May 14th is Special to Me
This date, May 14th, has always been special to me. It has been a day of reflection and possibilities. It has been the alpha and omega of my life, not only as a person, but as an athlete. In High School, this date usually signified either the District Track and Field championships, or the State Decathelon event held at the University of Florida. But since that time it has come to signify other things in my life. But with regards to baseball, this date can be murder on me and my team.
For the last 10 years, the Tampa Bay MLB franchise has not won a single game on May 14th. In 8 of those 10 years, they have gone down in defeat. The only blemishes on that record is the simple fact of two “Off Days” thrown on the schedule in 2001 and 2007 to break up the streak a bit.
Since 1999, I have used this dat as my circle on the calendar. It has been my epicenter of baseball for the last 10 years. I mean ever since 1999, I have either traveled or sat idle on this day in response to where my Tampa Bay Rays are playing baseball. That is right, I use this date as my personal symbol of fandom to the Rays. It is my own form of celebration to the team that descended on my home town to make me have more remarkable summer nights than just cruising Clearwater Beach, or sitting in a sports bar watching the NHL playoffs.
So here I go doing a 10-year recap of those games and their results. Just because I can here. Most people will problably not give a big whahoo about all of this, but on this day…….It is what I say that goes.
1999: Tampa Bay D-Rays vs Anaheim Angels. (AWAY)
That is right, the Anaheim Angels. The Halos had not gotten politically correct yet to include the “LA” region back onto their name yet. But in this contest the Rays starter Bobby Witt did not get any offensive support and they fell to the halos 8-3. A total of 5 hits were dished out by the Rays during this contest. The bottom of the Rays order did most of the damage with John Flarety hitting a homer in the game. But the Rays did convert three double plays in the game.
2000: Tampa Bay versus Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)
This was my first trip outside of the country since my Army National Guard Tour almost 10 years earlier, and it was my first trip to this awesome Canadian town. I got a wild distaste for customs on this trip, but that is a story for another time. In this game, the Rays sent Esteban Yan to the hill in this game. Yes, the same Yan who would become the Rays closer later in his career. But the game belonged to David Wells, who was the pitcher of record for the Jays that night.
He threw a great 7-hit 2-run game against the Rays, but the Rays Bullpen let the game get away from them. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Rays reliever Albie Lopez gave up 2 runs to hand the Jays a 3-2 win against the Rays. After the game I got my first taste of feeling a bit out of place when a French speaking woman was trying to have a conversation with me in a neighboring bar, but I could only undertsnad every fifth word. Guess that day was a total disaster for me.
2001: Off Day
I decided on this day to just go on out and hit a local eater that boasts its steaks and fine conversation during dinner. It was the first time I had ever ventrued into this side of Tampa, and I made my wallet pay for it all. I had heard the rumors and the praise of Bern’s Steakhouse for years, but this was my first venture into the wine and steak emporium. If oyu have not heard of this fine dining experience, then you have missed out on some of the best subject matter to ever tell at a cocktail party.
The place is done in a classic French style complete with red velvet and very over abundance of photos of people no one seems to know on the wall. But it is the telephone book size of their wine list that has them boasted as the world’s largest collection of wines in the world. Add to all of that an extended aging process on the beef, and you have ambrosia on a plate. I am going to stop here before I drool more on the keyboard.
2002: Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees ( AWAY)
This was my first baseball venture into the Bronx. And I did wear my Rays gear into Yankee Stadium and has a minimum of problems. I had secured a seat right above the Rays dugout using a Yankee insider I knew for a great ticket. This game was over real early as Travis Harper did not even last 3.2 innings before Steve Kent came on in relief. It was my third game on this date, and I was beginning to think I was the cause for the loss.
But in reality, the team was up against Roger Clemens this night, and he threw a 3-hit, 1-run outing at the Rays. Steve Cox did have a good night, getting two of those hits in the game. My old buddy Greg Vaughn did get a hit as the DH that night. But in the end, the Rays fell by a 10-3 score because of the Jason Giambi and Forge Posada home runs.
2003 : Tampa Bay vs. Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)
Here I go again on my trip to Canada, but this time i am bringing a French phrase book just in case. I decided to stay at the stadium hotel this time, but it did not help in securing a win for the Rays. In this contest, my old friend Cory Lidle was throwing against the Rays. We sent Dewon Brazleton to the mound, who reminds me of Jeff Niemann sometimes, and he got roasted with 7-hits and 5-runs in the outing. This was also the time when we had John Rocker on the Rays roster, and after the game I chatted with him a bit in the hotel lounge.
But the Rays were beginning in this year to assemble one of their key members for the next 6 years. This was Carl crawford’s first full year in the MLB, and he had mixed results in this game. He did go 1 for 5 in the game, bu
t Aubrey Huff was the star of this game, but it was not enough as the Rays lost 7-6. the Rays did try and mount a counter atack by scoring 4 runs in the top of the eighth, but Cliff Politte secured his fourth save of the season by shutting down the Rays.
