February 2010

Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

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With Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon seeming to go (on the surface) from genius to deflated mathematical slogans over the last two Rays seasons, it will not be the last time Rays fans see Maddon hits upon a numerical formula for the formulation of his young Rays squad. Just on the horizon, there will be another call for a numerical sequence to shape and ultimately sort out his final 2010 Rays 25-man roster.

And the final direction this 2010 Rays team takes in 2010 will be heavily based on this mathematical breakdown, even before their Home Opener on April 6,2010. And this simple math problem might say a lot about how solid and confident this Rays Coaching staff, and Maddon feel about the key elements of their 2010 squad before firmly heading into the Rays 13th Major League Baseball season.

 
 

One statistical breakdown remains unsolved, and it will definitely define the early roster of this team. This one still undecided simple mathematical conclusion could become the balancing fulcrum towards the realizations of multiple scenarios for possible failure, or ultimate success going into the 2010 season. For these two sets of simultaneous and sequenced numbers will decide the final set-up of the Rays roster. How the Rays split their 2010 roster into their “13 & 12″ segments will be a huge indicator of how the Rays perceive their team’s strengths coming out of Spring Training, and into the early divisional firestorm with American League East ramifications starting with Game 1.

How Maddon and his staff decide if they want to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 bench players or vice versa will be an early tell tale sign to the confidence level this Coaching staff has with its roster, and its solution towards early challenges.

 
 

For the Rays can not have a downward spiral in the month of April, like in 2009, when the Rays went quickly towards an unpredictable 9-14 early record, and put themselves in “catch-up” mode for the rest of the season. How this Rays squad separates their personnel into those “13-12″ splits might be a instant indication if the Rays organization believes their pitching will need to get the “upper hand”, or if the hitting/fielding players will get the chance to man that “13th seat” at the table.

But you can count on more than a few players trying to force the Rays hands and have their names put in ink onto that “13th” numbered roster spot this Spring. These young and hungry players will do everything humanly possible to make the Rays staff’s decision tougher, and hope to make it lean towards their names with an impressive performance during Spring Training. And the ultimate reward just might make their first Opening Day MLB roster.

 

If the Bullpen pulls it together and borderline relievers like Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer make the roster, it could tilt that invisible line towards the team ultimately carrying 13 pitchers. And even the addition of former Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine thrown into the pitching mix, either in the Bullpen, or as a possible fifth starter. This could throw the whole equation quickly into the pitching sides favor early on this Spring. But that in itself presents an interesting and complex decision all by itself.

GailBurton/AP

 
With returning fifth starter Wade Davis and Sonnanstine squaring off in the only battle this Spring for a starting job, could the eventual loser of that battle just be sent packing to another team like Jason Hammel in 2009, or could they just be sent down to Triple-A Durham knowing they might be the first call-up of the season?

 
 

I have a feeling right now Maddon and his Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be leaning towards extending that “13th slot” towards a pitcher, but there are also going to be some tough and interesting decisions to be made in the Rays infield and outfield mix that might make that entire pitching situation moot.

We already know that outfielder Matt Joyce is going to try to prove once and for all to the Rays Coaching Staff and Maddon that he deserves that Rightfield slot going into the season, and maybe for the next several years. And even if Joyce wins that spot (which I think he does), it is small factoring process compared to the highly competitive dogfight that will ultimately decide the fate of the Rays second utility guy between Reid Brignac and newcomer Sean Rodriguez.

 
 
And right now, I am basing this opinion solely on drills and exercises I have seen at the Rays complex, it seems at this moment that the Rays staff’s eyes are focusing tightly on Rodriguez’s defensive abilities more and more every day. But real soon we will see just how slick Rodriguez is at second base when Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday with the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Florida.

And maybe Brignac’s roster “pop-ups” to the majors in 2009 might have given the Rays staff more of an comprehensive book on Brignac’s abilities coming into this Spring, and possibly Brignac’s scorecard already has a few penciled-in notes and scratches from the Rays Coaching staff, while Rodriguez is a blank slate with everything to gain heading into the Spring Training games.

Sure Rodriguez was a key trade component of the Rays trading left-handed starter Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late July 2009, but this will be the first time most Rays fans and the Tampa Bay media will get an extended chance to see what the kid can do……now or in the near future for the Rays.

 
 
And if you realistically count the Rays bench players right now, with players like Carlos Pena, Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, B J Upton, Gabe Kapler, Pat Burrell and the injured Willy Aybar, you already have 11 Rays players penciled into that first 11 possible bench slots ob the 25-man roster.

If more than one of these young players like Joyce, Rodriguez, Brignac or even Elliot Johnson makes a lasting impression that they “have to be” on this roster, this could ultimately shake up the preconceived notion of 13 pitchers and twist the equation quickly towards 13 bench players. And that scenario has a very distinctive possibility of happening this Spring. These numbers games for the first time in Rays short history, might effectively come down to total game day performances and not the foresight predictions on their talents, or a daily growing maturity in their abilities to play at the Major League level.

 
 

But, the wrist injury to Aybar might be one of the biggest question mark still unanswered totally into this first set of Grapefruit League games. If he is down and out for an extended time, or even gets put on the 15-day Disabled List to start the regular MLB season, the Rays could keep an extra bench player down with the Rays instead of sending them to the minor league camp or even up to Durham.

So there might be a lot of day-to-day evaluations and recommendations discussed with Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield in the next week or so to see if there is a viable option of Aybar playing before the Major League season begins, or they shut Aybar down from hitting drills and let him effectively rehab back into game shape before pressing this same numbers issue again during the Rays season.

 
 

And if Aybar does go on the D L, it could also be a bit of a last gasp of making this roster for one of the reliever fighting it out to become a Rays Bullpen member, or could evolve into a chance for the loser of the Sonnanstine/Davis battle to be kept on the Major League roster as a possible long reliever like Lance Cormier.

My personal gut reaction is that the Rays seem to want to do everything in their power to try and keep Sonnanstine up at this level, but if he falls into that 13th slot and Aybar comes back, he would be the first to fall from the 25-man roster. You already know that Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (leftie specialist), J P Howell along with Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann take up 11 pitching spots before even considering Abreu, Thayer or Joaquin Benoit as a Bullpen option.

 
 

 
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That would leave a possible one viable slots, with a second up in the air right now if the Rays want to carry 13 pitchers. You could pencil in Sonnanstine into one of those two spaces, but with him and Davis both having minor league options, they could always be sent down with the adage that it came down to that “13th ” spot. And even with Thayer and Abreu showing mixed results at this level, you have to think of the two, Abreu would get a longer look based on his 2009 MiLB.com designation as the Triple-A Reliever of the Year.

But not going in Abreu’s favor is his short stint with Cleveland in 2009, when he seemed to imploded a bit on the mound and almost started an all out brawl in a game versus Seattle. But both relievers have paid their minor league dues and could force the Rays hand and send Sonnanstine to Durham, even with great outings this Spring.

 
 

This is only my scenario of the whole situation and is only my personal glance into the Rays possible decision on this issue. I see the loser of the Davis and Sonnanstine battle to be immediate trade bait offered before MLB rosters finalize and if a good trade option can not be found, the loser of the fifth rotation battle will be sent back to Durham knowing they are the first starting pitcher recalled by the Rays.

I think there are a few NL teams that would jump on Sonnanstine if he has a great Spring, but there is still time to see about his 2010 situation. I truly feel that Joyce will win his battle for Rightfield, and will platoon with Ben Zobrist to begin the season until Joyce shows he can hit left-handers with consistency, then it open another can of worms for the Rays as to a final playing position for Zobrist.

 

Out of the infield battle, I see Sean Rodriguez maybe having a slight edge right now, but I feel it is Brignac’s job to lose since he has the confidence and skill level to play at the Major League level. And if Aybar does go on the D L , they both could get a realistic shot to make the initial Rays 25-man Opening Day roster. But I also think in the end, the Rays will shop Brignac and he could be somewhere else either before the 2010 season, or within the first few months of the season.

It is funny how two of the Rays past “utility” guys, Aybar and Zobrist based on their great seasons in 2008 and 2009 will play a part so deep into the Rays decisions in 2010. But that just goes to show you the improved depth and wealth of talent sitting in Port Charlotte right now, just at the Major League camp level.

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

Some people consider the number “13″ to be mostly evil with no redemption for any good. But that same number “13″ for one Rays player this Spring Training season will be a blessing, and a chance to show they have what it takes to survive and play daily at this level of the game. Whoever gets that coveted “13th” spot in 2010, no matter if they are a Rays pitcher, or field player, they will know internally that they survived one of the most competitive Rays Spring Training camps.

It might not seem so tough to some of the Rays fans watching the workouts and drills, but this Spring’s competition level has been raised very, very high, and the final Rays player to grace that “13th” spot decision has to consider himself lucky indeed, for they get a chance to grow with this Rays team as they again set their sights on games in October.
 

Looking Forward to the Rays 13th Season


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There is going to be something special about the superstitious
number “13″ and the Tampa Bay Rays this season. And surprisingly, there is not
just one instance where this number will come hugely into play this year,
but several occasions where “13″ might just be the Rays lucky number. There are
a possible three instances where this superstitious number could bode heavily
into the Rays possible 2010 plans, and might also be instrumental in some of the
team’s future beyond 2010.

I have always liked this “strange”
combination of numbers, maybe more since it contains my two favorite numbers,
but the stark reality is that these two digits together will be constantly in
play over the next several weeks and might be right in the thick of it in
determining which direction this Rays team takes in the American East division.
I am  looking forward during the next three days to outline my scenarios
where “13″ and the Rays will be side-by-side this Spring.

 

Considering the simple fact that the
2010 season will be the Rays 13th professional baseball season, and (
hopefully) one that will further define the direction of the franchise and
possibly make all the rest of Major League Baseball green with envy. Sure I
want to say I would cherish seeing Rays Manager Joe Maddon hoisting  a beautiful
golden trophy with all 30 MLB teams flags on it to the high heavens during a
cool, crisp October night.

