Orioles 5, Rays 4
This was one of ” those ” games for the Rays. The were their usual selves, putting pressure on the defense and being totally aggressive on the diamond, but they were also a bit off mentally in their game against the Orioles. I man, how often is it that you have your normally pretty reserved catcher going ballistic on the Home Plate Umpire for calls. Dioner Navarro usually is pretty silent, and might only speak to him while they are both behind the plate. I almost want to call the brain farts last night. There were a few plays that defines the term to great accuracy, and then there was the way the Rays brought new meaning to the words.
I mean there was cause for alarm during the 5-4 loss to the Orioles because they actually had the base runners to make it an easy 7-5 win, but blunders and stumbles on the base paths made the score pretty one-sided most of the night. Let’s first look at a wild and curious play by Gabe Kapler in the fourth inning. After Kapler got on board with a walk by Mark Hendrickson, he subsequently stole second base and the n got involved in one of the most confusing plays to end the inning.
After Navarro struck out for the second out in the inning, Ben Zobrist came up and slapped a nice ball to Melvin Mora at third base, who then threw the ball to Aubrey Huff and first base, but Zobrist has beaten the throw. But there was a late indication by the First Base Umpire Derryl Cousins. This put Kapler between third and home and in no-man’s land. He was then quickly tagged out by Cesar Itzturis to end the inning for the Rays. One wasted Run.
But that was not the only major aggressive move on the night by the Rays. In the first inning, Carl Crawford might have set the table for the entire night when he slapped a ball down the first base line and challenged Nick Markakis arm early in the game. Crawford could have easily been in for a double, but being aggressive tonight, he instead tired to stretch the play into a triple. Markakis quickly got the ball to Brian Roberts on the cut-off and he fired a missile to Mora , who tagged out Crawford on the belt to end Crawford’s threat on the base paths. One Wasted run. But that is not the end of it all, Evan Longoria then took one of Hendrickson’s pitches to right-center field for his first home run of the game.
Both teams had sloppy moments in the game, but the Orioles rebounded from their mistakes and regrouped in time to save the game. In the top of the second inning, Orioles short stop Itzturis was going out for a shallow flair hit into center field and he pulled up at the last second fearing a collision with Adam Jones, and the ball fell to the turf as well as both players. Crawford also had his moments in the field too last night. In the second inning a hard hit ball by Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun fell just in front of Crawford. Then in the fifth inning, Jones hit a screamer that Crawford missed by inches for a double. In the same inning, Zobrist bobbled a hit from Mora for an RBI single. If he had caught the ball, it would have saved one Baltimore run.
Mark Hendrickson is only one of 11 players to ever play both in the MLB and the National Basketball League. He was the 1996 second round selection of the Philadelphia 76’ers. He was also selected the same year by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 20th round. And we all know which path he took to first in his career. After being selected by the 76ers, Hendrickson still played semi-pro baseball in the NBA off seasons, and actually signed on May 20, 1998 to play for the Toronto club in their minor league system during the summer months. He finally came back to baseball in 2000 after finally deciding his NBA career was over.
Who would have known how great a decision that was for him at the time. For a great example just look back a few years ago when Hendrickson was a starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. Does anyone else remember that it was Hendrickson who started the April 6, 2005 game at home against the Blue Jays that saw the Rays scored 6 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat Toronto 8-5 Rays Manager Joe Maddon his first Rays win. By the way, the win went to another current Oriole, Danys Baez.
But also the Rays tonight were toying with their 12 game winning streak against the Orioles. the Rays had gone 15-3 last season against Baltimore, and was looking to again take control early in the ball game. But Hendrickson bent in that first inning giving up two straight hits, but rebounded to only surrender Longoria’s blast. The second inning had a few rough patches, but went smooth for the tall leftie. He basically cruised through t
he rest of the game to complete 5.2 innings and give up only 6 hits and a solo run in 91 pitches. Not lost on the fact is that in the month of April, there is no better pitcher in the last few years than Hendrickson. His 1.71 ERA is the best in the MLB for the month of April.
I know that this streak of homers by Longoria is going to end at some time, but isn’t it interesting that this young player is not even giving the sophomore jinx a look this season. I know it is way to early, and a slump or two is going to hit him somewhere, sometime this year. But what kind of magic is there in the air right now with him hitting the cover off the ball in almost every game. We have played 4 games, and we have 4 Longo long balls. I am not going out on a limb and say 162 homers, that is insane, but isn’t the fact this kid is scoring most of the Rays runs also a bit off the charts.
So he has four homers in four games. That is not the most impressive statistic. He also has a RBI streak going of 4 straight games. That is the one that is impressing me more right now. The kid is producing early, and the Rays are feeling his heat this season. But his multi-homer game last night might be huge right now, but what does the future hold for this young up-and-coming star. Too early to throw his name in the hat for anything, but could the All-Star voters already be looking at the Rays box scores? I will leave you with this small gem from the Elias Bureau from yesterday prior to the Rays versus Baltimore game. Only two other players have had RBIs in each of their team’s first three games of a season after coming off a Rookie of the Year Award: Marty Cordova for the 1996 Twins (3 games) and Bob Allison for the 1960 Washington Senators (7 games). I think we are seeing the light of greatness come early for Longo.
Steady Sonny Falls from Grace
You want to cheer for Andy Sonnanstine, at least I do every time he hits the mound. The guy is as dependable as the Swedish Volvo. I mean the guy just goes out there and throws and doesn’t get rattled or hit around often. But like the ads for the auto state, it is the safest car in the world if their is trouble. Sonnanstine had his own accident last night, but still is dependable and good for the long haul. the guy had a bad night, plan and simple. His pitches seems to not be hitting their marks last night. Rays Manager Joe Maddon is famous for saying the “Starting pitching sets the tone for the game.”
How true was that last night. Sonnanstine came out and gave up to straight hits to dangerous base runners Brain Roberts and Jones, and they made him play early. In the first inning he gave up three hits, and also saw his team behind 2-1 before Luke Scott hit a fly ball to right to end the inning. But he also had a few innings that were vintage Sonny during the night. He got 1-2-3 innings in the third,fourth before getting into his final trouble in the fifth inning. But the fifth inning started out great with him getting two quick outs before Jones hit his drive to left field that Crawford could not pull in for a double.
From that point on, it was not his night. He then gave up a RBI single to right-center to Markakis. Then former Rays Aubrey Huff found a hole between short and third while the Rays were employing their usual left-handed shift. that set up the long fly ball to right that could not be brought in by Zobrist. that put men at first and third with two outs, but a Wild Pitch by Sonnanstine pushed Huff across the plate for a 5-1 Orioles lead. And that was the end of Sonnanstines night as Maddon came out to get him. He ended up going 4.2 innings giving up 5 runs on 8 hits while throwing 92 pitches.
Rays reliever Lance Cormier again came out and showed why the Rays had such high regard for him this season throwing 2.1 scoreless innings to keep his ERA to 0.00 for the year. So far this season Cormier, who got the last roster spot this spring has appeared in two games and given up only 2 hits in 4 innings. His control is impressive, and his long-reliever skills are much needed in the Rays Bullpen this year.
We all know that the Rays have seen an offensive explosion by Longoria so far this season. His second homer tonight was a 2-run blast to left field that was never in doubt. But it was Navarro’s solo shot to the first row in left field in the top of the ninth inning that brought the team closer to a win tonight. But both Akinora Iwamura and Zobrist could not repeat the magic and both struck out to end the Rays chances. Also another wild fact is that all 4 runs were scored on homers tonight. That is the same result from Thursday game against the Red Sox. So at this moment, the last 8 runs scored by the Rays have been manufactured by the long ball. that is not a great trend to repeat nightly.
Photo Credits : 1) Gail Burt
on / AP
2) Gail Burton / AP
3) Gail Burton / AP
4) Michael Dwyer/ AP
5) Gail Burton / AP
Rays 4, Red Sox 3
Strutting like a Proud Turkey
Okay, I am going to shout loud and proud tonight for the Tampa Bay Rays. I do not care if you like it or not, because we have sent the message that we are for real again in 2009, and we want to win the American League East again. This was the kind of game that the Rays used to lose all the time up in Boston. It was the type of contest where the Rays let the Red Sox get back into the game, then let something happen that took the game out of the Ray’s hands. But that was almost the case this afternoon in Boston, but the Rays instead bent, but did not break to win the first series between the two powerhouses in the AL East.