2004: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians (AWAY)
This was my first venture to “The Jake”, and it was the first time I was mesmerized by a stadium. They were celebrating the 10th anniversary of this stadium, and it did not even look a few years old at that point. This was the night that my flight got delayed in Atlanta and I was still sitting on the tarmac at 5 pm EST, but we descended towards Cleveland airport at about 20 minutes before game time and the banking of the plane to get a great shot of the stadium breaming with excitement was the highlight of my trip.
I did not get there until the fourth inning, and it was “Ladies Night” at the ballpark. I have to say it was the best present I ever got seeing this stadium and going down to the Warehouse District and dancing until dawn. I even got to catch a home run ball by Casey Blake in the 10th inning of the game. Unfortunately it was the game winner, but I have that ball still in a special place in my collection. We lost that contest 8-7, and it was another friend, Lance Carter who gave up the home run ball that night.
2005: Tampa Bay Rays vs, Kansas City Royals (AWAY)
This was my first post-football visit to KC. I did my usual of hitting a few BBQ joints before the game, but the contest was the real treat of the night. I had always loved to see Hideo Nomo pitch in his youger years in LA. Now the Rays had this aging Japanese superstar on their team, and I was anxious to see him pitch tonight. But eh Rays offense ended up coming up a bit short in the 6-5 loss. Chris Singleton and Nick Green did their best to try and finally pull out a May 14th win for me, but it was not in the cards tonight.
2006: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays (HOME)
Yes, that is right. This is the only time I have seen the Rays play at home besides tonight the entire time we have had a team. But the home cokking was not enough on this night as the Blue Jays took final control of this game in the top of the ninth to send the Rays faithful home miserable 8-3. In the contest, the Rays gave up 3 additional runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach for the Rays.
Josh Towers took the mound for the Jays and was not overly controled, but his defense kept him in the game and they provded just enough offense to pull it out in the end. The Rays sent Casey Fossum to the mound and he
had some success agaiunst the Jays, but could not keep the big inning from getting him in the fifth. Chad Orvilla gave up 3 doubles and a triple to Alex Rios that was the deathblow of the contest.
2007: Off Day
Since we were going to begin a 3-game series at the Walt Disney starting in the morning, I decided to head on out to O-town and do some investigationg of the region. I have to admit I am a bad Floridian. I have never been to Sea World, and have only been to Walt Disney before this next series twice in my life. I have not even been there since 1984, but was looking forward to hitting both downtown Orlando and the Disney adult complex tonight.
Instead I just headed on out to the Hard Rock Cafe next to Universal Studios and had a celebration dinner and then just hit the multitudes of clubs in the Orlando area. I did order an outstanding steak and lobster dish at the Hard Rock, but I forget its name now. But I just wanted to have a great time before the Rays started their series tomorrow. I did hear a rumor that Justin Timberlake was in the above VIP area after doing some Nick show that afternoon. That is as close to getting “Sexy Back” as I have gotten.
2008: Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees (AWAY)
Back to old NY. This would be my last trip into the old haunts, and I tried to make the best of it. I did the usual Papaya King hot dog salute, and even went down to Ground Zero, but I decided to sit in the right field bleacher for this game. I do have to tell you I did get some wrath from the Bleacher Creatures at first in the game, but by the end they were telling me a few places to have a post-game brew.
I think what went down better in their minds is the fact we lost a squeaker 2-1 to the Bronx Boys tonight. Mike Mussine kept his dominance against the Rays tight in this game only giving up one run in the top of the sixth inning. This was also my first sighting of Joba Chamberlain, who did come into the game, but was gone quickly after walking 3 batters. James Shields also gave up all of the Yankee runs, but still pitched a great outing.
It was my last time in this baseball shrine, and I did take a stroll through Memorial Garden before the game. I even stayed a half hour after the game and was whisked out by security guards as I did not want to leave just yet. But I did, still wearing my Rays gear and getting a few Bronk cheers, but nothing too bad to get me put into Fort Apache. But tonight was different from the other May 14th dates to me. I was at the last Rays game I would attend in this old iconic ballpark. I ended up sitting outside the front of the stadium for another hafl hour before finally heading to JFK to sleep before my 6 am flight back to St. Petersburg.
I hope I did not bore you too much with this recollection of my travels on May 14th through the Rays baseball times. I am lucky enough to have a home game this season, and hopefully the team can break my curse of not getting a single victory on this date with me in attendance. You might notice that I had not included the date of May 14th 1998 on this blog. Well, that year I was here in St. Petersburg by my old dog’s side before he was to put to sleep. He had been my close ally for 15 years and had recently suffered a stroke and could not hold his balance well. So I was not in Kansas City where the team fell 10-3 that night.
So as you can see, this can either be a day of rejoicing or pain depending on how you look at it. I see it as a beautiful day for baseball. There is a call for another run of strong thunderstorms tonight, but I will be under the protective dome watching my guys again take to the field against the best teams in the league. I feel older every day on this date, but what has not aged at all is the enthusiasm and joy I feel inside on this date. I truly have baseball in my heart of hearts, and I hope that shows most of the time. As I have gotten steadily older I have been given the gift of remeberance. And these past games where I have traveled to se
e my favorite team take on the rest of the MLB have been classic moments in my life.