This 2010 team has a viable chance to
cement the phrases “winning” and “Rays”  uttered in the same sentence within the
mindset of all baseball fans and media members around the country this year. The
always negative “devil” has now been exorcised for three seasons, and maybe this
is the year people finally forget that old name and the Rays can move from
underneath that negative persona and flourish like a shining ray of consistent
light.

 

The 13th season is going to be one
of the best in Rays history based entirely on talent in regards to their pitching
and field players. This is one of the first Spring Training in history where the
Rays have come into their Spring camp without a huge number of question marks
dotting multiple field positions and their starting rotation/Bullpen. For the
first time in Rays franchise history, Maddon can have the confidence to pencil
in five names, even before the first Spring Training game as his desired 2010
starting rotation. Even the remote thought process of penciling in a  Rays
rotation  has never been a realistic option so early into Spring Training for a
Rays Manager in the last 12 seasons. 

Sure
there could still be a huge question mark added as to the final decision on
the Rays fifth starter, but current fifth starter Wade Davis and possible option
Andy Sonnanstine both have minor league options still available for the Rays.
This might be another deja vu moment to 2009 when Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel
fought it out to the last moment to finally reign in that fifth rotation spot. 
But could the loser of this competition be a possible trade piece for the
Rays? But this ensuing competition will be great for both of them, and that
makes this 13th Rays season special.

 

And even if the biggest question mark hovering
the Rays field players might be where Ben Zobrist hop, skips and jumps within
the Rays line-up, or lines up on the field in 2010, you can bet there will be
more than capable players to take the vacant spot(s) left by Zobrist with
a vigor and vitality that has been missed during past Spring Training seasons.
And with Maddon stressing that his starting nine will get more chances to hit
during the Spring Training games this year, it can only be a positive sign of
better things to come for the team and better prepared hitting corps coming into
the Rays first game against Baltimore on April 6th in Tropicana
Field.

When was the last time there was even the possibility
of a handful of Rays players possibly formulating all the changes within this
team’s final seasonal make-up.
Sure there
is the fight brewing for the fifth rotation spot between Davis and Sonnanstine,
but the top four slots are pretty much set in stone even before their first
inter-squad workout. The biggest controversy with the starting rotation will
come out of this fifth spot, and maybe if Rays left-handed starter David Price
gets the number 3 rotation slot to break up the right-hand dominated Rays
rotation right down the middle and provides a different adjustment for teams in
2010.

And even in the Rays Bullpen, there are signs it might
be down to a total of one or two slots depending on the numbers of pitchers the
Rays want to carry going into the 2010 season.
It could come down to the Rays decision on relievers Dale Thayer,
Winston Abreu or maybe a healthy Joaquin Benoit to win one of the two last
slots. But Sonnanstine could also figure into this mix as a long
reliever/6th starter option sitting in the Bullpen. And who knows,
maybe someone else coming into the Rays camp from the minor leagues might blow
the doors off the Rays Coaching staff and wiggle their name into the
conversation. That is why they call this part of the year
“training”.

 

But this 13th season could also be
the breakout year for many of the Rays field players. We all know that
outfielder Matt Joyce was upset last Spring after starting the season on the
Major League roster to go back down to Triple-A Durham after Rays centerfielder
B J Upton came back after his shoulder surgery, but the whole experience also
gave Joyce ample time to play daily and develop more in the minors with an eye
towards regaining his rightfield slot for good this Spring.

Maddon and Triple-A Manger Charlie Montoya have both praising
Joyce’s 2009 development and his adherence to the Rays ” wish list” given to him
before he left for the minors. It might have been this forward stride in their
confidence in Joyce’s ability for the Rays not to pursue a left-handed
outfielder this off season and that Joyce made all the right moves and the
strides to be penciled-in  as a starter in the Rays
rightfield.

 

 


But then again, we get the “Zobrist” factor that
will come immediately into play here. With Zobrist not having a defined position
and a defined role right now in the Rays field positions, he might just be a
human pinball bouncing from infield to outfield  to start the season until some
sort of stability forms, hopefully not due to an injury. And with that, it makes
the competition between prospects Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac one of the
most interesting and closely watched Rays competitions coming into Spring
Training.

This fight is going to be for one of the coveted
“utility” player roles on the Rays along with Rays holdover Willy Aybar. But
with the possibilities of Aybar nursing a bad wrist through much of the Spring
Training schedule. It might be their ultimate chances this Spring to either fade
out or shine  and possibly make this Rays squad, even if Aybar would go on the
D L.
And right now, there is a distinct
possibility that until Aybar takes his first swings in the batting cages, that
both could possibly be penciled into the Rays roster.

But
if I had to point towards someone right now, it seems that Brignac might be the
guy right now to have the edge defensively because he can play all the infield
positions but first base. But the Rays are going to push and raise the bar
for Rodriguez by having him play every position around the diamond this Spring
to test his abilities and evaluate his readiness to be pushed towards the Major
League level.

 

And right now based on possible logistics, you
have to consider that second base will be mostly a transient position for either
of them since second base gives the Rays a instant option to get Zobrist in the
line-up if Joyce come out  this Spring hitting the cover off the ball. But isn’t
it great to know that 4 infielders could decide the formulation of the Rays
2010 roster to such a degree. And there is only one shoe-in at this time
(Zobrist) that could be guaranteed a roster spot while the other three fight it
out to what degrees they will ultimately play in the Rays 2010 plans.

 
 

Got to love that as a fan. You can finally take a
side, much like the “Vampire/Werewolf” teams formed by the “Twilight” movie
series. We could see possible “Team Joyce” or even “Team S-Rod” or Team Brig”
T-shirts don the stands around the Grapefruit League pushing each of them
farther  along in this realm of competition. And maybe I am the first to say it
out loud, but this infield competition will greatly effected on what
ultimately happens with Joyce and a possible Rightfield slot. This
13th Rays season is going to be fun-packed from the get-go, and we
will definitely see the strongest Rays squad to ever take the field when the
rosters are finalized around the time the Rays face their own affiliate
and Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls in Durham’s home stadium on April
3,2010.
 
 

How fitting that the Rays will be playing
their Triple-A affiliate in their last warm-up game before heading back to Tampa
Bay to get ready for the 2010 Major League Baseball season. How great is it that
the Durham fans might actually be the first to see the formative Rays
everyday line-up the team will field in 2010. But then again, how bad is it
going to be for one of these borderline Rays players to be told after the game
they might be remaining in Durham, and not have a plane ticket for the flight
back to Tampa Bay for the season.

I have a weird vision in my
mind that all of them will be donning the Rays home blue and whites for the Rays
Opening Night game against the Baltimore Orioles. For some reason I
see Rodriguez,Brignac, Sonnanstine and Joyce there and being introduced to the
sold-out crowd beaming with pride that they made the cut for the Rays 13th
season roster. But their Spring Training numbers and play will ultimately decide
their fate. Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Right now there are 
plenty of other MLB squads that need to fear this 13th Rays season. For I view
it like the Hindu religion as a positive sign and not the negative influences of
the Rays past. “13″ will play a major role in the formulation of this season’s
Rays roster, but the next example will have to wait for
tomorrow. 

 

Rays 2010 Concert Series Band Facts

 


I got to admit here, I was holding onto the secret to one of the Tampa Bay Rays Hess Express Saturday night Concert Series performers as close to my vest as I could this past weekend. I did tell a few close friends who would not throw it all over the place the artist, and I got a great reception to them coming to Tropicana Field in 2010.

The Concert Series list some say is a group of band that could soon be lifetime members of the AARP, but that is fine with me because I am no spring chicken myself. But this is also a special time for Rays fans as the team has gone a combined 16-2 during the Concert Series, with sell-out crowds and people swaying and singing in their seats, and people dancing in the aisles of Tropicana Field.

 

They are a nice collection of the bands of my youth, which also includes the second concert I ever saw when the Go-Go’s performed at the (now gone) Bayfront Center. And yes, I did wear my parachute pants with the red velvet inserts and swanky punk rock shirt to the concert to try and influence the ladies who I knew would come out in droves to support the first all female band on the Billboard charts to write and also perform with their own instruments.

And I also got to attend a Go-Go’s concert the last time they were in St. Petersburg, Florida at Jannus Landing and got a chance to meet the band during a “meet and greet” arranged by a friend in upper management at Pepsi.

 

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So to say I am not excited to see all five of these bands come into Tropicana Field would be insane. For these bands, Hall & Oates, John Fogerty, Nelly, Z Z Top and the Go-Go’s are very much a fabric of my musical roots, and great selections by the Rays Front Office, and we still have five more to be announced later. But this group of five are such an interesting meshing of bands that could sooth even the savage baseball fan.

So I decided to today to post some facts about each band that you might not know, and give you a little insight into the bands heading for the Trop. during the 2010 season. I will also list the game date and the opponent so you easily purchase your tickets when they go on sale to the public at 9 am on Friday.

 
 

Scarlet.be/~tor


John Fogerty            April 24th           Toronto Blue Jays

 

1) 25th Anniversary of “Centerfield” being released to the world. In 1985, John Fogerty finished his first solo album for Warner Brothers records. But you had to think that when Fogerty wrote the title track to his album, it was going to be sung and imitated at Major League and minor league baseball stadiums for eternity. When “Centerfield” hit the stores, not only was the title track an instant hit, but another track off the album, “Old Man Down the Road” also was a Top-10 hit for Fogerty.
 

