December 2009

New Years Predictions

 

                       
                         SeattleTimes.com

With the Waterford crystal ball about to fall within the next 6 hours in frosty Times Square up in New YorkCity. I thought it might be nice to look a bit forward towards the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays future and throw a few predictions into the fray. I usually do not like to do this, but for some odd reason I am feeling pretty confident that the 2010 year will hold a mountain of possibilities and a few pitfalls that can be navigated with calm, cool, collected nerves.

 
Fi
rst prediction:

Have
the Rays reviving again in 2010 the old tradition of  the team wearing Kelly Green Rays uniforms during St. Patrick’s Day game against the Minnesota Twins this Spring. The Rays have not had a March 17th contest in their Spring Training schedule since Stuart Sternberg and crew have been in charge of the team. I can see this tradition again being brought back with a lot of excitement.


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I am also hoping that with this prediction, the team will again be offering up the game-used jersey tops adorned with autographs online via the Rays Foundation as a great donation source for the Rays charity, and also a nice collectible for the Rays faithful fans.

Second prediction:

 
That Rays favorite scapegoat in 2009, Pat Burrell will come into Spring Training a bit lighter and extremely focused to put his sub par 2009 season behind him. He will become the first Rays Designated Hitter since Jose Canseco to be considered for an All-Star selection. He will not get the honor, but his renewed bat and contagious attitude will give the Rays gain a chance to return to the Playoffs.

Burrell actually did not do as badly as you might think in 2009. When you look at the last three Rays seasons in reference to the DH position, Burrell actually was about the norm concerning his productivity. But considering his high price tag ($ 9 million) this season, it will be a test of his hitting abilities and his inner want to extend his career to succeed in 2010.

Third prediction:

The top 4 money makers on the Rays, which include Carl Crawford, Burrell, Rafael Soriano and Carlos Pena will be among the American League leader boards in productivity early in 2010. The 4 make over 40 percent of the Rays payroll, and are critical to the team again making a playoff push in 2010. With Pena tying with Yankee hitter Mark Teixeira for the 2009 AL Home Run title, I suspect Pena to also make an early RBI run in 2010. Crawford will get an early great start concerning Batting Average and Stolen bases.
 

With Burrell already predicted to rise in 2010, Soriano will be a great addition to the Rays Bullpen and will bring the “W’s” home for the Rays. All 4 previously mentioned players are also possibly free agents at the end of 2010, and might also be playing for their next big contract. Sometimes money can be a great motivator.


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Fourth prediction:
 
The Rays will again see a slight rise in game attendance and game packages, but  will not not be near the Major League Baseball averages for 2010. The Rays will again try to fuel the attendance fires with  multiple weekday giveaways and promotions to get the fans into weekday games. But even with a slight rise in the game numbers, you hope that it is enough to give the Rays ownership confidence in the region as a baseball hub.

Considering the Tampa Bay region is fighting off a 12 percent unemployment demon right now, any uptrend should be viewed as a positive for the Rays. With their Concert Series almost guaranteeing sellout crowds, the focus will be on the weak Thursday night numbers, or during home games when an incoming team generally attracts 10,000 or less  fans to the game. I foresee some radical thoughts and ideas coming out right before Spring Training to combat this attendance damper.
 

The Tampa Bay region fans might have been spoiled during the last decade by seeing all three of their professional teams fighting for World/League titles. First came the glitzy Lombardi Trophy that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won during the Super Bowl out in San Diego, California. Then it was the Tampa Bay Lightning turn by streaking through the playoffs and finally hoisting the highly prestigious Stanley Cup on home ice. Then in 2008, it was our own Rays supplanting the Yankees playoff machine and thrusting themselves all the way to the World Series.

I can predict a million things here today, but the best prediction I can make for 2010 is that the Rays fans will again  be crowded into Tropicana Field to see the competitive fires of this Rays team and that their cheers and cowbells will ring loud and proud underneath the Teflon roof of the Trop. For I predict and forecast that 2010 will be the Year of the Rays Fan. 


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Not only with  more entertaining pre-game and in-game promotions, but with more concerts and post-game events that will make it a “must-see” destination for tourists and the entire Tampa Bay community. With the Rays addition of Sunburst Entertainment under their wings in 2009, the team will bring more viable options both before and during games to attract and interact with their Rays fan base. I can see going to a Rays game transforming into a  everyday family event that will having everyone in the family eager to attend another game.

Not every one of these predictions will come true. For predictions are like New Years resolutions, they are only as good as the commitment behind them. But I am banking on the Rays organization and the Rays Republic to rebound in 2010 and make the Rays game one of the best entertainment values in this region….
…….bar none.
And with that I will leave you with a New Years toast:

” A toast to Father Time and the Baby New Year. We have no idea where the old man is going, and we’re not at all sure where the new kid came from, but I do have a question: Who is the mother of all this?”


My Favorite Baseball Song

 

With all the  increasing negativity and the constant grumblings lately about what has happened during this previous summer along the Jersey shore, it was exciting to me last night to see one of New Jersey’s own sitting right next to President Obama and the First Lady during last night broadcast of the 2009 Kennedy Honors. The Working class hero Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen more than deserved his place among American culture icons.

Maybe last night’s honor will let the rest of the country take a breather on New Jersey and center their attention towards the positive as “The Boss”  was being honored last night for his lifetime contribution to American culture of the performing arts. I know I have attended his awesome concerts more than a few times, and each time I see him on stage, his music legacy grows taller with every song.

And it might be fitting that his  classic tune and the video for “Glory Days” is my personal favorite baseball song/video because it always seems to remind me of those awesome sandlot baseball days with my friends when we never cared what the final score of the game was, or who hit a Home Run or single.

And maybe that is why I love this baseball inspired song and “The Boss” for giving me this tune of my youth.  From the first vocals on the song where he meets an aging High School baseball star, the song is a constant reminder of lyrics that evokes the subtle love and passion I had for the game as a kid.

Sure there are other baseball inspired songs that have caught my attention over the years like John Fogerty’s “Centerfield”, or even “Tessie” by Red Sox followers, the Dropkick Murphys, but Springsteen’s tune is the only one where I find myself going back in time and throwing up memories of games or people while holding a bat or in the field. Some people are against the addition of music into our baseball culture.

But to me “Glory Days” has always had a positive affirmation for me with the National Pastime and reaffirms my love for the game. Everyone has a song or even a verse that binds them to the game of baseball. It could even be one of the older songs about  former pitching great Catfish Hunter by Bob Dylan or even the tale of an autograph hunter going awry in the song by the Summer Hymns called “Pete Rose Affinity.”

Music has always had a place in baseball from the classic “Take Me out to the Ballgame” in the bottom of the seventh Inning at some ballparks, to the interesting and always entertaining walk-up and warm-up music clips of our favorite stars. My own local team, the Tampa Bay Rays have even begun to cement their own musical tasty bits out there for us to begin to enjoy and maybe turn into a team clult classic like the Red Sox’s do with the song “Tessie.” 

The game of baseball is enjoyed better when you let all five senses of the human body experience it. The sights, sounds and smells are all key ingredients to having the perfect baseball experience. But to me, music sets the tone for the entire game, and it doesn’t have to start with a clang of the cowbell either.

