May 2010

My Kuwait Baseball Legacy

 

I remember my father and grandfather once sitting on our back porch discussing the game of baseball on one of those long Summer evenings. Those two used to sit there for hours naming the people who had served in the military and also been on the programs of their hometowns of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh before the war. Both of them had a genuine respect and admiration for some of the Nation’s best baseball player who put down their bats and picked up a rifle or wrench or whatever was needed to support and defend this country’s mindset and dreams. And because of those talks on that back porch, I also made sure to do my part at a time of need.

Even if my time sin the military was short compared to both of those men, it was a time that baseball also was intertwined into my daily routine. I was a attached to a small unit that made a offshore approach to the country of Kuwait and within my gear taken abroad was my glove and a baseball. There were a couple of us in the unit that had either played in college, or as kids and we used our gloves and that ball to make the long hours seems to drift away when not on duty throwing in back and forth that that penetrating sun and swirling sands that scraped your skin like sandpaper.

And even though most of the attached soldiers of my unit played football, there was always time for a game or someone boasting about their curveball being better, or having a fireball attached to their arms. The game of baseball was an instant bonding agent no matter if we were from St. Petersburg, Florida or Portland, Maine. The game transcended the borders and the accents, poked past the cultural differences and the social unrest of the region as we tried to get some of the local kids to also join in our games to spread this great sport to another region just as my father did in Japan, and my grandfather in Italy.

And even though I made my living several years before playing a more violent and physical game, the sport of baseball always had my heart and soul. It was the sport two people could participate in with a simple game of catch or playing “pepper”.


But if it grew a crowd, if it got a small platoon or squad involved, we had a great pick-up game that could span hours and promoted not only unity on the battlefront, but also a cohesion that you needed to achieve and preserve in a theater of battle. And it did take our minds off the fact we were ourselves now thousands of miles away like my ancestors, battling for another countries right to freedom. My glove saw a lot of action in the Persian Gulf. I think I actively used it everyday as a constant reminder of what I was there for, and why I needed to remain strong in both mind and spirit. And even there, so many miles away, the baseball rivalries were evident and very vocal.

Back then the St. Louis Cardinals used to do their Spring Training about 3 miles from my parents Jungle Prada community in St. Petersburg and I was always at the ballpark before and after school. Since my Junior High was only about a quarter of a mile away, and we started at 9 am, I could go to the complex and see the guys head out before turning and biking to get to school before the attendance bell rang loud and clear. I was late every once in a while, but the Assistant Principal, who was also a huge baseball nut, always seemed to understand as long as I did my studies and did not misbehave in class.

 

So it was natural for the Yankees names to come up in Kuwait, or even the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers when we picked teams and emulated players while striding our makeshift Home Plate. But we did not have Umpires, we policed ourselves on the honor system and basically just played until we hit the ball unless you really was lousy, then you got 8 swings. But in that time in the Middle East I got a new found respect and admiration for the game, just as my father and grandfather had gotten in their war times.

I saw what they meant now about the passion and the pulling power of the game bringing not only men together, but units and branches of the service who also held a special part of the game within them.

This simple game, this game that can start with two and then grow to 20 or more souls did have a significant part of my maritime adventures while serving in Desert Storm. And like the past times of my father and grandfather the game of baseball brought all of us in my unit together as a cohesive part during a time of chaos and conflict.

I remember just before finally pulling out for the last time at a small border post near the Northern border of Kuwait thinking I need to leave of piece of me here, something had to stay here for this to seem real to me. So as we were motoring through the city of Abdari I saw a few kids throwing a baseball around the town’s central square.

I called for one of them to come over to my Humvee. I had a friend in the unit with me who was a translator and he asked the boy for me if he knew how to play baseball. The young kid, maybe 10 told my friend he was being taught the game before the local Marines pulled out and he was left with only the baseball.

I took the Humvee out of gear and applied the parking brake, then went to the back of the unit. I got out my duffle bag and searched for a few moments and brought out my old college baseball glove, my wooden Louisville Slugger and about 5 more baseballs sent to me from home. Even though I knew soccer was the prominent sport in this country, I wanted to leave a piece of me in Kuwait that day.

I took the items out of the back of the Humvee and gave them to the boy and made him promise to use them for sport and not as weapons or as bargaining pieces with his friend.

