May 2009

Where is the Next George Steinbrenner?

 


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I was glancing today through the new Sports Illustrated that appeared somehow in my Baseball bag and noticed an article in the back of the magazine with the title: “Baseball Needs a New Boss”. Of course after reading that title you would think it might be a rousing call for a change at the top of baseball, with Bud Selig in the cross hairs. But it is not, it is a call for the next generation of “The Boss” Now when you hear or see that name in a paper, blog, or even in a video you only have one true name come to mind, and no, I am not talking about Bruce Springsteen either here.

George Steinbrenner in his prime was one of those pesky flies that buzz your brain, or neighbors that always had an opinion, and was sure to go to the mountain top and tell the entire neighborhood house by house. He might have had a menacing type of management style, but it was effective to a “T”. For some reason, the sport has seemed a bit dull since the Boss officially gave the reins of the New York Yankee conglomerate to his sons only 6 months ago. Hank has tried to be the Boss reincarnated at times, but he lacks the consistent drive and passion his father did in making a scene, then getting his point across with hard nosed facts and a few very loud comments to follow the noise throughout the league.

We truly need another guy like him. There are millions of ideas popping throughout the blogging community on how to improve and even save the game we all love daily. But there is not that loud resonating voice to carry it out into the darkness and awaken the sleepy heads of the baseball hierarchy. George is now 78 years old, and might still have the heart and the passion of a much younger man, but his body is finally giving him a sign to slow down and be more of a silent partner. And you know that is killing him inside.  He is not the visual persona of the Yankee faithful anymore. His rare outings are confined to his new Yankee Stadium opening, and a select number of charity and speaking engagements. He is mostly situated in his Westshore Blvd. home in Tampa, Florida now watching from a distance, but you know he yearns to be in the fray of it all.


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I got the privilege of meeting George on Super Bowl Sunday about 10 years ago when he was out chatting with a NFL vendor selling merchandise at the roadside for the big game. He and his bodyguard/chauffeur were at a small gas station at Kennedy Blvd and West Shore and he was getting ready to go to the game as a guest of Malcom Glazer, the Tampa Bay Bucs owner. We stood there talking for about 10 minutes about his team and his recent hiring of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and the wild new rivalry starting between the then Devilrays and his beloved Bronx Boys. He was very courteous and polite, and was a bit of a joy to speak with on that roadside.  I could not see the horror that most sports people saw in the man that day. But then it wasn’t baseball season, and his team had just finished another great season months earlier.

So who do we have in the ownership community in baseball right now who could become the next “Boss”?. Could it be the ever loving Stuart Sternberg, the Rays owner? I am inclined to say that Sternberg has too much of a good guy charisma going for him in the ownership circles. He has been one of those guys already who just seem happy to be here and is loving the ride. But then again, the team has not floundered and we could see another side of him if the day turns dark and the skies are filled with boos in the stadium. But, no, he is not in the running or even on the ballot for this post. We need to find another Marge Schott in the majors right now. You know, someone who treats her dogs with more respect than her team or its players. For a short time there, in the past I thought Ted Turner when he was up on that Atlanta Braves totem pole might be another great “boss”, but he fell from grace and sold his soul to Liberty Media Corp.


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Who among the current owners is at least has the spunk potential of “The Boss”? I guess the best answer to that might be in the genes of the previous boss. Hank Steinbrenner has the boldness and the “foot in mouth” karma he father possessed, but he is more tactical and more driven by the sheer dollar signs than his father right now. His passion for the game is without question a fraction of his father’s, but time and the American League East standings could change that. Maybe it might be the crew of owners not firmly seated into the ownership bubble yet that could make some noise. Troy Aikman is a part of the new San Diego Padres ownership conglomerate. Maybe he can pull out one of the old Barry Switzer’s speeches and get some fires built under the wealth group, but then again, he has always been a team player and might be happy in a behind-the-scenes role that pumping his fist and bellowing throughout the San Diego community.

Or maybe it might be the proposed new owner of the Chicago Cubs. You know the same guy who is now pimping $ 25 million pacts to the Windy City celebrities to come on board on the ground level of his bid to take over the team from the Tribune Corp. Such a bold move to even try and bring in the celebrity Cubbies like Bill Murray, John Cusack, and Jim Belushi could be just the kettle beginning to boil a bit for the soon-to-be confirmed owner. But then again who is this guy………….Oh, he is  Tom Ricketts, who is a part of the TD Ameritrade brood that brought you that adorable baby winning at golf from a high chair. Could he be the guy to take over the boss’s karma and lead the baseball top tier back into the light?


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I would love to think he would based on his unconventional measures and outlandish schemes to get the extra capital to purchase the Cubbies. But, you never know, he could just be hiding his true personality until they get to know him, then spring on them like a cheetah on a helpless zebra. But really, the current mosh pit of MLB owners doesn’t have another brash, abrasive owner in their mix. They all seem to either be business men who love baseball, or just plain business men.  So far I will have to give the nod to Hank for coming the closest to his father. His throwing away contracts and players like an ol
d Reggie candy bar wrapper this season is a perfect example of Steinbrenner-ism.

I mean even his taunting of the powerful Red Sox Nation earlier in the year is an action that is becoming a Steinbrenner. But still, he is in the infancy stage of his transformation into a true baseball owner. He is silent and respectful now, but who knows what will come of his personality or his behavior once he feels like he belongs in the ivory tower for good. Even during the recent Yankee pitfall to a cellar spot he seemed to stand by and watch while in the past his father would have bellowed that everyone from the ticket taker to the General Manager was accountable for the team’s success.

         
          Baseball-Almanac.com

Some one has to come forward soon, because I can truly say I miss the old George Steinbrenner rants and raves. I truly think if Joe Girardi survives this year with the Yankees, he had better play the Lotto, because you know the previous owner would have been down in that clubhouse looking for a few skins for his wall by now.  Baseball needs these figures to bring the top tier closer to believability for the fans.

I am lucky to be a Rays fan, because Sternberg is always on the field or strolling the stadium walkways talking to fans and is very hands-on when he is here. But you never know, maybe before the end of the 2009 season some owner will come forward and question the status quo, or might even embark on a crusade to lighten up the owner’s box and let the fan enjoy some more “George” somewhere in baseball. So let the search begin for the new coming of “The Boss” I miss that growl more and more every day.

Does the “Code” need a revision?

 

             
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A few days ago, Cleveland Indian catcher Victor Martinez took exception to the Tampa Bay Rays base theft B J Upton stealing third base with his team up 9-0 at the time. He sighted that it was against the “Unwritten Rules of Baseball” to condone or attempt such an action. After the Sunday afternoon game against the same two squads Rays Manager Joe Maddon thought the “Unwritten Rules” needed to be revised since the game is faster and more powerful then the older version. We sometimes forget that baseball is a game built on the traditions and aspects set forth over 150 years ago.