The game was not in the bag until Gabe Kapler, who came on and pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in the top of the ninth inning, took a long fly ball in the triangular area of center field for the final out of the game. Boston did not sit down and die in this game, but played like a lion waiting for their chance to snatch the win away from the Rays. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Boston Captain, Jason Varitek tried to get the rally going strong by hitting a solo shot into the Rays Bullpen in right field. The shot was almost brought back into the field-of-play for an out, but Ben Zobrist, who had just come on to play right field, could not pull the ball back from beyond the fence.
It was that close. Seriously, it was a few inches that separated the Red Sox getting back into the game, or the Rays taking it without a fight. Instead, Varitek awakened the Boston crowd with hid lead-off homer off Rays closer Troy Percival on a bad pitch down and in. Boston did not sit back after that blast. After two quick outs, David Ortiz walked to give the faithful some hope. That in itself was a major thing since Ortiz came into this game 1-12 ( 0.83 average) against Percival lifetime. So with a man on base, and the winning run at the plate with two outs, the hard hit ball by Kevin Youkilis seemed to take forever to reach Kapler’s glove and end the rally.
If this is going to be the type of games that we are going to see in this series this year. I think I am going to get some Pepto and aspirin for the home crowd. This is what baseball is all about. It had the excitement of a late rally, and the back-and -forth pitching by one of Boston’s best pitchers. This is the type of game that will be the talk of the water cooler in Tampa Bay and Boston tomorrow for different reasons. In Tampa Bay, they will be talking about the powerful display put on by the Rays in this game. But in Boston, they will be talking about Kapler’s play and the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was all over the plate early, allowing a lead-off homer, and also throwing 100 pitches in 5.1 innings.
It was a great game to watch for either teams fans. That is going to pay dividends for both teams during their next home stands featuring these two teams. We know that Boston will be sold out, but it will drive up the demand for tickets and also make the people selling tickets a nice return. Even in Tampa Bay, where most Boston fans can take a plane ride and even buy tickets cheaper than getting into Fenway Park most nights, the ticket sellers will have a field day. But that is what playoff baseball felt like this past October, and hopefully when the Red Sox come to town the rest of the year, we can experience it over and over again.
Riggo to the Rescue
It was great to see Shawn Riggans get a start today against the Red Sox in the matinee. Anyone who knows me will not doubt know I am going to be happy to see him getting some time behind the plate. But I might not be the only one. During today’s FSN telecast, Rays analyst Kevin Kennedy, who is a former catcher, and a major league catching instructor, also talked glowingly about Riggans today. He made a point to show the way he would go down and block the ball correctly. That he was fundamentally sound, and also seemed to call a great game behind the dish.
Kennedy also noticed the great confidence that Garza seemed to have in the back-up catcher, and that Garza had a winning record last year ( 5-2) when Riggans caught him. Not lost was the fact that Riggans was the catcher that caught Garza during his one-hitter against the Florida Marlins last season. The only blemish on that day was a home run to Hanley Ramirez. During the game, with the center field camera focusing in on Riggans, you could see him give encouragement and calm Garza down after strikes were not called on a few close balls off the corners.
But that is why I like this kid. He had taken to this job after the Rays have thrown people at him to pressure him for the back-up spot in previous years. But this spring, the Rays did not bring in any one with a huge amount of experience because of their confidence in Riggans. That is the ultimate compliment to a back-up catcher. And Riggans did not disappoint the Rays today. He might have only gone 1-4 today, but his solo home run shot to right center field that went over the Red Sox Bullpen put them up 4-0 in the fourth inning. Riggans, who has had his share of injuries the past few seasons is poised and confident this year. And with him and Dioner Navarro taking care of this pitching staff, the Rays know that they have the right guys behind the plate this season.
Rays do some funky shifting in the Infield
During last season, the Rays employed a few unusual plays during game designed to intimidate hitters by moving players to spot that show a huge spray pattern in a hitting chart. We saw the shift used against David Ortiz and other left-handed batters last year that looked like something out of an old fashioned managerial scrapbook. But Rays Manager Joe Maddon is a student of the game, and computer generated charts showing hitting patterns and also tendencies can be a useful weapon to beat opponents. Some times they work like a charm, other times they still sneak a hit through a hole somewhere in the defense.
Most people know the left-handed shift where first baseman Carlos Pena will play off the bag ( unless there is a runner on first) and Akinora Iwamura will play about 10 feet off the clay into shallow right field. Then you have shortstop Jason Bartlett either right behind the second base bag, or more towards the inside of the bag. All this time third baseman Evan Longoria is the man on an island in this formation. He usually lines up in the shortstop position, but sometime has to hug the bag because of some batter faking bunt attempts down the third base line. But then th
ere is the new formation we saw today.
It is a bit different, because before today it was foreign to see them also do a shift for right-handed batters. It was not used all game long, but they did employ it numerous times today, and it had mixed results. Mostly the Rays used it against Dustin Pedroia and Jason Bay today to make them hit over the defense. Unlike the left-handed version, in this new variation you saw Pena more between first and second and not guarding the right field line. Iwamura basically played right behind second base, and the right side of the infield stayed at their positions.
Using this new formation today, the Rays seemed to be adjusting on the fly, but got Mike Lowell to hit a sharp liner to Iwamura behind second in the sixth inning that would have been a single to center if the shift was not used. Pedroia and Bay went 1-8 on the day, with Bay getting a single over Joyce’s head in center field into the triangle near the 420 sign in center field. It will be interesting to see this formation used again and again this year by the Rays. But like they always say, if it is not broke, don’t fix it. But in this case, if it shuts them down, keep doing it.
Evan Almighty to the Monster
I know it is crazy to think that Evan Longoria is going to keep hitting homers at this pace. I mean he has a few unusual streaks going on here. First off, this is the second game in a row where he has hit a double in his first at bat of the game. and both times they have been down the third base line into the corner. Put that together with the fact he is hitting .429 so far this season, and you have a guy who is not showing any sophomore slump at this time. And that is great for the Rays. While Pat Burrell finally got his first hit of the season today, Longoria has been consistent at the plate so far for the Rays.
But it might be his other streak that people want to talk about in Tampa Bay. Not the fact that he has made awesome defensive plays so far this year. Stealing a few hits off the lines so far in the Boston series and turning them into easy outs. He did get beat fully on the lead-off bunt single down the third base line by Jacoby Ellsbury today, but he rebounded by taking a ball headed for extra bases by Pedroia in the ninth inning for the second out. No people want to talk about his second home run in as many days into the Green Monster. Today’s slam went into the third row of the Monster seats, and he almost had another in an earlier inning, but the ball curved foul into the Upper Deck seats to the left of the Monster. Longoria is making people believe he is the real thing. Another good indicator that he is seeing ball well is the fact that he missed hitting for the cycle today by not getting a triple. If Longoria was not seeing the ball the size of beach balls right now, the Rays might have been in a bit of trouble in this series.
Today’s Rays Ramblings
I am curious on this new Rays promotion I was hearing on the radio last night. It was announced that if the Rays score during the fourth inning of a game, a local eyeglass company Innovision will give 10 kids eyeglasses and examinations. How cool is that! Seriously, in this time when a lot of parents can not afford the medical insurance for kids, eye insurance and benefits might not be the first thing on their minds. So it is an great idea for this kind of promotion to take some of the worry and financial burden off some Tampa Bay families.
I also found it quite amusing last night during the game to catch a glimpse of the Red Sox scoreboard that kept track of pitches for the respective pitchers from both teams. It was kind of funny to see that when Scott Kazmir left the mound on Tuesday night, that he had thrown 445 pitches according to the board. I am not genius, but to thrown that many pitches might take at least 3 1/2 games for a normal pitcher. I know it seems like when Kazmir pitches, he is throwing a huge number, but last night he seems to be finding that control that missed him a few times in 2008.