I wanted gin to want the items to play the game, not to sell or even trade for something else. He nodded his head in agreement and he ran from the Humvee with his new found sporting equipment and his friends all surrounded around him like he had found a golden statue in the sand. As I got back in to drive away, he waved to us and I was glad inside to leave a part of me in this small Kuwaiti town. But more, I was glad to leave a part of the game.

 

Huge Rays Crowd take in Hall & Oates at the Trop

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Darryl Hall and John Oates. Who would of thought two guys who met backstage at  the Adelphi Ballroom back in 1967 would still be cranking out music and singing today. Some might say that time does damage to some of our idols and songsters from our past, but Hall & Oates still bring the hot guitar licks and the high register singing chops to the microphone tonight at Tropicana Field. I heard them do a short diddy on “American Idol “ just this week, but thought maybe someone might have tweaked their vocals a bit.

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 And I got to say, that even though I was only allowed to take photos for 3 of their songs tonight, I sat outside of Tropicana Field and could still clearly hear their songs just as I did nearly five minute earlier squatting and jockeying for position to take about 200 photos before finally leaving after their third selection. And sure I was a bit bummed, but I also follow the order that the Tampa Bay Rays Communication Department gave me, so off I went, but the halls and the corridors surrounding the seating bowl of the Trop. were ringing to the melodies and guitar strums as I walked out Gate 6 into the warm night air.

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It was at that point that I decided I had followed the Rays directive to leave the stadium after the third song selection. But before I exited the stadium, I took a second to cruise my eyes throughout the stands and noticed the assembled huge crowd all either dancing, singing or swaying to the music just as some of us had done in the 1980’s. Weird how these songs that seemed to so modern and catchy were penned more than 40-odd years ago, but still remain not only classic, but relevant even in a new century.

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As I left the Trop. through the back entrance at Gate 6, I decided to sit down on the adjacent hill embankment just to the right of the Trop’s loading docks and listen to more of those tunes that shaped my 80’s and also got me a few women by singing the lyrics to them. Here were the ballads and smooth dancing songs of my misspent youth, my 80’s music past revisited as it was being amplified towards the crowd assembled in the Trop. It brought back a few distant lost memories of “ones that got away”, and also brought back a simpler time in my overall life.

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These songs now echoing out of the Trop. were the anthems and the tunes that defined my 20’s both as a music lover and as a college student struggling to make ends meet singing in bars on the weekends after football season was over. Brought me instantly back to my days slinging a Moog keyboard around with me and singing some of the same songs now bouncing all around the atmosphere. Some memories might be best left alone, but the ones connected with some of these Hall & Oates songs definitely had me smiling from ear-to-ear.

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Songs like “Sara Smiles” that reminded Rays Manager Joe Maddon of the night his daughter Sarah was born which was actually based on Hall’s girlfriend at the time, Sara Allen.  And I know more than a few of my friend who took a intense desire to hear “She’s Gone” while we sat either at John’s Pass sipping a few adult beverages after a bad break-up, or an unexpected turn of romantic events. Hall & Oates definitely colored a few tunes in crayon in my comic book of life.

 

And what relationship back in the 80’s did not have “Kiss on My List” pegged for their relationship. It usually wasn’t until after the whole enchilada began to sour that we pushed the relationship into either “Rich Girl” territory. But then I also remember the first time I ever heard a rendition of the Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody” it was done by Hall & Oates and made me a fan of their rendition for life. And it still amazing to me that most of these songs are over 35-years old and still could be totally sung today.

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But I would be totally absentminded if I did not mention or even acknowledge some of the great tunes that Hall & Oates popped out after 1982 like the upbeat and totally hip “You Make My Dreams” that reached number five on the Billboard charts in July 1980, but is still a hot jam today. Or their soul oriented ballad “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” or their biggest hit to date, Maneater” that hit the top of the charts in December 1982 and stayed there four weeks straight.

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But I could not get up from my perch sitting there listening to the tunes flow outside of Tropicana Field without staying and listening for the tune I waited all night to hear, the one that speaks to me like a goddess or angel. That song would be “One on One” which had some pretty clever usage of words that could relate to either basketball or a relationship. But that was the Hall & Oates song I played on my personal cassette deck before football games and used as a inspirational song for m
e to get totally hyped for a game. 

