October 2009

Calling Dr. Rivera……..Dr. Rivera to the mound Stat!

10/21/09 Blog Note: 

For some reason, the originator of the Mariano Rivera video clip has removed it from the Youtube.com files. Hopefully this was not done because of  a overpowering amount of pressure thrown at him by New York Yankees fans. But since a second angle did not make the video’s evidence conclusive, he might have decided to pull it down.
Have to admit, if I had a video I felt strongly about it would take a court order to pull it off my site. But that is the world we live in today. Sometimes things are not what they seem, and pressure can make you change your own strong will and integrity. I am still leaving the video up on the blog on because I feel if you post it, you believe in it. Plain and simple.

 

There is photo evidence of a “doctored” pitch by Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera during his relief appearance in Game 3 of the ALCS in Anaheim, California. Now this is not so shocking to me since every pitcher who  has ever graced a mound in the MLB might at times have a dark secret under their caps. And this would not be the first time a pitcher has ever stepped beyond the realm of the rules to vex his own “alleged” spit towards the small white sphere.

But  the immediate outrage might be a bit subdued compared to some stories that have broke during the 2009 season. For this is no “steroid” usage article, but this  was a high visibility pitcher who might have been caught with video evidence that Major League pitchers sometimes do things outside the boundaries of their perfect job description.

From an extra bit of sticky rosin residue on their caps, pant legs or maybe even a hidden smudge spot of pine tar situated somewhere on their gloves, this is not the first time, or the last time a MLB pitcher will  have their mound integrity called into question.

It is more a case of who got caught in this instance than why it was done in the first place. If it had been Angels reliever Jason Bulger or Kevin Jepsen, we might not even have a simple comment voiced.  The evidence and the story are going global because a big fish got caught in the net this time.

Rivera has been the Major Leagues closer icon and a Yankee legend for so long that people forget he is also a pitcher who might sometimes enjoy an extra zippy edge on his cutter from time to time.

And he might have got caught yesterday by a camera using an extra slippery substances that can only be proven by DNA samples. But seriously here, are we going to even go there. Not only do the Angels and MLB not have the ball in question, but it also doesn’t show a camera angle from behind the mound towards Home Plate.
 


www.halosheaven.com

This angle would produce beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “spit” in question actually landed on the ball and  did not miss it and proceed downward to the mound clay. And even with a high definition video in hand, it is still missing the other single camera clip image from a Fox Television camera in HD completely proves guilt here.

Who is to say that when an MLB pitcher goes to his backside and then to his glove, then comes off the mound and rubs a baseball during a game he is not applying a substance? You have to assume on every pitch that the pitcher on the mound is doing it right, and by the rules. So why is it automatically taken as a proof par excellence that a website, www.HalosHeaven.com might have the only evidence in the world of this “alleged” doctoring of the baseball by Rivera.


www.halosheaven.com


Now if there is a reverse  camera angle video, or a  single frame shot taken from the Visitor’s dugout that shows that Rivera did indeed provide some extra swerve to his cutter, than you can expect a MLB investigation and possible further action quickly. And you can bet that Fox right now is also scouring those tapes and looking for their own brand of either condemning or absolving Rivera.

With the advent of sites like Youtube and Twitter, such information is relayed as quick as our nimble fingers can pop it onto our screens.  And sometimes those videos and photos do not show all the truth.  Videos are always made that show a doctored view of someone’s world.

In this case, the video is taken directly off the network feed, and doesn’t show any evidence of being altered. But without that one definite camera angle, this video is just that…… a video right now.  If Fox or anyone else can come up with additional angles or even a Home Plate to the mound shot that shows that spit “halo” above the ball, then the course of action will change 180 degrees and the Yankee spin doctors will work long into the night.

Balls have been doctored before in games, and people have been caught. If the evidence provided by the website does lead to more close investigation of the situation, and if it is indeed an action that can be validated, then MLB will be swift with its sword. But until then we have to keep an open mind that Rivera might be both innocent and guilty at the same time. 

No matter what the result of any further investigation or video footage will bring out in the coming days, you either feel he is innocent or guilty. And with that you will have an opinion and a comment to make. My personal thoughts might be that he might have done the action, but since it did not play into the final result of the game, it should be logged, looked at and if no action is warranted….forgotten. So, what do you think?

Sunday Rewind: “Career Imploded”

 

Blogger’s Note:

This is a re-posting of a blog from February,18, 2008.  Just a few hours after some local publications seeking answers on Chef Robert Irvines culinary resume’, the Food Network pulled Irvines bio off their website and edited his “Dinner Impossible” show introduction to fully disclose his actual culinary accomplishments. Since that date in 2008, the Food Network has reformulated the introduction to the series, and also reinstalled Robert Irvine back into the lead host role in the series during the 2009 season. To finish out the 2008 season, Iron Chef Michael Symon came on the show to complete the current season while Irvine reflected on his errors in judgement on the embellishment of his culinary accomplishments.

“I was wrong to exaggerate in statements related to my experiences regarding the Royal Family. I am proud of my work while serving in the Royal Navy and on board the Royal Yacht Britannia, also as part of the Guest Chef program in the White House with the United States Navy, in addition to my culinary accomplishments.

I should have stood on those accomplishments alone, without embellishment. I remain committed and enthusiastic about my work with Food Network and other future endeavors. I am truly sorry for the errors in my judgment.  To all my family, friends and loyal fans, I will work tirelessly to regain your trust and continue to use my show and life to benefit the less fortunate.”


Oh my God,
Today I opened my Internet edition of the “St Petersburg Times”  and saw the grinning picture of the Food Networks’ Chef extraordinaire Robert Irvine staring back at me with that cocky smile that only a celebrity chef can have at a moment like this.

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It seems that after this story, the local restaurant, Ooze and Schmooze might never even  get down to even cooking a practice meal before it will shutter its doors. The bistro was to be established at 400 Beach Drive in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The current  “foodie” venture  is not even a remote possibility at this time considering the roar that is going through the culinary world right now on the Chef’s bloated resume. Irvine’s credibility and culinary exploits are being examined with a fine tooth comb right now. As stated in the “Times” article, the Food Network has pulled his website blog and is investigating his tales of the extraordinary for accuracy and even his culinary resume’ basic credibility.

I am an avid Food Network freak. I love the cooking/travel enduced show Anthony Bourdain” ( I have read his books ), the culinary craziness of Guy Fieri, Paula Deen and the “Iron Chef“. I TIVO more of this networks shows than anything else on television. So to find out my  guy from,”Dinner Impossible,” might be a bit of an imbellishing rube is a rude awaking indeed.
 

I know alot of us have stretched the truth a bit to seem more elegant or refined, but to state you helped bake a cake for England’s favorite princess ( Princess Diana), and you would have been all of 12 at the time is a bit too much to forgive right now. There have been a long line of tall tales being unearthed about his cooking expliots and bravado over the past few years.


Taken from his website:

“Robert’s philosophy is: If you are going to do it, do it right, don’t take short cuts, spend time researching, and most of all be dedicated to whatever and whomever you are working with and have lots of fun doing it. If you do not do the above, it’s time to change your career direction.”

In my local humble town (St. Petersburg, Florida), he was about to open a upscale restaurant in a very romantic and waterfront area of the city. Being near the world famous and well-received Vinoy hotel, and situated a mire block from the Fine Arts museum, it would be the kind of place to put this region on the world-wide culinary map. 

Food critics and “foodies” would travel to see the chef’s creation. Much like people flock to Emeril’s establishments in New Orleans, or Bobby Flays’ Mesa in Las Vegas, the bistro would be on the “must taste” list of some of the world best palates.

