I was talking to a member of the Rays Promotional team a few days ago in an email and was told that the Tampa Bay Rays were going to be pushing their upcoming “Zorilla Gorilla” Webkinz that would be given out to kids 15 and younger during the next home stand on Sunday, April 25th. So I floated out an idea that I would take one of these plush promos around the west-side of Tampa Bay over the weekend and get a few shots within a few of the Rays business partners and try and get the buzz hitting a fever pitch for the upcoming promotion.
So today my post will be mostly the photos I took over the past weekend all around the Pinellas County region of Tampa Bay. Sorry to those South of the St. Petersburg area, or to the East in Tampa, but my financial situation doesn’t merit a drive over either bridge at this time. For my travels, I decided to begin with a great morning pick-me-up at a local Tropical Smoothie location owned by the spouse of one of the Rays Front Office members, and got to say, it was one of the best blended and fruitful concoctions I have ever had in my life…Kudos for the Banana/Strawberry smoothie aka Jetty Punch offered by this awesome soda-alternative stand. You can definitely count on me coming back for another slice of taste buds heaven real soon.
So, for today’s post I will be throwing out a multitude of photo shots, and a bit of an explanation for each of the photos. I have to say in advance here, I had a blast because this was one of the first truly gorgeous sunny and steamy days this Spring and it was the perfect weather for not only cruising up and down the beach corridor, but also going out and meeting some of the Rays Republic in the stores and resorts around this great County.
I decided to start my day’s journey after getting a “wake me up” beverage at the place that outside of Tropicana Field holds the biggest set of Rays memories for most of us. That place of course is the St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport where almsot 4,000 of us helped celebrate alongside with the Rays their clinch of the 2008 American League East crown. It was a festive day, and one of the best crowd experiences I have ever seen in my life.
So being at the airport, you knew I had to head on over to one of the Rays airline connections and see if I could get the Zorilla Gorilla a First Class seat on a flight to Boston for the Sunday game. But to my dismay, the airline could get me to the NorthEast that day, but I might be a bit north of the desired location, but would have been in a foodie mecca called Portland, Maine. But when the Zorilla Gorilla heard they were serving peanuts as a snack on the flight, he decided he would rather go Fed Ex….Stubborn monkey!
I was sitting there while trying to decide on the photo at the airport and I cam upon the great thought of including my little inanimate Zorilla Gorilla with this great cartoon interpretation of an Allegiant airline jet. Found it very “hip” that the image not only had a sunburst upon the tail section of the jet, but the smile and the sunglasses were an instant hit since this one of the best day so far this Spring.
So then I decided to head on west towards the sound of the crashing waves upon the shores of Florida and came upon one of the Zorilla Gorilla’s favorite spots for a virgin Banana Daiquiri and some great music. But then again, I noticed that tonight was Ladies Night, which showed me that the Zorilla Gorilla loved to dance and mingle and basically let his inner primate come out at night.
The decided to hit the Ambassador Limo location to see if I could set up the Zorilla Gorilla with some plush and elegant transportation for the evening. Well, he had other ideas in mind and was so impressed by the white Rolls Royce and purely extremely lavish transportation that he was really thinking of using this service that evening to make an impression.
So the Zorilla Gorilla called a few of his “Boys”, and away we went for a day excursion up and down the beach region of Pinellas county swinging from the chrome rails above the seats and stopping at every single location that had either Florida gifts or a thatched hut somewhere on the grounds. It was a great day for the Zorilla Gorilla and his cousins to just enjoy the great sights and scenes of the Tampa Bay area.
Since it was still early in the morning, the Zorilla Gorilla decided it was time for another Banana shake and to make get some grub for the day trip today. And since Checker’s was open early now, it just made perfect sense to grab a few great Chili dogs and maybe a few orders of fries to make the trip a bit more enjoyable with a full stomach.
And the poor Checkers worker here did not know what she was getting into as the Zorilla Gorilla group all converged on the “Order” window and did not want to wait their time ordering. For some reason 5 straight orders were given to her at once, and amazingly, she got it right the first time…True professional, plus the Banana shakes were incredible!
But we still had to go get some added goodies and beverages for the beach venture. So we made sure to hit Hess Express for some of our cold needs and unfortunately some good-natured fun at the expense of the Zorilla Gorilla. I have to admit, it was my fault here. He asked me to open the door for him, but I let it close not knowing he was still in there and had not grabbed the Gatorade G2 yet. But that was not the only good natured fun he had at Hess Express.
So we finally got out of the store and headed to one of my favorite sand and mediation spots around this region and the Zorilla Gorilla instantly liked John’s Pass and the activity of all the sunbathers’ and fisherman trying to get some action off the rocks surrounding the pass. Got to admit it here, but it was the perfect scenario, nice seabreeze and even some great commotion started becuase of the Zorilla Gorilla’s celebrity status.
The group instantly took to the fine grit sand and spent a few great moments together as a group before the towel-snapping and the crew all took to the waves to get the much needed feel of the sea water upon their fur. The water was a perfect emerald green today and mixed with the blue of the sky made for a perfect beach day.
After a few hours of paddleball, whistling at a few primates and acting the fool, the boys decided to bury their kid cousin up to his neck in the sand. But little did he know that one of the Zorilla Gorilla group had gone over to one of the fisherman and gotten a live crab he caught and put it right behind him as he was buried in the sand. He did not even know about the crab until one of his pinchers was firmly attached to his nose and he went screaming covered in sand and with a crab dangling from his nose into the swirling waves.
