July 2009

Cursi gets ready for All Star game action

 

                   
                     RHaggerty@Flickr.com

Those people who know me in the Trop know I have a good baseball relationship with one of the members of the Rays staff. I would like to think I have a good rapport with several people, but you never really know what is said off the field. Anyways, I have had a post-game gesture with this person since 2001, and I have never tried to revert or change that routine for the fear of breaking a superstition. It is more me than him, but I truly look forward to it right after each third out in victory or in defeat. It is a simple gesture, but it is a bond I have with him  in my baseball world.

It is a simple hand salute off the baseball cap, but it has symbolism beyond just the motion to me. I met this guy back in 2001 when I was sitting the the Bullpen Cafe ( before Checkers bought the rights) and he used to always come over before the games to chat with myself and a good friend. I got to know this guy pretty well beyond the foul lines on the diamond, and also had on a few occasions had the chance to meet him over at Ferg’s with others for a post-game brew and some chatter. It was a special time for me because he was living the dream. He was on the field. It did not matter to me that ex-Ray Toby Hall or Greg Vaughn was standing right next to me up in the upstairs bar at Ferg’s run by former Rays Tony Saunders. Those were the simple times with Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi  and they have been amazing.

I have gone on road trips following the teams in recent years and Cursi and Chico Fernandez, the Rays Video Coordinator have always welcomed me into their post-game events and we have spent some good times in other cities. Places like Cleveland where we went after a game into the Warehouse District and did the usual pub crawls checking out the nightlife and the local club scene. Or maybe it was a great atmosphere of Swannee’s in Seattle when I went a few years ago and he told me of prior years when Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff were in this same small bar drinking  a few beverages and there with the fans.  I just wanted to give you guys another side of the guy former Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane called “The Enforcer.”


RRCollections

So when Cursi came over the other day before the game and we chatted for a bit I told him I was upset for finding out that he was getting married in December by seeing it in the Rays 2009 Media Guide. But what he told me next was exciting, even bigger to me than the fact he and Stephanie were going to tie the knot on the beach. Cursi sat there and told me he was going to get a chance to maybe catch during the 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby. I was not totally surprised since I knew he was going to be at the All-Star game in the Bullpen anyways as a member of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s staff. But the added thrill of seeing Scott catch with the world watching him was simply amazing.

But in the last week there might be a small problem here with Cursi even catching in the Home Run Derby. You see, Evan Longoria can bring along his own pitcher for the event, and Cursi is one of the staff who almost daily throws Batting Practice to the Rays players. In such, you would think he would want a Rays staffer, since they are already there for the All Star game to throw to him. But there is a simple answer.

He could ask Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to throw to him with Cursi catching and all will be great in Happy Valley. But I am not sure if Hickey will want to do that on such a large stage. Not that he doesn’t have the chops or the pitching ability ( he does), but the fact si he might be concentrating on the All Star pitching staff during that first day. But it would be a simple resolution to the problem, and would bring about a unique angle to the game.

But to even throw more cold water on either idea is the fact that Longoria, who was imformed by MLB he was the highest vote getter in the American League to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, might bow out of the competition to save his ailing hamstring. With the health concern, that is a good idea for Longo, but hopefully he is not pulling out after a poor showing
in the 2008 Home Run Derby. Maybe teammate Ben Zobrist could take his spot?  I wonder, have there ever been any switch-hitting home runs hit during the Home Run Derby? I will check on it and let you know the answer…..

It almost makes me want to find some way financially to make it to the game and see it in person. I do not want an outfield seat, but just something near the field so I could yell out to Cursi before he squatted behind the dish and watch dinger after dinger disappear into the St. Louis night. Think of how amazing that is going to be for the guy who has put in countless hours and time warming-up pitchers and coming in and catching pitching prospects and potential free agents over the years for the Rays. I thought 2008 might be the top of the  proverbial mountain for some people in the Rays organization, but the hits just keep on rolling here for Cursi.

I am truly so excited that my baseball buddy get to live the All-Star dream on the field this season and also get to attend some of those exclusive and sought after events during the All-Star experience. I can not think of anyone else in baseball that I think deserves that honor than Cursi. Seriously here, the guy has bled Rays green, blue and even yellow for this franchise and this is another great life experience for him in his position with the Rays. But I think I need to let you know a little bit about Scott Cursi before I go today. He is in his 11th season with the Rays organization, and his 13th in professional baseball.  He spent three seasons as the Bullpen Catcher for the Double-A Orlando Cubs and the Orlando Rays of the Southern League from 1996-1998. 

               
               RRCollections


And sometimes you will also see him late in the Rays Batting Practice throwing balls to the hitters on the mound.  Cursi played college baseball at Seminole Community College in Orlando and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Physical Education.  Before he made his trek to Florida, Cursi spent four seasons coaching for Bishop Waterson High School in Columbus, Ohio under Ohio baseball legend Scott Manahan. The guy knows baseball inside and out, and that has only endeared him more to the Rays. 

So Congrats Scott. You deserve a spot in the television of the world, and you can be sure all of Tampa Bay will be watching for you to put your mask on and squat behind the plate during the State Farm Home Run Derby. I know you will have some great memorable chats with some of the hitters that night, and I hope I can hear some of those stories some night after a game over some cool, refreshing beverages with great company. But until then I will just give to the hand salute to the cap back every night and wish you a safe road trip, and tons of great baseball memories.

Vote ‘Los!

