March 2010

Bentley is no Country Clunker

 

I have to be honest here, I might live in the South and been intertwined with Country Music for a long portion of my life, but I have strayed in recent years towards that demon rock and roll again and have not been so aware of a few of the new horses in Country Music like Dierks Bentley. But I did pop online to I-Tunes and checked out a few of his latest offerings and I got to tell you, the guy has that deep voice that reminds me a bit of Trace Adkins, who graced the Rays Concert stage in 2008.
 

And you might ask why I am tuning into Country right now with the season at my doorstep. Well, in the next day or so the Rays will release their final 5 bands/artists for the Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series, and …..Dierks Bentley will be the featured artist after the Saturday, September 18th game against the Los Angeles Angels. And after watching a few of his videos and listening to some of his songs online this week, I am excited to see this Country artist play within the confines of Tropicana Field in 2010.
 

I presented another band yesterday (Train) to MLBlogs.com that will also grace the Rays Concert series in 2010, but Bentley right now is about to release another album in 2010 and based on his past success, this year might just be the year people talk about him from stem to stern. And Bentley does have some lineage to the Rays having attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn , the same fine institution that gave us Rays starter David Price.

And even though Bentley has only been on the National County Music scene since his self-titled debut album hit the stores in 2003, he has turned that into 13 singles on the Country Music charts in which 7 reached the #1 spot. On that debut album he released “What Was I thinking”, which became his first #1 Country hit. Both his debut album and his follow-up release “Modern Day Drifter” were certified platinum albums.

 

But Bentley might be better known for the hits “Come a Little Closer”, “Settle for a Slowdown”, “Every Miles a Memory” “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)”, “Feel That Fire” and “Sideways”. It is rare that an artists, no matter what music category has the ability to produce a “greatest Hits” album after only 7 years in the Country ranks. But this country singer who was named for his maternal grandmother and born in the western state of Arizona has had his share of wild adventures and cross country jaunts.

 

Early in life his mother moved him to the more rock-oriented city of Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he finally graduated before heading to University of Vermont before heading south to Nashville and Vanderbilt University and spending time with the SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) Fraternity. And I hate to tell all the female Rays fans, but Dierks is a married man with a beautiful baby girl who was born in October,2008. And Bentley got one of his first introductions to the Country Music scene while working for The Nashville Network (now Spike TV) researching old concert footage.
 

And maybe that small position has come in handy as some say that he is a master in using the entire stage while performing in concert. I have to say that I have a hidden closet of warmth and admiration for Country Music artists and their unique brand of storytelling via the songs and inspirations behind the melodies. But again the Rays have brought in an artists that will appeal the mass Country audience that is situated with the Tampa Bay region. You can expect another sold-out crowd and a few 10-gallon hats during this night’s performance, and maybe even a few Texas two-steps within the hallways and floor of the Trop.
 



Got to tell you the one song I am really looking forward to is “Sideways”, which is a bit of most fans weekend ritual songs….or is that just me? But with the inclusion of Train and now Dierks Bentley, the Rays still have three more artists to reveal before the season begins and who knows, maybe it could be another great band like Hoobastank or……..who knows. But when I find out, you know I will definitely let you all know as soon as possible.

Welcome Train to the Trop in 2010

 

One of the great things about the Tampa Bay Rays regime since Stuart Sternberg and his group purchased the Rays is they way this management group brought out the different new and innovative ways to entice the many causal fans of Tampa Bay to come on out and experience both this fantastic young baseball team, and also take in some classic and different forms of entertainment. And I have to say, the Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series might have been the best promotional idea ever devised by the Rays since their first year-end “Jerseys Off Their Backs” promotion.
 

Not only has the baseball game plus a concert concept brought more fans into Tropicana Field over the last few seasons to see this great team transform, but the Rays have also presented the Tampa Bay community with great up and coming bands, and also a few blasts from some of our past into their overall baseball entertainment options. And with only 5 of the 10 artists in this season’s line-up already announced (ZZ Top, The Go-Go’s, Hall & Oates, John Fogerty and Nelly), I have a new band to let you know about before the Rays “official” announcement in a few days. The rock band Train will be performing after the Rays versus Baltimore Orioles game on August 15,2010.
 

Most people have heard at least a little bit about the band Train who in 2009 emerged back into the limelight after a self-imposed hiatus for three years to again come out of the starting gate to present their version of rock and roll. The band will come to Tropicana Field after their fifth album release, and an International hit, “Hey Soul Sister” that is still on the Billboard charts and is currently the # 11 choice on last week’s VH-1 Top 20 Countdown.
 

Most people might not know the San Francisco-based band has actually been around since 1994. From the band’s core members including lead singer Pat Monahan , drummer Scott Underwood and lead guitarist Jimmy Stafford, the band is also known for other hits, such as classic ballad hits like “Hey Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter”.
 

And before the late 2009 release of the single “Hey Soul Sister”, the music masses might have known the band more because of the success of their second album, the self-titled “Drops of Jupiter”, then by the bands name, or Monahan’s distinctive high resonant voice. The song “Drops of Jupiter r (Tell Me)” was the group’s first International hit, and won the trio two different 2002 Grammy Awards. And with the catchy “Hey Soul Sister” still rolling on the Billboard Top 100 charts, the band now has two solid Top 10 Hits to their credit. And their second burst at success since their ” time off” shows that Train is ready again to take their rock ballad roots mainstream again to perform throughout MLB venues in 2010.
 

Train was formed after Monahan left his Led Zepplin cover band back in Erie, PA in 1993 and ventured out to the California coast and met up with local musician/band member Rob Hotchkiss, who was a frequent performer in the numerous coffee houses and small clubs scene in the San Francisco Bay area. From the band’s beginning, Monahan has been the band’s lead vocalist, and after a short time together both Monahan and Hotchkiss decided to commit to a full scale band and both members eagerly brought Stafford, Charlie Colin and Underwood on board in 1994.
 

After an embarrassing rejection by Columbia Records of the group’s early music in 1996, Train decided to pool their fiscal resources and release their self-entitled CD independently of the long arm of the music industry. The band quickly gained local and regional fame for their new musical style and was finally added to the National touring schedule opening for such headlining bands like the Barenaked Ladies, Hootie and the Blowfish, Cracker and fellow Bay area band Counting Crows.
 

The self-produced, and distributed EP contained several well received songs that made their presence known quickly outside the San Francisco area. One instant hit with rock stations was the single “Free”, and another track off that $ 25,000 self produced EP turned into the Top 20 Billboard hit, “Meet Virginia”, which peaked at # 15 and brought national acclaim to Train.

The band’s fame rose quickly after the rise of “Meet Virginia” as concert goers word of mouth, and their opening tour gigs got Train a bigger rock audience base to see and hear the band perform other songs like the single ” I Am”, which also came from the $25,000 self produced EP album. The band’s image and solid rock ballad reputation quickly escalated and their debut album was certified platinum by RIAA during 1998. And because of their early success, their second album “Drops of Jupiter” debuted on the Billboard Top 100 list on March 10,2001 and spent over 53 weeks on the charts before falling out of the Top 100 list. This multi-platinum album became the band’s first top 10 album, which peaked at # 6 before a slow roll downhill.
 

But the many accolades for “Drops of Jupiter” just kept coming as the song won it’s first Grammy for “Best Rock Song” and Train also were presented an additional Grammy Award that night for “Best Arrangement” on the International hit. Train’s second album quickly rose on the United Kingdom’s Billboard charts and peaked at the 8th slot . A second song from that album “She’s On Fire” also made it onto the soundtrack of the Rob Schneider movie “the Animal”, but did have the kind of overflowing success generated by their single “Drops of Jupiter”.
 

But the album did give the band their first International platinum album in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. And with their new success, Train embarked on their first International Tour, the “Drops of Jupiter” Tour and produced a live DVD of their homecoming concert in San Francisco at The Warfield on May 21,2001.