After leaving the John’s Pass beach area, everyone was a bit dehydrated and felt a bit peaked, so we head on over to Sweetbay Supermarket and got some needed potassium from the bananas the Zorilla Gorilla bought in the store. He was actually sitting on the top of this display imitating James Cagney screaming “Top of the World Ma” to anyone who would listen to him. He definitely needed a potassium fix.
But before we could get out of the Sweetbay store, the Zorilla Gorilla saw a Pepsi display featuring the Rays mascot Raymond, and of course, being a good friend of the Seadog, he had to get a entry slip to win Home Plate seats and a $100 grocery spree. Hey the Gorilla might already have his seats, but to get a chance to win tickets to a free food and beverage area, plus a chance to sit in luxury behind Home Plate was an opportunity he did not want to miss out on….He could actually win!
So that concludes our Zorilla Gorilla Adventure for Saturday, but he wanted to be sure to let the Rays fans know about the upcoming Rays Radio broadcast out on the sandy shores of St. Petersburg Beach. The event would include the awesome tall waterslide, plus a chance to win Rays merchandise and possible game tickets. It was an event you know he would not miss, and tomorrow, we will see a few more places that the Zorilla Gorilla hit this past weekend.
In my honest baseball opinion, the Rays seem to have more viable options either close to the MLB level, or presently throwing some impressive ball for the team. So I am going to toss out three categories here today, showing who I think is the odds-on Rays pitching favorites to produce a pitching gem, and a few who might fly a bit under the radar, but with good command and some great defense behind them could shock the world.
We first got to see that future dominating pitching ability during the 2008 MLB season when Matt Garza took the mound against the Florida Marlins in an Inter-League contest. In the contest, Garza completed his first career complete game, but more importantly, he threw a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts against the Marlins giving up one hit on the day via a solo Hanley Ramirez Home Run to lead off the seventh inning for Florida. On the day, Garza only faced 28 batters on the day tying the Rays club record for fewest batters faced in a nine inning complete game setting also held by James Shields. But this was only our first glimpse into his possible future chance to throw a no-hitter.
This takes me to the guy who I truly think might be the one Rays pitcher you might not think of throwing a no-hitter, but pitchers who have the same abilities as this Rays right-hander have produced gems of their own. Some times it has noting to do with killer speeds on your fastball, or even the ability to read and adjust during the game. Some times it is just something as simple as a game rhythm you get into early as a pitcher that can set the tone and get you amazing results. That is why the one pitcher who might beat Garza to the punch and produce a no-hitter before him, or be the second Rays to perform the task might be Jeff Niemann.
What is simply amazing was the true fact Niemann has shown an increased dominance in several areas that could help him reel in a no-hitter bid. In 2009, Neimann allowed only 0.85 Home Runs per nine innings, which was the sixth best in the American League. But he also held lead-off batter to an astonishing .240 batting average in 2009, which was the lowest in the Major Leagues, and walked only six batters in 192 opportunities, which lead the American Leagues. And all of this was only during his Rookie campaign against aggressive American League East hitting teams.
What really pushed the thought in my mind that Niemann might be a dark horse, but a distinct no-hitter possibility might be in the fact he did not lose a home start at Tropicana Field after May 2,2009. Niemann was an impressive 6-0 in 10 starts after that date and his 3.05 ERA tied him with Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez for 1oth best in the American League….as a rookie. But what ultimately put the exclamation point on the whole debate for me was the fact he was the only rookie to EVER bet Toronto’s Roy Halladay twice in one season, and was joined later in that exclusive club by teammate David Price later in the 2009 season.
As you can see, the Rays do have the pitching firepower to be excluded from that list within a short period of time. But as we have seen as recently as the Mark Buehrle no-hit game against the Rays last season on July 23rd. You can have the ultimate command of the strike zone and get the seams of the balls itching on the black corners of the plate for strikes, but the final test might just be a single defensive play by your teammates behind you.
All three of the Rays trio mentioned, Garza, Price and Niemann have the tolls and the skills to post this gem any time they step on the rubber for a game. But it might take a leaping catch by Upton, Crawford, or maybe a diving play down the line by Longoria or Pena to produce the Rays first shinning pitching gem amongst the dust of the baseball diamond.
Isn’t it great to know that the Rays can effectively produce those sparkling moments on the mound and might someday soon also be celebrating late into the night a performance worthy of not just a no-hitter, but eliminating their name from that lonely list.
It is one of those photo collages that takes your breathe away when you first see it. Basically the magnitude of the talent and faces that have crossed within the confines of Tropicana Field is amazing. Sure we might not have Kate Hudson in our stands every night, but she was here when the New York Yankees touched down within Tampa Bay for a few games. And people like John Cusack and author Stephen King have also been known to try and sneak in a Rays game without a lot of attention.
There are currently 28 photo cut and pasted upon this collage section featuring the artists and actors who have made the Rays part of their baseball family. And it all began in November 2007 with the free concert to Rays fans who attended the Rays logo and uniform fashion extravaganza as actor/musician Kevin Costner and his band Modern West brought their own special spin to the festivities. But he was only the beginning. Since that time fellow actors/comedian Paul Rieser ( Mad About You), Chris Rock, Former SNL star/ Impressionist Darrell Hammond, Barry Williams (Greg Brady) last but definitely not least, Bill Murray who we all loved as Carl the Groundskeeper in “Caddyshack” and is a minor league baseball part owner.