2) Fogerty also got one of those rare honors in Hollywood California on October 1, 1998 when he was enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His Hollywood Walk of Fame star is located at 7000 Hollywood Blvd right alongside 63 other inductees which include Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and actors Angela Bassett (St. Petersburg native), Tony Danza, Dudley Moore, Tom Hanks, Eddie Murphy, Chuck Norris, Glen Close and Renee Zellweger. Also included in this section is fellow musicians’ Nancy Sinatra, Donna Summers, Patti LaBelle, Pacido Domingo, and fellow baseball lover Alice Cooper.
 

3) Fogerty pulled off a great “double feat” during Thanksgiving 2006 when he appeared at halftime during both National Football League games held on that day. He started that day singing at the Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions game, then got on a plane and went to also do the halftime festivities at the Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs game later that day. Fogerty was in the house on April 16,2009 to help celebrate the first home game in the new Yankee Stadium. 

Fogerty (of course) sang “Centerfield” from Centerfield prior to the New York Yankees first game in their new home. At one point, the infamous “Bleacher Creatures” that shout players names for “Yankee Rollcall” during the first innings of Yankee games, shouted out for Fogerty to acknowledge them. Fogerty got accepted in the new stadium…New York style.

 


Billboard.com



ZZ Top                May 1, 2010             Kansas City Royals

 

1) Most people might not know that there is a double reason they selected the name ZZ Top for the band. First, it was a hybrid name formed from the two names of rolling papers Zig-Zag and Top. The second reason it is a duo homage to classic Blues legend ZZ Hill. ZZ Top guitarist Bill Gibbons also wrote in his autobiography Rock+Roll Gearhead” that it also derives from Blues master B B King. The band originally planned to call themselves ZZ King, but they reconsidered thinking it might seem to similar to B B King. But since BB King was at the “Top”, they chose ZZ Top as their final band name.
 
 

2) Even before their hit “Cheap Sunglasses” in 1979, the band always wore darken sunglasses on stage for their gigs. Guitarists Gibbons and Dusty Hill also wear similar black clothing, usually biker leathers, and either black Cowboy hats or baseball caps when performing on stage. Gibbon also wears a trademark neck chain of beer bottle openers around his neck when he performs to remember those early days in the Texas Honky Tonk bars. While Gibbons and Hill wear chest length beards, their drummer Frank Beard ( love it!) usually has a well manicured beard and mustache.

 
 

3) Keeping with the “beard” theme for another moment, both Gibbons and Hill were offered $ 1 million each by the Gillette (razor) Company if they would shave off their chest length beards during a television commercial. The duo declined saying,” We’re tool ugly without them.”

 
 

MLB.com


Nelly                 May 15, 2009                Seattle Mariners

 
 

1) Most people know Nelly’s (Cornell Haynes Jr) obsession with everything related to St. Louis, but did you know that he was also a pretty good baseball player before he turned to rap music. He honed his baseball skills watching video of his idol Cardinals short stop Ozzie Smith during St. Louis amateur Summer Leagues and always considered playing professional baseball.

Even though Nelly was not drafted out of High School, he has attended several Major League Baseball Spring minor league tryout camps including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves. Some people close to Nelly think he accepted his rap music career as a consolation prize to his first love….baseball.

 
 

2) Nelly has built himself a small empire outside of his music interests with the establishment of two clothing lines, Apple Bottom for women and Vokal for men. He also had a contract with Nike back in 2003 to design and develop a “Air Derrrty” shoe which was a retro remake of former NBA star Charles Barkley’s signature sneaker. He also signed a contract with Reebok on June 20,2005. Nelly is also became one of the owners of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats when it was announced on May 19,2008 he would join the Bobcat’s owners group along with Robert L Johnson and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

 
 

3) Most people instantly know him for his first album “Country Grammar”, which was his debut album with the Universal Music Group. The album was certified 9x platinum on April 27,2004 and includes a track with inspired baseball metaphor s called “Batter Up”. Another interesting fact is that Nelly once played in the Main Event at a World Series of Poker event in 2007.

 


Unknown

Hall and Oates       May 29,2010            Chicago White Sox

 

1) I personally have an axe to grind with Hall and Oates. They sang the National Anthem of Game 5 during the 2008 World Series at Citizen Bank’s Park on October 27,2008. The reason I have a beef with them is that I think they wished for rain and that made the game be postponed and I had to fly back to Tampa Bay without seeing the conclusion of Game 5, which happened several days later. They did a great rendition that night, but it was a rainy and cold night and my teeth were chattering. 

 
 

2) The two Philadelphia native sons met during a band competition at the Adelphi Ballroom back in 1967. They were not there to compete together, but was put together after gunshots rang out in the venue after two rival gangs converged on the arena. Daryl Hall and John Oates were both thrown into a service elevator together and they started talking and noticing they had multiple similarities in music and both were attending Temple University.

Not bad for two guys always immortalized by the sit-com “Friends” where Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), was once shown as a young man-fro keyboardist who was in love with the Hall and Oates music.

 
 

3)
In a play on the band’s name, the NHL’s St. Louis Blues manufactured a tongue-in-cheek line of hockey apparel called “Hull and Oates” to play homage to players Brett Hull and Adam Oates. Also with a Hockey linage is the fact that their song “Private Eyes” was the unofficial locker room song of the 2008-2009 Edmonton Oilers. But there was no doubting the band’s 7 platinum and 6 gold records and their 34 hit singles on the U S Billboard charts.
 

 
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The Go-Go’s         July 10,2010           Cleveland Indians

 
1) The band originally formed in 1978 and played together until their first split-up in 1985. The band has been back together in some form and has toured regularly since 1999, but recently lead singer Belinda Carlisle announced on her Facebook page that the 2010 tour will be their Farewell Tour . The band previously reunited back in 1990 with their classic line-up for a benefit concert for the California Environmental Protection Act, which was on the California 1990 state initiative ballot. The band Green Days Billie Joe Armstrong co-wrote the song “Unforgiving” the only released single from the 2001 “God Bless the Go-Go’s” compact disc.
 
 

2) here are some wild facts about each member of the group:

Belinda Carlisle(Lead Singer) once dated former Los Angeles Dodger Mike Marshall and he should have a nice section in her upcoming biography “Lips Unsealed” that will be out in bookstores on May 20,2010. She also was a contestant during 2009 on “Dancing With the Stars”, and performed in the production of “Hairspray” on stage in London’s West End.

Gina Schock (Drummer) co-wrote the title track on Miley Cyrus’s second album “Breakout”. The song debuted at #1 in the summer of 2008. She also wrote tracks for Selena Gomez and The Scene’s release “Kiss and Tell.” The Go-Go’s had to stop touring in 1983 while promoting their “Vacation” CD after Schock developed health problems and had to have surgery for congenital heart defect.
 

Karen Valentine(Bass Guitar) During their Go-Go’s “hiatus moments”, Valentine went back to her Texas blues-rock roots and formed the Blue Bonnets. The group did two albums before they morphed into The Delphines, which included Schock as their drummer,

Charlotte Caffey (Lead Guitar/Keyboards) Caffey and Jane Wiedlin co-wrote Country star Keith Urban’s first # 1 single hit “But for the Grace of God“. Caffey and Wiedlin also performed several concerts back in 1997 as Twisted and Jaded, in which they performed acoustic versions of Go-Go’s songs and debuted any new materials they wrote during the bands existence.

 

Jane Wiedlin (Vocals/Guitar)  is always one of the fan’s favorites, not only for her quirky sense of humor, but for her “obsessions.” Wiedlin is a devoted “star Trek” fan and once formed a band FroSTed as a homage to the ultimately popular television and movie series. She is an ordained wedding officiant who performs her wedding services as Reverend Sister Go-Go. She is also the main subject of an upcoming comic book called “Lady Robotika“, and was endeared to millions on the reality show “The Surreal Life” when she came out of the closet about her fascination with Domination.

 
 

3)
Over their career, which started in 1978, they have sold over 7 million albums and made rock history as the only all-female band who also plays their own instruments to top the Billboard charts. Their first album “Beauty and the Beast” was considered a “cornerstone” of the New Wave music movement. This album reached double platinum which at the time made it one of the most successful debut albums of all time. The album is still today listed at # 413 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
 
RRCollections
 
 
This is only the first set of five bands to be announced in the popular Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series with more being announced in the near future. But if you want to mark those dates down on your calendar, they will be June 12th (Florida Marlins), June 26th (Arizona Diamondbacks), August 14th (Baltimore Orioles), September 18th (Los Angeles Angels), September 25th (Seattle Mariners).

With tickets going on sale to the General Public on Friday morning, it might be a great idea to purchase tickets for these days in advance to guarantee a chance to see concerts on these dates. I will again bring you some facts and great baseball related situations concerning the bands that the Rays select for these additional dates. At this time there are no previous games selected for these Saturday Rays games by either for a possible Fox Baseball Broadcasts or by ESPN.

 
 

I am looking forward to these concerts with great anticipation, and also hope that we can again sell out Tropicana Field and boost our record to 26-2 with a 10-0 run in 2010. When the Trop. Is full, the Rays players feel the presence of the crowd and gain additional energy from us in the stands. So do not forget to get up early tomorrow and get your coffee and your fingers ready to select seat locations for all five of the already selected bands in concert following Rays games in 2010. Tell me you are not excited!
 
 

Hotel Indigo is “Rays Worthy”.

 


www.hotelindigo.com

At least once a year I try and get out to one of the “live” Rays Radio Network broadcasts before the beginning of the Spring Grapefruit League games. And with only a handful of day before the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in the ” new” Spring Training home, Ed Smith Stadium. The Rays Radio hosts Andy Freed and Dave Willis were going to do their Monday “Hot Stove” show from 7-8 pm in an old historic hotel situated just a mile from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

The site of this weeks “Hot Stove” program was Hotel Indigo, which was known by locals as the Heritage Hotel until Tampa-based Baystar Hotel group bought the Hotel back in June, 2008 and pumped $ 3 million in restorations and modern improvements to the classic Florida colonial-style hotel. I thought it was really wild that they decided to use a hotel that is steeped in local history, and also carries a Spring Training vibe to it even today. As you walk into this quaint hotel you get the air of the 1920′s immediately as you see the style of that day in its old world charm architecture and details in the wood fixtures.