Everyone has heard about the “Code” or “Unwritten Rules” of baseball. They might have been passed down to you by a coach, a parent , or maybe another player if you played ball beyond the High School ranks.  While the code has been around for a long, long time, it is still a taboo subject to some in the game. In fact, some players are pretty uneasy to even chat about them “on the record” to reporters or even bloggers.  For if they even talked about a set of parameters or even rules of conduct within the scope of baseball, they admit there is a set of rules. This might be the real Pandora’s box we read about as kids.

The code seems to be built more on the game within the game concept. It can be viewed as a system of intimidation, retaliation and retribution between the hitters and the pitchers mostly.  It goals is to keep the game on an even playing field, with no see-sawing of emotions or action within the scope of the contest. Some say that the “rules” have their true basis is the fact of fear, or the fear of pain upon a transgressor of the rules.  I have to admit, when I was in college and a 95 mph fastball would come in close on my shoulder or near my knees, it took everything I had in me to stand tall and not bail out most nights.  So for me, the fear of injury or pain is a basis of the penalty for abusing the code and trying to circumvent the unwritten rules.

But who is really right here?  Who out of these two defenders of the game was in the right here? Well, actually, they both seemed to have great cause for their opinions to be the supreme guidance that day. The unwritten bible that stood the test of time in early baseball until probably 1950 was envisioned because of the low scoring contests and a more gentlemanly aspect of the game. Just as in life, baseball at that time seemed to be based on the puritan aspect of the game, and not the aggressive natures of some players to make an offensive explosion of the contest.

In a sense, Maddon is also correct here. Some of the rules put in place long ago have to be revised or drooped because of the offensive nature of the game today. We are not taught to “never give up” or to ” fight until the last out.” With that outlook on the game, some of the rule seem a bit too tight and have no wiggle room for interpretation at all. It might seem odd now for Martinez to scream about an older rule that was based more in the era of 5-6 run total scoring games compared to recent blasts of over 21 runs a game. Maddon make a good point that some of the games “Unwritten Rules” do need a bit of revision or tweaking.  

                             
                              www.pauldickson.com


So here we are in a duel between the physical player and the situational manager. Who is right, or are they both wrong in their assessments of the current rule system? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they are both right to a point. Martinez is using the older rules to basically foster up a sense of entitlement over his actions during the weekend series against the Rays. While Maddon is trying to instill a new aggressive set of parameters for his own team that currently go against the grain of some of the older rules. So where do we draw the line? Where is it that we can make the changes or even attempt to even bring to light some of the outdated and antiquated rule that beg for a makeover. Well, first let take a gander at some of these older established “unwritten rules” and you be your own judge, jury and executioner on them ( I am not putting the rules in any order, just going to throw out a few for your viewing pleasure).

Unwritten Rule:
Do not steal a base late in a game that isn’t competitive.


This might be the rule that Martinez was referring to when he accosted Upton about his stealing of both second and third in the sixth inning of a 9-0 game. But what is really the basis of this rule is the “winning squad” doesn’t partake in additional embarrassment, not the team trying to get some runs and make the game competitive. If your team is winning by a lot of runs, so many that it looks like the game is pretty much over then stealing a base is just rubbing it in. Unfortunately since it’s an unwritten rule nobody is clear of the rules. How big of a lead is too big? How late in the game is too late is established by the beholder. In this case, I think Martinez was grasping for straws and should have just let it go, but bitterness can be a bitter pill to swallow.


Rienhold Matay / AP

Unwritten Rule:
Always back up your teammates in a fight.

This rule also can into effect during the Rays vs. Indians series. But what is more concerning is the fact that before the benches did clear, that Martinez was verbally accosting Maddon with profanity and comments that do not ever get voiced to a manager. That is also a section of the “Unwritten Rules” that coaches, umpires and team officials also have their own section of codes and rules for the players to follow accordingly. Martinez failed in this attempt. Some say baseball teams are like gangs. When a fight starts t
hey all run out and each take a side and face-off.

Unfortunately the posturing is suppose to be the effect here, not the actual throwing of punches or gang-tackling that some brawls evolve into in baseball. 
Pat Burrell running to look for baseball pants and a jersey  to wear on Sunday is a classic example of this rule. He was on the training table getting treatment and came out onto the field in his B P  jersey since he could not find his game jersey at the time.

Unwritten Rule:
Never bunt to break up a no-hitter. 

 
If an opposing pitcher just has your number that day and can even get to a point of a level of perfection against your team, you should honor that event, not try and throw it under the bus to establish your own agenda. I’ve never understood this unwritten rule. What if there is not a no-hitter and the score is 3 – 2 in the ninth and the losing team tries to bunt. If that isn’t considered a cheap way to try and win the game then why is bunting a cheap way to end a no-hitter?

But I do see the respect and the aspect of preserving the integrity of the pitching duel, so I would also consider it a disgrace to try and bunt to end a no-hitter by another pitcher.

Unwritten Rule :
Do not show up the pitcher after hitting a home run.

I think that this rule is going to get more and more intense in the next few years. As relievers and pitcher also adjust to emotional outbursts on the mound, the actions of the hitter have to stay consistent and not provoke a bean ball or an intentional pitch high and inside at a hitter. This unwritten rule could also be known as the don’t do what Sammy Sosa used to do after a dinger rule.

When a batter hits a home run it is considered rude to jump up and down and celebrate or to watch and admire your homer. I  can understand this rule in the course of a game, but if it is a game-winner, I think I could take a bit of a breather knowing it is a classic event and let the batter slide a bit on it as long as it is not a long linger and a comment or look towards the mound after the ball clears the wall.


Reinhold Matay / AP

Unwritten Rule:
If the opposing pitcher hits one of your batters then you must retaliate and hit one of their batters.

Sometimes there is a reason for a pitcher to take offense to a hitter at the plate. Plucking a hitter is a part of the game, and most hitters know it is going to happen to them in their career no matter if they are respectful or not, it is a part of the respect factor. Most of the time, a hitter knows it is coming, but sometimes pitchers can take an incident from far leftfield and run it into a personal vendetta. The other team has insulted us now we’ll show them!

Pitchers are so accurate, to within millimeters, that they can place the ball with pinpoint precision exactly where they want it. If a player gets hit in a certain spot, and the situation is ripe for payback, then there is no doubt as to whether or not a bean ball is just that, versus a mis-thrown wild pitch. That’s the ballplayer’s intuition, or sixth sense, taking over. And here is another thing: If a batter gets nailed with a 95 mph fastball on the fleshy part of his thigh, he had better not act like a baby and start rubbing it. No way. He should suck it up and be a man by simply “walking it off” on his way to first base. Period. A batter can never let a pitcher know that he hurt him with a pitch, that would be a psychological advantage and a clear sign of weakness. The code forbids it unless he is knocked unconscious or bleeding bad enough to warrant some medical attention.