Sunday Rewind: “My Favorite Baseball Movie”

 
 


With so many  MLB bloggers posting their favorite baseball movies the past few days, I thought I might have to include my personal favorite baseball movie that I watch almost institutionally before Spring Training. It is a movie that almost everyone knows, but might not put at the top of their prospective “All-Time” lists.  I put the German versions DVD cover on the top of the blog to show you that this movie has made the move to the International audience, and is not just a US baseball  classic movie.

 
So far this off season, I have watched this movie only about 6 times, but the movie never seems to become dull to me. Maybe it is the fact that I try and find something new  within the film that I have not seen in other viewings. But beyond all of that, “For the Love of the Game ” is by far my “go-to” movie when it comes to baseball.


I actually see this classic as two movies in one: A Baseball movie and a romance. The sporting sequences featuring the “live action” in the film  are definitely worth the price of admission. A Little known fact here, Kevin Costner actually threw every pitch you see in the movie. He did not use a “stunt” pitcher, but wanted a realism that only the actor actually throwing his pitches could provide to the audience. Every pitch came from his shoulder and there is not a single frame of CGI magic or  differentail photographic magic to render his image over another pitcher’s body. It was all Costner….All the time.

 

That to me spells out the love that Costner truly has for the game of baseball. I know you might think that this is a fantasy for him (and it is), but it is also the type of role that he seems to have been born to play. He is that type of actor that you can believe in this role. You could believe that he was the character, and not just someone propped up on the mound for publicity shots. And he is the kind of guy you would root for if he actually had a chance at a perfect game.



As for that second part of the sequence, the romantic angle. I can also see him in a relationship with a woman as complex and beautiful as Kelly Preston in real life.




Most of the solid relationships with women who are attracted to baseball players that seem to succeed in baseball are by women who are attracted to the way you play the game and not just by the way you look in your uniform on the field.


That is why the romantic scenes make sense to me in the film. I know of a few ball players on the Rays that sit in the Bullpen area and check out the stands every game. A few phone numbers have trickled down to the bench, even if they are not wanted by the players. That is a part of life playing a professional sport. Romance is on your own time, and sometimes you have to juggle a lot to get beyond that first “hello”..

 





Being the (hopefully) level-headed guy that I am, I can dig a good romance. While this movie isn’t perfect, it’s a great “compromise video choice” for the sports-loving couple browsing for a  movie choice at the video store. As tough as it seems to achieve a  perfect balance between the game sequences and the lovey-dovey stuff, director Sam Raimi  does a great jot working towards a harmonic level of switching between the evolving game  excitement and the budding relationship between Chapel and Jane.

It seems on the personal level that aging pitcher Billy Chapel (Costner) is having a completely rotten day. He finds out that the only team he has ever played for, his beloved Detroit Tigers are being sold and that the new ownership group wants to trade him to the San Francisco Giants at the end of that season.  And if that might not derail  a normal person for one day, he also learns that his  love interest girlfriend Jane (Preston) is moving to England to begin her career dream job. But the third strike in all of this is that Chapel is scheduled to pitch his final start of a losing season for the Tigers against the hated Yankees and his mind is not in the game.



Through the course of Billy’s  game day preparations and during the game itself, the movie does numerous flashbacks to earlier points in his career. While most of these deal with his romance with Jane, some are memories of lost and distant friendships and unfortunate decisions Chapel has had to make in his life. Granted, the constant ‘back-and-forth’ gimmick may grow a bit tiresome, but by this moment, you will either hate the movie or be completely caught up in the adventure.


I actually took it as life reflective moments that we all have  had at some point in our lives. You get a better sense of Chapel because of the flashback sequences where you see his past career highlights (Tigers World Series appearance), his  remorse and regrets, plus his accident in the off season at his winter lodge that could have derailed his baseball career.



 


I actually enjoy that kind of playful reflection into the background of a character and find the movie more entertaining because it is played out like “at-the moment” elements of the game while Chapel is pitching.  Given some of Costner’s recent films, there’s no real reason to expect this movie to be any good. But it actually is quite an entertaining movie, thanks mainly to the direction of Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series, A Simple Plan ).

Whenever Dana Stevens’ (City of Angels) script veers towards some corny moment, Raimi pulls up just short, and quickly flashes to the present, and gives us some fantastic baseball sequences. I still think that the film crew did an outstanding job making  the old Tiger Stadium look like Yankees Stadium for the production of the film. And even though they had to do multiple shots of the crowds moving around the stadium and then CGI-ing them into position all over the ballpark, it is a great job of creating the “New York fan vibe” in the film.

Costner plays Billy as melancholy and regretful, the very things that cause him so much trouble in his love life. Unfortunately (and as usual ) Costner never loosens up at all; he’s always stoic and mellow. Kevin Costner suffers from “Movie Star Syndrome”. When he plays a real character, like in the film “Tin Cup’, he shines brightly. While she’s no Oscar threat here, Kelly Preston easily holds her own as Jane, although her character is a bit underwritten for the female lead a romantic film.



What matters most in a movie like this is whether or not you care if
these characters have a happy ending or not. There are several things that can ruin this for you: poor performances, a cliched and lazy script, or just an air of what I can only call ‘fakeness’. ( See “Fools Rush In” or Costner’s own “Message in a Bottle” for examples of such romantic ‘fakeness’).  “For Love of the Game” avoids these romantic maladies (for the most part ). If Costner and Preston don’t always click as a couple, that’s OK because she’s really beautiful (I hate John Travolta for getting to her first ).


If the baseball sequences seem a tad forced or convenient, that’s OK because it’s a damn well-made baseball movie. The scenes are pretty fresh. My favorite is still the one where a rookie is playing in the outfield in Fenway Park, and a ball ends up bouncing off his head ala Jose Canseco and the Boston crowd just laugh as he looks up at them. Now I know for a fact that if that happened, it would have to be in right field at Fenway, and they would more than just laugh at the guy the rest of the series. 
 

In between mediocre Hollywood flicks (I still do not get “The Bodyguard“, but have been hit in the head with the DVD a few times),Costner does another classic baseball movie. While it might not compare in the same breath as some of his other impressive baseball works like “Bull Durham” or “Field of Dreams”  it is gaining popularity as a baseball movie. The true test to this movie might be the simple fact that you want to believe that Chapel can evolve during the movie. I actually see this film as a everchanging morphing of Chapel from a top flight ballplayer to finally realizing his life will not end  by chosing Jane over the game. And in that last scene you see that he truly can let the game go without remorse or regret. And as an ex-athlete, I can admit that moment of realization is an intense moment in your life.



 

Could a Bull Durham Sequel be in Trouble?

After public announcements by movie stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon that they are formally separated as a couple after first falling in love during the filming of “Bull Durham“, you have to wonder if this shocking event might be a potential dagger in Director Ron Shelton’s heart to ruin the 2010 planned production of another “Bull Durham” film. Most people might remember that during the late 1980’s, the Hollywood power couple first began to stoke their own romantic fires as a pair during the film’s production in North Carolina. 