Magazines like Bon Appetit, Gourmet and maybe even the well respected Zagats’ Guide might book inbound flights to this elderly hamlet to examine and taste his creations and hopefully, put this region back on the culinary map. In an area, already reknown for seafood and citrus delicacys, and wines of Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa, we might have a new exciting chapter in the food annuals.


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Now, this region of the state is already known for it record days of sunshine and lightning. And the St. Pete Times did make this town famous for our many  green benches in the city. But something like this would be like Johhny Weisemullier wanting to set up a local business back in the early 70’s in Largo, off Belcher Road and would peak the intrest of fans and food lovers all over the country.

But sometimes celebrity can be both a curse and a blessing. Only the true in spirit and heart seem to be able to make a transition from  cooking star to  successful bistro owner without a hitch. Wolfgang Puck has done it.  Paul Newman has established an empire based on the charity and fine products from  salad dressings,tomato sauces to popcorn.

But when a falsehood is found within an industry it can sometimes makes that community turns its heads and ears away from that region, even one that is striving for positive recognition from the world. With a well-known television personality showing success and culinary masterpieces out of local resources and goods, it would have been like a “thunderstorm in an outhouse” to this region.

The “Times” contacted Dave Avery, the chef who actually did the original and final blueprinting and major bakers’ magic on Princess Diana’s wedding cake. It seems that if Robert Irvine was in fact at the Royal Navy Cookery at that time, Chef Irvine would have been 12 years old at the time of the cakes inception. 

 

Other tales have come up to test and tarnish this chef. Another has Irvine working at the White House in an official capacity somewhere in the main kitchen area. It has been revealed that he did have some cooking time in the White House,but not in a common kitchen area, but in the Navy section of the culinary section teaching some techniques and procedures to aspiring chefs, possibly for embassy duty or personal chefs for high ranking officials.

There is the fable of cleaning up and re-doing the plates of chef’s Tom Keller, Charlie Trotter, and Eric Rippert at a James Beard event before they were served that night. Either of these three chef’s would have thrown him out of the kitchen for attempting such a bold and callus disrespect to their dishes before serving them at an event. Another tale that has come to surface is of a local  Floridian flair that  his current St. Petersburg venture was to be backed by Wendy La Torre,a local woman with a flair for feeling important and regal in a non-regal world.

While Robert was here to promote the bistro a few weeks back, he was very inviting and willing to take pictures and autographs with people while telling the future tale of this fine establishment. During this same event, La Torre was rude, manipulative and wanted to share the spotlight totally with her new found savior.

Greed and Ego have no place in running a place of culinary creations. In a moments notice, you can be on cloud nine with the hit of the local scene, then you are looking at a vacant dining area with no customers after treating them as unexpected guests than as friends and patrons of your business. In this one area, Irvine was totally innocient of any wrongdoing at all.

 

I hope a lot of this  misinformation gets cleaned up fast. Irvine seems like a chef with a great creative flair, but this can reduce him to mere “dishwasher” status in culinary circles in a moments’ notice. I have seen amazing thing done on the fly on his show, “Dinner Impossible.” 

Like the moment he used a standard wheelbarrow to mix a huge batch of cole slaw, or a simple painters bucket with some selct holes to strain pasta while doing his show on a construction site . He has shown that he can work under extreme pressure and conditions.

Now he will have to use those charm and quick wit along with his awesome culinary talents to show he is a true chef,  a new man of his word, and above all, human and capable of making mistakes. either that or his next show will be entitled,” Career: Imploded.”


Celebrity Sighting down in Playoffs


David J Phillips / AP

Maybe it is just me, but it seems like the celebrity baseball fans are not straying into the  ALCS/NLCS ballparks yet. Oh, there have been a few  A and B-list sightings of the famous both from the entertainment field,and some current or former sports stars sitting in the seats near the field. But it might seems to be a bit, well empty compared to some recent seasons. 

But since I am not sitting in either Yankee Stadium, or Dodger Stadium during these games, maybe I am out of the sight lines to glancing upon or just  visually missing the boat on the celebrity onslaught that seems to follow a “winning” team as they head towards a possible World Series berth. Maybe it is just too nice weather-wise in Los Angeles right now. And we know that the Arctic winds have dampened only the seats in Yankee Stadium in the first two games of the ALCS.

But then again, maybe the weather is a bit……..well, chilly for the celebrity style folks to flock outside the confines of the Hard Rock Cafe or even a Club Level Suite right now at Yankee Stadium. But it can be such great  public relations coupes and established city cred to see or be seen in the masses wearing the blue pinstripes. But then again, I am not hoping for a huge explosion of celebrity sightings to increase when the Phillies open their home set of the series tomorrow, but then again, it is home to a lot of very unique people.


Chris O’Meara / AP

I am not really trying to complain about the lack of the celebrity mobs not flocking to the ballparks, it just seemed like there were more visual sighting in 2008 when Boston and Tampa Bay played at Tropicana Field. But then again, they were in a controlled environment where the temps never reached far above 78 degrees either even with a full house screaming at the top of their lungs. I remember bumping into comedian/minor league baseball team owner Bill Murray near the Food Courts on the First Base side while he was buying some cinnamon encrusted almonds for the game ( great taste in edibles Bill). 

Or even catching a photo op with  WWE superstar John Cena at a Rays after party following Game 2 of the ALCS up in the Cigar Bar at the Trop. It was a invitation only event mostly for the Rays employees, but I snagged a pass and shook many a hand of friends within the Rays organization that wondered how I could have wrangled such an invite. But they forget, where there is a will, there is a way with me.

And there have been some nice sightings so far in this round of the playoffs. It was great to see that Miley’s dad could make it out to Chavez Ravine for Game 1 of the NLCS.  With strands of his well coiffed  mini mullet swaying the breeze, his southern twang ringing through the PA system, he offered a fantastic rendition of the National Anthem.
 


Mark J Terrill / AP

It must an ever increasing problem for Billy Ray Cyrus to always been seen as “Miley’s Dad” by people under 18, but as “Doc” or the “Achy Breaky Man” to the rest of us. But it is awesome to see he still loves the game, and I hoped he stayed and watched it that day because even with the Dodger loss, it was a great game to watch in person.

Then on Friday, there was a glance of Los Angeles Laker guard Kobi Bryant sitting with Dodger Team owner Frank McCourt and Tommy Lasorda down near the field level for Game 2 of the NLCS game. We know Bryant has a huge love of all sports, even if his second choice of sports teams tend to range to a certain soccer team in Spain. But by the pictures, it seemed like he got into the flow of the game and had a great time. Hopefully he can again be coaxed to attend another game soon and become a lifetime Dodger faithful. 

Also during that Friday game fans in attendance got to see members of the boy band, The Backstreet Boys as they performed “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch. You can bet that there was a bevy of fabulous harmonies and a few great vocal scale moves that kept the crowd either looking towards the big screen or towards the field during their performance.


Mark J Terrill / AP

Now we move eastbound into the big stadium in the Bronx for a Friday night game to begin the 2009 ALCS in some chilly weather that had more than a few people bundled up looking more like a cocoon. I think we might have had sightings of even more celebrity or famous ballplayers in the stands if not for the sweeping chill produced by the wind swirling in the stadium. For some reason, extreme conditions and celebrities only go along in their movie roles.

But we did get a picture of the  spinal cord and backside of former Yankee great Tino Martinez sitting up in one of the enclose suites chatting and talking with a table full of people. Fox made sure to focus in on the table and sit there for about a minute, with Tino finally looking towards the field a few times, so we know it was Tino and not some fake sighting. And that might also be a problem. Sometimes in conditions like that everyone can look like someone else when wearing a  wooly ski cap and a big jacket.


Elise Amendola / AP

But the person who seemed to have gained the most photo ops during the last months of the season is the “alleged” girlfriend/BFF  Kate Hudson who again had those primo seats just beyond the top of the Yankees dugout on the Third Base line.  I am not going to rouse the rumor mill again if she is or is not even dating a certain Yankee player.

