October 2009

Favorite Funny Photos from 2009…….Rays Style

 


www.Cowbelltime.com

2009 will go down as one of those seasons that a few of the members of the Tampa Bay Rays might want to forget as fast as possible. But there also have been some amazing funny and totally memorable photos taken during the past season that might be needed right now for a few who can’t seem to turn their frowns upside down. How could the photo above of a dog lover even turning his canine best friend into a Rays fan not get you to at least start the curving of your mouth into a smile or a deep belly chuckle.

So today I decided to entertain and hopefully lighten up the stress and the angst of the playoff series an hopefully put a few chuckles and smiles on everyones faces as their favorite teams continue to battle it out between the chalk lines. And you know that the best way to relieve stress has always been laughter, or an occasional funny moment. So with that in mind, it is time to begin the 2009 search for the funny bone, and hopefully we all still have one.


www.archiemcphee.com

I am always amazed at some of the new gadgets, puns and practical joke items on www.ArchieMcPhee.com . I originally used this photo not so long ago on August 7,2009 when I wrote on a visit to Seattle……the Renegade’s way.  The place is virtual comics dream with some of the wildest items ever offered online, or in their unique store in Seattle. I mean, look at the photo above of the handerpants, which are billed as “underwear for your hands”. Just the idea of such a thing is beyond words to me at times.  But at least you never have to worry about a skid marks, but you might have to worry about hairy palms.

I mean if you get a chance and want to have a really hard belly laugh, you got to go to the website and check out some of the wild and amazing things that you can buy for yourself or to amuse your friends. You can buy bacon soap, Absinthe floss for your teeth or maybe a Monkey portrait oil painting for the upcoming office Christmas party anonymous gift. Whatever your likes, this is the website for the simply insane and the mostly gag gift for people of any ages.


http://www.raysbaseball.com

This one actually is not a funny photo, sorry, but it is a great reminder that we lose so many great baseball fans every season to the dangers of smoking. I know it might seem like I am jumping on a soapbox here, but I really feel that it is a habit that has robbed us of a lot of great people even during my lifetime. I have never smoked, chewed or used any tobacco products, but with my luck I will die trying to shove in that last hot dog during the $1 Dog Nights at the Trop.

What is also amazing about this photo is the fact that the skeleton has two handlers right behind them in case they have to run and retrieve a foul ball and the leg-bone becomes disconnected from the hip-bone, and the hip-bone loses its tail-bone somewhere on the stairs. Or maybe that is just my own sick sense of weird humor? 


Pat Manfredo

This extremely hungry Toronto Blue Jays reliever about to eat Rays fan Christin Manfredo’s head during a photo opportunity in Dunedin, Florida during Spring Training is Dirk Hayhurst. Most people might remember him as the original storyteller of the Legend of the Garfoose, which is a tremendously funny and totally obscure baseball story that gets me giggling every time I read it. The guy has a wild sense of humor, and seems to like to bite the heads of live Rays fans. 


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I always wondered what a 6 foot parrot ate when he came to Florida for Spring Training. I guess he has an appetite for foul ball catching kids.  Seriously, when I first saw this photo in April I was wondering if t was one of those caption photos where you decide what he is doing, and what you want to have printed under the photo. If it was just that sort of opportunity, I guess my entry would say something like: Penalty in Pittsburgh for reaching over the wall for a ball, you get pecked to death by the Parrot.


http://www.brianshousefanclub.com

Another website that has gotten me to give up more than a few chuckles this season is www.brainshousefanclub.com. On this website dedicated to the Rays “leftie” specialist, you can see him immortalized as Neo from “The Matrix“, the Terminator, Santa Claus, and also Ghandi. The site was developed when Shouse was with the Milwaukee Brewers and was used in the 8th inning of Brewers games.

When he came to the Rays, I was told about this website, and tried to immortalize it a few times during the season for the Rays faithful to check out and hopefully use as their desktop photo. No one has ever emailed me back with any information as to if they have selected any of the photos, and in turn added them to their desktops, even for one day. But it is still great to see fans of other teams have a great sense of humor about their favorite players, and want to immortalize them like this. Could a Jason Bay website be in the making?



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Still not sure what these guys were trying to convey when they showed up at Tropicana Field one night during a Scott Kazmir start. Were they lost on their way to the Middle Ages revival somewhere downtown, or could they actually be showing some level of solidarity for the Rays Republic. I came up with the notion that they were the Knights Tampa, who were sent here by a Coucil of an European hierarchy to protect the American League Championship trophy as our own Holy Grail….or I could be wrong?


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T
o this day, I wish I had known that the Rays and the GEICO Caveman were going to do a parody commercial where he runs out on the field and attacks the GEICO signage put up on the right-centerfield outfield wall. It was a trip talking with him in the interview I did a few minutes before he decided to run onto the field after being selected as the “GEICO Fan of the Game”. Such and honor, and yet he got to spend a night in the Pinellas County Jail making new friends and maybe getting a “Born to HATE GEICO” prison tattoo.

   
          http://www.BaltimoreSun.com

 Earlier in the season I wrote about an old tradition that was resurfacing again in the land of the Oriole. It seemed that some years ago they used to do a cartoon after every game, and after a bit of time, the cartoon fell by the wayside until they decided to return the tradition again in 2009. After every one of the 162 Oriole games there was a cartoon the next morning right there for everyone to see both online and in the morning paper delivered to the doorsteps of thousands in the Baltimore area. Great to see such a humorous tradition again take root in the town that gave us the “Ace of Cakes“.