With their recent separation, you have to wonder if it will have any lasting effects on Producer Thom Mount’s already finished script,or Shelton’s unreleased production schedule. As recent as 2008, there have been loud whispers and anticipated rumors flying around the Durham, North Carolina foothills that Shelton and Mount were secretly beginning subtle arrangements to bring back the baseball cult film’s three main characters to a new setting at a new and improved Durham Athletic Park (DAP) for filming during the upcoming 2010 season.
But could the couple’s recent news throw  a monkey wrench into the film’s excitement level, or could it just add an air of spice to the entire adventure? There has been wild spread speculation that the film will reunite the trio with  slight references to the first films love triangle getting back together again, but with some added twists and turns. But one solid idea being tossed around is for Kevin Costner to revive his Crash Davis persona, but this time he will be patrolling only the Bull’s dugout as their Triple-A Manager.  

It has been rumored that the original conceptual theme could possibly put the 1988 film’s original love triangle firmly on its ear as Major League pitcher Ebby Calvin (Nuke) LaLoosh and baseball savant  Anne Savoy will be reintroduced in the new film as a married couple and current owners of the Triple-A Bulls squad being managed by Davis.  With their current announcement, maybe the film needs to be tweaked a bit to make us believe it from the get-go.

My own personal twist that can be added to the script after the separation news is that LaLoosh would eventually see his own  Major League baseball greatness at a distance having both success and failure quickly and dramatically crash and burning before Anne and Davis find LaLoosh passed out in the middle of his posh hotel room in a drunken stupor and carry him back to Durham to teach him a knuckleball to  hopefully resurrect his rollercoaster career and give him one last shot at glory in the Major Leagues.

But with the recent developments in the long time relationship between Sarandon and Robbins, you have to think that maybe Mount is sequestered somewhere within the Durham triangle in a dark trying to find a believable scenario where we will again fall in love with these three characters. That was one of the underlying high points of the original film seeing that love affair bloom under the Bull sign in the old Durham Athletic Park before the new and improved stadium and the advent of the Blue Monster.

And I know Hollywood actors and actresses can create on-screen magic at the drop of a baseball cap, but could the couple create that same believable wildfire of passionate chemistry that we saw smoldering well beyond the surface in the original 1988 scenes. Or could their real life candle finally flaming out bring some predestined thoughts to the filmgoer’s minds even before the film begins to roll in theaters?

And this is a serious question in my mind because we have to believe that Anne and Nuke still have that fire within them, or that there is some path to show a rebirth of the romantic pathos burning bright again, or the film could just go right down the tube. Could the recent announcement actually be a nicely planned public relations (genius) move with the film beginning its production. That would draw instant interest in the film, and maybe be a highly pinioned subject in the blogging community  to try to dig deep within Shelton’s and Mount’s mind for answers and peak the excitement even before production.
And a possible third storyline that springs quickly into my conspiracy-themed mind of a possible Anne and Crash finally finding their sense of real relationship explosion or closure climaxing with a Bull’s Triple-A Championship(Bulls won the 2009 Triple-A Championship)  bringing them together, and a possible career chance thrust upon Davis to finally manage in the big leagues would be a perfect movie kicker.

You can bet there are all sorts of brainstorming sessions going on right now between Shelton and Mounts to find a suitable storyline that will be believable to you and me on the screen. Hollywood has always been a fickle when it comes to sequels of classic sports films. And when you take one of the All Time favorite baseball films and try to resurrect it again on-screen, it has to be near perfect or it will just quickly flutter into DVD only distribution like “Major League 3“. 

And I do not know about you and your views on this film, but I do not want that fate for a film I consider in my personal All Time Top 5 to go out like that. When “Bull Durham” first came out in my local theater I rushed to see it because I wanted to renew my long-lost love for the game. I seriously still watch this film about once every few months just for the pure joy of watching these three characters development during the film. There is a feeling to me watching the film that all three actors were having the time of their lives doing the film.

If they do renew the film series, I want to feel that same level of baseball love and the same comedic level of the current classic lines from the film that have become bar pick-up lines and  are forever interwoven into the fabric of baseball. When you remake a film, or even continue on its journey, you have to feel the love and get transfixed back into the realm of the film. If you can not  reconnect the audience and transform us like in the original Ron Shelton, then maybe we should just leave the film in its current brilliance and let it shine bright without a second glance into this awesome world of baseball.

 

All-Christmas Squad 2009

 


Last Christmas season I started a new MLBlogs.com tradition by posting about my selection for the 2008 All Christmas squad composed of characters we all know and love from our favorite Christmas movies and shows. The usual suspects were invited on the team like George Bailey and little Ralphie, and of course, Rudolf. But I pondered long and hard on which direction to take this endeavor for 2009.

Since the “Evil Empire” took the trophy in 2009, I could always hit the “Stars Wars” human and machine memory banks and find more than enough characters and antics to post a pretty good line-up. But no, I decided to knock it up a notch or two and construct my own team of Super Hero’s who could take on last year’s team, the Polar Express , and might even win!

But I had to find the right meshing of personalities, and had to also toss out a few great performances by other actors in certain character’s roles to find the right combination to host games against the Empire and my 2008 team, the Polar Express. So with no further ado, let me introduce to you the 11 players and Coaches of the newly formed  N’oreastern Blizzard the, second franchise of the North American League

And like last season’s choices, this was a personal choice of super heroes with no Wikipedia references or visit to the local comic book store. This team will be based on the super heroes that were born, bred and ready for battle anytime against evil when I was a kid. So let’s get on with the formal introductions of my All Christmas squad for 2009.

Starting Pitcher:

This was kind of tough knowing that so many great super heroes could throw a baseball threw even the mightiest surfaces. So I decided to take it a different direction and use a hero that combines one of the five basic elements of life on earth.  He might be the youngest of the Fantastic Four, but the Human Torch was an easy choice to be my starting pitcher. Now this decision did come with some possible side effects of the baseball actually disappearing before it got near the plate. But I had a plan.

Added to this the definite possibility that the other team could chart his flame path to try and steal his pitch locations which led me to ask Jonathan Lowell Spencer Storm to throw a little extra puff of trailing smoke along with the ball to cover its path to the plate. I also dipped all 13 dozen game balls (the same number as the MLB uses per game) in a flame retardant liquid that would not leave a residue, but would leave the ball intact for its numerous flights to the plate during the game.



First Baseman
:

This was also a spot where another large group of super heroes could man the position and be an excellent choice. But again,I decided to go with my gut instinct here and put Mr. Fantastic aka Reed Richards, the leader of the Fantastic Four at first base bag as much for his intelligence in the arts of alien biology and physics as for his unyielding confidence in his craft.

And because he can actually stretch out far and wide made him  another clear choice to get errant throws and also have superb dives and lunges for balls hit either to his left or right during the game. People might remember that when Mr. Fantastic is confronted with a scientific challenge he goes into such a state of pure focus that not succeeding is not an option for him. Just the sort of cocky, power-hitting first bagger this team needs to win.

Second Baseman: 

Here is the spot I think I am going to get the biggest feedback in the form of the player I picked for this spot. I have respected the job Akinora Iwamura has done with the Tampa Bay Rays since he came here from Japan, and I am going to make this position my homage to a Japanese Super Hero we all might not know. I have decided to give this spot to Super Sentai, who was actually a basis for the Power Rangers characters.

Unknown to most of us in the United States, this Super Hero series has been translated and brought to other cultures around the world from Brazil,Italy, Spain and Portugal to even the US where they were transformed into the Power Rangers. Super Sentai is my only super hero that has come from overseas to play America’s game, and has found his  rightful place among my team.

