April 2010

Could Jaso Stay Up with the Rays ?

 
 
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I have to be honest here. I have never really considered Rays current Catcher Du Jour John Jaso to be a Major League catcher. I always heard a huge bunch of baloney about his erratic bat motion that even frustrated ESPN analyst and ex-bat wiggler himself Joe Morgan. That the motion Jaso wastes in his swing just before the pitcher releases the ball would tire him out after 4 at bats. And wasn’t it some Rays website somewhere who was throwing the fear of God almighty that Jaso’s defensive indifference would also be a burden if he ever became a full time fixture with the Rays.

Isn’t it great that all that noise about Jaso for some reason has instantly disappeared after he came up and started to produce like a true back-up catcher trying to fulfill a full-time spot with the big club. And I have to say I am not only pleasantly surprised, but I was touched enough by his fine bit of offensive and defensive adjustments that I popped him instantly as the starting catcher in my ESPN Fantasy League. But with Jaso currently sporting a hefty .455 Batting Average and the ability to not only produce runs, but also showing a great amount of plate discipline for a guy on the edge of a roster spot.

And it has been a great surprise, and even a godsend that he has shown the maturity and the ability to make some nice adjustments to his defensive game while he has been up with the Rays to get an extended look by Rays Manager Joe Maddon as he handles every member of this Rays young pitching staff. And this is all from a guy that most people within the organizations stands thought would never be able to produce at this level and might be a Triple-A lifer at best. And I can honestly say I am one of those guys who is glad I was wrong, because Jaso might actually make a decision hard for the Rays after Shoppach gets back behind the dish again soon.

But that also raises a good question as to if he could be a great addition to this Rays team, or is one of those guy who might be a nice plug-in piece for the future, or at least get an extended look in Spring 2011. But with Rays current starter Dioner Navarro in a bit of a slump both offensively and showing some lazy tendencies on defense, could Jaso just be the piece of the puzzle that might click without forcing or taking any momentum from this team. It offers up a good question as to if Navi might have to sweat it out and provide some impressive numbers to remain a fixture on this Rays roster.

And this might be a decision or an idea that the Rays have had in the back of their mind for a bit, but not thinking it might crop up during the season, but in the 2010 off season. With Shoppach in the fold with a two-year contract, and Navarro possibly showing a upper price in the mid $ 2 million range in 2011, could this be the right time for the Rays to dangle Navi to a few teams that are currently in a bit of upheaval over their own catching department.

 
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We saw one of those teams recently when the Oakland Athletics came into Tropicana Field and had to use Jake Fox who they got in a trade with the Chicago Cubs this off season behind the dish, and everyone in attendance was looking all throughout the dugout for Kurt Suzuki. Bringing in a experienced backstop would be beneficial to the A’s, and might not take more than a high left-handed reliever in the A’s farm system, and maybe a prospect or two considering the package. It could be a “win-win” situation for the Rays and A’s as they both get some benefit from such a deal.


But then there is another catching carousel going on in the same American League West division as the Texas Rangers are currently playing their own version of musical catchers with the recent demotion of both od their Opening Day catchers Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to their Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City Redhawks. And with the Rangers then picking up the option of Triple-A catcher Max Ramirez, the team is hoping that the tandem of Ramirez and old timer Matt Treanor can finally shore up the Texas backstop. But this might just be a temporary fix, and there might need to be a further look maybe towards Tampa Bay.

And in the 2010 Spring Training Grapefruit League season I was whispering about the Rangers potential problem with the young Teagarden maybe not ready for the full-time MLB reins, and Saltalamacchia maybe too fragile with his curvature of the spin situation to see him do prolonged duties behind the plate more than four starts a week at the most. It might be about time for the Rangers to stop trying to bluff the rest of Major League Baseball and admit they might have been backing the wrong horses.

 
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Enter Navarro into the Rangers possible catching equation. He would provide instant credibility and endurance to their line-up, plus get a chance to start again fresh and contribute to a young team and pitching staff that might benefit from his experience. For some reason when I think of Navarro and the Rangers I do see a marriage maybe not made in heaven, but of necessity and mutual want for a clean slate. Again, the price might not be a huge burden here in terms of prospects or maybe even a reliever like Darren O’Day or C J Wilson (lefthander) straight up for Navarro.

It is not like I would be foolish enough to consider a great developing prospect like fireball reliever Neftali Feliz… that would just be plain unimaginable a price for Navarro. But I do think that at some point in 2010, the Rays will consider offers for Navarro considering his salary will jump, plus the Rays would not probably be willing to bank about $5 million dollars in two catchers who basically are bookends offensively, with Shoppach showing a bit more defensive prowess.
 
And an additional point might be which of them would be a positive mentor for the young Jaso? Instantly the eyes wander straight to Shoppach’s name and the job he did in Cleveland after Victor Martinez headed East with Cleveland’s young catcher Lou Marson.

So maybe when Shoppach completes his rehab assignment and shows he has a healthy outlook for the Rays in 2010, their attention might not be in returning Jaso to Durham for the remainder of the season, but possibly be to find a new home for Navarro and his gear.

And this might just happen due to the extent of the development that Jaso has shown during his short time up with the Rays. If he remains “hot” and can both produce a offensive firestorm at the catching position while also diving on balls and throwing out base runners, Jaso could honestly get a chance to retain some MLB service time in 2010.


Considering he is making the MLB minimum even if he does stay up with the team for the rest of the season, his jump in pay scale will not break the Rays bank, or cause any alarms to go off in Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedmans laptop when considering his salary under the Rays 2011 payroll limits. The Rays have always committed towards fiscal respectability and holding each member of the Rays roster responsible for their actions and production. After Shoppach returns, it just might be time for the Rays to consider cutting the cord with Navarro and letting him find a better suited future somewhere else.

 
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Catching has never been a position that the Rays could ever say they have been over abundant with talent or power, but right now there might be an indication of a crossroads for one Rays catcher, and who know which direction he will wander next. No matter if Navarro stays and Jaso is returned to Triple-A Durham when Shoppach returns, or a trade keeps Jaso here and sends another catcher to fresh surroundings, this is a huge stepping stone for this franchise to finally know they have the talent and the in-house abilities to even consider such a move well within the season.


I like Navarro as a person. I have talked to him several times and get a good vibe from him most days. But right now it seems that Maddon is trying to let Navarro out himself from this situation or possibly this team. So far Navarro has been a team player who realistically sees that Jaso has the “hot hand” and respectfully gives him the chance to strive.

But with each passing RBI or walk, it also seems like another small seed of doubt or even confidence in Jaso to do the same job without the offensive woes or the defensive catnaps behind the plate. Hopefully no matter what happens, Jaso knows he can finally be considered MLB worthy.

 

James Shield’s Other Talent….Rays T-Shirt Designer

 
 
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The evolution of the plain T-shirt has come a long way from its primary use as a undergarment. This button-less, collarless clothing item was originally just fashioned to cover the body’s torso with its generic rounded neck hole and short sleeves. Many fashion notables think the T-shirt craze exploded when the United States Navy adopted this outerwear as casual clothing following the Spanish American War. It made it possible for sailor to now “soil” their T-shirt instead of the uniform jacket while in warmer climates.

After World War II, the T-shirt was worn by returning soldiers as daily outerwear while performing duties around the house, or in farming communities. But most think the true origin and National preference came after actor Marlon Brando wore a T-shirt in the film “Streetcar Named Desire”. After that film it was considered by many to be a fashion statement and an accepted garment to wear out and about doing daily activities. The transformations of the T-shirt from there have been swift and very visual for all of us to see…daily.