  

Mark Duncan / AP

I still want to know how much each of those seagulls makes that have a habit of coming into Progressive Field and making a nuisance of themselves. I know that on at least one occasion, the winged ones have knocked down a potential game winning single then let out that all telling gull laugh as the Indians celebrated at Home Plate with a walk-off win. Make you want to again read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and see if there was any real truth to that book.  In Cleveland, the proof is sitting right there among the green grass on most nights when the Indians play baseball.


Steve Nesius / AP

I have to admit, I always wondered why B J Upton never stole any bases against the New York Yankees earlier in the season. I guess during this game in July I got my answer. Seems that Robinson Cano likes to come up behind Upton and clutch him like a long lost buddy until the ball gets to the plate. Seriously tho, it is great to see the guy have a common respect and love for each other, but can we save the “Man Crush” for after the game and let B J  run next time?


Steve Nesius / AP

I am not sure why Scott Kazmir first off decided to give his rightfielder, Gabe Gross a nice little extra pat on the back pocket, but the look on Kazmir’s face is simply priceless. I miss Scott, he was always up for some sort of humor within the confines of the game, and usually it somehow did get caught by the camera. Not sure the reasoning behind the low pat, but you can bet he got more a few ribbing from his team mate when this one hit the wire services. But the sign  held up in the background by Rays fan George Stone that stated simply “awesome” gives this picture a purely comical edge, and almost turns it a bit cartoonish, but it is a classic moment now.


Chris O’Meara / AP

All during the Rays season there has been at least one culprit during the Rays home games that has been delivering shaving cream pies to unsuspecting victims during television or stadium Jumbotron interviews. And the wild part it is someone who you would never associate such speed and stealth moves to for the most part. Dioner Navarro has been the shaving cream pie stealth bandit all season long, and you never know when he might sprint out of the dugout tunnel holding a towel filled with the creamy substance.

Such was the case when he got Rays Manager Joe Maddon during a FSN Florida interview near the end of the season. But Navarro was not as stealth as usual, as Maddon heard the catcher coming, and turned his head at the right moment to only get a right earful of the cool lime smelling concoction. Maddon, always the cool cucumber basically added during the interview that “Now I feel like one of the boys, and have been accepted into the club”. Classic line by a classic guy who also leads by example for his team to witness nightly. Even wilder, for the next two nights after the shaving cream pie, Navarro started behind the plate for the Rays.


Chris O’Meara / AP

A Major League dugout can be a wild place during a games. You never know just what kind of high jinks or pratfalls might be coming, and you never know who the true culprit is at the moment. Take this photo for example, it is the shoe of Rays Rookie Wade Davis after Rays pitcher Matt Garza gave him a hot foot during a game against the New York Yankees during the last home stand. But Davis was not the only victim of that series.

Earlier in the game, Rays reliever J P Howell, who was shut down in the last weeks before the end of the season got the classic treatment himself when he stayed in the dugout instead of strolling out to the Bullpen like he usually did on game days. He was situated on the dugout rail watching another Rays rookie, David Price pitch during a game and someone, who will remain nameless, got him with the classic bubble gum bubble on top of his Rays cap.

So these are a few of the moments in 2009 that got me to chuckle, laugh and maybe sip a few sips of soda all over the floor of the Trop. The season is long over, and the fans have gone from the stadium, but it is memories like these that will live on within our hearts and minds for a long time.

Miracle Twins Tame the Tigers


Brian Peterson/ Minn Star Tribune

I have to show some love to the new American League Central Champs, the Minnesota Twins, who last night gave all of us another great extended 9163 game) season. And even though they did the same in 2008, this time they came out on winning end of the contest. Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire and his crew did everything possible to take that final step into the 2009 playoffs by defeating the Detroit Tigers in a game that proved that being tenacious and clawing for the jugular can pay off big time in a game. The Tigers and the Twins went back and forth in this contest until Twins centerfielder Carlos Gomez led off the bottom of the 12th inning with a single.

And you know what they say about lead-off runners in a late inning baseball game, they always seem to come back and bite you in the end. Well, last night it took a little bit until Alexi Castilla hit an RBI single to finally send the Tigers back to their lair for a long Winters nap. I have to admit, that was the first time I have ever seen ex-Ray Delmon Young show such pure emotional joy since he found out he was traded out of Tampa Bay. Seriously tho, it is fantastic that the Metrodome will get to host at least a few more baseball games before it finally bows out as the Twins baseball home.

With 187 days until the Opening Day at the new Target Park, the New York Yankees might just be the last opposing team to ever come in and try to put a few balls deep into the baggies in rightfield. But the Yankees might want to be wary of these Twinkies. Sure, like their confectionary cousins, for most of the season they seems rough on the outside and soft in the middle, but they regrouped and pulled off a major coup by even getting to a point to force a one-game free-for-all with the Tigers.