In neither of the pictures posted the last few nights do we see anything hot in her hand, or even a head covering, but we hope that the thin blond one did not catch a head cold or even a glimpse of the sniffles. But it is rewarding to see she is facing the elements like the rest of the Yankee faithful and enjoying the game amongst the regular fans. Let’s hope that our own MLBlogs “Confessions of a She-Fan” can make it out to a game or two in Anaheim to throw her mug up there to compete with the “Kate Hudson’s” of the world. I would be blown away to see Lady Jane on the television screen, but not surprised in the least.


Elise Amendola / AP

But also during the Friday night game in the Bronx, they invited one of their own back to throw out the First Pitch before the game. David Cone, who pitched for the Pinstr
ipes from 1996-2000 and produced 55 victories in his time with the Yankees threw a perfect strike across the plate before Game 1 of the ALCS.  And Cone, who owns a great eating establishment in Oldsmar, in the Tampa Bay area looks like he could still pull spot duty in the Bullpen.


Kathy Willens / AP

And even if a bunch of the ex-players and celebrities were not in plain sight, you have to guess that there were more than a dozen hidden up behind the frosted glass enjoying the game either by television or sitting near the windows enjoying CC Sabathia’s dominance in that first game. And we all know of a few out in L A who enjoy seats up in the Club Level and are usual visitors to the games, and might not be considered “event-based” celebrities by the loyal Dodger fans

So hopefully tonight when the NLCS proceeds in Citizens Bank Park the Philly celebrity faithful  will come on down and represent their town and cheer for their boys. Let’s just hope that Darryl Hall and John Oates are not the only ones we see in the seats tonight during the game.
This city has a bevy of talented celebrities. We all know that Kevin Bacon is a proud member of the “City of Brotherly Love”. But did you know comedians David Brennan, Tina Fey and Bob Saget call the city their own. And something I never knew before, 2/3rds of the “Three Stooges”, Larry Fine and Curly Joe DeRita came from this Pennsylvania town.


Matt Slocum / AP

I  am personally going to be searching for someone dressed up in a powdered wig and bi-focals and trying to present a “Where is Ben Franklin” moment in CBP. Seriously, I know the economy is tight, and even Nicholas Cage is said to be broke as an old clock right now, but this is the time that these cities need to see their famous brethren basking in the glow of another successful season.

So as the venues swap this week, it is going to be interesting to see if any celebrities will be in attendance
 in Los Angles/Anaheim this week when the Yankees come to town. There might be a few wearing Yankees gear, like Hudson, but let’s hope some of the Anaheim faithful also come out and support the teams resurgence into the ALCS. 

Maybe we will see Bobby Hatfield  who was a part of the “Righteous Brothers”, or maybe even Gwen Stefani of the group “No Doubt” singing the National Anthems or during the 7th Inning stretch. For this region of California also has its special and famous people who will hopefully come out and support the Angels. But I guess we will see.


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But just seeing some of these  special people enjoying the sport we love so well, and cheering along with us seems to boost the energy and the vibe in a stadium. And you know the camera people are forever seeking out these elusive personalities either in the suites or stuck among the thousands in the stands. Hopefully someday a few of us writing on MLBlogs.com could be featured on the big screen as a sports journalist, or even a novelist by our own “Confessions of a She-Fan” Jan Heller.

Baseball Cards go “Exclusive” in 2010

 


Comic illustration by Rick Enright
 

I can still remember  back when I was oh so young, getting my weekly allowance then racing full bore on my bike with my friends in tow down to the local 7-11 to throw my  weeks earnings of two dollars on the store counter and ask for packs of those foil wrapped baseball cards. I am not sure even now why those cards seemed to instantly transform my little world into a state if euphoria and let my imagination run totally rampant while glancing at that Cincinnati Reds Ken Griffey  high color and foil card.

And after a quick evaluation of the cards in the deck, the losing players card from that bunch always ended up between a clothespin in the spokes of my bike for the trek home to produce a  mimic motorcycle sound that let the neighborhood know the “Baseball Gang” was roaring down the alleyways. Then when we finally hit my garage, we would all circle and argue for hours trading our new cards with ones in our back pockets and never agreeing totally on their worth or importance, but remembering their stats and their teams.

And even while we sat there boasting about our treasured bounty from the store, we made sure to chew that starchy piece of bubble gum until it could not longer handle a single bubble or our jaws ached from the constant state of chewing. But to us, the cards were as close as we could get to our sports heroes. For the smiling faces of the professional ballplayers looking back either posed at the plate or on the mound sent us into hours to recalling their heroic moments. It sent us into a realm of fantasy where we would duplicate or even top their previous years statistics if we got the chance on the field.

So it was sad moment for me when I read in August 2009 that Major League Baseball was ending their 30-year relationship with the Upper Deck Company LLC and signed an exclusive multi-year trading card pact with The Topps Company Inc. It always seemed like there had been more than a dozen companies springing up and then dissolving into thin air selling and marketing baseball cards to the masses. But on January 1, 2010, the Topps Company will have exclusive use of any of the MLB’s 30 team logos and trademarks.

And this is a huge blow to the small cottage industry that first thrust itself upon my generation with their multi-card sets and that historic piece of rectangular hard bubble gum. Upper Deck, which still has an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, might have something to say about all of this before  the beginning of 2010. This season, Upper Deck produced over 16 different sets of cards just for 2009 alone. But will the streamlining of this iconic piece of cardboard be easy, or will it be pushed back into the darkness by the isolation of its true  player and game images only being available by one lone manufacturer?


Comic Illustration by Rick Enright

In 1991, the sale of these little cardboard masterpieces reached over $ 1.2 billion in sales. Which at that time, was a huge chunk of change for the industry. I know that about that time I was pumping in a huge amount of excess cash to get some of the collectible cards and “game-used” cards that were beginning to float around the country. Who would not want a small piece of  a Roger Maris bat, or even a small swatch of a Sandy Koufax jersey.

Most  of these cards consisted of a small patch of a  MLB sanctioned baseball, or a sliver of a players personal bat that was then dissected into a million pieces and sandwiched onto a card. And we were all eager to find those cards and put them into our collections at that time as an investment into our futures. Every season, the trading card companies made sure to advertise that there were “special cards” hidden within the hundreds and hundreds of decks for us to find. But after the trading card industry hit its top spot in 1991, it then began a slow decent towards the bottom.

By 2000, the industry was seeing only $400 million in sales annually and was seeking other avenues to promote and increase the sales of their products. Trading card companies used this down period to began its inversion into other sports besides baseball and football for their new revenues sources. And in 2008, the sale of these once wanted cards fell to an all time low in sales of just over $200 million, including the new card sources like NASCAR and NHL editions. 

My romance with these special cards started about 2001 when I got my first “Game-Used” card from a pack I purchased in a 5-pack set in a small hobby store in St. Petersburg,Florida. The card was a 2001 Ken Griffey Junior “Game-Used” jersey card from his first stint with the Seattle Mariners.

The card was issued by Upper Deck, and it was a piece of his home blue jersey sandwiched between two pieces of plastic. Along with the holograms on the item and the photo of him on both sides of the card, it became a cherished piece of my card collection. More for the way he played the game then for the piece of fabric inside the plastic.

But it should come as no surprise that MLB decided to side with Topps in the exclusive rights for the trading cards marketing. Because the head honcho at Topps now had a visual presence with MLB in the form of ex-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Most people might remember he was also at the helm after Disney purchased the then Anaheim Angels back in the 1980’s, and he was front and center on the podium to  thrust skyward the first World Series trophy won by the team in 2002.