Not lost is the fact that the Rays plated all four of their runs via the long ball today. They started in the top of the second inning when Matt Joyce got his first hit of the season by sending a ball over the head of J D Drew and into the right field stands. Dice-K had left a 2-seam fastball high and towards the middle of the plate, and Joyce made him play for the missed location. Then in the third inning, after Iwamura walked to lead-off the inning and stole second base, Longoria connected on his shot into the Green Monster for a 3-0 lead. Then in the fourth inning, Shawn Riggans got his first hit of the year by blasting a ball into the Red Sox Bullpen to complete the Rays scoring for the day.
Is Garza the New Red Sox Killer?
I know that might sound a bit premature to use that kind of terminology concerning Matt Garza, but considering he has now won his last three starts against the Red Sox it might be becoming more hip. In 2008, the Red Sox hit .250 against him both at home and at Fenway Park. In those games he only gave up 13 runs. And that is only during the regular season. It doesn’t even include the 2008 American League Championship Series when he started two games and held the Red Sox to a .170 average, with 8 hits and 1 run in those games.
That would show that he is beginning to take an active role in being a key figure in stopping the Re
d Sox for his team. It is not to say that he was without any problems today. He did get called for going to his mouth in the bottom of the first inning and it gave Pedroia a free “ball” in his at bat. But it did not come back to haunt him as Pedroia hit a fly ball to Joyce in center field for an easy out. But today he did get his third victory in a row against the Red Sox, while only allowing them to hit .154 today. In his 7.0 innings today, he gave up 4 hits and a solo run in the sixth inning. In that inning he gave up a lead-off double to the left-center field gap, then two batters later gave up the long double to Bay that scored Youkilis.
All in all, Garza is beginning to show the signs of what the Minnesota Twins envisioned from him when they drafted him from Fresno State. He is gaining more and more control of his pitches and is beginning to let the game flow and not get too upset on the mound. When he was called for the infraction in the first inning, the old Garza would have argued with Home Plate Umpire Jeff Nelson and might have been thrown from the game. But today he just had a frustrated look and let it slide off his back and struck out Ortiz next. The maturation process might not be complete on Garza, but he is showing a huge improvement on the guy we saw on the mound early in 2008.
Photo Credits: All today’s photos are from the Associated Press and taken by Michael Dwyer.
Rays Renegade and M C Hammer, Summer 2008
One of the greatest thing about being a Rays fan was the Hess Express concert series last season. The Rays brought such acts as The Commodores,Trace Atkins, Loverboy and M C Hammer to the Trop on special Saturday night concert events. Well, the Rays are not going to let a great thing disappear as they just announced most of the acts that will grace the stage again on Saturday nights this season. These concerts were held right after the conclusion of select Saturday games and are FREE with the purchase of a game ticket. Not only did the team go 8-0 during these concerts in 2008, but the team averaged over 30,000 fan for each of the concert events.
Most of the concerts in 2008 were sold out before the day of the game, so it might be a great thing to purchase your tickets now before they sell out again. Only one performer or act is not signed, sealed and delivered yet for the concert series. It will be the May 30th game against the Minnesota Twins. there should be an announcement before that date on the act to appear. But there are plenty of confirmed acts that will knock the socks off of Rays fans this summer. Just a bit of advice, if you are seeking a great location for the events, the best area to purchase tickets is in the even numbered area from Section 126 off of first base, to Section 142 in the right field outfield seats. Any other location on the lower level to the north of Section 142 will not be able to get a clear view of the concert stage that will be set up facing south by south west towards the stands.
Full Season Ticket holders who have seats in the Home Plate Club, Whitney Bank Club, Fieldside Box, Lower Infield Box, and Lower Box locations will again get wristbands for field access for the events. I will keep you posted and let you know if any news comes down concerning this great option for up close and personal viewing of the concerts. I know I was situated in the front rows of every concert last season and got some great pictures and video of the events. I even have a few videos floating around on Youtube and the Internet taken from those events with Trace Adkins and The Commodores. Be sure to check the below start times for the game this summer. They are designed to give the fans the true experience of the concert series without having to stay in the Trop past midnight on any of the concert events.
Here is the tentative start times for games on those dates:
Saturday, May 30 TBA vs. Twins 4:10 p.m.
Saturday, June 13 Ludacris vs. Nationals 6:08 p.m.
Saturday, June 27 Pat Benatar vs. Marlins 7:08 p.m.
Saturday, July 11 Smash Mouth vs. Athletics 6:08 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 1 Daughtry vs. Royals 6:08 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 15 B-52’s vs. Blue Jays 7:08 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 22 Big & Rich vs. Rangers 7:08 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 5 The Beach Boys vs. Tigers 7:08 p.m.
TBA – May 30 – Rays vs. Twins, 4:10 p.m.
Not known yet, but you know they will be great!
Ludacris – June 13 – Rays vs. Nationals, 6:08 p.m.
You can call Chris “Ludacris” Bridges a number of things: hip-hop superstar, actor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, restaurateur, pitchman, online visionary and columnist. All of these labels are accurate. The Grammy Award-winning, Atlanta-based entertainment maven continues to expand his reach, and his musical prowess remains as potent as ever with singles such as “What Them Girls Like,” “Rollout,” “Money Maker,” “Stand Up,” “Southern Hospitality” and “Get Back.”
Pat Benatar – June 27 – Rays vs. Marlins, 7:08 p.m.
Four-time Grammy Award-winning singer Pat Benatar is best known for hit songs such as “Love Is a Battlefield” and “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” She has sold more than 12 million records, including two multi-platinum albums. She also has 19 Top-40 singles to her credit. Billboard magazine ranked her as the most successful female rock vocalist of all time.
Smash Mouth – July 11 – Rays vs. Athletics, 6:08 p.m.
With surf and garage influences, Smash Mouth found a hit in 1997 with the ’50s-influenced “Walkin’ on the Sun.” The group was formed in 1994 in San Jose, Calif., by vocalist Steve Harwell.
It became a No. 1 modern rock hit and pushed the album into the Top 40. The follow-up album Astro Lounge was released in 1999, generating the hit “All Star.” The group also contributed numerous tracks to a plethora of motion pictures, most notably their cover of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” (from their eponymous release) to the soundtrack of 2001 hit movie Shrek. Many of these appeared on the August 2005 Smash Mouth hits collection All Star Smash Hits.
Daughtry – August 1 – Rays vs. Royals, 6:08 p.m.
Grammy-nominated guitarist, singer and songwriter Daughtry was the fourth-place finalist on the fifth season of American Idol and has since landed a deal with RCA Records. His band’s self-titled debut album sold more than 1 million copies after only five weeks of release, becoming the fastest-selling debut record album in history. In its ninth week of release, the album reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Daughtry’s debut single “It’s Not Over” soared to No. 1 on the Adult Top-40 chart, the Hot AC chart and the Billboard Top Singles chart. His follow-up singles “What About Now,” “Home,” and “Feels Like Tonight” also shot up the charts and remain top industry hits. His second album is set for release this summer.
B-52’s – August 15 – Rays vs. Blue Jays, 7:08 p.m.
The first of many acts to cement the college town of Athens, Ga., as a hotbed of alternative music, the B-52’s took their name from the Southern slang for the mile-high bouffant wigs sported by singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, a look emblematic of the band’s campy, thrift-store aesthetic. The five-piece group, which also included founding member Fred Schneider, the B-52’s are known for such hits as “Rock Lobster,” “Love Shack” and “Roam.” In 2008 the band returned with a new album for the first time in 16 years.
Big & Rich – August 22 – Rays vs. Rangers, 7:08 p.m.
Country music duo Big & Rich is comprised of singer-songwriters Big Kenny and John Rich. In 2004, they released their first studio album, Horse of a Different Color, which featured what has become their signature song, “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)“. This album also had three Top-40 singles, including “Wild West Show.” In 2005, they released Comin’ to Your City, which included the Top-5 single of the same name. Their 2007 album Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace peaked at No. 1 on the charts.
The Beach Boys – September 5 – Rays vs. Tigers, 7:08 p.m.
Beginning their career as the most popular surf band in the nation, The Beach Boys finally emerged by 1966 as America’s preeminent pop group, with hit singles such as “Surfin’ USA,” “Little Deuce Coupe” and the album “Pet Sounds.” The Beach Boys remain an iconic group to this day, with timeless hits like “Kokomo,” “Good Vibrations,” “Barbara Ann,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” According to Billboard, The Beach Boys are the No. 1 selling American band of all time. They have had 36 Top-40 hits, the most of any U.S. rock band.
