March 2010

Rays Finally Sporting Green Again on St. Patrick’s Day

 

 
                    MISC2010 | www.RaysRenegade.com

I love this day. On St. Patrick’s Day everyone among the entire baseball rank and file is of Irish decent for at least 24 hours. And along with the Rays, every other Major League Baseball team seems to embrace this day with zeal and enthusiasm along with a fine bit of the green somewhere upon their uniforms.
 
But for some odd reason, since the Tampa Bay Rays changed their basic game day Batting Practice jersey tops and overall team color scheme away from the Forest Green shade in November 2007, the team had not played a single game on March 17th. That’s right, for two straight Grapefruit seasons the normally blue-hued Rays have had this ultimate green day off for the last two Spring Training seasons.

And it is really wild that a team that used to boast on their backs everyday Forest Green uniforms throughout their Spring Training schedule from 2001-2007, lost their way on this day of consuming corned beef and cabbage and a few adult malted beverages.
 

Ever since the Rays public presentation in St. Petersburg’s Straub Park in November 2007, when the Rays revealed to the Rays Republic their new trend to dismantle the past Rays green and become a new with the Rays blue, we have been absent from the Grapefruit schedule on this one date.
 

But alas ( I always wanted to say that ) with a new decade sprung upon us, hopefully a new Rays tradition has blossomed as I foretold to the Rays Republic 10 days ago on Twitter, about the anticipated Rays headgear for this glorious day. For on that great day, Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland confirmed the wee scuttlebutt I had heard from Irish lad in the Rays Front Office that the Rays would embrace the green again this fine date.
 

 
www.TBO.com

And the tradition would return again in the glorious addition of a Rays Kelly Green cap with a white shamrock upon it nestled just to the bottom left of the Rays “TB” symbol on their cap.

 

And the Luck of the Rays on this fine day in 2010 would be better than the last time the Rays adorned the green back in 2007 when the last Green clad Rays squad lost 5-3 to the Cleveland Indians at Progress Energy Field . On that day, fine Irish names ( at least for 1 day) like Casey Fossum, Gary Glover, Tim Corcoran and Greg Norton graced the Rays Spring roster but could not bring home the victory.
 

But there was another time, and not so long ago that the Rays wore this same shade of Kelly Green, and it was amazing. The entire Rays staff and players donned Kelly Green uniforms on this date in 2002, and they did it both to celebrate the day, and to also support their local in-house charity, The Rays of Hope Foundation.

But during that special 2002 St Patrick’s Day game during the Namoli days, the Rays of Hope Foundation used this day to celebrate and entice the Rays faithful into giving from their hearts. On March 17,2002, every single member of the Rays organization from the Rays players and Coaches down wore a Kelly Green cap and jersey top especially fashioned for the occasion.
 

The uniform top and cap made a bold statement that day, and also was an instant collector’s item for the Rays fan base. But there was a catch. For the chance to own a piece of this special Rays history, you had to go on line at the team’s website and participate in a silent Rays auction bidding on the autographed cap and jersey you wanted from your favorite Rays player or Coach.

 

 
RRCollections

I know I did my part during the next week constantly submitting bids on three different jerseys and caps, finally winning two jerseys for my Rays collection. I ended up owning a jersey signed by Rays reliever Jesus Colome and Aubrey Huff jerseys to my budding Rays collection. It was a great item to add to my collection, and I was helping the Rays charity in their work around the Tampa Bay community with my purchase.

I have even worn them to Rays games the last several years and people are surprised that the team wore that bold green shade even once during their “green” days.

 

But I have a burning question today. Why didn’t the Rays current charity arm, The Rays Foundation not even think of reestablishing this 2002 Rays tradition when the Rays would be playing at home in Port Charlotte, Florida for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day?

Before the Rays two-year absence on this date, the team last played the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater on St. Patrick’s Day, and you know the Phillies were sporting their green uniforms proudly that day. And how nostalgic it would have been if the team again donned the green uniforms against the same Twins team they faced in 2002 wearing Kelly green uniforms.

 

I truly think it was a lost opportunity for the Rays Foundation to gather additional charitable funds and establish a secondary yearly auction idea with the team again poised to wear green upon their heads today. And the Rays Foundation could have easily gotten a substantial payday to put towards those 2010 charity goals, and maybe even surpass their 2010 expectations with such a event.

Back in 2002, both Majestic and New Era caps were on board when the Rays last held a St. Patrick’s Day auction, why could it have not worked again in 2010? It is not like The Rays Foundation has not done this type of charity autographed uniform auction fundraising.

The Rays Foundation has the experience in focusing on this same type of event since they are an active participant in the Rays online “Throwback Jersey” auctions held the last several years when the Rays wore either their own past Rays past colors, or those of former Tampa Bay area teams like the St. Petersburg Saints.

 

I am not going to say the Rays Foundation dropped the ball here because they might never have even picked it up in the first place. But I would have thought someone roaming around up on the Rays third floor offices would have approached such an idea, or even attempted to duplicate this extremely popular past event and also make some great coinage to support other charitable Rays Foundation endeavors.
 

When I was calling around trying to get confirmation on the Rays green cap for St. Patrick’s Day way back in February, I asked someone who works up in the Rays Front Office about if the Rays had a plan to again play wearing an all-green uniforms on St. Patrick’s Day, and they had no idea why the Rays organization did not fall all over this idea, and institute again an all green Rays 2010 moment on St. Patrick’s Day.
 

Sometimes it truly amazes me that the Rays for some reason do not embrace their old not so distant history. but then again, the current Rays ownership has been trying to move from the “Rays” basic team concept from the image of the swimming docile creature, to a more omnificent “Rays of light” concept.

Funny, I even went in the archives of my Rays Renegade blog and found that one of my 2010 New Years predictions was hoping the Rays would embrace this past great event with gusto again.

 

 

There are plenty of Major League Baseball teams sporting green today. Some like the Oakland A’s still have it as their primary color in their jerseys. But the Rays abandoned that part of their past, and on a special day like St. Patrick’s Day, I would hope that the team again embrace their “green” past, plus provide a special moment for everyone, especially their fans. The special edition cap can be purchased at the Rays Team Store in 2010, and online for $19.99, but it doesn’t sport the shamrock on it in the online photo.

 

I am glad the Rays have taken the first steps to again bringing the “green” back to the Rays at least for St. Patrick’s Day this year. I am actually happy that the organization made this move, and I hope that I might have put an brainstorming future idea into the Rays Foundation for another future St. Patrick’s Day uniform auction.
 

And I kind of find it a bit of poetic justice that the team the Rays last wore Kelly Green against, the Minnesota Twins are again in town today to play the Rays. Hopefully this time with the added shamrock the luck of the Rays will come through. In 2002, the Rays lost to the Twins at home on this date 7-5.

 

Well, it is game time here in Port Charlotte and I have to go catch some Rays baseball. But I will be sure to raise my cold and frothy glass high today at the Rays Tiki Deck bar and salute the past, present and future Rays health, glory and bevy of wins on a day when we all should be proud to be truly Green Rays fans.
 

Rays 2010 Commercial Lacks “Wow” Factor

 
 Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Commercial
 

I got to admit, I love the big sound of the drum line resonating in the foreground of the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Television commercials. But there is something missing…. Something is missing we have seen for the last several years in Rays advertising. How yeah! A slogan. We have been bombarded in the past with “Heart and Soul”, “Feel the Heat” , “Catch Some Rays”, “We Are One Team” and Major League Baseball’s own “I Live For This” campaign.
 

But the rapid fire interaction of fans and players in the commercial does go great with the drum line music. See Carl Crawford taking a base away from the opposition, or seeing Even Longoria tee-off on a long ball into Section 146 of Tropicana Field can get me excited for the April 6th game, but what then…What happens after that?
 