But there are also local Florida athletes or players who have trained in St. Petersburg in the past who are immortalized on the concourse wall such as former Tampa Bay Buc running back Mike Alstott, Baseball Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie “The Wizard of Oz” Smith and another Oriole great Jim Palmer. The collage also includes NFL Hall of Famer and Tampa Bay Buc legend Lee Roy Selmon , WWE past Champion John Cena and Orlando Magic Center/Power Forward Dwight Howard. Broadcasting and announcing legends both National and Internationally also grace the collage with the addition of ESPN Basketball Guru and 2004 Inductee to the Pepsi Rays Fan Wall of Fame Dick Vitale and the immortal Boxing/Wrestling announcer Michael ” Let’s get ready to Rumble” Buffer.
But also several members of this new display in Tropicana Field either performed the National Anthem or “God Bless America” such as former American Idol David Archuletta, the Backstreet Boys, and Green Day. But most of the rest of the artists posted upon the wall have performed in the Rays popular Saturday Night Concert Series over the last few seasons. Groups such as 3-Doors Down, Pat Benatar, Daughtry, L L Cool J, Flo Rida, Ludacris, and legendary groups the B-52′s and M C Hammer. Who reminded us “When the Devil went out ( of the team name), the Wins came in!”.
Country artists Big & Rich with Cowboy Troy and Trace Adkins also have provided hours of great entertainment to the crowds of Rays fans attending the game, plus who danced in the aisles and landing around Tropicana Field during their music sets. And do not forget there is still some space upon that wall collage that might include this year’s artists, John Fogerty (April 24th), ZZ Top (May 1st), Nelly (May 15th), Hall & Oates (May 29th), the Go-Go’s /Farewell Tour (July 10th), Train (August 14th), Adam Lambert and Orianthi (Sept. 18th), Country Star Dierks Bentley (Sept. 25th) and two other concerts artists not yet announced on June 12th and June 26th.
The collage is just a great way for the Rays fans to gather and remember and relive these great acts and people as they became members of the Rays lore. So sometimes in the future be sure to wander up the main concourse just to the east of the Rays main elevator system and have your own great flashbacks into these performances or sightings of the great people who also have adorn Rays jerseys and attended games. Some times it is great to look at the past so that we can see just how far we really have traveled since the ultimate changes made in 2007 to the Rays legend, and the way we will remember our moments within Tropicana Field.
And some people will adamantly say I am being a bit overly picky since grammatical and spelling errors happen all the time, even in our own posts. And with that I will agree, but isn’t it a bit odd that it happened twice within the same paragraph and nobody noticed it….maybe until I posted this right now. So here it is for the entire world to chuckle and turn their heads side-to-side that a large Media agency like Reuters, and even Yahoo did not catch this spelling blemish before a little Rays blogger who seems to find these things online.
Sure, being unemployed has given me a plethora of available time to watch out and read numerous postings about the Rays from all over this big blue marble, and even more than enough time to gaze upon endless episodes of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” or catch up on every episode ever of “Scrubs” or “Grey’s Anatomy“. But the pure fact that these agencies pay their people good money and someone who is economically poor, but has some form of education gets to be greeted with obvious 3rd Grade spelling mishaps. And I do take pride in throwing these little tidbits out to everyone to see because it is an industry I consider my “Great White Buffalo”.
And if you are unaware of that phrase, it is basically saying it is the “one (job profession) I let get away”. It is the one regret I have found in my life career-wise that I would jump into a Hot Tub Time Machine and go back to the early 1980′s in less than a heartbeat to change and stay with it, sweat it out, and maybe had actually found a niche before my return in early 2008 to writing again on this Rays Renegade blog. But you know what really got me the most on this Yahoo posting by Reuters? Here is the actual photo description listed on Yahoo.com as of 12:15 today:
The main thing that is eating at me was not the initial spelling error, or even the fact it happened a second time only four words into the photo explanation ….The thing that is eating me inside to a point of decay is the plain fact they did not get even the correct Rays player in the photo. The fact that the photo is suppose to have left-hander Randy Choate in the picture “wiping his head after giving up a run to the New York Yankees” is actually Rays right-hand reliever Lance Cormier.
Not only is their hair color and thickness a big error, which to me is a great big tell-tale sign, but Cormier is a right-handed pitcher, while Choate is a Left-handed reliever. Accuracy has always been one of my pet peeves in life. I understand making mistakes, omitting facts and even misquoting someone is one of the perils of reporting sports. But the actual photos of Major League Baseball players should at least get their rightful namesakes. Now I am not going to blame Scott Audette who supplied Reuters with the photo because he might have made a note of the correct pitcher and the brief description was added by a Copy Clerk or even a post photo Editor somewhere along the lines before it was posted to Yahoo.com here.
But you also got to think of the extra stress and responsibilities thrown upon Choate from the first day of the 2010 season to be “the Man” when it comes to leftie situations and that his mixed bag of results have come with limited options for Rays Manager Joe Maddon.
