October 2009

Rays #1 Moment of 2009: ” To the Roof People!”

How can you describe it to someone who has never seen it before. It is a awesome moment that steals your breathe away and makes your own heart skip a beat or two. It is the time you can visually imagine seeing the sweat, blood and hard work it took to gain those banners flash instantly before your eyes. It is a time to will never,ever forget for your entire life.

And for me, it is a Tampa Bay Rays moment 12 years in the making. A dozen years of watching teams glide up and down in the standings, mostly in the bottom rungs, but finally thrusting towards the zenith of the division.
Rays Radio Host Rich Hererra was so right when he told all of us during the 2008 season that “It was going to be a Magical Summer.”

This had to be my “Number #1 Rays Moment of 2009″. Not only will this event be played out for years in stories and tales, but because all the rest of the Rays future seasons will be judged from now on against these two banners being raised to the rafters of Tropicana Field. Sure the  on-the-field actions that produced these banners might have happened in the 2008 season.
 

But the realization is visualized here on the Rays Opening Day, April 13th against the multi-ringed New York Yankees. For on that day, the realization of what truly happened during the playoffs is alive and growing within the stadium. the banners seem to have a pulse of their own and an honorable place amongst the rafters now for every fan, team and home viewer to see forever. 


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And now it seems kind of symbolic passing of the trophy that the Yankees got to witness this spectacular event. From the  first moment both banner materialized from the dugouts and the Rays as one seem to glide those banners across the turf on their shoulders and walked high and proud with them both into position right below the leftfield seats.

How a small band of local Armed Forces paratroopers stationed at nearby McDill Air Force Base, which houses the U S armed forces Central Command post, helped hoist the banners into their lofty posts in the rafters of the stadium. With the cheers and the applause almost deafening, it was a moment that brought chills, thrills and a few drops of wetness to the Rays uniform I was wearing that great night.

Because not only did the players do amazing things on the field in their run towards the World Series, but the fans came out in droves and supported this team by filling every nook and cranny of the Trop. when we needed them most. And even if this day was set forward to celebrate with pomp and circumstances set before us, the event will live on forever, not only with the ticket stubs and the programs, but in the hearts and minds of the Rays Republic. It was the first day the home fans got a chance to relish the team trying to regain their spot again in 2009, at the top, and as winners.

Some people might remember, I almost ruined this special night’s banner positioning when during a taping of the “Maddon’s Maniacs” during the “Ground Rules” video I snapped a few photos of the banners already in place. I posted it on Twitter and Facebook and then got a nice subtle note to ‘please take them down”, not from the team or a Rays rep., but from a friend within the organization.


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I did not know that that was the final positioning spot picked for the ceremony, or even that those two banners were going to be the actual two used for the event. I was ashamed for a moment that I might have abused a bit of courtesy shown to me by the Rays.

But I also knew I got to see an early glimpse at a historic event that I will cherish forever. But on April 13th, you saw the pride and the emotions flowing from every member of the Rays roster and staff out on the turf before the raising of the two banners. Everyone within the Rays game day staff from the clubhouse guys to the medical staff was out there celebrating the moment with the team.

But some people were missing. Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd did not get to be present with their former Rays team mates as they were with their current clubs somewhere else amongst the MLB schedule. But you know they were there in spirit, and in the minds of the guys on the field that played along side of them during the playoff run. For even if certain people stood out amongst all the moments of the playoff run, the team was the centerpiece of this championship, and it might be the best team the Rays ever put on the field.


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It was a emotional night  that you knew even the most stubborn and nasty visiting fans would rejoice and understand the commitment and the sacrifice this team went through for those two titles. No matter if they were wearing Yankee jerseys and shirts, the visiting crowd clapped and celebrated along with us. And in an ironic twist, at the end of the 2009 season, it is that night’s visiting team that night will hold their own duo banner ceremonies in 2010 now.

So here is  a small salute hoping that the New York Yankee fans can relish in the same emotions and pride when their banners are also shown for the first time in 2010. The World Series has not concluded yet, and maybe there will be a nice third banner to be raised before it is all said and done in 2009.


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It is a ceremony you will not ever forget if you get the chance to attend one in your lifetime. It really does break down into your heart and tears any hardness or scars away for that moment. It is a time to remember and rejoice the true spirit of why they play the game, and we watch as fans. It is a time to remember why you follow the team, and that both your commitments have resulted in rewards way beyond your wildest dreams.

It was a truly “Magical Season”, and one that I will probably bore people with in the next 20 years. But you always remember your first one with more vigor and vitality. Because your first quest, your first venture into the playoffs is magical enough, but it symbolized so many “firsts” in 2008 for the Rays that it would make you head spin. But the end result was celebrated on April 13th, and hopefully you were either there or watching at home. It is the first of many, and certainly not the last moment to celebrate as Rays fans.

 

Rays Number #2 Moment of 2009: ” B J Upton takes a Cycle Ride”

 


They call it one of the hardest and most exciting feats in baseball. It takes concentration and a will of steel to perform such a feat in the game of baseball. And the pure fact that it took over 1,939 Tampa Bay Rays game before we saw the first of its kind, just adds to the mystery and the awe of the spectacle. For on that night of October 2, 2009 in Tropicana Field, B J Upton put his signature on the game forever. But he was not the first of the Rays to face this obstacle in 2009, but he was the first in team history to finally break through and complete the first cycle in Rays history.

It was really only natural for this moment of triumph by Upton to be picked somewhere within the “Top 5 Rays Moments of 2009″. Some people might bicker and argue it should be popped somewhere lower on the list, but to me, this is the perfect spot for this moment. Considering that Upton spent the most part of 2009 fighting to prove he is more than just a good centerfielder, but to prove his plate discipline and bat had matured over the last season. And team mates like Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria also had chances this season to add their names to this list, but they fell short.

And the “cycle” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that time is the element Upton needed this season to correct and get back into the saddle at the plate. That maybe his off season shoulder surgery left pains and discomfort for most of the year before he thrust his average skyward in July. For that month he became the American League Player of the Month after posting a .324 average with 5 HR 22 RBI and 14 stolen bases.  