From that moment on the T-shirt has transformed from a simple undergarment to prevent sweat stains on outerwear to the preferred clothing options within sports coats and on the film industries red carpet. From the tie-dye T-shirt to the invention of the silk screening process, this clothing item has been invented and reinvented several times until we finally get towards the most recent evolution of its creation, the designer T-shirt.

So maybe it is only right that the one member of the Tampa Bay Rays roster who has shown a knack and a passion for not only wearing classic designer T-shirts, but also classic Rock and Roll T-shirts would set his sights on taking on the task of designing a special Rays edition T-shirt to be given out to Rays Republic fans. And we have all seen him before after games or at Rays events like Rays Fan Fest or the Season Ticket Party at Gameworks in recent years sporting his black “Motorhead” T-shirt.

 
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But then again, Rays pitcher James Shields was also the guest announcer during a segment of the Rays 2009 “Rays on the Runway” fashion show and showed his own sense of style and designer flair during that brief flash on your television screen. And with that passion now exposed, the Rays consulted with Shields about maybe designing a Rays custom collectible T-shirt to be given out during the Rays Friday night celebrations in 2010.


Since the 1980’s, this form of clothing has been known to sport expressionistic ideals and images and was the perfect opportunity for Shields to show his skill in this avenue of fashion. Now this is not to suggest or introduce Shields as a T-shirt designer to the World, but is a great and special way for him to show his expression and passion for the game of baseball upon a cotton canvas. And Shields immediately chose his most famous T-shirt color, black as the base for his artistic T-shirt expression.

 
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When you first gaze upon the T-shirt you see instantly his style and his want to include baseball images and motifs intertwined in his design. From the lower cap lettering of “big game” under the front collarbone line to the induction of blue flames going outward from the center, you instantly got a Rock and Roll feel to the project. Then the central image of Shields in his on-the-mound pose right before he delivers a pitch, to the two flaming baseball skulls located around the bodies pectoral muscle region, the T-shirt instantly brings you into the design.


And the use of the white to accent both the outline of Shields and the baseball skulls brings you instantly into that region of the T-shirt as it pops off the black T-shirt. The front design of the Shields inspired T-shirt ends about midway down with a scroll piecing that is center under Shields outline on the mound and includes his uniform number “33” in a blue lettering. And around the centralized design is blue hued artistic designs that also seems to push your eyes towards the center of the design.

 
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The back of the T-shirt also sports its own Shields inspired creation as his ever popular nickname set in uppercase lettering that is emblazed across the back upper shoulder region like his game day jersey. The moniker “Big Game” on the back of the T-shirt instantly pulls you into this region in silver ink and you also notice just below it the “TB” initials of the Tampa Bay Rays team. But the thing that might miss you eyes unless you turn the T-shirt upsides down might be the gigantic griffin, which has long been considered a symbol of power and strength.


The griffin is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle, which encompasses the king of beasts and birds into one animal entity. And the griffin illustrated on Shield’s T-shirt actually takes on the characteristics of a 15th Century alce or a keythong and the image is pronounced as if it was actually a coat of arms inspired design with a crown upon the griffin’s head.

 
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I got to say it personally is a unique and well designed T-shirt that will become an instant Rays collectors item, and one I think we might possibly see again in the future from Shields. But again it shows that each of these members of the Rays 25-man roster have outside interests that some of us might never know, or hear about unless it is brought to our attention or provided for all of us to marvel and enjoy also in life. Shields has a knack for designing, and might have been one of those kids who doodled a lot in class as a kid upon his notebooks or on sheets o paper.


Talent can come in many forms. It can be a sports talent like Shields unique change-up that has buckled the knees of many Major League Baseball player, or it could be an artistic talent like his recent T-shirt design for the Rays fans. Who knows where this first inspiration by Shields will go from here. He could go on to producing a yearly special design or make it an off or in season project to help raise funds or involve the community to show support for a cause or an event.

Major League Baseball players like Shields are all over the place. Most of the guys on the Rays 25-man roster have additional talents most of us might never know about unless they are shown or expressed to us fans. Fernando Perez has a special gift for writing, Carlos Pena is the fashion staple on the team, and we all know Rays bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos is the team dance instructor.

 
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Talents off the field help to endear us to our Rays players and it takes away that invisible barrier that makes them “off limits” or unapproachable to us. The Rays boast one of the most fan-friendly teams in Major League Baseball, but sometimes a little insight or exposure of the person within brings a new appreciation of that player to all of us.

I know with Shields it showed a side of him you would not have imagined with the creation of this special James Shields inspired T-shirt. Hopefully this is not the first player that opens the door a bit to us in 2010 and shows us the level of talent this team has beyond the base paths and mound.

I Hate Media Negativity

 
 
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I was sitting the stands last night and people just seem to want to harp and gripe on these so-called “attendance woes” that the Tampa Bay Rays seem to be having after just 12 total home games into the 2010 season. I get sick sometimes of reminding the Rays Republic that these short weekday night time series like the past two-game series against the Oakland Athletics have been traditionally produced some of the worst attended Rays games over their entire past 12 years. These series against non-rival foes, during the work week have never produced substantial attendance number so early in the season.

But it seems to be the local Tampa Bay regional media’s short term plan to push the sluggish attendance situation needle down firmly into the red danger zone and provide some often misleading attendance perceptions surrounding this past Oakland series numbers. I personally hold the local media accountable for some of the present “doom and gloom” that is being felt within the confines of Tropicana Field on game days/nights. It is throwing a false sense of impending Rays disaster concerning the future of this Rays team staying in this region when you focus your attention on attendance numbers on not only a two-game weekday series, but against a team that is traditionally a low Rays crowd producer.

Lost in your articles and comments is the fact that Rays games held from Tuesday through Friday have been a source of constant Rays concern over the past 12 seasons, not just during this 6-game home stand. And the biggest gripe I have right now is why you are bringing up this garbage with two team like Kansas City and Oakland visiting Tropicana Field and not waiting until May 24-30th when Boston and Chicago come calling to Tropicana Field for the first time in 2010. Waiting until a traditionally high attended series to focus on these “woes” seems warranting at least a good cross reference of attendance figures.

But the recent attendance badgering by the local media, both in print and broadcast seem to show they are fine tuning their sights towards this small segment of the Rays home schedule which actually is a bit premature and totally out of context in my view. Sure there were less than 11,000 here on recent nights, but also lost in the shuffle is that there were no stadium giveaways or game day events or entertainment value offered to get Rays fans with kids or adults out to the ballpark during the work week. And you have guess that the Rays Sales Department is fuming over the media focusing on two game instead of a possible huge upswing in the last four days of the home stand when on Friday the team will give away a Rays collector’s item James Shield-inspired T-shirt, plus a post game fireworks show.

If you throw in the estimated 30,000+ Rays crowd expected for the team’s “Hall of Fame” night on Saturday night, which will conclude with a Rays /Hess Express Saturday Night Concert by blues rockers Z Z Top, plus the always popular Rays St.Petersburg Times Fun Day on Sunday, where a family of four can attend a game for $ 40, then you have the making of pure instant upward trend in attendance numbers. One of the constant complaints I have with our instant media today is the furious ebb and flow of positive and negative information that can be veiled by hidden agendas and information, but voiced within milliseconds around the globe, and can not be deleted or taken back after the truth is exposed.