 

The band’s reputation only grew as they were picked by the executives of MTV to do a cover of Aerosmith’s classic song “Dream On” for an episode of the MTV show “Icon” which was dedicated to the tremendous rock and roll success of Aerosmith. Soon after Train released their third album “My Private Nation” which produced the Top 20 hit “Calling All Angels” which was an instant hit on the Adult Contemporary charts. Train got their second chance to have their music featured in a film when their song “When I Look to the Sky” was featured in the film trailer for “Jersey Girl” in 2004.
 

Also that same year, Train had another song ” Ordinary” featured in the movie “Spiderman 2″, and because of that movie exposure the band got their first chance to include their music in another multi-media medium, television when the same song was included during the NBC show “Heroes”. But the so music video for “Ordinary” was played often by MTV during their video rotation but only had moderate success in the Adult Top 40 charts. But then another medium opened its doors to the band when Cingular also included the song “Ordinary” in their cell phone advertising commercials.
 

With the band’s sound now well known within the rock culture in the United States the went into the studio to began recording their fourth album in 2005 in Atlanta, Georgia. Train’s first single from that release was “Cab”, which hit the rock airwaves in November 2005. But the album “For Me, It’s You” did not have the wide spread commercial success of their previous album releases, and was the first album by Train not to receive an RIAA certification as a platinum album. Even though “Cab” did make it to the #9 position on the Adult Top 40 list, it only peaked at # 10 in the Top 200 Billboard charts.
 

This was the band’s first brush with falling from grace in the music industry and after a years of constant touring, Train’s members decided to take a “hiatus” from recording and touring to refocus and re-concentrate their efforts to again get back into the good graces of the music public. So in November 2005, Train began their 3-year sabbatical from performing and releasing music to the public. During that off time, Monahan recorded and released a solo album, but it did not fare well with the listening public.
 

Then last year on August 11,2009, Train released their first single in three years “Hey Soul Sister” on their fifth album “Save Me San Francisco”. This time people remarked positively on the renewed vigor and vitality in Monahan’s voice and how the hiatus might have saved the band and help re-energize the band’s intensity and drive to again. In January 2010, Train saw “Hey Soul Sister” skyrocket up the Billboard’s charts from # 23 to # 7 in one week due largely to an 81 percent increase in digital sales over that last seven days.

 

Train has gone through it’s own tale of the Phoenix since their first album back in 1998, but their fifth album definitely shows that the band is back with a rock and roll vengeance, and will be a solid addition to the Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert line-up in 2010. I am looking forward to standing there singing along with the group and want to know….Will you be there?

Rays Possible 2010 Batting Order

 

 
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With the regular season just a stones throw away now, I thought it might be time to explore the possible Tampa Bay Rays 25-man roster that should be standing on the chalk lines during the Rays Opening Day on April 6th 2010 against the Baltimore Orioles. And of course, the first thing that has come out of many people’s mouths is what the possible Rays line-up card might look at on that Opening Day. 

And sure there are still a few battles to be won or lost before the team finalizes their 25-man roster, but this is just one Rays fan’s educated guess, a “guestimation” if you will, in what might actually mirror the line-up cars presented to the Umpires prior to the beginning fo the Rays 2010 Major League Baseball season.

Accompanied with my personal thoughts on the Rays 2010 starting Batting order will be some great Rays player photos that were taken after the day’s workouts on February 28,2010 by photography image giant, Getty Images. I really like the sequences photographer’s use of the Florida late afternoon sunshine to  peek and poke between spot surrounding the poses and stances of the Rays player’s to put an exclamation point on the Rays ever evolving “rays of light” concept .
 
 
And the final images of the 2010 Rays squad really drives this Rays persona home.  Got to admit, it was a great feature to use the natural elements of the Florida sun, then combine them with the white Rays jersey clad team. But that is enough about the photos. Let’s get this party started off right today and begin with the one player I truly think derserves to be the Rays lead-off hitter in 2010.
 

 
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Jason Bartlett has been thrown under the bus a few times over the last few years as having the defensive chops, but not the offensive firepower that sometimes is needed from the Shortstop position. In 2009, Bartlett rose high above those comments and showed why he should be considered in conversation when you discuss the top tier of American League shortstops. And some have whispered that he might go into a short offensive funk during 2010, not unlike the downward spiral in statistics that Rays Catcher Dioner Navarro had in 2009. But the MLB.com Fantasy projections have Bartlett hitting in the Rays lead-off spot, where he seems extremely comfortable.
 

The MLB.com Fantasy projections have Bartlett going to the plate over 500 times this season, and sporting a .320 Batting Average with 14 HR, 66 RBI and 30 stolen bases. But the one figure that jumps out at me is not the Batting Average, but the fact he could plate 90+ runs in this high-powered Rays offense hitting in front of Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. If Bartlett does get on base, even via the walk (54), Bartlett could be a thorn in the side of opposing pitchers’ in 2010. And with Bartlett showing early power this season in Spring Training, these stats might just be a launching pad for him this season.
 
 

 
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What can you say about the Rays second hitter that has not already been said either in Baseball Fantasy passages or prose. Carl Crawford might just be one of the most exciting players to simply watch during a plate appearance based solely on his unpredictable nature of mixing the infield hit with his power stroke. And the added ammunition of possibly adding a drag bunt to his arsenal in 2010, You could see him get his highest seasonal Batting Average as a Ray in 2010.

 
Crawford is one of the Rays players that is feared if he is on the base paths, by both infielders and outfielders. And throw in the another “tweak” to his base-running stride that he picked up this off-season, Crawford might go “lights out” again early in 2010 with stolen bases. MLB Fantasy projections have Crawford posting a .305 Batting Average with 15 HR, 68 RBI and another 60+ stolen bases season. But like Bartlett, if Crawford is on first base with a ball down the line, you could see some great coast-to-coast running by Crawford to produce some extra critical Rays runs in 2010.
 

 
 
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Some people are calling Ben Zobrist a ” man without a position”, and also downplaying his 2009 slugging campaign to the pure fact American League pitchers’ were conned early by his extra power and base running abilities. But 2009 was the first full season Zobrist actually has been healthy in his short career with the Rays. A small list of nagging injuries kept him bouncing in and out of the line-up before 2009 when Zobrist finally got a chance to show his abilities after an May knee injury to ex-Rays Second Baseman Akinori Iwamura. And maybe all Zorilla ever needed was a chance to shine after showing rays of brilliance during pinch-hit and spot duty during games in 2007-2008.
 

And we know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon will do everything to get Zobrist’s bat into the Rays line-up, even considering batting Zobrist in the 3-slot to begin the 2010 season. This is Spring Training swap in line-up spots for Zobrist has shown great results, and might be the answer to provide RBI-opportunities with three straight Rays hitters who can get on base and mix power and speed effectively to get rival pitching staff into early inning troubles. MLB.com Fantasy Projections have Zobrist hitting .297 with 27 HR , 97 RBI and 17 stolen bases. But his key moves in 2010 might be his position flexibility to give the Rays options at Second Base and Rightfield throughout 2010 based on game day match-ups and possible late inning position shifts.
 

 
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What can you say about Evan Longoria. He has shown in his two season up with the Rays that he is not a fluke and can match-up power and plate discipline. And with the possibility of Maddon moving Longo into the “Clean-up” spot in 2010, the young stars legend might just grow a few more paragraphs before the end of 2010. Longoria won the 2009 Silver Slugger Award for Third Base in the American League, and barring an injury, should be able to reserve a spot on his fireplace mantel for another nice piece of hardware this Fall.
 

This might be the next step in the evolution of Longoria as Maddon will push more offensive pressure on the young player’s shoulders. But I have a feeling Longo will actually welcome the chance to produce and also be a key leadership component of this 2010 Rays squad. MLB.com Fantasy projections have Longoria posting a .281 Batting Average with 33 HR, 113 RBI and getting 72 walks during the season. If Longoria gets off to a solid and hot start, this might be the season he sees more walks, and could easily pass that 72 walk mark easily.
 