Anyone who knows me knows I would fight to the death over this guy’s reputation. I have heard the passion and the will to succeed in his voice this season, and in all of  this, most fans just seem to see his faults.  Upton went 5 for 5 on the day, to tie the Rays record for most hits in a game with 4 other players, but it was only the second time the act has been reached at Tropicana Field, and the first since ex-RayTomas Perez did it on July 29, 2006 against this same Yankees squad.

And another amazing part of the feat that people tend to forget,he started his quest for the cycle in the first inning of the game batting out of the seventh slot in the Rays order. And he got the hardest hitting element of the cycle out of the way during that first appearance….the Triple. I think it is unfortunately that Upton was now finding his rhythm at the plate in the team’s 160th game.


Chris O’Meara / AP

And some of the Yankees faithful might look at that first hit, that went underneath sprawling Yankee rightfielder Nick Swisher as he dove for the ball heading into the right-centerfield gap as a gift, and nothing more. But it was the start of a magical trip that all in attendance got to see, feel and relish for the first time in Rays history. And by getting the double in his second at bat, Upton was putting his own stamp on this game, and making the feat easier for himself. 

And let’s not forget, the Yankees did have a stellar pitcher on the mound in this game trying to get his 20th win of the season. C C Sabathia was not lobbing the ball up to the plate, but Upton did make solid and great contact on got two of his hits off Sabathia before he left in the bottom of the fourth inning. The other three hits came off the Yankee Bullpen..  

Upton is considered the first American League player to get his cycle before the 5th inning of a game since 1954. During that same period, the National League had three players complete the feat by the 5th inning. And he had completed the task the quickest since the Rockies Mike Lansing did it on  June 8,2000 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

What was also so amazing, before that Friday night game, Upton had only 1 HR in his last 31 games, and 2 extra base hits (both doubles) in his last 14 games. Another wild fact is that it was the eighth cycle this season in Major League Baseball, tying the previous record set in 1993. And 6 of the 8 cycles this season have been set in the American League.

But there is another wild statistic that might have missed the Rays fans and the media about Upton. During the month of October, Upton has hit .301 (28 for 93) with 13 extra base hits, 8 HR, 23 runs scored, and 23 RBI.  Those statistics cover over 24 career games, including the playoffs.  So it might not so far fetched that at this time in the season he  also collected 6 RBIs on the same day as his “cycle”,but it is a pity we could not have had that offensive power the entire season. I guess it will be one of those “What If” situations.


Chris O’Meara / AP


Hopefully this offensive explosion gave Upton the confidence going into the off season to sweat a bit harder during his off season workouts and come into the 2010 Spring Training on mission.  Sometimes it take a moment like this for a player to escalate to that higher level in their career. Lets hope that by Upton producing the first cycle in Rays history it also pedals him towards what we all know he can be……….an elite member of that speedy Rays outfield both in the field and at the plate.


Don’t forget, I have links to all  of my Rays top moments of the season over in the sidebar to the right of the blog. Just click on the “moment” link and it will bring up an
MLB.com webpage and report on the event. Tomorrow I should be wrapping up my Top 5  Rays moments of 2009, and next week will venture into the Top 5 worst adventures during the 2009 season. Until then, I hope you come back and check out the Number #1 moment tomorrow and also celebrate an awesome season by a team that proves it doesn’t take millions to succeed in baseball.

Rays #3 Moment of 2009: “Carl Crawford- Master Theft”

 


When I was a kid it was pressed upon us at a young age that you should not take things that were not yours. And it was not right to try and deceive or fake your way into getting things under false pretenses. But in the game of baseball, the art of stealing bases is not only legal, its is a right of passage. For if you can gain the speed, the quick jump, and possess the right angles to slide in safely into the bag, you are a valuable weapon in your team’s arsenal.

And for this reason, the stolen base has been considered an art form in the game of baseball. Some can get extra bases because of simple pitching mistakes, but the rare few can also use their minds, bodies and their gazelle-like speed to transfer the game into another dimension. And that is why my Number #3 Rays Moment of 2009 has to be the base stealing display put on by Carl Crawford on May 3,2009.

And for years, the Tampa Bay Rays have had one of the Major League’s best at this art form. Carl Crawford has always been known for his quick speed out of the batters’ box to first base, but he truly holds court between the base paths in the American League.  And if you have the pleasure to watch him do it game after game, you are watching someone who has not only given his team an instant advantage, but someone who take the chaos of his wild swinging arms and legs flailing as he runs,  and combine the action with his tongue just outside his lower lip to bring a unison of movement while stealing a base. 

He is considered to be a tick faster then Stolen Base King and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, and to see him run from first to third on a play, you would be banking on him falling. But rarely does he make a mistake running on the base paths, and even stole 30 straight bases this season before finally being caught stealing second base.

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But on May 3, 2009, not only did Crawford tie the modern day record for stolen bases in a game with 6 stolen bases on the day, he also went 4 for 4 with a walk to set up his record tying feat.  Proving once again that he is a deadly offensive weapon for the Rays. Only 4 players had equaled that feat since the 1900’s, and now Crawford’s name would be remembered among them.

Crawford sent the spikes he used that day to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York at their request. So if you get a chance to go to the museum this off season, you will be able to see the footwear he wore during that game against the rival Red Sox.  Also during that game he became the first major leaguer in 97 years to have 6 steals and 4 or more hits in a game.  The last one to post that feat was Eddie Collins on the 1912 Philadelphia Athletics.

At that point in the season he was already the fourth best All Time in steals with 391 stolen bases in 383 attempts (83.3 percent rate).  His 83.3 rate ties him with former Royal  great Willie Wilson for the all time AL mark. And he is still young. Considering he is not even near his 30th birthday and he just might set a few more records before all is said and done in his career.


Mike Carlson / AP


I have to tell you, I was in the stadium on that day, and I was probably as nervous as everyone else wondering if he was going to try and steal a seventh base that night. With Evan Longoria at the plate you ached and arched your back with every pitch wondering if he was again going to sprint off of first base and try and set a new record. But he never did.