 
 

And with its ornate open-air bar just to your left as you walk in, it invites you to sit, relax and enjoy just as if you were transported back in time listening to radio hosts from yesteryear. And there is a distinctive feeling here that this hotel has seen more than it’s share of baseball lore as it was here during the heydays of the New York Yankees playing their Spring Training games in Waterfront Park in St. Petersburg after the team moved their Spring Training site from New Orleans to corral in Babe Ruth and keep him out of the Bourbon Street establishments.

 

And the hotel has been transformed into a modern business travelers dream with all 71 rooms going through massive reconfigurations and revitalizations that brought wall-to-wall murals, and rustic area rugs over the great hardwood floors of every room. And this not your usual “cookie-cutter” Florida vacation destination resting place, but a stylish boutique hotel that gives you more of a feel of a personal exclamation point to your stay in St. Petersburg, Florida. And it would be a great destination for any visitor’s coming in for the Rays games, either during the week, or the weekend. Rooms range from $ 139-199 a night and will have all the same accommodating extras as other area hotels, but will provide you with an added flair of Southern atmosphere mixed with modern elements.

 


www.hotelindigo.com


I took a short tour of the rooms and it is a fantastic hotel just by it’s architectural charm, but the renovations also brought out some of the over painted details and carvings in the wood, plus the simplicity of hotel life in the 1920′s. With the added charm of a great dark wooden bar and the green-tones to the lobby walls, it brought a old Florida sense to the hotel. And that is rare in the days of basic beige box hotel rooms and doubles and twins beds. Both rooms I saw had their own sense of sophistication and modernism without losing the boutique hotel ambiance. And mix with the small of hot dogs being cooked, and popcorn being made for the Rays Radio guests, it felt like a baseball hotel.

 

I mean as I walked in, Rays Radio Network pre-game/post-game Host Rich Herrera was sitting in a cozy chair in the corner reading “Willie May: The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch, so it instantly had a baseball feel to the night. And even if tonight’s broadcast was only a one hour segment, it was a time for most of the Rays fans in attendance to talk about the upcoming season, the past weekend events at Rays Fan fest, and just remark about this great hotel. And tonight the bar staff was decked out in Rays jerseys ready to offer you food, refreshment, or in my case, an extremely cold Blue Moon with orange slice.

 

I have to say the Rays Radio show went by so quickly that night, but I had a chance to chat with both the management staff and one of the waitresses from the on-site restaurant, and they were extremely helpful and charming. More often than not, I would be writing today about the Rays Radio show, but this hotel simply blew me away. I had been in it between the Heritage Hotel days and their reincarnation as Hotel Indigo, and I was simply amazed at the upgrades and the elegance restored to this boutique hotel within walking distance of the shuttle to Tropicana Field.

The hotel management took great care in restoring that old Florida charm with its seating area on the front porch, to the garden terraces laced with Florida vegetation, this hotel screams circa 1920′s elegance. I am one of those travelers when I go out of town to attend Rays game, I try and stay in authentic old style hotels that ooze charm and are accented by old architectural designs. This hotel to me is up there with the Hotel Monaco and Hotel Deca in Seattle, and also my favorite circular room in the Wyndham at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

And that is something I strive for when I go out of town for away series games. I want to feel something different than staying in a Motel 6 or Holiday Inn Express ( even though my fastball picked up 6 mph after a stay there). Along with the baseball game’s experience, I like to take in the charm of the city I am visiting by staying in a boutique hotel setting. And sure I might miss out on the free breakfast, or even the complimentary extra towels, but these types of hotels also show you some extras that are missed by the value chains. Small things like beverages and a snack upon check-in (Cleveland), or even transportation to the stadium by their staff, and not in some corporate 18-person van (Seattle).

 

The Hotel Indigo is just another one of the Florida hotels that gets it. Sure you could hit the value nightly rate at the Hilton Hotel across from now vacant Progress Energy Field, but you miss out on the little things and the subtle essence points this hotel spoke to me about on Monday night. Most hotel staff are courteous to their guests, but I saw it bumped up a notch at Hotel Indigo. These people seemed to love their jobs and it showed in their voice with the affection shown, and the historic references given about this often missed hotel. If I did not live locally, I could see myself staying at the Hotel Indigo for Rays games. And how can you not love a hotel that is within walking distance to great food options and a variety of entertainment choice, but in the end, how can you go wrong with a place that give you six pillows on your bed….Ahhh, luxuries in a romantic setting with baseball ties…..I am in heaven.

Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2

 

 


One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.

And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.

 

But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.

And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.

And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.  

 


And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.

And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and  small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day. 


 

 

Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign.  Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.
 


 

 

People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.

And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.

 

 

Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.

 

Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship.  Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.
 

 

One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.

Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007.  About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.

Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually. 

I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).

But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2′s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods. 
 

 

 

There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.

 

 

And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.

 

Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join MLBlogs.com and submit some stuff….You can count on that!
 

 

 

But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.
 

 


And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1″ line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.

  

 

 

 

As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.

Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the “Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.

2010 Rays Fan Fest Photo Blog 1 of 2


I decided to break the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest into a 2-part blog post since I had reduced my photos down into 60-odd photos. I thought it might be best to start off with the first segment basically focused on the events of the day that were swirling all around Tropicana Field. from the moment the doors opened at 10:05 am (late) and ran until basically 5:30 as Rays Manager Joe Maddon wanted to give every fan in line a chance to get his autograph before they finally turned the lights out and we all went home tired and drain by all the sights and sounds of the day.  

 


As usual, I saw Rays Senior Director of Promotions Brian Killingsworth mad on his walkie talkie trying to get the day events started out with a flurry of excitement and give everyone in attendance a bit of refreshment. And the Rays did that as we strolled into the Rotunda at Gate 1, and were presented with a Rays Sky Blue inspired Fan Fest daily schedule offering the players and times for the days autograph sessions, and included a map of all the planned activities for the day.


We quickly got a burst of sugar presented at a sampling table by Pepsi Bottling Group which furnished everyone with a sampling of the “Throwback” soft drinks made with pure cane sugar and not the corn syrup we have gotten used to in our sodas. And the crowd was eager to get into the stadium and rushed the table like a group of marathoners trying to rehydrate ” on-the-run” as we briskly walked through Centerfield Street towards the Centerfield gates and into Fan Fest. 

But most did not want to stop by the Budweiser Brewhouse for a free sample (while supplies lasted) of the Rays new signature adult beverage or even the Ted Williams Museum to see the multiple displays, or check out classic baseball artifacts today, they had Rays players autographs on their collective minds.
 

But the line quickly formed just below the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in Centerfield where the Rays established a long line of twisting white chains to wind people to the tables to buy a silver wristband that would let you get your autographs for a $ 20 donation to the American Red Cross and the Save the Children Foundations. It quickly became the center of most of the activities for the first 15 minutes as fans then proceeded to do a quick tour of the outer displays and booths set-up before getting in line almost two hours early for autographs.



Some people did not even notice the always popular “Rays Rookie table as they first walked into Fan Fest nestled right next to the wristband area that highlighted exclusive benefits for Rays fans 14 and under.  And most people did not even see the American Red Cross table to the right of the wristband section that was offering a special edition Carlos Pena T-shirt produced by the Rays to celebrate Pena’s accomplishments on and off the field for the Rays since he came here in 2007. I almost missed the table as it was hidden against the centerfield wall where B J Upton usually goes to bring in long fly balls with his cleats on the wall. With only 500 of these shirts produced, you know it will be a classic Rays collector’s item in the coming years.
   

But if you decided to not get into line quickly and walked around clock-wise around the field you would also encounter Season Ticket sales and Fan Fest Ticket packages table that was eagerly waiting to show you the multiple advantages of Season Ticket ownership. Just beyond them was a four car set-up by Chevrolet that featured a simply beautiful orange and black 2010 Chevy Camaro that would have looked great in my driveway if I had not looked at the sticker price.  Just past that was the Ruth Eckerd Hall table where Rays fans could try and win a chance to get free tickets to events at the Clearwater venue.
 


After that on the infield side of First Base was Radio row which held the tents of most of the radio partners of the Clear Channel empire here in Tampa Bay. Also in this area was the “Maddon’s Maniacs” table where you could join or renew your membership for $ 25 and get your yearly swag and card that could get you discounts during the year within Tropicana Field.  Right next to them was the Rays Flagship station and radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis were on hand for autographs and photos with Rays fans.  WDAE “The Sports Animal” also did a “Live” broadcast from the Trop. from 9 am to 3 pm during the Fan Fest. 


As you went around towards Home Plate, you saw the table set up by the Rays Wheelchair Baseball team that just celebrated their 7th season and won the 2009 Division II Championship and are currently ranked number 1 in the nation.  Then right after Home Plate you noticed the large crowd checking out the Rays Silent Auction and the Rays mystery “grab bag” promotion where you purchase a brown bag for $ 20 and could possibly win a Rays game line-up card ( I got Rays @ Minn), an autographed baseball (I got a Shawn Riggans baseball), or a Rays Batting Practice jersey.   

 

Right next to the Rays Foundation table was the Rays Team Spirit Squad, which set up a table to give autographs to Rays fans and also promote the Rays Team 2010 Calendar ($ 15) and was more than eager to personally autograph your copy of the calendar. The girls were all eager and ready to chat with fans and even talk about their MLBlog that was set-up in late 2009.