And you thought the big elections were over in November. No, if you are one of the fanatical members of the baseball party, you know that this week is the last chance to let your voice be heard and to get another deserving candidate on the baselines for their introduction during the 2009 All Star game in St. Louis ,Missouri.  And with the success of Evan Longoria getting voted into the 2008 All Star game on the Final Vote, the Rays are putting all their eggs in a basket to again get another deserving member of the Rays into the 2009 classic.

Do you know if Carlos Pena doesn’t get voted into the All Star game it will be the first time in a long time that the American League Home Run Leader is not in attendance at the big event since 1993 when the Tigers Mickey Tettleton missed the classic. Furthermore, with Longoria not being so keen on the State Farm Home Run Derby this year, maybe Carlos can take his spot and drill the rightfield stands with a few balls.  If you have never watched Pena hit home runs during Batting Practice or even during a game, you have missed a great display of pure power and thrusting through the ball to get it over the outfield wall.

To see this guy lean back and get a hold of a pitch is a sight to behold. Truly, it is something magical to watch that ball sail out of the yard and into the hands of a fan in the rightfield stands. And you know how they love to see homers in St. Louis! But Pena is up against a few really credible stars of their own in this All Star Game Sprint Final Vote. There are a few people also on the ballot that have been mentioned as “sure things”, or their team representatives with the fan vote, but they might have lost a bit of favor in the players voting and are relegated to the Final Vote now.

Guys like Ian Kinsler of Texas, Chone Figgins of the Angels, Brandon Inge of the Tigers and Adam Lind of the Blue Jays along with Pena will be seeking your vote between today and Thursday at 4 pm. After that time, MLB will announce the winner. And  with that last vote goes the honor of lining up with the rest of the best of the American League for the All Star game. But why do I think Pena is the man for the mission. Why on earth do I think he can overcome the other four guys and be the man selected to the All Star game?

Well, simply he is the current AL Home Run leader with 23 dingers this season. What is also truly amazing is that ex-Ray Russell Branyan, who is now bashing them with Seattle is second with 21 home runs.  Pena is also currently ninth in RBI with 55, and he is seventh in the AL in runs with 58 right now.  Those two statistics by themselves show that Pena has been an offensive force for the Rays in 2009. His batting average might not be pretty (.231), but his OPS of .898 shows he has the ability and the consistent nature to get on base and make thing happen for the Rays. 

He is also only one walk behind current AL leader Marc Scutaro of Toronto (56) for the lead in that category too  He is also sitting in the third spot in Intentional Base on Balls this season with seven trips to first base.  His offensive numbers have been consistent the last few seasons in the power categories having been near the top in homers and walks the last two years in the AL.  In 2008, Pena blasted 31 homers and drove in 102 RBI to help the Rays to their first winning season and their drive to the 2008 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2007, Pena hit 46 homers with 121 RBI to establish new Rays marks in both categories.

But even if you are still not convinced on his offensive number, the fact he is in the top tier of A L first basemen with his defense should be his trump card. Pena might be having a down year for him, but he is still one of the best defensive players on the right side of the infield. His dives and saving of extra base hits during the season are only the tip of the iceberg for this vacuum cleaner at first. His plays at first, along with his newly shined Golden Glove won during the 2008 season shows that he has the right stuff to man the position and be the best option. 

But besides that, Pena is the kind of guy you want to see in the All Star game. He is very humble and very proud of is teammates and what they have accomplished in the last 12 months.  He is the model of a team leader and clubhouse guy you want for your squad. And he shares that love of the game with the community all the time. Be it advertising for the Boy and Girls Club, or making special appearances for the team at local hospitals, you can always count on Pena to be one of the first to volunteer. 

Let also add the interesting note that if Pena is selected to the All Star team, the Rays will be only the fourth team since 1969 to put their entire starting infield on the field at some point in the All Star game. The last to do it was the 2002 New York Yankees. But that might be one of the bad things about having the year the Rays and Pena had in 2008. Too many great things happen while no one on the team had an outstanding or career year in 2008. The team concept and the bonding of that unit played a huge role in them winning the A L East crown, not blasting the ball every night and taking what the defense gave them in games. 

But some things might be working against Pena to even be considered for the spot. He is surly deserving of the honor, but with the success of the Rays and four member all ready on the AL roster, people might consider it overloading the squad with Rays if they select Pena. This is actually pretty petty if that is the reasoning for not selecting him to the All Star game. The game symbolizes the best players at their positions showing their stuff during and exhibition game at the mid point of the season. It is not like there is a multitude of bonus money being thrown around for any of the Rays players that make the rosters. 

But it is also a unique situation for Pena considering that he has won the 2007 Silver Slugger award for first base, which goes to the best hitting first baseman in the American League, plus got received the 2008 Golden Glove for the position. This shows that the MLB players, media and even the fans do recognize his efforts and abilities to get this team to the next level. It only seems fair and right to let him take that next step and become recognized as an All Star for the Rays. If you need a few more statistics to peak your interest in voting for Pena, he is also leading the AL in home runs per at-bat with a 12.48 mark this season.  From 2007-2009, he is ranked fifth with 100 home runs among all hitters in the major leagues. 

And let’s not forget he did finish tenth in the Most Valuable Player voting for the American League last season. Pena is everything you want in a player for your team. He has a great bat and the ability to help motivate and transforms your baseball team into a winner. He always has a positive attitude and a glowing smile on his face when he talks about this team. He recognizes and gives praise the fanbase, his teammates even before he talks about himself. He is truly the kind of player you want to see smile and wave to the crowd on the baselines of the All-star game………..Will you be helping Carlos in his journey?