And it was not learned until after the game that Crawford did not even know the importance of the event, or he might have tried for a seventh base. But that is the glitz and glamor of Crawford. He was thinking about the team first, and not thinking of personal gains or records for himself. And that makes him more valuable to this Rays team.

Rays # 4 Moment in 2009: “Zorilla Meets the Renegade”

 

Here we go again!
Let’s get this show back on the road again of the Top 5 Moments in Rays baseball in 2009. It is time now to present my personal fourth greatest moment this past season. I guess you can say I am really proud of this moment because it happened literally right in front of me. That’s right, the special moment I am picking as my fourth best of the season is when Tampa Bay Rays rightfielder Ben Zobrist came over and fell over the padded partition just to the right side of my seats with a circus catch that endeared him to everyone from that moment on in 2009.

The play happened during the sixth inning of a game that the Rays had pretty much in the bag against the Oakland Athletics, and their big slugger Matt Holliday was at the plate facing Rays rookie Jeff Niemann. There were two outs in the inning, and the Rays had a comfortable 11-2 lead at that point. Niemann threw a nice slick 94 mph fastball that Holliday  was able to turn on and sent a high fly ball into the rightfield corner.

Zobrist felt he had a nice bead on the ball and was concentrating on following the path of the ball and not his location on the field when he smacked into the wall just outside the Checkers Bullpen Cafe. Well, from my seat, which is right there, I could see he might not be able to get both the ball and keep his feet.  But I had my camera in my hand at the time looking at that ball beginning to floating towards our seats. But I quickly glanced over and saw Zobrist was barrelling at full speed and did not even blink as he clipped the bottom of the wall with his cleats and his momentum sent him end over end into the padded area besides my seat.


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Just before he hit the green padded wall near the foulpole, Zobrist  firmly caught the ball and quickly clamped it deep into the webbing of his glove. As he flipped over the wall I reached down to try and keep him off the Green concrete wall just next to my seat. He hit the black padding and just looked up at me and I yelled “Throw up your glove and let the umpire call the ball!”. Zobrist immediately thrust the  brown glove up with the  pure white ball showing firmly deep in the pocket of his mitt.

He was grinning from ear-to-ear at that moment and quickly popped back up and walked out the opened gate back onto the field. He had hit that padded wall with such extreme force that he broke the painted wood paneling on that section of the wall and tore the field-side padding at the bottom where his cleats  hadcaught the fabric before hurdling over the wall.

It was an amazing catch, and set the stage for the rest of the MLB world to get to know this player Rays fans already knew and loved for his hustle and his grit. It showed the hustle and the determination of this young player do whatever he could to help his team win night after night. And I am so glad I got to have a front row seat to his “coming out” party.


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The next day during the Rays Batting Practice, Zobrist came over to me at my seat and we chatted for a few seconds and I made sure to congradulate him on his “ESPN Baseball Tonight” web gem (#2).  We chuckled about it all for a moment and I had an idea. I asked him if he would sign the wall portion that he cracked during the play. He looked at me for a second, then took the black Sharpie from me and signed his name to the wall. He inscribed on the wall, “Courtesy of Ben Zobrist”. 


I picked this as the fourth best moment of the year simply for the fact it was Zobrist’s outfield defensive “coming out ” moment of the season. Before that time people had considered him a utility player with mostly roots in the infield. But in 2009, Zobrist became one of those players that a team can not win without having him in the line-up. And for that reason, this moment stood out to me as the day everyone around the MLB had a reason to fall in love with the way he plays the game, even as Zorilla.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Be sure to check out each special Rays moment daily as I count down my list to Number #1. To the right of the blog, in the sidebar, you will see a heading for the “Top 5 Rays Moments of 2009″ as MLB.com links to each of the special Rays moments.

I am planning on leaving those moments up for the entire off season. But if anyone really wanted to know where I sat, and if I ever got on television, this video is proof for both questions. I love sitting there to be close to the action, and to chat with the Rays Bullpen members each game.  But on May 18th, during the first home game since my birthday, I got a special present from Zorilla, and a moment we will all remember in Rays history.

World Series Game 5.0 One Year Anniversary

 


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I was going to begin my end of the season series of blogs on my  personal “Top 5 Moments in the 2009 Rays Season” until I looked at the calendar on the kitchen wall this morning. And there it stood. In huge bold RED letters October 27, 2009. To most people this date is only a reminder that in only 4 days, the hordes of sugar-seeking pint-sized ghouls and gobblins trick or treaters would invade the neighborhoods, and the air would be alive with the screams and laughter of children everywhere.

To the Rays faithful, this date is the One Year Anniversary of a baseball moment that will live in Rays lore as the “Big One that Got Away”.  It was one year ago on this day that Game 5 of the 2008 World Series was to be played, and completed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

But it really does not feel like it has been an entire year since I was sitting in Section 101 in centerfield right by both teams Bullpen Areas at Citizen Bank Park watching some pieces of errant uneaten hot dogs, sandwich wrappers and soda cups raining down from the stands when the Major League Baseball head honcos and Home Plate Umpire Jeff Kellogg decided to suspend play during Game 5 of the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia to protect the players.

And about this moment the Philly weather was starting to pick up an extra special blast of chilling wind gust, and the  present temperature in the stadium seemed to be dipping extremely fast towards a point of freezing. But still we sat there hoping we might be able to complete this game and get our toes and noses defrosted with a cup of steaming hot coffee in between innings.

It did not matter that the cold made our fingers a bit numb and ached when we clapped or even tried to loosen them up by flexing them during the game.  For I was from Florida, and this bit of weather is not a usual element for us to endure during games, but my two batting gloves did help a little bit in the cold. Both teams tried to play this game, but were fighting increasingly slippery surfaces on the basepaths and at the home plate.


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The game was beginning to resemble a old neighborhood kids baseball game where we played in the muck and mud and sloshed around as best you could because we loved to play the game. But the guys out on that field were professionals, and the elements were not giving them ample footing or even visibility to see the ball in the air. And it was a good call in hindsight to stop the game before some got hurt, or a play occurred that would change the course of the game.