Shortstop:

Here is another position that might be up for debate, but the guy I finally decided on in this spot might be a bit of another baseball homage to the shortstops that have played in the MLB for years who seem to get a glove on balls that no one else could, or would get under normal circumstances. That is why Spiderman was my perfect choice for this spot on the field.

Spiderman aka Peter Parker was one of the only super heroes to not be a protege’ at one point to another super hero. But if you combine the web-shooting ability along with his uncanny spidey sense, he seems to be a natural for the spot. And with the mantra, “With great power comes great responsibility” spoken to him by his late Uncle Bob, Spiderman could actually maybe be a nice clone of a certain “Evil Empire” shortstop with his remarkable range and throwing accuracy.

Third Baseman:

This is another spot where I though uncanny ability to transform and stand tall and firm while guarding the line might be the perfect trait for the position. And knowing that games can be won and lost down the Rightfield line, I decided the Hot Corner would be patrolled by Spawn. The unique situation of Spawn having to fight supernatural and criminal elements to again see his wife after he was sent to hell gives him an extra dose of drive an
d determination here. 

Adding on the fact that most third baseman are viewed a bit as mercenaries, this former CIA agent fits perfectly into the mold of a MLB 3-bagger. And considering his character has been known to morph and change during his evolution, this is a perfect baseball analogy to how the job description at third base is an ever changing bag of tricks from  sprinting in for bunted ball and making odd angle throws, to full-body dives over the bag to snag balls screaming down the line at the speed of light.



Catcher:

This is one of the spot that was actually very easy for me to consider. The character taking this spot has to dive, block and basically be a human wall to the Human Torch’s hot tamale pitches that will be blazing a trail into the plate. That is why Thing from the Fantastic Four was the perfect pick.  As the founding member of the Fantastic Four, Thing also can be the field general that every team needs behind the plate.

Back that up with the fact the Thing was born on New York’s Lower East side, and you get a guy who is as tough mentally as he is physically. Born Benjamin Jacob Grimm, he was an avid football player, which will make him a perfect wall when he stands in front of the plate and blocks a runner from trying to score on him. And with his orange-colored skin, he will be an easy target for any member of the Blizzard’s pitching staff. Add on his comical tag line of: “It’s clobbering Time”, and you get one of the team’s pure power hitters.

Leftfield:

I wanted to use at least one member of the Batman franchise here, and decided to use the one that I thought conveyed the element of fear and strength in the character. For that reason, the Batman (Christian Bale version) is the clever pick to play down the Leftfield line based on the uncanny ability he has to leer, and that might keep guys from trying to stretch out singles into doubles. Just a glare from his eyes might freeze a runner between bases and hesitate just enough for him to get a quick throw in and nail him for an outfield assist.

Add onto that the fact he has enough piece of equipment and apparatuses on his utility belt to scale any wall, even the Green Monster and bring the ball back into play with no hesitation. Batman might not be as fleet-footed as the rest of this team, but he will make up for that with cunning anecdotes and sneers at the opposing pitchers.  Pop on the adage of having a pretty cool set of rides and you got a MLB player in the making here.

Rightfield:

Here is another spot that I thought demanded that I have one of the fastest super heroes in the corner outfield to not only run down balls maybe hit by Mr. Fantastic, but also hit near the Centerfield-Rightfield gap. For that reason, Flash seemed to be the perfect fit to this position. Because of his superhuman reflexes and how he violates the basic laws of physics, you might wonder why I did not put him at Shortstop or Third base.

Well, I decided that the Scarlett Speedster would be a nice deterrent to teams trying to not only run on his arm, but test his abilities to get to almost any ball hit his way. One of the greats attributes a Rightfielder can have is teams fearing what he will do once he has the ball in his glove or hand. Flash gives me that extra jolt of confidence that if a runner is trying to score from third base, the throw will be at the plate on time. 

Centerfield:

This one was actually another one of the easiest positions to for me to fill on this roster. Who else but Superman (Christopher Reeves version) could be seen patrolling the gaps and long distances to the Centefield wall. Partner that with a great ability to keep the ball in the park hit at any height, and you get a solid defensive outfielder who also can bring some super power to the plate.

Seriously, he could also be the guy who could take a few balls away from Batman in Leftfield, but it would be on a purely speed basis to secure the out and not be an ego thing. Mark that with his solid personal makeup and you got a guy that the fans would also enjoy having him autograph a ball with his eyes, or even pose for pictures strutting his muscles.

Closer:

Here is a spot I did not include in the 2008 squad, and I felt simply terrible about it as an afterthought. Every team needs a guy to button down a close game and give them that needed push to hold a team scoreless and then win in walk-off fashion. For that reason, I think the Punisher is the perfect man for the job.

Not only does the Punisher have those human flaw trademarks we all know and love in our closers, he has an ability to that antihero that some closer possess and use to their advantage. As Frank Castle, the Punisher will use whatever method is needed to get the end result that is desired. That, is the ultimate goal of every closer to have the game come down to his abilities and he conquer them single-handedly.

Designated Hitter:

I think there is only one choice for this position considering it has to be a postion of power and also great energy. Without a doubt, the prefect DH would have to be the Incredible Hulk. Just on his pure ability to hit the cover off the ball this spot is perfect for the green one. But also with his ability to change, he could be his green imposing self at the plate, and maybe turn into a speed merchant in his human form. But I think for the sake of arguing, he will try and maintain his angered state throughout the baseball game.



First Base Coach:

I decided to put in the First Base box the only female character. 
I decided that the Susan Storm also known as the Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four, and also Reed’s wife would be the perfect fixture on first base. Think about it for a moment, you could have her invisibly interact with the opposing First Baseman and also get an extended conversations with her base runners and the other team will not have an idea about it. 

Flanker that with the possibilities of the Invisible Woman also taking a short jaunt and conversing with a runner on second base and you got no need for signals from the first base box at all. Add in the addition of using unseen forces to keep balls going fair down the Rightfield line either in the air or on the ground and you got a solid asset in the First Base Coaching box. And let’s not get started on bunts down the lines……

Third Base Coach:

This one is maybe more of my own personal plea to get this guy on the team, but I decided that the perfect signaler to men at the plate or on base has to be the Green Lantern.  Considering his power ring bring with it a great abundance of control over the mortal world, it can be used to alter the course of balls hit down the Third Baseline during games. 

Because of his relationship with the Team Manager, Green Lantern was added to the Coaching staff to also boost the confidence and will of the other super heroes on the team. During his career he had to morph himself a few times to fit the environment and the situations of a modern world. He can use his  life experiences to add another dimension to this team’s Coaching staff.   

Team Manager:

This was actually the easiest position to fill because if we are going to be playing in the North American League, then there is only one super hero who has the name recognition and also credibility to pull this team to victory. Captain America is the only choice for this spot…..period.
Combine the ability to shield himself from the opinions of the journalists and bloggers to stay focus and keeping a firm eye on the prize.

Boost that with the added dimension of being the team leader of the Avengers and you get a super hero with a firm grip of the things needed by a leader, and how to convey them to your troops without confusion and chaos. And considering the long and storied history of Captain America, he is a shining example of what you want your super heroes to be in real life. 

So there you go. That are my super hero picks for the 2009 roster of the newly formed second team in the North America League. Unlike the AFL or even the USFL, this baseball league will continue to expand with at least one team forming every Christmas season until we have enough teams to play every day of the holiday season.