Be sure to buy your tickets early and be ready for some great time with the Rays this summer as we crank up the volume and again take in a night of great baseball and awesome music. Again, be sure to buy your tickets early to avoid the games selling out and you missing these great bands in 2009.
Photo Credits: 1) RRCollections
4) Hollo Photographics ( Chris Hollo)
This season might feel a bit different to the Red Sox faithful when the Rays come to town. Unlike in 2008 when the Boston Red Sox seemed to own the Tampa Bay Rays at home, 2009 might have a different feel to it. And the reason for that is that the Rays have finally conquered a common fear when young teams come to one of the oldest ballparks in baseball. They see beyond the cramped and elbow-to-elbow visitor’s clubhouse to the real reason it is heard to win here. They have overcome the fear of the aura of this ballpark.
I know that seems funny to say, but let me just show you the difference between 2008 and 2009, and it might make a bit more sense here. It all started in 2008 on May 2nd when the team made their first trek to Fenway. The Rays dropped all three of their games in the historic park by a combined score of 26-10 in favor of the home team. That is not a typo, the Rays surrendered 26 runs in 3-games. At that time the Red Sox still held the Rays at bay based on mystic and their ability to pile on the runs when things began to implode. In this first series, the Rays best offensive output was 4 runs in the Saturday game, but they lost that contest 12-4.
Then in early June they again came a-courting to Fenway and again left with three losses after surrendering 19 runs to their own 6 runs in the series. In that series only the opening game, which was a 7-4 loss had any closeness at all to it. The other two games the Rays only scored a solo run in both contests. The Boston mystic had a firm grip on the young Rays. But a strange thing happened while the Rays were holding that top spot in the American League East. Their confidence and offensive power came to the forefront. They began to win games they used to lose by unsuspecting plays and offensive outbursts. But could they shake the Fenway curse?
The first judgement on if they could tackle the curse came on September 8, 2008. In that contest the Rays were fighting to keep their top spot, and the Red Sox were within striking range of ruining the Rays party. The first game of the series saw James Shields again not able to crack the curse when they dropped the game 3-0 to the Red Sox But with Scott Kazmir taking the mound in the Wednesday contest, the Rays stood a chance. For years Kazmir had been the best weapon against the Red Sox at home for the Rays, but in 2008, they had lost the previous 7 home games in Fenway Park against Boston.
But on that faithful night, after beating Boston 5-4 in a 14 inning contest, the curse was set aside and the Rays finally could celebrate a win beneath the Green Monster. It was again the Red Sox killer Kazmir who might have pitched his heart out, but a Ray making his first at bat of the season set the tone for the victory. Dan Johnson, who was just called up to the Rays was late to the ballpark after fighting traffic to the game. It was his battle against Jonathan Papelbon that pushed the game into the Rays favor. With one swing Johnson deposited a Papelbon fastball into the Red Sox Bullpen and tied the game. That one swing set up one of the biggest emotional win on the road of the year for the Rays.
The next night, With Matt Garza on the mound, the Rays again left Fenway winners after a 4-2 win. For the first time in a long while, the Rays had taken a series in Fenway Park from the Boston Red Sox. Also in this series, the two teams each scored 9 runs. the gap in offense had begun to even out between these two powerful teams. For the first time in a long time, the Rays knew they could win under the Green Monster with some consistency. We all know what happened the rest of the season for the Rays.
The Red Sox faithful had to settle for a Wild Card berth, but they still had faith. Then in the American League Championship Series, after the Rays topped the Chicago White Sox, they again took aim on the Red Sox. After the first two games of the series, the teams came back to Fenway Park tied 1-1 in the best-of-7 series. The October 13th game is one that the Red Sox faithful want to forget about after the Rays stun the Red Sox 9-1 in a game that saw their leftie Jon Lester take an odd loss to the Rays. But that was not the worst of it yet. In the next contest, the Red Sox sent their sly slinger Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound to try and salvage the series.
He did not fare better than Lester, failing to stifle the Rays offense and the Red Sox again saw defeat by a score of 13-4. After an off-day for each team to regain some power and confidence, the Red Sox did manage to take the fifth game at home 8-7 to force the Rays to end the series at their home to keep their playoff dreams alive. But the tide had shifted in this series. For the Rays, who did not begin the year with any type of confidence in Fenway Park, now seems to control the diamond. In the ALCS, they out-scored the home town Red Sox 29-13. The shift of confidence and swagger showed that the Rays now knew they could win in Boston.
The young team no longer tried to find ways to win, they knew they could win without gimmicks and tricks. Their pitching got better and better throughout the year against the Red Sox. Matt Garza in the playoffs became a second evil weapon against the Red Sox. From losing 7 straight games in Boston, to winning 4 out of 6 contests, the Rays finally could say they might have a Boston answer. So we begin 2009 a day later, but still with total dedication and ability to again take it to the Red Sox. Unfortunately we did not see a victory in Opening Day against the Red Sox, but there were moments that hinted of a confidence lingering about winning in this hallowed grounds.
The 5-3 loss might have been their first loss in Boston in 2009, but it a
lso was a game that they fought back in, and almost got enough to shake the rafters in Beantown. For the Rays were matched against a superior pitcher that day and almost still pulled the rabbit out of the hat. The 5-3 loss was still a loss, but the way the young team scrapped and fought to get their 3 runs showed they had no fear anymore in Fenway. So then we pan to last night game, which saw the Rays killer Jon Lester on the mound against the Rays. The game was in Lester’s hands until the third inning when the Rays finally broke through with two straight hits to put a man in scoring position at third with no outs. It is funny, the Rays scored their run after Evan Longoria hit into a double play.
The Red Sox knew that getting the double play on the young hot shot Rays was more important that one measly run. They were the Red Sox, they would get that one back. And they did in the bottom of the third inning. And the game teeter-toddered until the Rays came up in the top of the fifth inning. In that inning the Rays finally got to Lester and plated 4 runs to get their margin of victory against the Red Sox. So, does this mean that this series is finally going into the book as a “must win” for the Red Sox. For years they could count on at least 2 out of 3 against their southern rivals. they knew that a game in Fenway Park held a 10th member of their team on the field, the stigma of Fenway.
But with this now being tossed by the wayside by the young and confident Rays, is the time ripe for each team to finally admit that every game in Fenway will be decided on the field from now on, and not in their minds. Fenway is a beautiful ballpark with history in every crack and seat bolt. But now the Rays no longer seemed to be bothered by the history and the famous address. They now know that their abilities in the field and at the plate might be enough to win in Boston. It has been a long time coming, but since September 2008, the Rays are 5-3 in Fenway, and for the first time in the Rays history, they know each game can be won.
Photo credits: 1) Associated Press / Elise Amendola
2) Associated Press / Elsie Amendola
The worst thing you can do as a team is come up against a hot pitcher in the beginning of a series. It was the kind of performance the Rays might have feared, even with a game time temperature of 46 degrees. Well yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays came upon a pitcher that was as hot as the surface of the Sun. I mean, do not take into consideration that he only struck out Carlos Pena, who tried to bunt a ball down the third baseline in the top of the second inning, three time himself in the contest. I mean, the guy was just so hot that he got 5 one-two-three innings, including the first two innings before running into a buzzsaw inning where he threw 23 pitches and only one run. I mean he threw only 93 pitches in seven innings, but shut down the Rays offense totally. It seemed like only yesterday these two teams met on October 19th, down in St. Petersburg to decide who would face the Phillies in the World Series.
In this start, he only gave up 2 hits, and struck out 10 batters. And some of his pitching just fooled and perplexed the Rays hitters. Consider in the second inning, He struck out Pena to begin the inning on 3 pitches, then he got Pat Burrell to fly out to Jason Bay in left field on the first pitch he saw from Beckett. Then, Beckett got Matt Joyce, who was making his Opening Day debut, to take the first pitch and hit a wobbly fly to Dustin Pedroia for the third out. He had Joyce so ahead of the swing that his bat ended up in the stands behind the Rays dugout. It was a beautiful massacre at the plate for the Rays as they combined all day for only 3 hits. In his seven innings, Beckett only surrendered one solo run to the Rays.