 
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The stark reality here in the Tampa Bay region is that we live in a constant flux of fiscal daily decisions that offers substantial options for our disposable entertainment dollars. And the one constant fact that can show that the Rays have the community support and an indirect call to the area’s passion for the team is the ever increasing Rays Radio and Television broadcast share numbers that instantly illustrate that the Rays Republic is out there, but might just not have the financial means to attend as many games this season as in the past.

With the local media minds dwelling on the negatives and dumping the positives in a bag and throwing it away, they are producing an National negative image and a false connotation of this region’s love for the game of baseball. And it might take multiple enthusiastic articles or positive-based columns to effectively reverse the course of the rest of the Nation’s perception of this team’s fan base. One local fish wrap is re-posting past articles on the Rays stadium situation, while anther harps on the recent attendance number after only 12 home games.

I think we need a collective compromise here. Maybe the people sitting in the Rays Press Box need to just come down and watch a Rays game from field level again.
Feel that rush of emotion and passion that encompasses this entire stadium when the team takes the field. Maybe get hit in the face by the rush of passion for the game again from a well timed hit, or a Rays player crossing the plate to provide the winning run. Maybe the media members need to again become fans of the game and not always see themselves as stark sentinels of the game.

Baseball is a live and breathing entity that constantly changes and they might have lost that aspect of the game in their collective isolation up in the Press Box. Sure they can hear the crowd cheering in the Press Box. They can ever see and sense the ebb and flow of the game, but they might just need to experience the game again from field level to get engulfed into positives of the game again. Negativity breeds negativity, but the rush of positive energy and enthusiasm that is currently swirling during Rays game needs to again embrace those in the Press Box.

If you want, come on down to my section in the stadium sometimes and get a wide view of what is really going on within the confines of Tropicana Field. All the action doesn’t always happen on the field. I can promise you will see emotion and passion you do not see so far up in the Press Box. I can guarantee you will again feel a sense of value in even low numbers in the stands. The passionate fans are here now, and the rest will follow soon enough when the records and the end of the season nears again.

 
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Biased reporting and hidden agendas and excluding vital factual information is a tool of the media, but it could backfire on all of us and not drive the attendance upward but stagnate it and possibly reverse it. This is a great crowd of people that feel alienated and confused by your recent articles. The Rays fan is seeking the truth and trying to judge for themselves if maybe there is darkness on the horizon. Doubt is a terrible thing to have in your heart and mind. It cloud the generalization of positive things and draws in the negative like a sponge.

Not saying you should just do light and fluffy pieces the rest of the season, but maybe spreading some of that enlightened positive Rays of light through your columns and articles might just get a new influx of fans into the stadium……Just think about it.

Lone Pinellas Site Perfect for Rays Stadium

 


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For years during my many roadtrips to and from Tampa, Florida back towards Pinellas County and St. Petersburg my eyes have always seemd to focus towards this dense and swampy parcel of land just outside my passenger window always questioning why some developer had not previously built something amazing on this prime real estate parcel.  And it simply astonished me that this parcel of tall grass was not being held vacant because of the salt water intrusion or the mangroves thickets lining the southern most edges of the parcel, but for some other cosmic solution. 

Sure I had seen a few scattered rental communities and office buildings spring up just off this uneven and water-soaked parcel, but even with the distant encroachment of modern civilization, this one huge pact of land has remained pretty consistant and dormant for several decades. And even as I stare quickly scanning this large parcel, my wild imagination used to rush a bit and tried to envision what could one day be built upon this land and maybe  become a welcoming beacon of this community to any traveler cruising Southbound on I-275 just beyond the Ulmerton Road and 9th Street exit ramps towards the hamlets of mid Pinellas County or St. Petersburg.

Why had this massive singular parcel with stood the rush of greed and money and had somehow been sparred by the decades of real estate speculation and explosions to remain clear and free of development? Had there been a wise or (hopefully) missed decision by someone stuck somewhere within an office building without windows to not build, sell or even excavate and level this lush green segment just off the southern tip of the Howard Franklin bridge. Was it held instead by a sly developer or real estate mastermind for the future, and an endeavor of great magnitude unforseen by the region’s citizens for so long.


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Could someone had visualized so far into the past that this same parcel could one day  be the site of a great architectural symbol of this Florida region built upon its sandy soil and forever be known throughout the  baseball world for its construction on this very site? That it would house the benchmark in green technology and also embrace the surrounding mangroves and oyster beds to showcase that man and nature could co-exsist, even with the intrusion of sports just beyond the tide pools?

And maybe it was a blessing that finally on Monday, the A Baseball Community (ABC) coalition began to finally bring to light some of their year long discussions and meetings to finalize their detailed report to the local Tampa Bay communities on the future of  Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays franchise in this area. And it was real big surprise to me and maybe most of Tampa Bay, that two out of the three recommended locales for a stadium were within the confines of Hillsborough County.  

It really did not surpise me in the least that the lone plot of land even being considered for a recommendation by the ABC Coalition on the Pinellas side of the bridge was this lone sandlot of land that might have been held for just this purpose in hindsight. That the miracle that this plot did not go under the blades of a bulldozer or excavator before now is simple unimaginable to me. And for the sake of total honest here, this same parcel of soil was my personal choice for the building of a baseball stadium site back in the late 1980’s when the discussion first came up for the site of the then Florida Suncoast Dome/Thunderdome/Tropicana Field.

Finally it is so wild that this little preserved parcel of land might some day  might be considered to produce the centerpiece building or stae-of-the-art facility this region has been seeking for the Rays and this community as a whole for so long. And it is still a bit mindboggling to me that this parcel of land has stood the test of time and is still standing here, undeveloped and might just prove to be the perfect location to make both sides of the bay again embrace baseball with a open arms from both sides of the pristine blue Tampa Bay waters.


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It is simply unimaginable that at this very location lies some great infrastructural groundwork already being done to improve the area’s roads and provide additional external ramps for future usage.  That this parcel might neeed a bit more subtle tweaking and upgrading compared to the other two sites to take on the extra burden of game day traffic and even ground transport to and from all points around Tampa Bay. This parcel of land sits smack in the middle of a ever growing section of Pinellas County that can support such a complex being built on this site, and should flourish beyond present expectations as both an entertainment center and transportation hub.

And  even the odd thoughts of reliable forms of alternative transportation options might have been done by accident in the past, but could prove a bright shining star to  showcase this parcel. Because of the local business district at Carillion Parkway, there is an already established Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus route that serves the surrounding neighborhood office complex/condo community to the west of this parcel of land that could be greatly expanded to ease the transportation burdens of fans or  might even be more fine tuned to the needs of the stadium complex.

Sure there will need to be additonal road construction or even off ramps or remote parking lots to take full advantage of the stadium, but they could be effectively designed to take the additonal stress off of  the usual I-275 traffic going towards other Tampa Bay regions. And I personally like the idea of a year round Convention Center being constructed on the parcel to help bring a burst of activity to the stadium year round.  But the biggest priority will have to be to build a great infrastructure supporting system to ease the demands by the I-275 traffic returning from Hillborough County at the 5 pm rush hour on game days.