This is my own little personal Winter League experiment, and with two teams already in the books, it will be fun to watch both the N’oreastern Blizzards and the Polar Express playing starting tomorrow on a cool and sunny Florida baseball diamond near you. Admission is free and remember, a hot dog always tastes better at the ballpark!

Ken Rosenthal, Are you Nuts?

 


MSN.Foxsports.com

In the past, I have made it a personal point to try and stay neutral and not get too upset over the wishy-washy personal opinions and print bravado hoisted to the heavens like gospel by the media mongrels who act as our “internal” eyes into the soul of baseball. I  have begun to feel very strongly that these mongrels seem to forget sometimes that their social network followers their words and thoughts as written epiphanies of solemn truth than as  muses of personal opinion or outlandish tongue-in-cheek comments .

And these same followers may see these daily postings from the media centerpieces mesh into their own personal opinions because the mongrels have been anointed by so many as the guardians of baseball. And being considered a sentry to sensibility can be a pretty important and lofty job description with a nest of surreal complications and phonetic pitfalls all over the place. I can tell you it is not a position I would ever interview to include on my resume’.

But a recent post by a Fox Sports guru has gotten a bit underneath my skin, and if I do not itch/comment now, it will surely fester into something severe and intense. My symbolic camel finally received it’s broken vertabrate courtesy of the muses of Ken Rosenthal  during his December 22nd post. And sure, I maybe taking this a little too to the extreme with his literal post comments, but I truly feel like this is the kind of out of reality postings that can not be written at this  juncture in the off season and have a realistic ounce of credibility beyond  personal speculation.

I mean, not even one of the MLBlogs.com posters following the New York Yankee or Boston Red Sox would feel superiorly autonomous enough this early in the off season to proclaim in a posting the a headline like “The Rest of the A L East should just give up now”.  I would have more respect and affirmation for such a headline if it was September 2010, or at least at a point centered somewhere within the 2010 season, not 3 days before Christmas with not a single baseball game played yet in 2010 season.

Sure I  would expect bravado and numerous chest thumping episodes from their recent signing from both teams, but this headline illustrates that the trio of the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays should just take their gloves and bats and go home now and not even show up in April 2010. I surely hope it was a tongue-in-cheek comment because I can assure you all three teams are gunning for you right now Mr. Rosenthal.


Steve Nesius / AP

How could you post a headline like that Rosenthal. I had more respect for you in the 2008 playoffs when you honestly remembered where the Rays played, unlike the guys in the Press Box who thought it was 20 miles to the east. So what if the 2009 World Series Champion Yankees will counter with a rotation of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettite and Javier Vasquez against the Rays, Jays and O’s. Let’s take a little gander at all three Yankee pitcher’s records against all three teams,with the exception of Vasquez since he was in the National League last season.

The Pinstripe pitcher’s went a combined 17-7 against the trio in 2009, and the most effective pitcher was newly acquired Burnett who went 4-0 against the Rays and posted an overall 7-2 record against the trio. Sabathia had a bag of mixed results, going 0-2 in 4 starts against the Rays, but went 4-1 against the Orioles. Take away Burnett’s 7 victories and you get the Yankees starters winning only 1 out of every 3 against the trio.  The trio of pitchers actually went to the mound 32 times against all three squads in 2009.

So let’s  now turn our attentions to the Boston brood’s 4 pitchers consisting of Josh Beckett,Jon Lester,Clay Buchholz and newcomer John Lackey and see if an identical pattern emerges in games against the trio. The 2010 Red Sox staff went a combined 17-4 against the three teams. In the 2009 series,Lester actually came out on top with a 9-2 record during 12 starts against the trio. Lester only lost to the Rays among the three teams isolated in this scenario. But the foursome did make a total of 36 starts against all three teams in 2009.

With a combined record by Boston and New York of 34-11  in 68 starts against Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay, you can see that all three had some levels of success against the teams mentioned by Rosenthal. Those do not look like superior, dominanting numbers, but you also got to remember that each teams get to know each other pretty indepth personally after playing 17 games against each other during the season.

I hate to  have to remind Mr. Rosenthal that he did pick one of that mentioned trio to win it all in 2009, and is now throwing them under the bus. Yes, Mr. Rosenthal, you did pick my own Rays to win it all in 2009, and we vanquished our own playoff aspirations with abysmal September campaign especially  in divisional seriesagainst New York and Boston. But the reality of this division is that the rich will get richer especially in signed talent, and the trio who lurk in the small market concept will just have to squeeze every ounce of potential and talent from their rosters to match-up nightly.

And that is a real pity. All three of listed trio have begun to stockpile talented players who will not cost them millions of dollars. None of the three can go out and be super aggressive and affectively offer multi-years and millions to possible Fee Agents, but can get some great established players through trades (Soriano/Drabek/Atkins) and adequately patch up their teams holes before the 2010 season begins.

And I do not think for one moment that the Red Sox did not protect themselves when they included a provision in the contract to pitcher John Lackey because of his injury history. There is supposibly a “injury” provision in that contract where if Lackey suffers an injury, and misses considerable time during his contract, he will play for the MLB league minimum in 2015. Injuries are a part of baseball, and for Mr. Rosenthal to strut his feathers like a peacock at this point of the off season is totally absurd to me.


Chris O’Meara/ AP

Let’s play at least 100 games before we start to parade words like “dynamo” or “dynasty” in general blog posts. It is not like you will not see people post and fantasize abo
ut a Yankee repeat again in 2010. For the sake of argument, Boston has been more consistent in the last 5 playoff seasons, but has hoisted the World Series trophy as many times as New York. In the last three seasons, three different teams have hoisted the American League Championship trophy, and all three came from this American League East division. 

You can say that this division has an air of dominance, but you can not say any of the five teams in this division are every out of it even before we play one single game. Remember the last few seasons when the bottom guys were established securely on top of the division while Tampa Bay, Boston and New York tried to right their ships and sailed towards the top of the standings. In this division it is never over until it is over…….point blank. 

So Mr. Rosenthal, I can be secure in the proposterious  notion that I can say with the upmost confidence that there will be  a boatload of surprises in the 2010 season, and that I want to be the one to serve you a nicely grilled breast of blackened crow with a nice port wine reduction when your boast goes south in 2010. Oh, and I would recommend a fine Robert Mondavi Carneros 2007 to wash all that crow humbly down.

Talbot was the Perfect Choice for Cleveland


AWinner@Flickr.com

Every once in a while a trade is consummated that  instantly makes you see that it might be the best thing to happen to that minor leaguer. You do not want to see him leave your system, but you know that he might be legitimately stalled within your farm system by a logjam within your system. And it is a shame to see a player stand still instead of moving forward in their  maturation process to becoming a Major Leaguer.
 

So when the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they had made a trade with the Cleveland Indians for catcher Kelly Shoppach in early December, you had the immediate feeling that the “Player To Be Named Later” would be plucked from the Rays 25-man roster, or be a top prospect from a Rays farm squad. So it was no real shock to me that the Rays took their time finalizing and whittling down the choices with the Indians and finally deciding “officially” late Monday night to send pitcher Mitch Talbot to the Indians.