So here we have listed a few of the “Unwritten Rules” that most of the fans might already know. There are really tons of pages of antiquated and outdated rules that do need to be readdressed and maybe modernized to support the current and future of the game. But it is not my place to sport the revolution of the rules . That has to be done within the confines of the sport itself. By the members of the teams, managers, umpires and even the guys who line and grade the turf and clay. But isn’t it a grand notion to know that a set of rules or a code is in place to keep the respect and the admiration of the game within guideline for all of us to enjoy.
 

So the next time you and a friend are in the stands remember, it is against the “unwritten rules” to discuss a no-hitter. You can cheer and want to see this great spectacle happen on your home turf, but to mention it is considered a curse, and also a bad omen not only for your pitcher, but for the sport itself. But if I had to put a quick summary of the code, it would be a simple fact of respect. Respect for the players, the history of the game and the respect of the opposition. In a true one sentence line, it is the players’ sacrificing personal glory for the good of the team.

Ben Zobrist’s Impromptu visit to the Renegade

 


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If you saw any of the highlight on ESPN’s Sportscenter, or even on Baseball Tonight, you saw an incredible play by Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist in the sixth inning of a blow-out game against the Oakland A’s. The play was an incredible play by Benzo to get a foul ball heading for the right field stands. But what you might not know is that the play was happening right in front of the Rays Renegade.

That is right, I was about 3 inches to the south of that fantastic play, and you can see me on the video from both angles reaching down to be sure that Zorilla is okay right after his tumble over the wall. So people have wondered where my seat was at Tropicana field, well last night you got a video shot of the action I get to see sometimes from my little blue seat. The play seemed to start as a routine fly ball down the rightfield line that might be caught in fair territory, but the ball then started to curve towards the stands and I had to make a momentary decision to either pick up my camera or try and reach for it.

Because of the recent problems with Rays fans not giving ample amount of space to the defenders I took the alternative route to my usual ballkhawking and picked up the camera. I did not however even begin to film as I saw that the ball was coming faster towards the rightfield foul line that originally anticipated. Well, Zobrist, being the hard-nosed player he is then starts to spring full out towards the wall just beyond the Checker’s Bullpen Cafe area.

Zorilla’s Amazing Play

 
 
He reaches about a half a foot from the wall and takes the ball in before he hit the wall full force. The collision makes a booming sound that was more like an explosion than a hit and he then fell over the wall like a classic high jumper to avoid any damage to himself. I then reached down to be sure he was okay and his quick smile told me he was okay, but maybe had a pain or two that the adrenaline of the play was masking at the moment.

It by and far the play of the year so far for the Rays, and I truly think someone will have to almost dive into the crowd to get a better awe from the fans than that awesome catch last night.  So about two minutes after all of this had happened, I looked to the wall and saw that the wooden baseboard had cracked about 8 inches and might have absorbed the blunt of the blow. But then I looked about 3 inches to the west of where he hit and there was a steel pipe extending from the floor mount to the top of the wall that he missed when he hit it at full speed.

Thank goodness he just glanced the other direction, or the effects of that pole adding in the force of the collision would have had a far different effect on Zobrist and the Rays. Also a great factor in all of this was the added rubberized matting put down by the Rays two season ago to help the players get a grip on the painted surface of the passageway back beyond the rightfield line. This is a area for the players to mingle and stretch before going in from the Bullpen.

The mat was originally put in after several players took a ice skating type fall after their sharp metal spikes did not get a firm grip on the painted concrete surface. This also added in a more comfortable landing for Zobrist during his catch. It might have been a play that was not needed in the game because of the current 11-2 Rays lead at the time. But this Rays team has taken it upon itself to not give the opposition any more outs than possible this season. I am glad that the play was the third out of the inning and Zobrist could relax and get treatment if he needed it before heading back onto the field.

But most of all I am glad he was okay and can again be the vaccum cleaner of the Rays outfield. It is that kind of heads up play that has defined this team in the last year. Zobrist is a great example of what can be done with sheer emotion and the will to get any ball hit towards you. If you have not seen the video, I have it on my sidebar, and will also include it here:

Zorilla’s Awesome Catch

Could Maddon have planned this Mistake?

 


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I have to say that the lineup card fiasco yesterday stirred up its own pot of controversy as we sat there in the stands for almost 15 minutes not knowing what was going on at home plate. We could see Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge constantly bickering and arguing a fact from just beyond Dick Vitale’s seat, but even the loud and proud Vitale probably could not have figured this fiasco out in less time. It is not the intention of the Tampa Bay Rays to try and shore up their defense by putting both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist at the same position.

But you do have to give it to the Cleveland bench for not saying a thing before the Rays took their first time out in the field to solidify Wedge’s argument that Longoria should be tossed off the lineup card in the 3-hole.  It was a measure of stealth that they let the Rays get their 3 outs then protest the line-up card to basically make this an old school National League versus American League game. By showing the error to the umpire crew the Indians did in fact get Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine put into that third spot for the ballgame. But little did they know that Sonnanstine was a .400 hitter and could stroke the ball with authority. Because the Rays play basically a NL-type game with a designated hitter most nights, the loss of Longoria did not take a huge bite out of the Rays scoring machine.

You would have thought it would cause all kinds of havoc and make for a very one-sided contest, but in reality, it boosted the Rays bench confidence in their team, and also got the other Rays pitchers to want to also take a few hacks at the plate. One television camera even caught Rays starter Scott Kazmir taping up his bat on the bench maybe hoping for a pinch-hitter role in the game. But what soon seemed like a huge injustice to the Rays turned into a plus as Sonnanstine put down an incredible bunt to get a fielder’s choice when the Indians instead went to second with the throw to get the speedy Carl Crawford. But later in the contest, Sonnanstine would make the Indians pay with a nice stroke to leftfield that had Ryan Garko doing circles out there in left field.

But for some reason, the post-game interview with Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw him take complete blame for the line-up blunder. He said it was basically his signature and that he was responsible for the error and that no one else’s fingerprints are on the decision to submit the wrong lineup card before the game. Okay, I am not a huge fan of conspiracy theories or even the mixture of intelligence and character building in reference to his team. But if I was, then Maddon is a true genius. For some odd reason I see his smiling face not at all too upset on the reversal of losing Longoria, who even got up off the bench and penciled in Sonnanstine’s name himself before putting on a sweat top and sitting on the bench.


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How much of a true warrior statistician would you be if you pulled the wool over the eyes of not only your team, but the opposition.  I truly think that Sun Tzu would be proud of Maddon right now. I think he meant to do that yesterday. For some odd reason it makes sense that starting on Friday, his pitchers would again be taking the plate in Inter League contests against the Florida Marlins. Here we had the best hitting pitcher on the Rays having to take hacks today against a guy making his MLB debut.  It doesn’t take a wise man to see that the simple fact of Sonnanstine hitting can give the Indians a false set of confidence in at least one quick out in an inning.