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But how soon we all forget that these two artists met in Philly back in 1967 by accident because of some ruckus outside the Adelphi Ballroom. What if there was not a commotion outside the auditorium that night. We would have probably not been graced with the classic music this duo has penned and scored for not only us, but future generations to enjoy and love too. And how soon do we forget they also were two of the original singers on the first “We Are The World” video and performed on “Live Aid” or outdoors in front of the Statue of Liberty on July 4th 1985 to help with the restoration funding needed to preserve that iconic American symbol.

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Hall & Oates is an American classic that set the tones and moods of rock and soul of America’s heartlands and inner cities. Some people might even remember they have a Rays tie before tonight when they sang the National Anthem before rain-shortened Game 5 of the 2008 World Series in Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia. Even way back in 1984, the Recording Industry of America dubbed the group the most successful duo in the history of recorded music.

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High honors for a band that started by accident. And even in 1991, when they released “Starting All Over Again” another generation got to experience the Hall & Oates magic. So I decided to get off the ground and then walk slowly towards First Avenue South and my car, but the bellowing vocals of Hall were still fresh in the air and the bass and rhythm guitar were still pumping through the amplifiers as I got in my car, a block away. I was a great night to rejoice, revisit and of course remember some of those classic 80’s moments that shaped most of us from that era’s future lives. Extremely glad I got to experience this duo’s magical tunes once again.

 

   

Really Joe, the Blackhawks?

 
 
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Believe me, I understand the Tampa Bay Rays and their anti-Philadelphia baseball-related sentiments after also personally enduring some of that civic indigestion following the conclusion of the 2008 World Series against the “City of Brotherly Love”. And I truly get Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s sense of irony and side joke the Tampa Bay Rays team possibly all wearing Chicago Blackhawks jerseys with the Chi-town team opening the 2010 Stanley Cup finals in Philadelphia this Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. But really Joe, wearing Blackhawks gear?

I might be the only one thinking on this vein, but I find it a bit confusing that the Rays squad is even considering wearing Chicago Blackhawk custom made hockey sweaters minutes after we conclude our 3-game series against a team that resides in the South side of Chi-town. I totally get and support Maddon on his creative idea to showcase Canada’s National sport since we are heading to Toronto following Sunday’s finale against the White Sox, but maybe wearing Blackhawks gear is a bit too much for me?

Not sure if that is a great way to bolster any additional Tampa Bay civic pride towards the Rays and possibly get more Rays fans to flock to the Trop. if you send a weird mix signal like this to the Rays Republic. This to me would be like me wearing my Cooperstown replica 1919 White Sox jersey to tonight’s Rays game and not being considered a “bandwagon” fan or even an outsider. And I commend Maddon for once again thinking extremely outside-the-box in boosting his squad’s morale and chemistry by bringing up the idea of wearing NHL hockey jerseys on their upcoming 6-game road trip’s first stop in to Toronto, but couldn’t we have asked the Tampa Bay Lightning first?

 
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Maybe I am being a bit too “civic sensitive” here in thinking the Lightning might consider outfitting the Rays squad with their own jerseys especially since several current Rays players (Evan Longoria, B J Upton) and former Rays (Toby Hall, Scott Kazmir) have been known to wander around the Lightning locker room. And I could see Maddon possibly putting on a number 11 jersey of Chicago Blackhawk center John Madden at another moment in time, but not this weekend. Leave it to Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to fuel the anti-Phillies fires with a nice cheeky statement in a US Today story on May 26th:


“Nothing like a little pro-Chicago, anti-Philadelphia sentiment. I thought we could share our mutual dislike for Philadelphia sports teams.”

 
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But then again, this just might be my fault being a bit uber sensitive to this region’s plight to right the Rays attendance woes, then seeing a indirect signal from the Rays Coaching staff that flushes the past glory of their own hometown hockey franchise that used to play their NHL contests in the same confines as the Rays just perplexes me at the moment. How many people remember the sight of so many Tampa Bay hockey fans swarming the aisles of Tropicana Field, then the Thunderdome, to set the past record for a NHL post season playoff attendance record (25,945). It was a sign that hockey had finally come to this region and been embraced by the fans.