Left-handed relievers are a rare breed in Major League Baseball, and held as a commodity unlike gold by some teams like the Rays who have always tried to salvage and use left-handed relievers to their advantage.But right now with the struggles of Choate, and Howell still about a month away from rejoining the Rays, the left-handed duties are looking more stressful by the day.
And before Choate’s recent problems he was considered a great asset and possible weapon against left-handed batters. But after appearing in 5 of the Rays first 9 games and only surviving 2.1 innings while surrendering 7 runs on 9 hits for a 27.00 ERA, Choate needs to stay out of his head and eliminate any other internal damage. And watching him pitch, you do not see any tell-tale sign of him either signaling or telegraphing his pitches, but this is not the same reliever who posted a 3.47 ERA for the Rays in 2009.
In those situations, Choate posted a .111 average which was a superior mark for a reliever. Overall in 2009, lefties hit .144 against Choate while right-handers managed a robust .321 average. He was definitely a lefties weapon for the Rays, and a right-handers dream at the plate.So was it really surprising after Choate posted a 1.13 ERA in 7 appearances this Spring while also showing some signs of control issues with 3 walks in his 8 total innings. But nothing showed the signs of what would happen to him so early in 2010.
Choate looked effective in his first two appearances against the Baltimore Orioles at home when he threw for 1.2 innings and threw 12 strikes in his 17 pitches. Choate seemed in line and ready to provide great leftie situational relief appearances. But then on April 10th against his old team, the New York Yankees, Choate last .2 innings and 24 pitches but walked from the mound after giving up 5 hits and 4 runs to boost his ERA towards 15.43. And sometimes these situation happen during a season, but little did we know what was still on the horizon for Choate.
Then again he took the mound against the Yankees on April 11th and this time lasted only 6 pitches while giving up 2 runs on 2 hits, one being a 2-run shot by Yankee catcher Jorge Posada in the sixth inning. That ballooned his ERA to 23.14 for the season and some concerns quickly mounted as to the lack of left-handed depth on the Rays Bullpen roster. Worst of all is the fact that both sides of the plate have feasted on Choate early this season with both left-handers ( 3 hits, 4 runs) and right-handers ( 6 hits, 3 runs) each showing high level of effectiveness against the Rays lone leftie option.
And with Wednesday nights 2-run shot by Baltimore left-handed pinch-hitter Luke Scott, Choate has now given up 2 Home Runs in back-to-back appearances. He gave up a total of 4 Home Runs over his 61 appearances last season. The event also boosted Choate to a 27.00 ERA, which have some within the Rays Republic both nervous and skittish about his effectiveness early this season. But the Rays do have a few viable options within their farm system right now, but might not consider them because of injury concerns or certain players needing more of the minor league maturation process before they are maybe considered later in 2010.
Sure there is the “waiver wire/ air miles traveler” leftie R J Swindle who seemed to be on a rollercoaster ride between Milwaukee, Cleveland and Durham for most of the end of 2009 before finally coming back into the Rays fold this Spring But Swindle is currently on the Durham Bulls Disabled List and he needs to show some relative progression towards health and pitching stamina before the Rays could even consider him a left-handed option this season. Swindle might be a viable option late in the season, but right now he would just be a liability.
And currently the shelf is mighty bear in Durham for left-handers as only big man Heath Phillips is the only other leftie on the Bull staff, but Phillips is actually a Bull starter and is not even adjusted towards relieving, even at the Triple-A level right now. And even at Double-A Montgomery, Darin Downs is still not ready for the aspect of promotion as a leftie reliever, and leftie Jake McGee who most Rays fans thought might have the fats track to the majors as a reliever has been stretched out and will again be a starter for the Biscuits.
So the Rays farm system has no viable options at this time to adequately bring up a left-handed reliever. But the free agents and trade aspects are there for a possible deal if the Rays lose their confidence in Choate before Howell returns in mid-May.
Mike Borcheck/ SPTimes
Whatever the future holds right now for the Rays, they have to be concerned since their only option to facing left-hander is basically in a pitching funk. Fellow Rays relievers Lance Cormier and Grant Balfour have 0.00 ERA against left-handers this season, but they have only faced 4.2 innings of work against lefties in 2010 and it might not be an adequate measure as to their overall seasonal effectiveness.
It might seem a bit ‘ackward” and “goofy” right now for the Rays Coaching staff to have their total vote of confidence on their lone leftie right now, but then again….lefties have been fighting this leftie-rightie fight for a long, long time and are still in the right baseball frame of mind.
And the pure fact this is not a game day note or snippet, but an actual written multi-paragraph article is beyond responsive journalism and borders on insane media influence logic to induce or imply any realistic dialogue or discussion into the real attendance woes.
But then again in 2009, the Rays had their second highest yearly attendance figures of all time with over 1,874,962 Rays Republic members filing into the gates of Tropicana Field. And that figure is only 2,506,023 behind the all time mark set in the 1998 inaugural season of 1998. And even with a slight 3.5 percent increase, not a decrease in total 2009 attendance, where is the true logic that the Rays are hurting at the gate?
Even if the 2009 total numbers were 19 percent under the Major League Baseball average and last in the American League East, it is the fourth year in a row that some sort of upwards trend showed in the overall final attendance figures.