It also doesn’t seem too far fetched to think of Maddon as using this “error” as a tool to motivate his pitchers who are now chomping at the bit to get time at the plate. That makes for more focused Batting Practice swings by the pitching staff, plus a bit of covert action by showing the pitchers’ one of their own going 1 for 3 with an RBI in Sundays win. I can see Maddon sitting in his office trying to devise his own “Trojan Horse” situation to boost not only the confidence of his pitching staff, but for his players to believe again in 2009. After the rough start to the season, and the last two nights emotional and building confidence levels, this move could make them take on a army of Transformers.

I sat down near the Bullpen and even joked about Joe Nelson and Dan Wheeler getting some hacks today at the plate. But in the back of my mind, I knew that Sonnanstine might get three chances, and by then it would be the seventh inning or beyond and the bench could be put into action. The last few days I have seen several members of this pitching staff take to the batting cages, and some of them have more focus than last season. So if Maddon did indeed do this to instill a sense of magic and power to his pitchers’ they got the message loud and clear. For the pure fact that he is the last one to see that lineup card before he gives it to either Dave Martinez or Tom Foley to submit, you have to think they also check it out while walking out there.

But for the fact that no one questioned it before the middle of the first inning is in itself a bold move by both benches. It could have been decided that Longoria’s name not being put under the “DH” moniker was just a clerical error and he would have been inserted anyway. But the umpire crew did its job and made the right decision. With a bit of luck, and skill it worked perfectly into the Rays favor. This is not to mean that Pat Burrell has been replaced by a pitcher, but it is a great thing to know that the pitchers want to contribute at the plate too now. That can lead to all sorts of plays and chances for this team to get additional bats in the lineup in the coming Inter League games.

I can truly see the mind of Joe Maddon cooking up this scenario and even making alternative plans in his head if it did not work well. That is why I like Maddon. He is one of those managers that actually manages during the game. Situational hitting, double steals and also watching for routine flaws in the other team is his style of play. Maddon is a great lover of the strategies and moves of the game. I am really thinking he just played the best joke on all of us, and only himself and maybe his Coaching staff know the truth in this matter.


Rienhold Matay / AP

So for now, the Rays as a “NL” team are 1-0 in the season. We will find out just how good this play of events evolves when on Friday night the pitchers again take to the plate in Miami.  Not to truly say that the Rays skipper did do it on purpose, but if he did, it would be one of the best coaching moves to motivate a sector of your team since the bat sc
ene in “Bull Durham”. Sonnanstine is now in the history books, and the Rays turned a visual mistake into a confidence-boosting exercise. Sounds just like something Maddon would cook up in the kitchen too.

 

 

 

Victor, You are Better Than This

 


Reinhold Matay / AP

Okay, I have to say this, and hopefully I will only have to say it once, Victor Martinez is a great hitter and can call a pretty good game behind the plate, but he has a lot of work to be done as a human being.  I mean come on now, do you really thin J P Howell, all 6-foot 180 pounds of him was really going to try and take you head off with an 86 mph breaking ball? The whining and the crying after that episode, and the next inning bickering behind the plate just puts further focus on the fact that Cleveland Indians Manager Eric Wedge might have bigger problems than his pitching staff.  I know there is mixed feeling out there on his performance and the teams effort, but if you got a guy, who is suppose to be your leader screaming profanities at another teams manager and he is not even thrown out of the game, that is resulting to a bully mentality.

And I like him as a hitter. Well, who would not want a guy who is flirting daily with a .400 average. But the whining the the boorish treatment of the umpire crew in this series is horrendous for a guy who think he deserves to be an All-Star. I hope he can wise up in time before his manager might be shown the door and someone else comes in here and cleans house of the negativity that seems to persist behind the Cleveland plate. I can see the need to push a guy off the plate when he is nibbling with the chalk lines, but to throw behind him and then graze his uniform with a inside pitch above the belt to show your pitcher can do it is beyond control. But your boorish behavior to begin to insult and throw profanity at an opposing manager when he is stating the obvious intent to intimidate is insulting.

I though you had more class than to try and raise your team’s game by getting into a scuffle with the one team that will not back down to you or anyone. Did you forget who you were playing………..Seriously here, did you forget this team were not phased by the New York Yankees in the spring of 2008, or by the Boston Red Sox during the season.  The fact that you were smirking behind your mask after the tussles was amazing. I really would have loved to see Carl Crawford get to you without him being pulled by the umpire to the side.  First off, you were throwing at CC’s buddy, and he likes to defend his friends. Secondly, you had the nerve to throw insults at Rays Manager Joe Maddon. I hope you get a suspension from it all, but in all fairness, it will probably be us who get hit with a few fines and suspensions.

But for you to even consider trying to show up this band of brothers is an insult to your game right now. I am not shy to defend my guys, but that set of events was a farce from the get go. So what if Upton stole third base when you had a 9-0 lead. The Rays were trying to come back. Sorry but that is the game Victor, to win, not to lay down and wait for the next game to begin. But then you might have forgot that in 2008 when you went home in October instead of to the playoffs. You got a good look at the type of bond this Rays team had yesterday afternoon. You got to see what it takes to again rise to the top. Your team might have that deep inside them, but they have to bring it to the surface or you are, at best, only the second best team in your own division.


Reinhold Matay / AP


You lost a huge amount of my respect yesterday and Saturday night, but I know you can care less what I think. But the fans in Cleveland also saw your brooding and behavior and hopefully they will respond and want you to step up your game as a leader in your clubhouse. I always wanted to draft you on my Fantasy teams every season, and I have had you every year up to 2009. For some reason I had a gut feeling you were not the same guy. I am wrong in the hitting department, you still got loads of game, but as a leader and a positive influence for your team……….you have a void spot in your soul right now.

I do have to say this in your defense. That might be your type of leadership style, what we saw in the Trop. during that 4-game series. If it is, you might want to refine your objectives to more positive results and not play on emotional outbursts and events to change your team’s personality. It is dangerous to play a lethal game where you test another team’s stamina and heart. But it is even worse when that team comes at you full bore and not only answers the call, but puts you back on your heels.  I know you could not hear me calling for you from the stands, but I wanted a piece of you myself. Not to fight or even sit there and exchange insults, but to try and lend you some word of advice to bring your team back together and not lower yourself to such childish maneuvers. You are a professional athlete, and a key member of your team. Not only do the Indians players look to your actions, tons of kids in the Cleveland area want to be like you.

I hope they want to be like the 2008 Victor Martinez, or the post-Rays series Victor Martinez. You have the ability to change the flow of your teams decent into the cellar of the American League Central division. The frustration you put out on the forefront this weekend needs to be addressed in your own locker room before you try and take on people like that. You do not have the muscle right now behind you to pull off the series win, but it is within your team to begin to bring that out and become the squad you envisioned on February 15th. But first and foremost, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself because Cleveland needs you to be a success this season.