The good news is that the Twins will have at least three more games to their 2009 season. The bad news is they first have to start their journey in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium on the road starting tomorrow night with Yankee 19-game winner CC Sabathia on the hill. But considering the steep and rugged mountain they scaled in the last 14 days, this next obstacle might seem like an anthill to the Twins.

The minor fact that less than 14 days ago they were not even being mentioned or ever considered for the 2009 postseason, and now they have secured another American League Central title and a chance to compete as another great Cinderella story in 2009. I did not give the Twins enough credit to come out and take the game to the Tigers. I did not expect them to lay down or even give up, but I thought that American League Rookie of the Year candidate, Rick Porcello, who was starting on the mound for the Tigers might have the keys to the playoff bus in this match up.

The way Tiger slugger Miguel Cabrera started off in this game by crushing an 0-2 pitch by Twins starter Scott Baker, it definitely looked like a long, long night for the Twins. But being the pesky and persistent team they are, the Twins saw Matt Tolbert scamper home on a throwing error by Porcello to give the Twins their first run of the night.  From there Baker held the Detroit team at bay until the Twins finally began to counter and put another run on the board on a Jason Kubel homer to right-centerfield.


Brian Peterson /Minn Star Tribune

Now the Twins had snuck back into this contest 3-2, and the Twins Bullpen was about to began their long night. With both teams into their respective Bullpens now, the game was about to grind down a bit as the two teams used strategies and match-ups. Gardenhire actually used three different Twins relievers in a span of 13 pitches to get out of the seventh inning with no damage.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrerra hit a 2-run shot to leftfield off Tiger reliever Zack Miner that scored Nick Punto and moved the Twins in front for the first time in the game. The Tigers  countrered the Twins by also using three relievers in the inning to finally shut down the Twins, who now had a 4-3 lead going into the eighth inning. But that lead did not last long as Magglio Ordonez took the second pitch he saw from reliever Matt Guerrier and deposited it into the leftfield seats to tie the game again.

In the next two innings, both teams used their reliable closers to try and put a clamp on this game and set up a potential one-run victory for either team. Twins closer Joe Nathan came in first and faced ten hitters before giving way to reliever Jesse Cain in the top of the tenth inning. The Tiger went to their closer, Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning, and it was now a battle to see which team blinked first.  And it was the Twins who blinked first when Crain hit  Detroit pinch hitter Aubrey Huff with a pitch, and he was quickly replaced by pinch runner Don Kelly.

Crain seemed to have gained back some momentum when he struck out Ryan Rayburn for the second out of the inning. But Brandon Inge took his third pitch and hit an RBI-double to deep left to put the Tigers up by one run. But the Twins counter in their half of the inning when after Michael Cuddyer tripled to deep leftfield to lead-off the bottom of the tenth inning.


Morry Gash / AP

Now with the tying run just 60 feet from home, the Twins  Delmon Young hit a grounder to short for an easy out, then Brendan Harris walked on 5-pitches to put men on the corners for the Twins with one out. Then that Tolbert, who scored earlier for Minnesota on a pitching error came through with an RBI-single to center to knot the score at 5-all. Gardenhire then used three different reliever to get his club out of the eleventh inning without incident. But the calculated manuveurs did not help his club as they went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

Twins reliever Bobby Keppel came back out to the hill for the 12th inning, and got in a bit of a jam when he walked Cabrera, then gave up a single to Kelly to centerfield. With two men in scoring position,and with first base open, Gardenhire then intentionally walked Rayburn and load the bases up for Inge. The plan worked perfectly as Inge hit into a fielder’s choice and Cabrera was tagged out at home, which put two outs on the board. Gerald Laird then struck out swinging to end theTigers chance.

In the bottom of the 12th, Rodney again took the hill for the Tigers and gave up the lead-off single to Gomez. In all, the inning saw a total of 12-total pitches before Castilla stepped on Home Plate and the parties erupted all over Minnesota. You can bet there will be some tired souls on that plane, but the fatigue will not bother them as they will be riding an emotional high going into Game 1 of the ALDS.

And that can be either a cruel or energy pumping animal to tame right no
w for the Twins. The Yankees have been off since their season ending win in St. Petersburg on Sunday, while the Twins have been grinding it out and are still in the competitve mindset having  just concluded an incredible game. It will be exciting to see which end of the spectrum comes out in play of the Twins players’ tommorrow night. Adrenaline can be a great equalizer if it is used to their advantage.


Morry Gash / AP

From the emotional high of an extra inning victory still pumping through their veins, they run the risk of coming out too hyper, and then they could mishandle important at bats and get behind early. And if they come out stone cold, they could be in for a long night in the Bronx before finally getting a chance to sleep. I am actually looking forward to this first game because I am dying to see which Twins team shows up, and if they are motivated and still energized from the previous night….Sabathia might be the one in for a long, long night. But whatever happens in the next few weeks, the story and the determination of this Twins team can not be denied right now.  Count on it!

     

Rays Show Confidence in Pitching Coach Jim Hickey……….Really?