I can still see the three Phillies fans who sat a few rows back who had traveled over one hundred miles to attend that night’s game, and would not be able to stay over for even one more night to see a possible ending to this game. The saddness on their faces as they rose after the announcement and almost tore their tickets up showed the common air of disappointment circling the stadium that night.

All I can easily recall sitting in my seat drinking a soda and watching the Rays players become more like human popsicles with every inning. The “Elmer Fudd”  Rays hats with the ear flaps were in great demand down on the Rays dugout, and you could see the after glow of the bench heaters from my outfield seats. It is a wonder nothing caught fire that night as the flames seemed to kiss the back of the players heels and they relished the warmth and endured the slight discomfort of the heat.

And when the announcement officially came from the public address system that the game would not be continued, you understood the instant wrath and barrage of garbage being thrown in the air. We wanted to see the end of that classic game that would later be known as Game 5.0 and Game 5.5, but the safety and welfare of the member of both squads and the fan took center stage.


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We all know how this game ended up two days later. And maybe if the game had been played to it conclusion a different result might have occurred. But it was the right call by MLB in an extreme situation that not only made history, but also showed some immense courage considering what town the game was being held in at the time.

I even made sure to try and spot my seat from that night and sure enough, he was sitting there with a beer in one hand, and a big Brat in the other cheering on his Phillies. Today is painful, but not as biting as a year ago as I wandered outside the stadium walking down Broad Street with the rest of the fans. There were shouts of disgust, shows of violent tendencies, but the crowd was pretty subdued compared to a few hours ago in the stadium during the game.

I ended up with a few friends of mine from my days in Philly back in the early 1990’s and went to one of the neighborhood bars for a few drinks to get my blood flowing again to my limbs. There I met a guy who was so upset he had to work that night, but was glad he might get a chance to see a World Series game now that the game was postponed a few days.

I sat there listening to his stories for a bit, and he heard a few of my Rays tales before I offered my ticket to him. I had a flight out of Philly the next evening and could not stay an additional night to see the conclusion of the game. I took no money from him, but told him to get down to Clearwater, Florida during Spring Training and we will settle the score. He did make it down and invited me to a game.  With him he brought a Game Program from the game, a Beep Cup signifying the World Series, and the ticket stub.


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I told him he could have the ticket stub since his team won the World Series at the conclusion to that game. He told me he took it to a Kinko’s store and had it enlarged to a huge size, and it is now hanging in his game room. So this day has some mixed emotions to me. I got to see history a year ago today, and also got to provide a lifetime moment to someone who would have missed it if the game did not get postponed. So even with all the pain of this date, some good did come of it all.

   

Sunday Rewind: “Open Letter to Andrew Friedman”

 

Sunday Rewind:

The following entry was a copy of a letter I sent to Tampa Bay Rays Vice-President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman on August 12, 2008.   It was an open letter to him after some concerns following the recent injury bug that has plaqued the Rays.

 

To:  Rays Vice-President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman
 
Dear Andrew,
 

Being a long time Season Ticket holder and fan of the Rays, I thought I might write you concerning my views on the recent injury situations hitting the club at this important point in our season. I hope this letter shows some insight into the thoughts and ideals that we, as vital Rays clogs in the machine, the fans, hopefully to see  fulfilled as we fight for our October destiny.

On the subject of irrational roster moves or acquiring  part-time players.
Please do not feel like you need to make a monster roster move or trade to suppliment the injuries suffered by All-Star leftfielder Carl Crawford. I think we have enough back-up experience in both Justin Ruggiano, Eric Hinske, Gabe Gross, and Rocco Baldelli to feel secure in our 15 days (hopefully) that Crawford will be out of the lineup.

Remembering, that Crawford has been extremely aggressive at the plate this season, and might be hitting just a tad below his usual awesome numbers. I want to also state that the time off for Carl might also help rehab that hamstring injury that has been plaguing him for much of this year. A few weeks rest might be good for Carl, and the Rays have more than adequate people in house to keep the position secure with the power and speed.

By using our Rays farm system instead of going out for over-priced vets like Kenny Lofton, you are making a confident message that you will not be “making a deal to make a deal,” and that you have a strong and secure feeling about the personnel already on board with the Rays.

By not sinking to a lower level and thinking about signing Barry Bonds to a contract, you are keeping the clubhouse chemistry alive and not tampering with  the team’s destiny or fate. the overall feeling in the Rays clubhouse right now is that they can overcome this  current set back and come out of it with a stronger team unity and unified purpose going into the playoff push.

The team chemistry on this Rays squad is at its highest point in the Rays history. I have never seen the Bullpen and the bench players root for their teammates as much as they have this season. The Rays seem to be more in tune with the entire team concept this year, and they adhere to it’s unwritten rules and conduct.


This squad oozes confidence and positive karma into the media like a stream down a mountain side. It would be a disaster to try and re-construct the team for a short haul and ruin this great team dynamic. It is rare that you have 25 players,and a coaching staff all feeling the same vibe at the same time.

There is no one with an inflated ego on this team that feels they are above the group, and the team has done great in keeping that in line this year if someone has gotten a bit “lofty” in their words. You have made great pitching decisions this year in giving Edwin Jackson a fair chance in the rotation, and he has rewarded you with career highs in wins and a lower ERA.

You made a unpopular trade at the time for a shortstop and a young pitcher that made it seemed like you got low-balled on the deal. About right now, the Twins might give you almost anything for those guys back in their fold. Matt Garza has grown, and his ceiling is only growing with every start this year. But he was not the steal of that deal by a long shot.

Even though Jason Bartlett has had a injury plagued season, he has been an instant sparkplug in the Rays machine by playing excellent defense, and coming up with timely hits for the Rays this year. He has been the hidden jewel in the Rays infield, and hopefully he will shine bright for many years.

In closing, I know there is only about 7 weeks left in this 2008 season, but do not make a forceful and hasty move just to save some sort of face with the media and fans base. Make the secure moves that might include a certain pitcher in Triple-A at Durham for security in the Bullpen or rotation, but do not be hasty to make the decision to stand pat if the Rays are rolling and it might hurt the flow.