And the final decision on Talbot was a very intelligent and completely necessary move for the Rays. But it was also a great pitching pick-up for the rebuilding Indians who  will be using young pitching talent in 2010 to build a strong foundation for the Indians future. And this decision actually saved the Rays from having to make a difficult decision this Spring for the second season in a row.
 

Talbot, who was out of minor league options, might not have even been considered for a 25-man roster spot for the Rays and in all likelihood would of had to change the mindset of the Rays Coaching staff  to make the team reconsider a spot for fellow pitchers like Andy Sonnanstine or Wade Davis in 2010.  And it is not unheard of in recent Rays Spring Training history for a pitcher to  come into Spring Training Camp in mid-February and sweat and battle his way the entire Spring, and the team ends up not having him on their final 25-man roster.


CBC-Raleigh.com

But with Talbot going down in 2009 with injuries while with Triple-A Durham Bulls, he ended up throwing only 54.1 innings, which could of had the Rays losing a bit of confidence in one of their top pitcher prospects. How soon it slipped the minds of the Rays to forget that in 2008 Talbot posted his second consecutive 13-9 record for the Bulls. 

Talbot even had to endure a brief 24-hour call-up with the Rays on July 2,2008.  All this from a guy that Baseball America  selected in 2008 as having the best change-up in the International League. How soon  a player could fall from grace with an organization, and they forget you were their selection as Triple-A Pitcher of the Year in 2008, and had the best change-up in the Rays system for the fourth year in a row. Throw on top of that being a member of the Bull 2009 Triple-A Championship team, and you get a pitching prospect who’s future should be bright in the eyes of his organization, and not  shaded by clouds of doubt.


Rob Carr / AP

But with the Indians selecting Talbot as the final piece in this deal, it actually opens up a different career path to the Majors for Talbot. He will report  with the other Indians pitchers’ to Arizona this Spring, and could be firmly in the mix to secure a spot in their 2010 rotation. This should give Talbot a early dose of confidence that he can get his name muttered by the Cleveland Coaching staff this Spring. And because the Rays included his name for consideration in this trade,Talbot will be given a fair chance to make his first Opening Day roster in the Major Leagues.

They say that sometimes things happen for reason. Well, this trade actually might be just the extra push forward Talbot needs to secure a spot on a Major League bench. He is a hard worker and deserves this chance, and hopefully we will see his name listed on the roster on 2010’s Opening Day. And  with the added experience of serving in the Rays Bullpen in the past, Talbot could also bring a nice secondary piece of the puzzle for the Indians. Talbot  in his personal life enjoys flying during his off times from baseball. Hopefully his  renewed chance in Cleveland will finally give him a chance to fly high and secure a spot in the Major Leagues. And I am think he is the right guy to have at the controls.

Sunday Rewind: “All-Christmas Squad 2008″

 

 
                 
 

Blogger’s Note:

I first posted this on December 16,2008 and wanted to include some of our favorite Christmas characters into a baseball scenario. So this is my All-Star Christmas Team for the 2008 season. Hopefully within the next few days I will also have a posting on my 2009 selection to the squad………Maybew this year I will pick Super Heroes..hmmmmm

I do not have one of these nights very often, but I  seem to get them more and more during the Holiday season. I do not know why, but I have  a bit of a insomnia around the Christmas Holidays. So I went on MLBlogs.com and was  strolling and checking out the Christmas blogs and “wish lists” when I thought to myself, I said “Self, what would be the ultimate Christmas baseball team?” So I thought it was the right time of the year to come up with a stellar squad of icons and characters for the holidays.

 

And being bit tired and delirious, I somehow answered myself that I should find the right combination of Christmas-based characters both human and cartoon characters to field the perfect Holiday baseball squad. Now I do not know why, but this sounded like a fantastic idea so early in the morning. So I hit into my past memories of great Christmas moments on film and television and mettled, cursed and prodded as I searched my brain for past names,  wild photos and even a airdate that the original movie/cartoon was presented to the world.

 
 
 
 

Let me tell you that sometimes even Wikipedia can’t help you on a quest for a team like this one. So I used every  memorable holiday phrase and  try to recount audible soundsfrom the past to try and determine the right pairing of  10 players and coaches for the Polar Express. Now I did this in a variation of using at least 5 cartoon personalities and 7 human figures as my fantasy team. Being that we are playing in the  North American League, I have instituted the Designated Santa on my team.
 

I think this squad as the right  hint of animation and perfect human element to make this team a sure fire winner in the Winter Leagues. So I will introduce my 2008 team moving from the 1-9 positions in the lineup, then I will divulge the  2 special coaches for the team. But we have to first begin with our outstanding mound presence on our squad.
 
 
  
                     
 
Starting Pitcher:
 
The starting pitcher for the North Pole Express is the one and only Charlie Brown. His  classic Christmas television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first hit the airwaves in 1965 and was an instant hit with kids of all ages.  So I decided to use Brown as my pitcher because of the  huge amount of past experiences while pitching during the Spring to Summer leagues down in the lower 48 states. Of course we know that he can sometime be de-clothed by a sharp liner back up the middle after he hangs one of his patented hanging curveballs. He has the experience and the fortitude to throw hard and long into games for the Express and will be a calming presence on the mound for the team.
 
 
 
 
Catcher:
 
I had to think long and hard about the right guy to catch for this team. I needed someone who had some brawn and might be dumb enough to sit back there and be ready for anything coming off the fingers of Charlie Brown. And considering all the plusses and minuses, I came up with Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. This movie first hit the movie houses in 1989 and also became an instant classic for it’s off beat humor and  funny situations. Also Eddie is a pretty big guy, and he looks like he could block the plate like an ice sheet.
 

Now that we have the pitching and catching battery taken care of, I have decided that we do not need any relief pitchers since we might have a 10-run rule going after just the 5th inning knowing the way Charlie Brown pitches to batters’. So let’s get you aquainted with the 5 infield positions on the team.
 
 
 
 
First Baseman:
 
I wanted to get a guy who has some baseball experience on first base, because we need a solid guy on this bag to protect the lines and also make therequired plays and positioning if the ball gets hit into the infield. I chose a guy who owns a few minor league ballclubs in real life as my first bagger. I think he can do the job with a flair, and if not, with at least a funny manuver or two while out on the bag.
 
 
 
 
 I decided to use Francis Xavier Cross from the movie “Scrooged” as my first baseman.  I have always thought this was a awesome take on the classic, “A Christmas Carol.” It was originally in theatres in 1988, and is still one of my favorite odd  comedy movies for the holiday season. I think that Murray captured the perfect sarcastic essence of Scrooge and his comic genius shows through in this  Christmas time remake. If you have a chance, you must catch this belly-busting redition of the Dicken’s classic tale.
 
 
                 
 
 
Second Baseman:
 

I wanted my second baseman to be fast and quick as a rabbit, or bunny. He needed to have the killer instinct and the speed to get the toss for the double play, or also cover the bag when Quaid launches a rocket to second to catch  a rambling polar bear trying to steal a base trying to get into scoring position. I picked the smart little guy Ralphie Parker from “A Christmas Story” to play second base for me. The movie is a all day affair on TNT nowadays on Christmas Day, and has been another holiday appetizer since its original screening date in 1983.
 