And if you really want to look into the future about possible traffic solutions, maybe the PSTA and Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit Authority (HARTA) could combine or share some resources and produce a tra
ffic alternative to bringing fans to Rays games from satellite parking lots or pre-destined pick-up locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. But because this parcel of land, to me, is so perfect for this future Rays stadium, my imagination is already running a mile a minute with ideas and future personal idea recommendations. Guess that is why they did not consider me for a post on the Coalition(lol).

And it is great to be finally have the ABC report coming out and we can get a bit of closure towards all of the ideas and proposals thrown up in the air over the last two years considering locations for a future home for the Rays. And it finally puts the obsurd idea of refurbishing Tropicana Field or even considering the distant Tampa Fair Grounds out as choices for final stadium consideration, and we can quickly move onto the three best locales.
 

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And the Pinellas County choice is simply ideal as it is also situated within a critical epicenter of the cross-county area to give more access to Tampa residents and upper Pinellas and Pasco-Hernando county citizens, but might prove a bit of an added driving burden for people traveling north from Sarasota or Manatee Counties. But if it is a state-of-the-art stadium with all the bells and whistles to entice corporate America to expand their involvement and support with the Rays, then we are all going to be winners in the long run, not just the Rays.

This beautiful parcel of land was left in it’s present state for some reason. It has withstood the Florida construction booms to stay true and unbuilt upon for decades. Could this be the ultimate locale for the Rays future proposed stadium? Can we finally put to rest the echoes of discontent by the citizens of Tampa to their “bridge phobia” or the hour long commute to games and finally bridge this stadium location into a unified show of community support by the  Tampa Bay region on this one proposed site.


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Next time you rush down Ulmerton Road on your way home from Tampa, look to the northwest and check out this parcel of land and see if you can see what I see…. A beautiful retractable roof stadium with a natural grass surface situated right off a main span of highway, but with a distant flickering lights of the downtown buildings surrounding Tampa Bay from the sight points on this tract of land.

This debate might be destined to go back and forth for the next few years with each side proclaiming some thin sliver of a slice of advantage to their location. But this location to me is perfectly suited to entertain the notion and the construction of a new masterpiece stadium for baseball. People soon forget that the first drawings of Tropicana Field had the stadium open to the elements on its southern side.


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Instead it was enclosed and with Minnesota opening their new open-air stadium in 2010, the Trop will be the last of the totally domed stadium in Major League Baseball. So maybe it was  a sort of locale devine intervention that left  this parcel vacant for so long and loudly screams “baseball stadium” to me. And hopefully it will be heard loud and long enough for even the multitudes of Rays fans in both counties to conclude….This has to be the new home for Rays baseball.

 

Fogerty Brought the Swamp to the Trop

 
 
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Got to tell you, I am a child of the 1960’s. Got my first walking papers about the time that the Freedom Rider bus was firebombed in Anniston, Alabama and began my long-winded speech patterns the day the Berlin Wall began construction. I had the early sixty’s painted all around my simple soul and it has always been a part of my subconscious life. And it was in that time that I also first began to get my interest in music almost simultaneous with my love for baseball.


But in the 60’s there was no “walk-up” music or even a interesting musical interlude between pitchers strolling from the mound or hitching a ride in a golf cart to the mound. But if there was to be music played at the ballpark at that time period, Cajun Bluesman John Fogerty surely would have had a well selected portion of the baseball world humming his tunes or people swaying in the stands to his beats and guitar.

 
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Not to be forgotten in 2010 is the fact that his signature song about his love for the game, “Centerfield” is celebrating its 25th year. And what better way to celebrate than to invite almost 30,000 of your closest baseball friends to join in the festivities with you. So last Saturday night, during their yearly “60’s Night” when the young lasses of the Rays Team were dancing to songs only their parents would have played prior either on vinyl or 8-track, the scene quickly evolved into a classic bluesy music fest honoring Fogerty’s contribution to that era’s music.


And some around me were upset that he actually started with “Centerfield” first on his long play list, but because of the plethora of tunes and melodies he would evoke in all of us that night, in the end, it only seemed right. So he took to the stage with his Home blue Rays jersey and his small baseball bat-shaped guitar and brought the crowd instantly into his own little bayou-inspired trip.

 
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And sure right after the song when he brought his highly accented Cajun drawl to the microphone thanking the crowd and talking about the adventure we were about to take…I felt transported to a small darkened nightclub in the French Quarter, or the back porch of a swamp bar somewhere around Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Fogerty had just come to Tropicana Field after performing at the 2010 Swannee River Jam on Friday night with fellow artists like Travis Tritt, Zac Brown Band, John Michael Montgomery, rockers Kansas and the LoCash Cowboys. How wild is it that he would mosey right down southbound on I-75 from Live Oak, Florida near the Georgia/Florida border to the confines of Tropicana Field before resting a spell before hitting the Scandinavian leg of his upcoming European Tour.
 

 
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But immediately after he got finished playing “Centerfield”, Fogerty discarded his Rays jersey to moans from the crowd, but got into the spirit of the night dressed in a brown plaid flannel shirt and jeans and changing guitars to begin our transformation of the night into a Blues mini-fest of all his Credence Clearwater Revival moments and his own special take on the music scene. The minute the first chords were played on his electric guitar of “Born on the Bayou”, the crowd was whooping and hollering for more. And it is classic to hear people still singing a song that was written so long ago, and before most of them were ever imagined in their parent’s minds.
 

It was a night where it seemed that with every musical note and every sway of the serenade Fogerty was transporting all of us into a mystical adventure we would be talking about for weeks. When Fogerty began strumming his guitar, and the crowd picked up immediately on the song “Who Will Stop the Rain” the crowd erupted into song along with him, and even if some of the harmonies were a bit off, it was a pure musical moment you either were totally drawn into, or it fell by the wayside…..Personally, I was drawn deep into it like a moth to a flame.

 
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“Lookin’ Out My Backdoor” caught some in the crowd by surprise that they forgot he did the classic tune, but the crowd dancing and singing to the tune quickly brought the rest of us into the journey one more time. From “Fortunate Son” to “Up Around the Bend” Fogerty kept the Trop thumping with drumbeats and guitar riffs until we all felt we had lost 10 pounds just from the constant singing and dancing among the aisles and stadium Field Turf II.

 
The night pulsated with the high beats of “Run Through the Jungle” and “Green River” to the instant crowd pleasing favorites of “Travelin’ Band” and “Old Man Down the Road”, which has always been a CCR/Fogerty personal favorite of mine. But Fogerty wasn’t done with us yet. He made sure to thank all of us for coming out and enjoying the music with him before he began to play what most people had anxiously waited to hear that night. A classic tune so great other artists had done covers of it, and a song that truly speaks to Forgerty’s unique songwriting talents.


 
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No, I am not talking about the slow ballad classic “Garden Party”, but it was extremely amazing in its own right on Saturday night. What I think the crowd had been waiting for was “Proud Mary”, and Fogerty and his band mates did not disappoint any of us in the least with this classic song that everyone knew, even those under twenty years of age. It is a song that transcends gender and age boundaries and really emotionally takes you into another realm of music greatness.


And Fogerty sang it like it was his very first time bellowing out the tune with the extreme emotion in his heart and a deep soul of a man who knows this type of Cajun-influenced music has a place in every section of the World and in all of our hearts and mind too. Got to tell you some nights I leave the Rays/Hess Express Saturday night Concert Series with a ringing in my ears from the high bass or the implosion of sounds to my eardrums.