Reinhold Matay / AP


 
And Victor, do not let your Manager be the guy to take the fall for all of the teams faults. Come on, if you step up and be the leader you say you are, then they will follow and the team will see a gradual drive to the positive. How embarrassing is it to be an Indians fan when your biggest superstar in the city is seen flashing a New York Yankees cap during a baseball game, and it was not even at Progressive/The Jake. You need to make some one like Le Bron James want to sport that tribe gear. And to start, you need to make it a joy for fans and players’ to throw on that gear again with the Cleveland logos.

Walk-Off Felt like Old Times

 


Chris O’Meara / AP


A Celebration for the Past, Present and Future of this Team


If you missed the Tampa Bay Rays game on Friday night, you missed an instant Rays classic contest. There was that feeling in the stadium again of the 2008 struggle to get that winless feeling out of the air of the old dome, and become the team to beat in the A L East. But far and away, the biggest emotion flowing through Tropicana Field on that night was a renewal of hope. It has been awhile since the majority of the Rays Republic showed that  type of emotion out in the open for the players and other to grab a hold of and use as positive energy.The Rays were 0-224 when trailing by 7 or more runs  prior to tonight’s offensive explosion. 

On Friday night it was up in the air for everyone to grab and sample their own little piece of the magic that was transpiring on the turf. You could just see it in the eyes of the guys in the Bullpen, and you could just sense it in the air that change was about to happen. But what transpired can not be written about in books, or even sometimes contained in photos, the emotional charge that sweeps throughout the dome that is sent like a wave through each and every one of us to provide that instant glimmer of hope and wanting for this struggling team.

Not in the Rays brief history have we seen a offensive re-arming and dismantling of another team after they have achieved such a lead. But as we all remember in 2008, you never counted those Rays out until the last out was in stone. And for so many reasons tonight’s final victory felt exactly like that. And to make it even more remarkable was the fact the player who has been the subject of numerous articles and debates about his hitting skills and spot in the lineup came shining through and burst that personal bubble to provide the unscripted climax to the event. B J Upton was the man, but the team all have their own personal pieces of triumph in this remarkable win for their consistent belief both in themselves and their teammates.

And that is a character element that was so clear in 2008. Each player was responsible for their own actions, but no one all season long took potshots or even made reference to someone else not doing their part. They won as a team, and unfortunately lost as a team too. The word “chemistry” might be the biggest mis-used words in sports, but this team did have to melt and blend a bevy of different personalities and abilities to even make a competitive unit, much less a championship squad. And tell me you did not yearn for another one of those special home plate celebrations that became almost a nightly staple in 2008. 

When was the last time you saw a “team meeting” at home plate……………last season. And also when was the last time you saw a Rays player even show any type of strut or “peacocking”  as he strolled into home for his teammates ……Also only during last season. People in 2008 were quick to judge the team’s defining moments or turning points to the season. Well, if they have to again resort to finding moments of change and upward mobility, they have their first example in the way the entire team carried themselves tonight.

Every one picked themselves off the turf, dusted themselves off and got back to work nibbling and craving at that Cleveland lead. That was the way the 2008 squad attacked, as a team. They would put together scoring drives and fast attacks to stun and demoralize the competition at times. And the Rays Bullpen again is beginning to hit their own sense of stride again in 2009, which has been missed in recent games.

    
     Chris O’Meara / AP

But you have to admit that the Walk-off homer by Upton was the perfect ending to a wild night. Here we had a guy struggling to get back to his  former form and was finally starting to see some  great results, then this game comes along and reminds us why we liked the guy in the first place. You have to admit to yourself that the kid has been as hard on himself as we have been on him. He is his own worst critic, and his struggles at the plate have made us grimace at times wanting to help him out in any way possible to get back to his old form.

Maybe that sight of the team trying to pick themselves off the turf for the second night in a row when they got down fast also got into B J’s psyche and boosted him through that wall he had in front of him. Thursday’s contest did not come out the same, but the fact that the Rays seemed to be working as a team boosted the thoughts that we were beginning to emerge out of that funk and again take it to some teams again.

It is not like he has never belonged here, or was struggling both on and off the field. On the field he was his usual self, diving for balls and tracking them down with his deer-like speed deep into the gap, and near the wall. His throws have been darts, and his confidence in his throws have been key in his recent surge back into the outfield assist ranks in 2009. Even if Friday night was not the final turning point for Upton, it was for this team.
They again could see the golden ring, and they grabbed it with everything they had in their bodies. It was a welcome sight to see the smiles and the confident swagger as they walked back to the dugout after this win.

The fact that these guys love to be around each other is a testament to the team unity and chemistry that VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and Rays Manager Joe Maddon has assembled here.  The glue that holds this group together is simple respect for each and every member on the roster. But tonight belonged to a guy who at 17 years of age got his first taste of the big leagues in a September call up. Back then, that Rays team was not experiencing even the slight hint of a winning edge, and some of the veteran leadership was already looking for the door out of the Rays clubhouse.

That is a sad comment, but a truthful one in the realm of the Rays in the past. You want to think that the winning foundation was set early in this franchises history, but in reality, they did not believe in th system totally until 2007. The last few seasons has seen a resurgence in Rays thinking about positives and accountability amongst themselves. It was imply a case of “do your job, do it right, and great things will happen in the end.”  So can we take Friday night’s walk-off as a sign that the 2008 energy and commitment might be resurfacing in the Trop.? I know I felt it. The energy level and the positive vibes from inning to inning only seemed right to end on Upton’s first blast of the season.

But this not like the Toronto Blue Jay game in 2008 when Edwin Jackson threw an awesome game only to see Troy Percival blow the save. It is also not the same vibe or environment when Dione
r Navarro hit the grand slam to boost the Rays to a victory and finally feeling like they belong on top. No, this celebration seemed different on the turf tonight. It had all the elements of 2008 except one.

One huge difference is missing from the “team meetings” called at home plate by the Rays in 2008. This year, we are the “hunted” and not the one pursuing the top spot. But an night like this can re-shape and remove the rust and tarnish of the last month just by its sheer power. Biggest comeback in Rays history really pales a bit in comparison to a young hitter regaining his edge at the plate, and remembering why he loves to play this game.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Upton Get a Welcome Surprise during his Interview 


After the conclusion of last night’s game I was sitting near my seat waiting for the anticipated in-game interview of B J Upton when Dioner Navarro came streaking out of the Rays dugout with a towel filled to the brim in deep shaving cream. I have to admit I have never seen the Rays catcher act so stealth and swift as when he deposited that wet, white concoction on B J’s face during his television and radio interview.