Well, the Rays have a call out to all drum lines in the Tampa Bay area to repeat or bring your own style to the auditions to maybe have your own sound bytes on a future Rays commercial. And over the years we have heard several local groups before Rays games get out there and beat their drum skins and mix music with synchronized dancing to the beat. And that is a great thing that the Rays advertising guru’s want to reward the music makers of Tampa Bay.
 

But something is missing in these commercials. Something seriously is missing and needs to have a place within the next generation of the Rays produced ads. And it is really quite simple what is missing to me. It is the players themselves. I loved the old Raysvision commercials produced when John Franzone was here where we saw speedster Carl Crawford racing a wiener dog at Derby Lane. Or the ex-Heckler and my friend Keith as the caddie out at the Vinoy Golf Course getting robbed by Rocco Baldelli catching the fly golf ball.
 
Tampa Bay Rays 2009 Season Ticket Commercial

 

These commercials brought us into the player’s realm where we like to feel safe. For some odd reason, the commercials that have featured small segments with either the players in the action, or even Rays Manager Joe Maddon discussing the player, using their nicknames from 2009 brought you closer to the team. But this is the first segment of the Rays trying to get you to come out and experience the Rays carnival atmosphere that will be stage front in 2010.

 

Sure the many activities will still go on in Rightfield and Leftfield Street before the games, but there are many planned activities besides the Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series to gain your attention. Every Friday night there will be a series of fireworks 10 minutes after the game indoors. Now this has been done before in Tropicana Field, but most fans remember it was pre-game, and the smoke decided to stay within Tropicana Field for most of the game that night.
 
2007 Colorado Rockies Commercial

I was hoping the Rays would go the route of the Colorado Rockies who have been producing for years player involved commercials and funny interactions that make each of those players featured more human and extremely approachable. The commercial above was even done about 5 years ago and you can see how the Rockies advertising uses a great dose of humor in their ads to get their fan’s attention.

And that has been one of the Rays key thing in the past. They are one of the most approachable teams in the Major Leagues, and the Rays should bank on that popularity and build a further fan base from it. Because the Rays are so easy to get to know and talk to, maybe a commercial where a 10-year old and Carlos Pena talk about life. Or Maybe a moment with a fan where Rays reliever J P Howell  teaches a lecture on the physics of the curveball. Humor is a big part of the Rays clubhouse, why not also bring it to the Tampa Bay community in their commercials?

 

But what do I know. I only minored in Advertising/Marketing in college, so my views might be 25 years old in concept, but then again, they might have good merit. But what I know is the team is striving to gain additional fans into the seat on nights that traditionally have shown a sea of blue seats to television cameras and the Nation on game highlights on ESPN and other media outlets. Maybe the key to getting those fans is to utilize their best natural resource, their players, in more future advertisements.
 
 
2009 Orlando Regional Tampa Bay Rays  Commercial
 

It is kind of funny, this commercial above was made last season to try and get fans from the Orlando area to attend Rays game, but not sure how that worked out for the Rays. It was a bit boring, but it looked more like a fan produced video, which showed more creativity than some I have seen in recent years.

Both print and visual commercials could be spiced up quickly with plays off of players like B J Upton scaling the wall like Spiderman, or even an old black and white commercial with Zorilla hitting homers into small scale cities. The possibilities are endless if you let your mind wander a bit and think outside the batter’s box on this concept.

Not to say tongue-in-cheek humor like that will fill the stands, but it will generate a buzz in the Tampa Bay community, which could easily translate into fans in the seats wanting to see what magic will happen that night….What about you?

If Pena or Aybar Struggle, Could Blalock Come to the Rays Rescue?

 

 
Bill Koustroun/AP

Coming into the 2010 Spring Training season, the Tampa Bay Rays were optimistic that First Baseman Carlos Pena was going to come into camp perfectly healthy and ready to lead by example for this young Rays team. And all eyes have been on Pena ever since he first told the Tampa Bay media members even before this 2010 Spring Training camp began that he feels healthy and that his two fingers broken when he was plucked by a C C Sabathia fastball in late 2009 were completely healed and the entire situation is totally forgotten.

 

Then early on in this 2010 Spring camp, the Rays announced that First Baseman/Utility guru Willy Aybar sustained a wrist problem during this while playing in the Dominican Winter League, and lingering injury has put Aybar a bit behind the rest of the Rays squad this Spring. To some around the Rays Republic, this immediately sent up a few red flags concerned about Aybar’s ability to be an effective back-up to Pena and Third Baseman Evan Longoria if his wrist injury turned out to be more a nightmare than a simple sprain.
 

And when the Rays made an surprising move and signed Free Agent Hank Blalock, who played a majority of his time at First Base for the Texas Rangers in 2009 to a pretty complex and “convoluted” ( per Andrew Friedman) contract that now smells more and more like a “sure-thing” insurance policy heading into the middle of the Rays Spring schedule. But while the Rays were enjoying winning 9-straight games, it seemed like the Rays front office and Coaching staff was not in the least bit worried about Aybar not getting his first swings in a game until this week, or concerned with Pena’s early Spring struggles as he has now gone 0-18 with only one run scored to begin the 2010 Grapefruit season.
 

And then last week the Rays signed former Cuban National Team member Leslie Anderson who can play all three outfield positions and also First Base to a 4-year contract and the team has been adamant that they want to get him in a uniform as soon as possible. Some might say the Blalock signing is a coincidence, but the signing also a Anderson might signal something might be wrong and the silent treatment is being employed throughout the Rays clubhouse. I guess only time will tell what is really going on with Pena and Aybar this Spring.
 

And with Blalock just seeing his first Spring 2010 action this past Saturday against the Florida Marlins and going 0-2 with a walk and a strikeout, it appear on the surface that Pena and Blalock both have that mysterious .000 average going for them right now, but the reality is that Pena is swinging hard in the batting cages before the games. And maybe he is concentrating too much on his swing and it is transformed into Pena shooting blanks right now in Rays game situations. And with Aybar and Blalock just beginning to get their hacks at the plate, and the next week might speak volumes as to who starts ,or gets the most at bats this Spring.
 

 
Steve Nesius/AP

And with two of the three Rays usual First Base candidates nursing off season trials and tribulations, it is only a matter of time before we find out if there is additional problems at bay, or if Blalock was actually brought here to maybe supplant Aybar as the Rays uber-utility guy since Blalock can effectively play both corner positions. And Blalock might not have put up some impressive offensive numbers ( .234, 25 HR 66 RBI) the last season with the Rangers, but his overall MLB pedigree ( 2 All Star nods) reads like a great sleeper addition to the ball club….on paper.

 

Since Blalock has a unique Rays contract that basically give him the final decision/option to decide if staying here with the Rays is a good thing, or bad, that might also speak volumes as to the Rays cautious level of uncertainty concerning both the health of Pena and Aybar heading into the last week of the Grapefruit season. The Blalock move puzzled me at first, but more and more I am seeing it is a great insurance policy with power by getting a guy who could start, or be an effective back-up DH if either Pena or Aybar go down with additional time on the disable list in 2010, or a viable option if Burrell sinks deeper in the quicksand with a slow start to the regular season.
 

And sure, Ben Zobrist can also play First and Third Base, but Zobrist has been used sparingly at First Base, even during Pen’a injury time in 2009, and might be a significant drop in the defense right now at First Base compared to Blalock who only had 6 errors in over 567 chances in 2009. And you can expect the question marks to get even bigger hanging over First Base with every game that Pena puts up a goose egg, or doesn’t hit the ball solidly at the plate. Sometimes the physical injuries can be healed, but the mental impression of the injury takes some additional plate appearances, or hitting attempts before the mind also thinks you are ready to hit again effectively.
 