 

 
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Early this Spring I was worried about Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. After he had two of his fingers broken by a fastball pitch by New York Yankees starter C C Sabathia, there were early Spring concerns that Pena, who went over 21 plate appearances before finally getting back into the groove with a Home Run to start his 2010 Spring hitting regiment. But lost in the confusion was the fact he was hitting the ball solid during that time, but the new heavily padded batting gloves might have been more of a mental change and adjustment for Pena than a physical one.
 

With his fingers healed and ready to go, Pena has recently begun to show more selective plate selection and getting his average moving towards the Mendoza Line this Spring. But you can not discount the sheer power and ability of Pena in this line-up, and he has been working hard this Spring on pulling the ball more towards the Third Base-Shortstop hole to fight off the game day shift that some American League teams employ against him. But the MLB.com Fantasy projections have Pena hitting .227 with 39 HR ,100 RBI and 87 walks. But a key for Pena might be to show an avid decrease in strikeouts since he will be hitting in the 5-spot and might see more different pitch selections in 2010.
 
 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

I am actually thinking this sixth slot might be a possible second lead-off position for the Rays in 2010.
And who better than speedster B J Upton to be at the plate in this situation. In Spring Training 2010, Upton is showing he has fully recovered from his off season 2009 shoulder surgery, and his bat stroke has looked real clean at the plate. But some of that credit might also rub off on new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton who spent more than a few moments with Upton in the off season working on his front foot placement and swing follow through. The results are early success this Spring for Upton.

 

Upton might finally have that breakout season Rays fans have been waiting for in 2010. Upton has the ability to be one of the best Centerfielders in baseball, and with some additional pop in his bat, he could possibly meet his brother Justin in Anaheim for the 2010 All Star game. MLB.com projections have Upton hitting .241 with 11 HR and 55 RBI to go along with 42 stolen bases. Upton’s presence on base will also give pitching staff fits in 2010, and I actually see him hitting more like a .265 Batting Average with 16 HR and 70 RBI and posting 50 stolen bases. As you can see, I am expecting Upton to have a nice ” coming out” party in 2010.

 
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This is the one huge question mark to me right now. I want to believe in Pat Burrell’s just having an “off year” in 2010. I really do, but Burrell has to show more than just neck pain and inconsistent plate appearances, because “The Bat” has to perform this season, or be instantly labeled a flop with the Rays. Hopefully in 2010 Burrell can again live up to his moniker and provide some needed hitting from the 7th position in the Rays line-up. This season definitely needs to be a good season for Burrell to help provide some protection for Longoria and Pena, or pitchers will not fret knowing an anemic Burrell is in the On-Deck Circle.

 

But I see a vigor in Burrell this Spring. But he has still heard more than a few “Boo-birds” chirping this Spring, but his bat is showing more speed through the hitting zone, which hopefully projects into more hits or scoring chances for the Rays. MLB.com Fantasy projections have Burrell hitting only  for a .221 Batting Average with 14 HR, 66 RBI with a p[ossible “healthy” 412 plate appearances. But the key to 2o1o might be that Burrell excedds these conservative expectations and shows us his old 30-HR, 100RBI form we saw in Philadelphia for all those years with the Phillies. The Rays do not have much wiggle room to go out and seek a big bat if Burrell should falter at all, or if his neck injury come back to bite him again in 2010.


The eight spot in the Batting Order definitely be an “insert here” platoon situation depending on where Zobrist is situated on the field. Both Gabe Kapler and Matt Joyce have the offensive abilities to play every day in Rightfield, but they will be in a platoon situation with Zobrist depending on where skipper Maddon positions Zobrist that night.

 
 

 
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And then again, this spot could go to Rays newcomer Sean Rodriguez who was a main piece of the Scott Kazmir trade last July and has been on fire at the plate this Spring and might actually see extended time at Second Base if he gets off to a hot start at the plate in 2010. So with that possibly in the cards, let’s check out all three players projections for 2010. Kapler will definitely get spot starts against left-handers and also time as a late inning defensive replacement in 2010. Kapler no longer seems to have the power potential he had earlier in his MLB career, but MLB.com Fantasy projections have him getting at least 205 plate appearances while hitting .239 with 8 HR and 32 RBIs. Not a big power threat anymore, but a solid hitter who can also still run effectively on the base paths.
 

Matt Joyce might not even make the Rays roster straight out of Spring Training due to some extra time working on his conditioning because of a early Spring elbow ailment. But Maddon has shown extreme confidence in Joyce’s abilities, and he might be realistically destined for an early rehab or DL visit to begin the season. But projections have Joyce seeing limited duty in 2010 possibly as a fifth outfielder and his ability to rebound might take his stats off the charts in regards to early 2010 season projections.
 
 
Sean Rodriguez might make it difficult for Maddon to not use him as an every day Second Baseman or spot utility guy. He has come on like gangbusters this Spring and might have a solid chance to break camp as the penciled-in everyday Second Baseman. And even if Rays fans do not know his name, Rodriguez has built a solid MLB experience base over spot duties over the past two MLB seasons, and could propel his MLB.com Fantasy projections past the presets that show him hitting only .200 with a total of 25 plate appearances. It seems that most projection sites do not portray him as a starter right now, but Rodriguez is making people redefine their position with every Spring game.
 
 
 
And lastly, we have the two guys who will battle with each other in the Rays Catching corps, which is solid in experience, but definitely lacking in power and hitting consistency. And even though it was not so long ago (2008) that catcher Dioner Navarro was an AL All Star for the American League, it seems like so long ago after he fell from grace in 2009 with sub-par hitting and questionable moves behind the plate. So it was little wonder that the Rays traded minor league pitcher Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians this off season for veteran Catcher Kelly Shoppach.
 

 
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On paper it seems that Shoppach might have a slight advantage on game day preparations and ability to block balls in the dirt with more regularity than Navarro, but the starting job is not going to be easy as both have been told it might end with both being measured up for possible match-ups based on certain Rays rotation members in 2010. We might definitely see Shoppach being Matt Garza’s battery mate in 2010. But in MLB.com Fantasy projections, Shoppach get the early edge based on power showing a possible .214 Batting average with 12 HR , 40 RBI and you can bet a boatload of Hit By Pitches again in 2010.

 

But the same MLB.com Fantasy projections show Navarro having a slight edge in average( .218), but lacking the power element that Shoppach will bring to the Rays. And Navarro was given the early edge in plate appearances, where projections have him coming to the plate 376 times compared to Shoppach’s 271 appearances. But the main contribution factor might be who will get an early hot hand and show a firm foundation with the Rays pitching staff. Both players come with their own sidelines of good and bad abilities, but both can throw out runners and have a good knowledge of American League hitters.
 

 
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But do not be surprised if one of the Rays catchers is injured that the Rays do not quickly pull up minor league catcher Nevin Ashley from the system over minor league veteran John Jaso. Ashley has shown the abilities and stamina that Maddon likes to see in his catchers’ and could be in line to fight for a back-up catching slot in 2011.

 

The potential is there for this 2010 Rays team to produce and score runs again at another record pace, but the key will be the health of the Rays. Even one key member out of the top of the Rays line-up for an extended time might throw some of these MLB.com Fantasy projections right out the window.
 

But the stark reality is that this is the most talented and athletic Rays team to ever step onto Tropicana Field. And with that comes inherent dangers of severe injuries, and the possibilities of extended hitting slumps or offensive lapses. Most Rays Republic remember the awful start the Rays got off to during April 2009 (9-14), and the Rays were constantly playing “catch-up” while the rest of the American League East played out their season. But the unsuspecting hand injury to Pena in September took the Rays down a dark path and they quickly fell out of contention for the AL Wild Card. Each piece in this Rays line-up carries a extremely important piece to the entire Playoff puzzle in 2010. One piece missing could cost them dearly in 2010.
 