I am not calling foul here in any way, but it just goes to show you that sometimes it really is “who you know” and not “what you know” that can get you that one  special meeting with MLB to even propose such an arrangement. Since Topps now has the exclusive rights to the teams logos and images, does this mean that the other companies will have to cease any contact with MLB players who might already be under contract for companies other than Topps? And can these companies, who have an exclusive signing contract with certain players block their signatures on cards in the future?


www.sportscardfun.com

You would think that both of these questions will be percolating in more than a few boardrooms around the country in response to the announcement of a single entity taking over the MLB’s marketing of the trading cards. I have heard whispers that Upper Deck might consider litigation or a simple injunction, but at this time nothing has been submitted to the courts.  And you can imagine that individual players will be reviewing their current contracts with the trading card companies and align themse
lves to be in compliance with the MLB new agreement.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig told MLB.com in August that the deal is suppose to “restore baseball cards as the games premier collectible.” The multi-year deal will give Topps exclusive use of MLB,Jewel Events and club trademarks, logos, and other intellectual properties for use on baseball cards, stickers and other product categories featuring MLB players. Such a monopoly in properties surrounding baseball is a huge kudos for Topps.

It is funny how these little pieces of cardboard have produced and induced millions of people over the years to buy, sell and trade these cards both on avenues like E Bay or at your local Flea Markets. Just for giggles, I popped my hand into a box of older cards in my closet that I have not split up and alphabetized. So picked out a total of 10 cards to see which company dominated the cards in my box. 

Well, Topps did end up coming out on top with 4 cards in that pile,with Bowman having three cards.  Also within the pile were companies like Fleer, Score and Donruss90, which had the final 3 cards in the deck.  And you could see quickly which company had the money and power to get major MLB players to sign deals with them, even back in the 1990 season. The bottom three companies did not have a superstar or starter on any of the MLB roster at that time. Bowman did get the likes of the Phillies Dave Hollins and Athletic pitcher Mike Gallego in my small selection.
 

But even back 20 years ago, Topps got the premier players for their set of cards. In those 4 Topps cards were players like Oakland’s Shortstop Walt Weiss, Royal Second baseman Frank White, Tiger Shortstop Alan Trammel and Orioles starting pitcher Ben McDonald. But what was really wild during that brief time I put my hand back into that box was the nostalgia and the blast from the past seeing some of those names pop into my eyes again after so long. Some might go to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but all of them held different memories to me both as players and as cards in my collection.

I remember almost coming to blows with my friend Steve Haas back in 5th grade over my Cincinnati Reds Cesar Geronimo card, or how I felt like I was a really shrewd dealer to trade three  non-marque players cards for a hologram 1989 Cleveland Indians card. Now all my trading cards are sectioned out by alphabetical order into small plastic containers, each with rubber banded players duplicate cards all together. To think of all the time and money I invested into these cards now seems so funny that someone like Cardinal Andy Van Slykes 1985 card could have graced the spokes of my motocross bike for weeks and I was not the wiser. 


Comic Illustration by Rick Enright

But as the baseball card market has gone into  the shallows, so has the Sports Card shops that used to number over 5,000 strong all over the country but has now dwindled down to under 500 shops specializing in these pieces of our baseball youth. But people have always told me that “all good things have to come to an end.”

Maybe that is true even with those little cards we used to buy for the glory and charm of trading with our friends for hours at a time. That some cards were valued so high by us back then to be placed in our school books as bookmarks to show our exclusive pride towards our baseball heroes.  And maybe, just maybe a few of us, like me…looked forward to that starchy piece of thin bubble gum when I opened the package…even today. 

(Pop!)

MLBloggers Fantasy League

 

RRCollections

Earlier this season I got a chance to try something I had been meaning to check out and participate in for about 5 seasons. You always hear your friends and other people around you discussing the activities of their Fantasy Leagues, and how in-depth and how competitive they can get over the course of a season. I have had some previous experience with a ESPN Fantasy team in regards to College Football and NASCAR picks, but had never joined a competitve league.

What was even more exciting to me was the fact that this league would be formualted with 13 of my fellow MLB bloggers pitting their wits and their strategies against each other from the Opening Day first pitch to the last two weeks of the 2009 season. The final two weeks of the 2009 season would consist of two rounds of playoffs, which became some of the most intense weeks based on all of our competitve natures, and some of us (me included) were still refining our rosters within an inch of their lives.

And all of this started from a question asked by “Confessions of Baseball” ( Chris Powers) even before the 2009 Spring Training season. Chris was seeking interested people in participating in a season long head-to-head competition fantasy league with a foundation from the MLB bloggers as members.

The “League” membership was quickly formed and consisted of a great cross-section of bloggers like ” Julia’s Rants”, “Braves World”,”The Future Sox Blog”, “Team Clemson”, “Indianapolis Reds”, “Team Diatribe”,”Austin James Dreamer”, “Mets Main Man”, “The Mets Blog”,”How About Them Orangebirds” “Bay Area King of Cali”, “Bob’s Boston Green Sox”, “Rambling Ramblers” and of course, “Rays Renegade.”

MLBlogger Fantasy League Best Draft 2009

So our first order of business after selecting our team names was the “Live Draft held on Valentine’s Day. Perfect day to pick players for the game we all love so much. I have to say, from my first pick of the “Live” draft ( Ryan Braun) to the last game played  during the Championship Playoff series on October 4,2009 , this league was always fun-filled and extremely exciting.

And it was truly wild time sitting there on February 14th anxious and sweating during the “live” draft since I had never been in a situation like that drafting players round by round.  From the first pick by “The FutureSoxBlog” of Hanley Ramirez to her last selection of J C Romero, the draft seemd to have come off perfectly.

I have to admit I did have few moments of getting a bit upset when someone selected my guy one spot before me, or if I missed someone and saw him go within two spots of my missed selection. But it was an extremely awesome time, and one I really want to try again next season. I got a new respect for the MLB scouts and the MLB’s front offices by sometimes taking soem critical time trying to select the best players with in the two minute time lines. 

But I thought I selected a pretty competitve roster, and even got a few sleeper picks mixed into the bunch. I did get a pure gem when I selected Tampa Bay Rays uber-superman Ben Zobrist in the 34th round and he rewarded me constantly during the entire season. But I also made a few amateur mistakes that came back to haunt me throughout the season. After the Draft, the league membership was polled and I was rewarded with the first Draft Championship virtual trophy.

I mean I made some pretty critical mistakes throughout the season and for some odd reason I accidently dropped Rockies First Baseman Todd Helton early on in the season. He was not the first blunder, but was one of the one that made me kick myself a few times. I also at one point in the season had three very important cogs in the Rockies outfield platoon consisting of Carlos Gonzalez, Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler, but I tried to be smart and let them slip through my fingers back onto the Waiver wire and onto other teams. But the one that really irked me was the one I did by total mistake, and it cost me dearly.

I was trying to gain another frontline starter and accidently dropped Tigers pitcher Edwin Jackson for someone I ended up dropping within a few weeks. That really hurt me, more for the fact that I am a huge pro-Jackson supporter and I dropped the ball totally on that move. I wish I could say I was trying to get him through the waiver system without anyone seeing him, but I messed up big time, and I regretted the move from the moment I hit the Enter buttom on the computer.  


Gail Willens / AP

But I get a few guys I felt might make a huge impact in the 2009 season, but they either got injured or were not effective throughout the season. I selected Josh Hamilton in the 2nd Round, and kept him through the season hoping for a healthy return. But after his first injury during the season, he did not possess the same power and monster numbers I was hoping for this year.

But I had a few players who went down with unexpected injuries after they began the season on a truly positive note. Players like the Brewers Ricky Weeks and the Rays Jason Isringhausen, who both went down and would be sidelined for the rest of the season.  But also bad season starts from guys like Rays new DH Pat Burrell and the Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco had me sweating at time during the season before I gave up on them and dropped them from my roster.