And Pena is a total team player. If for some reason, Pena sees something harmful in his swing or plate demeanor towards the last week of Spring Training, you can bet Pena will be open and honest to anything the Rays might want to do to get him back on track again. And sometimes slumps happen to every team’s All Stars and Silver Slugger winners. All you have to do is look back at the horrific beginning to 2009 that happened to Boston DH David Ortiz following his wrist ailments to know that sometimes the body is willing, but the balls doesn’t seem to be going anywhere effective.
 

 
Mike Carlson/AP

And hopefully that is what is going on right now in the Pena’s situation. Maybe his timing is not where he wants it to be and his eye-hand coordination is off a tick or two. That can produce some major contact problems, but Pena also is not striking out in bunches this Spring, so it might just be simple adjustments and Pena maybe watching video of his swing mechanics the next couple of game before he comes back with a bang for the Rays.

 

But it is great that the Rays have made some consolation arrangements just in case something else might be derailing either Aybar or Pena for any amount of time this season. But the Spring clock is ticking louder on Blalock and with him having the final decision on his name being maybe placed upon the Rays roster, it might be time for both Aybar and Pena to show solid contact at the plate and relieve some of the Rays front office and staff from holding their breath this Spring and becoming Rays blue in the face.
 

I seriously would not like to see the Rays take the field in their 2010 Opening Game against division foe Baltimore without Pena on the field. But the reality of the situation might be that the Rays just have to collectively take a step back with both players, and maybe give Blalock a few more at bats while Aybar and Pena work in the cages with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton and get some more confidence in themselves.
 

Pena is entering his last contract year with the Rays, and unlike the mysterious Crawford situation, I can see the Rays working with Pena to try and keep a guy who is a cornerstone of this franchise with his great power and his leadership on this Rays roster for a few more years. But right now there are big question marks rising every day over near that first base bag, and the Rays need to squash those questions and doubts in the bud as soon as possible.
 

If there is something wrong with either Aybar or Pena, even a small problem, then the Rays need to take a step backwards and work towards taking two steps forward later this Spring. With three guys with Major League Baseball experience at first base right now straddling the line and bag for the Rays something has to give. If Pena and Aybar are healthy and mentally clicking to begin the season, the parting of Blalock might not be a huge thing.

But if there is the hint of the lingering situation, Blalock might be the ultimate sleeper signing for the Rays this season. Clock is ticking, and soon Pena and Aybar must get on their horse and ride, or the former Ranger Blalock might be the guy wearing the big white hat for the Rays.

My 2010 MLBlogger’s Draft results

 

 

 
Rob Carr/AP

Well, the ESPN/MLBloggers Fantasy League has begun their 2010 season, but we will not have the advantage of a Spring Training or a few games to get out timing down. We conducted our 2010 Live Snake Draft on Saturday, and actually popped into the Draft room with a few surprises. One or more of our 20009 participants either decided to not partake of the Draft, or are not playing, so a few really good players and prospects got gobbled up by that team during the Draft.

 

And it will be amazing to see how the players on the team’s that are ” defunct” right now eliminate these great players without the entire leagues roster going nuts trying to get one of two of the players. There is one team that is not playing this season that got a few people I salivated over, but they are gone now, and until a great solution is presented, they are out of sight, out of mind, but getting San Francisco relief pitcher Sergio Romo was one of my sleepers along with Toronto Starter/reliever Brandon Morrow. So now everyone knows two of my sleepers.
 

But this one team still has fixed on their roster the 2008 AL MVP winner (Dustin Pedroia),Jacoby Ellsbury, to make the Boston bloggers’ participating in the League drool, but there are other thing evoke a bit of excitement too like Philly outfielder Shane Victorino, Angels pitcher Joel Pinero, White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, Orioles number 1 starter Jeremy Guthrie and Cardinal 19-game winner Adam Wainwright. How our League Commissioner( Chris Powers/ Confessions of a Red Fan) decides to dissolve this team, or find a owner willing to take over this squad will be interesting over the next several weeks.
 
 
But this season I decided to pick mostly a “all potential” team. These are the guys I have a feeling will rise up and produce in 2010. But I did steal a potential budding star off the Draft in the 12th Round (Jason Heyward) because I like the core value of the kid and think if he cracks that Braves line-up, he might be there for a long time. But then I picked up Braves teammate Troy Glaus because of his abbreviated 2009 because of surgery did not put up remarkable stats, but he always has a potential to hammer the ball and produce runs.
 

And on the offensive side I have Russell Branyan, who I have been a fan of since he was here with the Tampa Bay Rays long ago and last season while he was playing with the Mariners. But I am worried since it seems that his rehab has now hit a bit of a “plateau” according to Branyan, and I am not sure if that is a good thing or bad right now. But I also decided to pick guys like Pirate Ronny Cendeno and Cubbie Jeff Baker who are in the battles to win spot on their teams roster and will play accordingly if they produce.
 


RRCollections

It is in that same vein that I picked both Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce, who are in a fight for one of the last two roster spots for the Rays, but I think Rodriguez has the inside track to making this team right now. But my outfield is stocked with “keepers Rays outfielders B J Upton and Carl Crawford along with the Rangers Nelson Cruz and D-Back Chris Young. I also picked John Mayberry Junior from the Phillies because after seeing him play a few times this Spring, he might just be the early answer to Jayson Werth in 2011.
 

I consider my offense a bit young and inexperienced compared to my 2009 squad, but I am not trying to go for a second title without doing my leg-work and homework this season in trying to assemble a squad during the season. But you got to admit, I did nail it on my pitching staff. I have 8 pitchers right now with over 100 strikeouts during the 2009 season, including 5 with over 150 K’s. I decided to boost my pitching staff early this year so I can let my pitching staff dictate how my weekly series will go against my fellow MLBloggers’. If the staff does great, I could have a possibility to boost 4 or more categories early on in the weekly match-ups…hopefully.

And I think a starting five of Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (my AL Cy Young pick), Rays Matt Garza, Oakland starter Brett Anderson, Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, and either White Sox Gavin Floyd or Twins starter Francisco Lariano will provide some much needed wins and strikeouts during the season. But then I also have one of my sleepers Toronto pitcher Mark Rzepczynski and a waiver wire out right now to also grab Angels starter Joe Saunders off the wire. But that is not to mean I am expecting my starters to get me all my stats.

 

I think I picked a few great relievers too to boost my possible totals. Maybe some might not think Giants closer Brian Wilson is in the top 5, but I see him as a solid closer with no real downside right now. Plus adding Rays new closer Rafael Soriano might seem like a bad choice, but he did save 27 games in 2009 with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Add those two closer and the possibility of Lariano maybe getting the closer’s gig in Minnesota, and the “saves” category is looking pretty sweet for me.

 

But then again, I also picked up solid reliever Michael Wertz from Oakland who provided 102 strikeouts in 75.2 innings in 2009 to go along with a sub 2.0 WHIP. And my staff leftie specialist is Red’s reliever Nick Masset who also boasts almost a strikeout an inning, plus a low 2.37 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. I decided in 2010 to put my emphasis on my pitching and see what happens. Of course there is still some work to be done on both sides of the ball, but it was fun on Saturday.
 

And even though I got upset more than a dozen times that someone sneaked my favorites off the board early, I think my three keepers were worth sitting out for the first 67 picks. But, if I would have known the guys like Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez from two other rosters might not have been selected as “keepers” on their roster’s, I might have kept only Hernandez and let Upton and Crawford back into the Draft list. But hindsight is a bummer. But this is what I have to work with right now, and maybe I will get more respect and admiration for the MLB’s Manager knowing my roster still needs tweaks and bumps.