In the end, you are the face in the front office of this franchise that the fans will look to if we fail or succeed. Either way, the season has been a wild ride, with plenty of more in store for this team in the next 5 years ………..or more.
 

Your Season Ticketholder for Life,

Rays Renegade


Sect 138, Row C, Seat 3

 

Rays #5 Moment of 2009: Welcome to Zaunbe Nation

 


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Usually about this time of the year we try and look back and celebrate and remember some of the great moments of the Tampa Bay Rays season. As we begin to enter the sunset of the year, we should remember just how far we really have come as a franchise, and the players and people who have emerged this season to make its memories and tales light up like the brightest day.

Over the next several days I am going to revisit some of the Top 5 moments for me personally during the 2009 season. Now I am not going to throw them down as isolated moments, but as key moments I think happened during the season to change the outcome of this team. Also not listed will be the in-game foul ball catches by me ( May 29th vs Twins @ home), because those are personal moments of triumph, and not Rays moments. 

So today I felt it was only right to throw down my personal 5 favorite moments of the Rays 2009 season. And there is surely more than 5 that come to mind quickly, but I would hate to write a 125 paragraph blog on the excitement and the adventures that this team experienced daily in 2009 from the first reporting date on February 15,2009.

The fifth memory of the 2009 season has to be the way that the Rays newly acquired catcher, Gregg Zaun introduced himself to the Rays hometown fans during a game against the one of his old teams, the Toronto Blue Jays on August 16th.  Most Rays fans remember that in 2008, it was Zaun that hit a Grand Slam HR against the Rays to garner a victory for the Jays.
 


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This Sunday afternoon contest had all the makings of a tight game with Rays starter Matt Garza taking the hill for the home team. And it was a tight game until the bottom of the eighth inning when  Jay reliever Brandon League came on with the score knotted at 1-all. 

League got the first out of the inning quickly when he got Evan Longoria to fly out to rightfield on the second pitch. But then League gave up a single to rightfield to Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena quickly countered with a double to deep centerfield to put 2 men in scoring position for the Rays with still only one out in the inning.

Toronto then Intentionally Walked the next batter Willy Aybar to load the bases, and  the Rays decided to pinch hit Gabe Gross for Gabe Kapler. League and Gross had a classic pitcher-hitter confrontation throwing 10 pitches before finally striking out to produce the second out of the inning.  With catcher Dioner Navarro due to come up next, Toronto must have felt like they had dodged the bullet in this inning.


Mike Carlson / AP

But Rays Manager Joe Maddon was not done with his mind games and instead sent up Zaun to pinch hit for Navarro with the bases still juiced with Rays runners. League got behind in the count early and finally got back to a 3-2 count before throwing the sixth pitch of the at bat. The next ball he would get would be a spanking new ball after Zaun smacked the ball a good 10 rows deep into Section 140 for a Grand Slam home run, and to post the Rays to a 5-1 lead in the game.

The crowd and the players in the dugout both went totally nuts and Zaun as he circled the bases did not even look into the Blue Jays dugout. But you could see his wide grin as he stepped on home plate and was mobbed by the three other base runners that had scored before him.  It was a great way for the “Zaunbe Nation” to begin its quest to win over the Rays fans. The pitch effected League so much he hit B J Upton with the next pitch and was taken out of the game by Toronto Manager Cito Gaston.

The reason it was my fifth best moment of the year was the introduction of a player I hope the Rays decide to have on their roster again in 2010. Zaun brings a nice energy and professionalism that seems to be working great with the Rays starters. The team will have to pick up his $2 million option, but considering that Dioner Navarro is also arbitration eligible, and might get a raise to about $ 2.5 million, my gut tells me that Zaun would be better in the long run for the franchise.


www.greggzaun.com

Also, if you get a chance, please go to www.greggzaun.com and check out his very slick and very entertaining website that he developed for his fans and to promote his many charity efforts. It also has both his “walk-up” tunes on the site.

The 2009 season has so many great memories and moments it has been difficult to even get them down to a possible 20. But I sat there for a few days this weekend with my list and a big sharpie and wrote notes in the margin and in between the lines to try and get a pretty concise and complete list. Of course we will not have the number 4 reason posted on Sunday as we have the “Sunday Rewind” already in the works to preview some of the classic blogs postings of the last few seasons.

But you can bet that on Monday night we will again begin posting the rest of my list from Monday to Thursday night baring any important MLB news. So hopefully you will return back and cherish some of these awesome Rays 2009 moments with me during the next few days as we celebrate the second winning season of the Rays, and just a small step backwards in our journey to walk tall among the teams in the American League East.

 

 

Every day until I reach my number # 1 moment of the 2009 season, I will be posting a link of that event on the sidepanel to the right of the blog entry. This will give other people a chance to also check out the event as it happened during the Rays 2009 season. You will see the Number # 5 moment is currently already on the sidebar so you can relive Gregg Zaun introductory moment to the Rays Republic.

 

 

 

Rays Decision on Iwamura is Complex

 


Duane Burelson / AP

With the beginning of the 2009 off season upon us, teams like the Tampa Bay Rays will soon have to begin to make some serious personnel decisions for the 2010 season, even before they hit the MLB Winter meetings in Indianapolis, Indiana. Everybody and their brother already know about the Rays impending decision on Carl Crawford’s $ 10 million club option, and his public eagerness to sweeten the deal and possibly sign another extended contract.

But there is another Rays player who has made it be known to the Rays front office through the media that he would entertain a contract restructuring, and maybe give the team a local discount because of his family’s love for this area. Iwamura informed the Tampa Bay media during his May 29th press conference about his successful knee surgery that he wants to “come back for the fans” in 2010, and the teams holds a $4.85 million club option.

One thing working into Iwamura’s favor is the fact the Rays have seen him work totally with the team in mind in the past to do whatever is needed to make this Rays team better. When he first came to the Rays, he was their third baseman, and he quickly showed his defensive skills at that position. After the end of the 2007 season, Iwamura was asked by the Rays Coaching staff if he would consider a move to second base to open the door for the Rays top prospect Evan Longoria to maybe move into that position in the Spring of 2008.