With New York and Boston not “reloading” as extensive this off season as they did in 2009, this division instead went ” defensive” and because of that, it might be closely contested into the final weeks of the season. For the Rays to uncork a bottle of bubbly again in 2010, the Rays will have to see a few of these projections shoot skyward and maybe even see Burrell or one of the Rays catchers’ catch fire early and spring the team onto some early success. Only a handful of days and nights before our MLB dreams become a new season of realities. Maddon key phrase for the year is “W.I.N.” which stands for “What’s Important Now”. For the 2010 Rays, it will be getting out of the gate fast and furious and taking no prisoners in their first month battling mostly divisional foes

 
 

MLB Scoots Rays off their Merchandising “A-List”

 
MISC2010 | www.RaysRenegade.com
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Well, you knew it had to end sometime. You knew that the romance between the Tampa Bay Rays and the hotshots that pop together the multimedia packages and Major League Baseball-endorsed product catalogs had to fall out of love with the Rays at some point and push them again down within the bowels of the MLB basement.

Even if it was only 2008 when the Rays seemed to come up and surprise everyone outside of the Tampa Bay area with their stealth brand of defensive plays mixed with a honest dose of unseen power could the MLB brass-heads at MLB Advanced Media decide to also join the Rays train and speed their presence all over the Internet with such fury.

 

But just as fast, since the Rays had an awful September that took them early out of the American League Wild Card race, you know the same talking heads who chatted up the Rays potential and obvious “underdog” mystic that would sell products became instant turncoats the minute the axe fell upon the Rays neck in 2009.
 

So it really did not surprise me at all that the MLB 2010 Spring catalog only had a handful of photos, and the only Rays mentioned uniform is of course, on the main Majestic page ( pages 14-15) in the center of the catalog. But I guess even having a few half dozen photos and Rays team-based items is better than what we experienced from MLB before 2007. And maybe I am pushing this issue a bit, but with all the positive word speak that has been thrown out over the last two seasons, you thought we were out-of-the MLB closet.
 

So maybe I am a bit bitter here, but then I also think we have gained enough respect to al least have a dozen entries in the catalog. Take for instance page 12-13 that feature the women’s section of MLB available clothing. There are 4 items listed on those pages showing American League East teams, but none from Tampa Bay, Toronto or Baltimore.

Heck, the first item you see in the top corner of page 12 is a pink and white striped New York Yankees top and panties set…. Wonder if they come in A-Rod’s size? Seriously, I guess I will just have to admit to myself that outside of Tampa Bay, and maybe even just on this West Coast of Florida, Tampa Bay gear sells. But what happened to those huge 2007 sales numbers, and those surprising 2008 sales profits that proclaimed the Rays one of the better MLB sold products in those years.

 

Were they just a Nationwide 2008 phase outside of our region? Could it really be that the rest of the MLB fan faithful caught a whiff of the 2008 Playoff fever, then departed the train just after the last out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series? I am beginning to think that was the thing all along. So maybe I am ranting and raving about nothing. Maybe I got spoiled by the adulation and the pomp thrust upon the Rays in 2008 and it lingers so long into 2009 I did not notice as people were pulling away from the Rays bandwagon.
 

And there are spots in the catalog where Rays gear shows a presence like in the Crystal Stacked Ring photo on page 20, or the fan personalized Rays round clock for $ 29.99 on page 22. Maybe it is that my own perception has become a bit off center and askew and I am expecting those fans to stay loyal. I am not trying to gain ground on the multitudes of Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs or Dodgers merchandise.
 

That would just be plain silly and ignorant. But I was hoping to see some nice play with the Teams new blue uniforms, or maybe something besides their new Batting Practice cap on Page 2 , but then again, the Rays cap is in the top position. But it is hard for me to sometime fathom how quickly you can slide against gravity up the MLB mountain in merchandise sales, then just as fast free fall towards oblivion again. But as people always tell me, “Baseball is business”, and in business you always lead with your hot hand.

So I guess the proverbial hot hand slapped me today with a huge dose of reality check time to my preconceived notions of the Rays overall national prominence. It probably will not be the first time this fact hit the Rays Republic in 2010, and I know it will not be the last I get a bit frustrated or irritated by the sheer focal absence of the Rays when MLB spin doctors speak about future merchandising programs and events.

 

Sigh, guess sometimes it takes a bit to get into some people’s thick heads that thing are not always as they appear. Well, at least a Rays player got some MLB love when Rays 2-time All Star Evan Longoria got his player coin card featured on page 18. So maybe there is some closet love for certain aspects of this team, and I guess I am going to have to adjust my priorities and accept it for now…..maybe.
 

But at least I can say the Rays have gotten more MLB love this Spring than the Colorado Rockies, who propelled themselves into the 2009 National League Playoffs, and only got one photo of any of their Team logo merchandise in the main center page spread by Majestic. Guess some love is better than none.

Rays Friday Nights offer T-shirts,Fireworks and Fun

 

April2009 | www.RaysRenegade.com
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In the last few years the Rays have slowly made their weekend series a fun time to attend Rays games. They have made every Sunday afternoon contest a “St. Petersburg Times Family Fun Day” where a family of four can get a reduced price on their seats, Rays food, and also treat their kids to an increasing number of kid-related events prior to the game along Leftfield and Rightfield Streets, or watching their kids running the bases after the Rays game. The Rays have succeeded in making Sunday a “red-letter” Rays family day destination where everyone in the family can come and enjoy the game, plus take in all the Rays entertainment options.

Then the Rays widened their eyesight towards increasing their Saturday night game crowds by bringing in popular musical acts to perform post-game, and these “Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series” events became an instant hit with baseball and music lovers. And even with first 5 of 10 bands coming to Tropicana Field including acts like Hall and Oates, ZZ Top, Nelly, The Go-Go’s, John Fogerty the events will again pack the stadium to the rafters during Rays weekend game series that used to zap Rays attendance figures.

 
But there was still one sore spot exposed in the Rays weekend formula to get Rays fans to include the team in their weekend entertainment plans. They had made great changes with their Saturday and Sunday game events, but missing off the list was starting the weekend off on Friday night with a bang. And in 2010, the Rays have revamped their Friday night Rays game experience by adding promotions during every Friday night home game in hopes of enticing more Rays border line fans to spend their Friday nights watching more than just a baseball game.

Some of us already know about the indoor fireworks display that will explode among the backdrop of the off-white Teflon dome starting 5 minutes after the final out of every Rays Friday night game. But there are more things that will be offered to show that the Rays organization appreciate their loyal and new Rays fans, and will try and expand your total Rays experience this season. But the firework show will only be one of the visual elements the Rays will be trying to use to enticing more Rays fans to attends more games in 2010.

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By offering a exciting alternative to the usual Friday night activities of going to the movies, or outdoor events and the occasional rainy Friday nights, the Rays will also offer their fans 13 different Rays collectable T-shirts before every Rays Friday night game. And the Rays will get into the “giving” rhythm fast with their first T-shirt promoting the Rays new blue alternative jersey T-shirt during their first Home Series of the season on April 9th when the first 10,000 Rays fans wearing Rays gear, will be rewarded prior to the Rays first weekend series against their divisional rivals, the New York Yankees.

 
And the Rays decided to also reward another segment of their Rays Republic fan base that has felt neglected at times in T-shirt offering by rewarding their Rays female fans with their first female cut T-shirt given out prior to the April 23rd game against the Toronto Blue Jays. That’s right ladies, the Rays will include 3 different T-shirts with a female cut (1-white,1-navy blue,1-Rays blue) during their Friday night games in 2010. Another female-related T-shirt will be given out prior to the June 25th game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and August 13th against the Baltimore Orioles.
 
With women’s cut of MLB team gear beginning to gain more and more attention around the Major Leagues, the Rays organization instantly committed to show another loyal segment of Rays fan base that they are also a huge part of the ever increasing membership of the Rays Republic. And one of the Rays female inspired T-shirts will feature a white T-shirt with “I (Heart) Longo” message imprinted on it, which surely will be a sought after prize for young and old fans of the Rays All Star and single Third Baseman.
 