 


Chris O’Meara/AP


But that is the most fun about playing Fantasy Baseball. It is going to be blast seeing if Josh Field grabs the Royals third base job, or seeing what faith the Braves have in Heyward to man their right field spot in 2010. But it is great that in Fantasy, you do not have to pay their salaries, or arrange flights or room for your squad, but you do have to endure possible injuries, or bumps and slumps from time to time. And that in itself makes playing in the ESPN/MLBloggers Fantasy League the most fun for me. Sure I might have won the 2009 Championship, but that is all gone now and it is time again to “Cowboy Up1″ and take it to the other 19 teams.

 
 
 
 

Could MLB Follow the NFL’s Lead and Form a “NASCAR” Division?

 

There has been a bit of a discussion lately about maybe taking the Boston and New York factor in the American League East and splitting them up into another division, maybe something as simple as swapping a team from the American League East and National League East to offset the goliath’s of that one division, which give no one else a chance to rise to the top.

But I have another idea. I have an idea that has worked for another professional sport in the United States to “level the playing field” a little more, and has produced a League Champion out of it.

 
 

People were a bit confused when the National Football League decided to invent another division situated almost exclusively within the Southeastern region of the country. The moment this region was even considered for a divisional alignment, or structuring of such an adventure, people began to call it the “NASCAR Division“.
 

And I really do not have a problem with that at all. Because even though that statement was effectively the rest of the country stereotyping this region, NASCAR is a symbol of this region….So it was a backhanded compliment to Southerner’s like me. And, yes, I have been known to attend the Daytona NASCAR races, and I do glance at the television on Sunday to see how the races are going throughout the day, but I am a outside NASCAR fan.

 

But the formation of this Southeastern division actually helped the entire NFL membership get closer to a level of league parity, which baseball might need to approach in the near future if it expects all 30 Major League Baseball teams to flourish and grow fiscally as well as physically. And this might be the right course of action if the MLB brass doesn’t want to see a revolving door of at least a couple of the top money payroll teams sprinting towards the Playoffs finish line every October.

 

Except for the odd twist of fate in the last few years that Colorado and Tampa Bay got their first shots to show their stuff in the World Series, the pattern of eventual winners shows that money buys Championships, not heart, home grown talent and determination. And maybe a fourth division in the American or National League would seem to throw the whole globe off its axis and we go wobbling through our orbits tumbling like a deflated ball among the Milk Way.

 

But I think we have already started that dizzying journey and have not recognized it yet. One team has been in the World Series the last three years, and granted, they have a great wealth of talent, but they also spent a boatload of cash each year to ensure they have that level of talent. That is why it is great to see teams like the Rockies and Rays make a stab at the big prize. And even when they do falter, it is not for lack of pride, courage or the will to win, but missing that million dollar piece that the top 5 payroll teams have secured with a contract with 8 numbers behind it.

 

So what did I have in mind to maybe change this? Well, first off, I would like to introduce the idea of taking one team from every division both in the AL and NL, but the AL West, which already is lopsided with only 4 teams. I actually think that division will be a shootout in 2010 and expect that division’s champion to be as tough as anyone in the 2010 Playoffs. And you might ask why I want to dissect a team from each division? To be completely honest, it would then make most of the other divisions a four-team division, with the NL Central lowered to five teams.

 

So you already know that I want the Tampa Bay Rays to be included in this new division, and with them in the AL, we can still hold onto the Designated Hitter rule. And I think this actually would produce a few more jobs for some of the guys currently on the bench of the three squads plucked off the NL divisions, thus making it more attractive for some of their guys to get more exposure. The Rays are prefect for this new division because of the new division will be rooted in the SE, and only one other city more Southern than St. Petersburg, Florida.

And because the Rays are considered a small market team, it gives them a bit of payroll flexibility knowing that they will not have to adjust and implode their own cash box every year to keep up with the Epstein’s and Steinbrenner’s of the AL East any longer.

 

The second team I would select would establish a great Southern rivalry like annual Florida-Georgia College Football game and could also be billed as the “Battle for I-75 Supremacy”. I am talking about seeing the famous Tomahawk Chop going on right next to the deafening sound of the multitudes of Cowbells. This expected rivalry could easily replace the lost revenues of either Boston or New York based just on the previous sell out crowds at Tropicana Field the last time these two teams faced off here.

 

 

The Atlanta Braves would be the perfect new nemesis of the Rays. And pop on top of this the addition of

17-18 games between the two teams, this would easily explode this rivalry towards the top spots within 5 years.

And you might question why I did not take the Florida (Miami) Marlins and want to place them in this division. Well, they are an instant Inter-League foe of the Rays, and I did not want to ruin that great relationship and also split up a AL and NL presence in the state of Florida. I think this state is better for the duo league presence, and I want to preserve that relationship just as it is right now.

 

Third squad to be added to this division would come out of the AL Central. Now I did not have to take any long period of time to think about this one because it came to me the moment I looked at the division. The Kansas City Royals would be my choice immediately based on the simple fact they are also a small market squad and would benefit extremely by being in the same division as the Rays.
 

And the relationship between these two AL teams is already formed, but it is also close enough within the geographical region of the Southern part of the country to make same day flights and televised games a viable options for both teams.

 

Fourth team to be added would come out of the NL Central division and take their division down to four teams for the first time in a long while. And I thought long and hard as to if I wanted to realign the entire MLB a bit, or just select this one team and end the debate fast and furious on which of the Texas teams would get an invite to the NASCAR division. I thought the team that would get the most out of the move would be the Houston Astros. Not only would they be able to convert to the D H system easily, they have the talent in-house already to pop a great DH in the line-up as early as 2011.

 

And I also think that the teams on this divisional “wish list” also have great stadiums with a awesome home team presence, and would be totally conducive to building new rivalries and expanding their team concepts without minimal changes. But I also toyed with the idea of adding a fifth team to this division. I really thought long and hard about it, and even thought about all the positives and negatives. I am still up in the air about it, but I will discuss it here just to see if anyone else in on board with this idea.

 

If I did even attempt to take a team out of the NL West would I take our Expansion mate, the Arizona Diamondbacks , or would I venture up towards Denver and maybe try and entice the Colorado Rockies to come play in Florida 8+ times a year? This one was a hard decision, because each of these teams has the talent and the abilities to go for the top spots every year.

But I know that taking a team out of that NL West will give the teams currently developing great talent like the San Francisco Giants or San Diego Padres a chance to breathe a bit and strive to know they have a chance every year at the Playoff race. But I am torn to include either of them as a fifth team and make a new division lopsided like the NL Central. But this is just a blueprint in pencil on a bar napkin compared to anything that might be currently being discussed at the Major League level.

 

And maybe the dynamic duo of New York and Boston do not have to be split up, for competition’s sake. Maybe they can co-exist in their current high profile, high dollars payroll games and provide nice revenue sharing cushions for most of the team in this new division. Breaking up those two would be like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie taking the kids and moving to the far ends of the earth from each other.

 

Splitting those two teams apart would destroy 100 years of tradition and insults, plots and inside jokes that have been passed down for generations, and make them worthless but for a small handful of games a season. Some would say it would intensify the rivalry, but this is one that doesn’t need fuel to the fire, it is already white hot.

But it would also ruin a natural geographic alignment that the AL East would take on spreading from Toronto, Canada to Baltimore, Maryland and keep those divisional foes tight and more bonded towards defeating the other.

 

I like this division. It will have speed, defense and a ton of raw young talent. Most of the teams that would comprise this division have been great hotbeds of farm talent, and that talent would get a chance to rise to the top instead of each teaming trying to raise the bar and one-up each other to the umpteen time.

It would be a hotbed of base stealers, plus a great maturation oven for young pitchers just on the cusp of greatness. It is a division I not only would pay money to see at Tropicana Field, but also one I would definitely travel to other cities to see play our Rays. And that in turn, would help these small market teams keep their coffers filled to pay their young players to stay with their teams past their arbitration years….It is a “win-win” proposition.