Now since we had the New York Yankees in for the first series in 2009, it will make it a bit easier to compare the totals, but the Chicago White Sox came in right after them in 2009 and carry a better traveling fan base than the Baltimore Orioles who were here for the first three games in 2010. But let’s take a look anyways.
And in their three game against the Rays, the Baltimore Orioles, which are usually not a great draw for the Rays brought in 68,384 fans into the blue seats.The immediate numbers do show a decrease of 11,013 fans entering the Trop., but realistically not where in that article does the St Petersburg Times or Jones even remotely show that Rays Television Network broadcast numbers have gone through the roof through the first flurry of Rays home games, plus the decline could be a reduction due to the National Broadcasts also done by TBS and Fox Sports over the weekend during the Yankees series.
But seriously, if Saturday and Sunday’s games were televised Nationally, why would the casual fan come to the ballpark if they can channel-surf at home with as many hotdogs and beers as they desire. So let’s also try and see what the variations in attendance would be if you took the Orioles first series in 2009 attendance numbers and compared them to the Rays first three games.
In 2009, the Orioles had only two early games at Tropicana Field on May 4 th and 5th before they did not come back until August 18th. But the Rays did attract 42,486 fans on those three dates, which is a decrease of 25,998 fans, but the 2010 Opening Day attendance of a sell out crowd, which filled 102.6 percent of the Trop was a huge variable in the figures.
But realistically in 2009, the Rays averaged 13,184 fans during the Orioles 9 games in the Trop in 2009. Already in 2010, those numbers are averaging 22,795 Rays fans with just three games completed in the yearly series. But then again, if you are a media member like the St. Petersburg Times you need to find a scapegoat for every bit of reasoning you can consider instead of a more reliable and viable reason to thrust out to the masses as to why the team is struggling at the box office.
I am surprised that the St Petersburg Times did not blame the Cowbell Kid and his Cowbell Posse for all the noise so far in 2010, but then again, these same cowbells are now heard from the TBT Deck to the Upper Decks to even behind Home Plate. It is an outrageous noise epidemic to some, but a necessary Rays evil to others.
Or Raysvision produced in-house videos submitted to educate and enlighten new cowbell holders to the proper time for their use of this now outrageous item. But then again, you would have to consider me and the rest of the “Maddon’s Maniacs” Fan Club as outlaws since we are some of the loudest participants to this “supposed” attendance decrease.
Every Major League Baseball team has their own unique home stadium idiosyncrasy or irregular dimensions or “quirks” that are particular to their own home stadium and creates an air of advantage that their player can play towards or focus their attentions on during their home games. It could be something as simple as a short Rightfield in Yankee Stadium, or the imposing ”Green Monster”, or odd field placing of the ”Pesky Pole” in Boston’s Fenway Park.
Or it could be something as simple as a huge foul ball area on both sides of the playing surface like in Toronto’s Rogers Centre to help induce a few extra outs or some additional exciting fielding moments during a typical baseball game in that retractable domed stadium.
So why is it that one of the “essentially needed” construction devices of having an enclosed tilted-roof domed stadium has so many uninformed people around the country ranting and raving like it is the only place on the face of the earth to have its own brand of “home field advantage”. Would these same National baseball commenters be rambling about the possible 32 rain outs or Rays rain delays just during 2009 that would have easily occurred if Tropicana Field was an outdoor stadium without those same troublesome roof wires, lights and catwalks?
Would this same community of crybabies be at home watching these Rays games on television or anywhere near this stadium if it faced the true elements in the late Summer when sideways rainstorms plague this region, bugs like human blood and temperatures rise faster and hotter than their own foreheads during Sunday’s game.
Before Rays Third Baseball Evan Longoria put a batted ball into the pinball maze above Tropicana Field known as the catwalks, only 102 other white MLB spheres had ventured into that science fiction realm of bouncing to and fro high above the fans and players within the Trop. And some people have mentioned to me how the out-of-town TBS Broadcasting crew did not know what to make of the whole adventure, but then again….if they had prepared themselves, they would understand this intrusion into their intellectual subconscious as a necessary evil to having all 81 games played in the splendor of 72 degree weather and completely dry seats.
And even after the previously 12 concluded Major League Baseball seasons under this same Teflon-coated roof you would think the media members outside of this region would have seen the ball hit up into those rafters before and possibly prepared themselves to know the stadiums “Ground Rules” for answers instead of throwing out generalizations and miscommunications like they were empty Kasem hot dog wrappers.
So let me give you a bit of a rundown on these infamous catwalks that have doomed the Rays from ever being able to host an All-Star Game because of the circus atmosphere it would surely create during the State Farm Home Run Derby, which would make MLB Commissioner Bud Selig blush with embarrassment even more than his 2008 World Series Game 5 postponement. I actually think it would be impressive and a truly exciting moment to see a ball bouncing off a catwalk…but then again, I am used to it.
So when originally Tropicana Field, which was then known as the Florida Suncoast Dome was constructed almost 20 years ago, this “state-of-the-art” cable-supported design produced a stadium with 1.1 million square feet of internal space and subdued cost of $ 135 million to complete initial construction. The reason the Trop’s roof is tilted 6.5 degrees towards the Centerfield back end of the playing surface is to reduce almost 16.8 cubic feet of air volume. Combined with its 180 miles of support cables combined with the struts surrounding the internal skeleton of the catwalks, it produces a unique situation regarding the actual playing of a baseball game.