And the primary colors of the T-shirts will be the new Rays blue shade that will also grace the team’s alternative jersey and worn by the squad during every Sunday game in 2010. Other date where the Rays will distributed exclusive T-shirt collectibles to their first 10,000 fans will be:
 
April 30th against the Kansas City Royals
May 14th against the Seattle Mariners
May 28th against the Chicago White Sox
June 11th against the Florida Marlins
July 9th against the Cleveland Indians
July 30th against the New York Yankees
August 27th against the Boston Red Sox
September 17th against the Los Angeles Angels
September 24th against the Seattle Mariners

The Rays will also have more than a few player specific T-shirts featuring some of your favorite Rays star players, plus a special edition ,very modern styled black T-shirt designed by Rays Opening Day starting pitcher, James Shields that will offer a interesting one-of-a-kind design. Most Rays fans have seen for themselves during Shield’s outside the ballpark appearances that he is a huge fan of the fashionable black T-shirt, and produced his version in coordination with the Rays that will pop with style and have everyday fashion in mind.
 

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The James Shields inspired T-shirt will surely be a instant hit among the young Rays fans who attend any of the schools within the Tampa Bay area, and anyone of any age will love sporting this great personally inspired T-shirt while they are out and about before, during and after Rays games. And those fans who bring their cowbells to the Trop every game have not been forgotten and should be happy as the Rays will also give out an exclusive “More Cowbell” T-shirt during their Friday night T-shirt giveaways.

The cowbell has become a necessary element while attending a Rays game, and the team wanted to show their appreciation to those loyal fans who strike Latin Percussion cowbells, or the Rays-issued smaller versions over the last few years.

But there will be other things besides T-shirts and fireworks to get Rays fans to come on out to the ballpark on Friday nights. The team is hoping to evoke a “ballpark-meets nightclub” vibe with appearances by local bands and DJ’s performing after Rays games hoping Rays fans might stay after the game making Friday nights with the Rays, a great new Friday night alternative destination. And the Brewhouse situated in Centerfield Street will again be offering post-game drink specials along with a “live” presentation of the Rays Post-Game Show with Rays Radio Network Host Rich Herrera inside the Brewhouse after every Rays game.
 
The Rays have begun to show their cards to become a more casual Friday night entertainment destination for Rays fans. The Rays have shown extreme success with their Saturday and Sunday promotions, and now will tackle the elusive Friday night crowd hoping they will consider baseball, fireworks and free giveaways as a viable option. But with offering entertainment both on and off the field, the Rays are headed in the right direction.

With the Tampa Bay sports dollar getting thinner with the local economic pressures, the Rays hope that their offering to the Rays Republic will show that they understand, and want to give you the most for your hard earned dollars in 2010. With a great Rays product on the field and the extra curricular activities before and after games, the Rays have made the right moves to make their Friday night Rays games an instant red letter date circled on a lot of home calendars all around Tampa Bay. I know I will be there…Will you?

I Thought Ruggiano’s Deserved a Longer Look

 

 
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The Tampa Bay Rays have begun their yearly ritual of slicing off some of the players today who might not make their 25-man roster to give players a chance to either get a chance with another team before the beginning of the 2010 MLB season, or hitch a ride in the Rays minor league carousel. Most of the names did not surprise me, or even have a legitimate chance to make the Rays roster, but there is one name I thought might get a longer tenure in the Major League camp.
 

Justin Ruggiano has always been a great player for the Rays each time they have decided to bring him up either short-term because of injuries, or during their Spring Training camps before finally sending him to their Triple-A affiliate as a right-handed insurance policy. Considering he was hitting .447 with 11 RBIs this Spring, I really hoped the Rays would consider him longer on the Spring roster with the question marks still over the heads of outfielders Matt Joyce, and another unimpressive Spring from fellow right-hander Gabe Kapler.
 

And a few of us long time Rays Republic members might remember some of Ruggiano’s past events while at the Major League level and wonder what, besides a logjam at outfielders, is keeping this guy down on the farm. Sure he let a ball fall in front of him during a game that cost the Rays a run, but he also did a full face-plant into the Leftfield padding catching a screaming line drive in 2008. And I have heard more than a few people say does he have the stats to be a Major League everyday player, but then I point people to Kapler’s same decline in stats and get the reply that “Kapler has paid his dues”.
 

And I hate that cliché’ when people throw that out at you. If you do not get a chance to build a foundation, how do you pay your “dues”? Sure Ruggiano got his first taste at this level in 2007 when he came up and appeared in 7 games in 2007 and went 3-14, but he did make enough of a impression that he lasted long into the 2008 Spring Training season with the Major League camp roster even with a dismal .176 Batting Average .
 

 

But I seriously thought the Rays organization might take a long and hard look at Ruggiano this year and find a way to keep him up here with the question marks I think are still lingering in Rightfield. Sure we have one portion of the platoon system firmly implanted in capable glove of Ben Zobrist, but still there is the inability of Kapler to give us that one firm reason to keep him besides a great mentoring process and clubhouse presence. And sure both of those qualities are monumental to helping build and maintaining team character, but with Kapler batting .136 this Spring…The Rays do have a viable option to Kapler in house right now.

 

But I also see the influx of the Rays farm system about to gobble up Ruggiano as more players get that chance to position themselves also for a shot with the big club. And here was a guy who was up with the Rays Spring team leaders in games played to this point who now will move his belongs over to the minor league clubhouse and begin his Triple-A 2010 experience. And how many Rays fans know he was the Durham Bulls Player of the Year in 2007 while hitting .309 with 20 HR 73 RBI and 26 stolen bases.
 

But then again, Ruggiano has always been a bit of a unknown except to some of us who watch Rays Spring and late season baseball. Who also remembers that he was the player-to-be-named-later from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the June 26,2006 trade that sent pitcher Mark Hendrickson and catcher Toby Hall and netted the Rays Dioner Navarro and pitcher Jae Seo along with Ruggiano. He is widely popular in Durham as he does play the “Rays Way” both on and off the field and is a fan favorite up at Durham Athletic Park.
 

But with his surge this Spring taking over the minor league player to watch role that former Rays minor league outfielder Jon Weber held onto for several Spring, I thought he might have finally broken through and showed the Rays they can take a chance on him. But instead, the Rays purged him from their Major League camp and he must rejoin his Durham Bulls Triple-A Champion teammates to begin the 2010 season.

 
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And time is really clicking away for Ruggiano to show his stuff at the Major League level, and it has nothing to do with ability. But maybe his 2008 Rays campaign left doubt into his abilities to suffice at this level. A .197 Batting Average over 45 games of spot duty can bring up many dark clouds as to your abilities, and future projections.

 

With the Rays logjam at the minor league level with players developing who can play any of the outfield positions in Tropicana Field, this might be his last season to make an impact and show to the Rays or other teams he can succeed at this level, like Kapler for a long time. Right now players like Fernando Perez and even Desmond Jennings are getting the headlines and interviews instead of Ruggiano. Because of the hype concerning Jennings and the on and off again injury situations concerning Perez, the spotlight has always been a bit dim on Ruggiano.

But he is ready and able to perform, sweat and even bleed if necessary to help this Rays team in 2010. It is a shame we do not see a possibility of extracting Kapler and inserting Ruggiano into the right-handed portion of the Rightfield mix. He has the base stealing ability and the glove work to exceed Kapler, and could certainly hit better than Kapler’s 2009 .239 average with 8 HR,32 RBI and 5 steals. But then again, maybe his MLB past has haunted him, but then again how can he dispel those darkening clouds when Ruggiano is not given a chance to show his own Rays of light can also shine bright.

The Three Wise Men….The Rays Trainers’

 
Mike Carlson/AP

All throughout my athletic career I always saw this one piece of the total puzzle as a necessary evil. That even if we did not want to suffice to injury or to pain, I knew that the team’s Medical Staff and Trainer’s sole mission was to keep us healthy or get us ready to again take the field as soon as possible.