Elaine Thompson / AP

Sometimes I truly think that the Rays Front Office loves to use subliminal and subversive messages to gather information on the public perception of an event or something that makes them go…..hmmmmmmm?  But I have to admit, this one move, this 180 degree change of heart that shows something towards Rays Pitching coach Jim Hickey keeps him here for another Rays season. And for the life of me, I do not see a solid reason while he is still employed by the Rays. And you know the local kool-ade drinking media will not voice their dismay over this action………..nope, they will remain wihin the party lines.

But I do not have Press Credentials, or even an inside information mole to give me things like them. I get my information from watching 80 games a year at the Trop., and every game that MLB.com shows on the air. What could be their logical reasoning to let go of Hitting Coach, Steve Henderson today who’s Rays hitters only set new Team Records in homers, runs scored, RBI and stolen bases this season, but keep a Pitching Coach who’s starters and Bullpen relievers took a definite two steps backwards in 2009. I mean Hickey does have some Houston roots, so he might understand this next scenario without him having to have flash cards or pictures.

What has seemed to happen this season to the Rays pitching staff is akin to a guy doing the Texas two-step in a deep foxhole. You can go forward, you can go back, but only two step no matter what. And that is what his Rays staff has done most of the season. they have made slight improvements and altered their course in games, but the end result is always the same……..sometimes the “pitch to contact” system delivers up a long ball instead of a ground out or a double play ball for the defense. 

And if that system doesn’t work do you blame Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, or Rays Manager Joe Maddon? In reality you can put the check mark next to both names, because Friedman keeps Hickey and Maddon keeps believing in him. But in my mind, the only culprit here is the mechanic who tunes the system and makes it run smooth, clean and with a minimum of problems. And this season, Hickey looked more like an apprentice than a master craftsman.

Sure he got dealt a bad deal two years in a row when Troy Percival took his glove and went home to rehab, but at no time in the season did the team try and promote from within or try and isolate anyone to take over that role for the season. Other teams call on the veterans, or even a hot shot prospect with a cannon on his arm. At one point, the Rays signed Jorge Julio to a minor league contract maybe hoping he still has some gasoline in his tank. But the team instead adapted a much discussed and faulty plan of using pitching match-ups as a basis for the later innings.


Steve Nesius / AP

This works well when you base your Spring Training team on to this formula, and not adopt it in the middle of trying to stop a losing month, or keep a string of wins alive. The match-up system has to be nurtured and fcoused on totally, not just based on situational 8th, or 9th innings hitters. And with this team bascially only having three reliever that can be trusted with hitters from both sides of the plate, it makes your options a bit tighter in the games.

And who has to be the craftsman behind all of this, well the Pitching Coach. Sure Maddon and Hickey can go over situational devices and plan accordingly, but life doesn’t always go by the book, and Hickey doesn’t always give the same sage advice as Maddon. I actually can not see the correlation between these two at times. Maddon is the always thinking, mind turning a million miles a minute, and Hickey is just, well Hickey. I know Maddon does scribble a few hints and stats on his personal score sheet to check on later in the games, but I really do not see the collective brain trust in Hickey by his side.

Sure Hickey does the Rays pitchers Side Sessions and the Bullpen Session with his pitching staff, but I sometimes see more vocal words coming out of Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi’s mouth than Hickeys in relation to the pitches. I might not see the video work he does with “Chico” Fernandez to get these guys ready for a ballgame, and I do not know his personal preparation routine for game days. But what I do see is a guy who sometimes goes by the book more than his instinct and wisdom. The black statistics on that white printer paper might have a few highlighted marks on it, but i do not see him as a strategist in the least…………sorry.

So if a guys starters leave and do better in other locales, can you give credit to a guy that used to be their Pitching Coach, or do you question why they prospered away from the “pitch-to-contact” scheme of Hickey’s gameplan. How can Jason Hammel go from a hot and controled environment like the Trop and have a lower ERA in of all places, Coors Field in 2009.  Edwin Jackson was a stud in the making as a pitcher even before he went to Detroit in a trade. I mean the Rays considered him for the closer role before, and with the recent plight of Percival, why did they not consult E J  and see if he would take on the task?

And you know I am going to bring up Scott Kazmir and his seeking advice outside the organization from the man who was his first Pitching Coach in New York, Rick Peterson. Oh how that must have burned deep inside Hickey that he was not visually equiped to notice a small step adjustment for maximum velocity. I bet if they let him, he would have drove Kazmir to the airport that next morning and kicked him out of the rental car haflway there………..(just kidding, maybe).


Chris O’Meara / AP

So if the Rays Bullpen gets rebuilt in Hickey’s mold with the financial restrictions in mind, it might only be a tweaking of the current system. Even if Chad Bradford and Percivals money comes off the books, there might still not be enough to achieve a maximum upgrade, but it can be done.  But is Hickey the guy you want to entrust with that job, or is there someone within the Rays system like Xavier Hernandez, who has been fine-tuning the Rays Triple-A guys for several years.