But besides  the pick of Zobrist, I did feel I picked up a few other good sleeper picks. I selected Oakland/Colorado basher Jason Giambi in the 30th Round, and also ended up getting Seattle slugger Russell Branyan, who had the best season of his career before going down with an injury in September. I got a small dose of what it felt like to be a General Manager  to try and adjust and  seek a few select players that would make a difference in my team. But fortunately, I did not have to juggle payrolls or decide MLB service time in this league like the actual MLB GM’s have to do every day in their jobs.

During the season I have to admit, some teams creeped up on me and scared me to death during the weekly match-ups. I selected 7 members of the Tampa Bay Rays for my roster, and if they did not play up to snuff, my team took a dive fast. But I was happy with my Rays offensive selections of Zobrost and Carl Crawford and added and released pieces like Burrell, Willy Aybar and Akinori Iwamura during the season. Gregg Zaun even made an end of the season appearance after he was picked up by the Rays after a trade with the Orioles.

But my other two main pieces for my Rays offensive foundation might not happened if not for some great trade partners. I ended up trading with the “Mets Main Man” and sending the Brewers Ryan Braun to his team for Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and eventual Nationals closer Mike MacDougal. That gave me a consistent bat at shortstop, and also someone who could steal some bases for me. 

My sec
ond trade might have a few people scratching their heads a bit, but it is my faith I have in this player that made this trade a sure thing for me. On June 1, 2009, I traded Angels closer Brian Fuentes for B J Upton straight up with “The Mets Blog“. I still think this was a great trade, because Upton ended up becoming the July Paler of the Month for the American League, and ended up the season on a bit of an offensive tear.

 MLBloggers Fantasy League Best Record 2009

I bounced around in my divisions standings until the final three weeks of the season when I balanced out and found myself on top of the hill. I ended up the season with the MLBlogger’s Fantasy Leagues best record at 128-79-13 and was awarded my second virtual trophy. But then it was time for the Playoffs, and I was selected as the number 1 seed and ended up fighting my major competition in my division who got seeded 4th for the playoff rounds.

For two weeks “Braves World (Gregg Henglein) and my roster fought back and forth before I finally started to take a slight advantage and ended up winning the first round of the Playoffs with a 6-4 record. Then came the finals against a team that I had fought me hard during the season, but I expected more extreme action this time. So during the last two weeks of the season it was ‘Rays Renegade” against “Austin James Dreamers (Darion Morgan)” for the League title.

And I have to admit, I was selecting starting pitching and still tweaking my roster up until the last day of the season. It was so close of a battle that the series really did not turn until the last few days of the regular season.  “Austin James Dreamer” took an early lead and made me sweat more than a few times during the two week period. That also  corresponded perfectly during the time that the Rays got flattened by the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in two straight series and did not rebound until they got back home.

But finally my guys began to win some starts, and began to drive in some RBIs and It went back and forth from a 4-5-1 record to a 5-5 record to finally getting settled at a 6-4 record. And I was really sweating a bit when on the last day my roster advised me I had used up my alottement of pitching and I would not getting any more statistics from my starters on that day. I was at the mercy of “Austin James” pitching staff to secure the League title. So finally on October 5th, I was declared the MLBBloggers Fantasy League’s first Champion and got my third virtual trophy of the season.

MLBloggers Fantasy League Champion 2009

In the end, I glanced at the final totals for my teams a found some interesting facts. My pitching staff had accumulated 2,369 strikeouts, over 490 more than my closest competitor. Also amazing to me is that fact those same starters got me a total of 178 wins, which was 35 wins more than anyone else. I had built my original team based on offensive power, and my pitching staff ended up being the strong part of my league team. I did lead the league in stolen bases and RBI, but fell a bit short in runs and HRs. 

I admit, it was a great fun every week being pitted against other people and using my head for more than a baseball cap rack. I am really looking forward to the January announcement of the reformulation of the MLBloggers Fantasy League for the 2010 season. For now I have a  league title to defend, and I am really excited to again include this great event into my yearly baseball plans..

I want to thank all 14 members of MLBlogs who particiapted in the league and look forward to going from the “Live” Draft to the Playoffs again in 2010. It was an amazing experience, and it even got me to join a Fantasy Football and Hockey League on ESPN this year to get some added experience.

I had never gotten so much fun out of a computer based gaming activity as I did in this season’s fantasy league. I know it is not an activity for everyone, but I highly recommend doing it because of the great competition and the great amount of experience and fun you can have taking the role of a team owner and adjusting your roster by adding or subtracting to your team throughout the season.


www.SPTimes.com

So I ended up on October 6th opening a small bottle of Mumm’s champagne and spilling it all over the grass outside my apartment building. The neightbors might have thought I was nuts, but I wanted to experience the last part of being a team owner. I wanted to have that celebration and that extreme moment of knowing all the work was worth it. As I picked up a towel from the ground and wiped the stinging chamapgne out of my eyes I remembered the same thing I experienced with the Rays in 2008. I felt pride, honor and an inner feeling of accomplishment………..And yes, I yearned for more.

Rays Should give Crawford an Extension

 


Mark Carlson / AP

On September 30,2009 Carl Crawford, the veteran player of the Tampa Bay Rays made it be known through the Tampa Tribune in an interview with writer Marc Lancaster that he would be open to discussions of an contract extension past the 2010 season. The news was viewed with excitement in the stands of Tropicana Field as it was made known by one of the Rays most popular players that he basically sees an upward change in the franchise and would love to further explore where this team is heading in the coming years.

We are very pleased to hear C.C.’s comments,” Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman told the St. Petersburg Times  on September 30th when Crawford announced he would be willing to discuss a possible extension to stay with the Rays. “Consistent with our policy, we do not speak publicly about contract negotiations but obviously we have a tremendous amount of respect for Carl both on and off the field.  He has been a big part of our past success and I expect he will be a big part of our future success as well.”

Andrew, you bet your sweet booty you want to keep one of the most exciting players in baseball right  where he is right now. Considering the Rays have a $10-11.5 million club option to consider before the beginning of the 2010 season, you can bet they will exercise that option and possibly make amends to keep C C well beyond the 2010 season. And if for some reason the deal does go sour in any way, you can expect an endless bulk of boos and article written until the cows come home about the Rays biggest PR blunder of your administration.

But first off, most Rays fans have to heed a bit from getting overexcited by the comments knowing that the pace at which Crawford performed in 2009 hitting both personal and club record in several categories during the season, he might have to give the Rays a bit of a ” local discount” to have the Rays retain him past the 2010 season. And right now, without knowing the expected payroll amount set by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Crawford might be the biggest question mark right now.


Gail Burton / AP

Granted he has made comment showing an olive branch out to the Rays organization, and wants to stay here and hopefully be a part of another winning team that thrust hard into the playoffs, but can the Rays retain him without damaging their payroll expectations and  fit him perfectly into the team plans all the way through to maybe 2014?

Because of his upward mobility daily in the Major League Baseball All-Time charts, he is quickly establishing himself as a potential Hall of Fame caliber player, with a long career still in front of him. And if you were to compare him with the best active players at his position, he would surely command a $15 million plus a year salary in the big cities like Chicago or New York. So would Crawford be willing to give the team that deep of a discount to play for a potential winner, while also adding to his own reputation in the American League.

Crawford finally got to experience that winning feeling with the Rays in 2008, and it just might be in the Rays best interest to surround him with the  best talent they can afford to again hit that plateau before the team hits a wall and might have to cut back, maybe as soon as 2014. I know that is a long time away, but it is micro-seconds in baseball years. The career of a Major League player is long in comparison to some sports, but the risk factors are extremely higher considering the daily grind of 162 games a season.