The Tampa Bay Rays have also stepped up their community and in-stadium efforts to try and drawn in more votes for Pena during the Final Vote this week. Beginning with today;s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rays will launch the “Vote ‘Los” campaign. This will include:

    Seven billboards promoting Carlos throughout the Tampa Bay area in key locations
     
    Laptop computers set up around the concourses at Tropicana Field for voting
     
    Gameday staff wearing “Vote ‘Los” T-shirts
    Fans are encouraged to bring their own laptop and wireless devices to vote during the game ( You know I will)
    A “Vote ‘Los” ad will run on YouTube and Facebook
     
    “Vote ‘Los” flyers will be distributed throughout the area
    Street Team will be making appearances throughout the Bay area promoting fans to get out and “Vote ‘Los”
    “Vote ‘Los” T-shirts will be given away to select fans throughout the series (Umm, Brian, Can I have one?)

    So come on people the time is now, and the clock is ticking. It is time for us to show our support and pride in one of our own again and start voting online or with your cellphone for Carlos Pena for the 33rd spot on the All-Star roster. We only have until 4 pm EST on Thursday to make out voices carry loud and clear. Unlike the All Star voting, which limited you to 25 total votes online per Email address, you can vote a million times if needed to get Pena selected to the All Star team.

    So remember to vote often and frequently over the next few days to get one of our own on the roster of the American League All Stars. So why are you still here reading this blog? Come on now, you know the drill by now, go to either www.MLB.com or www.Raysbaseball.com to submit your votes to show support for “El Presidente” also known as Carlos Pena for the All Star game.

No more “Red” days

 


Matt Slocum / AP


DISCLAIMER:


Take today’s blog with a grain of salt. It is a sarcastic subject matter to me right now, but I am not trying to demoralize or discredit the actions of Major League Baseball in honoring the veterans who have served our country with their blood,sweat and for some, their lives.
 I served in a National Guard unit based out of Kuwait City in 1991 and take my time serving this country with extreme honor and pride.

I am not great at sarcasm or comedy, so please do not beat me with objects that have nails, barbs or shiny objects attached to them. Red is a great color to symbolize courage and sacrifice. And for that I understand and commend MLB for using this color in their cap selection in 2009.

I have to tell you, starting today, I am going to start a grass-roots, special session, congressional investigation with full disclosure and penalties to the poor sap that approved the idea of RED caps to celebrate the holidays both this past weekend and during the Memorial Day ( May 25, 2009) games in baseball. It is with the full vocal backing of the fan bases of the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays that I try and make some logical sense to the unusual adherence of the Red color to these two teams  cap collections during those holidays.

I am hoping to conclude and have all the data analyzed and processed by the next “Red Cap” day, September 7, 2009 when again the teams of the MLB will adorn their heads with these red caps.

Yes, do not be afraid, but be aware that this color of the Bull, this primary color selection has led several clubs to end this past weekend with either 0-4 records like the Rays and Jays, or to a 1-3 mark like four members of the Senior circuit. That is right, the Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs all have been tossed towards the dark winless side by the demon color.

It is not like the “Rays of light” or the nasty aggressive mannerisms of the Blue Jay could keep these losing feeling out of the grasp of their collective ball teams because of the regal and royal color selection.  Such a color might be perfect for Royal coronations and stop signs, but it is as foreign as fine cognac to the boys in the dugouts of these two squads. How amazing it is and probably will merit a Nobel Prize for sports for me if I can find the correlation of the odd color’s demonic powers over the usually cool hued and color schemes of these 6 teams.


Sharon Ellman / AP

Of course only one of these teams is from outside the United States borders, and their finding might be found to be a non-issue since they do not observe the same holidays as our country. But the fact that a majority of their roster is consisting of a smattering of US citizens, it is a issue of national importance that we find a cause of this losing epidemic and transform some logic to seek a victorious release of wins come this Labor Day. So with the losing transformation creeping over the US border into Toronto, it is imperative that we find a cure for the losing and find it fast to secure our borders from this red menace.

The color red has been good to some of those who usually wear this passionate color for their uniforms. The World Champion Philadelphia Phillies went 0-1 before finally getting on board this past weekend to 3-0 and send the Mets into the cauldron with the five other teams to go teams. The Phillies, who always wear a smattering of red on their jerseys took the step as an alternative cap selection and did not heed the evil within the color scheme.

To really put an large exclamation point on  all of this is to go into the statistics and see just how far these red caps took the two team into the depths of despair. The Rays during their first encounter with the red caps on May 25th were leading their contest against the Cleveland Indians 10-0 before the Indians, who have red piping and red alternative uniforms came back and smacked the poor Rays with their worst comeback in team history.

The Rays ended up losing that game 11-10 in the bottom of the ninth inning on a walk-off. Not the kind of start you want with a new cap color selection. But the best exclamation that this red scheme is counter-productive and must be stopped might be in this weekends three game series against the Texas Rangers. Here is a team that mostly sports a blue, gray and white uniform base with some red background colors in their jerseys.

          
           Matt Slocum / AP


They do not adhere to the basic red motif, but their alternative uniform is a red jersey that is accented by the MLB-ordained cap.  So this past weekend they trampled onto the field with their red jerseys full pressed and ready for action. The results was that the red hued Rangers outscored the Rays 20-7 in the series and kept the Rays in check the entire 3-game series.