On Saturday night I left Tropicana Field with a constant ringing in my ears of classic blues/rock songs I want to repurchase again on I-tunes or other music sites. but also wanted to again relish in my car the music of Fogerty and a section of this country often misunderstood or forgotten. One tremendous concert series artists down, and nine to go.

 
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If this weekend’s guests, ZZTop is even remotely close in comparison to the music and memory flashbacks I had with Fogerty on Saturday night, it is going to be a long year watching these artists take stage. But in the end, it is the music that shapes us. That evokes the memories and the emotions of times in our lives where joy or sorry are housed.

Forgerty brought back those youthful Fraternity parties and backyard BBQ’s I grew up with as a young kid in the Citrus/Hernando County regions where my parents had a weekend fishing cabin. It reminded me why I love living in this region of the country, and how music truly shapes your life in so many ways.

 
 
 

Crawford Celebrates his 1,000 Leftfield Start

 
 
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I popped up a tweet on Twitter the other day asking if I might be the only member of the Rays Republic to know that Tampa Bay Rays Leftfielder Carl Crawford celebrated his 1,000th start in Leftfield as a member of the Rays on Saturday night. Coming into the Rays 2010 season, Crawford has started 983 times in LF for the Rays, and with him sitting out only one Rays contest prior to their 18th game of the season on Saturday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, Crawford has now become a member of the 4-digit career starts longevity club in the MLB.

And I suspect in the last 10 years, that club has not inducted a lot of this generations MLB stars. But there was not a single Raysvision scoreboard moment before, during or after the game. No special mention of this awesome feat during the Rays Radio broadcast, or a spoken word over the Public Address system to give all of the Rays fans in attendance a chance to get on their feet and give Crawford the Standing Ovation he deserves for his long tenure service to the Rays. Here is a guy who has been a constant face of the Rays franchise since Crawford took his first steps upon the Field Turf II in 2001, and I am the only one outside, or in the Rays Press Box who saw this stat printed in the Rays 2010 Media Guide.


Not to push that I have any literary tendencies here, but I have been known to grace and glance at the pages of this 448 page colossal Rays Media Guide before and during Rays games as an instant resource for little tidbits and snippets just like this one concerning CC. Maybe what is troubling me deep down inside is that it would only take 30 seconds of airtime, a minute of scoreboard recognition, and might show Crawford that his sweat and grime over these years has been valued beyond just the “W’s” , the base stealing, and his multiple All-Star nods. That the Tampa Bay region has truly taken him in as a member of their own Rays family.

After Saturday nights game I spoke with a member of the Rays media cliché` (who wants to remain nameless) about this and he told me it was maybe just an oversight, but that these kind of career stats do not come up or matter as much as the offensive gems Crawford could still obtain here in 2010. Plus since CC already owns most of the Rays offensive numbers not related to power hitting already, it might seem as repetitious to those outside the stadium.

That even thought the event should have at least gotten a chance for the fans to give a roaring sign of support for Crawford, there might have been more pressing issues and events that determined it to be a fact that slips by without notice….or should have if I had not brought it up.

 
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And maybe this Rays Media member is right. Maybe it should not be something I am not so upset about, or frustrated about at all. Maybe I am turning into one of those emotional baseball historic factoid saps who actually think a moment of simple acknowledgment and crowd recognition can sometimes mend a fence better than a boatload of money. Maybe I have finally crossed that proverbial fence I have been riding for years and actually am outwardly giving a damn about these guys.

But, that is just the way I follow the game. I am the guy who envisions the little things snowballing into bigger situations. Maybe I finally grew up as a baseball fan and now see multiple sides of the game simultaneously instead of just the action on the field.

But it did bother me that a Rays player like Crawford, who takes up 9 pages in the Rays 2010 Media Guide did not get some sort of cap nod, or even vocal mention besides here in a Rays MLB-based blog that most member of the Rays Republic will never read on their way to the other Rays blogs. But then again, I am a fan-based blog and only get a mention if I show a photo or a snippet of information most people would not know unless I flushed it out of the system.

I am considered by some in the lefty Press Box as a bottom-feeder who finds the small morsels and turn them into a Goliath fish weighting 200 plus pounds (maybe like this post). There have been some recent other snippets or morsels just from the Rays career start page that within 2010 will see a total of four other Rays current players set their own career starts record for their respective positions. Some people might say that it just seemed like yesterday that B J Upton was beginning to learn the ropes at the team’s Centerfielder after his flurry of starts around the Rays infield.

But would it had made any difference to any of us that Upton also on Saturday night became the Rays career games leader in Centerfield passing Rays roving instructor Rocco Baldelli by staring his 375th career game in CF. Ironic that John Fogerty was here and started with “Centerfield” as his first song of the night.


And with the National Media attention on the Rays duo earlier in the season, don’t you think that Upton and Crawford both posting Rays career start marks on the same night might be a nice little factoid to toss to the Media fish? You would think at least the folks at Elias might catch onto this small morsel. But neither of them were mentioned at all, even in the Rays MLB Press Pass online publication for either Saturday or Sunday.

Or would it have mattered that with his 85th start of 2010 somewhere around the 2010 All Star break, Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena will pass former Rays First Baseman Fred McGriff and become the team’s career starts leader making his 483rd start at First Base for the Rays? Want to bet that makes the media handout!

Or maybe the fact that recently, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria, who is entering his third season with the Rays, in only his sixth start of the 2010 season at home set the Rays Third Base career starts record with his 273rd start passing former Ray Aubrey Huff for that honor.

And I have gazed twice and did not see that on Sunday’s MLB Press Pass either…Hmmm? But maybe it is just me that thinks it is impressive and show the solidarity of this Rays player foundation and the longevity of the strength of this team that these four will all have set career start records during this season.

 
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And this is only talking about career starts, this is not digging into the team’s record books like a member of SABR even trying to find diamond hidden in the miles of words and facts. But the pure fact that these four instances just jumped out at me during this weekend truly speaks volumes to how if the general Rays media members do not have the space or the time to add such small bits of recognition, maybe that is a niche I should consider soon as my blog format.

Maybe there is a need to find the “small things” dangling off the line and take it like a Blue Marlin and run with it.


Maybe it is time to reconfigure and rethink. There is such a plethora of information out there in the Internet stratosphere just aching for some sunlight. Maybe I should take a few fellow Rays friends advice and seek one of those names upon the black tags around the Rays dugout and reestablish the Rays Renegade website. Maybe there is a place for both my long-winded blog posts, and smaller multiple paragraphs of photos or even great Rays information that could be beneficial to other Rays Republic followers.

But it does still bother me that Crawford, who started his 1,000th career game in LF for the Rays did not get an ounce of mention. Especially since the Rays player who holds second place in that LF category is former Ray Greg Vaughn who started only 159 Rays games, and who last manned that spot before Crawford became the heir apparent.

P.S. I know my photos are coming out a bit blurry, but I have an inferior camera. I at first thought it was my eyes going bad on me, but I had someone else also take a few and they came out the same way. As soon as I get some chicken feed, I will upgrade my camera and also get a wide angle/ telephoto lens that suits game day shots….Might take a while.

Zorilla Gorilla Webkinz Adventures, Part 2

 
 
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You might remember that last weekend I went around the beaches and stores of the Pinellas County area to bring about the excitement about the Tampa Bay Rays upcoming promotion for the Zorilla Gorilla Webkinz. Well, it is finally only a day for the kids around Tampa Bay to get their own Zorilla to hug, snug or even just put on the bookshelf as a keepsake of their own. So with that in mind, this is the last installment of the Zorilla Gorilla adventures around Tampa Bay.