 

Rays Covert (Signing) Ops Team nets them Leslie Anderson

Trying to follow the Tampa Bay Rays Front Office is becoming more difficult as their “silence is golden” trade chatter blackout grip has become even more tight-lipped and further tweaked beyond any type of white noise in the last few seasons. Now that the Rays can effectively have out-of-sight, out-of-mind multiple Rays staffers and attorneys cloaked in darkness back in the Rays offices in St. Petersburg do a lot of the legwork out of the vision of any eagle eyed journalists or bloggers, getting any morsel or tasty tidbit is getting particularly difficult for us to supply to the Rays baseball hungry fans. 

And today’s announcement of the Rays signing the former Cuban National Team multi-positional player Leslie Anderson to a $ 3.75million /4 year contract, the signing had most of us online, and sniffing around the team’s Spring Training complex caught completely off guard by this Rays move. Most of the Rays Republic knew that the Rays had set their sights by offering a possible contract to fellow Cuban refugee Jose Julio Ruiz in February. And some people actually thought the Rays might have had an upper hand in possibly signing Ruiz seeing that Tampa Bay had the second highest Hispanic population in the Southeastern segment of the United States.

The Rays presented Ruiz’s agent with a $ 2 million offer back in February, but with the recent hurricane brewing within Ruiz’s camp with his firing of his agent, and the ensuing turmoil, maybe the Rays quickly switched their previous focal point on Ruiz, and took another route without being noticed, and ultimately signed the versatile 27-year old Anderson.

And the wild part is that Anderson, who is also a left-handed hitter like Ruiz, might end up being the most versatile of the two players having played both First Base and the Centerfield for Camaguey in the Cuban Baseball League before leaving Cuba in September and becoming available to all 30 Major League Baseball clubs this January.

This signing might just be a great future insurance policy for the Rays since Anderson has been projected to be able to play multiple positions. And with the possibilities of Anderson also playing any of the three outfield positions, it increased the Rays appetite to include Anderson to their system. Most fans might remember Anderson has played Rightfield for the Cuban National Team during the last two World Baseball Classics. 

Before Anderson was moved to First Base while with Camaguey in 2009, he was the team’s starting Centerfielder and considered a great gap hitter with the potential for at least 15-20 Home Runs at the Major League level. And with Anderson’s potential to play all three outfield positions, plus First Base, Anderson brings to the plate another interesting set of future scenarios if the Rays can not entertain Carl Crawford or Carlos Pena to stay with the team when their contracts expire following the 2010 season.

Anderson might actually be a more advanced in his plate discipline than Ruiz, and boasts some really impressive numbers while with Camaguey, where he finished fifth in the Cuban Baseball League with a .381 Batting Average. But more impressive still might be his almost identical numbers against left-handers (.379) and right-handers (.383) to show that Anderson might just be the great addition to the Rays future roster by showing superior numbers from both sides of the plate and might end the Rays platooning outfield spots in the near future. 

And you got to give Rays Director of Scouting R J Harrison and Rays Director of International Relations, Carlos Alfonso a huge double high-five on their department’s Black Ops work to go totally on the deep down low and stay completely off the baseball radar with possible baseball workouts with Anderson without causing any sort of attention being focused towards the Rays or Anderson taking place this Spring.

 

 

And you know it was not a small group of Rays staffers’ involved in trying to keep this quiet, but it still amazes me time after time how the Rays have been so silent until they finally announce their signings without a lot of rumor chatter. The usual rumors that have been played have come from the other player’s reps or agents and not from within the Rays office. That in itself is amazing to me.

 

But this is the path that baseball is beginning to take with instant communications by a bevy of options available at our fingertips. With the addition of instant video conferencing even by cellphone now, baseball workouts can be broadcast back to team officials on a constant stream of video while the players participate in hitting, or even fielding in an arranged simulated game. And maybe the Rays might be viewed as ruining the trade system by staying tightlipped before getting a player’s John Hancock on the dotted line, but in essence, if that is what it takes to get the job done, then I am all for this new Rays personnel mentality. 

Anderson’s signing was not expected by most of us following the Rays this Spring. Most of us within the Rays Republic thought the team was slowly reeling in Ruiz towards finally signing with the Rays instead of hauling in another big fish like Anderson. Reality is that the Rays could still maybe also sign Ruiz in the near future as another future fixture to combat high payroll concerns. And both players effectively co-existing on the same Rays roster should bring a level of excitement to Rays fans. And maybe that is another unsung victory for the Rays scouting department and office staff in not only getting Anderson signed, sealed and delivered, but covering it all in a cloak of mystery, which is really impressive.

Who knows to what extent Anderson will benefit the Rays in 2010, but you know he will have a definite imprint on future Rays squads, and maybe a possible new competition battle in the Spring of 2011 as he makes his mark within the Rays farm system. Looking at both the positives and negatives of both players, the Rays might have picked the one total package multi-dimensional player who will not bring both a sense of drama and uncertainty instantly towards the Rays franchise’s system. 

It is still too early to project any possible scenarios for Anderson, but I could see him being assigned to either Double-A Montgomery and worked out at first base, and then begin his rise through the Rays system with a possible MLB debut date in Tropicana Field maybe in September 2010. And if he does get to the Major League level in 2010, could Anderson be one of those late season additions that propels the Rays again towards the Playoffs. This might not happen, but I like to be optimistic when I talk about these 2010 Rays. Because I really feel another “Magical”-type season brewing under the surface and this Anderson signing could be a great ingredient to the total mixture.

 

It Doesn’t Feel like 15 Years

 

 
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It is still hard to believe just what has conspired over the last 15 years. It seems like just yesterday we were hearing the Major League Baseball “Acting” Commissioner Bud Selig announce to the Tampa Bay region’s fans that the Major League Baseball owners had rejected the relocation request of the St. Petersburg Baseball Group to move the San Francisco Giants to Tampa Bay. That same news was so heartbreaking to a region that blindly constructed a baseball venue and was relying on a hope that “If you build it, they will come.”
 
 
How many of us remember hearing that same quote being tossed out on our portable FM radio’s by the Q Morning Zoo and DJ Mason Dixon that the building of the Florida Suncoast Dome would show MLB that the Tampa Bay area means business. But we did get a second announcement from Selig not too long after that in the Spring of 1995, and this time, the news would be a bit more enlightening to Tampa Bay’s quest for a Major League level baseball team.
 
 
On March 9,1995 in the Breakers resort situated on the East Coast of Florida, right between most of our lunch time activities at 12:54 pm, Selig emotion-less face was again thrown up on our local television sets with another message to the Tampa Bay area. This time, by a 28-0 vote by the other current Major League owners, the St. Petersburg Baseball Group led by Vince Namoli was finally going to pop the cork on that celebration champagne bottle. Yes, finally we had Major League Baseball coming to the Tampa Bay area past their usual Spring Training dates.
 
 
And a small side note to all of this is that the Breakers is a resort that tends to bring good omens and news to this region of Florida. For in 1991, in this same resort, the Tampa Bay region also was awarded their National League Hockey franchise from this same Conference Room. And so began the franchise that would evolve within those 15 years from the Devil Rays, that were printed on the first T-shirts and Uniforms presented to the media at that announcement, to our present day Rays.
 

And these word spoken by then Rays Team Owner Vince Namoli to the Tampa Tribune might sum up the great celebration and also the knowledge that we still had a long journey ahead of us before that First Pitch in 1998. “It’s been a path of 10,000 steps, 10,000 phone calls, 10,000 frustrations. Now we’re at the end of the path, but we start a new path,” Naimoli said. “We start to focus on hiring a general manager, on the Dome, on the development of the franchise, on the minor-league system, on Opening Day 1998. We’re into the fun path.”