But would the Rays use his “leg fatigue” as a bargaining tool, when in reality he has appeared in 150+ game for his fifth season of his career.  And if you consider what he can do once he hits the base paths, well Crawford might leave this game as one of the best who ever laced up a pair of Nike’s by the time he calls it a career.

Crawford is only the third American League player in this decade to reach the 60+ steals mark joining Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury ( 69/2009) and the Angels Chone Figgins (62/2005).  To further illustrate what he can do on the base paths, you only have to look at the May 3,2009 game against the Boston Red Sox to see how he can command a game all by himself. His 81.9 percent stolen base attempts rank first among active MLB players. He also became one of only 25 players since 1900 to steal 60 bases and get 60 RBI in the same season. And he is 1 of 6 to accomplish that in the last 20 years.

Crawford currently has the 6 highest stolen base totals in Rays history, and has hit the 50+ steals mark a record 5 times, which is the best among active players.  And he is only the 16th player since 1900 with 5-50+ steal seasons. And he has been clocked going from first to second in 3.1 seconds, which is a bit faster than recent Hall of Fame member Rickey Henderson in his prime.


Jeff Roberson / AP

But Crawford is not a one-dimensional player. He has also made some incredible plays on defense and might be one of the most under rated outfielder in the game since the Golden Glove are not awarded by  just his field position( leftfield) but by the outfield in general. The best example of how Crawford can turn a game around might be in the May 6th contest against the Boston Red sox where he stole  a total of 6 bases, and became only the fourth player to ever accomplish that feat. He was even the first to do it since June 30, 1996, when Eric Young of the Colorado Rockies was the last to hit that plateau.

These statistics might even make the Rays job harder to consider that he has just turned 28 this August 5th, and his 353 stolen bases rank 7th best since 1900. His 92 triples ranks him 12th since 1900, and the most since Cardinal Stan Musial. His 1,244 hits rank him 8th best since 1900. Such feats have seemed to come easy to the young outfielder who played in his 1,000 Major League game on June 27, 2009 against the Florida Marlins.

Hard to believe that the Rays All Time leader in runs, runs scored, hits, at bats, stolen bases, doubles and triples, games played and RBI has only played in 1,000 contests.  And let’s take a look at his triples for a moment, he is currently third among active players with only Yankee outfielder Johnny Damon (95) and Philly shortstop Jimmy Rollins (94) having more than Crawford’s 92 triples. But he was also 4th in the American League with 41 infield hits in 2009.

And if all of the above information was not mind boggling enough for Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations and Silverman to consider, here  are another few facts that point to the special place Crawford is heading in the coming years. He has now hit above .300 for the fourth time in the last five seasons for the Rays. This season he had a career high 51 walks and his 2009 On-Base Percentage of .364 is 34 points high than any other time in his career.

Add onto that package the fact he hit his 500th RBI on September 20th against Toronto’s Roy Halladay with a 2-run homer.  At the end of the 20
09 season, Crawford was 10ht in hits (185), 9th in multi-hit games with 54 this season, and 5th in triples with 8 in 2009.  Crawford has become the quintessential Rays player, and a good foundation for the club both in character and in his on-field behavior.

The 3-time American League All Star even took fans and players breath away in this season’s All Star game in St. Louis with his catch high above the AL Bullpen fence to rob the National League’s Brad Hawpe of a potential go-ahead home run in the 7th inning of that game. As Crawford stood there with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig that night, you  saw the boyish charm of Crawford, and so did the rest of the MLB community.


Jeff  /  Tom Gannam /AP

I guess the best thing right now is to let Crawford’s comments to Lancaster om September 30th  begin to close out this blog:
I don’t like worrying about it,” Crawford said to the Tampa Tribune, “
and you can sit there and say you’re not worried about it, but to not know what your future’s going to be in the next five or six years or so is definitely … it makes you scared at times.”

“I just hope we can do something. It’s uncomfortable worrying about it. I don’t like playing cautious. You’d be a liar if you say you didn’t play cautious when you have to go through contracts and stuff like that. I want to just be able to play baseball, don’t worry about nothing else.”


So it is your court now Rays front office. This is your time to shine and to make this contract extension a show of good faith and prosperity you hope this team embodies for the next 5 or 6 years. Crawford should be the backbone of  the Rays squads in that time period, and if he is not, it might be a clear indication of the team desire to scale back and let the next generation of Rays players get their shots. 

It is so hard to  for someone like me to adequately decipher and assess a monetary value to Crawford since his stock has risen every season since 2003, and he just might be hitting his prime right now in his career. But if you look at the numbers he has obtained in a period of 5 full seasons now, the numbers are staggering, even without the addition of dollar signs to his name. And if the Rays can get his at a reduced price and regain that winning feeling, it is a huge plus for the Rays franchise to have a player like Crawford at the forefront leading these Rays onto the field.


Rays Players Off Season Plans

 

Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.

And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.

So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.

It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.

A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009.  It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.

I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to  have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we  also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay. 

Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.

Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally  just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful  European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.

I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!).  Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.

But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some  of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.

Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist.  This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet. 

But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just  wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves.. 

While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life. 

Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there  to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go  duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.

You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.

There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time  during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.  

But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a  hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.

Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.

But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.

And  a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.

So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!

 

Sunday Rewind: Joe Kennedy…We were Lucky to have known You…. Truly Lucky!

 



RRCollections

Intro:

I have decided that one Sundays I am going to pop back into the archives of the 625 blogs I have posted on MLBlogs.com and select a weekly “blast from the past” to let some of the people who did not read me before the 2009 season to get a  glance at either how far the writing has progressed, or regressed depending on your views. So I hope you enjoy reading my little submission that I first posted back on November 23,2007 about a guy I really enjoyed talking with when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays

I had just gotten home from work and  decided to go online and pop onto the Yahoo sports page to see what was has transpired while I was working Today. It being a day after the stuffed mushroom and pecan pie debauchery of the holiday, I was looking for the lighter side of sports for some comfort to my still overflowing belly of good food morsels and treats.


 

Maybe I was hoping to find out that my favorite target, A-Rod was crying poverty over the Yanks’ latest contract offer to Mario Riviera, but I had no such luck this day. Instead w
hat I found made me sink into my chair and put a huge twisting knot in my already overfilled stomach. 

It quickly made me rethink  my personal life for the ump-teenth time this year and brought up a tragic event featuring another ex- Tampa Bay Rays player in Oct 2006. That first event took another of my favorite players in Devilrays history to an untimely death, but this one really brought me to my knees.

 
 
I truly hate it when a young ball player dies when he is about to fulfill his potential, or even rediscover the magic that first got him to the Major Leagues. No matter if they have hit their prime, or had to reinvent themselves to further their careers, it was a special moment.

Some players hit that invisible wall of physical and mental points of no return and are not able to endure the rigors and challenges of baseball anymore.  And sometimes their bodies just can’t take it anymore,even at such a young age.

 

Some have had past abuses either with steroids or muscle enhancements that have robbed them of moments in their current or post career lives. Some just hit a mental road block that can not be corrected by human means.

The tragic tales that really hit home and destroy me inside is the way I found out about the untimely death of  ex-Ray Joe Darley Kennedy. There has been a wide spread rumors and thoughts among the Media that Kennedy might have suffered a brain aneurysm or heart attack during the night. Kennedy and his family were in town to visit  his wifes family and enjoy the holidays with them before this tragedy struck him down. 

 

 
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Kennedy was making strides to regain some of his old magic and had announced his free agency after the 2006 World Series. And all indications were that his 2006 squad, the Toronto Blue Jays’ and especially the Blue Jays Team President  Paul Godfrey wanted  Joe Kennedy back as a member of their 2008 staff. 
 