But what kind of antics will I have our furry friend doing today? I guess since we just had Earth Day recently we might as well take in a few of the natural wonder that make this region such a great place to live….and I might have a few other surprises down the line…You never know with me and the Zorilla Gorilla.

 
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So I decided that the Gorilla needed to go and burn off a few extra calories and some adrenaline that builds up when you are traveling in a car for most of the day. So we headed on over to one of my favorite parks in the area, Lake Seminole and took in the kid’s playground area and also sat on the docks for a bit and watched the boats and jet ski’s streaming by before again heading back to the slides and artificial rock climbing area.

 
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And the kids I saw at the park (along with some of the adults) were excited to know that the first 10,000 of them and their friends would be able to come on down to Tropicana Field on Sunday along with their families and get their own special Zorilla Gorilla for their own. Besides the kid’s getting this great collectible, the parents will see the extreme value that Sunday’s offers with the St. Petersburg Times Sunday Fun Days package where a family of four can come to a game with affordable comfort.

 
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But what kind of day would it be if we did not go hit the best natural option available in this region….the white sandy beaches. So I took the Zorilla Gorilla for his first venture into the area of St. Petersburg Beach and we went out to the jetty area right at the end of Pass-a-Grille Beach and watched the multitudes of boats and watercraft zoom all around the sparkling emerald green open waters of Tampa Bay.

 
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And I have had a few people remark on how the Zorilla Gorilla is a more defined Gorilla subject than his cousin who was given away near the end of 2009 by the Rays Baseball Foundation. His cousin is more in line with a big chimp than the current Zorilla Gorilla who definitely looks more powerful and is larger than life, even on the white sands of the beach among the sea oats.

 
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And it was “Gorilla being Gorillas” while we were at the beach were the trio did paddle ball, swam in the warm waters and just made a day of it, but in the distance we could see a large object dominating the seascape and we decided to head on down the beach about a mile to one of the Rays favorite resorts in this area, the Tradewinds Resort where the team holds outdoor Rays Radio broadcast parties when the weather is prefect and the Rays are out on the road during the beautiful Summer months.

 
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And the Zorilla Gorilla was just like a kid in a candy store as he went from corner to corner of the huge resort checking out all the sights and sounds and also causing a little monkey business of his own. Here he is in the main courtyard by a glorious fountain that he pushed his brother and his little cousin by “accident” right before into the fountain before I took the photo…How thoughtful of him.

 
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I have to tell you, thanks goodness this boat was anchored on solid ground because these three monkeys wanted to get on it and sail out into the western seas of the Gulf of Mexico and really did not think about provisions or even a little banana pick-me-up for later in the day. But he did get to fulfill his fantasy of being “King of the World!” As he did reenact that famous scene from “Titanic” on the landlocked vessel.

 
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But I did try and get that sailor’s anxiousness out of him so all four of us decided to shanghai a paddle boat and we did a lap around the man-made lagoon that encompasses the resort’s property with me doing all the work and the Gorillas all flirting with the girls. I was told since I was the least hairy of the bunch it was my duty to paddle the boat and be the “Captain”, but for some reason I didn’t even feel like the First Mate on this voyage. And why did they keep calling me Gilligan?

 
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But I kept one of the biggest surprises for right after we got off the paddle boats and took them beach-side to see the towering water slide that is always fun
ctioning and also a wet and wild adventure here at the Tradewinds. All three of the Gorillas were eager, willing and sprinted for the line to be the first to try this awesome slide. And I got to say, all three were acrobatic and also very animated as they made their way from the top barreling towards the end of the slide and to again run and get into line…..about 40 times that day.

 
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But while we were out there on the beach sitting in a nice Cabana, one of the Gorilla remarked that he would love to one day own some beachfront property and maybe settle down and enjoy this lifestyle for good. Well that got the rest of us working hard and we produced a nice prototype of his beachfront casa made out of the great sands. And besides, what day at the beach would not be complete without a picture of someone near a sand castle?

 
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So as we were leaving the beach area, the Gorilla’s all remarked that they had a case of the munches, so we stopped by the local Sweetbay Supermarket to get some instant potassium, and one of the Gorilla decided to just be the clown in the store and he jumped right up into the banana display and would not come down without two pounds or more personally put into a bag and saved just for him.
 

 
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But then, just out of my eye range, another of the Zorilla Gorilla’s had decided he wanted to purchase a bunch of Pepsi products for the trip back into St. Petersburg and was all excited that he could enter for a chance to win Home Plate tickets and a $ 100 food card for future bananas and essentials from Sweetbay. But I think the real reason he wanted to jump up on that display was to finally get a photo with Raymond, the Rays furry mascot.

 
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So I finally got them all out of the store and into the car and we decided to go hit some of the downtown St. Petersburg sites before I finally dropped them off at their hotel for the night. Here they are in the Rays garden that encircles the eastern portion of Tropicana Field and is an example of one of the ways the Rays promote “green” living and provide a journey into some of the areas sustainable plants that do not use excessive water, or promote environmental watershed advantages to your own home planting scheme.

 
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The guys even wanted to visit the Rays Team Store and see some of the great items and values they had for Rays fans, but the store had closed a few hours before, but you know them. They wanted to sit there and wait for the store to open in the morning, and if I had not talked them into visiting some other sites, we might still be there now.

 
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One of the Zorilla Gorillas was actually feeling pretty brave today and wanted to scale the Trop. like his old Grandfather King Kong and lounge around on the sloped roof getting a much needed suntan. But I told him I could not get him to the hatch in the Cupola of Tropicana Field and he would have to just jump for joy and hope this photo remotely looked like he was standing on top of the roof…..Not sure it is totally believable, but he liked it.

 
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And while we were standing in the parking lot of Tropicana field, we heard a sound of a wooden bat and a ball meeting and the Zorilla Gorillas immediately went searching for the sounds. It took us down to Progress Energy Field where a local amateur team was playing an exhibition game on the Rays old Spring Training stomping grounds. We could not get into the front of the stadium, so the Zorilla Gorillas acted like the old Knothole Gang and took their chances by scaling the fence and sitting in the bushes to watch the game.

 
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But what day would not be complete without visiting the construction site of the new Salvador Dali Museum going up right within a Home Run of Progress Energy Field. The Museum is not finished yet, but it will be one of the most beautiful waterfront building in St. Peterburg, Florida when it is finally completed.

 
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Not sure if it was the abstract look of the Dali Museum, or maybe the kiss from the sun and all their adventures of the day finally zapped the Zorilla Gorillas of their energy today, but the guys wanted head on over to Hotel Indigo and call it a night. Got to admit, this small chic boutique hotel has some interesting history as the Rolling Stones once stayed here while doing a concert in the now gone Bayfront Center arena. So I drooped the guy off just in time for “Happy Hour” and they saddled up to the bar for a virgin banana concoction.

 
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But it was a great day for everyone involved, even me. And the Zorilla Gorilla wanted me to end this post with a photo of him outside Tropicana Field hoping that every kid gets a chance today to come on out to the ballpark and take him home for their own. And then they can also embark on the
ir own set of adventures in the far reaching areas of Tampa Bay that we all call home.  See you at the ballpark! 