 
 
What a huge rollercoaster ride it has been over the last 15 years. From completely setting up a professional complex in the existing Spring Complex that the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals had used in the past in western St. Petersburg, to finalizing the lease agreement with the City of St. Petersburg so that the then D-Rays could pursue their initial changes needed within their new domed home. And the $ 150 million that Namoli and his group first paid to finally become the first owners of this franchise seems pale now considering all the great moments and events that have transpired since that announcement.
 

I still remember both announcements as if it was yesterday and still have that memory of finally hearing we had our dream of a professional baseball team in our sights and had a hard road ahead of us, but one that always has been a pleasure. From our first pick (Paul Wilder) in the 1996 First Year Players Draft, to the recent announcement of two-time All Star Hank Blalock being signed by the Rays, to paraphrase an old television commercial, this team has come a long way baby!
 

And today I hope all Tampa Bay fans take a moment after 12 pm to again try and remember and enjoy this moment. Sure we might have had a few rough years starting out before our Rays farm system began to churn out players like outfielder Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, or pitcher Joe Kennedy who showed us that building through our minor leagues was our path to the top. And less than 7 years after Crawford first played on the turf of Tropicana Field, we envisioned a rise to Playoff status, and an eventual ride to the World Series.
 

 

And as we near that special moment in time today, it is actually fun for me to go back in time and remember I was sitting in a local gym when the announcement hit the airwaves that sent the room into an instant celebration. Because around me also working out were minor league players from the Orioles system and also a few University of Florida football players getting ready for Spring drills. Instantly the mood went from working out to celebrating, and I know we were not alone in wanting to paint the town red that night.

 
 
15 years can be a long time. Heck, when I was 10 years old I always dreamed of being 15, which gave you more responsibilities like playing Senior League baseball, or driving the car with your parents with you. But year 15 for the Rays might be a benchmark season. Already there is a air that this season might assemble the best team overall to ever man a Rays jersey. This season the possibilities are there for the Rays to again claw there way past division rivals Boston and New York to fight for their October rights to play for that shiny gold trophy. The announcement on March 9,1995 was the Tampa Bay area’s eight chance at trying to secure a Major League team.
 

I think the best way to celebrate this blog today is to remember a story posted by the Rays team writer for MLB.com, Bill Chastain, who at the time of the announcement was an employee of the Tampa Tribune. In that story, his last paragraph was a quote by Namoli on the day’s events. And I can think of no better way to end this blog than remembering those same words spoken by a man who somehow saw into our team future and made such a prophetic statement 15 years ago.
 
“Some fans and media will shorten our last name to Rays,” Naimoli said. “And, so, I will leave you with that: Hip, hip hoo-Ray.”
 

Rays Players Very “Open” to Fans

 
 
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I arrived up at BrightHouse Field about 11-ish on Sunday to check out the Tampa Bay Rays first venture back North and into their familiar Pinellas County stomping grounds in 2010. Got to tell you, the second I got into the pristine ballpark, one thing was perfectly clear to me. Not only was this a beautiful sunny day, which somehow got cooler by the inning, but I was instantly smiling as I glanced towards the Rays bench and instantly saw a few of the Rays players signing for fans along the rail.

 

And if there is one thing I am extremely proud of concerning our Rays players, it is their constant attention and respect they show people in the stands every day. I have to admit, if the Rays players did not feel a bit of kinship to stop and talk or even be social with their brethrens in the stands, this MLBlogs.com blog might a be a lot more boring and statistic-related, and I would not have most of those great stories to tell all of you.
 

And this is something I am extremely proud of our players to have been consistently providing themselves for the fans for the last 13 seasons. And with this season marking the 15th anniversary of Major League Baseball awarding us our franchise, it is amazing we also were rewarded with such generous and low ego players in our short history.
 

We have a baseball team here in Tampa Bay that has religiously signed for their fans, and even spent more than a few moments making some kid’s day by giving them a ball, or even a wide smile when they ask for an autograph or picture with them. And sure there are people around Tampa Bay who sometimes abuse the system, but we are lucky the guys sign for us. As I sat by the Rays dugout tunnel and talked to a few people, the players came and went, but always had a moment for the fans.
 

Sure some of the Rays biggest stars might not have made the trip north this time, but you can be assured they will be in that same dugout when the teams meet again in Clearwater on Tuesday, March 23 at 1:05 pm. And there are a few of the Rays players that might not seem to heed your call for their autographs or photo opportunities at times, but this Rays team by far signs more balls, bats and collectibles for their fans than most of their counterparts in the Major Leagues.
 

 
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As I stood there taking random photos most of the time during Batting Practice in Clearwater, I kept an eagle eye towards the opposing team’s leftfield tunnel entrance that leads to the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse. What I was trying to gauges if the Phillies players were following the Rays player’s lead and signing for the fans before this Spring Training game.

 
 
What I noticed was that most of the Phillies who seem to be fighting for positions, or from within the ranks of the Phillies farm system, definitely seemed more apt to stop and take a moment to sign, or to just chat with the fans down the line. But this is also only one games observation. But for the most part, its seemed to me that the Phillies front line guys did not hesitate to sign or even take photos with fans that day.
 
 
There were a few Phillies player’s who did seem to maybe recognizing a fan they know from Philadelphia, or a family member, but most just jogged their way back into the clubhouse or the dugout to get without turning towards the stands. This is not intended to throw any Phillies players under the bus, because I do not know their pre-set team policies, or the individuals guidelines on fan autographs, but it is a shame when you see a young kid in the red Phillies cap with outstretched arms trying for some sign of acknowledgment with a pen in one hand, and a baseball in the other.
 
 
But I also know that sometimes a player can work themselves into a “zone” state even before a game and do not even see that same kid, or he would might have signed with no question. Someone finally did come over for him and signed the ball. I think it was tall, lanky Phillies prospect Dominic Brown, and he made sure to flash a kid a huge smile before disappearing towards the clubhouse tunnel.
 
 

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And the pure fact that the Rays are so open to signing (most of the time) seems to amaze some visiting fans from Boston,New York and Philadelphia. For their team’s do sign for their fans, but some players take only special moments, or maybe even a “once a homestand” mentality to signing autographs, and that tends to frustrate some within their fan base, and then unfair labels come flying out and are placed on those players. I remember last season, Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett told me he had to head into the Rays clubhouse, but asked me to look for him tomorrow about getting his autograph on a ball. I actually went home and forgot all about it.
 
 
I came back out to the top of the Rays dugout the next game as usual during B P, and Bartlett called up to me right before he was going into the Rays dugout to see if I still wanted a signature. It shocked me because I was not used to someone remembering me, much less remembering a request for his signature. I immediately grabbed a ball and sharpie out of my computer bag and threw them down to him. Bartlett signed the ball and looked up and said to me, “You thought I forgot didn’t you”. Got to admit it, I did think he would forget, but it was even a greater thing that he remembered it.
 

And if you go down to the rails before Rays games there are always scores of Rays fans with the same types of stories. Telling you of Rays players showing a unusual sense of kindness or requests for multiple photo with friends and family never uttering a negative comment, but treating their fans to a special moment with a huge smile.

 
 
What we have here in Tampa Bay is not the usual around the Major Leagues, and sometimes I think we forget how good we have it here. The level of esteem Rays players acknowledge the fans flows down right from the top of the Rays organization. Rays Manager Joe Maddon always praises the members of the Rays Republic for their undying support, and their noise levels at games.
 

Maddon has on more than one occasion reminded his Rays players that the Rays true fan base is a great constant source of energy and motivation for this club daily, and that they should remember when a fan requests a moment with them during the baseball season.