It is a a great tradition of baseball to see that done to him on the night that might spark of return of our centerfielder’s bat to his game. But the shock and awe of the crowd when he finally got that towel in the face was priceless. We all knew it was coming, but did not who or when it was going to be delivered. Upton took the event with class and professionalism, but I would have loved to see the scene in the locker room after Upton got back there. Hopefully Navarro was long gone by then, or there might be a shaving cream situation in the clubhouse.  

That is also one of the areas that Upton has matured tremendously in the last two years. He is a soft spoken guy who kind of doesn’t take to the media side as well as some members of the team. But in the last year he has become more secure and comfortable in front of the camera, and it shows. That will bode well for him to become a likable guy to people who might not get down here and see him on the bench motioning and chatting with guys on base or in the field. He is truly one of those guys who loves this game and looks forward to it every night.

May 14th is Special to Me

 


RRCollections

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. 



Timmer82@Flickr.com

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.


www.bernssteakhouse.com

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.


Radioinsomnia@Flickr.com

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.


RRCollections

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.

Bird is the Word, Part Deux

 

                

I have been known to cruise the newspapers online editions of the teams we are about to play in the major leagues. It has been a pattern of mine to just pull up the paper of the next team and just see what is being written about the Tampa Bay Rays on their website. I have done this since 2008, and sometimes I can find some interesting information, or even some leaked news our own local paper is afraid to post on their site.

So as the Rays ended their series against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, I spent a few minutes checking out The Baltimore Sun sports section, since the Rays had a two-game date with the birds. As I was cruisnig through the black and white type, I came upon a very likable redition via a cartoon of the Oriole bird. The redition was done by Mike Ricigliano, whos work had been included in the pages of The Baltimore Sun for over 20 years. I guess beginning here again in 2009, Ricigliano has done a daily cartoon image of the Oriole bird, and I would love to include all the Tampa Bay Rays references here from his 2009 collection.

                   

By the way, the title is actually a reference to a song by The Trashman called “Surfin Bird”. It is a classic 1960′s surfer rendition that can become lodged in your head and not come back out. It  is a catchy tune, and I even caught myself today already doing the refrain from the song in my head a few hundred times. Pop on Itunes if you want to get a listen to this timeless California Surfer classic song.

       

The original Orioles Bird caricature first appeared in the paper in June 1966, during the Orioles’ championship season, and quickly became a beacon for readers “who looked for it as eagerly as they did the daily weather forecast,” The Sun once wrote. Created by the late Jim Hartzell, a longtime staff artist, the bird caught on quickly. When Hartzell retired in 1979, his cartoon friend went with him. When readers complained, the paper resurrected the bird, employing a number of artists to draw him. By 1992, the Oriole was gone.

Until now.

“Hopefully, in that one inch of space, this classic little Oriole can capture the essence of last night’s game,” said Mike Ricigliano, the cartoonist who will draw it. Ricigliano’s oddball work has appeared in The Sun (and, previously, The Evening Sun) for more than 20 years.

        


“The Oriole bird cartoon represents a memorable time in the history of Baltimore, the Orioles and The Baltimore Sun,” said Tim Wheatley, assistant managing editor for sports. “It symbolizes Baltimore’s sense of humor, love of sports and optimism. The new cartoon continues that feeling of fun and hope. “The old cartoon was something that readers looked forward to every day because each one was unique, and we think the new [one] will have the same effect.”

Here is last night’s cartoon that was fresh this morning on The Baltimore Sun website after the Rays held on to win their game last night against the birds. I can honestly say that I will check back frequently this season to see some of the great work done by Ricigliano on this character in 2009. The Bird is the Word people.

              

Bird is the Word Last night

 

                Orioles 7,      Rays 5

           
                   Mike Ricigliano/www.baltimoresun.com

During last night’s game, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds kept going through my mind.  You might remember the scene where they were stuck in the gas station and the pumps were about to blow up and the anxious and terrified adults were looking for options, but none came to their minds. That is the same rationale that was floating through my head after watching seven innings of the Tampa Bay Rays scrambling for answers and coming up blank.

I mean I could have only had to watch the game from the first pitch just past 7 pm until American Idol began on Fox Television at 8 pm, and I would have seen all the Rays offense in that contest.  I know there were more scoring chances in the game after that huge second inning, but the Rays did not execute or even seemed to have the ability to provide any additional show of consistent offense after that inning.  The wildest play of the night had to be on a fly ball hit by Ben Zobrist and a wild game of “catch me if you can” in centerfield by Adam Jones and Ty Wiggington.

That play was a negative Web Gem all its own. Jones came in for the ball and Wiggington stood to his right to watch him glove the ball for an easy out. But instead we had a Three Stooges (Wiggy was playing the part of Curly Joe) routine where Jones misplayed the ball and it popped off his glove and smacked Wiggy in the chest and he had a chance to be the hero, but the ball finally fell to the grass.  For his efforts, Jones did get an error on the play.

From the third inning on tonight the Rays only got five additional hits in the game. Unfortunately the Rays did provide the Orioles defense with 2 strikeouts and two double plays in those last 7 innings to secure their 14th win of the season. Missing were Akinora Iwamura and Pat Burrell from the Rays lineup tonight. Rays Manager Joe Maddon had decided to give Aki the night off since he has been working extra hard recently and did play extensively  and looked a bit fatigued coming off the field after the Red Sox series. And Burrell has been battling a neck situation that had come and gone for the last week or so.

Considering this might have been a perfect match up for Burrell tonight, one has to wonder if the Burrell injury might be a little more than advertised by Maddon. And it is a shame he could not even use him as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning when George Sherrill, the leftie closer for the Orioles was on the mound. Both Sherrill and Hendrickson might have been great pitchers for Burrell to get some needed hit and confidence at the plate from in this game. Hopefully, we can see Burrell again at the plate in Wednesday nights contest.

 
Nick Wass / AP

Rays Did Have Offense..Early

As I stated before, the top of the second inning was a great display of what the Rays can do against a struggling pitcher. They seemed to be putting pressure on the jugular in that inning and never let Hendrickson get any reprieve until Carlos Pena finally flied out to Nick Markakis to end the inning. But the damage was already done by then by the Rays, who had a 5-1 lead at that point. In that inning Gabe Kapler hit a nice sacrifice fly to deep left field to score Willy Aybar, who had singled to lead-off the inning. It was Kapler’s first RBI as a Ray.

Dioner Navarro then hit a RBI-single up the middle to score Jason Bartlett, who had doubled down the third baseline earlier in the inning. B J Upton then walked to put men on the corners with Carl Crawford coming to the plate. Crawford, who had doubled in his first at bat, took a hanging breaking pitch and hit a 2-run double to deep left that Orioles leftfielder Felix Pie tried to dive for, but came up short.  Evan Longoria then extended his RBI streak when he put a pitch off the out-of-town scoreboard in rightfield to drive in Crawford.