And within time, I began to see them not as evil, but as a saving grace to my career and others on the team for their dedication and their determination to do whatever was needed to make the team whole and strong again.

 
And right now, some members of the Rays Republic are beginning to see the small grip that early Spring injuries have had on this Tampa Bay Rays squad over the last three weeks, but most have forgotten about the trio of men working behind the scenes to mend, strengthen and solidify this team again before the April 6th Home Opener to the Major League Baseball 2010 season.
 

Most people are beginning to dwell and concentrate their attentions on the reports spilling out onto the Internet that gaze upon the Rays players names that have been taken off the daily line-up cards without seeing the total picture here right now. They forget that this is the time in the Spring Training season where the “dead arms” begin to multiple, and the players bodies are racked with aches and strains of sweating bullets for the last three weeks.

Some Rays players are hitting the baseball equivalency of a marathoner’s wall, where even the slightest pull or strain could develop into a more severe episode if not for the Rays trio.

 

And most people do not even know their names, but they know their faces because every time a player is hurt on the field, or is taken from the game with a injury, they are right there in the photo with the Rays player usually helping them or stabilizing a body part hoping that their small action will minimize the consequences of the injury and speed the player’s recovery even before they both reach the Home Team or Visitor’s dugout.

Some of the most unsung heroes on this Rays squad is the trio of professionals that make up the Rays Medical Staff. So today, I want to take a moment to introduce you to the main three figures within the Rays Medical staff that treat, diagnose and prevent the breakdown of our favorite team on a daily basis. And this includes everything from the pre-game taping of ankles, wrists and even hamstrings, to post game visits by player’s feeling a tightening or tweak of their muscles during the contests.

There collective job’s starts way before the first pitch is thrown during Batting Practice, and they days ins well into the early morning on game nights.

 

 
Mike Carlson/AP

Most people know Ron Porterfield more by his smile or his occasion visits out to the field to throw with a rehabbing player before the game, usually during B.P. And this move by Porterfield might seem foreign to most, but by observing the player in their throwing motion, he can see any deviation or hesitation personally and make his moves accordingly. And Porterfield has been doing this for some time for the Rays.

 

In 2010, Porterfield will be entering his 15th season with the Rays, and his fifth straight as the main guy on the Rays Medical Staff. And before his time at the top spot, Porterfield, was the Rays Assistant Head Trainer for three seasons after getting his stripes as the Rays minor league medical and rehabilitation coordinator. And during that time he has been a great ally to the Rays players, both past and present pertaining to both on and off the field medical situations.
 

Most people might not know the untold hours and endless research Porterfield did concerning Rocco Baldelli’s 2007 ailment, and his constant attention to finding relief and treatments that would enable Baldelli to again take the field with the Rays. And you would only expect such dedication and commitment from the 2008 recipient of the prestigious American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) Career Service Award. The honor “recognizes individuals who have provided a career of exemplary care to baseball players.” I think the Institute definitely got that one right!
 
 
And the New Mexico State University graduate did not just walk into the Rays position, he also had many years of working his way up the minor league ladder beginning in 1988 with the Auburn Astros of the short season NewYork-Penn League. Porterfield also spent time with the Astro’s Triple-A affiliate in Tucson, Arizona before finally arriving with the young Rays Medical Staff. But most people might know Porterfield by his ear-to-ear smile every day at the ballpark, and his excitement that seems to beam on his face when he hit’s the field before Rays games.
 

 
Bob Hansen/TBO.com

The second Member of the Rays Medical Team recently got his photo in the news wire photos as the Rays were carting Rays catcher Dioner Navarro off the field after he suffered a massive cut and possible nerve injury on a Home Plate collision with Twins speedster Jacques Jones. Paul Harker usually looks pretty serious when you see him before, during and after games, but the rugged Rays Assistant Trainer is entering his fifth season in that position after leaving his post as the Rays minor league medical and rehabilitation coordinator after three prior seasons.

 

And Harker was involved in the Rays minor league system for over 11 seasons before rising to his post with the Major League staff. And before the Rays, Harker was a trainer with the Seattle Mariners in their minor league system at Hampton, Virginia (1991-1992), Jacksonville, Florida ( 1993-1994) and Wilmington, North Carolina (1995-1996). And like Porterfield, Harker has paid his dues to get to this level in his career.
 

The last member of this triad also got some attention recently as Rays starter David Price was nicked by the barrel end of a maple bat during a recent game and Nick Paparesta was prominently featured in photos throughout the country holding onto Price’s wrist as they both exited the field. Paparesta is entering his third season with the Rays as an Assistant Head Trainer, but he has been with the Rays organization now for five seasons.
 

 
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Paparesta can usually been seen sitting down by the Rays Bullpen benches during Batting Practice watching the actions of Rays players on the field. He spent his first two seasons in the Rays organization as the minor league medical and rehabilitation coordinator and was responsible for overseeing all minor league trainers and rehabilitation with minor league players as well as assisting with the Major League club’s rehabilitation schedule.

 

Paparesta, a Florida native from neighboring city Fort Myers, got his Major League Baseball start in the Cleveland Indians organization for 11 years, including four with their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, New York. Paparesta has dual certifications as an Athletic Trainer from the National Athletic Trainer’ Association (NATA) and also certification by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a strength and conditioning trainer.
 

These three members of the Rays Medical staff are the front line responders to actions and reaction that take part in front of our eyes, and within the dugout on a daily basis for the Rays. Their fast actions and adherence to policies and team procedures pertaining to the health and well being of every member of the Rays staff both during the regular season and this Spring will have a direct impact on the Rays this season.

The prognosis and diagnosis by each member of this Rays staff is critical to supporting the Rays objectives and ultimate goals for 2010.  By keeping the Rays players on the field by mending their wounds and bandaging their limbs and applying ointments and medications to the Rays players when needed, they are the first line of defense to keeping this Rays team securely on the field and providing the team with a fighting chance to again rise towards a possible 2010 Playoff berth.

 
Lynn Sladsky/ AP

They all work their magic behind the watchful eyes of the Rays Republic to secure the Rays player’s health and generally are only seen when something bad or preplexing has happened on the field, or if called out to provide a second opinion into a player’s injury and offer guidance as to if a Rays player should remain on the field, or taken off the field for further evaluations.

 
They are just another part of this Rays organization that is on top of their game daily, and because of that, this Rays team is constantly getting the best care and solutions to keep the Ray team solid and cohesive during the Major League Baseball season.

So next time you see one of them hanging out at the ballpark, be sure to thank them for their services, and maybe ask how they are doing. For if it wasn’t for these three gentlemen and their commitment to this team, the Ray current injury situations could have been much worse, and resemble the shambles that is the New York Met’s Medical Staff right now.

 

Rays Pitching still has Question Marks

 
 
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The only thing right now keeping Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Wade Davis as a question mark entering the final weeks of the Spring is Davis himself. Davis could have made some movement towards silencing his critics, and possibly securing his fifth spot in the rotation with a good outing, but instead Davis stubbed his toes. And that lackluster outing has added fuel to the fire that Davis might not be with the Rays on April 6th for the Home Opener and might be headed down to Durham for a month or so to regroup.

 

And before his last outing, the idea of the Rays sending Davis down to stop his Major League service clock seemed to be the only logical reason to ship Davis back to the minors until at least the middle of May and sticking with Mr “Plug In”, Andy Sonnanstine on the Rays roster. The versatility of Sonnanstine right now might lay heavily on their upcoming fifth rotation decision as Sonnanstine could effectively switch from Bullpen or staring positions as needed until either Davis or J P Howell are again shown to be a positive move for the club.
 