 

And it is great to see a young Rays fan leaning over and asking for an autograph, and that Rays player comes over signs and maybe even chats for a moment with the kid and the crowd. Not only does it make his day, but sometimes it makes the player’s day too. It is so special to have a team like our Rays that is open to giving back to the Rays fans. And sometimes we might forget just how lucky we truly are as Rays fans to have baseball players willing to take some time out to do this for us before Rays games.

 

Most visiting teams fans are jealous of that close bond between fan and player, and wish that their guys would do the same for them. This firmly illustrates another great reason to be a Rays fan. But also there is the danger of getting too used to it and maybe asking too much, or pushing the envelope and alienating a player with the fans.
 

As with most teams, there are autograph hounds/collectors within the Rays Republic who tend to throw a dark shadow on the true fans by selling their autographed rewards and jeopardize a real fan just wanting a sincere autograph. It is this level of fan that has been the benchmark for the Rays imposing their Sunday autograph days to be limited to kids under 14.
 

These measures have pushed the autograph hounds to getting their signatures outside the stadium player’s entrance gates, or charity events, where it is the player’s option if they will reward the collectors.

 
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Rays fans need to keep nurturing this special player-fan relationship, and try and keep it from drying up, or let anything negative influence the Rays players from wanting to sign or spend time with the fans.

 

I sometimes have found it necessary to impose my opinion on some young autograph seekers to teach them a better way to get their autographs without upsetting, or maybe ruining the great open ended relationship between the team and its fans. You know the kids I am talking about, who yell “Hey You” or do not even get to know the Rays roster and do not call them by name, but by the number on their jersey.
 

The Rays players being so open to the fans is a great reason to be a Rays fan. And even if there are a few negative influences surrounding the fan’s nucleus with the players, the relationship is not one-sided. If the fans remain respectful and treat the Rays players with genuine concern and interest, this great bond between the two should flourish for a long, long time.
 

I do consider us blessed with great players who show more attention to our fans than most within the MLB ranks. But then again, that might just be another great advantage to doing things “The Rays Way”.

 

A Beautiful Day for Spring Baseball

 
 
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Got to admit it here, I love it when the Tampa Bay Rays come north and play the Philadelphia Phillies during Spring Training. It is basically a Rays “homecoming” to their fans who do not have the time or resources to travel the 80 miles down to Port Charlotte, Florida for their Grapefruit League schedule. And making it a double pleasure is that the game is played at BrightHouse Field, which has to be one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in Pinellas County.

So here we go as I pop on a few photos today on my journey northbound to the chilly tundra that is Clearwater, Florida. Seriously, when the game started on Sunday at 1 pm, it was 65 degrees, by the time the game was wrapped up with the Rays shutting down the Phillies 5-3 for their third victory of the Spring, it was down to 61 degrees. Not complaining, just found it kind of weird during such a sunny day with limited wind hitting you in the stands. But then again as I always say….If you do not like the weather in Florida, wait 15 minutes, it will change.

 
 
 
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Always wanted to be a fly-on-the-wall during a Rays Press Conference with Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Here we see the local media gurus along with Rays Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn doing their daily pre-game meet and greet to discuss some of the days events, and even maybe get news on the expected signing of Free Agent Hank Blalock to join the Rays on a minor league contract. I want to just love to hear some of the news firsthand without the dissection of the Rays quotes and news for once. You know I could find a tidbit or two in just a 30 second voice blurp.
 
 
Also would love to hear what Maddon thinks about the possibility of Joe Dillon making this season’s 25-man roster. I find it kind of refreshing that Dillon has made it clear to the Rays and anyone that will listen that he plans to do whatever is necessary to show he has the abilities and the versatility to play almost anywhere for the team in 2010. Most people do not know this, but Dillon was actually Maddon choice as an emergency catcher if something would have happened in a game with his two normal catchers.
 
 
 
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That might be another reason Dillon has been catching more this season to make his stock rise above just being a utility player mostly playing in the infield. And during Batting Practice today, I saw him moving all around the infield from taking balls at third base, to manning the first base bag for a bit. Dillon did get in the game yesterday coming in for Elliot Johnson and playing third base, but went 0-2 in the game. Got to tell you, I always get a bit jealous of those corporate slugs across from me sitting in the Hooters VIP Diamond Dugout section. Not only do they get waitresses in skimpy Hooter attire, but they have almost instant access to the bench along with some great chicken wings and blue cheese.


 
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Got to befriend someone some day and see if I should be so jealous of this section….I think I would be no matter what. But I also find it kind of wild that in Bright House Field, the Phillies have two Hooters ball girls down the foul lines who sit in these nice canvas chairs with gloves in hand flirting with the fans and just looking pretty. Sure I have seen them get out of their chairs a few times, but I forget they are not there for their baseball skills but to look cute and smile for the fans. Always wondered why the Phillies did not bring down two of their regular season Philly Ballgirls who actually play softball for local leagues or college in the Philly area.

 

 
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Always love how the Rays players treat their younger fans. You do not get the total jest of it in this photo, but Elliot Johnson was actually throwing the ball with the young baseball player in red for about three minutes before the kid had to go back into the infield and stand for the National Anthem. You know it is moments like these that makes a child a baseball fan for life. And what a story he will have when he goes back to school on Monday telling all of his friends he threw a baseball with a Major League Baseball player… on the field before a game….priceless moment.

  
 
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Always love it when the United States Army’s Golden Knights parachute team does a pre-game event like this in BrightHouse Field. I have now seen it a few times and it is always a great spectacle and an extremely emotional sight seeing the billowing red smoke and the final recognition of our flag attached to his parachute. I find it really interesting to see this Sunday prior to the Oscars last night that saw the simply amazing film “The Hurt Locker” take the Best Film honors. I have to say I have seen the film and loved it for its realism and attention to military detail.

 
 
 
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What was amazing in this game on Sunday is we saw everyone of the Rays players fighting for a roster spot play in front of some of their hometown fans who came out and helped set a attendance record for a Spring Training game held at Bright House Field. 10,474 fans filled every nook and cranny of the stadium on Sunday. It was definitely standing room only out in the grassy berm areas, and the concession stands did look like the usual rush during a Rays/Yankees or Rays/Red Sox series. Even saw one of the Trop’s beer guys Mark working in the stands yesterday and it made the game feel more like a home game.

 
 
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Had a funny thing happen to me yesterday while I was sitting in the 7th row down in Section 104. Had an older gentleman tell us to either give him play-by-play of the game or shut up. My new found friends from Philly were a bit perplexed, but I reminded them that we do live in a retirement region here in Florida, and some people like to concentrate on the baseball game. I did not want to upstage the guy and tell him I would be more than willing to do audio for him of the game. The few fans around us were a bit upset, but for me, it was just business as usual in Florida. But I do understand the guy’s request.

We were talking about Philly places I knew and the Winter they just went through up there, and maybe this guy was not into our discussions. One of the Philly guys actually remarked that if we were in a movie theatre, it was not a problem to stop talking, but we were at a baseball game. I just laughed it all off and said it was fine, I could get some more photos and maybe get some much needed sun on my farmer-tanned bones. Funny it really got a few people around me upset, but I made sure they knew if it was Tropicana Field I might have kept talking, but since I was in someone else’s stadium, I respected the guy wearing his green Phillies cap.

 
 
 
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One thing I did notice was that Rays First Base Coach George Hendricks seemed a bit unprepared for this game today. I tried to ask someone in the Rays clubhouse if George’s usual number 25 jersey might not have made the trip north, but they were really closed-lipped about it. It was kind of funny to see him wearing that “95” jersey, which usually a sure sign of a Rays minor leaguer getting a chance with the big club. Notice Hendrick’s batting helmet shows his “usual” jersey number 25 on it 

 
I tried to get George’s attention a few times during the middle of the innings to see if maybe the 25 jersey was still hanging up in the Coach’s area at the Rays Spring complex, but never got an answer back from him. Another wild moment was when Heath Phillips started the eighth inning and was relieved by Heath Rollins. I made a few people around me chuckle a bit when the first Rays pitcher who was about 250 pounds left the mound and I called the new pitcher “Heath” too. It was a unique situation and one you might not see during the regular season, but might be more commonplace during Spring Training.
 