With the four prominent circular catwalks known as A-D, located above sections of the playing surface of Tropicana field, they meander from a overhead distance of the A-ring from 184 feet in Centerfield to 194 feet above Home Plate, to the D-ring which rises from 59 feet above the Centerfield playing surface to over 121 feet behind Home Plate. What is extremely confusing at times is that the D-ring, which hangs lower among the four rings has not been hit the most during the previous 12+ years of Rays baseball. The C-ring has actually been hit a record 60 times in the past, and the D-ring is actually third on the total list with only 18 balls striking that portion of the roof system.
But before I get into the balls that have hit our visual attraction or distraction depending on your team, let me provide you with the “official” Ground Rules of these special pieces of the Rays stadium:
* Batted ball striking either of the lower two catwalks (C & D), lights or guide wires over fair territory is a Home Run.
* Batted ball that is not judged a Home Run and remains on the catwalks, light or other structure above the stadium floor within fair territory is a Ground Rule Double.
* Batted ball that is not judged a Home Run and strikes a catwalks, lights or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged either fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground, or is touched by a fielder. If caught by a fielder, the batter is out and runners can advance at their own risk.
* Batted ball strikes the catwalks,light or objects above the playing surface in foul territory is a dead ball (Ball to be judged foul, regardless of where it strikes or falls).
With that said and done, there have been balls caught off the catwalks for outs. I still remember years ago when Cleveland Shortstop Omar Vasquel sat under the C-ring waiting for a batted ball to come back down to earth, and his presistance paid off when a minute later the ball fell right down into his glove for an out. But there have also been times when the ball did not come back down within a certain frame of time.
Only four times in Tropicana Field has a batted ball gone up into the catwalk cosmos and not re-entered the playing field. Three of these events happened in 2008 when Boston slugger David Ortiz hit a ball up there on September 17th two days after Red Sox Leftfielder Jason Bay duplicated the same feat on September 15,2008. The Ray
s own Carlos Pena was the first to push a ball into the unknown in 2008 when on May 26 against the Texas Rangers he hide a batted ball into the B-ring. What is amazing before these three astronomical adventures into the catwalk cosmos, only former Rays slugger Jose Canseco had put a ball into the catwalk (B-ring) back on May 2,199 against the Detroit tigers.
But even with this Rays home field advantage, some of the most memorable moments of “catwalk-inspired” hitting actually came during the Rays “magical” 2008 season when two balls made it up into the catwalks for dramatic moments during the 2008 Postseason. Rays All Star Third Baseman Evan Longoria was the first to hit a C-ring shot off of Chicago White Sox starter Javier Vasquez in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series. Then a few weeks later Rays Centerfielder B J Upton put a ball off the C-ring against Boston starter Josh Beckett during Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
So few moments have been decided by those overhanging obstructions within the white dome of Tropicana Field. Currently Pena leads the Rays in catwalk hits with six, but New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez leads all Rays opponents in catwalks strikes with 5 lifetime. Some might consider it a extreme Rays advantage, but the reality is that anyone with a powerful upswing in their bat stroke could also add to the legacy of the catwalks within the Trop. This will not be the last time we speak about this infamous portion of playing at Tropicana Field against the Rays.
But to throw the entire stadium under the bus for a design that was considered “revolutionary” 20 years ago and state-of-the-art is insane. And it is also fair game among the players visiting Tropicana Field to sometimes make wagers and small meal bets with teammates as they try and hit balls off the famous catwalks during Batting Practice, or simply gaze upon the sight when teammates hit one of the white-painted rings before the ball either keeps going towards the outfield seats or tumbled towards the Field Turf.
Every stadium has their “quirks”. It is the one thing that makes those stadium memorable or remarkable. For us here in Tampa Bay no one remembers the Ted Williams Museum which is house in Centerfield Street of the Trop. Or maybe they remember the cow-nosed Ray exhibit above Right-Centerfield. But few people either Rays or visiting fans can look away when they hear the clang off the metal surface of the catwalks. Why is it Right Said Fred’s song “I’m So Sexy” is stuck in my brain right now….Oh Yeah!………” On the catwalk…”
It was kind of funny how everyone around me, including Rays fans, wanted to see me shouting and spouting out sports metaphors all over the place on Saturday afternoon after the New York Yankees used a bona fide “team effort” to dominate during their 10-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Rays. But the stark reality of MLB-style baseball is that these types of lop-sided, miscues, one-sided baseball contests happen several times a year to every one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams.
With only 5 Rays games in the 2010 books, you might not expect, or want it to happen today, but I knew this type of rude awakening was hovering on the distant horizon. Most baseball fans call these types of games “emotionless”, or that the “team didn’t seem to not have their heart into it tonight”. But the honest truth is that no matter how hard The Rays played today, no matter if the Rays go on to either win 100+ games a year or just sit at .500 with 81 wins, these types of nightmarish games come up and bite even the World Series Champions when they least expect them.
But do not think I have totally losing it here, but sometimes a game like this can be an early “wake-up” call to a emotional team like the Rays who seemed to dominate the Grapefruit League this Spring Training season, and might have forgotten for a moment some of their basic situational hitting skills that have made them great in the past several years.