The Rays, who were the MLB leaders in runs coming into the series fell from the top spot for the first time in months and now gave that honor to the New York Yankees, who went a mysterious 4-0 on these dates. Could the Bronx squad have sold their soul to the red, or could there be another logical answer.  The Rays also fell from their other top spot in the majors, On-Base Percentage also giving way to the crew out of the Bronx.

Could this red revolution be more centered into the top tiers of the league, or just a figment of our subconscious. Over the next few months I will dive deep and long into data and statistics looking for the ultimate cure for the summertime reds caused by this 4 game deceleration by the Jays and Rays. The cure might be as simple as putting a blue swatch of material into the inner headband of the red in their logo and uniforms, and their home country does have a prominent red color to their flag. But what makes this Canadian team fall to the vices of this red epidemic.

It might be the last time in 2009 that we see those dreaded caps, but what will be in store for 2010? Why not go back to the individual stars and stripes logos the teams used in 2008 again. They are classic and better representation of the spirit and the contributions of the veterans of this great land. Red is the color of passion and in ancient Rome if a general came home victorious he was doused in red as a show of victory and power. The Rangers used their show of red to dominate, like a Roman general and put the Rays into a state of defeat in all three contests. 

  
The red caps are not being used with evil intentions, but the finally decision is an individual one. Can the red horde be pushed back into the darkness and away from the psyches of the Rays and Jays in time to bring about a victory in the last day of the red cap for 2009. We still have a few months to find plausible and new methods to attack the red at its core and bring victory back to the blue-hued ones. The Mets, Rockies Braves and Cubs can also learn from this research to better develop a method of attack and perseverance against the red-hued psychological night mare. 

I know that the marketing of the red cap is to increase and to fluctuate the common man with a multitude of MLB cap selections. But for these six teams, the red cap has been a thing of despair and grief instead of a triumph and glorious moment. But in all battles, even on the fields of play, there can be only one winner. Hopefully in the next engagement, the Rays and Jays can throw those caps to the air after the game in victory, not defeat.  

Four Rays make the All Star roster

 

You know it had to be a tough decision. And you know it had to have more than a few multiple phone calls or even stats investigations before Rays Manager Joe Maddon handed in his 2009 All Star selection card to MLB. I wonder if you fax such a document, or if it is on a Word Excel/Powerpoint program, or maybe the technology savvy Maddon sent it via E-mail or text message. No matter how it got delivered, or how it got decided on the dozen of guys on the fence, we have out 2009 A L All Star squad now.

And it is a pretty competitive bunch here people. There is the usual Rays-killers listed on the offensive side of the team with Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and the Yankees Mark Teixeira leading the parade, but it is some of the name that have been whispered in the recent days that popped up on the list that might spark the biggest comments or arguments. Sure the Rays put four guys on the All-Star roster. Each one of them have a legitamate reason and statistics to merit their selection. You already know I have been harping about Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett for months, and I have beyond myself that they have both gotten to the final vote.

I did not think Evan Longoria, who was the leading A L Vote getter at the last postng of the votes needed my hekp to get into the All-Star game. Heck he was killing A-Rod at the polls and that in itself is a major coup. Carl Crawford I always thought had a great shot at the field not only becuase of the injury to Josh Hamilton, but becuase he has been posting consistent numbers to merit such a selection. Again congrats to all four of the current Rays All Stars, but you might be seeing a few more familiar faces in St. Louis by the time the game is started.

J P Howell was not selected to the All Star team ,but you got to think he is going to be high on the list if there is an injury to a reliever before the game starts. He has put up another set of outstanding numbers to even trump his 2008 stats so far this season. And he has silently taken the reins in the ninth innings for the Rays in June. But he is not the only Rays who might also find themselves in that locker room come game time. Carlos Pena also might get a second shot as he is one of the five guys to choose from in the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote this season.

Last season that is how Evan Longoria got his spot on the roster, and see how he has blossomed in the last year. Carlos Pena will be joined in that final vote by Texas Ranger Ian Kinsler, Angel Chone Figgins, Tiger Brandon Inge,and Blue Jay Adam Lind. That vote will go on until 4 pm on Tuesday when the last memebr of the A L sqaud will be announced by MLB. This group is kind of interesting since two of the memebrs of the final vote were on my ballot to make the squad as their teams representatives.

I do find it kind of odd that Kinsler, the hard hitting second baseman of the Rangers did not make the team as a reserve. I am mean he is the most consistent hitter on the Rangers team this year, and he is amazing to watch on the field with him growing more secure every day at his position. It is odd to not see him on the squad, but the selection by the fans of Josh Hamilton gave the Rangers their one needed player for the team representation. It will be quite a time to see if the Rangers faithful come out and vote for Kinsler to get hm a shot at the All Star game. I am putting him as having an outside chance at the spot. 

The other player I thought might get on the squad as a reserve was Tiger’s catcher/third baseman Brandon Inge. And I did not think he would get on because he is on my Fantasy team, more for the fact he also has been the consistent hitter for the Tigers this season. Sure Miguel Cabrera has hit the cover off the ball, but Inge even leads the Tigers in homers with 18, two more than Cabrera. You want to dig deeper into this, well Inge even has 52 RBI compared to the 46 by Cabrera. And to slam the door let’s look at their batting averages. In this statistic is come out as a pure power slam as Cabera’s only bright spot in this match-up. Cabera’s .324 batting average dwarfs Inge’s .269 average, but Inge has been the consistent scoring machine.