I actually have more faith in Hernandez than I do Hickey based on what Hernandez did as the Rays snatched starters from the Bulls throughout the year and he still had the arms to take the Triple-A Championship. Gone by that time was David Price, and Hernandez manipulated the system when injuries to Mitch Talbot and other hit the Bulls staff. But still Hickey will be manning the pitching charts and books for the Rays in 2010. But how long will his luck go before he finally runs out of gas or chances with the Rays?

You know they took a big PR gamble a few years ago after the Rays last game of the season when he hit a Rays batboys truck at an intersection, and drove around the car and proceeded home. He was stopped by the St. Petersburg Police Department several miles dow
n the Interstate and did not act in all in the manners of the “Rays Way”.  

But Hickey showed remorse to the Rays Front Office and recieved a year contratc to show he was to change his ways.  And considering at that same time the Rays were going through a slew of “problem chld” situations with Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes, they could have just sent him on his merry way and not looked back.  I hope that the Rays made thew right decision and that Hickey does make me regret this posting, but I do not think that is going to happen.


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Maddon will not be able to sheild him again if the Rays starters or even the Bullpen falls on hard times. He will be directly in the crosshairs, and I think he knows it now. During the last home stand there was a guy in Section 136 that had a sign that read” All I want for Christmas is a Pitching Coach”.  Well, the Rays decided to retain their present Pitching guru, and the hot seat begins right now. Hickey needs to not only get this team to totally believe in his system now, but also the fans so he doesn’t hear the chants and the catcalls before the next All-Star break.

Maddon can not protect him now. I remember seeing a comment that he called Hickey “one of the best pitching coaches” Maddon has has in his career. Hickey is a bit younger than most of the sage PC in the league, but if his ‘pitch-to-contact” system doesn’t gel right in Tampa Bay in 2010, the contact he will feel is the swift kick in the behind as he leaves the clubhouse door.

  

Rays Review…….Fan Experience Edition


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In the next few days, most of the media members who cover the Rays for the local news media and the occasional magazine will make their yearly reviews and comments regarding the re-defining or re-tooling of the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays. Well, I am going to do the same, but I think my version is going to take a bit of a different direction than most of the media groups. My review is going to be a list of some of the thing I have seen changed in the past season………….either for the good, or for the bad. The list will include special events that Season Ticket holders have grown accustom to, and some new policies that changed the system a bit for some of us.

First and foremost on my list is to compliment the Rays Group Sales department on the annual event held at the Ybor City Gameworks earlier this season. This is the second  edition of the event, and it was an event that I actually looked forward to after it great success last season. And when I saw it again on the agenda, it made my eyes sparkle and I think I might have heard a little giggle. Again this season, the event was attended by many of the Rays players and Rays Manager Joe Maddon, and some of them even took the time to play games and chat with the fans while also giving the attendees’ an occasional photo opportunity. 

It was a great time to get a photo with one of the players outside of the game element and see how they are in “real life”.  As an ex-player, it was always important to me personally to keep that balance between the two groups close, because without it, the fans can put you high up on that golden pedestal, and when you fall, it is a long way down to the bottom. By being open to autographs and photos, it gives a bonding moment between fans and the players that can not be duplicated by the Rays PR staff.

Plus,after seeing some of the players this season, a few of them need to hone their Dance, Dance Revolution skills for the 2010 version……..Maybe that could be one of their off-season workout routines (lol)  Seriously, the food, the cartoon artists and the giveaways during the night only added extra spice to the already awesome event.


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So let’s now take a journey down the wrong side of the street for a change. This season for the first time, the Rays Season Ticket holder had to choose which “bag” or selection of giveaway items  as if they were viewing a Chinese restaurant menu. You could select Column “A” or Column “B”, but no substitution and no sharing of plates. This is the first time we did not get the “kids items” that are usually included in our yearly bags. I know for myself, it was a bit of a bummer since I have used those items in the past to entice kids to want to see the Rays.

I understand the main reason for the cut-backs was that the giveaways promotional sponsors might have cut back their financial contributions on the total amount of items this season, which is understandable considering the recent economy concerns. But it was a bit of a bummer to  see any of these “kids” items this season since I also know of a lot of grand parents who use them as stocking stuffing items at Christmas time for friends who kids love the Rays, but can not attend games. Hopefully within the next season or two we can get back to the old way, or maybe have a Column “C” selection of “kids” items so we can again get some of this awesome stuff to kids who love the Rays.

So lets hit back onto another plus thing this season, which is the increased numbers of Rays Watch Parties and events where the Rays Radio network did on-location appearances and also giveaways during the television broadcast during the season. As usual, Rich Herrera did a fantastic job out and about, and should be commended on enduring sand, chicken wings and bright sunshine during the remote locations this season. But no matter where they were, it seemed everyone had a fantastic time, and hopefully we can see even more expansion in the future.

Guess it is time to again hit the low side of the totem pole. I was a bit upset that the Rays could not secure a time and a sponsor for the annual Team Photo Day in 2009. The event has always been the one time of the season that I bothered players and coaches for photos so as to give the non-Season Ticket folks a chance at autographs and pictures with them during the other 80 games of the season. But when the event was not announced this week, it set me back a bit.