Maybe I am reading too much into this and not seeing the true tongue-in-cheek anti-Brotherly love concept for what it is…..a way for this Rays club to maybe find common ground right now. In that aspect, it is a great humorous idea, but the overall timing and team selection definitely sucks to me.

 
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Sure, I might not have had a single thought about it all if we had played Boston this weekend, or maybe even Cleveland. But the fact that the Windy City’s other MLB squad is seated in our own visitor’s clubhouse, and this Rays team will be sporting their hometown’s NHL gear on the bus to St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport, then fly directly to Toronto definitely evoke a bit of additional indigestion.


Joe, got to say I loved the conceptual idea, but I personally hate the final result.
 
 
 
 

Niemann Standing Tall with Rays

  
Gail Burton/ AP

To say that Tampa Bay Rays starter Jeff Niemann fits that mold of the strong, silent type would be an understatement. He has quietly amassed a perfect 5-0 record so far in 2010 and has been able to slip silently under the MLB radar. But we all know within the Rays Republic circles that the quiet and laid-back Texan harnesses a fire and a drive within him to take him towards the top of the MLB pitching ranks. Not many people know that Niemann was chasing another entry into Rays club history last night.

Niemann came into last night’s contest with two of the last three Rays complete game shutouts. And Neimann would have become the Rays All Time leader in that category if White Sox Mark Teahen had not crashed his silent party with an eighth inning blast to Rightfield.


Niemann has been pitching in a state of quiet and not garnering unneeded attention since the Rays drafted him fourth overall in the 2004 First Year MLB Draft out of college baseball powerhouse Rice. Surprising enough, Niemann was one of three Rice pitchers selected on that day sandwiched between teammates Phillip Humber, selected by the New York Mets (third pick) and Wade Townsend, selected by the Baltimore Orioles ( eighth pick). Out of the three Rice Owls selected, Niemann is the only member of that group to still go to the mound every fifth day in the MLB.

Townsend has suffered numerous pitching ailments and recently retired for the second time after trying another comeback attempt , while Humber is currently in the minors (Triple-A Omaha) with the Kansas City Royals.


Niemann has silently carved out a healthy and viable niche for himself in Tampa Bay that has placed him solidly in the number three spot in the Rays rotation. All of this after a quiet 2009 MLB rookie season that boosted his credentials tri-fold, but left a few unique American League pitching feats under the radar outside of Tampa Bay. Surprisingly, Niemann, who lead all American League rookie pitchers last season in winning percentage (.684), ERA (3.94), complete games (2), shutouts (2). He also posted a major league rookie high 180.2 innings last season for the Rays while posting a impressive 13-6 mark.

Those 13 wins also put Niemann is an exclusive club with several other greats Rays pitchers just one win shy of the Rays club record held by Rolando Arrojo set back in 1998. But it could have easily been Niemann’s name printed in the Rays media guide at that spot. Five times in 2009 Niemann exited the game in line for the Rays victory but saw the Rays Bullpen fail to hold the lead and the win for him.

Without a great deal of fanfare, Niemann led the Rays pitching staff in wins and ERA, becoming the first rookie to lead a defending AL champion in those two categories since former New York Yankee Bob Grim in 1954. Niemann also posted the fifth best winning percentage all time by a AL rookie with 30 or more starts. Her also shattered Rays teammate James Shield’s club winning percentage record (.636) that he set in 2008. But then again so many thing go under the radar with the tall, silent Texan.

Who knew that only 4 other AL rookies in the 2000’s matched Niemanns numbers in ERA, innings and wins: Baltimore Oriole Rodrigo Lopez (2002), Detroit Tiger Justin Verlander (2006) Toronto Blue Jay Gustavo Chacin (2005) and Atlanta Brave Jair Jurrjens (2008). But then again, you have come to expect Niemann not to blow his own horn. So I guess it is up to me then. In 2009, Niemann went 57 consecutive innings without giving up a Home Run, and posted the best rookie total and sixth best mark in the AL in that category. Niemann also worked the most innings (15.1 innings) in 2009 of any pitcher against the MLB’s Home Run team leaders, the New York Yankees without giving up a single long shot to the Bronx Bombers.

