scoring position at third base with no outs. Loewen then hit a slow grounder that Hernandez fielded and tossed to Navarro who tagged out Lane at the plate for the first out of the inning.  But the Jays still had two base runners as Loewen was no aboard with a fielder’s choice.  
 

 
Rays Manager Joe Maddon then replaced Hernandez with reliever Winston Abreu with two me on base. Abreu got Randy Ruiz to hit an infield fly ball that got two outs against the Jays.  McDonald then walked to load the bases. Shoffit then hit a single to center field that scored two runs and brought the Jay to within one run of the Rays. Scott Campbell hit a long fly ball to left for the final out in the inning. But the Jays scored two runs in the inning.  Bullington came back out for the Jays and gave up a lead-off walk to Johnson before Jeroloman got him trying to steal second base Weber the struck out, and Gabe Gross quickly produced the third out to give Toronto a 1-2-3 inning.
 

 
Abreu got his second relief inning in the eighth, and quickly Brian Dopriak got a  lead-off double that Gross had to chase down in left field. Emaus then got a double down the third baseline to score Dopriak and tie the game.  Calderone struck out for the first out.  J P Arencibia then hit a sacrifice fly to center field that scored  Emaus to put the Jays in front 4-3.  Loewen then struck out to stop the Jays rally.  The Jay sent out reliever Reid Santos for the eighth inning, and he got the Rays to go down 1-2-3. John Jaso hit a ball back to Santos that he threw to first for the initial out. Pinch hitter Shawn Riggans then struck out, and Nowak complete the trifecta for the Rays.
 



 

In the top of the 9th inning, the Rays sent to the hill Chad Orvella. He got roughed up a bit by Jorge Posada in his first action back after shoulder surgery in his last start. Orvella is trying to make the  Rays roster as a Bullpen member this year. Ruiz quickly got a ball down the third baseline for a lead-off single in the inning. Angel Sanchez then hit a ball to right field that scored Ruiz. Sanchez got to second on a wild pitch by Orvella. Shoffit struck out for the first out of the inning. Campbell then hit another ball down the third baseline, but Sanchez held at third base.  Dopriak hit a sacrifice fly to right field and scored Sanchez to complete six unanswered runs by the Jays in the game.  Emaus lined to Brignac at short to end the inning with the Jays up 6-3.
 

 
Reliever Dirk Hayhurst then came on to try and preserve the win for the Jays. Ruggiano, who has been on fire at the plate this spring hit a beautiful line drive for a single to lead off the inning. Ruggiano is hitting .500 this spring and has made some impressive hitting and fielding chances for the Rays. Brignac then hit into a double play to take Ruggiano off the base paths. On the day, the Jays completed four double pays against the Rays for the fifth inning on in today’s game. Johnson struck out to end the game for the Rays and send the Blue Jays back up to Dunedin with a victory.
 

While the Ray are currently 1-4 this spring, it is not time to worry. This spring, Maddon has been using a lot more of the minor league and non-roster invitees as both starters and replacements in the first five games. Compared to past seasons, this is a new technique for Maddon, who now has a pretty set infield and limited questions about his outfield depth in 2009. With the luxury of having a pretty set lineup for the 2009 season, he can experiment and make subtle changes to try and produce some new combination for future use by the Rays. Most of his starters, like Carlos Pena will be slowly inserted into the lineup, with his 2009 season lineup taking the field together by the fourth week of Spring Training.

 
The Rays Hot Stove Radio Show will be presenting their “Countdown to Opening Day” at  Joe Cracker’s in Port Charlotte, Florida tonight.  The sports bar and grille located at 1020 El Jobean Road will be hosting the show from   7 pm tonight on WDAE 620, “The Sports Animal.”  Regular season radio team Andy Freed and Dave Willis will be on hand to chat about the Rays Spring Training and also to interview tonight’s guests Rays starter James Shields, and Golden Glove winner Carlos Pena. If you are in the area, come on down  sit in while Dave and Andy talk with Pena and Shields. Afterward, the two stars will sign autographs for people and take questions.
 

 

 

After tomorrow’s game in Charlotte Sports Park against the Houston Astros, the Rays will be featured on MLB Network’s 30 teams in 30 days season preview broadcast. The MLB Network’s Hazel May will be here talking about the Rays and interviewing some of the team’s players and coaches.  Among the activities will be a virtual traveling studio where fans can see themselves being interviewed by Harold Reynolds and the MLB Tonight team.

 
The Rays want to announce that they will be hosting the 2009 Major League Baseball Alumni Association “Legends of the Game” contest on March 21, 2009. The event will feature such former greats as Jim Kaat, Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, Mike Myers, Bert Campaneris, and former Rays Doug Creek. There will be a Home Run Debry and “Legends of Youth” baseball clinic for the kids.
 

The Rays will be on the road on Monday as they travel to Jupiter, Florida to play the St. Louis Cardinals. Starting for the Rays will be Wade Davis ( RH ), who is also trying to win that coveted fifth slot in the Rays rotation. Davis has been very impressive on the mound this spring, bringing his new found change-up and a revised tight slider to the mound.  He pitched two scoreless innings last week against the Yankees, striking out Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano in order in one inning.  Possible Rays pitchers to follow Davis to are: Julio DePalma ( RH ), Jame Houser ( LH ), Jason Cromer ( LH ), Chad Medlock ( RH ), and Dale Thayer ( RH ). 
 

 
The Cardinals will send Adam Wainwright ( RH ) to the mound. Tentatively he will be followed by Blake Hawksworth ( RH ),  Shawn Garceau (  RH ), and Francisco Samuel ( RH ).


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

 
 
 
 
 

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