And it was only last Spring that Davis also took himself out of the thought process for the battle for the Rays fifth spot in the rotation in 2009 with another similar bad outing at the wrong time. But this year, after a great late season campaign up starting games for the Rays, it seems that Davis had his future with the Rays in 2010 firmly in his pitching hands. And with Sonnanstine not flinching at all, but showing his resourceful nature and rebounding effectively from a bad 2009, it seems that the Rays could, should and might send Davis back for a month to push his service clock back a season.
 

And this move is totally reminiscent of the way the Rays pushed Third Base prospect Evan Longoria back to Durham in 2008 for a small period of time before Longoria was then brought up weeks later due to an injury to Willy Aybar. But with the Rays recent injury bug there is speculation that both could make the Rays roster without incident this Spring and push away the competition for the fifth spot. Which poses a few questions to me. If both starters make the roster, with one pitcher doing spot duty as a long reliever, will that reorganize the overall chemistry and roles of the Rays Bullpen, with the exceptions being closer Rafael Soriano and Dan Wheeler?
 

And if Sonnanstine is given the additional slot on the Rays 25-man roster, does that mean that Joaquin Benoit doesn’t have a realistic chance to make the Rays roster? There have been moments where Benoit has looked like his former Rangers heydays, and others where he has looked like he is still seeking the answers. But Benoit has done exactly what the Rays have asked of him, and is currently tied with several relievers in total game appearances this Spring, plus Benoit has looked extremely good over the last week. Could Benoit be peaking at the right moment to get in the mindset of the Rays Coaches as the clock winds down this Spring?
 

And with Howell out for at least a month, could fellow lefties Heath Phillips or even Carlos Hernandez get a chance again at the Major League level to occupy Howell’s spot in the Rays Bullpen, then bring about some major decisions by the Rays when Howell returns. Or could the Rays take their chances and try to sneak either pitcher through waivers and back to the minors upon Howell’s return?
 

Howell’s injury brings up the new thought of both Davis and Sonnanstine staying up with the big club, but could the move compromise the Rays Bullpen’s overall integrity a bit. With Sonnanstine joining the motley crew, could the move force former long reliever Lance Cormier into Howell’s old role on the short term, or do the Rays hope that Benoit can assume Howell’s role of facing hitters from both sides of the plate, and leave Cormier to mostly specialized rightie roles, or as a second possible long reliever?
 

 
Gail Burton/AP

But then there is another Bullpen question that some people have been mumbling about since late in 2009. Could Rays reliever Grant Balfour be a problem or could he be hiding something? Balfour has been decreasing his overall pitch velocity and looking pretty vulnerable to hitters over the last several months of 2009. Could he just of had a weak arm also towards the end of 2009 from his overuse in 2008 and 2009, or could he just have run out of tricks and the hitters are wise to him now? And again this Spring, Balfour has not had the best Spring again here in 2010 showing either he is a slow starter, or maybe the 2008 season’s magic might have finally left his fingers.

 

There are still many pitching questions left to be answered, but the Rays have said that a definite decision on their 2010 rotation will be coming soon. One highly probable suggestion is to flip-flop current the 3 and 4 starters Jeff Neimann and David Price to break up the right-handed heavy Rays front of the rotation. Something that was unique for the Rays in 2009 was their addition of the second leftie when Price finally joined the Rays mid-season rotation so the Rays could break up the righty-lefty batting order match-ups during every series, but with Scott Kazmir now gone, only David Price remains in the Rays rotation.

The move would effectively eliminate a lefty dominant line-up for an entire Rays opponent’s series, and break up any chance of another teams getting into a hitting rhythm against the Rays by possibly facing three right-handers in a row. Big decisions, hard decisions. But then again, that is why the Rays brass get paid the big money.

 

My personal hopes are that the team uses Benoit effectively in the Rays Bullpen to begin the season, with Sonnanstine as the fifth starter for about a month. That would give Benoit a chance to show he still has the stuff to compete at the Major League level. When Benoit is on the ball, he is simply magical on the mound. And this move could also effectively buy the Rays an added year of Davis’s services, plus give the team more time to showcase Sonnanstine’s talents if they decide they might want to seek a trade, or they could simply send Sonnanstine back to the minors as a insurance policy against further pitching injuries.
 

Whatever the Rays decide, the team has to effectively decide what the roles Rays player’s like Benoit, Cormier and leftie Randy Choate will perform before they can streamline their thought process and make an adequate and concise decision. This might be the final season the Rays have this much offensive firepower for awhile, so the team needs to make the right adjustments and the right moves to counter that offense with a great pitching staff and effective Bullpen in 2010.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays Manager Joe Maddon is famous for using the quote, ” Starting pitching sets the tone of the game.” If the team doesn’t find the right solutions to shore up their back-end of the rotation, it will just fester into a situation every 5 days for the Rays. Davis and Sonnastine have to provide that comfort and confidence level over the next few days for the Rays to begin their final decision process. But with a swift decision, it also sets up the Rays pitchers to get into a rhythm now, even before the season begins and adjust accordingly to their rotation slots.

The Rays had a few setbacks recently on their pitching front, with Howell going down this weekend and question marks still surrounding several Bullpen 2010 roles and abilities. But in the end, the Rays have to do what is right for the team to fulfill their quest to again play deep into October. With both sides of the ball clicking for the Rays, the sky could be the limit in 2010, but quickly even that scenario can falter if an injury bug decides to hit the team, or a starter falters early….but then again, that is why we play 162 games before crowning a Division Champion.

The “Dude” Put on the Shelf Until May

 

Rays 2010 photo day | www.RaysRenegade.com
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Dude, Got to tell you this recent news is really killing the positive Rays aura of a great Friday night beat down here in Port Charlotte of the New York Yankees split squad. And it was made special by the Rays committing to doing the little things tonight as the Rays produced runs little by little to take the Rays to their Major League Baseball leading 12th win of the Spring.
 

But the news that really threw my karma karma chameleon into a blender was the sound bytes heard from field level that Rays reliever J P Howell could possibly missing almost a month of the 2010 season due to some shoulder weakness. It really bummed me out totally for the game and had me sneaking around looking for answers than watching the game in progress in front of me. And I did find some answers, but they are not the one I wanted to hear….Bummer man.
 

So here I am sitting in a small wings and things joint just a mile from Charlotte Sport Park and more than a few fellow Rays fans have also expressed some worry and concern and a bit of frustration that “the Dude” will be delayed in his smiling flight nightly out to the Rays Bullpen. But considering all the innings (66.2 innings) and appearances (69), not including Howell’s Bullpen stint with the USA squad during last season’s World Baseball Classic.
 

In reality, only fellow Rays reliever Dan Wheeler has put in almost as much innings (124.0 innings) and appearances (139) than Howell’s last two years ( 156.0 innings) and appearances (133) that easily shows that the “Dude” has put in some vicious overtime in during the last two Rays seasons. And in reality, even with his increase in appearances, he did decrease his total innings by almost 23 innings in 2009.
 

But Wheeler has been a reliever for most of his MLB career, and was just one appearance shy of making his fifth straight 70 game appearance seasonal mark. Wheeler was trained to be a reliever for the last 9 seasons. The last time Wheeler even started more than 1 game a season was in 1999 when he was originally with the Rays.

April2009 | www.RaysRenegade.com
Chris O’Meara/ AP

Howell came from the Rays starter ranks not even two seasons ago, and maxed out himself in 2008 both during the season, and hitting the mound sick in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series. The “Dude” is a gamer people who doesn’t let minor obstacles get in his way, but this one situation got him firmly by the shoulder’s and let him know…

something is wrong. When the Rays first opened camp this Spring, I was down in Port Charlotte and saw the now dark-haired Howell throwing on that first day, but something caught my eye. Sure he might have been throwing softly like most of the Rays pitchers’ that first workout, but the arm angle looked a bit…well, off to me. I didn’t think much of it being the first workout and expecting some of the guys to just toss it lightly and get back in the flow within the next week.

But the second time I was down in Port Charlotte, Howell also had stepped it up a bit, but it did not seem right to me. I had watch him throw in the Rightfield corner over the last two season’s worth of Sundays, and something did not seem right. But then again, the whole time Howell has been with the Rays, he has not been known to blow away a radar gun with his pitches.