 
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Silently and quietly Niemann has held opponents leading off an inning with a Major League low .240 average in 2009. But that has been Niemann’s motive operandi ever since he finally overcame his injury woes to go a combined 44-19 in his last 97 career starts (majors and minor leagues). And being a forgotten piece of the overall puzzle can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. With other members of the Rays rotation getting the headlines and the early season accolades, Niemann has been able to post the second best ERA (2.37) in the majors this season. Niemann has also silently posted the fifth best Opponent’s Batting average ( .204) and second best pitches per inning (13.83) in the Major Leagues.


Niemann has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that his past injury concerns and aliments are behind him. His commitment and determination to lead by silent example will be a key part of the Rays overall success in 2010. If Niemann can again post 13 + wins this season, it will put the Rays in a great position to battle for a 2010 Playoff berth. His stamina and endurance has increased throughout his career and will provide a great foundation and catalyst as the Rays reach farther into this season.

Being one of the tallest member within the MLB ranks has its drawbacks at times, but standing tall in the middle of this Rays rotation is just the place for Niemann. And on the mound, he lets his pitching do all the talking.

 

Does Jobu Make Housecalls?


 
Chris O’Meara/AP

I now know how it feels to be “that other guy”. You know the one I am talking about right now. The “guy” who somehow does it right, works his tale off doing his job day after day, dating the right girl for him, polishing up that 1969 Camaro hood to a shine like the Sun, then as Jackie Gleason once said: “Pow!, right in the kisser.” He gets smacked in the teeth by reality. And just like that, he has to rebuild and recharge to pull himself off that canvas to answer the bell.


It is that same sense of realism that the Tampa Bay Rays are facing right now. Three games ago no one in their right mind could of, or would have predicted this horrific outcome. Some of the Red Sox Nation in attendance who came down to root for their visiting team never envisioned something like this series sweep when they boarded those flights from Logan to TIA. If this series were to emulate a boxing match, it would have been called by the referee in the third round by TKO. It was a classic Northeastern beat down plain and simple.

The Rays have to immediately rebuild after their customary 30-minute grace period to try and refocus and re-institute Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s main mantra of the 2010 season. This team needs to rise from this horrid beating the Red Sox put to them and push that anger and emotion within their offense and reclaim what is rightfully theirs……A first place squad doesn’t give up, doesn’t lay down, and doesn’t show fear…It stands tall, even if bloody and tired, and asks for more please.

This Boston series was a vivid reality check for the Rays that their starting pitching might “set the tone” for their rise this season, but it can just as quickly be their slope to falling too. The offense can not afford to take a single inning, a plate appearance, or a single swing off, or the offensive machine could break down just as it did the last three nights. Even with the power display put on by Rays slugger Carlos Pena with a long solo blast that came only feet short of the Trop’s back wall in that first contest, only five other hits sprinkles Tropicana Field’s turf during that initial Monday loss.

The Rays early Spring mantra of GTMI, or “Get The Man In” fell on hard times as the Rays went 1-6 with RISP, and stranded another 5 souls on the base. This statistic alone firmly stuck the fork deep into the Rays flesh and the fact the Red Sox pitching staff sent 17 consecutive hitters back to the dugout after Jason Bartlett’s double in that same contest , it twisted the fork harder into the Rays underbelly for their first loss to Boston this season.

GTMI had become instantly an anemic message of CWGaH (Can We Get a Hit). As the Rays fans walked to our cars for that long exhausting ride home after Monday night’s loss, we instantly gave that night’s win to the Red Sox knowing the “terrible two’s” ,Rays starters James Shields and Matt Garza were throwing the next two nights. With that great thought and vision of victories in our minds, that first loss seemed easier to swallow. The intense bitterness of that loss seemed less salty and diluted with the possibilities of “Big Game” and ” El Diablo” getting redemption for “WD-40″. A betting man would have wagered his salary easily on the duo with a high probability of a “W” on the left side of the Rays record column. Losing either of those match-ups would have entered his mind as he pluck down his wagers.

 
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Tuesday night, Shields posted a “quality start”, and set the tone by only giving up 4 hits and 2 runs over 8 innings,. But the odd mixture of an ever widening strike zone by Home Plate Umpire Bob Davison and the trickery of Boston starter Jon Lester taking that extra 6 inches off the plate proved to be the Rays recipe for disaster. Lester gave up only a single to Rays Designated Hitter Willy Aybar in the fourth inning to spoil his night. The Rays again were faced with another “slumber of the lumber” epidemic as the Rays went 0-5 with RISP, and stranded 7 Rays on base in their second loss in as many nights.