Pena’s addition on to this final vote can not be because of the over 3,000 votes I submitted at the Trop with his name as a write-in candidate for the State Farm Home Run Derby. I almost wish it was, but I can not see my little input having any nudging points for the MLB brass. So I have to conjure up the thoughts that the American League leading home run hitter should get a chance on that roster. Heck, I really was looking forward to seeing ‘Los crank his back to a 45 degree angle and see a few balls head to rightfield on a lazer beam. But then again, I know the guy is not only a itting machine.  He ia also leading the AL again with walks with 54, and sitting in a three-way tie for eighth in RBI right now.

His power and grace would be a nice addition to the A L Roster. And if you have ever gotten the pleasure to hear him talk, you would know he will do not only the Rays proud, but MLB with his intelligent and thought provoking conversation. I am happy and pleasantly surpsied that four memebrs of the Rays will be on the field during the 2009 All Star game. What is even better is all four of those players were on the field at some time for the Rays in 2008 when they visited Busch Stadium for the Inter League seriesagainst the Cardinals. That proves that the Rays do not go after guys just to get on the All Star roster, but look for competitors who will gel with the team and prove themselves on the field. 

So, you are probably thinking who I am voting for in the final vote. Well, if you have to ask you do not know me at all. I am going to vote for Pena. Not because he is a Ray, but because of wht he means to that team over the last three seasons getting a Silver Slugger and Golden Glove, but no All Star bid. It might be a slow escalation for Pena to finally reach this plateau in his career, but it is one he has been putting up the right numbers to be considered for the last three years. Tuesday will be either an exciting day for Pena, or another chance to get his name out there for the rest of the MLB to take notice of for 2010. There are three great hitting first baseman in the A L East, and the third guy’s name is  Carlos Pena.

Remembering the Holiday…..with Baseball ties

 

So here we are on the Fourth of July getting ready to celebrate with family and friends the day of our country’s independence. Sometimes on days like today the true essence and facts of the extreme sacrifices that people have paid both with their blood, sweat and tears over the last 233 years comes to a head when we hear our National Anthem sung before the baseball games today.

Instead of talking about baseball today, I want to salute two of the men of baseball who answered the call of duty to serve in our military and sacrificed some of their careers for our freedoms. It is a very unselfish act of these two former baseball players that have formed and secured some of the freedoms we enjoy today as we sit here with a ice cold beverage and some fantastic grilled meat products.

I want to honor them for their commitment to this great country and hope that we all remember them today at different parts of the games for their courage and heroic deeds. We all know some of the names associated with the game of baseball and the military like  Navy Chief Specialist Bob Feller and Army First Lieutenant Warren Spahn. Both of these men have been personal heroes of mine growing up and I felt it was only right on this holiday of remembering the sacrifices and losses of so many brave souls to include these two greats.

But there have been over 33 members of the current Baseball Hall of Fame who served in World War II.  Guys like Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Luke Appling, Larry Doby, Bobby Doerr, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Robin Roberts, Enos Slaughter, Duke Snider,and Ted Williams. Many of the top tier players of that era did serve in World War II. 


Baseball Almanac.com

Navy Chief Specialist Bob Feller 

On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii  Bob Feller enlisted in the United States Navy. He was sworn in by former heavyweight boxing champion, Gene Tunney, at the Chicago courthouse. He was assigned to the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Virginia, as part of Tunney’s physical fitness program, and pitched for the baseball team. But Feller was not happy. “I wanted to get out of the Tunney program and in to combat,” he told author William B Mead. “So I went to the gunnery school there. And I went on the USS Alabama that fall.”


Feller then spent 26 months as a chief petty officer of an anti-aircraft gun crew on the USS Alabama (BB-60), a South Dakota-class battleship. “We spent the first six or eight months in the North Atlantic. I was playing softball in Iceland in the spring. We came back in the later part of the summer, and went right through the Panama Canal and over to the South Pacific. We hung around the Fiji islands for a while, and then when we got the fleet assembled, and enough men and equipment to start a successful attack, we hit Kwajalein and the Gilberts and the Marshalls and then across to Truk.”

The USS Alabama returned to the United States in the spring of 1945, and Feller was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois, where he coached the baseball team and posted a 13-2 won-loss record with 130 strike outs in 95 innings. He returned to major league baseball in August 1945, and in his Indians debut at home in Cleveland, he beat the Tigers, 4-2, in front 46,477 adoring fans.

 


In January 1946, Feller set up a three-week school in Tampa, Florida, to develop the baseball skills of returning veterans – both aspiring ballplayers and those with some organized baseball experience. Men paid for their own transportation to the school as well as room and board, but the instruction by fellow major leaguers was free for the returning veterans.

Talking about his military service some years later on an episode of ESPN’s Major League Baseball Magazine, Feller said “I’m very proud of my war record, just like my baseball record. I would never have been able to face anybody and talk about my baseball record if I hadn’t spent time in the service.”  Then again in 2005, he got a chance to chat with people online during a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.


One of the many questions he was asked was whether he had any regrets about serving in the war? “No, I don’t,” he replied. “During a war like World War II, when we had all those men lose their lives, sports was very insignificant. I have no regrets. The only win I wanted was to win World War II. This country is what it is today because of our victory in that war.