Stuck right behind Home Plate and located in the usual food room for the Home Plate Club was the Raysvision crew on their “Casting Call” promotions for the upcoming season. You could sing Karaoke, ask a Rays player a question, or show your best dance moves for the camera. I actually got wrangled into singing Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” by a few of the Rays staffers who knew I sometimes sing in a cover band in Pinellas Park. It was fun, and I stayed there for a bit and saw some great fan questions and a few wild renditions of songs, even a Lady Gaga song. It was the perfect place to let out your inner “Rock Star” without anyone else catching onto your actions.
 

 

One of the most popular tables early was to go up and meet Country Rap Star Cowboy Troy before he went up on the Pepsi stage and did a few numbers before coming back over and doing autographs and photos with the Rays fans. He was also selling coins and CD’s to benefit his foundation which helps support the military troops overseas throughout the world. I enjoyed talking to Cowboy Troy, and he was excited to come back to Tampa Bay today and celebrate the event because of his love for baseball.


 


But as always, the Rays Fan Fest also wanted to put a smile on our youngest fans and again Bright House Networks helped the Rays in setting up multiple areas like the “running of the Bases” race section in the Rays infield, and the multiple gaming centers along the leftfield fence region. The first section was a chance to experience just what a MLB player saw as the ball came down from the roof of the Trop. I got to tell you, it seemed like if you took your eye off the ball for a moment, you lost it and it fell to the ground. Also a popular event was the Speed Pitch challenge where you could see if you had the right stuff to hopefully become a Rays pitching ace in the future. 
 

 

Right next to this section was the two Batting Cages  one set up  as a Little Hitters Zone so young Rays sluggers could get their timing down on balls thrown by pitching machines. This always has one of the longest lines and showcases some of the great raw talent in the Tampa Bay area. And even adults had a chance this season to get in there and try and hit that white dot in the regular Big League Batting Cages exhibit. It is always a blast to see a young kid around 10 years old beat up on his dad who is also hitting in the neighboring cage, but his young son is constantly hitting balls that dad seems to swing and miss on.


And as always, the Rays again had Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby set up where oversize wiffle balls and bats were used by really young fans to try and blast one out of the make-shift rendition of classic Ebbets Field. Also along the outside ring of the stadium, the usual gameday activities sections like along rightfield where you could enjoy the  T B Rays Carnival games, Raymond’s Art Studio, the Science of Baseball, Raymond’s Room and the St. Petersburg Times Press Box where you could get your own personalized  St. Petersburg Times front page.


 

Then if you strolled towards leftfield you could enjoy maybe making a replica Rays jersey, the Louisville Slugger Wood Shop, or even Make Your Own Baseball card for your personal collection. And if you were in an extreme mood, you could hit the Mountain Dew Extreme Zone stick ball diamond, or even the MLB 2K10 sports lounge where you could play MLB2K10 for free  on gaming consoles during Fan Fest. No matter where you went inside Tropicana Field, you could find an activity to make anyone in your family smile.
 
  


But also local theme parks like Busch Gardens was at Tropicana Field introducing Rays fans to their upcoming new park promotion “Sesame Safari of Fun”. Rays fans were also able to enter for a chance to win free tickets as well as try their luck at games on sight and also take photos with the Busch Gardens performers
There were even multiple baseball collections including some artifacts from the Ted Williams Museum and also the “Little Cooperstown” baseball display which has over 3,500 signed baseball currently in their collection. 
 
 

 

And if your are a “lover of the statistical”, or even just a lover of the game of baseball, you had to go by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) table and try your hand at their trivia crossword test to win prizes or even sign up for the national baseball research group. One of the members at the table, Rays Season Ticket holder Bill Dunstone will be celebrating his 1,000 Rays game during the 2010 season. If you like odd trivia or reading interesting facts and figures about the game of baseball both present and past, this is the group for you. 

 

As in the last few Rays Fan Fest’s, Rays Radio Network Pre and Post Game Show Host Rich Herrera did the Master of Ceremonies duties and did his usual strolling around the ballpark letting the Rays fans in attendance know about some of the odd events and happenings during Fan Fest. One of my favorite is when he goes up to the signing tables and interviews some of the players about their off
the field contributions, or even their activities during the off season. I still can not believe Rich struck a “Vegas Elvis” pose here on the Pepsi stage before he introduced Cowboy Troy for his musical performance.

 

One of the events that has become more and more popular every season is the Major League Baseball Players Association Alumni table that is set up near Section 142 to provide autographs and photos with some of the legends of the game that live around the Tampa Bay area. Players like former Ray Doug Creek former Rays Hitting Coach Milt May, Phillie Robin Roberts, and other veterans like Ron LeFlore, Bill Demars, Darold Knowles, Mark Whiten, Wayne Garrett and Scott Winchester. Dave LaPoint was also in attendance today in the MLBPA Alumni 12-1 pm veteran group and he told me he was managing the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with MLB currently. 


Also during Fan Fest, there were two Town Meetings being held in the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. The first was a meeting with Rays Television broadcaster Dewayne Staats with Robin Roberts. The second Town Meeting was the first chance for Rays fans to meet new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton along with radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis. Both events went along fantastic with each explaining their part in baseball and also telling great tales and stories concerning their time within the baseball ranks. Each session also included a Question and Answer section so the fans could get some additional insight into the inner workings of baseball.

  

But the main draw for most of the Rays fans in attendance was the autograph session from 12-5 pm featuring most of the Rays players and Coaches. Unfortunately prior to the event Carl Crawford, Pat Burrell, Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist had previous engagements and would not be able to attend. I will get into this deeper in the next section of my blog posting on Monday. There were a few surprises and a few late arrivals, which I will get into more tomorrow after I check to see if traffic situations did not compound the problems with some of the player’s signings.
 

Rayvision and Centerplate concessionaires  also had a promotion going on during Fan Fest for Rays guests to sample some of the new foods that will be introduced around Tropicana Field in 2010. In this sampling, the chef was trying to get a Rays fan to talk about the new Cuban sandwich selection that will be unveiled during the Rays home opener in April. The sandwich has a crisp breading and a highly spicy mustard that provided a great kick to the cooked pork and meat highlighted also by a sharp Swiss cheese. I think it will be an instant hit around the stadium.

 

Even “Star Wars” youngster Boba Fett had a great time at the Rays Fan Fest. What I always find exciting is the people who travel from great distances to come to this once a year event. Not only do they come from South Florida and beyond, but some people came here from South America and as far north as Ontario to partake in the Rays celebration with the fans to the beginning of Spring Training. I always thought the Rays should do a contest during Fan Fest to celebrate the fan who traveled the longest distance to attend the Rays Fan Fest. Maybe in 2011 they could award a Rays Fan pack to the long distance champion for their show of support for the team (HINT, HINT Promotions Department).
  

 

But I could not end this first blog posting without telling you about the GTE Federal Credit Union and their money machine. Got to admit, I was tempted, but with my luck I would drop all the money with one second left on the clock. I watched a few people use some very interesting cash collecting methods before positioning them for a chance at great prizes from their time in the U-22 Money Booth.  What could be better than coming to Fan Fest and getting a chance to win some additional money to spend at future Rays games.

And last, but not least, I wanted to say that Cowboy Troy did a great job of doing his songs on a make-shift sound system that did not rival the last one he sang on during the 2009 Big & Rich Saturday Night Concert Series during Country night at Tropicana Field. He had both young and old fans dancing near the Pepsi stage while he performed three songs and did some great dance moves and interaction with the crowd.

So here we are at the end of the first segment out of three of my postings about the Rays 2010 Fan Fest. Tomorrow I will give you some interesting facts and stories about the autograph session and a few behind-the-scene photos involving the Rays players. So I am already excited to get tomorrow’s blog posting up for you, but I want people to also check out this first segment before it gets lost in the shuffle. If you have read my Twitter account the past two days, I have been giving you small doses of some of the information I got while sitting in my Season Ticket seat most of the day and talking with Rays players, Rays Security and front office staffers. There is some really interesting stories to let you know about on Monday.  

  

Rays Pitchers and Catchers Report…The Photo Blog

 



Today I want to conclude the photos that I took out at the Rays Spring Training complex on Friday morning. Hopefully each and every one of you will get a chance sometimes in your life to either get out to Arizona or Florida to see this yearly migration and training exercise featuring some of the most talented and fit athletes. No matter what team, or the location, these are our “Boys of Summer”,  and to catch them in this energetic elementary state away from the confines of the regular season.

 
 
This is the time of the season where the team begins to forge their team’s identity for the upcoming season, and prepare for their first battle in April 2010. Hope you all enjoy the rest of my photos of the Tampa Bay Rays as they “officially” began the quest to prepare for another enthusiastic and winning 2010 season.

One of the necessary “evils” of Spring Training is the television and media requests for interviews and short sound bytes about the upcoming season. Here we have former Rays Rookie of the Year candidate pitcher Jeff Niemann being interviewed by a local television crew about his expectation for the 2010 Rays season. You can not tell by the photo, but Niemann is growing a ” Abe Lincoln”-style beard that is just beginning to come into its own. He has not decided if he will keep it for the season, but combined with rookie pitcher Wade Davis, they could be the “bearded” back end of the Rays rotation this season. 


One of the great things about the way the Charlotte County Sports Park is setup is the short walk across the player’s parking lot before they hit the Rays clubhouse front door. It is an excellent spot to get autographs and also chat with your favorite players. Also, there are some players who are more pat to sign during Spring Training then they do during the regular season, and this is a great time to get those final pieces to your autograph collection. 

Welcome to Tampa Bay Kelly Shoppach. I think he felt like a hunted man as most of the Tampa Bay media was waiting for him and the other catchers’ to come in last during the days event and he was kind enough to give and every one of them a sound byte for their nightly telecast. 

Shoppach is pictured here in the middle of the media throng with local sportscasters popping microphones in front of his face as they ask about the upcoming competition to see who is going to be the Rays starting catcher for the season. Most people think the competition is going to be fierce between Shoppach and incumbent Dioner Navarro for the Rays starting catching job. I actually think it might come down to game situations as Shoppach is more apt at getting on base, while Navarro can provide some power at times in the lineup. Should be a fun time watching these two go through the Spring. 