And the top three men in the batting order were the only one to hit off Beckett and the Red Sox Bullpen. Akinora Iwamura got the first hit in the second inning when he slapped a single to left field to move up Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett. But the Rays had to wait until the sixth inning, when Carl Crawford hit a double into the left-center field gap for their next hit. But that would be all that Beckett would give the Rays. But that is what many people feel is the true Boston strong point this year is their starting pitching. Beckett proved that with this outstanding outing. Considering that the Rays hit only .209 against him in 2008,but they did hit a robust .342 against him in the 2008 post season. But even with that playoff blurp on his record, it seems that Beckett has been coming up big for the Red Sox against the Rays for several seasons. And him posting a opponents batting average of .091 to begin 2009, might spell a long year for hitting in the American League.
It was a fitting Opening Day. It had all the splendor and frills you hope to see on the first real day of baseball for either team. I was especially taken back by the Boston Red Sox players coming through the crowds,down to the field during their introductions. That was a very classy move, and looked even better than the one done by Philadelphia a few days earlier. This one actually looked more “fan friendly”, and the ladder was not taken away before Red Sox Manager Terry Francona reached the turf. I still do not know why Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel did not smack someone in the head over that blunder on Sunday night.
But Fenway Park looked great decked out in all the colors and ribbons fit for a king. And the crowd was very supportive of former Red Sox Gabe Kapler during his introduction. I believe that it was the first time he has been back in the old yard since he left. Between him and Rocco Baldelli, it seemed to be a tie in the vocal cheers and jeers. But how fitting that the Rays seem to be playing their playoff roles in 2008 in reverse the last three games. First two in Philly, now three in Boston. That is a pretty ironic setting considering that the MLB schedule was made up last summer, and the league had no idea the Rays would rise to the top.
But then you have guys like new Rays Matt Joyce and Joe Nelson, who were making their first Opening Day rosters, and appearances. Joyce, who was acquired in the Edwin Jackson trade this off season fought to get to this point by changing the minds of the Rays coaching staff and front office to get a shot at playing center field for the Rays while B J Upton rehabs back in Florida. This was the first time Joyce had ever been to Fenway Park, and he certainly did not know the nuances of playing the outfield here. So he went to the Rays resident expert on Fenway Park, Gabe Kapler and got some valuable knowledge and insight to the corners and odd angles out in center field.
Joyce did not make the greatest debut at the plate, going 0-4, with two strikeouts. But he did make a basket catch running towards the wall in the fourth inning off the bat of David Ortiz. He also made a second catch with his back towards the infield in the seventh inning off a blast by Jason Bay for the third out of the inning. But Joe Nelson might not be the guy you would pick to not ever being on a Opening Day roster. The 34-year old reliever has been around for a while. He has played with the Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, and a short stint in 2004, with the Boston Red Sox. At no point in his previous appearances has he been on the roster this early in the season. Two other Rays players were making their first Opening Day rosters. Both pitchers Grant Balfour and Jeff Niemann were with the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls to begin the season in 2008. Both were in attendance at Fenway Park yesterday, but neither got a chance to appear in the game.
There were not a huge amount of great moments for the Rays in their season opener against the Red Sox. But there were a few hints that the team is not going to sit back and relax either in 2009. The rays again began their quest to be the best running team in the league by stealing three bases on the day off of Boston pitching. Gross got it started after walking in the third inning by stealing second off of Varitek and Beckett. Then in the eighth inning, Bartlett, who was hit by a pitch, and Iwamura, got got walked by Hidecki Okajima, converted a double steal on the Red Sox to both get into scoring position. It is a positive sign to see the Rays running early in the counts, and trying to take pressure off the Rays hitters.
The Rays did have limited scoring chances in the game, but they also stranded 5 runners, including 3 who were in scoring position with two outs. But they did come through in the clutch in the third inning when Crawford came up with the bases loaded and hit a sacrifice fly to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field for the first Rays run of the year. Gross came in to score that first run of the game for the Rays. The Rays did try and make another scoring opportunity in the sixth inning when Iwamura walked to start off the inning and Crawford hit his ball into the left-center field gap. But the Rays went down 1-2-3 after those plays to strand both men on base.
The Rays did convert against the weakest point of the Boston pitching staff, their Bullpen in the eighth inning. With Okajima on the mound, the Rays lead off the inning with Bartlett getting hit with a curveball. Then Aki walked to put two men on base for the Rays. After Crawford struck out, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona brought in reliever Justin Masterson to face Longoria. He ended up hitting a 2-run RBI single through the gap in center field to bring the Rays within 2 runs at 5-3. Masterson then shutdown Pena and Burrell to get out of the inning with no more runs. That was the Rays last great chance at scoring in the game as Jonathan Papelbon came on in the ninth inning and got Joyce to pop out to Pedroia before striking out both Dioner Navarro and Gross to end the game.
Shields looked better than the score in the game yesterday. His command was just a bit off at times, but he also made some incredible pitches for outs during the game. He did start the game off great by getting Ellsbury to strike out looking with a great pitch on the corner of the late. But he also got into trouble early in the game giving up a solo shot to Pedroia off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster for an early 1-0 Boston lead. Ortiz, got a single off the first pitch he saw today, and J D Drew hit a beautiful shot off the Monster for a double. Shields walked Bay before getting himself together and got Mike Lowell to pop out in front of the plate to Navarro to end the inning with the bases loaded.
Shields then seemd to be gaining control by putting the Red Sox down 1-2-3 in the second inning. But in the third, he gave up a lead-off walk to Pedroia. Keven Youkilis then got his first hit ever off Shields to left field. Shields then seemed to have a bit of concentration problems as he went to his mouth on the mound, and Home Plate Umpire Tim Tschida issued a “ball” to Drew. He then hit a sharp ball down the first base line that Pena had to dive to save extra bases and runs. Drew did get an RBI on the play. Bay then hit another ball right through the same hole down the first base line to drive in another Red Sox run. Lowell then hit a ball high off the Monster for an RBI double. Then Jed Lowrie hit a short looper between Bartlett and Crawford that neither could get to in time. Varitek then hit a hard ball to Gross in right to stop the bleeding at 4-1 Boston at that time.
After a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, Shields got a great bit of defensive help after giving up a lead-off double to Youkilis in the fifth inning. Drew then walked and gave the Red Sox two early base runners. Bay then hit a sinking liner towards Crawford, that he tried to grab, but it went off his glove. But Crawford’s quick thinking had him fire the ball to third base, and Longoria applied the tag to get Youkilis out at third base. Lowell then hit a grounder to Longoria that he simply stepped on the bag for the force play on Drew, then fired the ball to first to complete a 5-3 putout and end the inning. Shields last hit given up was a solo shot by Varitek around the right field foul pole.
Something to take into consideration here is the fact that as the weather does get a bit colder, a pitcher can lose his feel for his breaking pitches. I am not trying to make excuses for Shields today, but his fastball and slider did seem to pop on the corners at times, and his change-up did have a bit of a lack of bite at times in the outing. I would be curious to hear from Shields if the weather did have a bit of a factor in his control problems with his breaking balls at time during the game.
Every stadium in baseball has those revolving signs behind home plate that seem to turn every innings or two to show sponsors and events coming up. I had to chuckle a few times during the game yesterday as the Red Sox has an ad for Wise potato chip products up there for most of the first three innings. What is wild about this is the fact that is is a logo of a owl’s eye. When batters are in the box, the eye seems to glare out at you on the mound just beyond the back-side of a left-handed batter. I am not saying it might be a bit confusing, or even a distraction on the mound, but it did give me a few chuckles during the game.
We should see Rocco Baldelli make his Red Sox debut today to face left-hander Scott Kazmir. How wild will it be for Baldelli to actually take an at bat in the field that he fantasized about as a kid playing for the Red Sox. We all know he has played here before with the Rays, but this will be his first time in the batter’s box wearing the Red Sox colors in Fenway Park. Also, a wild fact. Rocco Baldelli’s picture is actually on screen during the movie “Fever Pitch”. He became friends with a few of the people on the movie’s production crew, and there is suppose to be an audible mention of him coming up to bat in the movie, and his photo on the screen above center field.