                
                 Baseballdigest.com

Army First Lieutenant Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn entered the military service on December 3, 1942 when he reported to Army Camp Chaffee, Arkansas and pitched for the 1850th Service Unit baseball team.  He was finally sent to Europe in December 1944 with the 1159th Engineer Combat Group’s 276th Engineer Combat Battalion. ” Let me tell you, that was a tough bunch of guys. We had people that were let out of prison to go into the service. So those were the people I went overseas with,” he told the Hearst Press in 1945, “And they were tough and rough  and I had to fit that mold.”

Spahn soon found himself in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. “We were surrounded in the Hertgen Forest and had to fight our ways out of there. Our feet were frozen when we went to sleep, and they were frozen when we woke up. We didn’t have a bath or shower, or even a change of clothes for weeks.”

 

In March 1945, the 276th were responsible for maintaining the traffic flow across the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, the only remaining bridge to span the Rhine. The bridge was under almost constant attack from the Germans who were desperate to stop the flow of Allied forces into Germany. At the same time they were to build a 140-foot Double Bailey bridge nearby.

On March 16, Spahn was wounded in the foot by shrapnel while working on the Ludendorff. The following day he had just left the Ludendorff when the entire structure collapsed into the river with the loss of more than 30 US Army engineers. The 276th received the Distinguished Unit Emblem and for his efforts to keep the bridge operating, while under constant enemy fire, Staff Sergeant Spahn received a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a battlefield commission as a second-lieutenant.

After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, First Lieutenant Spahn pitched for the 115th Engineers Group at their base at the University of Heidelberg. In a four game stretch, he allowed only one run and nine hits while striking out 73 batters. “Before the war I didn’t have anything that slightly resembled self-confidence,” Spahn told the Associated Press in August 1946. “Then I was tight as a drum and worrying about every pitch. But nowadays I just throw them up without the slightest mental pressure.”

Looking back on my military experience some years later Spahn said, “After what I went though overseas, I never thought of anything I was told to do in baseball as hard work. you get over feeling like that when you spend days on end sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy threatened areas. The Army taught me something about
challenges and about what’s important and what isn’t. Everything I tackle in baseball and in life I take as a challenge rather than work.”

It took another two decades before he would again adorn a military uniform, but it was for a much different situation this time. He was an extra on the set of the World War II television drama “Combat”, and he was this time playing a German soldier in the scene.


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These are just two of the amazing stories of former Major League Baseball players doing their part to secure our freedoms in times that dictated their total commitment and loyalty to our country. Others unfortunately did perish in the actions of the war like Army Air Corps Captain Elmer Gedeon, who played briefly for the Washington Senators before heeding the call to battle.

He was killed in action when his b-26 Marauder he was piloting was hit by enemy flak while on a bombing mission to attack German construction works at Bois d’Esquerdes. His plane was hit and he was seen slumping onto the steering wheel before the plane plummeted to the earth. Gedeon perished in the plane. 

                 
                  Delaware newspaper


Or maybe the ultimate sacrifice by Marine Corps Second Lieutenant Harry O’Neill who only played one game with the Philadelphia Athletics but is recognized as one of only two MLB players to die in World War II. O’Neill and the Fourth Marine Division made major amphibious assaults at Kwajalein, Saipan and ..Tinian…

By February 1945, he was on his way to Iwo Jima to help secure the island for use as a base for long-range fighters to escort bombers on their missions to ….Japan…..
Iwo Jima, 750 miles south of ..Tokyo.., is the middle island of the three tiny specks of the ..Volcano Islands… Five miles long with ..Mount Suribachi.. at the southern tip, the island is honeycombed with excoriated volcanic vents.
 

Hundreds of natural caves communicate with deep sulphur-exuding tunnels. Steep and broken gulleys cut across the surface, ragged sea cliffs surround it. Only to the south is there level sand, but it is fine, shifting, black pumice dust making the beaches like quicksand and rendering it impossible to dig a fox-hole when in need of cover.

  

The island was riddled with pillboxes, gun-pits, trenches and mortar sites and a three-day naval bombardment beginning on February 16 was intended to rid the island of much of its defense. But despite its enormity the bombardment had minimal effect and US forces met fanatical resistance when they hit the beaches on February 19.

On March 6, 1945 – as American troops moved inland – First Lieutenant Harry O’Neill was killed. It was a month before his wife, Ethel McKay O’Neill, received news of his death from the Navy Department. Both of these men were the only members of the professional baseball fraternity to perish on the battlefield in the Pacific or in Europe. Considering the loss of life in these two theaters of action in World War II, that feat in itself is simply amazing.

Rays Off Day Facts and Figures

 


http://www.stpetersburg-clearwater.com

With today being a off day for the Tampa Bay Rays before they take on the Texas Rangers tomorrow night in a 3-game series, I thought it might be a good time to relate some unusual and interesting facts about the team today. Within the short history of the Rays there are hidden gems of information and wild facts that most fans have not seen or heard about the team. 

This is an organization that might not have the storied history of some of their division rivals in Boston or New York, but they are building their legends and reputations daily, and with that process comes interesting facts and anedotes surrounding the team.  I am going to try and give you some interesting facts about the Rays and some of the people behind the scenes that most people will never meet while attending a game at Tropicana Field. 
Let’s first start with some of the people that reside on the third floor offices of the Trop., and move onto the Rays Coaching staff.


Brian Killingsworth
who is the Rays Senior Director of Marketing and Promotion once played with current Ray Carlos Pena in the Cape Cod League in 1997. Both men were members of the Cape Cod Champion Wareham Gateman that season.

Rick Vaughn, who is the Rays Vice President of Communications was the Public Relations Director for the MLB’s All Star tour to Japan in November 2002.  He also is a graduate of George Mason University asnd threw the first no-hitter in the university’s history.