I remember when I was playing sports, I used to hate hitting the “sharks” as I used to call them. The problem with some media members is they are always seeking the negative items and looking for an extreme angle on the team. People have asked me why I try and take a more positive approach to my blogs and my commentary, the proof is right above in this picture. With all the media onrush, I think a positive spin on even the worst situation can do wonders. But, I do have my own targets ( Hickey, Burrell).   

It was so great to see all of the guys out there tossing the ball around and laughing and commenting to each other throughout the workouts. Every pitcher performed drills today in anticipation of the Rays Fan fest on Saturday, in which most of the Rays pitchers’ will take that long trek up to Tropicana Field to participate in autograph signings and photo opportunities with Rays fans.  

 

I have always looked at Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer as our own personal “Yoda”. I remember someone saying one time that Zim has ” forgotten more baseball than any of us will ever research or see in our lifetimes”. And I have to agree with that quote 100 percent. He is always willing and eager to sign for fans, and is a true iconic figure that Rays fans are lucky to talk and learn from during times like Spring Training. It is funny, I used to pump his gas back in the 1970′s at my dad’s gas station, and no matter where you encounter Zimmer, he is always a great person to talk baseball with….always.

 

I was talking to Kevin Barr, who is the Rays Strength and Conditioning coach for a few minutes on Friday, and he is as excited as the guys to get back to work in 2010. One of the great aspects of Ray Manager Joe Maddon’s Coaching staff is their positive enthusiasm and their confident approach to situations with the Rays players. No matter if it on-the-field problems, or getting back into game shape after an injury, this staff is centered in positive energy and it feeds off them to the players.

I was excited to head on down to the far end of the complex after the pitchers’ came in for the day and see the Rays catchers in camp doing time in the hitting cages. One of the guy who caught my attention was Joe Dillon, who is trying to make this Rays roster as a multipurpose player. Last season he was Maddon’s choice as an emergency third catcher, but with a great Spring, he could make the roster as a bench and infield utility man. Plus he was tagging the ball down the third baseline today with some extreme power.

I am always surprised by the new exercises and physical fitness regiment that they Rays include in their daily workouts. No matter if it is the extra large rubber bands to strengthen their calves and legs, or the flex tubing to help stretch out their arms and shoulders, each Spring there is something new in the Rays exercise arsenal. 

 

And it was great to see the guys starting to hit drills during the first day with everyone participating but Rays new closer Rafael Soriano who has been battling some chest congestion due to a vicious cold. He might have only thrown a few long toss balls today, but he was there for Maddon’s meeting and looks imposing in his Rays uniform. 


 

But the “man of the hour” was Rays owner Stuart Sternberg who fielded a barrage of questions from the media on subjects ranging from the Hillsborough County stadium buzz to the Rays possible scenarios to keep Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena for 2011. Another issue that was on the media’s mind was the payroll concerns for 2011 and the rumors of Rays Season Tickets being down for this season.
 

One of the true sights of Spring. Most of the Rays players came out in their game spikes, but they also brought along their running shoes for their post long toss running exercises and workout on another field. With most of their cleats not broken in yet, using these running shoes might be one of the best options to keep blisters and foot situations under control so early in the Spring Training process. 

 

Rays reliever J P Howell and Rays starter Matt Garza are shown in these two photos ” airing it out” in their long toss portion of the Friday exercises. Howell was throwing with a group that contained fellow Bullpen mates Dan Wheeler and Lance Cormier before Cormier and Garza hooked up and put on a long-toss show with both pitchers throwing consistent balls in the air from the leftfield foul line to almost centerfield before they stopped and moved onto the pitching drills segment of the daily events. 

 

 

Maddon has a very experienced minor league Coaching Staff, who also were in attendance today to help in the drills and also be his eyes and ears at all five separate drill locations. With the Rays minor league system being considered one of the best in baseball, these Coaches are the backbone of that entire system.

 

 

Most of the morning exercises were devoted to stretching and limbering up for the daily grind of drills and activities to see what shape each of the Rays players might be in prior to the team turning up the dial and getting more intense in the next few days. And with every pitcher basically not doing intense workout on Saturday because of their travels to Fan Fest, it was a time to push the envelope a bit.  

 

Jaoquin Benoit, pictured above is one of the many non-roster Spring invitees to the Rays camp and could make the Rays decision a bit more difficult with a great Spring. Most consider him on the outside looking in, but he could secure a spot in the Rays bullpen with a few impressive outings this Spring. The Rays begin their Spring Training schedule in 10 days. 


It was a great turnout of fans both from Charlotte County, and some who came as far as Boston and Chicago for the Rays first “official” day of Spring Training camp. Just another sign that the Rays Republic is beginning to get fans from all over the country excited about Rays baseball.

One of the things I respect most about Maddon is that he leads by example.  He is one of the most positive people I have ever met, and he is always preaching and showing confidence and the essence of positive thinking to his players. But something else I have noticed the last few years, he is always the last person off the Spring Training field.

Not unlike Lt. Colonel Hal Moore in the Vietnam War epic “We Were Soldiers”, Maddon has lead by example and been a constant force of steady, confident leadership for his team. And just like Moore would not step off the ground and into a transport helicopter until every last solider was transported or removed from the battlefield in the Ia Drang Valley, Maddon also shows that unity daily in his activities with his team.

So this was my short and eventful day at the Rays complex as pitchers and catchers officially reported to the Rays to begin the 2010 campaign to get back to the playoffs. There will be another 10 days of extreme workouts and drills before game action begins, and less than 45 days until the Rays open their season at Tropicana field against the Baltimore Orioles. Hope you enjoyed the photos, because I enjoyed getting them for all of us to enjoy…

 

 

Rays Pitchers & Catchers Report…2010 Edition

 


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**** Within the next few days I will post a extended Photo blog of the pictures I took today after the Rays Fan fest tomorrow afternoon.


I could not sleep a wink last night and thank goodness AMC had a pretty good movie lineup until 6 am this morning. This felt like the first time I ever suited up for a baseball game. I had the butterflies early today and mixed with the anticipated assembly again with Tampa Bay Rays baseball players who I consider “baseball buddies”. And the long hours leading up to this special moment of the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting for 2010 more than lived up to all the previous night’s hype and anxiety.

Sure you would think the hour and a half drive down to Port Charlotte from the shadow of Tropicana Field would seem to take forever as the sun began to rise in the East, but the reality was it seemed to furiously fly by with only the time staring to ebb slower as I began to wait first in line this morning to get into the Charlotte County Sports Park and “officially” begin my 2010 Rays experience. And it was great to not have the over indulgence of the Mosaic Corporation’s name attached to signage surrounding the complex today. And as I was standing there as the Rays media members began to assemble, some just passed by, while others acknowledged me standing their in my Pepsi sweatshirt as I battled the 56 degree weather.

And while I was standing there, a wild figure in pink sweatpants, barefoot and a huge poof of hair began to walk up to the security checkpoint carrying his baseball gear in a Army green dufflebag. He had come to make the team, and Edgar Gonzalez was not going to take “no” for an answer. Sure he might not have had great baseball experience only playing Marine Corp baseball, but decked there in his USF baseball jersey ( but did not play at all for USF), he was energetic and wanting an audition today for a possible slot on the Rays.

 
 

And two assembled security guards were business like and totally professional as they tried to point him towards Tropicana Field and the Rays Front Office to arrange an “official arrival” or even a slot to participate when the minor league camp came in next week. But Gonzalez was persistent and totally seemed to have his wits about him, until he began to unravel his story into a million pieces by saying he was trying to hold correspondence with U.S. President Obama and the world leaders on the curing properties of baseball. So as Gonzalez began to fade to black in the minds of the security force, he was advised to “put shoes on, or vacate the property as a safety precaution”.

 
 
 

Just then, you could see the color drain from Gonzalez’s face and he knew instantly that he had blown his scheme to try and infiltrate the Rays first 2010 workout. But I do commend the security force for doing it with grace, class and not singling him out and making the situation difficult. So as he turned away he said he would rehash it out up in “Tampa” with the Rays officials and be back another day to formally take the field. Well, Edgar Gonzalez, I wish you luck, and I hope you do get that shot, but since you have, by your own admission, never faced a 90+ mph fastball or seen a slider in your life, the audition might last the $ 2 it costs to run the Batting Cage machine at the Mini Golf complex down the street.
 

 

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But as 10 pm came, I strutted in first in the line and was handed a Dioner Navarro and Matt Garza bobble heads and a great present of a Rays Spring roster cardboard placard that listed each invited Rays ” guest” to the 2010 Spring Training complete with the final statistics including every stop during 2009. I scanned up and down it a few time to see the names and former 2009 teams illustrated and saw a few extremely interesting names. Names like Mike Ekstrom who was claimed off waivers by the Rays this off season from the San Diego Padres , or former Ranger pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who might push some pressure on the Rays Bullpen spots, or Joe Dillionaire” Dillon who might push for a bench spot on the team and be an adequate third catching option on the Major League roster because of his versatility.
 

 
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As the guy all assembled around Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his first inspirational speech for 2010, and the brief speeches and chats by Jeff “Ziggy” Zigler, who is the Rays Traveling Secretary, the team got into stretching and began long toss to get their arms stretched out for the first time in 2010 in front of a live audience. Rays starter Matt Garza and Rays Bullpen reliever Lance Cormier put on the show of the day easily topping 200+ feet in their long toss segment before the squad split into three groups and began to start drills on retrieving the ball in front of the mound and doing basic drills like covering first base on a bunt or even shot towards the hole at first base.
 