Photo Credits: 1) AP ( Charles Krupa )
2) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
3) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
4) AP ( Charles Krupa )
5) AP ( Lisa Poole )
Now you really want to know why having a guy of this height on your roster is a positive thing, just look at current San Francisco Giant pitcher Randy Johnson. Because of his powerful fastball coming in at a downward angle, bot his power and breaking pitches seem to have a bit moire bite to them at the plate. The intimidation factor is big for a pitcher. And when you are tall and can seem to almost reach out and touch the batter in just your wind-up, it can be a huge mental edge going into a game. I think that Niemann doesn’t have the most powerful stuff on the Rays staff, but he does have the advantage of that downward flow to the plate, which should keep some guys deep in the batters box on him to begin the season.
Now, I addressed a bit of this issue earlier in the blog, but the real guy who is the winner of the Hammel trade is actually reliever Lance Cormier. Just like last season, the last roster spot of the Spring went to a reliever. Last year it was the battle between Grant Balfour and Scott Dohmann, that surprisingly took Balfour to Triple-A to begin the season. But Balfour went down with a chip on his shoulder and actually worked harder than in Spring Training to again get back up to the major league level. This year, Cormier had some fantastic moments on the mound and looked to just be the odd-man out in the Bullpen.
But with Hammel’s trade, it not only opened a long-reliever slot for him, but will give him more time to convince the Rays that he is the man to keep once Jason Isringhausen is ready to make his Rays debut on the roster later in the month. So it will be a short period of time that Cormier will have to convince the Rays to keep him and maybe throw another reliever on the hot seat, or even trade them to keep his arm on the staff. During this spring, Cormier made only 10 appearances for 16.2 innings, but his 1.62 ERA was the highest totals by a Rays reliever this spring. his control was also spot-on all spring, which is evident by his 12 strikeouts and 2 walks. He was the only true reliever to post double digit strikeouts this spring for the Rays. Balfour was just one short with 9 for the Spring.
Rays Watch Parties for Red Sox Series
Fresh off the Internet after midnight tonight I got word from the Rays Fan Experience Coordinator Sean Liston, that the team has finalized plans for watch parties during the Rays Opening series in Boston. These events will also have some samples on hand to check out that will be given out in the home stand starting on April 14th. Among those items on display at the events will be the replica A L Championship ring, the World Series Cowbell, and the mini A L Championship trophy.
But that is not all, on hand before the game will be Mr “Magical Season” himself, Rich Herrera with the Rays pregame and post game shows live at the location. Liston mentions on his email that he want the Maniacs and other Rays fans to shout and cheer so loud the “Rays announcer Rich Herrera can’t hear himself think.” All locations will be in the Tampa and St Petersburg region this series, with additional watch parties to be announced in other areas of Tampa Bay in the future. So be sure to come out and support the Rays, and maybe make some new Rays friends at any of these three locations during the Red Sox versus the Rays series from Fenway Park.
Tuesday, April 7th:
Lee Roy Selmon’s Restaurant, 4301 West Boy Scout Blvd. Tampa Florida ( 813) 871-3287. This location is right across the road from the entrance to the International Mall complex off Sligh Avenue just east of the Tampa International airport. Rich Herrera will begin his Pregame show at 3:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Wednesday, April 8th:
Smokey Bones Restaurant, 8020 Citrus Park Drive, Tampa, Florida ( 813)920-9434. This location is located just west of the Veterans Expressway ( Toll) at the Gunn Highway Exit. Rich Herrera will start the pregame at 6:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Thursday, April 9th:
Hooter’s Restaurant 10400 Roosevelt Blvd, St. Petersburg, Florida ( 727) 568-0685. This restaurant is located off Roosevelt Blvd just east of 9th street North between 4th Street North. It is hidden a bit off the road just to the east of the Walgreens in the shopping plaza. Rich Herrera will begin his pregame show at 6:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Ex-Ray Gomes Does Everything but sells popcorn for Reds
With the final rosters having to be submitted to Major League Baseball by 3 pm on Sunday, one former Rays player did not make his respective teams 25-man rosters for the 2009 season. This one was a complete surprise, because of the comments and posturing of his manager in recent discussions about the player. Jonny Gomes not making the final Reds roster was a bit of a surprise since he seemed to have hit the ball well and was very active in the field during his spring training tryout with the Cincinnati Reds as a non-roster invitee. He started off real strong in the beginning of Spring Training, but did tail off a bit and ended up hitting .244, with a team high 4 homers and 12 RBI’s. Red’s blogs the last few days have voiced their opinions loud and clear as to the demotion and sending of Gomes to the minor leagues. Cincy GM Walt Jocketty told Cincinnati.com that he hopes that Gomes accepts the minor league designation.
But Gomes was trying to do everything in his power to make this squad, even trying to take reps at a position he has not played a lot during his major league career. This spring, Gomes was trying to be the back-up plan that first base for the Reds, but now that he is not on the squad, that duty will fall to current catcher Ramon Hernandez, who has played the position only 7 times during his own MLB career. Gomes was jobless from Dec. 13, when the Tampa Bay Rays, the only organization he had played for, announced they wouldn’t offer him a contract, to Jan. 19, when he signed with the Reds. “I wouldn’t recommend getting non-tendered to any ballplayer,” Gomes said. “But it’s a way to get you ready for spring training. I just came in ready for anything. You never know what you’re going to be asked.”
In Gomes’ case, that has included learning a new position. Gomes has done all the Reds have asked and more. You pretty much completely discount early spring training stats – unless you’re in Gomes’ position. He knew he had to get off to a decent start to remain in the running for the left field/extra outfielder spot. But how did Gomes think he did during this spring to make it a tough decision for the Red not to sue him this year. “Not being on the 40-man, minor-league invite. When it comes down to cut time, you don’t have a good argument when you have 21 at-bats Gomes told me the other night. “I had to come in here ready, physically, mentally, all of the above. I felt I have.”
Gomes’ situation is not completely foreign to him. He spent some time on the fringe of the roster with Tampa Bay. “I know how that feels,” he said. “Coming up through the minor leagues without establishing myself as a big leaguer, I played winter ball a lot. A few seasons, I was into early February playing winter ball still. I always felt that was an advantage for me. This year, not being on a roster, I just felt I couldn’t risk going down there and getting hurt. I had to do my own work in the cage. You do what you’ve got to do.” Well, personally Jonny, I hope they see the errors of their ways and get you back into a Reds uniform soon. You are the type of player every team needs in their dugout, and in their clubhouse. I know I would play you on my squad if I was a manager.
My Weather Channel Views
Man oh man. I have been here before. As Yogi Berra once said, “It was Deja vu all over again” today. I still can not believe it has been almost 161 days since our last official rain out involving the Tampa Bay Rays. That is right, we have not seen the tarp, or even a mention of that liquid sunshine since October 27, 2008 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania during Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. How ironic is it that basically two out of our last three games have been postponed by the actions of random drops of liquid. Wow, considering that we play in a domed stadium, this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often to use during the regular season.
I mean some of the only games to ever be postponed at Tropicana Field had a rain element, but it was associated with Hurricanes, not basic thunderstorms. But for the Rays to again be subject to a postponed game via the elements is just nature’s way of telling us they have control, and not us or Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. We even streamlined the regulations and ruling in our MLB rule book to keep these water goblets from controlling our baseball existence. We have modified and summarized the paragraphs to facilitate a strong and useful guide to rain and its hazards…right? I mean come on, is the real problem just a simple rain shower, or could all of this simply be erased with a bit of better meteorological brain usage about the climate changes involved with Spring weather and its surprising effects on the Northeast and Central regions of the country.
I know that the logistics and the early bird planning into the years schedule are submitted and even laid out before the September games even start each year. But it truly amazes me that in the last few years, the dominant section of the country to get Opening Day games is the Northeast, and when a game is postponed by weather, we all gasp. I know the schedulers do not like the Rays, that is fine with me, I am not here to change society, just the machine that keeps picking northern cities that can still be subject to snow and rain to begin the season. I mean come on eggheads, you have to know that this first week in April can be as predictable as a storm in the Gulf of Mexico.