Carlos Pena then hit a long fly out to  Nick Markakis to end the inning with the Rays now up 5-1. In that inning, the three outs recorded against the Rays were also hit balls.  But a few great thing did happen for the Rays. Crawford moved past Aubrey Huff with his 2 RBI in the inning to become the All-Time Rays RBI Leader for the young franchise. And Longoria, after the Orioles announcers were debating if he could keep up his RBI pace, hit his ball off the scoreboard with the next pitch. Longoria is still the MLB RBI Leader, now with 45 on the year.

               
                Nick Wass / AP

Sonny is No Longer Money

Man how it pains me to write that last line. I really like the lunch pail work ethic of Andy Sonnanstine. I can see that he has the drive and passion to go out there ever five days and throw until his heart gives out, or his arm falls off. But when is enough going to be enough here. At this time last year he had a 4-1 record, not the 2009 version that sports a 1-4 record with a inflated 7.27 ERA. Is there something wrong here, or am I just be too critical of a guy we had total faith in last season and might have a few struggles on the mound in 2009.

I am not a Pitching Coach, so my opinion is based solely on what I see and what I know about pitching, but there is something tell tale about him in 2009. I am not saying he is tipping his pitches, but something is tipping off the hitters more this season than in 2008.  Or could it just be something a simple as he is not re-inventing himself a bit every start. Maybe the team Volvo has finally hit the point where team have scouted him so much they can even tel
l when he is exhaling now.

That does happen in the pitcher’s career, and they have to re-adjust or re-invent their pitching style to confuse and make hitter get back off their heels waiting for his breaking ball. I am not going to call for a change just yet because it might be fixable, but it will have to be fixed at this level and he can not go down to the minors and work on it. It either has to be done up here, or he might just be on his way out the door in Tampa Bay. Coming into the 2009 season, you looked at Sonnanstine as a consistent pitcher, but so far in 2009, that consistency is based more in the negative than positive so far.

Last night, he lasted only two innings, or 69 pitches before getting the hook with the Rays behind 7-5. Every one of the Orioles runs were attributed to Sonny last night. That second inning only paled in comparison to Hendrickson’s by two great plays by the Rays outfield. If not for those plays, the Orioles might have tacked on two additional runs.  I know the minds in the Rays dugout are spinning right now trying to figure out what to do with this situation.

Like I mentioned before, it could be a simple mechanic adjustment like Scott Kazmir, or it just might be the end of Sonny’s run as a start with the Rays. Either way, the bleeding has to stop. The Rays had a killer inning in the top of the second and had no reason to have to stand out there and see all their hard work go bouncing by them in the bottom half of that inning. Change has to happen……….either good or bad, but it has to begin starting today for Sonny.


Nick Wass / AP

Wednesdays Wild Writs

****  The Rays got a huge boost from their outfielders’ in the bottom of the second inning.  After Designated hitter Lou Montanez hit an RBI-double to right-centerfield. Greg Zaun hit a single to rightfield that Gabe Kapler quickly got a hold of and sent a rocket to Dioner Navarro at home to easily get Montanez trying to score. The ball was a one-hopper that came up to Navarro perfectly to secure Kapler’s third outfield assist of the year. That ties the part-timer with Carl Crawford for the team lead.

The second outfield assist came from centerfield as B J Upton got Cesar Izturis and second base for his first outfield assist of the year. Upton, who was the Rays leader in outfield assists in 2008 with 12 assists. This play, along with Kapler’s earlier assist in the same inning, kept two more runs from scoring for the Orioles in the second inning.

**** Every one was curious what had happened to the missing left fielder for the Orioles in the top of the fourth inning. It seems that during the bottom of the third inning after Pie had struck out looking against Grant Balfour, he reportedly was sent to the University of Maryland Hospital complaining of stomach discomfort and after a CT scan, he will be in the Orioles dugout for tonight’s game.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley was not aware of the situation in the top of the fourth inning and went into the Oriole’s clubhouse looking for Pie, but had to send out Ty Wiggington to play left field for the inning. “We thought it was just a temporary thing, that he had a stomach ailment or virus, upset stomach,” Trembley said. “I went to the home plate umpire and told him and he said, ‘I’ll give you a couple minutes.’ And I told Wigginton to get ready and Pie couldn’t come back, so that’s why we had to make a change.”

Pie, who is hitting .180 right now  has essentially lost his starting left field position to Lou Montanez after being brought over from the Chicago Cubs in the off season to shore up that spot in the outfield. Ex-Ray Joey Gathright was recently traded also from the Cubs to the Orioles for infield/outfielder Ryan Freel. Gathright does have major league experience, and could be a nice speedy option in left field for the Orioles to consider for the position.

**** I give Sunsports some credit for at least giving us the audio feed from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as they were trying to fix their video problems last night. We got to hear the pre-game voices of Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats as they ran down the match-up and only missed Upton long drive to the 364 mark in centerfield, and Crawford’s ninth double of the season. We got back into the 20th Century right as Longoria began his first at bat of the night, which ended up being a liner to center field to move Crawford to third base.

**** After the game, Todd Kalas interviewed both Aubrey Huff and Kapler about their feelings on the recent demonstrations by players and pitchers in the league. Huff told Kalas that he had ” gotten several text messages”.  I still thin it is a bit humorous that Huffdaddy had to wait two years before he got a chance to rub that fist pump back at Joba Chamberlain before Sunday;s 3-run homer. But it was Kapler’s comments that showed the best representation of what most of the league might be thinking on this subject:
 

“Personally,my standpoint is is that if the fans enjoy it.  And it is good for all of us, and as long as it is not, you know, completely over the top and out of line, I think that anything that makes puts fans in the seats, ends up paying all of our salaries. media folks included, So I do not mind seeing a little bit of showboat or something good roots out there.”

I think Kapler has a great grasp of this whole situation having played with the Boston Red Sox for several seasons, then taking off for the Japanese League, which views cheering and also displays of showmanship completely different than in the United States. Then he comes back to the MLB and managed in the minor leagues for a year before deciding in 2008 he still had the desire and passion to play the game.

Ramblings, Rants, and Raves, Oh My!

 


               
                Verbamatedrinker@Flickr.com
             

Since Monday was the Rays first off day since their “fly-out” day on April 20th, I decided to just cruise the Internet looking for some great news to bring up for everyone to enjoy. But there are also over 22 teams that got to rest,relax and recharge last night so they can bring the heat tonight as everyone again hit the dirt. So with last night’s absence of baseball, I sat back and watched ” The Shawshank Redemption” for the first time from beginning to end until last night. I loved it, then of course I popped in “For the Love of the Game” as a sweet dessert. So here we go with some tidbits and morsels I found dancing in my mind like sugarplums and juicy bits on the www’s of the Internet. 