As I mentioned before,Kennedy was in town for the holidays at his wife’s parents home in the Brandon, Florida area, and was to be the best man at a wedding sometime during his stay here in the area.  But for some reason, Kennedy had gotten up in the middle of the night and was discovered collapsed on the floor of his in-laws home.  Paramedics were summoned and an ambulance quickly rushed  him to Brandon Medical Center,but it was too late, and Kennedy was pronounced dead  when the ambulance reached the Emergency Room.

 

This is the second ex-Oakland Athletic to suffer a tragic ending and unexpected death since October 2006. Ex-Rays and A’s teammate, Cory Lidle tragically perished in a plane accident after the Yankees exit from the playoffs in 2006. 

 

One of my first blogs on here was a tribute to Cory Lidle. He was another player who befriended me during his tenure with the Rays, and I looked for him every year when his team would make a visit to the Trop. I did the same for Joe Kennedy every time he came here for a series. You do not forget the “good guys”. They are those players who greet you with a smile and by your first name and make you feel like you are family, even if it is just to say “hello.”

 

Joe was only 28 years young, but had already established himself as a front end starting pitcher with our Rays.  He had  thrown for over 908 innings in the Majors, and had 558  career K’s.

 
Kennedy was selected in the 1998 Amateur player draft in the 8th round, out of Grossmont (Calif.) J C by the Rays and went immediately into the minor leagues organization. He quickly rose through the Rays’ farm system organization. Kennedy had made quick work of moving up the ladder in the farm system, and was a combined 6-0, with a .099 ERA with Orlando and Durham before getting called up to the big club ( Devilrays ) on June 2, 2001.
 

Kennedy made his Major League debut on June 6th against the Blue Jays in Toronto and won 6-2 . He appeared in 20 games that season. During that Rookie season, Joe had 12 quality starts, only CC Sabathia of the Indians had a better stats( 13). Joe was also 3rd in among the American League Rookies with a 4.44 ERA.

 
                      

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Kennedy also established himself in the MLB’s record books as the first  Major League player since Kip Wells of the Pirates to win both his first two  career starts. Joe was also the first Devilrays in franchise history to perform this feat. He was on his way to producing an amazing season and establish himself among the left-handers in the American League.

 

In 2001, Kennedy pitched in 196 innings and struck out 109 hitters. These numbers would be his  best as a member of the Devilrays, but only his second best career totals  of his brief  Major League career.

 

In 2003, Kennedy progressed to the point of being announced by Rays Manager Hal McRae as the Opening Day starter. I found Kennedy to be the kind of pitcher who would not be  afraid to go inside on a batter or ” buzz the tower” if needed.  Every good pro pitcher seems to have a mean streak in them.

 


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I can attest to personally knowing that the guy was a true professional and enjoyed his time here with the Rays. I spoke to Kennedy on occasions during BP and always found him to be funny and very intelligent.

 

I guess I was one of those people who knew that the Devilrays would probably trade Kennedy at some point in his career, but I had hope it was after he had garnished that 10-win plateau with the Devilrays. And maybe after he had secured his play in Devilray lore.

 

Kennedy was very soft spoken and reserved  when he was among the crowds at the Trop. But he was a fierce competitor and was always going to the mound  with the belief he could to win every game. That was a quality that I greatly admired in him. Going out with the idea you are going to win every time you take the rubber.

 

I know you are going to say that every pitcher tries to keep that fire within them, but in truth, they might in their words, but in their minds there might not be that total commitment. Kennedy always felt he could win, no matter what the odds or the situation that that is the basic mindset of a great pitcher.

 


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After Kennedy left the Rays and pitched for the Colorado Rockies, he got close to that 10-win plateau. Kennedy only got 9 wins in 2004, but produced an amazing 117 strikeouts that year. He was traded to the Oakland A’s  during the All Star break where he was again considered a valuable member of the pitching rotation.

He garnered a 2.31 ERA in 2006, a career best for Kennedy.  In 2006, he was rewarded with the number five slot in the Athletics starting rotation. It was a far cry from the number one slot with the Devilrays in 2004, but he was again pitching every five days. 

 

In 2007, Kennedy found himself as  number 5 man in the rotation, and fell upon bad times and was moved into the A’s bullpen and working only late inning and was used in “leftie” opportunities. He got another opportunity with the Arizona Diamondbacks (3 games), and the Toronto Blue Jays (9 games) during the past 2007 season.

 

Kennedy  produced 43 victories in his short career, but his last one was fitting. He received his 43rd win versus his old Devilrays team on September 29, 2007.  But it was the next performace that made Kennedy the proudest in his life.

Kennedy had the awesome pleasure of becoming a Father for the first time this past year and was looking forward to time with Kaige and his wife before the upcoming seasons Feb. mandatory reporting date for pitchers’ and catchers.

 

I will miss seeing Joe Kennedy pitch. More for the fact that he was a true professional and was always in the game both mentally and physically. I know he was just beginning to again hit his stride in his career, and could have produced some great numbers as a member of that Blue Jays staff in 2008.

 

Kennedy is survived by his wife and new son Kaige and currently lived in the Denver area.

 

I truly hope that there is an afterlife.  Because then I can see players like Cory and Kennedy pitching and  again see both of their ear to ear smiles or grins, knowing they  are again doing something they truly loved to do.

 

God Bless you Joe Kennedy, ………………I hope to someday be in that heavenly Right Field watching you play in that league up there someday myself….. And I will always cheer for you as a truly great person and pitcher, and as someone who left the game before he was ready to go.
 

Play Ball!
 
 
 

Would Review Ruin the Game?

 


Chris Carlson / AP

I been hearing this slight buzz in the air all day, and it is not dimming in its intensity one bit. This mind numbing grumble that has started to fester after another game play situation in which some fans and media are now calling for a change in the protectors of the rules of the game we have all come to love in one way or  another.

Hidden behind the premise that it would reverse the tyranny of the omnipotent ones who now make split second decisions and ill-advised judgment calls that tend to effect thousands of people immediately need a  rules revival to “save the game.” That for some reason in the last 50 years of evolving technologies and the more the fan is interwoven into the fabric of the sport with more information and more knowledge on the sport that we are now short-changing ourselves with antiqued rules systems.

Even the slightest notion of  play calling imperfection is now instantly blared far and wide for all to consider, and judged via instant replay or even slow-motion camera work that the human eye can not comprehend or even imagine before its invention. And not this behemoth of innovation might finally be beckoning at the clubhouse doors of this sport. Is the game that far removed from simple reality that we need to institute a check and balance system to challenge or even reverse a decision that has been made by someone within a few feet of the play in question, but not fashioned with this technology at their disposal?

Does the world really need to see this technology enter the game at a inhuman pace and embrace a new revolution of red flags or booth reviews that could damage the integrity of the game and men who officiate it forever. I am like everyone else and get frazzled and upset when a complete call is missed or even an angle unseen by an umpire leads to a bad decision. But will this really restore the game to its glory, or will the umpires always be peeking over their shoulders at the dugouts wondering if a challenge or even a heated discussion will be evoked by his decision.

Here is where I might either fall into line with some people, or be called out for my innocence, but I actually like the way the game is slowly revolving and evolving right now.  Surely the game on the field is not going slower than our instant replays show us. But what solutions can be developed that protect the simplicity of the game without damaging integrity in the end. I can envision a system that could be rationally fair to test the validity of  bringing up a challenge  in reference to a hard hit ball down the baselines, or a missed tag-up before advancing on the base paths.


Kathy Willens / AP

But to think we can totally mesh and stitch the game into a few more camera angles  and reference points and try and divulge the real truth on base stealing calls and other currently off limits nuances of the game is going totally ballistic toward over involving the game with technology. there has to be a limit. There has to be a subtle change to the rules or anarchy will reign down on the game. Sure I have seen the blown calls in two games this week, but the MLB Umpires still get the calls right more than any other organized sport in the world..period.