And with that simple knowledge, can’t we pick southern or warm weather climate for the first series of games every year. I know that in September, you can usually get approval and even make solid appointment dates on the upcoming years calendar for stadiums and concession needs. But why is it that this is the second year in a row that some kids, and kid/adults have to suffer and stroll aimlessly back home after coming into the city to see the first big game of the year. Cleveland fans had their days ruined last season. Chicago White Sox fans have their dreams halted for at least 24 hours because of snow. Okay, solidified masses of rain can be dangerous to play on, that is a gimme, but could it have been avoided if the team had played this first match up in Kansas City today?
I am not saying that the Rays should be playing Boston at home to open the season. I think the Boston fans might think it was too early to again hit the parking lots of the Trop. since Game 7 of the ALCS. But seriously, we have a forecast for rain today, and the only wetness that might hit your lips in our stands is the gentile first sip of that beer or soda after you enter the stadium. Planning can be hard, I can understand that. But I also know that every team submits a proposal to MLB about their wants and desires for the upcoming season. And in this reports is the fact that every team wants to start the year at home. And what is wrong with that you say? Not every team can get their initial wish list, and hard decision have to be made about the schedule.
But shouldn’t the easiest bit of the schedule be to pick cities that do not have a history of weather situations in April. I mean if Buffalo, New York had a MLB squad, they would certainly be on the road the first week of the season almost every year. That is just the fact of the Great Lakes weather pattern to drop snow and rain in the region in this time of year. With the Central region or the Iron Belt getting hit the last two years with late Winter weather, should the Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit region get a slate of Opening Day games? There will be a debate about this for years, but doesn’t MLB get embarrassed, and even a bit nervous that fans can not just take a second day off work, or even make their way to the ballpark after a postponement.
I know after the October 27th game in Philadelphia, I had to give my ticket to a close friend who lived in Boyertown, outside Philly to the conclusion of Game 5 of the World Series. I did not have the money to book another flight home, or even find a hotel room within the Philly city limits for the following day. Conventions and other activities kept me from staying for that final game. You might remember that the Rays had to find lodging in Delaware at the DuPont Hotel to even be able to stay for the extra two days for the conclusion of the game, and the series. I am not going to close this my stating that everyone needs an domed, or even a retractable roof stadium up in the northern states. Far from it.
I would not have Progressive Field/ The Jake, so high on my list of favorite stadiums if it was not for the city skyline right there hovering over the stadium. I would not have the same homely feeling about Wrigley field if I could not see the people in the neighboring high apartment building also cheering along with the stadium hopefuls. And I can definitely say that Camden Yards would be doomed by a dome or any kind of retractable roof on it. The sight of the warehouse in right field is as symbolic to me as ivy on Wrigley’s walls, or the plane beacon twinkling in the Cleveland skyline. I just want, hope, and dream that some compromise can be reached so that we can somehow play these games in the first week of April on time. Summertime is made for rain delays and also weather’s magical changes. But not when the energy and the anxious anticipation of a season is dashed by rain, snow or sleet.
Hambone Goes to Mile High
I going to miss that tall and lanky kid. I truly am. But I am not the only one, there are several people already posting comments and lines about Jason Hammel being traded by the Rays yesterday to the Colorado Rockies. The kid was well liked by the Rays faithful. More because he was still a huge kid-at-heart. Hambone was one of those guys you wanted to hang out and maybe fish or just talk sports with after a game. He was so perfect for the fan base of the Rays. I remember his smirky grin and smile daily down in the Bullpen, but you never saw him get upset on the field. I did however see a glove thrown at the bench after a bad outing, but that is just part of the game. Frustrations come and go, but people like Hammel come along once in a while, at best.
So when the Rays said he was going to pitch on Sunday in an inner-squad game, I knew he was about to be jettisoned from the team. Even though fellow tall and lanky fifth spot prospect Jeff Niemann was going to be throwing in the same game, you knew that Hammel was going to be the prize. Not just for his youth and experience already in the MLB, but because he has not had any serious health or injury concerns yet in his career. That is a major thing in baseball trades. People see the numbers and reports, but the physical elements play just as big a factor in the conclusion. So Hammel will take his career mark of 7-15 with him after his three years up with the Rays. He will be used first as a long-reliever for the Rockies, but it could work into a few odd starts during the season for him.
But who would have imagined that the guy who once put on the mascot costume for Treasure Valley ( Ore.) Community college would ever be pitching on a major league field. That is right, during his freshman and sophomore years he would don the Chukar bird costume and entertain during his teams baseketball games. At 6 foot 6 inches, you might think he would be on the court in uniform, not in costume. But that is the character of Hammel. He is that “good old boy” that people talk about, he is the guy who think beyond just himself both on and off the field. I mean how many people know that this guy is a real artist. I am serious here, he has designed tattoos for team mates, and also has a “Hammel” original on his own body.
That is right, he designed his own body art. It is a baseball ( of course) with red flames trailing off of it with a baseball diamond in the background. Hammel is also a huge supporter of Barry Zito’s charity “Strikeouts For Troops”. He was first informed by fellow Rays Bullpen member Dan Wheeler about the charity, and quickly got a hold of Zito and the organizations staff to provide his services. So for every one of his 44 strikeouts in 2008, he donated money to the organization. But he is also one of the first guys to always volunteer to go to events like the Moffitt Cancer center and do clinics and work with the kids on their baseball skills, or just throw the ball around for a while.
Hammel is one of those guys you want to root for once he leaves your team. I am so sorry to see him leave the Rays and head to Colorado, but I also know I will see him again real soon. You might remember that the team has a 3-game series in Denver from June 16-18th, and I will be in the stands for that Inter-League series. I was kind of on the fence about going to this series before the trade announcement. Now I want to go to just wish him well, and see that toothy grin one more time.
Thank You MAX Blog Voters
I am truly humbled and thankful for everyone who took the time to vote and also even consider me for the 2008 The Max Blog Tourney still going on at http://themax.mlblogs.com. Seriously here people, I am having a great time voting every day for these match ups and never thought I had the mustard to get past the top 16, much less be considered for a Final Four slot. It can be truly mesmerizing at time to see how people view you online. Most nights and day we see the comments and the rankings, but sometimes an event like this can show you why you love to write these blog entries every day, and look forward to it.
I love writing, and with your votes you have told me you like what I write most of the time too. I am sorry that all of the bloggers in this tourney can not survive the match ups. I mean my last match up was with fellow American League blogger Jen, our favorite White Sox fan from “The Diatribes of a Law Student”. She is an awesome writer who seems to get better every month and is streaking up the ranking because of her muses. I know I checked at one point on Friday night and she had a good lead, and I thought it was all over for me at that point. But somehow I got a last minute surge on Sunday. Please do not forget to vote for the other people trying to gain a spot in the Final Four. I know today’s match up had my buddy Don at “Rockpile Rants” going up against “Eat, Sleep, Baseball.” This is another great match up that deserves your votes for either guy. So do not forget to cast your ballots at http://themax.mlblogs.com today. I am one blogger who can attest that every ballot and vote counts in this great tourney.
Photo credits: 1) www.boston.com ( Jim Davis)
2) Associated Press (unknown)
Okay, we are about eight hours away from the first “real” pitch of 2009. I find it kind of exciting that the current World Champions will debut on the first ESPN telecast trying to again go 162 games and then through the playoffs to regain a spot where they can defend their title. So here we are at the perfect 0-0 record that will forever change in our hearts and minds after tonight. It really doesn’t matter to me who wins this contest, because we all win just by having baseball “live” on the television, radio and on MLB.TV again this year. But there is also sorrow involved in this day. For by 3 pm today, some Major League dreams will be realized, and some will have a last second free fall back into the minor league system of their teams or back home to rethink their baseball futures.
I remember once reading a quote by newly inducted Baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson on Spring Training. He said, “This S### don’t count, This S### doesn’t go on their bubble gum card.” And that is so true of what today truly means. We are finally over with the pretend games, and are about to embark on the quest for greatness that all 30 MLB teams strive for when we report in February each season. I always look forward to this time of the year for many reasons. Be it the time to purchase that new Rays cap, or uniform top, or to know that I will again be in my second home for the next several months enjoying the sights and sounds of Tampa Bay Rays baseball.