Without hesitation, Iwamura  began to work on the switch during the off season both  in Japan and with the team at the Rays complex in St. Petersburg, Florida. Iwamura was hoping for a smooth seamless transition to his new spot at second base. During that off season, the Rays traded with the Twins for Jason Bartlett to also add more defensive power to their two weakest spots in the infield.
 


Michael Dwyer / AP

Iwamura stated to the St. Petersburg Times on February 17,2008 that he was “Proud of my play at third base but at same time if the team needs me to be at second for team reasons I more than welcome it,” he said through new interpreter Bori Uchibori. “It’s a challenge to me anyway. I know I can do it. Wiggy can do it so I can do it.” During that season’s Spring Training, Iwamura and Bartlett  worked out together and formed a quick bond and a second sense for each others actions and reactions, and it became a flawless fit for the team.

Even after his knee surgery to repair damage received during a May 29,2008 game against the Florida Marlins where Marlins rookie Chris Coghlan came in hard to break up a double play and Iwamura went down in a heap after getting caught between the bag and Coghlan’s foot. Iwamura was encouraged by the surgeries prognosis and vowed to be back with the team before the end of the season. On August 29th, Iwamura returned from the disabled list after 60 days.

And that kind of team-oriented qualities need to be welcomed by the Rays Coaching staff and Front Office as they consider if they want to include Iwamura in their future plans.  You can bet there will be more than a few discussions before the team announces if they will pick up or refuse Iwamura’s 2010 option. And the team can go a few directions here.  There is some doubt right now if recently acquired infielder Sean Rodriguez, who might have outgrown Triple-A is ready for every day duty in the major leagues.

And that has to be the biggest question mark surrounding Iwamura right now. Can Rodriguez be an every day MLB level player for the Rays, or even a valuable utility man like Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist? That might be the big question in mind as the Rays roll the dice before the team reports to Port Charlotte on February 19,2010.  Can they afford to refuse his option and resign him for a reduced salary and incentives, or risk letting him test the free agent waters?


Ben Margot / AP

And you know there are a bevy of teams that might want to lure Iwamura away from the Rays. A team like the New York Mets could benefit from the Rays confusion and would use his speed and flexibility to compliment their infield. But this is putting the cart before the horse. The Rays have not let their intentions known yet to the general public, but you know it is a high priority of the Rays Front Office to try and get both a financial and  team suitable arrangement that can benefit both sides.

And with Iwamura being a bit of a fan favorite, the team might have to tread a bit lightly right now considering the fallout from the Scott Kazmir trade in late August 2008. To make another trade so quick without a solution in hand might again send up some unwarranted red flags amongst the Rays faithful. The Rays best solution might be to sign Iwamura to a extended contract with the stipulation that if Rodriguez is ready, Iwamura could be traded to another team during the season. 

That would show a level of good faith by the Rays along with some future considerations in place if Rodriguez provides another option piece for the team.  The worst part of this decision is that it is going to be more of a financial than personal decision about Iwamura. You know the team would love to keep someone like Iwamura on their roster, but his payroll number might make it unfeasible. But the team has been sure to note that an exit visa is not in the cards right now to jettison Iwamura from the Rays.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

But  his $ 4.85 million club option is also pretty affordable by most of the teams within the MLB, and the Rays could shop Iwamura maybe for some Bullpen help that the team desperately need right now. I actually hope they come to an arrangement prior to accepting or declining his option that would benefit both sides.  And maybe an “out” or trade revision will have to be added to any contract. But since Iwamura has announced he would do some shifting in money and conditions, this negotiation is going to be tricky for the Rays.

There is a slippery slope here that the Rays have to be careful and move gingerly or fall prey to some past decisions. But that is one of the drawbacks of being an successful club. Sometimes hard line financial decisions have to be made without personal feeling involved. Best case scenario has Iwamura staying with the team and maybe moved at the Trade Deadline when Rodriguez could get some extra time at Triple-A.

But no matter what the team does between now and February, you know this is going to be one of their toughest decisions of this offseason. Hopefully they make the right decision with the team and its future in mind.

Cheesesteak Controversy…..Geno’s or Pat’s?

 

I went and visited an old friend today for lunch who runs a small take-out joint called the “A Taste of Philly” in Largo, Florida. He has the reputation of some of the finest selections of tasty morsels south of Broad Street in Philadelphia. The guy imports  all of his bakery goods straight from the City of Brotherly Love daily, and you can’t fight the quality of his fare. They are all three napkins worthy!

So I came upon the idea that maybe we need to vent the Philly fans attention another direction for a few days and give them something to debate before the beginning of the World Series on Wednesday night. I decided maybe we need to try the virtues of two of Philly’s biggest sandwich icons and decide once and for all………

Who is KING of the Cheesesteaks according to people around the country and not just from Philly. So I decided to just throw my personal opinions and comments out here along with a little history about each place and let the ball fall and see who picks it up and runs with it. Seriously, everyone knows that people in the town have an opinion on their particular favorite cheesesteak hangout. So without further ado, Let’s Get it on!

In the Orange corner wearing multi-colored neon boxing shorts and fighting for his creation firmly mounted on the corner of 9th and Passyunk, we have Joey Vento’s and his monster creation….GENO’s. There is a really funny story on how Vento came up with the name for his place back in 1966.  With a Joe’s Steak Place already situated within the city limits of South Philly, Vento was perplexed on a name for his new place.

Well, some local kid named Gino had spray painted his name on the back door of the new place and Vento saw it and knowing that there was a local well-to-do chain store with the same name, just put a couple lines on the “GINO” painted on his back door and “GENO’s was born.  the biggest thing you need to get used to if you ever order at Geno’s is to have your order ready at the first window before you even utter a word. There is actually an art to ordering what kind of cheese,or onions you want on your thin-cut steaming ribeye cheesesteak. 

If you fail to order within a certain time limit, you can be sure the people in line behind you will give you a shout or two to let you know what they think. And that is something this town was built on Freedom of speech. And let me tell you, this is one of the places in town you will talk about for years just for the ordering experience.  And considering all of this was started back in 1966 with only two boxes of ribeyes, some hot dogs, and a total of $6 in Vento’s pockets. Simply fantastic. 