 
                
 
 

In the movie, Ralphie showed the moxie I want on second to decide on the fly to either talk about the notorious leg lamp, or just be quiet as a mouse. He also has the fortitude and determination to keep pestering his parents for that Red Ryder BB gun. Hopefully the ball coming in hard and fast from Quaid behind the plate will not put his eye out……..again.
 
 
 
                          
 
 
Shortstop:
 

My shortstop has to be quick and have smart reflexes at the same time. He has to be able to  use instinct to decide if the throw should be made, or to run and cover second as the pivot man on a ball hit to the first base side of second base. I decided to use a quick guy who is also small and nimble. I think, that Hermie, the dentist elf from ” Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer” would be the perfect guy to man the hole position for the Express. He showed remarkable smart judgement during the movie, which first hit the networks in 1964. And with over 44 years of intelligent moves, should be a valuable additon to the  2008 squad.
 
 
 
 
Third Baseman:
 

Playing third, I had to find a big guy who could move laterally and go blindly and swifty into the foul territory for quick pop-ups. He also had to have some horizontal versatility towards the hole or the  chalk on the left-field line.  He must be able to leap to and fro anytime it was called for in the contest. He had to also be a power hitter to produce some runs and protection for our little squad. It had to be a movie character from the last 5 years to have youthful vitality and vigor for the position. He had to have the enrgy and the motivation to add to the teams awesome chemistry.
 
 
 
 

The person who fit this position perfectly to me was Buddy from the movie “Elf.”  He has the comedic chops to take one for the team down the line and will sacrifice his body for his craft. Because of this, he was a hands down favorite to make the All-Frozen Tundra team during the time before the spring thaw. His quick wit and glove along with his quick wrists and power stroke should power the ball to all fields and should produce a slim chance of the opposition getting to his liners and high drives to the  high walled snow fences.
 
 
                      
 
 
Left Fielder:
 

My choice for leftfield could not have two-left feet. He has to have the agility and the coordination of a leopard.  And the guy has to adequately take the position and make it his own by exhibiting speed and smart thinking through the Christmas season. He has to be sure footed and should be able to dance in the outfield while chasing down flares and dying quails. The guy who I think would be a model left-fielder is George Bailey of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  I just hope George remembers to put some zuzu petals in his uniform pockets before he takes the field. You know they are magical.
 
 
                       
 
 
Centerfielder:
 

I wanted to have a shrewd and calculating centerfielder. Someone who could get a baserunner to make a mistake and try and score on his arm, then he guns them down at the plate.
I needed someone with a huge heart who would run and run all over the field and get the ball whereever it is in the field. I also needed someone who could exhibit some emotion even if he is a problem-child at times, but play the game on our terms too. And for that reason, I picked  Grinch from the movie “The Grinch”. I wanted someone who could go from bad to good in a  heartbeat. And if he did make a bad play,or make a questionable play or action on or off the field,  I could just say it was the “Grinch being  the Grinch.” 
 
                               
 
Right-fielder:
 

I wanted a right-fielder who would not be afraid of the  snow wall, or of taking one for the team down the icy foul line.  If the ball was in the air long enough, I wanted to see distance and a nice combination of  horizontal or vertical movement towards the failing sphere. He needed to have a rifle arm and also a wit about him to keep base runners honest on the basepaths. I chose Ernest from “Ernest Saves Chrsitmas”. This 1988 sequel, to the sequel, to the sequel kept a long line of profitable movies going for over a decade. We needed that kind of staying power in rightfield. A streak like that is contagious on a team. If the team has confidence, they will go above expectations and strive to be the best in the Winter League.
 
 
 
 
Designated Santa:
 

I needed a huge character in this spot in the lineup who evokes the charm and the outward joy of the big guy himself. He has to be able to belly up to the plate and hit it a mile, or at least to the South Pole with every swing. The guy I picked for this position has been cranking out movies for a long time, and also has played the part for several installments of his own movie franchise. I picked Scott Calvin as my Designated Santa from the movie , The Santa Clause.” He has made this a blockbuster hitting streak by hitting  a trifecta of pitches out of the park in this series of movies. That kind of power will be needed in the clutch on this team. It also helps protect the younger hitters on the team by showing the power and the possible results of pitching to this Christmas giant.
 

Now that we have finished with the fielders and DS position. Let’s meet the two  extra ordinary base coaches’ selected for the Polar Express team. Both come with their own set of particular  unique in-game behaviors, and both can help baserunners and hitters in the situations during  offensive appearances at the plate.
 
 
                       
 
 
First Base Coach:
 

Over at first base we have a guy who makes the ball seem to freeze in mid-air. He has ben instrumental with teaching players how to hit a frozen rope down the line for extra bases for the Express. He has been described as a cold hearted soul, who can melt you with his smile. But his cunning directions and cool and calm manner make him the perfect first base coach for the team.
 
 
                      
 
 
 
I am talking about the cool cat also known as the Snow Miser. He was in the 1974 classic movie ” A Year Without Santa Claus“, and has been giving icy banter to opposing players and baserunners for years. His cold demeanor on the basepaths has been legendary for the past 34 years. He uses his cold hard facts to make the opposition freeze in their tracks while diving for low balls or foul pop-ups.
 
 
 
 
Third Base Coach:
 

Our third base coach is a Christmas legend and a member of the Kringle Hall of Fame.  He is almost as famous as our Designated Santa. He had been blazing the trail like a beacon for years pioneering the use of  unique signals and  well placed lighting to facilitate the proper transfer of  anticipated moves and pre-arranged actions to baserunners’ and batters’ for the Express. He knowledge of reindeer games and his leadership expertise is reknown in the Winter League. I am talking about the brilliant Rudolf.
 

Since his first sighting on televisions in 1964, he has been leading a lighted path for children and players alike to the real spirit of Christmas. His classic “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” special is a holiday classic that is without equal. It is for that reason that he should be the perfect third base coach for this high-powered squad of Christmas icons. Both a legendary character by actions and by reputation.
 
 
 
 
For without the right leader, like Rudolf showing us the way on Christmas, we would be blinded by the darkness and might lose our way. So it is with great pleasure that I have selected and commissioned the first 2008 All-Christmas Team. There will be additions and subtractions by characters moving on or retiring to the  celluloid and video vaults, but the true essence and the sprit of this team will live on forever in our hearts and minds……………………..Play Ball!!
 
 
                             
 
 

I would give Kelvim Escobar a Rays chance

 


Comandantebeisbol@flickr.com

When the Tampa Bay Rays first showed their interest in checking out veteran reliever Kelvim Escobar who has been working out for a return to the Major League after a few seasons out of the game, I was mildly excited about the idea. He could be a great addition to the team as a veteran presence that is always  a plus for a young Bullpen like the Rays. But for some odd reason, I have this reoccurring unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach….. once again. 

You know the type of odd stomach ailment I am talking about here. You do not have heartburn, or even a slight case of indigestion, but it doesn’t feel completely right to you. There are concerns not only in your mind, but a quick jolt of anxious energy within you that is sometimes a precursor to a bad decision.

Well, I am getting that feeling in connection with the Rays and Escobar right now.  Maybe it is simply just a case of “Been there……Done that” in my mind that has been there before in decision concerning the Rays and veteran Bullpen help. The first time I had this stomach reaction was when the team announced they had signed Mr Gimp himself, Troy Percival two seasons ago.