Another Skill Added to Sean Rodriguez’s MLB Resume`

 
 
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You always hear about a player’s character and their ability to do some interesting things when they are traded to you team, and before tonight I was buying most of the selling that the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays were saying about their “Zorilla-in-Training” Sean Rodriguez. During this year’s Spring Training he did everything but set out the buffet sterno’s and check in the daily Fed Ex packages. He proved to me that he was going to be on my closely watched list this entire season to see if he deserved such acclaim early in 2010.


But I have to tell you Rays Republic, right after Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro got an early shower and unexpected snack time after serving up a few choice four-letter words while eagerly discussing the merits of a consistent strike zone with Home Plate Umpire Dan Bellino, seeing Rodriguez jog down to the Rays Bullpen, I knew the Rays had bagged a winner in the Scott Kazmir trade.

For as the Rays were adamantly searching for back-up catcher John Jaso, who was in the Rightfield bathroom region and was detained for a few minutes, Rodriguez almost looked like he was going to get some wild initiation time behind the plate during a Major League Baseball game. But it was kind of funny how Rodriguez initially came down to the Rays Bullpen with just a smile and no shin guards or even a chest protector, but within a short time and maybe a few favors in the future for Navarro, he came back out to the Bullpen area and began to stretch and go over some “crouch” exercises with Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos.

 
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And when Rays reliever Lance Cormier was getting warmed up to come into tonight’s game, it was Rodriguez who was situated behind the painted home plate dish on the Tropicana Field’s turf. With Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi by his left shoulder, Rodriguez did an excellent job getting Cormier ready for his outing tonight, and I was further intrigued by this guy who is doing everything and anything to get playing time this season for the Rays. I mean most people might not have known that he is the Rays third catcher option if something should happen to Navarro and Jaso in a contest, and I feel a bit more secure after watching that Bullpen warm up session.


Now that is not to mean I hope or wish to see him out there in anything but an emergency role, but it is a great feeling to see him eagerly get the equipment and take the responsibility head-on and force his way into the game situational scheme of things tonight as a precaution. I have heard from people in the Rays organization that it has been a good amount of time since Rodriguez had donned the catching gear, but I got to tell you, he looked more than capable as he threw the ball to Cormier and did not under or overthrow the ball once.

And some people might think this is a little thing, but sometimes those little things can build not only a player’s confidence in his abilities all over the field, but can transcend into his hitting as he begins to feel like a total member of this Rays team. We have seen Rodriguez this season playing Second Base, Centerfield as a late inning substitute in Chicago for B J Upton, and as a great pinch hitting option already in 2010. He is truly beginning to make people think that the Rays might have found another multifaceted asset that could play any of the eight field positions on the field for the Rays with ease and comfort.

 
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Rodriguez might never have to truly don the catcher’s gear and get behind the plate for real in 2010, but now I know I can trust the judgment of Rays Manager Joe Maddon if he was to position him behind the dish in a lop-sided game, or with a great lead. It might be the next step for Rodriguez’s maturation process to add another glove and equipment to his Major League Baseball resume`, and it would not surprise me in the least if he excelled at catching too.

I just want to say “Bravo” to Rodriguez and hope he knows that by showing that eagerness to learn and to thrust himself into the fire tonight he is gaining more and more of a place in my Rays subconscious as our next evolution of Ben Zobrist.

But the funny thing is that within the next three or four years we might be talking about someone like Rays prospects currently Tim Beckham or even Matt Hall as the “next Rodriguez”…. And that is a great compliment, with or without catching gear in your locker.

 

Evolution of the A L East

 
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All over the place there have been discussions and dialogue on the Internet as to what the Major League Baseball selected committee’s should do to combat the out-of-balance competitive edges that some teams have had over the other in their own divisional fights throughout the Major League Baseball season. There is the cry of “small-market” and “limited resources”, plus the omnipotent teams bellowing that “they pay luxury taxes so that team can be competitive”.


But the reality of the whole situation is that baseball has changed by leaps and bounds from the entire scope of the game when I was a child and they first went to the present set of three American League divisions. Before 1969 the MLB really consisted of only two rosters of team city names within either the National League or American League Pennant races. But of course in that time period before 1969, there were only 8 National League squads, and a minimal total of 16 total baseball franchises in both Leagues.

It was a balanced league playing a balanced schedule and life seemed to be good before circa 1969. Then all of a sudden there was dramatic and interesting news that the MLB should expand its fan base to other locales. And with that vocal decree came the increasing sound of baseball’s internal owners’ chatter and different twisted on the senses of logic that were devised to give their own teams distinctive advantages. But out of all that rubble came the simple fact of maybe separating the American League teams within a simple and logical region-based geographical division that might make travel between the cities and team revenues both rise to unseen heights.

At the time in 1968, there were 10 American League squads spread out from Boston to California, and the possibilities of fans enjoying the game from coast-to-coast simultaneously was a burden. California, which was hours behind the Atlantic Coast franchises due to Pacific Time Zone, would have to scramble to hear a 7:05 pm start at approximately 4:05 pm in the afternoon on the radio. Heavens forbid there was a doubleheader, or even the weekly possibility of Sunday games starting at 1 pm, which would translate into listening to the game on the radio before church or while eating breakfast.

So there were an abundance of realistic logic and well-thought out theories thrown around from shore-to-shore before finally there was a simple logical compromise and an agreement put into place to suffice both Leagues place in the growing National baseball market, and it put in the possibilities for future expansion and MLB National growth. But today I am only going to focus on the changes of the AL East circa 1969 to the present day model we have in 2010. This is just a post to show from where we have come, without getting into the fight of where we should proceed from here.

We began in 1969 with 6 American League East division members which included such teams as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Senators. This first draft and finalization of the AL East is extremely different from the revised and devised current AL East picture, but at the time of its conception, it was a convenient alternative for the AL East teams to travel within only two Time Zones for their divisional games and kept their eager fans anxious to hear games on the radio or viewed on television during the weekends.

There were still bountiful road trips out to the AL West division teams in California, Texas, Ohio and Georgia, but the revised “Eastern Industrial town” slant to the division produced instant city rivalries and boosted geographical bragging rights and a thumping of the chest from the Atlantic to the tip of the Great Lakes. And at this time, the MLB schedule was still balanced with every team playing each other a certain numbers of times, with divisional foes getting a few additional games each to promote the rivalries.

All the AL East teams in that 1969 version of the division had both direct train and airline flights directly to those cities daily to promote out-of-town travelers to follow their favorite teams on the road. But the magic only lasted until 1972 when the Washington Senators ceased their operations in the Nation’s capital, and moved their franchise to the American League West division as the Texas Rangers. To produce a natural balance again in the American League, two expansion teams were awarded to Kansas City, Missouri and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Brewers franchise actually grew out of the move from Seattle of the old Pilots franchise to a more centralized baseball city location.

And with the Senators moving so far below the Mason-Dixon line to Texas, it was only logical geographically to bring the new Brewers franchise into the AL East fold. And the AL East stayed on their course for another five years until in 1977 the MLB decided to again promote expansion and awarded a new franchise to be placed in each of their two divisions. The first was a revisiting of Major League Baseball to Seattle region as the present day Mariner’s franchise. The American League then made some International news as they awarded their second franchise in Canada to the city of Toronto., and quickly moved them into the American League East family.