I was all ready for the yearly event with a 3 GB media card and a fresh set of batteries in the camera just waiting for the event.  But when I did not get an Email or any confirmation of the event,I asked a member of the Fan Experience department with the Rays and found out that the event was not committed to be held this season. That is truly a bummer since the 2008 event was such a fiasco, and I hoped it would be a great time for the team to redeem themselves with the Season Ticket folks.


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Just a small bit of history for everyone, last season the Team Photo Day with the fans was held the day after the team celebrated stadium-wide with the fans following their win against the Minnesota Twins, securing the Rays first postseason berth. So as you might have gathered, the team’s excitement and celebrations went beyond the walls of Tropicana Field, and a few of them were not in ” photo” shape the next morning. It upset me and a lot of other fans that day big time, but some of the guys still took time out to take photos with some of us, while others were ushered around with escorts to make a haste escape from the photo hungry crowd.

Some of the team’s major contributors to the playoff berth did not make even a dugout appearance to the event, while others felt compelled to come out and circulate and take pictures with the fans. I do not hold the players accountable for any of this since the event did come the day after the team’s biggest moment, and they had every right to be proud of accomplishing their playoff berth. Hopefully in the future the Rays can again schedule this great event where  the fans again can spend a few moments with their heroes.

I am going to throw this next item out as a neutral point because I can see both sides of the coin here, but for myself, I am still searching for another option to get this activity done without rocking the boat. But the reality of it all is that the new policy of Sunday autographs for only people under 14 bites it big time to me. I guess I got spoiled by the first 11 years of having the Autograph Saturday event and having two Rays players sign for any fans regardless of age. 

I have come to not love this new policy for the simple fact that I hate to bother the Rays players throughout the seas
on when I know they might be signing by the baselines sometimes during the season. I am now finding myself perched above the Rays dugout and bothering them during their paths to the dugout during Batting Practice. Again I have had wait in the shadows for people like Pat Burrell, Greg Zaun and Jason Bartlett to come by and see if they could sign a ball for me. I know this change in policy might have been done because of the increased postings on sites like E Bay of autographs and collectibles for sale and not for your own personal collections.

I enjoy collecting autographs on MLB baseballs, more for the fact we did not have a team here when I was a kid except for the Florida State League squads, and in Progress Energy Park/Al Lang you could not get a ball over the outfield wall unless it went over the extreme right or leftfield fences. I guess it is my way of having my childhood back in small doses via the game of baseball by collecting balls and equipment and displaying them in my home, and not for commercial profit.

So because of this increased traffic of items hitting the web, and some of the counterfeit items that might have been bought by people online, I can empathize with the players that someone of my age could be a ball hawker and not a fan wanting a true autograph for his personal use. And that is one of the reasons I have not written a blog or a posting about this event before today. But with the year-end autograph signing events that are no longer held during the last home stand, I guess I will have to redefine my sights to again perch myself during the season for the desired autographs.


Unknown Photographer

In the wide scope of it all, the Rays have been considered one of the best values in sports by ESPN, the Magazine, and it truly is affordable and entertaining for all ages. Tampa Bay Rays baseball might have taken a hit on the field, but in the surrounding halls and cubbyholes around the stadium, the Fan Experience has increased this season and the fans have been the true winners. the increase in In-Game contests and events from the Pepsi bottles Race to the Bloopers in the eighth inning have made the game enjoyable for everyone.

But even if going to a Rays game is considered one of the best values in sports, wandering around the stadium or even strolling through the Ted Willams Museum is a “must see” for fans of any team. Changes can always be made even to a perfect event or activity. The above mentioned items have not been singled out to embarrass or even stay away from future Rays games or events. But the tweaking and maybe even the revising of some things can only help further the Rays goals of giving fantastic guest experiences and also promote from within the confines of the stadium to the “Rays Way” of thinking off the field as well as on the field in 2010.

Ladies and Gentleman, Welcome to the B J Upton Show!

 


Chris O’Meara / AP

Oh many times do we go to baseball games wanting to see something we have never seen before?  You know see that event that will be discussed by us to our grand kids or even friends hundreds of times until it gets so boring people know by the first words out o your mouth and either runs for the hills or sit patiently hoping the story gets shorter this time.

Well, we had just one of those moments last night. and for 12 seasons players have gotten close, they have gotten within a cats whisker of it before, but not until last night can a Tampa bay Rays player hold this special event in baseball close to his chest forever. Sure we have had Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett and even Ben Zobrist get close in 2009, but the one guy who needed something like this more than anyone on this roster gets his name permanently in Rays lore now.

And how glorious it was that B J Upton, the Bossman Junior himself stood on first base and did not know if he should step off the base and acknowledge the crowd, or wait a bit until finally tipping his batting helmet towards the stands. The guy that has been run over by the Rays bus numerous times during 2009 by the media, by the fans and by a teammate is now in the spotlight for an amazing feat, and he still looks nervous and unsure. But, you have to admit, if anyone on this team needed a moment like that, it was Upton.