I was mildly excited that we got an opportunity to have a potential Hall of Fame closer come to the Rays for a bargain basement price. And he came with the “Joe Maddon” seal of approval as a good fixture for the Rays Bullpen. But reality struck quick and hard in those two seasons as Percival received about $ 8.5 million from the team for about 4 months total worth of sweat.

And the Percival experience still gets me angry, so maybe I am a bit justified to have a moment of hesitation and feel leery to trust the old dogs right now. But I do remember some times of great judgment and positive results in the last few years when the team took a chance on a guy who had Major League potential, but had been hidden in the minor league system for several seasons.

The Rays took a huge chance signing the guy and he rose to the occasion to be one of the most productive members of the Rays over the last three seasons. He has also raised his level of play both on and off the field to receive Golden Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and his first All Star appearance in 2009. When the Rays first signed him, Rays Senior Director of Marketing Brian Killingsworth called me and I was excited about this signing from the get-go. Of course that player was Carlos Pena.

And again in the Spring of 2009, I was totally on board with the Rays taking a chance on Jason Isringhausen based on this same gut reaction I had with Pena that he still had some gasoline in his tank and fire in his belly to succeed at this level. And the added plus that Izzy could be the veteran leader that Percival never fully embraced with the Rays young Bullpen.


Brian Blanco /AP

But an injury to Izzy during a Rays home, in front of the Rays faithful sidelined his Rays career for the rest of the season. And even after his Tommy John’s surgery, Isringhausen came back into the Rays clubhouse several times before the end of 2009 to boost up teammates and show his support for the team. And if Isringhausen were to come back fully loaded and hunting again in 2010, I would still welcome the Rays opening their arms and taking him into the team again. Percival………..not unless he plays for free.

But could it be the honest fact that signing an rehabbing older reliever can be as predictable as rolling the dice? Heck, I am a gambler by nature, but I also know my limitations. The chance that Escobar would come in and be the perfect set-up guy for the Rays is totally within reason, but the fact he has not played  much in 2 seasons, Escobar still throws up a huge yellow caution light up into my line of vision.

 
But I have a good measure of faith in the Rays scouting department and maybe this could just be the perfect diamond in the rough scenario as the Pena signing. It is speculated that the next time Escobar throws in front of MLB scouts will be in front of live hitting, probably within the next few days in the Venezuelan Winter League. Venezuelan reporter Efrain Zavarce speculates the Escobar could throw as early as tonight in relief for a Venezuelan squad (As of 4:45 pm EST no teams has added him to their roster).

But again, this is a player who has again drawn the “Joe Maddon” seal of approval, and maybe that is what scares me the most. Not that Maddon is not a great judge of talent and can see the positives through his black rimmed glasses, but the Percival episode has given me caution when that seal is given out to players. Nothing personal Joe.


AngelBlue@Flickr.com


But if you look at Escobar’s past, a player who has won 101 games in his Major League career does have possibilities. And he did save 38 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, so he does have high pressure experience and could be a nice mentor to Rafael Soriano to talk to in the Rays Bullpen. But again, he missed the entire 2008 season after a right shoulder labrum tear, and only threw 5 innings for the Los Angeles Angels taking a loss in his only 2009 appearance.

But in 2007, Escobar did post a career high 18 wins with the Angels with 3 complete games. And in an odd note, he started his 200th career start against the Rays that season. maybe I will keep an open mind and wait for that games result before throwing the baby out with the bath water here. Escobar has  thrown in 1,507 innings in his career and has amassed 1,310 strikeouts, both impressive numbers showing his consistency and his durability. 

But the true fact that the Rays have gone 1-3 on their veteran projects in the last few years for the Rays Bullpen, with two straight swing and misses in regards to relievers. So if Escobar shows during his Venezuelan outings that he still possesses some wicked velocity and a consistent ball in the strike zone, then maybe he could take the Rays project record to the .500 mark. Because all I need to do is look towards the Rays First Base bag to see that sometimes taking a chance on a player is all the help he needs to again succeed in the Major Leagues.

 

No Tears shed over the Bradley Deal

 


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Oh Well, You knew something had to go wrong with the the whole scenario  with the possbile swapping of “bad contracts” scapegoats between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago Cubs. We all had that vivid daydream of the Rays effectively erasing their Winter 2008 decision of  signing their current Designated Scapegoat Pat Burrell. And maybe the Cubs kept the Rays from making a hugely volatile Public Relations nightmare by trading Milton Bradley…..but not to the Rays. 

And maybe the predictability of this deal  finally cracking in half  and sinking out of sight was actually in the cards the whole time, but we all just did not want to see it. Could there have been a possibility that the Rays were more than happy to take one season of Burrell at $ 9 million instead of the distinctive possibility of having Bradley in their system for two seasons. Could that wise decision by the Rays to act like a steel beam and not flex at all in their demands actually end up as a good thing?

More and more it is looking like Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman again drew an Ace from the deck filled with Jokers in standing like a guard at Buckungham Palace and not flinching at all to any change in the course of the deal. Sure the extra influx of capital might have helped put a temporary seal on the leaking piggybank of the Rays salary splurge for closer Rafael Sorano.

Maybe the simple fact that the Rays and their boy genius sticking to their guns turned the Cubs to looking in other directions and not only saved the Rays some possible problems in the future, but actually showed they would not be bullied just to complete a deal. Again, I have to say that the stolic mindset of the Rays boy genius might have been the main reason to celebrate right now.
 


RRCollections

Even if the Rays did take the Cubbies money and run with Bradley, you could already envision the teams trying to tweak the system to find an out clause somewhere within Bradley’s 2011 contract. And how soon tdo all of us who follow the Rays forget how all of us gushed back in the Winter of 2008 about the possibilities of the Rays entertaining  a contract to bring then free agent Bradley into the Rays fold. I know I can admit it now, that at the time,I thought it was a great thing….yep, he even had me at hello.

So maybe the Rays trade cards are not coming up perfect for the team right now. But I am actually glad that this deal went down the tubes and that Bradley is heading somewhere else now.  And maybe it is by the sheer maddness of the Rays not backing down,or even caving in a inch that we got excluded out of this Bradley final equation. Maybe for one of the first times, the hard line by the Sternberg administration/front office to standing tall and not budging worked in our favor to get 86’d from the Bradley resolution.

But now that Bradley is headed for the Emerald City of Seattle from Chi-town, you have to wonder just when did the deal turn towards the Mariner’s favor.  I hate to tell you this, but it really doesn’t matter now. Bradley is out of sight out of mind in both Chicago and Tampa Bay right now. And I do hope that he can find some level of peace within the Pacific Northwest, but right now I am glad to be Bradley-free.


Phillies.com


Some around the Rays Republic might view today’s trade news with some sense of sorrow and dismay of not getting the trade done. But in reality, the Rays standing firm in their trade negotiations might have actually saved the Rays clubhouse and the fan base a load of trouble if Bradley had found fault within the Rays system. Maybe we dodged a bullet by this deal falling through the way it did….. We might not know the real outcome of this “success or failure” until next September.

The Bradley/Silva deal is done and headed for Commissioner Bud Selig’s seal of approval. Maybe for this one instance the fact the Rays did not act or react might end up being the best decision of the 2009 off season. We dreamed of this deal going through. Maybe the reality of it failing will actually be the best case scenario for everyone involved.

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