Sure I wish this type of stagnant offensive contest did not happen against our division rival, the Yankees, and give their biggest rival even one day of an early season emotional advantage going into the rubber match on Sunday, but it happened. Now it is time to take stock, repair the damage and get ready for a brighter tomorrow. But I hate that these types of game can give a team like the Yankees even a slight idea of thinking the 2010 season might be more of a cake-walk than a rough and tumble set of series against these same feisty Rays.
But then again, if the Yankees do want to get over-confident and cocky, that is also fine with me because then it will make their eventual downfall in other Rays series games during the 2010 season a bit more…..tasty.
So you just have to rise from your blue Rays seat and salute the overall team effort by both Yankees starting pitcher C C Sabathia and his Yankee defense behind him today who got 18 of those key outs for Sabathia on ground or fly ball outs during this contest. And how amazing that earlier in this game it was scoreless and we were watching a budding pitchers’ duel between the Yankees 2009 19-game winner Sabathia and Rays Rookie Wade (WD-40) Davis.
Even with Sabathia pinpointing that small white baseball within the Umpire’s small strike zone all game long, it was really the Yankee defense that made sure the game remained scoreless until the Yankees exploded for four runs by the beginning of the fifth inning.
And from that point the Yankee defense showed its solid backbone and helped carry Sabathia to his first win of the season. But this not to suggest Sabathia was inconsistent on the mound, but he only got two strikeouts from that point in the rest of the game as he relied on the Yankees defense to bring this win home. A key moment in securing this shutout win might have been when Sabathia got Pat Burrell to strikeout to end the bottom of the fifth inning with Evan Longoria standing on Third Base. Sabathia’s effort starved the Rays of a certain run that inning, and paced the way for the rest of the game.
And sure I felt a relieved when the pinstriped fans in the stands began to bellyache, moan and groan in the bottom of the eighth inning when with two outs, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach ruined their world dominance scenario with a sharply-hit single through the 5-6 hole for the first hit of the game. It was as if Shoppach had hit a Grand Slam the way the Trop’s Rays-colored crowd visualized this lone drone hit to new Yankee Marcus Thames in Leftfield as a emotional release of all our stress and pent-up emotions that day.
The hit seemed to bewilder all those wearing pinstriped jerseys as they actively were counting aloud each and every Rays out like a countdown of an actual Space Shuttle launching, and throwing around “Yankee legend” banter around about Sabathia’s performance.
I have to admit, the pain is still there from the last No-hit bid by Chicago White Sox hurler Mark Buerhle, and I did not want to feel that same pain again today, especially at the hand’s of the Yankees. I was one of the Rays fans in the stands willing to take a deep inhale and exhale every particle of the air molecules in my lungs to try and help propel a Rays batted ball to the wall, or even visualize the speeding ball going through the hole by mentally trying to hold up a infielder’s glove for that first whiff of a chance today.
But at that point it was an 8-0 Yankee lead and the end was within sight even after Shoppach was balked to second and then this Rays chance to rebound was squashed six pitches later when Rays pinch hitter Gabe Kapler fouled out to Leftfield to extinguish another Rays possibility to pull themselves off the canvas in this game. It was great to see Ben Zobrist just an inning later hit a long fly ball that just seemed to run out of fuel on its flight path to going into the Rightfield stands and ended up one bouncing off the outfield wall towards ex-Ray Randy Winn, who was manning Rightfield at that point.
These type of emotional train wreck games happen in a 162-game season. But with only 5 games in the 2010 MLB books, this type of game should not have happened against a divisional rival. It instantly put us a game behind them not only in the standings, but also in the hole towards winning the 2010 yearly series against the Yankees. In 2008 when the Rays had their most productive season, the team had a dominant year against their divisional rivals taking it to them every game and eventually pulling out the yearly series, which ended up being the difference between a American League East title and a lower spot in the standings.
A MLB team stubs its toes more than a few times during a season, but it how they rebound or answer the call the next contest that shows the stamina or the short-coming of a team. I expect a better game on Sunday, a more physical contest and one where the fight will come early to the Yankees and Rays pride will shine again. And even if a loss does happen, if the team leaves it all out on the field, and comes to play aggressive and emotional baseball, then they might conquer that Saturday set-back, which might have done more damage behind the scenes than between the foul lines. How a team rebounds from a game like this can be a clear indication of the unseen character of a squad.
So I have gone the way of providing every photo for my blog posts so far this season from my little Fuji digital camera, and I know they are not as sharp or as professionally poised and postured as the old Associated Press or Getty Images photos I have used in the past, but they are free and mine to use in any way I desire this year. And with that, you will see my photos hopefully improve and get extremely better over the course of the season. But they will all be taken from one vantage point in the stadium, my Season Ticket blue seat. That’s right, the one blue seat within Tropicana Field that has a warm body in it every Home game will also try and provide a few timely and game action shots.
But the problem with learning “on-the-fly” like I am this season is sometimes I will also be coloring outside the lines , and hopefully they are mostly in some kind of focus range. This is the biggest obstacle for me since I can not take a lens larger than a foot into the stadium without the proper Rays photo credentials, and I am still trying to get on “double-secret probation” with the Rays to even stand in the back of the room taking panoramic views during any type of team event. But that is also fine because I know I have a few mountains to cross and a few rivers to swim before I can say I even remotely “get it”.