Fred McGriff, who is currently in his third season as a Special Advisor to the Rays also is about to enter his first
year of Baseball Hall of Fame eligibility in 2010.  He played baseball for 19 years and amassed 2,490 hits, 493 HR and 1,550 RBI. Only 15 players have reached this level of achievement in thei careers, with 11 of them already selected to the Hall of Fame, and the other 4 are not eligible yet.
 

John P Higgins, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the Rays was the first employee hired by the team on April 1, 1995. Prior to the first game of the American League Divisional Series he threw out the First Pitch.

Jeff Ziegler, who is thew Rays Traveling Secretary did not begin his career in baseball. He originally ws a member of the St. Petersburg Police Department as a patrolman and detective in the narcotics and vice division for 13 years. He was assigned by MLB as the resident security agent for the Rays in 1997-1998.

Brian Anderson, who is pulling double duty in 2009 as both a color analyst for the Rays Television Network and as Assistant Pitching Coach for the team originally started his double role with the team after Spring Training 2008.  He came to the teams an a non-roster invitee after missing both 2006 and 2007 with two different Tommy John’s surgeries.

His career effectively ended on Marhc 12, 2008 when he walked off the mound against the New York Yankees after suffering another arm injury. He had tore his ulnar collateral ligament for the third time, plus tore his flexor mass muscle for the second time in his career. He was announced as the Rays Assistant Pitching Coach on March 25, 2008.

He first wandered into the Rays broadcast booth when
regular color analyst Joe Magrane went to New York to cover the 2008 Olympics for NBC.  But this was not his first entry into the broadcast booth. He also did some work in Cleveland for the Indians both in the Sports Time Ohio telecasts and doing a weekly highlights show for the team.

                           
                        

Only three uniformed Rays personnel have been here as long as Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley. Current Hitting Coach Steve “Hendo” Henderson, Current Durham Bulls Manager Charlie Montoya, and hitting coordinator Steve Livesey. 

Here is another crazy fact about Foley. as a youth at Palmetto High School in Miami, Florida he was an ambidextrous athlete, throwing a baseball with his right- handed as a shortstop and left-handed as a fotball quarterback.


Steve Henderson,
the Rays Hitting Coach was a team member of theSt. Petersburg Pelicans during the 1989 Championship in the Senior Professional Baseball Association. The team did not ever recieve their championship rings until 2008, when during the Rays “Throw Back” day against the Houston Astros, each memebr of the team were finally presented their championship rings.

On June 15, 1977, Henderson along with pitcher Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman were traded to the New York Mets by the Cincinnati Reds in a deal known as the “Midnight Massacre” for future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.  Henderson took it all in stride and played in 99 games that season for the Mets and lost the N L Rookie of the Year award to Andre Dawson by one vote.

George Hendricks, the Rays First Base Coach is a perfect example of what an athlete can do on a baseball field. Hendricks never even played high school sports at Fremont High School in Los Angeles before th Oaklan A’s made him their first selection on the January segment of the draft in 1968.

Hendricks went on to become a four-time All-Star and earned two World Series rings. The first with Oakland in 1972, and then his second in 1982 with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was also a member of the Los Angeles Angels 1986 division winning team. He also led the MLB in outfield assists in 1979 with 20 while with the Cardinals.

Jim Hickey, the Rays Pitching Coach is only one of seven Pitching Coaches in the last 50 years to go to the World Series with two different clubs. He joins former Rays manager Larry Rothchild, Dave Duncan,Mel Stottlemyre, Johnny Sain,Stan Williams and Dave Wallace in this exclusive group.

Dave Martinez, the Rays Bench Coach is only the second former Rays player to join the coaching ranks of the Rays. Wade Boggs was the first to work for the Rays as their Hitting Coach in 2001. Matinez, an original Ray, also recorded the first hit for the Rays , a third inning single off Detroit starter Justin Thompson.

He was also the first Rays player to steal two bases in a game, and the first Rays to record an inside-the-park home run when he did it off New York Hideki Irabu on July 10, 1998. 11 days later h
is season was over after a hamstring injury.  He was also a team mate of Foley’s in Montreal from 1988-1991.

And last but not least, I am going to list the Opening Day roster for the first Rays season in 1998. Some of these names you might remember, and a few of them you might be trying to forget, but they are all part of the history that makes the Rays who they are today.


Boston.com

Pitchers:

Wilson Alvarez                    Opening Day starter)
Rolando Arrojo                   14 wins in his rookie season )
Dan Carlson                        7.64 ERA in 10 appearances)
Rick Gorecki                        1-2 with a 4.86 ERA )
Roberto Hernandez           26 saves in 71.1 innings )
Albie Lopez                         7-4, with a 2.60 ERA )
Jim Mecir                             7-2, with a 3.11 ERA )
Tony Saunders                   6-15, with a 4.12 ERA )
Dennis Springer                  3-11, with a 5.45 ERA )
Ramon Tatis                       22 games, 13.89 ERA
Esteban Yan                       5-4 with 77 strikeouts

Catchers:

Mike DiFelice                      .230 average with 23 RBI
John Flaherty                     .207 average with 24 RBI

Infielders 

Wade Boggs                      .280 average and 1st Rays HR
Miguel Cairo                       .268 average with 46 RBI
Aaron Ledesma                 .324 average with 8 SB
Fred McGriff                       19 HR and 81 RBI
Bobby Smith                       .276 average with 11 HR
Paul Sorrento                     17 HR and 57 RBI
Kevin Stocker                     .208 average with 25 RBI

Outfielders

Rich Butler                          .226 average with 20 RBI
Mike Kelly                            10 HR and 33 RBI
Dave Martinez                   .256 average and 20 RBI
Quinton McCracken           .292 average with 19 SB   
Bubba Trammell                . 286 average with 12 HR

With the Rays next off day on Monday, maybe I will try and get some more trivia on some of the current memebrs of the Rays 40-man roster and on their home, Tropicana Field. Until then, enjoy the Rays 3-game series against the Texas Rangers and your Fourth of July weekend.