The invisibility of Maddon’s offensive mantra GTMI, or “Get The Man In” might have become a broken tooth on the spoke of the Rays hitting machine and it brought the whole she-bang to a screeching halt. When the Rays have shown their offensive pratfalls this season, the team has stranded countless men on base, or forgotten where those bases were located. Without a solid smack, slap or a tickle off the Rays bats, this team will feel that bitter taste of losing again. And we knew after that second smack down this second divisional series would go to Boston. But we still felt strong in knowing the Rays were sending their own demon to the mound for the finale, and he could already taste the sweetness.

And in this final swing at the Red Sox you knew that something had to give for the Rays. Something had to be discovered or uncovered that had boosted the Rays chances at failure the previous two nights. But just as quickly as the sixth Red Sox hitter, you saw Garza instantly show the frustration behind the mound, and some sort of implosion was definitely on the horizon. After that first blast by Adrian Beltre, Garza seemed to second guessing his strategy and try to change his team’s outcome in one sweep. Garza’s 5 walks and 3 home runs allowed last night showed his mind along with his control was not as sharp as the whiskers on his chin.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

Garza was having his own purgatory moments on the mound, the Rays hitters found a reoccurring theme of inconsistent hitting. They did string together an early scoring opportunity in the second inning after Blalock lead-off with a single. Blalock then advanced along the base paths and came across the plate on Reid Brignac’s grounder and tie the game and gave the Rays a boost of renewed confidence.
A second costly mistake to Beltre, which quickly deposited 388 feet into the Leftfield stands and the Red Sox quickly took this game solidly out of the Rays grasp.

As the game ended the frustration and the angst was visible from the Rightfield stands as the Rays players began their trip towards the dugout tunnel to the Rays clubhouse. Some chins were down and you wonder what the final remedy or cure will be for this anemic offense situation to rebound. For immediately on Thursday night, the Chicago White Sox will venture into Tropicana Field and after seeing the Rays recent struggles, they might also be smelling fresh blood.


The Rays need to resoundingly wake up their slumbering offense that went a combined 1-14 with RISP in their Wednesday night debacle. Soon the mantra of GTMI might be dead in the water if the team doesn’t institute a lifesaving move to save this home stand. People will point fingers from the stands towards certain Rays players who have failed to connect or contribute lately, but the stark reality is all 25 members of this Rays team are accountable right now. You win as a team, and you lose as a team.

Somehow some way this spell of offensive despair has to end. Hopefully it is a simple attitude or minor adjustment and again we can cheer and say hello to victory soon for the Rays. Either that, or is it going to be a long, long Summer, and we do not want that!

 

Love Seeing Baldelli in Rays Blue!

 

 
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

I was talking to a rival friend of mine who transplanted to Tampa Bay from Boston 2 years ago before the Tampa Bay Rays opened their doors today about the possibilities of either the Red Sox or the Rays getting the services of Rocco Baldelli. Immediately I spoke it loud and clear that the possibilities of Baldelli (in the near future) posing in a Red Sox jersey was slim to none and slim had left the building. My colleague was a bit put back by my state of arrogance bliss at that statement, for I knew a secret he did not about Baldelli. My friend kept going with his “Rocco” speech reminding me that Baldelli was a Rhode Island native son and had an instant kinship and valued and cherished his time with his beloved Red Sox.

I granted him that, and did tell him that Boston was the only team I could see him in their jersey and not think about booing or even scoffing Baldelli because of that lifetime dream of wearing those colors. But I quickly remind my absent-minded friend of the respect and admiration Baldelli had for this Rays organization and the soft spot they had in his heart too. My rival friend did acknowledge that the Rays might have provided and given Baldelli an better chance to show his early Major League talents and early chances to strive as an outfielder with the young Rays, but that Boston took him to the promised land (playing with a “B” over his heart).
My naïve Northeastern baseball friend with the big red “B” prominently displayed on his cap then stated that because of the overall returning strength of the Red Sox outfield unit in 2010, and some preexisting medical issues, maybe Baldelli was viewed more as a extended bench player than an active participant and the Red Sox gave him his freedom to pursue other options. And I began to laugh at my friend because pulling up the Baldelli’s medical card seemed a bit amateurish at best to me. It is really well documented the struggles and the pains and strains Baldelli’s fatigue syndrome took on both his professional and private life. But I could not see a team release someone for that reason alone…could I?