That also brought the total number of 14 teams currently in the American League roster. And the MLB American League format stayed the same until in 1994 the American League again expanded within itself promoting a Central Division that would only help to build more regional rivalries and also bring about increased revenues to their member teams by eliminating some excessive travel measures while bringing their three division tighter together for a close cohesive bond of their divisions. And with that move, the Brewers and Indians made their initial move to their new division along with Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.

 
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This measure left the AL East roster of three teams on the Eastern seaboard of the country, and with both Detroit and Toronto more western partners in this division. The division stayed the same until 1998 when the Tampa Bay regional community was awarded a franchise based in St. Petersburg, Florida. And with the addition of the then Devilrays, the AL East had to make a consolation decision to jetty one of its member towards the newer Central Division.


The team that took the journey out of the AL East was the Detroit Tigers, leaving the AL East division now ranging from the West coast of Florida all the way to the Canadian border Buffalo, but all the AL East teams were now on Eastern Standard Time, which made the move of Detroit more feasible because of the inclusion of the budding regional television markets broadcast schedules.

The American League East has come a long ways since its slicing and dicing into divisions in 1969. And there is no clear-cut present way to establish or change any of the localized divisional alliances without damaging some credibility along the way. But I find it quite interesting, but not in a collusion kind of way that every expansion team except for the 1977 Seattle Mariners began their run as an AL East divisional member. I have said before maybe the MLB should follow the NFL’s venture into producing a Southern Division which would include a few National League teams to balance out the whole cheesy enchilada.

It is coming people. Change is coming and we know that somewhere deep within the New York cityscape there are people looking at multiple eraser boards with viable and reasonable options and transfers of power within the whole system that will take MLB to the next level. Some people think these divisional realignments or re-distribution of talent and proximity is going to be based no moving teams like the Royals and Rays to more competitive grounds and leave the rivalries of the Boston-New York teams alone while maybe holding the Blue Jays and Orioles to this division for a long time.

The answer can not be quick, and we know it will not be easy. But can we realistically see the Boston and New York rivalry split up, or even changed by their League placements? Neither is logical or financially feasible for either team to discontinue their intense and geographically charged feeding frenzy. But will MLB have to readjust regional divisions and teams to hope to fuel the fires for teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta or Texas to establish their own set of stomping ground bragging rights and leave the Northeast to the current giants.

The AL East is in route to change. To what extent is still up in the air, on the drawing board, or within someone’s mind right now. It is going to happen, and it will come with a certain hailstorm of vocal and written responses before the masses see the logic and accept it for what it is all about…. Renewing the fever and the lust for competitive edges and more parity-based teams…Without a salary cap, this might be the only option…for now.
 
 
 
 

History Will Not Repeat Itself Tonight

 

 
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It has not even been a year since the Chicago White Sox and pitcher Mark Buehrle stuck the first Perfect Game against them in Tampa Bay Rays history upon the team back on July 23,2009. And it was not the first venture into the No-No business for Buehrle, he also got a No-hit wonder back on April 18,2007 against the Texas Rangers. But if you listened real close to the hotel lobby chatter already starting to escalate about tonight’s first meeting since “The Perfecto”, and about “The Catch” by former White Sox Dewayne Wise, you have to instantly wonder why the Rays even show up with all this hype and pomp going on even before the beads of sweat have been wiped from White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen’s forehead last night.


I can only imagine what kind of quick and witty dialogue will unfold the second after the White Sox’s open the turnstiles to U S Cellular Field today for a classic rematch of finesse over accuracy pitching versus the Rays crafty base running abilities and omnipresent power hitting potential of this line-up. The real question might actually be that this game can not, in realistic terms, even come close to the last meeting by Buehrle and the Rays offense because of their changed outfield alignment, a weaker defensive core behind Buehrle, plus the additional personal knowledge of the Rays squad as to Buehrle’s pitch selection, and the possibility of their last meeting’s game video drilled into their cranium over the last several days.
 
 
Jim Pershing/AP

This game might be more about redemption, the Rays redemption over an extremely evil moment in their team’s history that only a great (lucky) catch by Wise secured for their immortality. Seriously, the White Sox have designated and painted a small “The Catch” lettering upon the CF outfield fence to symbolize this one moment into their team history. If you remember the after the game comments of Wise that day, this whole episode could have gone either way if he had moved his glove in another position as he was coming down off that wall with the ball perched towards the end of his glove like the top of an icy white snow cone.
 

 
Jerry Lai/ US Press wire

Wise exploded up and into the Centerfield wall and his momentum seemed to bounce his catching shoulder violently into the wall, but somehow he retains his grip on his glove and makes his way down towards the outfield warning track clay and the hands of the unseen Baseball Gods mysteriously kept that ball from leaving his glove looking more like a fresh chicken egg. And the chicken and the egg metaphor truly fits here because if Wise had missed that ball, it would have fallen between his legs like a white orb leaving his chicken mothers…Let’s just say he would have laid a big egg.

 
Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune

But it was a 5-0 game at that point, and the Rays might not have secured the win no matter what had happened, but the “Perfecto” and the “No-No” would have been el gone-o at that point. It would have been a moral victory, but you got believe Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler who also made an amazing diving catch for an out in Rightfield in the same game felt a bit in the dark shadows today.


But it is great to get this kind of National attention focused towards an April night game that doesn’t involve inner divisional foes, but two teams that kind of do not like each others style of play, but respect the winning traditions. But this White Sox team in 2009 had a Rays huge chip upon their shoulders because this same Tampa Bay team thrust them out quickly of the 2008 Playoffs like a redheaded stepchild, then went all the way to the World Series. You know deep down within them each member of that 2008 White Sox Playoff team thought they had the mustard to confront the Phillies, rain or no rain and bring back another shiny heirloom for the trophy case.

And Buehrle is an amazing pitcher, I will truly give that to him. And he does possess that one demonic element that has haunted the Rays for most of 2009 and even early on in 2010. He is one of those crafty lefties like last night’s White Sox victor John Danks who can pick and choose his pitching moments to entice you with outside pitches or throw one high and tight and make you ultimately sweat like a pig at the plate. But like I said before in this post, the Rays have had a period of time to let that game fester within them, to go back over again and again changes and adjustments they would have personally done to make the outcome different.

So I am forecasting a huge barrage of action tonight. Not only will one of the aces of the White Sox be countering the Rays rookie Wade Davis on the hill tonight, but the team confidence and the team unity this season is miles ahead of the mid-July Rays team of 2009. This year’s team has an air about them that there is unfinished business in front of them, but another of their early tests will come tonight against Buehrle. Just like M C Hammer said so eloquently a few years ago, “When you take the “Devil” out, the wins come in.”

Well, the Rays have a demon on the mound tonight who has enticed and sliced and diced them into chopped Italian Beef sandwiches. And with the Rays currently showing a .151 Batting Average against Buehrle in 2009 it might seem like an uphill climb the size of Mount Everest. But the cosmic potential of this 2010 Rays squad is massively greater than the 2009 squad that did not find success against this crafty leftie. Maybe tonight the Rays write a new chapter into this classic match-up against finesse and power.

 
Mark O’Meara/AP

Maybe this time the outcome will be based on people crossing the plate and not about hard breaking backdoor cutters or an extremely well-placed change-up. Maybe the Baseball Gods this time will shiner upon the Rays and give them their first “W” against Buehrle since 2008 when they scatter 25 hits against him and posted a yearly .316 Batting Average. Maybe it is time for the Rays to play a perfect example of their style of offensive game tonight. New season means the slates are clean , and we are eager to get into the Batter’s Box.

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