 
 
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I also asked a few of the photographers about these wild looking silver camera I saw in at least three different spots around BrightHouse Field on Sunday. I was advised that they were permanent Major League Baseball Network cameras that got primary shots from the First Base, Third Base and Centerfield angles during Spring Training games. I had not even noticed them before and found it quite interesting they did not employ three different cameramen for these regions during telecasts earlier in the Spring.

 
Guess you learn something new every day at the ballpark during the Spring. I am going to be sure to also try and check out the Home and Visitor’s dugout at Tropicana Field to see if these might also be put into a permanent position around our home ballpark for game situations during the regular season. I know from walking around Charlotte Sports Park that the Rays do not have this capability yet, but who knows what might happen in the future.

 
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But it was a great simply beautiful day out in the sun in Florida on Sunday.  And the day was even made more special after Rays Radio man Rich Herrera yelled out “Renegade” from his silver car as he sped away from  a side street onto Old Coachman Road on his way home from the ballgame. Plenty of excited Rays fans and Phillies fans enjoying one of the best weather days this Spring. Congrats to the Phillies again for setting a new single game attendance record, and hopefully we can make another run at that record on Tuesday, March 23rd when the Rays come back to this amazing ballpark and I will sit instead out in the berm region to give a different prospective to this great ballpark.

 

Sean John or maybe S-Rod…Decisions, Decisions

 


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You automatically got to like this kid. Really you have to, it is a moral imperative within the Tampa Bay Rays culture that when you give up a great left-hander like Scott Kazmir, you got to get to know his replacement, and at least give him a few games to settle into his new spotlight before you condemn or pledge your loyalty to them. Well, ladies and gentlemen, if the last couple of Rays Spring games is any indication, Sean John Rodriguez is already cool as a cucumber and slick as a fox, and an instant fan favorite.

And believe me the cliché’s are going to coming fast and furious if he does find a way to steal this last coveted roster spot away from the Johnson & Johnson brothers , or his close competitor, Reid Brignac.

 
 

But if you base his total roster chances on just Rays games over the last few days, it might actually be more like, when he steals that roster spot away. And it is not like he has not been in this kind of pressure situation before while fighting for a Major League spot. Rodriguez has spent a bit of time in the Big Show before when he was with the Los Angeles Angels, so this is not his first rodeo.

And that might be a side of Rodriguez we truly had no idea about before this 2010 Rays Spring Training season began. Most of us Rays fans might not have noticed the young guy manning the second base bag during the Angels first visit to Tropicana Field from May 9-11,2008 was the same Sean Rodriguez.

 
 

And we definitely did not notice Rodriguez sitting in the Third Base Visitor’s Dugout at Tropicana Field after being called back up from the Salt Lake City Bee’s when the Angels went through a rough patch with multiple infielders going down with injuries in early 2008. And there is an eerie set of similarities to his Spring start here in 2010, that might bode well for him making this team’s roster, if you really look at the numbers.

Back in Spring Training 2008 with the Angels, Rodriguez hit only one single in his 11 Spring Training games while hitting a double, a triple and solo Home Run with 3 RBIs. It is just a bit of an odd coincidence that he currently sports no singles while pushing a double, triple and 3 Home Runs across the board this Spring in three games for the Rays. Maybe it is a baseball omen to us to watch this guy over the next few weeks.

 
 

But this impressive start at the plate has also given him a bit of a quick jump on Brignac, who also is trying to keep up with the white hot Rodriguez, and it is going to be a complete thrill to see which of these hitters blinks first and let’s the other get a bit of an advantage in their race for the last utility spot on the Rays 25-man roster.


YahooSports.com

And Rodriguez knows a lot about these Rays from his 5 game played against them in 2008. He was the field for all three games during that early May series when the Rays swept the Angels here, and was witness to seeing the Rays eventually winning 6 out of their 9 games against Angels that season.

 
 
But even more telling that Rodriguez might be developing the emerging cult following, not unlike fellow Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist with the instant accumulation of inspired nicknames that are beginning to be heard in the stands at Rays Spring games. Already we have heard at least two nicknames rushing to the forefront, with one really taking a quick liking to him.

There has been the “S-Rod” moniker which might have evolved more for his recent rush of power and uncanny ability to brush off the media attention, or maybe the one I heard at George M. Steinbrenner Field yesterday when someone asked “Sean John” for his autograph.

 

The last one actually had me chuckling a bit because I was looking over my shoulder for one of those goon interns of Sean “P. Diddy /Puff-Daddy” Combs instantly coming out of the woodwork trying to smash the “alleged” trademarked name infringement “Sean John” down into the clay of the infield and quickly silence that moniker from the lips of autograph seekers on the rails that game.

 
 

But there was no lightning quick response to the name, and I actually think Combs would be proud to share that patented name with a young baseball guy who just might have the style and panache to pull off a theft of this second base job and roster spot without much of a hitch. Heck, maybe if Rodriguez keeps this up he will have a Fed Ex package waiting for him with some signature Sean John wear inside them…You never know.

But seriously, this second base gig is going to be one of those spots in this 2010 Rays squad that you either own or rent in 2010. If Rodriguez makes it difficult for Rays Manager Joe Maddon to not pop his name on the lineup card in marker, he might just be an inter-changeable piece along with Zobrists and his traveling glove collection in 2010.

 
 

But some people worry that Rodriguez has only played third base and second most of his professional career, and has not concentrated his efforts toward maybe relieving Rays starter Jason Bartlett at some point in 2010. Again, this might be one of those finer points that Brignac has shown he can be effective at that position that makes this competition go long into Spring Training.

And even if most people have not seen Rodriguez play the outfield, he did play leftfield against the Yankees on Friday and looked pretty comfortable out there. But then again, he did play a lot of outfield in his All American High School career.

 
 

This entire competition between Rays Spring Training invited players to hold a competition for that coveted last spot in the Rays roster for a infield slot is quickly becoming a two-man affair. Elliot Johnson is doing everything he can to get his name included, but Brignac and Rodriguez are putting on a show at the plate and in the field that is dwarfing everyone else right now.

And if either of these two can force Maddon’s hand in the next week or two, this competition might even be over before the Rays take on their Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls in a friendly match up in Durham, North Carolina on April 3,2010.

 
 

SarasotaHerald-Tribune


Some have questioned Rodriguez’s lack of full season experience to only a total of 71 career Major League Baseball games and a regular season average of only .203 with 8 doubles, a triple, 5 Home Runs and 14 RBIs. That could be a instant pause for Maddon and the Rays to consider, but Brignac also has only appeared in 35 Rays game and has only produced a .250 batting average with 8 doubles, 2 triples, a solo Home Run and 6RBIs.

This race is far from over, and it might come down to the Rays deciding if they want power or consistency in their hitting out of this spot in 2010. If they take the power angle, Rodriguez would get the early nod, and even based on experience, right now might be the guy who has the most to lose with a few bad outings. Sean Rodriguez is a great budding star that could play a significant role for the Rays if he develops the way they want him to over the next few weeks.

If he does, then he will definitely be in that Rays Opening Day lineup, and hopefully we can get him an appropriate nickname that might not upset a fashion icon, or even a certain player also in this division sporting the A-Rod moniker. But if Rodriguez keeps playing and producing at this level this Spring, then maybe they would not mind sharing some homage time with a guy who could help lead the Rays on the field.

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