Cowbell  Gone Wild

I have to get this off my chest. I have seen this “member” of the Rays fan base go from being an obnoxious, arrogant mis-representation of the Rays fans to becoming someone who was more laid-back and might have finally considered that his heckling sprinkled with the art of  smart heckling might be the way to promote himself and the Rays. But when I saw a recent Twitter message with an attached video from the Cowbell Kid, I began to fear the worse. He was at the Phillies game and heckling that night’s starter Brett Myers from the grandstands. I seriously thought the guy might be just toying with Myers and just wanted to see if he could get his goat a bit. But what I heard on the video , well I will let you form your own opinions on the subject here.

( I  want to state here that the written text added to this video might be offensive to some people. If vulgar language, or the  written presentation of vulgar language offends you, please do not click this video.  The author of this blog does not condone such behavior).

 

I have heckled players for their on-the-field performance, but I have never used a personal  family event as fodder for demeaning a player in front of his home fans. That is right, The Cowbell Kid was situated in the  outfield seats of Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia before the Phillies versus Braves game. I did however notice he was wearing a Rays cap and warm-up, but no big Marge Simpson wig at that game. What is even more surprising is I did not hear a single comment to him from the tough Phillies fans about his rants to Myers.
 

I am not on board with going after a player in his home stadium where you are considered a guest and not a regular. I do not know what might have happened after the video camera was turned off, but I know what I would have said or done at the moment. But maybe I am the naive one in that people do it all the time during the games. But if you want to be a “face” in the stands, and want to have any type of  regional or national recognition shouldn’t you do it with class.

         
          Blog.new-record.com


Umpires Boot 4-legged Team Employee

It seems that during a recent Southern Atlantic League game, the Greensboro Grasshoppers had a bit of a situation on their hands. No, the two team  Grasshopper mascots were not thrown out for antics during the game, but one of their four-legged friends did suffer from the wrath of the umpires. It has been the custom with the team to send a black Labrador named Master Yogi Berra into  centerfield to retrieve balls from the players warming up between innings.

But on April 23rd, the night did not go as planned for the great one. Berra did his unusual motion of going out into the outfield, but on his way back to the dugout with the ball, he decided to stop and re-water the pitchers mound area.  And for his action that were deemed detrimental to the game, he was rung up by Home Plate Umpire Jason Hutchings and exiled to the locker room for the rest of the game.  After the game the team put Berra on their team injury reports as suffering from a stomach virus and was day-to-day.

The game was delayed a few minutes as Grounds Crew put some soil down to retain the liquids and to be sure no more surprises might have been left by Berra before his exit. But that was not the only delay in this game as Umpire Koyu Inoue was also sent to the hospital after he was hit by a foul ball during the contest. The game was delayed for 47 minutes while Inoue was attended to. When it resumed, base umpire Jason Hutchings moved behind the plate. Following protocol, each team selected one player – pitcher Brandon Todd for Greensboro and pitcher Adam Jorgenson for Asheville – to make the calls on the bases the remainder of the game



www.bowlinggreenhotrods.com


Hot Rod have a Bear-able Mascot

Most people might not aware of the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays have now gained the Bowling Green Hot Rods as their minor league squad in the Southern Atlantic League’s Southern division. The team is currently 16-15 , and are only 2 games out of the division lead. But with the new team is the aspect of finding the perfect mascot. With an auto theme, you might think a personable mechanic or a grease monkey might be the perfect fit. But the Hot Rods went another direction and searched the surrounding mountains and caves until they found Axle.

Axle is a baseball lovin’ bear and hot rod enthusiast who is equally at home on the ball field or under the hood of a car. He brings a high level of energy designed to get Hot Rods fans and players pumped up during Hot Rods home games. When he’s not leading cheers from the top of the dugouts, Axle enjoys making kids smile and working on his classic car collection. He also enjoys fishing in the Barren River and spending time at his home in one of South Central Kentucky’s numerous caves, the identity of which must be kept a secret due to his large paparazzi following.

                   
                    www.yahoo.sports.com


Is this mimicking Stuff Getting out of Hand?

I made a comment in my blog yesterday about the fact that I was glad that Orioles hitter Aubrey Huff gave Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain a dose of his own medicine back when he hit his 3-run shot against him on Sunday. I mean people are varied opinions on the on-the-mound antics of MLB relievers this season. We all know the history of Chamberlain showing outward emotion on saves and great strikeouts to end tense innings. But is it all starting to get to be more of an act than a true form of emotion.

I mean since October I have seen Phillies closer Brad Lidge try and re-produce the famous Tug McGraw “W” sit-down in front of the mound after winning the World Series. Then the Rays Grant Balfour get into the head of former White Sox batter Orlando Caberra so much that when Balfour complained and yelled on the mound he thought it was directed to him. Has the art of outward expression maybe gotten a bit to animated on the mounds,or am I just imagining it all.

Then we get word of a recent San Francisco Giants/ L A Dodger brouhaha where usual cool calm and collected Casey Blake is seen on the bench making a mock mimic of Giants closer Brian Wilson’s usual save celebration. What is so upsetting about this one is that Blake has seen this motion by Wilson before and has not deemed it necessary to mimic or play with Wilson’s head.  After Blake hit a 12th inning homer off Wilson during his teams 7-5 loss to the Giants, he is caught on camera on the bench making a reference to Wilson’s personal tribute to his faith and late father that he exhibits after every save.

Made even worse was the fact that Wilson did not even know about the event until he got off the field and went to his locker. there he found a photo on his cellphone of the Blake mimic and it sent the closer into an outrage.  It was said that the closer got so infuriated with the display by Blake that team mates had to calm him down immediately before the situation got out of hand. You know this one episode is going to play out again sometime in 2009. I hope that before these two meet again during a gem either Blake or Wilson can get some closure to the event before someone gets knocked on their butt by a high inside pitch or two.

People complain that most of these antics on the mound are done for the media and not for the team unity. I understand getting the perfect picture of Jonathan Papelbon after a great save against the Rays on Sunday night, but does he have to do it in two-different directions to make sure they get the frontal view of the action. Most people might not have saw that since the usual thing is for people to either change the channel or do other things right after that, but I saw it and it did tick me off for a few minutes.


Michael Dwyer / AP

But I also know that baseball is not only about playing the game right now, it is about a packaged set of entertainment for the fans and viewing audience. Did Papelbon or even Chamberlain change their post-game celebrations to promote the team, or themselves. I am not asking that emotional displays get tossed, or even shielded. I am just wondering if most of that outward display can be used to better good than to give a last minute whammy or punch in the gut to another team.


I know we have not seen the last of these displays, but can both batters and pitchers please be sure to get the right message out before some 11-year old thinks it is right to yell at the opposing team after striking out the side in a Little League game. Sometimes the big guys on the mound forget about the smaller eyes that idolize and want to duplicate their hero’s actions and reactions. I am not asking for a change of their collective personalities or antics. Just make sure it is something you can be proud of, and would not mind seeing your own kids do sometimes in the future.

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