And the fact the counter is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and fills the air with the awesome aromas of onions,and sizzling steak just makes you wander towards the counter. I am not going to give a review of Geno’s right now before I introduce our second challenger to the fray. And he is another heavyweight in the fight to fill Philly fans bellies late into the night, and early mornings.

In the Blue corner fighting from the opposite corner of the intersection is Pat’s, King of Steaks, which is not as brightly set in neon lights as Geno’s, but still is the rave for cheesesteaks in the city. Between the two establishments there is always a line at certain times of the day. Pat’s actually was founded about 36 years before Geno’s back in 1930. Back then it was a modest hot dog emporium at the base of the famous Italian Market in South Philly.

One day Pat decided to try something different for that days lunch crowd.  So he had some one go get some chopped meat at the local butcher shop and grilled it up on his flat top where he usually cooked his hot dogs.  He went next door to the Italian Market and got some fresh sandwich rolls and placed the steamed meat on the bun along with some onions.

Just as Pat was about to sample his new invention, a Philly cabbie on his usual lunch break asked what Pat was eating. After a short bit of chatter, Pat decided to make one of the new creations for his cabbie friend. Pat cooked him up one of the sandwiches and after the first bite the cabbie proclaimed to Pat, “Hey, forget ’bout those hot dogs, you should sell these.”   And a momentary change in his lunch option, and the World Famous South Philly steak sandwich was born.

Over the years, people wanted a bit of change, hence the addition of cheese to the sandwich. At both locations there is a huge amount of history and celebrity that focus attention to both eateries, but one of the great adventures of ordering your sandwich at Pat’s can be the highlight of your pre-sandwich meal.

It is not uncommon for the counter person to ask someone to go to the end of the line if they stutter or can not get the order done in a timely fashion. Returning patrons can be picked out of the crowd easy by their ease at throwing out what they want on their cheesesteaks in a micro of seconds. There is even a sign posted before the counter window to help ease you into the “Pat’s Way” of ordering and getting you food as quick as possible. 

I have to say, the first time I went there I did not have to go to the back of the line, but they knew I was from the South. Maybe my Tampa Bay cap gave me away. Anyways I have to give a slight nod even before tasting either sandwich to Pat’s because they serve Pepsi products. See even in my time away from the job I still value my sodas. But both places did serve Dr. Pepper, so the scale went even again.

Another tipping point that might have pushed me in a certain direction might be the fact that at Pat’s you can eat on premises. But this was not a deciding factor if you like people watching and also enjoy the crisp, chill in the October air in Philly. Eating al fresco  at Geno’s is not like sitting at a street side Cafe’ in Paris, but you can see and hear everything that is happening around you at both steak institutions.  

No matter which of the two competing places you savor when you come to Philly, the leading factor to coming down to Passyunk has to be to eat one of the creations that has be associated with this city for so long. Doesn’t matter if you like your cheesesteak loaded with Cheez Wiz like at Pat’s or can choose your artery clogging cheese selection like Geno’s. The basic fact that you enjoy a well made sandwich should be enough right?

Okay. I get it, you want a winner. That is so American of you (lol). I am actually going to break this down into points of yummy to consider a winner here.


*****
Geno’s might be the only restaurant in South Philly you can see from Space. Pat’s is sometimes blurred by the amount of people standing outside still at 2 am.
ADVANTAGE: Geno’s.


]*****
 Pat’s counter people make even ordering a sandwich an experience. With the helpful signage and some of the crowd helping you so you can also have a fast experience without going to the back of the line. Geno’s can be testy too, but part of the Pat’s experience is just their ordering process.
ADVANTAGE:
Pat’s.


*****
Because of their extra selections of types of cheese (Cheez Wiz,American, Provolone Cheese) plus the condiments like ketchup,mustard,relish and Geno’s own hot sauce, it give you extra options for your food.
Pat’s offers the same outside condiments, but for some reason, the cheese selection just let everyone have it their way.
ADVANTAGE:
Geno’s


***** And last, but not least is the atmosphere around both places. I have to say I have been to both at different times of the season, and this one might come down to what makes you personally comfortable at the time. Geno’s does have that neighborhood joint feel to the place and with everyone outside eating and talking it creates a buzz in the air. Pat’s was my haven last October when the chilling rain and the wild breezes swept through the Philly streets and eating facing the wind was not a pleasant option. Thank you south side tables.
ADVANTAGE: Geno’s & Pat’s

So, based on the about yummy points you might think it is solely Geno’s  to lose for my ultimate winner. Well, if you think that, then you do not know me very well. I actually found both places to have their own signature differences that could have taken me towards either side of the street for a winner.

But in the end, it is ultimately a personal decision, and one I can not make for you. But I do have to add that both places have a huge bit of history and personality to them from ordering to sampling either of their fares.  The true winner of this is the citizens of Philadelphia. Not just do they have multiple choices around the city, but every large city in the US has a Philly-branded eatery in which they offer their own take on the classic steak sandwich.
 

It doesn’t matter if you like it with Whiz, onions or just  with cooked peppers, the choice is all yours. Even take it Italian and add a bit of marinara sauce to explode the taste buds another direction.  We are all thankful to the City of Brotherly Love, and especially to two well-known and loved steak emporiums within cheesesteak tossing distance of each other.

Another experience you must have in Philly is just to walk down the street towards these two stands and smell the heavy air full of steak, onions and peppers that wander through the neighborhood. As I sit here eating the rest of my cheesesteak from “A Taste of Philly” I am reminded to save space for another great city creation, a big hot soft pretzel to take home and enjoy. Oh, and another cheesesteak for later!

ESPN’s Steve Phillips implicated in Romance

 

It is rather funny sometimes that people in the entertainment and sports worlds do not learn from their colleagues prior mistakes. I am not one to launch a bevy of stones towards a man for falling for a woman, but I guess my guidelines tend to be a bit more defined both since I am single and compared to some of the recent escapades of the folks in the broadcast industry. It is okay David Letterman, “Mr. Worldwide Pants” I am not aiming at you with this blog.