And Upton’s last home stand of the season has been rolling along at a awesome clip before Friday nights game against the New york Yankee. The national media was poised at Tropicana Field hoping to see the Yankee hurler CC Sabathia post his 20th victory, but his night was cut short by Rays rallies in his first 2 2/3rds innings.  And all the Yankee regulars were in the game tonight, it is not like Upton was hitting against the “B” team in the early stages of the contest.


Chris O’Meara / AP

But for the last week or so you saw something like this brewing underneath the surface for Upton. You could sense from the over-the-shoulder catches to the lack of his front foot tapping during his swing that something was going to erupt.  And not only did B J  hit for the cycle, but he did it before the end of the fifth inning!  It was the fastest cycle since Mike Lansing of the Colorado Rockies got all four hits in the first four innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 18, 2000.

But the last 10 games have been a mini great season for Upton. On Wednesday night he got his 41st steal of th season to post back-to-back 40+ steal seasons, and had gone 9 for 25 (.277) over his last 9 games prior to Friday night. If you add on his numbers from last night, Upton has now gone 16 for 40 (.400) over his last 11 games with 12 RBI, his solo HR last night.  During that stretch, he also had 4 stolen bases and 4  consecutive multi-hit games.  The last 10 games have also seen a subtle change to Upton’s approach and swing, but if you have not watched B J, you would miss the small detailed differences.

Gone is that nervous energy tapping of the foot on his follow-through. That was more a part of his internal timing device to try and syncho himself with the opposing pitcher, but people picked up on it and began to attack him with multi-speeds and sent him into a bit of a funk after July. But now the small tap is gone, and with it has been a more fluid and sure-footed plant as he swings through the zone. Sure this might not be the only thing that has been either mentally or physically adjusted by Upton, but it is something that looks small to most people, but has produced major results for him since its change.


Chris O’Meara / AP

For most of the year you have seen me write about Upton because I see a major player with an open book of potential about to hit his stride. I was hoping 2009 would be the year he would breakout at the plate and dominate at the dish the way he does in centerfield. But with this late rush of excitement and confident stroke in hand, this will send B J  into the off season with a ton of confidence and hope for the 2010 season. The kid (he is only 25) has a long time in this league, and we might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg right now.

But for most of the Rays Republic they have stood fast in their condemnation of Upton this season. Hopefully the last 10 games, and the American League Player of the Month award in July when he hit .324 with 5 HR, 22 RBI and 14 SB was just a taste of what could be in store for teams in 2010. All ready there have been online rumors floating about maybe shopping Upton in this off season. But it is fair to say that the Rays will do their usual listening to every offer, but it will have to be a blockbuster deal to send the talented outfielder outside of Tampa Bay.


Chris O’Meara / AP

And on the heels of this seasonings ending will be the first time that Upton will also be able to face the Rays cash register as he will enter only his first arbitration hearing this winter. Sure the Rays tried to lock him up a few years ago when the old regime was in control, but he has stood fast to taking the one-year deals from the team until this year’s hearings.  It is proposed by Rays Index, which guess-timated that Upton could get as much as $ 3.5 million in his first jaunt to the table this fall. If you factor in the defense, the churning of offense the last two seasons, and the potential of this budding superstar, he will be going no where this winter.

But still, last night event showed the Rays fans that Upton is here to play. the quiet outfielder was sure to thank the fans first last night in his radio interview with Rays Radio post-game host Rich Herrera. And that is the true nature of the guy. He knows he is lucky not to have to pretend to love the 9-to-5 grind. And he truly feels blessed to have his talents and abilities. but sometimes that soft personality that hides his true passion gets mistaken for arrogance and conceit. But the guy is all baseball, and hopefully in the next coming years we will see him open up both on the field and with all of us and see what a great guy, and player B J Upton really is………..and we are lucky to have him, and watch him 162 games a season.

Rays Ironman Done for the Year

 


Chris O’Meara / AP

Man, it has seemed like such a long season. It has truly been a struggle to sometimes remember some of the good times and the rough bad times, but one thing has remained consistent in 2009. You knew Rays starter James Shields was going to take the mound every 5 days no matter what happened. Rain or shine, you knew and counted on the guy who got the nickname “Big Game” James from a friend years ago to take the hill or the Rays. And one of the greatest highlights of the season was seeing Shields firmly establish himself as a constant force for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last night as he took the mound for the 33rd start of the 2009 season, it is really remarkable if you scan behind the number on Shields in 2009. Some will shock and amaze you, while other statistics will just seem just plain “D-Ray” like in their stature. But above it all, he has truly gotten the title of “Ironman” on this team, and it is so deserved.  For in this down year. Shields has now crossed the 200+ inning mark for the third year in a row. To put that into total perspective, no other Rays pitcher has even done that feat more than once in their total Rays career.

After he finally exited the game in the 8th inning, he had already thrown 774.1 innings in his combined Rays career. Now look at that number for a minute, 774.1 innings can be translated into 2323 total outs.  And this is a guy who only entered his third full season with the Rays in 2009. The more you dig into his numbers, the more this guys impresses you. In the American League, Shields is one of only four pitchers to surpass that 200+ mark the last 3 seasons joining the Fraternity of Justin Verlander (Det), Roy Halladay (Tor) and Mark Buehrle (CWS), and if you want to go League-wide, he is one of only 9 to complete such a large task in the MLB during that same span adding the names of Javier Vasquez (Atl), CC Sabathia (Cleve/Mill/NYY),Dan Haren (Ari), Matt Cain (SF) and Bronson Arroyo (Cin) to the long list.