I still remember standing near the back of the room under the stands of Progress Energy Field on March 12, 2008 when Baldelli met with the local media and announced his existing condition, and his plans to possibly leave the Rays and seek immediate extended medical treatment for his condition. I still remember some of his statement that day very vividly:


As far as my baseball career, I’m not here to stand in front of you telling you I’m retiring. We’re still going to pursue every avenue that we can to try to figure out what is going on, have a better understanding of what is going on. But at this time, throughout all of the extensive testing that we’ve done, we don’t have a concrete answer. The doctors’ consensus is that these are the problems that I’m experiencing and there’s a lot of medical proof of these things, but they’ve been unable to specifically identify an exact reason or an exact problem down to a specific name.

That’s kind of frustrating, but that’s why we’re going to continue along with the team’s help to find out what’s going on. I feel comfortable about this because the team has been so good to me and supported me in every possible way I could imagine. Without that, I don’t know really where I’d be right now, because this is as probably as difficult and frustrating a thing as I’ve ever had to deal with as a person.


My friend was a bit astonished that I could recite or even retain any pieces of that statement with any sense of clarity. But then again, he forgot that Baldelli was the center of that first class of Rays farmhands to finally breakthrough in the early 2000’s. But I also got to admit it, I surprised myself too. The pure fact that Baldelli (to me) along with Carl Crawford were the “young gun Rays”. That loss of innocence on that afternoon cut deep to my inner core. But I also knew of the extra time and extended efforts of people like Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield took to personally attend and research Baldelli’s medical needs and his extended rehabilitation to normalcy on the ball field was amazing.

I also knew of the extended olive branch by the Rays for Baldelli to stay within touch of the Rays organization as he searched for his initial medical treatment options not only showed the respect and the admiration the Rays entire organization had for Baldelli, but showed the friendship ties and bond that could not be easily broken by such a medical imperfection. The Rays knew they found a rare person is the player once so prominently compared to Yankee legend “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio. My rival friend forgot how Baldelli struggled out of sight of the baseball world that day and finally returned in Seattle during a Rays series to play again in the sunlight of Safeco Field bearing the Rays colors.

 
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And certainly my baseball buddy here had his selective memory card swiped clean to forget that Baldelli on October 13,2008 against his beloved team went 1 for 3 with 3 RBI in the confines of Fenway Park in the American League Championship Series. And he surely forgot Baldelli also went 1-3 during Game 7 of the ALCS hitting a single in the bottom of the fifth inning that plated Willy Aybar with a decisive run in the contest. Baldelli had finally seen success wearing the Rays colors, and that you can never take away from a player. But my friend quickly used one of my same lines from a Janet Jackson song, “What have you done for me lately? Wooo wooo hooooo hoo”


My “B” tattooed buddy was unaware that Baldelli was still involved in the world of baseball before I calmly stated to him that Baldelli was a frequent visitor to the Rays clubhouse and had taken more than a few turns in the Batting Cages within Tropicana field before Rays games this season. I also knew that recently he had been working out with Rays Strength and Conditioning Coach, Kevin Barr to get physically able and ready to maybe in the near future partake in another round of Major League Baseball games. That the prognosis I had heard showed great promise and resources that Baldelli was both physically and medically willing and able to play again at this level.

 
AP Photo/Unknown Photographer

My uninformed buddy got all giddy and began to remark that he would look great again in the Red Boston # 5 jersey and spoke of the outfield epidemics that had plagued his Red Sox in 2010. I let him ramble on a bit before I stopped him and asked why Boston released him after the 2009 season. He had no real concrete answer, but thought it might have been for the best at that moment in time. I then popped the old news to us Rays fans that Baldelli had actually been in a Rays dark blue sweatshirt as early as February 28,2010 when the Rays pitchers’ and catchers’ first reported in Port Charlotte.