No I am aiming my wrath at someone who has already had a publicized bout in the sexual harassment arena and fought his way back to fight another day. But again he might have been brought down to size by own ego and arrogance that “this time” it was going to be different. You might have read by now that ESPN “Baseball Tonight” commentator Steve Phillips really messed up this time. Didn’t his firing in 1998 from the General Managers position with the New York Mets not teach him to leave the young one alone?

I mean that tragedy had a huge bite of a sexual scandal to it. But the one thing I have learned in my 3 extra years on this planet than the 46-year old Phillips is that a scorned woman is a deadly woman both mentally and physically to a married man. So Phillips did not learn his lesson in 1998 when you made an out of court settlement on the sexual harassment case where you and another Mets employee were having a tryst on the side.  Didn’t that first  stint with your “no-no” behavior teach you anything?

Maybe I had better send you a DVD copy of the Glen Close classic “Fatal Attraction“, because based on the recent police reports filed in Wilton, Conn, you will have to watch your back for a long, long time. Please tell me your kids do not have a rabbit, because I can not bear to think of the pot boiling over again and seeing another scene like that one. It would be deja vu 1998  career pot boiling over for you.

This time  at least you did not pick a MLB baseball club employee, but you made a mistake of picking someone from your own backyard, a female assistant from ESPN to have a out of sight, out of mind” hush hush affair. The only problem was when you wanted her “out of sight”, she showed up at your home in Wilton speak to your wife and leave a detailed note on your family door for your wife to read upon returning to the house.

Problem was that your psychotic 22-year old gal pal Brooke Hundley was trying to proclaiming that you and your present wife Marni “both could not have him” back during an array of phone calls to your present wife starting on August 5,2009. the trigger for the entire bizarre event was the “right” decision by Phillips to break off their tryst and sever all ties to Hundley. Oh Stevie boy, I do not think she took it well because there she was  just 2 weeks later in your home driveway doing her best Glen Close impression.
 

Worst yet, the woman of your wet dreams did not plan to go quietly into the night and not fit your personal  definition of “out of mind“. You see she freaked out as your wife came home and parked behind her car in the driveway after she posted her “proclamation letter of Love” your front door, and tried to escape by driving up on your well-manicured lawn and busting a cement column in front of your home.  What a shame you were not in front of her car at that moment, it would have made a great episode of “Cops”.

Because not matter what happens next Phillips, this sin to going to end pretty much badly for anyone involved in this “affair.” But what is even worse is the later revelation that your  young mistress was befriending your son and learning all sorts of personal family business by posing as one of his High School classmates through numerous Instant Messages about what was going on at your home. That is right Phillips, I hear that theme music from “Fatal Attraction” in the background right now. Hundley was also so bold as to pretend to be another of your sons friends and chat with your son on his Facebook page to get more Phillips dirt.

I have to give this woman a little credit, she did her research, and got the goodies before going all wacky. And your released Press statement to the Wilton Police will be remembered at Academy Award time maybe for a Best Unsupporting Husband Oscar nomination, I could feel the pain in your words (cough, cough).

“This woman has clearly displayed erratic behavior and delusional tendencies,” Phillips said in a statement to Police. ” She has shown up at our house. She has taken on the identity of at least two people (minors) to violate our son (a minor). I have extreme concerns about the health and safety of my kids and myself.” But here is the kicker people….wait for it………wait for it…….You know you want to wait for it!

After issuing that solemn statement to the Wilton Police Department you stated that you did not want to press charges. Sounds like you are trying to put a bit of closure on all of this, but I always say nothing says “It’s over” more than a protection order/Trespassing writ where she has to admire you from 500 feet away. Just saying Phillips.

Of course presently, Ms. Hundley is on vacation and will chat with local police detectives next week. Wonder if Phillips or ESPN paid for that little trip? But there is a bright side to all of this for Marni Phillips. She filed for divorce on September 14th. So now Phillips will have an empty house and a lot of time to contemplate his next move (hopefully without Hundley).

But you can be sure even if Hundley stays employed at ESPN, this whole ball of wax is not over by a long shot. Sure people like broadcaster Marv Albert have gotten back into his broadcasting gigs after finally admitting and doing his social penalties for his biting crimes, but Phillips might not be as lucky. Just remember Jimmy “The Greek” as they tear up your contract after consideration.

Even though ESPN has had this type of  romance fraternization problems rear its ugly head. Back in 2006, ESPN baseball analyst Harold Reynolds was let go after an internal investigation because a female intern objected to Reynolds advancements and blew the whistle on him. I am not calling for a clean towel when I watch ESPN right now, but they need to clean up the smudges fast.
 

Maybe there needs to be a mandatory refresher course in sexual harassment pronto. And not the weekend workshops, they tend to make people think they have an entire weekend to stop the garbage. What really has me blistering is the fact that these two men in authority over younger women disregarded their moral responsibility to train and mentor their assistants and interns, and not wander into the dark areas of activities like this that could ruin more lives than just their own.

You can bet there is going to be some type of career repercussions from this for Phillips. He might have used his last trump card to cover MLB baseball on air. Sure it might not be  the usual MLB situation where he used a banned substance, or even a corked bat, but the integrity of his expertise will now seem tainted and everything he says will come into question when he opens his mouth.

The broadcasting game right now needs the people reporting  and training their underlings to be as clean as the driven snow. We can not have episodes like this coming out and tarnishing the guys who sit at the desks and tell us “the way it is out on the field.” It is time for everyone who covers the sport to check themselves before they wreck themselves. I want to believe what they are telling me is true by their own actions, on and off the air.

Some might say that Phillips did not drive drunk and hurt someone, and that forgiveness is the first step to progress for him. Granted, I believe that is true, but the fact is that Phillips did not learn his lesson the first time. He might have thought he had the clear cut answer this time, but he picked the wrong person who was not ready for that heartache. So not only is he away from the cameras during the MLB Playoffs, Phillips might have made his last segments on Television for a long time, or at least until those of us with ADD forget all about this affair. Let’s hope there is not a chance for a third called strike for Phillips.

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