 

And on another part of the field, the Rays field players were beginning their daily workouts in the batting cages under the watchful eyes of spectators and autograph hounds. Gabe Kapler, Jason Bartlett and a bulkier-looking Rays prospect shortstop Tim Beckham all took their swipes in the cage today before taking time out to sign for some of the fans and expressed excitement in returning to Tropicana Field tomorrow for the 2010 Rays Fan Fest. I took this time to chat a bit with Rays Communication Manager Carmen Molina and St Petersburg Times Rays writer Marc Topkin about the season and to see if I could get a few tidbits.

 

 
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But I was lucky enough to be within a good earshot of the conversation by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to the assembled media when he began to discuss the Rays payroll, keeping Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and the possible Rays stadium pot that is beginning to boil. He was his usual self showing total commitment to the St. Petersburg market place the team is currently in, but stressed the stadium will not be adequate up until the 2026 lease expiration date. Standing their in his own “Rays Sky Blue” sweatshirt he spoke for about 15 minutes answering volleys at him and providing in depth, complex answers that more than fulfilled the questions thrown at him on the fly. P. T. Barnum would have been proud.
 
 

And as the players began to split into their respective groups for their day ending run in the western-most field’s outfield, several players like J P Howell, Jeff Neiman and Rays prospect Jake McGee sprinted to the Rays clubhouse and shed their sweatshirts and came out again to do their running before taking time to chat and sign for fans before leaving for the day. I had a chance to talk to Howell, and his eyes lit up when I asked about his off season trip to Bora Bora for his honeymoon, or when I asked if we could do an interview sometimes during Spring Training about it.

 
 

And as I was asking that, Grant Balfour slapped me on the back asking if I was keeping my same seat. I quickly told him I was, and told him he better keep his same seat also ( on the Rays Bullpen bench) for 2010. He just smiled from ear-to-ear and told me he was going to do everything possible to stay put. Or when Randy Choate came up with his new facial chin hair and asked why I did not yell “Randy” when he saw me. And I began to tear up a bit. This is hard to explain, but over the past three years while I have been battling employment issues, these guys have been the solid foundation and the people I made sure to say something to before, or during every single Rays game.

 

 
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So today was special to me in a different way than most of the people assembled to welcome the Rays back from cold Winter snow-scapes, or even trips abroad with their new loved ones, this is my personal rite of Spring passage. Baseball is back, but better yet for me, Rays baseball is back. Even as I stood there talking with baseball buddy’s Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos or Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, I could feel that inner fire kicking up again and was eager for the upcoming season.
 
 

Maddon did not bring out any mathematical equations this season, but offered confidence and a yearning to remember those steps made in 2008 to again get back to that ” special place”. For the Rays to revisit their 2008 roots, it will take sweat, blood and commitment by each and ever member of their 2010 roster. In the next month and a half guys will come and go from the Rays clubhouse either to the minor league camps, or even towards other opportunities in baseball, but Maddon stressed that they had to regain that passion, had to redefine and re-energize to again do things “The Rays Way”, and make those steps to again claim a top spot not only in the American League, but in their ever present difficult Eastern division. But for today, it was just great to see my buddies again.

 
 

Tampa Completes a Double-Steal Move

 


TBO.com

You know, it is funny. I wrote my last entry about the possible community firestorm created when Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan requested to “take a meeting” with the A Baseball Community (ABC) Coalition, and even then something did not smell right to me at the time. I was hoping it was just the sea decay of a usual low tide down here near the Rivera Bay bridge, but now I know the real cause of that nasal nausea came from a few miles more to the east, and to the north of the Spiltsville bowling alley in the Channelside District of Tampa.

And the funny part is that I, like so many others in this community, were watching Hagan’s motives and I completely missed the “double-steal” attempt when other Tampa land developers snuck into second base standing up, and launched a plan completely under our noses. I had a weird gut feeling a few days ago that the Downtown Tampa real estate movers and shakers hiding behind the vacant condo high rise towers and empty Channelside storefronts had something concieved and total hidden up their collective sleeves.

Hagan’s deceptive song and dance look more like the “Boot, Scootin’ Boogie” and caught most of us not expecting such a large scale deception to be sign, sealed, but not delivered yet to be totally organized quite so fast, but then again you do not get rich off downtown real estate in this economy unless you send a few smoke signals out, or even knock on a few real estate speculators doors with cashor blank checks in your briefcase.

 

But I always expected some sort of blindsided move was going to be coming ever since ABC sent their final five stadium site recommendations to the printer. I just didn’t think they could mobilized so quickly after the mid-January ABC Coalition report came hot off the presses and into the general public’s hands. But then again, ever since this coalition was formed because the Tampa Bay Rays and the City of St. Petersburg wanting to show “just cause” to move forward to establish a dialogue for the discussion of a Rays new fangled stadium before their earliest possible 2015 vacate date, I knew someone already had some sort of  building blueprints or artists renderings hidden somewhere in a safe place just waiuting for this moment.

 

And I am upset over the whole downtown Tampa stadium discussion, but I also could smell a rat coming in this stadium endeavor for some time. And maybe we all got taken in by the initial diversion of Hagan and his quest to get an audience with the leaders of the ABC coalition, and it definitely turned in another possible direction when a real estate developer began flashing around plans and conceptions for an entertainment complex centered with a large development building that looks auspiciously like a retractable roof baseball stadium within sight of the Crosstown Expressway.

 

And maybe I was especially caught off guard today and was centering my attention on the fact that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was in St. Petersburg, Florida tonight to take part in the annual Governor’s Dinner to “officially” signal the beginning of the Grapefruit League and Spring Training held last night under the Teflon dome of Tropicana Field.

Selig has been more vocal in the past than current Rays owner Stuart Sternberg as to the Rays needing a new facility so they could get the economical advantages of MLB-sponsored events like an All-Star game and its 3-day festivities, and that their current home, Tropicana Field would never be the game site of such a gala celebration by Major League Baseball.

 

I would loved to see a compiled guest list to that Governor’s Dinner and seen for myself just how many of the Tampa region movers and shakers might have been in attendance, or even who could have had a few moments of Selig’s ear during that night’s festivities. And I think it was a bit prophetic of Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman to say to the St. Petersburg Times , ” Any such discussion should be led by Major League Baseball and its Commissioner, Bud Selig.”

Also quite enlightening was a comment by Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita in that same Times article that ” Any action by the (MLB) Commissioner could be used as leverage in their discussions with St. Petersburg.” Got to admit, I never saw this one coming, Sun Tzu would have been extremely proud of this maneuver.

 

And one of the hidden corporate commando’s in this undercover operation seems to be a Charlotte County real estate company which normally seems to handle a majority of rural land transactions, and is based out of Marco Island, Florida. It was a simulated Black Ops strike that was unwillingly discovered when Land and Sand Realty President Claire Clements began circulating a draft of the initial plans with her company’s letterhead on the documents. But even with this sudden development in downtown Tampa, the deal is far from reality right now.

Basically some of the land that might have to be allocated for the property is currently owned by the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority and would need prior governmental approval to rubberstamp any tract of that land to the proposed “entertainment complex” project. But there are a few signs that the developers of this project did take into consideration the view Rays baseball fans would have when the roof is open to the night skies. The stadium renderings in the initial drawings show it would face north and west, so the crowd would get a well-lit cityscape backdrop along the lines of Cleveland’s cityscape that is a great aspect to Progressive Field,or Seattle’s Safeco  Field.

But the biggest difference would be that Tampa’s skyscrapers would play a prominent role in this locations appeal to both baseball, and possibly the Rays. And believe me, this latest twist to the Rays stadium saga probably did not come as a shock to Rays Vice President of Development and Business Affairs Michael Kalt. Now do not read into this any collusion or tampering, but something like this doesn’t go unnoticed within the circle of community leaders without a few whispers in the dark among the region’s power brokers.

 
 

And with the enclusion of Tampa getting a huge series of bonus points recently for possibly stationing a center to the proposed “bullet train” within a few miles of this project, along with the already employed eletric railcar system within the downtown region, ABC might become as easy as 1,2,3 to connect the dots soon to give this downtown Tampa project and early lead in the future stadium discussions. And I find it quite amazing that certain property owners of some of the parcels in and around that proposed complex have taken basically a “code of silence” in reference to any discussion of their tracts and this proposal being shopped around Tampa.

Landowners like Salvatore Italiano and the W.D.F. Enterprises have shirked the Times reporters’ questions, which always is a sign to watch their movements. Forty-One Corp. and Conagra Corporation also owns a tracts of land just beyond the north rim of the present Channelside District.

 

But it is so early for even this one proposal to gather real solid energy and long-lasting strength right now, but with the downtown Tampa plans hitting the  newspaper websites within the next few hours, you can be sure there will be a mountain of public opinion popped out there to either fuel the fires or smother them out for a while.

I have to say for a long time I have been against this downtown Tampa proposed site and I even am aghast of its possible logistics in regards to parking and traffic flow after a game, but then again, I had the same fears with the St. Petersburg Times Forum, built in this same area years ago when the Tampa Bay Lightning left Tropicana Field for their new home in downtown Tampa..

But maybe after being beaten in the head a few times over the past two months, the realistic fears of this team some day moving across the Howard Franklin Bridge is becoming more and more viable. I still might not be happy or even condusive to that happening, but it is growing on me. 

 
 

And that plain fact kills me inside. I guess more and more of this previously “quiet” project will come out before the end of Spring Training and both sides of the bay will begin to align themselves with their own branishments of public opinion and alternative solutions or resolutions to this Rays stadium situation. Maybe I am showing some of my Southern naïve nature by thinking this issue might have realistically been tabled for a bit by both sides of the Tampa Bay, and again brought back into the sunlight to go full effect in 2012 or 2013.