Quite an impressive group, and he doesn’t even get the acknowledgment of being the “ace” or number 1 guy for the Rays most nights.  His 33rd start last night also tied his 2008 record for most starts in a season and is only one start off the team record set by Scott Kazmir in 2007. And it doesn’t seem that long ago that Shields was dazzling the Rays scouts with his tremendous Arizona Fall League campaign where he posted a 1.74 ERA and struck out 29 batters, while walking just 2 during 30.1 innings. He capped that AFL season off with a win in the championship game for the Phoenix Desert Dogs.  The “Big Game” moniker has followed him for a long time.

And with his 8 innings last night, he finished the season with the most innings he has ever pitched in the MLB. Shields had garnered at least 215.0 innings the last three seasons, and his 8 innings tonight gave him a total of 219.2 innings in 2009.  The final tally still brought him 4.1 innings short of the Rays record of 224 innings set by Tanyon Sturtze back in 2002. So this feat has established the senior member of the Rays rotation to be a work horse of the Rays staff. Maybe we will see him in Sunday’s Finale as a relief pitcher to get the 4.1 innings? Probably not, but it would be exciting to see since he would have gotten his 5 days rest.

And Shields is totally okay with that notion. But the 2009 season has been a bit bitter sweet for him. He did post his 11th win to get his record close to .500 at 11-12 during last night’s game, but it is his first losing season as a starter in the league. He did experience a slight losing streak when he only went 6-8 in 2006 when he first burst upon the scene for the Rays, but from that spot on  he has enjoyed a 12-8 and a 14-8 record the last two seasons. And that 14 win mark in 2008 put him in a three-way tie with ex-teammate Edwin Jackson and the ex-Ray Rolando Arrojo for the Rays team record. Close , but no cigar for Shields.


Steve Nesius / AP

But 2009 has not always been kind to him. He saw his ERA spike upwards from his 3.56 total in 2008, to a lofty 4.14 ERA this season. It has been a rough and long season for his 4th year starter for the Rays. Shields did increase his strikeout total from 160 in 2008 to 167 this season. But it has been a year of constant adjustments for Shields in 2009 to get hitters out, and to find a new strategy on the mound with almost every hitter.  His 12 losses are a career high, but can be directly contributed to the fact that he has not gotten the run support he needed at times from his own team.

And to say he has been left out to dry this season is an understatement. When you are battling the opposition’s number one guy, you need your squad to produce runs to counter any problems you might be having on the mound that night. In 2009, the Rays hit only 4.38 runs per 9 innings during his starts. And in the offensive-oriented AL East, you need at least 5 runs a game to even stay on par with any of the divisions’ five teams. That 4.38 total is the 5th lowest support given to a starter in the AL this season, and the Rays have score 3 runs or less on 17 of his starts just this season.

But Shields can point to the run support as a contributing factor to his first losing season, but he also points to some un-Shields like consistency throughout the year. 2009 is the first season he has not thrown a complete game, and last season he threw back-to-back complete games at home against the Angels and the Red Sox. It has been eating at him that the year did not follow a familiar set-up, and Shields has been making  the needed adjustments on the mound all season, but  he still might end up the leading the AL in hits allowed with 239 this season. And the danger doesn’t end there.

Shields also in the Top 3 of runs scored against him this season with 113 total runs crossing the plate. And if he did not have enough to worry about already, he is tied for second in Home Runs Allowed this season with 29 homers. But there is a some brightness to all of these shadows right now for the young ace. This offseason he knows he might have to work on tweaking more command and control of his breaking balls, and might work with a few different grips to force some more movement out of his pitches. But when he reports for the 2010 Feb. Spring Training, he will fresh with a new attitude and goals for a breakout season.

So as he strolled from the mound after being replaced by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, the 10,554 rose to their feet and gave the Rays Ironman a standing ovation for his contributions to the Rays in 2009. Jame Shields has come a long way from being a 16th round selection in the 2000 June Draft by the Rays. He will be enter his fourth season in the majors next season, and has vowed to get back to his usual dominance in 2010. That might include a few extra minutes in his usual 3 1/2 hour workouts in the offseason, but the extra sweat and pitching groundwork might be the essence needed to push himself and the Rays back into the playoff hunt. 

Nam Y Hun / AP

2010 might be the season for the Rays to show that they are serious about contending every season, and the guy at the forefront of that explosion will be Shields. If he wants to remain the top dog in the Rays rotation, he will have to combine a bit more control along with a hint of pitching finesse in 2010. But Shields has answered the Rays call before, and will again and again  in the near future. It is not like the Rays have asked Shield to carry them on his back, but that is just an example of the level of commitment this young pitcher has to his team. He knows as far as he goes, this team goes in 2010. ‘Onward and upward” might be a motto for Shields next season, because you can surely picture him being the Opening Day starter for the second year in a row for the young Rays. 

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