Because of our present technologies, we can cut down, isolate players, and even slow down the motion in a play to milliseconds and totally transform a reaction that takes a flash memory of  instant recognition and human response to make a correct hand signal to conclude the play. I do foresee a system, like the current home run and fan interference review program might be able to be included to showcase calls down the line. Some say it will bring out a sense of distrust in the umpires if a call is mis-called, but in my opinion, I would have more respect for the men in blue to acknowledge a potential error and correct it.

But that takes the potential bang-bang out of the game, and also opens the door for more outlandish interpretations by the media and fans. Let’s take the play last night that was clearly a blown calls as an example in a new review situation. Twins catcher Joe Mauer hits a blistering ball down the leftfield line towards Yankee outfielder Melky Cabrera. The Umpire in his quest to get the call correct might have missed the ball smacking the glove and instead saw the ball bouncing on the line and called it a foul ball by the correct interpretation of the rules on the play ” he saw”.

Let’s move forward with a potential review system and that the leftfield line umpire would make a preliminary call, but immediately call time and consult with the Umpire Crew Chief and the other members of the crew and they can make a group decision to review the play to gather the correct information to make a conclusive call. At that point it can either be reviewed, or his call will stand as called on the field. And even if they do go to the review booth and see the same play from a few different angles and a slowed down video to get it correct the first time.

Even if they employ a system like this to get the call right the first time, they open another Pandora’s box that might not go over so well with the fans. Say Mauer’s play was considered a error on Cabrera and he was awarded the base. Who is to say it would not have been a double, or that he would have been out trying to stretch the play into a double. By getting the play correct by the visual evidence, you have taken away some of the special traits of the game by instant decision making by the players.  Will we also have to induce a new set of rewards for the overturning or even correct interpretation of a call.


Jae C Hong / AP

If base runners are involved, and might have scored on the play in question, doesn’t that bring about another set of questions and searches for solutions to make the first decision correspond correctly with the flow of the game. Would we award an additional base only, or will that also be reviewable to see if the runner had passed third before the fielder touched the ball, which would mean he could have scored without a throw to the plate. Pandora is giggling profusely somewhere in the notion of all the turmoil this could cause the game.

I would love to see something developed, but it will have to be done with a precision thought process and an astute sense of impending justice towards the protecting the integrity of the game. I know I am qualified to make opinions and rational suggestions, but that revising of the rules is not my thing. And no matter how it is corrected, or even developed, someone will find a fault line in it after time. And then we will have to deduce a process all over again to correct the new flaws and cracks in the rulebook. Or maybe we can just accept the fact that the game is flawed and has a huge hole within itself that might never be sealed to please all of us.


Jae C Hong

Maybe the best solution is to just love and view the game as we did in our younger days. That if you saw Johnny miss the hubcap that was second base, you tagged him out and you kept playing after a minute or two of arguing. The simplicity of this game is the main reason so many of us loved it in the first place. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Maybe the problem really is as we grow older and learn better ways to do even the simple things, we want to change things. Me, I still want to just pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball……..then go for a soda and pizza and talk about the game.

Who I am following in the Playoffs

         NL Division Series Logo                                           AL Division Series Logo

I have to admit, that I have been a bad, bad baseball fan the last couple of days. I have only seen a few innings of a few post season games and have not been as intensely into the playoffs the way I have been in the past. Some might consider since my team was eliminated early from any contention that I have lost the zeal to watch baseball, but that is not the issue.  So what if the Tampa Bay Rays will not be making beautiful memories for my lifetime in 2009, I will survive.

And it is not matter that my second favorite team (Seattle) also did  not make any head ways into the 2009 playoff picture after the Rays canceled their own ticket with a rough start in September. So with neither of my top two in the post season, it is time to adapt temporary arrangements to throw my support towards another team on their ride through the 2009 post season.


Rob Carr / AP

With that in mind, I might not make any new friends with my announcement that the teams, one in each league that I plan to follow in the 2009 playoffs, will consist of teams that are situated in the American League East. And the fact I am about to shun the Red Sox and Yankees is not due to any internal forces or even extreme pain against either of these teams that our season quickly dissolved in September. The Rays lost the chance to cash in their ticket to the postseason with their respective series against these two teams. the better teams won in 2009.

So I am going to have to develop a new set of criteria to decide who will get my cheers and jeers in 2009. Maybe I will use a formulated plan of attack based on offense, defense and pitching statistics. Or I could go the way of visiting a Psychic and see what team she sees in the aura around me, or what the Tarot cards have in store for any of the teams in the playoffs. Or maybe I can just go the simple route and decide the team by looking at the post season rosters and deciding it all based on the ex-Rays currently on their rosters.

And for some reason, I like the way that last suggestion looks on the computer, it just seems to jump out off the page and tells me to “pick me! pick me”.  So I think that will be my measure of calculating and deciding the  one AL and NL teams I will root for in this post season carnival. And as I take this road, there are two clear choices that I will lean towards and follow until the last out of their last game in this playoff season.


Mel Evans / AP



But my decision on the team I am going to follow in 2009 will be based on a few criteria that most people might not have considered before now.  Way back in 1991, when the team was first awarded to the Denver area, I did not want to follow anyone else but the black and purple of the Rockies. But there was a solid reason behind this selection that still to this day makes me not want to root or even hope for any prosperity for the Florida (Miami) Marlins. And it was a simple case of money over community want that sealed the deal for my fish vendetta.

You see, the Tampa Bay community was in a fight with local cities Orlando and Miami for a chance to be the first expansion team in the state and might of had a better chance at securing that first Florida team if not for the deep, deep pockets of former Blockbuster Entertainment head honcho Wayne Huizenga. So my instant alliance went to the team that would play almost one mile above sea level and far from the sandy beaches of Tampa Bay.

But there is a secondary reason why this team is being considered as my “team ” for the 2009 playoffs. Since the Rockies sacked their old manager, they have played more inspired ball and have come a long way both in their record and in their team concept. For that reason, they give me a slight feel of the atmosphere and the thrill that I felt with the rays in 2008. But more of the reasoning might have come via ESPN’s talking heads. You see, when the Rays were making their run last season, the announcers kept reminding people they were that season’s ‘Rockies”. 

As much as that was funny at the time, now I hope the Rays can be next season’s “Rockies” for the second time in a row and follow the same path (minus the manager firing) and get back on the playoff train in 2010.  So I will be following the Phillies and Rockies series with extra motivation. But the fact that the Rockies have been there before, and have gotten as far as the Rays did in 2008 boast a weird similarity that entices my support. The Rockies fought back the doom and gloom disillusion of so many around the league this season to secure a playoff berth and then go on and challenge to overtake the mighty Dodgers in the last series of the season shows the heart of a champion again.


Mel Evans / AP

It brings up a lot of the same emotion I felt in 2008, and so this is the team I have decided to follow in this season’s playoffs. Granted, they have been labeled a long shot, but I remember so many who said that the Rays would not go far either in 2008. And the added bonus that former Rays Jason Hammel is on the post season roster gives me more of a reason to want to see “Hambone” take the mound and throws laser beams. And Hammel will get a chance to leave his impression on the NLDS when he gets the start Friday night because of the unexpected injury to Jorge De La Rosa late in the season.  

So that is it, that is my team for the playoffs. No wishy washy wavering between teams, this is my solid choice and one that I will live by even if they do not get out of the first round of the playoffs. I am not a bandwagon fan. If I make you a pick of mine, I stick by you even in defeat. but that is not the case in so many sports fans in this country. So no matter what happens from today on, the Rockies will have my attention, and my support to try and again get back to the World Series this season. And it would again be a great surprise, or even a great honor in 2010 to have the Rays be considered “this seasons Rockies”…..again.

  

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