Believe me, we have just seen the beginning of the underbelly of this whole downtown Tampa proposal and its own brand of apparent resolution to the Rays impending stadium issue. But when website like www.BuildItDowntownTampa.org starts to get some of the Tampa area public opinion rolling, this issue might begin to gain some unneeded attention right now and steamroll quickly into a feverish pitch. Hopefully this does not happen, but we only have to look at the Chicago White Sox situation to remember that sometimes thing move quickly and beyond our control in regards to baseball. 

 
 

There is even another Tampa area group who also counts former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco among their membership who are currently also drawing up plans and development ideas concerning the present Florida State Fairground enormous acreage, which was another one of the final five sites brought up by the ABC coalition report. So this stadium issue is just beginning to heat up, and there will be more surprises and deviant twists and turns before it is all said and done. But like I mentioned yesterday, could this pull our Tampa Bay region apart, or could it bring us closer together?
 
 

But I guess we can truly say we know what Major League Baseball thinks as MLC Commissioner Selig was asked again by the Times on Wednesday night about a new Rays stadium and he first spoke his usual “company line” policy statement that the ” Rays will need a new stadium before their current contract at Tropicana Field expires”. But then Selig also added to the Times article Wednesday night, ” It almost boggles my mind that there is room for debate. They need a new stadium.”

And even with this Kalt has been mum and quiet about any of these discussions or progressions on the Tampa-side of the bay. The Rays still have to chat with their current landlord (St. Petersburg) before considering any other options. But for some reason, I think their discussion with St. Petersburg will take some time and with that political tugs of war will develop between several groups, which might give the Tampa area developers and the downtown Tampa planners more than enough time to line up prospective financiers’ and maybe throw a huge bonus bone of needing less public funds towards the Rays to entice them more…….in the future.

Will Tampa Bay Divide Again?

 

                
                                                                         Ciekurzis.org


Really Hillsborough County Commission? You really want to step on these collective St. Petersburg and Pinellas County toes again? Just because this side of the bay is envisioned daily wearing mostly Docker shorts and inexpensive flip flops and spending most of their downtime hanging out at beach bars drinking fruity drinks with umbrellas, can you seriously considering this hot potato of controversy was not going to divide this region’s opinions again. By considering to even ask for a formal powwow with the A Baseball Community (ABC) Coalition to speak to your own divided HCC membership on this issue seems to be amateurish at best.

 

And it might be helpful for your ultimate goal HCC Chairman Ken Hagan, if you had every one of your HCC Commissioners’ on board with you in advance. I know I personally think it stupid and frowned upon when your own group has a division within its own house before you commit to anything, but then again, that might not be your style of leadership. Funny how HCC Commissioner Jim Norman comment to the St Petersburg Times recently that ” He’s (Hagan) not speaking for me”, might speak volumes that this might be more of a newspaper/media shout-out crusade by you for some free press and attention when your own county’s finances and future sport ventures revenues might be in a tight knit ball with no strings left dangling.

 

Are you really going to try and throw your County’s already smug “superiority complex” out there for everyone else to see? Or will you say you are “doing your job” by claiming you are doing due diligence on the Rays stadium issue by trying to get an preliminary discussion going with the ABC Coalition, which has no political pull or remote chance of being a key player in any future discussions of this stadium deal. And did you forget something remember Mr. Hillsborough County Commission Chairman, especially now in this down economic climate, money talks and B S walks, even within a city considered a even Southern folks to be a “cow town” until as recently as 1990.

 

Until today, your agency has been playing it smart by sitting back and letting all the dust settle on the Tampa Bay Rays stadium issue. So why is it right now, when the focus should be on the influx of Major League Baseball players about to arrive and begin to fill the county business coffer’s and housing vacancies in our regional community that you want to tip over the apple cart and start a controversy and ultimate division of the region……..again. Oh! You think most of us have not forgotten the sorted past power struggles for control of Tampa Bay baseball between the Sharks (Morsani) and the Jets (Namoli) posses’ proclaiming our own version the epic “West Side Story” doing their own improvisational song and dance towards getting the region’s first taste of MLB-quality baseball?

 

How embarrassing it was for us as Tampa Bay area citizens to watch as two separate Tampa Bay Baseball groups considered themselves superior and collectively converged upon MLB as separate business entities to try and seducing the MLB power brokers during the first round of expansion site considerations and verbally sparred in the media and tried to constantly downgraded the other to show a visible key weakness of community division in the Tampa Bay area’s quest for baseball. That neither of the area’s groups even ventured into the expansion discussions with the MLB hierarchy with the same agenda points showed the deep division by the region, and not only by the saltwater that separated the two battling communities.


Sandbarsandsunsets.com

That first attempt became a complete and utter fiasco and the first expansion team in Florida ended up being awarded to another Florida group poised down Miami way because our two communities were doing their rendition of the Hatfield’s and the McCoys and canceled each other out by internal regional fisticuffs. The MLB leadership seemed to find it unnerving and utterly shallow that the two Tampa Bay groups were fighting for this one region’s team, and no compromises from either group was on the horizon. And it was not until each side of the bay ultimately agreed and considered that the Namoli baseball group out of St. Petersburg might have the necessary political and baseball clout to impress and regain MLB’s trust that the Tampa Bay region’s should be considered a viable location for baseball. Divided regional loyalties ceased and we collectively began the hunt to fight for a MLB team as one region.

 
 

How does your little political power play now by asking the ABC Coalition to chat with your group before they finish their rounds of discussions with the Pinellas County government agencies not constitute the basic element of tampering? How did you find a mindset of justify your pushing your collective political agenda forward with these actions being “okay” and not the usual sleezybag ” look at me” political mentality associated with an ultimate misplay of power by a government official. How soon is this school yard power play going to backfire into your faces like a kid with a firecracker on the Fourth of July? Did you even think of the massive repercussions of your request, or were you going to “play dumb” to the white noise that came from this action and hope support came running of unforeseen sources?

 

How can a leader of a county governmental agency who ultimately knows that his area’s finances are tied up neatly in a beautiful bow be so into discussing something they realistically can’t consider unless they want to possibly anger their own region’s citizens by asking them to tighten their belts a little tighter, or maybe even pull the sheepskins over their citizen’s eyes by imposing another bump in future sales taxes to even consider such a future power play. Has the HCC Chairman really been blunt and honest enough to Hillsborough’s own citizen to tell them that their possible finance options for such an future endeavor as seducing the Rays to their side of the bay might be unfathomable unless extreme measures were taken to secure even minimal finances for such a proposal.

 
 

Hagan can not say he is on his own “fact-finding mission”, that was the entire reason for the initial existence of the ABC Coalition in the first place, but it was to center on Pinellas County and St. Petersburg options towards future support of baseball, not expand its horizons over the bridge towards the eastern shore of the region. I think the Hillsborough community should be proud of the past HCC commitments to improving sports projects among their community made possible by them imposing the half-cent sales tax increase in the past to help fund projects like Raymond James Stadium and other sports ventures. And that theirs collective County revenue stream for such projects will be weakened until after 2026, which is beyond the current Rays stadium lease with the City of St. Petersburg.

 

And also maybe forgotten by Hagan was the Hillsborough County additional financial sports projects commitments made possible by their collection of an a hotel tax increase that helped financially secure the building of such venues as The Forum, the modernization of the Florida State Fairgrounds complex, upgrade to Raymond James Stadium and George Steinbrenner Field and will ultimately limit the HCC coffers in that aspect until 2035.
 

And it might be a shrewd move by Hagan to get some needed media attention towards this issue right as MLB prepares another Spring Training edition in 2010 within the Tampa Bay region. But it is so easy for people around this community to forget that the ABC coalition is only an “advisory committee”, and they can not move or even remotely consider moving the team or “green-light” any stadium project or location requests to anyone, even the Rays. People simply forget this Coalition is a third party entity started to dig deep into the Rays impending stadium issues and simply report their collective recommendations. They have no governmental power. That basic decision-making process still and always will, belong to the Rays and their landlord, the City of St. Petersburg until 2015 at the earliest.
 
 
 
 
And as we have learned about the Rays in the past, they do not show their cards often. And when they do, it is for a specific reason or to gather information or opinions. This issue is far from over, and we have not really heard more than a collective whisper out of the Rays camp about all of this since the ABC Coalition made their report final a few months ago. The conspiracy theorist mind inside me says a lot of this is already been decided and might be ready to go at a moment’s notice. But the other side of my mind tells me that the Rays might sit back and let both sides of the bay battle over this for a spell before finally revealing their own goals and thoughts on this entire process. As business minded and professional as the Rays organization has been under Stuart Sternberg, they have also been a bit predictable outside the player personnel aspects of the team. And even now, maybe a few cards have fallen from their deck of cards for a reason.
 

 
                       MLB.com


With the Rays about to “officially” unveil the new “Sunday” alternate jerseys on Wednesday with no “Tampa Bay” regional significance emblazoned over the front of their new “Sky Blue” color pallet jerseys, maybe the team is sending out early signals that this entire fiasco will be done in a business manner with no regards to communities or even social acceptance down the road. Maybe the Rays are setting up another scenario, a more concise and surgical approach that none of us will see coming, not even from our front porches looking towards the tilted forward roof of the Trop.

 

And the whole process of Hagan even asking for a chance to speak to the Coalition might have sent ripples through the region. The City of St. Petersburg is already on the defensive since the committee ultimately overstepped their initial set of guidelines and considered locations outside Pinellas County. And with these new calls from the east side of Tampa Bay wanting an audience to discuss the idea of Tampa Bay baseball can be viewed in many ways, with interesting twists all over the place. But unless the HCC as a group can shoot down any of the locations, or open their financial situation wide for all to see, this has to be just another wedge to force this region apart again with no healing in sight. This whole new Hillsborough County Commission situation just opens another wide open wound that needs a bandage quick before in gets infected and turns into another ugly mess. You can be sure I will keep my ears to the ground hoping to hear something new, and hopefully inspirational to everyone within Tampa Bay.

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