And another reason I have come to trying and getting my own photos is the recent decisions by some of the photo agencies to offer limited “royalty-free” photos to people like me who write small “Mom & Pop” blogs posts and usually only want 2-3 photos to accent the piece, not bury it in a visual jungle. But those same “free” photos are not the kind I would post on my site anyways as they are more still action shots not even of the baseball nature. The sports shots I might desire are now considered “rights-managed” images, and being unemployed and a blogger who doesn’t submit to a site where I can gain income from advertising or even selling my printed products on Cafepress.com , my options are limited.
But this is not a rant on the tightening of the grip by the photo conglomerate so that even us little guys have to squeeze out some greenbacks to get great photos. There are still a vast majority of photos on websites or even local newspaper media Sports sections that we can still “right-click” with our computer mouse and save to our computer files. But I think that free practice might come to a quick halt soon as the general media is also aware of the royalties and the provisional monies lost by people taking their ” copyrighted” images and throwing them up as their own photos.
That is one of the reason I started to post “by-lines” under each photo a few years back to at least show that I am trying to give the proper credit where credit is due. No matter if it was “Joe Shmoe” on Flickr.com, or Associated Press photog Steve Nesius, I have tried to give them at least a form of photo credit acknowledgment over that span of games. And I truly think everyone should do the same online, but it all starts with one person doing it until someone else does it and soon enough you have a revolution heading in the right direction. I loved writing stories and taking pictures as far back as Junior High School and always wanted to work at a newspaper or magazine.
I am still not sure what disillusioned me when I was working as a Sport Correspondent and occasional Sports Copy Clerk at the now defunct Evening Independent afternoon paper in St. Petersburg, Florida back in the early 1980′s. To this day I am seeing an ex-Dixie Hollins graduate Rick Stroud still employed by the St. Petersburg Times and I wonder if I too could have stayed on the path any maybe be the one in the Rays Press Box ( not knocking current Rays beat writer Marc Topkin). But then again, I am a bit more relaxed and pressure-free considering I write what I want and there are no political battle line or subject limitations on my blogs posts. But still, I find it simply ironic that the National media journalists blast bloggers, but have the smug audacity of calling their own postings “blogs”.
But I am not going to digress into that segment right now but instead sit here at the bottom of Section 138 at the Trop. with a direct shot of the Batter’s Box and a clear view (but a wide angle) of the entire Tropicana Field playing surface to partake in seeing, shooting and hopefully capturing some exciting Rays moments in 2010. Evolving as a person and a more consistent writer was one of the main goals I set for myself personally on New Year’s Eve. I have begun that journey, plus added a new notch in trying to gain some photographic cubbyhole for myself. I will probably never be considered more than a closet sports photographer, but then I am also not trying to be a provocative modern day sports “Anne Lebowitz” either.
Maybe it is my next evolution as a fan too to make some awesome photos and treasure the games with a few odd or wild shots such as the entire Rays Bullpen wearing Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s black rimmed glasses, or the bad angled shots of fireworks going off within the confines of Tropicana Field. My photos submitted and posted on several photo storage sites along the Internet Superhighway will never have a place in the annuals of Sports Illustrated or even a moments notice in ESPN, the Magazine, But then again, it is not someone elses work I am not acknowledging here, it will be mine, all mine and if I pop it up online for the world to see you can bet the byline will read “RRCollections“.
I have to admit when I first heard the Tampa Bay Rays were going to provide some indoor fireworks entertainment after Friday night games, I was a bit in shock and awe because I still vividly remember seeing the video files of the tragic “Great White Concert Disaster held at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island back on February 23,2003. And I do not know why the images of that night’s events or even the horrific magnitude of that event is etched into my brain, but it did quickly come to mind.
But I also know that both band and post-concert pyrotechnics have grown by leaps and bounds since that tragedy, both in the safety realm and in the advent of chemicals and powder charges that could be produced within a confined stadium without producing accidental repercussions or cause any crowd discourse or disorientation due to excess smoke or lingering clouds of toxic fumes. And I definitely trusted the St. Petersburg Fire Marshal’s smiles and consistent chatter that the S. P. F. D. would never tolerate any shoddy preparations or procedural explosive charge mistakes that would catch the cotton retaining fabric on fire under the Tropicana Field Teflon dome.
But even if we did have to wait a few extra minutes (more like 20minutes) before the pyrotechnics crew had checked, double-checked and quadruple-checks the fireworks firing board’s igniter systems to insure and put even the most paranoid of us within the Trop. At ease before the event got under way. And I have to admit the beginning was a bit subdued, but it grew by the moment into a nice crescendo of pumping bass from the pre-programmed music and the thumps from the fireworks shells exploding into a prism of color and patterns that really did work under the orange and darken white underbelly of the Tropicana Field roof.
No sparks, no sign of wear and tear, and no reason to doubt anything wrong can happen if again on Friday night a few sparks or sunbursts again reach the high vantage points of the Trop’s roof. Sure we might have had to wait a few minutes more before being the first people to see what the Trop’s Friday Night fireworks program might look like starting with tomorrow night’s New York Yankee contest. It was a great sight to see under the roof of the Trop, and something I am anxious to again see every Friday night home game for the rest of the season.
Thank you Rays for letting some of us see that it is going to be both safe and enjoyable, because spreading the word about an event like this with positive results and excited grins will speak volumes as to the numbers of fans who will stay and also get a thrill out of the fireworks programs in 2010.