But I know that everyone enjoys this time of the year for different reasons. It can be a time of renewal and anxious anticipation for some, and also could be the dark cloud precursor to impending doom and gloom for the people who have doubts and fears about their team. But the first day should always be a day of pure hope and joy. It is the time when the record is clean, and you have endless possibilities in front of you for the coming year. But with this game tonight also come a level of peril and uncertainty to the season. We are now going to have to came to the realization that some of our team’s goals and aspirations might falter after today. We will lose games, I do not think any of us has a dream of 162-0 for the year. Well, people outside of New York do not think like that. But will the joy of April become dismal in May or June, or can we keep this train running all the way to late October?
But that is what today is all about people. Plain and simple and with no sugar-coating, tonight’s game is about rebirth and renewal of expectations for all of our teams. Be it the rookie starting the third and second for the San Francisco Giants, or the unproven starters at the bottom of the Oakland A’s rotation. There are hopes and dreams of success and the failures of our rivals. Will the experiment work out in New York by both the Mets and Yankees, or is the swapping of left fielders in Philadelphia a plus or minus in the long run. Questions will be answered, and not all of them will have the results we want to hear this season. Everyone knows who is favored, and who is considered the also-rans.
But every year and also-ran take the reins and runs wild for a period of time shocking not only baseball, but the world with their unity and chemistry. I love that the media has exploded the phrase “This year’s Rays” out to the masses like the team might not be as good, or better in 2009? I remember Mark Newman, our guru talking about predictions yesterday in my blog entry. In it he stated, ” Actually no one knows anything and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. We all have theories based on various data and intangibles and sentiments, but at the end of the day this is the most competitive balance in Major League history and any of 30 teams can go to the World Series. I should know, I have spent eight years now writing the words “shock the world” over and over on MLB.com. It’s why everyone is fired up this year.”
That summarized it all up in one neat paragraph. We all want to be that psychic that can tell you the future by just following the numbers or the trends. But as Newman hinted at in his remarks, this year I think the facts and figures hide the more important aspect of baseball in 2009. We might not have the parity element that the NFL has been moving towards in the last 5 years, but the differences in the 30 teams beliefs for the season actually make each strong in their own sense of the word. This is the time of the year where the hype is set high, and the possibility of failure is reduced to almost zero. But that is true human nature. We are creatures of a society that craves winners. And for that reason, we have to be totally positive and ooze confidence vibes to survive the intial storm of the season.
I do not have all the answers. I always give my opinions on here and either you like them or hate them. I have been lucky to not attract a huge amount of negative comments and attacks, but they do come, and I do not shy from them. That is the greatest thing about being a baseball fan. You can love the fact that David Price is a budding superstar, and that he will control the mound for the coming years. That could be true, but in the same vein, we can disagree on his starting the season in the minors and both exist tog
ether in the stands and cheer for the team. But all that is moot for tonight. For tonight is the true essence of baseball. The first game will be held in the same stadium that saw its home team celebrate their World Series victory.
Emotions will be high in the stands in Philly. We will see a multitude of emotions in that first moments of the game. From tears to cheers, to the barrage of flash bulbs lighting up the night for a brief moment during that first pitch. Tonight is about the celebration of baseball………….pure and simple. And I know myself, like millions of fans watching from our collective living rooms around the country will all have a moment of true emotion during tonight’s game. But as the Rays showed on the wall of the Budweiser Brewhouse during February’s Fan Fest, The Playoff number is set at 162 tonight, it is the time for every team to start to take those first steps towards their own dreams of raising that trophy into the cool Fall night. For tonight we start another great chapter in our baseball lives…..version 2009, let’s hope that everyone can see the magic and the possibilities as endless, if not just for one night.
As usual, Sean Liston, who is officially listed in the Rays front office description as the Coordinator of Fan Experience, could best be described as the wildest front office member in the MLB. I actually mean that in a good way. He reminded me of myself at 24, you might remember the feeling open to the world’s sarcastic and wild notions of fairness and irony, but also naive enough to know life can be a roller coaster with great results. I miss those times. As he usually does when we first get together, he was instrumental in getting us motivated for the upcoming shoot, and also made sure we knew the process we were about to embark on, and that it will be time consuming to say the least.
So because of this impending painting adventure, we had to walk around towards Gate 4, which is located at the SW corner of the stadium to enter without disturbing any painting or prep work on the floors. As we walked through the stadium exterior, we got to see the players’ cars down in the South lot, and a few people were trying to figure out who cars were in the lot. I knew who drove two of the cars, and pointed them out to a few people as we walked around the dome. When we finally reached the building entrance, we strolled in to a entrance way that was already decked out in the new colors and designs. Walking behind the home plate suites and party areas, we could see that they also were getting some renovations and paint changes this off season. But the wild part was the awesome paint design of the Rays blue followed by a yellow striping on the stadium entrance hallways that seemed to draw you into the stadium bowl.
Once inside the bowl, you got that giddy anticipation of excitement and anxiousness of the impending fun. We all walked down towards the bottom of the section that was located right behind the Visitor’s Bullpen area and took our seats in the first 6 rows of the section. I did not even notice the number of the section, but I am going to guess we were in the 127-129 section of the seating bowl. Again Liston was in there leading a few Rays cheers and getting the crowd worked up into a lather for the “Ground Rules” producer and staff waiting on us to all get seated for the shooting. It was then that I began to take in a wild view of the entire re-works and updates to the stadium since we last saw it after Game 2 of the 2008 World Series.
So as we sat there wondering how we might be utilized for the video we got word that this segment will be played before every home game in 2009. The video group that does the in-stadium entertainment for the games has only been with the Rays now for two seasons, but they have proven in the past to be a great addition to the Rays entertainment value with their awesome skits and video shorts during the 2008 season and playoff run. About this time we also learned that the Rays were trying to formalize a Rays fans viewer party at a local wing joint. As we sat there, we were reminded that it might not be finalized today, but if it is, we would get information about it after the shoot. ( No news yet, but I will get it right to you if it breaks this weekend).
I am not going to bore you with all the rules we shot today, but a few of them are really funny, and I will have a few close-ups since they put me in the front row for the first segments of video shots. They also decided to give me a close-up during a foul ball segment based on my glove coming up, and the female director loved my blue eyes. Ahh, the Cal Ripken Jr. eyes do it again for the third year in a row. the Rays invited a local youth baseball league ( the Burg League ) to also be used as young fans and also give themselves some great publicity during the shoots. But I have to tell you, that is why I was never a counselor at a camp or youth academy as a kid. Having 40 kids running around behind us all yelling for Raymond, who decided to pop out and show off his 2009 style and mannerisms to us today.
But in the end, after 4 hours of kids shuffling in their seats and multiple takes and angles on the video segments, we got to take a take our leave of this great stadium. As I was walking out we did the last take on a video segement to be sued during the ” Emergency” segment. But as I strolled out into the concourse, I was greeted by a huge Foggdog-type decal of B J Upton on the stadium inner walls. It seems that the Rays have placed these huge wall sized photo decals of their star players all over the blue wall of the stadium for the fans enjoyment this year. I loved seeing some of the great additions and the grounds keeping crew beginning to put the touches on the infield clay and foul lines.
But the wildest adventure of the year is the formal announcement that the “Maddon’s Maniacs” are now an official club of the Rays. From that first meeting with maybe 50-75 of us crammed in the upper area of what is now the second floor of the Ted William’s Museum, we have grown and grown daily to now take on guidance and leadership from MLB Advanced Media. That is the true test that you have made it, when the New York office of baseball leads your around the stumbles and the tumbles of becoming a great arm of the fan experience.
So before the games when they begin to play the “Ground Rules” up before the crowd in the stadium, I know I will get nervous every game. Now I have been a a few of these videos over the years, plus on the “First Pitch” cover, but now my big mug will be up there every game for the entire year/ I hope I do not embarrass the Rays or the “Maniacs” with my quirky looks and sarcastic expressions. But what I am most proud of is the fact that this small group of devoted fans has grown and grown so much that the team now had formulated them into a formal club like the “Golden Rays” or “Rays Rookies” organizations. It makes me so proud to know that the spirit and the passion of the fan’s has seen such an increase in the last 3 years. The sky is the limit, but knowing that the club is now officially a part of Rays baseball forever is the greatest gift for some of us today. The video is just icing on the cake, and I love cake!
Photo credits: All photos are by RRCollections today.