 

My Final AL Vote Thoughts

 

With today bringing the 2009 All-Star game fan voting to an end, it is now time for people to try and predict, influence or even try and persuade some of the rest of the baseball world that their guys truly deserve a slot in the All-Star game in St. Louis on July 14. The official results will not be aired or known until at least this Sunday, but there is speculation and even rampant optimism that at least one star of your local team will grace the roster announced on Sunday during the 2009 MLB All Star Selection Show presented by Pepsi on Sunday on TBS at 1 pm.

The American baseball public has responded to cast 223.5 million votes from 17.8 million ballots to set a new record for the total number of ballots and votes cast in the fan balloting of the All Star game.  Of course this is not the last time they will get a chance to vote for a member of the 2009 All Star squad. On Sunday during the telecast, the “last chance” voting opportunity also known as the “All Star Game Sprint Final Vote”.  Wow, what a clever name for the contest. As we all know, the Rays Evan Longoria won that last selection vote in 2008, and so far has been the highest vote getter in the American League side of voting this season.

The All Star Managers, the National League’s Charlie Manuel and the American Leagues Joe Maddon will help select the five players to take part in the final vote. This voting will continue until next Tuesday at 4 pm EST when all electronic votes will be counted and submitted to MLB for final approval. MLB.com will announce the winner after 4 pm and they will represent their league in the 2009 All Star game.

Who will get that last slot this season?  Could it be the guy who comes in fifth or sixth in the outfield, or maybe even a late bloomer like Texas Ranger shortstop Elvis Andrus. Since my team is located in the American League, I am going to try and make some predictions and logical choices to be considered for the 2009 A L side of the field. For me to even consider who might make it on the NL side of the equation might be more speculation than fact, and I will leave that to the bevy of ESPN columnists more qualified than me to know the National League. So without further ado, let me try and figure out the final 32 members of the AL squad I would expect and also select if I was in the AL Manager’s cleats.

For the Final vote, hmm, this might be a bit interesting this season. I am thinking that the Rays will again have a member on the five people selected for the Final Vote. This season it will be uber-utility player Ben Zobrist. I think Maddon wants to put him on the squad, but he might already have three players on the squad at that point and might leave it up to the voting public for the last slot. For what he has done in the first half of the season, he deserves it, but does the rest of the country agree with the Rays fans.

A second player I feel might be considered for the final vote will be Toronto Blue Jay shortstop Marcus Scutaro.   Based on his defensive and offensive mastery in 2009, he should be an outside candidate to be included as the second shortstop on the squad. He is being a bit punished by New York Yankees long stay Derek Jeter taking the starting spot, and the Rays Jason Bartlett maybe taking the second slot. But this could change and they could also be swapped if the Jays do not place another player on the squad, but with Jays starter Roy Halladay now healthy, you have to consider him for your pitching staff.

 

I am also thinking that MLB and Maddon might let the fans decide if Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez deserves a slot on the team after his PED conversations and his recent emergence to again hitting like the old A-Rod. This might be the place for the general public to either voice their support or disgust for his actions.  The Yankee star will not be voted into the starting line-up this season as Longoria is the probable starter at third base this season for the AL.

The fourth player that might find himself on the Final Vote will be Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter. This season with Jason Bay now on the AL-side of the voting, he has taken a usual spot taken by one of the trio of Hunter, the Rays Carl Crawford, and another former AL and NL All Star Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr.  Hunter has been a fixture on ESPN’s Sportscenter and also Baseball Tonight  for his defensive web gems, and it might be the publics votes that get him into the event.

The last guy to be on the vote for the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote has been mentioned above. I am thinking that Maddon and MLB would both like to see Ken Griffey Jr. in the All-Star game again, this time on the AL side of the field. The guy has been the role model for my generation on how to play the game with style, grace and a smile during all 162 games.  With his addition to this last vote, it would bring about a message that longevity and public persona do have a play in the classic event. The guy has given us great moments this year out of Seattle and deserves a shot at another All-Star selection.

So far this season, there have been some huge gains by player usually though of as back-ups or late additions to teams. There have also been some players who have sat at the top of their games have a few falls from grace moments and are trying to rebuild trust and their game. But no matter what happens, I still think this years AL squad looks as tough and as strong as the last 5 years. This is my  personal selection for the final five to be considered for the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote.

This is not t mean a player like  Toronto’s Aaron Hill, Twins slugger Justin Morneau, or even Indians catcher Victor Martinez will not be selected to the squads. I do not envy Maddon his job of getting all of the AL teams represented for the event. Every teams has a star who should attend the event, but also there are players who have already either sewn up a spot at that position, or might be involved in the last vote. We will not know what the country thinks until Tuesday evening, but starting on Sunday night e can again make our voices ring loud and clear and decide at least one member of the 2009 AL and NL All Star squads.

 

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