 

So when the Rays announced prior to the end of tonight’s game that the team would discuss further the possibilities of maybe delaying his Spring debut, it did not throw shockwaves through me, but I felt more of an air of caution by the team with the announcement. And you know that Howell is the perfect Rays “company man” for the Rays.

If Rays Manager Joe Maddon or Pitching Coach Jim Hickey told Howell to go out onto the mound and do the “Hokey Pokey” before he pitched, Howell would because the “Dude” is a total team type of guy.

 

And maybe this weekend was suppose to be Howell’s time to show everyone that his 2009 late season shutdown was just to let him chill a bit and regain some of that snap to his curveball again in 2010. I heard prior to the game tonight from a Rays player revealing to me that “Howell was not in uniform tonight, and might not be this weekend at all.” That revelation in itself told me something was wrong, so I went looking for Rays Medical Guru Ron Porterfield. Instead of finding Porterfield, I stumbled upon some interesting information.
 

Spring Training 2009 | www.RaysRenegade.com
Pat Manfredo/ Rays fan

It seemed that Howell when he first reported to the Rays this Spring showed some weakness early in strength and endurance testing and that the team decided to take a slow path and let him gain the necessary shoulder muscle and strength back before advancing in his workout program. Also Howell could tell something was off, but could not put a finger on the situation at the time. And Howell has since been examined by Dr Koko Eaton, the Rays orthopedic specialist, but I could not get a confirmation on his consult.

 

But I think the Rays are being smart here. Why ruin a perfectly good left-hander so early in the process when you could shut him down and get him healthy through rehabbing and specialized workouts to bring him back within 4 weeks or possibly before May 1,2010. Howell is valuable as a reliever who can face both left and right-handed hitter with success, and to rush him back to the team could jeopardize more than just Howell overall health, it could put a huge crimp in the Rays overall seasonal plans for the Rays Bullpen.
 
 
So for a bit the “Dude” will just chill and follow doctors orders before maybe starting a minor league rehab assignment in the middle of April with the Rays throwing out a possible Saturday, May 1st target date for his 2010 debut. That would work out to be during a Rays home stand where both Oakland and Kansas City will come to town before the Rays leave on a West Coast 10-game road trip against Seattle, Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels.

Howell is a valuable and rare relieving commodity to the Rays, and losing him for a possible 30-plus day stint could be tricky, but it is not impossible. Both with only current leftie specialist Randy Choate as the only other left-hander in the Bullpen, could this open the door for pitcher Carlos Hernandez or maybe Heath Phillips getting a longer Rays look past Spring Training as left-handed insurance policies?

 

We still have time to decide this, but the Rays have worked with only one leftie before in their Bullpen, but that was former Ray Trever Miller. And it is a bit of bummer that some are questioning that Howell’s off season workout program might be to blame for this ailment. Considering the guy got married this off season and went to Bora Bora, hopefully rowing in that canoe did not do damage to his shoulder.
 
 
Seriously, this put a damper in the relieving corps, but it is not unfixable since there is still time, and the Rays have viable options in-house to counter the injury. The good thing is the Rays did not greet Howell with a plane ticket to Birmingham, Alabama to see Dr James Andrew. That in itself should be Rays fans stoked that the “Dude” will be back soon pointing to fans and just chilling on the Rays Bullpen bench…Catch ya later Dudes!

Richard Marx, Great Singer and a Lover of Baseball



As most people have ventured since the first time I wrote on this blog, I have a few well defined “loves” that I hold near and dear to my heart. Most of you already know my number one love with a bullet is my love for the game of baseball, and my dedication to my hometown Tampa Bay Rays.

And my secondary love interest that seems to flow endlessly among the notes and drumbeats that fill our ears might have became more apparent with the multiple blog postings of the Rays own acts that have graced the stage during their Hess Express/Rays Saturday Concert Series photo and commentary blogs over the last several years.

 

But there is another hidden part of my life that only a small community of people who have known me since my first days of High School have seen up close and personal. They are my longtime friends who have known my deep rooted passion to music and that singing is one of those hidden talents that only that select lounge full of people have ever experienced firsthand.

And maybe my everlasting love of the crescendo of the musical notes and thunderous drum beats have been made more than obvious by my photo blogs and commentary after every Rays Concert series act over the last few years.

 

Well, that is unless you live in St. Petersburg, Florida and go to some of the places I frequent after Rays games, then you would know I love to get up there and belt out a song or two before finally retiring to the house to rest up for the next day’s game. But one of my early musical influences is coming to Clearwater tonight for his first ever acoustic music set in the beautiful Capitol Theatre.
 
And the Capitol Theatre is the perfect venue acoustically for this musical troubadour as the interior of this classic old style musical theatre sets both a romantic tone as the venue is set among the revitalized older downtown core of this gulf-side community, and breathtaking to the eyes.


MISC2010 | www.RaysRenegade.com 

 

But then I might also surprise some of you that this singer also shares a same passion as each and every one of us, for this singer, songwriter’s second love is also our first passion. That’s right, world renown ballad singer Richard Marx is a bona fide Major League Baseball fanatic ever since his young days growing up in Chicago, Illinois.
 

But I am sorry Southside of Chicago fans, this singer of classic soft rock music classics like “Hold Onto The Nights”, “Hazard” , “Right Here Waiting” and “Now and Forever” that still today make all of us remember lost romance and new found love is a huge Chicago Cubs fan deep in his heart.

And he made that love more than apparent in the video for “Take This Heart” where Marx is brought up as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs of the Game 7 of a World Series against Baseball Hall of Fame member Dennis Eckersley.

 

The video was filmed in Oakland’s own home stadium in 1992 and features baseball players Greg Maddux, Dan Howitt, Eckersley, Jose Canseco, fellow Hall of Fame member Rickey Henderson, and an old Tampa Bay friend of mine A’s catcher Scott Hemond.

Got to say I love the way the video drew out the game storyline throughout the song with Marx falling behind Eck with an 0-2 count before connecting on a well hit hitting a long fly ball that sneaking past Howitt’s outstretched glove into the left-centerfield stands for a Home Run.

 

But in a nice touch, Marx is immediately woken up by one of his fellow band mates and it is all a dream. But as you see Marx looking into the camera you hear Brewer’s announcing legend Bob Uecker barreling out the line “The Cubs have won the World Series”. It is one of my favorite baseball videos more for the moment we all dream about as kid’s to one day be in that same position and to come through with a blast to win the World Series.

And in 1992, I did get out to Oakland, but it was right after Marx and his band were finished with their video takes, and retakes for that “Take This Heart” video. So I am looking forward to shaking his hand and getting his autograph like I wanted to do way back in 1992. For those who have heard me sing know I have an affluence for ballads, and Marx produced some of the best in the 1990’s and beyond.

But here is a side note most people do not know about this great artist. He was actually heard on a demo cassette tape by Lionel Richie and brought the then 18-year old Marx out to Los Angeles to record back-up singing tracks on a few of Richie’s earliest albums.

 

Marx then was referred to Kenny Rogers as an great back-up addition and one day Marx overheard the recording techs discussing with Rogers that they were one cut short of finishing the album. That night Marx went home and produced a song and played it for Rogers the next day. The song was “Crazy” and it ended up being a Country number one song. Not bad for your first entry into the songwriting business to be a Gram Slam.
 

But I am glad Marx took his music path to stardom instead of concentrating on his second love of baseball. For I am looking forward to hearing his music and some of the stories behind his music tonight in that acoustic setting that is brings the audience closer to his awesome music.

Marx never did another Baseball-themed video, but then once you do one where you bat in the bottom of the 9th inning against a closer legend and get a pinch-hit Home Run to win the Cubs the World Series……There is no place to go but down after such a dream sequence, and I do not see Marx heading that route anytime soon.

 
 
 
 

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