That Baldelli was currently “employed” by the Rays as a Rays farm system roving outfield and hitting instructor while also working himself into shape after his shoulder injury in 2009. Baldelli had entered the Spring with some lingering effects from his shoulder aliment, and the Rays aw it as an opportunity to rehab someone with distinctive Rays history and fan appeal in case of an emergency later in the season. This fact stunned my Bostonian friend and he was stammering that Baldelli had no reason to go back to his Rays roots after being in the splendor of Beantown. He had played in the big city and now he should have rewarded Boston first with any return to the MLB discussion.


I reminded him he might have asked the Boston brass for the same set-up as he rehabbed his shoulder but do not officially know if Baldelli might have gotten turned down by the Red Sox. In the long run, Baldelli came back to his Rays roots were he not only knew would he get treated great by the entire organization, but also had fond and awesome memories within its brief history. I ended up the conversation with my rival friend that I think we will see Baldelli again in a official Rays jersey before the end of the 2010 season. For Baldelli is rising again like the Phoenix in Tampa Bay and will again have a role on this team making its way towards the playoffs.

My friend quickly scoffed at the notion as he went towards the stairs in Section 144 to gain a Batting Practice baseball. But before he got out of sight I reminded him of the times before that Baldelli had been on the canvas and the referee might have been counting him out, but he rose to fight another day and showed the tenacity of a warrior. My friend laughed as he quickly ascended the stairs out of sight. I then popped my head out of the stairwell near Section 138 and looked towards the Rays dugout.
 

 
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Standing next to the rail signing an autograph was a familiar sight. It was Baldelli talking and leaning against the rail. The Rays had finished B P and were no where in sight, but Baldelli lingered for a few moments talking with a few fans before also disappearing towards the Rays clubhouse. Just that momentary sighting brought back a wave of emotion, not just from that March 12th event, but from the multitudes of highs and lows that had evolved since the Rays took him in the First Round back in 2000. Baldelli was officially sighted again within Tropicana Field…Hopefully it will not be the last time in 2010.

 

The Red Sox are Coming, The Red Sox are Coming!

 
 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

I love it when one of our biggest pesky rivals, the Boston Red Sox heads into Tropicana Field for the beginning of our yearly “Southern” segments fielding a possibility of a few “fights-to-the-death” steel cage matches on our own home Field Turf. This series in 2010 brings a new special glint into my blue eyes to know that the Boston are coming into Tampa Bay Rays in a unusual and foreign position that they had not encountered in a very long, long time.

The Red Sox media has had to hedge their harsh words towards the Rays and endured their own sets of unexpected challenges to find themselves sitting in a unfamiliar position of posting up in fourth place and looking up at the evolving wunderkind Rays. But that fact itself also worries me a lot about the unknown explosive potential of this series from either sides of the coin.


Biologists say that when you first cage an animal taken from the wild, you get to see them at their meanest and also their most vulnerable states. When this wild beast is confronted with obstacles and unexpected actions, their innate reactions are not to curl up, but to regroup for their future attacks. I see this incoming Red Sox team beginning to uncoil and ready to strike right now. This scenario might put the Rays firmly within Boston’s clutches right now and we could see some intensive collateral damage over the next three games by either of these squads.

The Red Sox are coming into this series of games with the heartbeat of a lion after starting the year licking their early wounds and might finally be looking for their own set of baseball redemption for the Rays sweeping them in April on their own hallowed grounds. And with a few of their Boston gunslingers beginning to get their true sight bearing at the plate finally on the sloping sliders might be a prelude whistling loud and clear that the Red Sox are on the verge of a rebound and might be smelling blood in the air.

Boston comes into the Rays series knowing that they have to make a stand now to gain some lost ground and take steps towards moving out of their state of basement darkness and emerge into the sunlight again amongst the top tiers of the American League East.

 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

It is either going to a joyous series at the expense of the Rays, or a prelude to the realization that they need a few more hired guns to make a resurgence towards respectability and whispers of possible Fall hopes. This Rays series might just be the most important series of the next few weeks for Boston because of the implications of falling deeper within the losing well of despair or finally posting some needed wins. That is why the analogy of the caged animal seems to fit the Red Sox right now.

This is not to mean that the Rays will go into uncharted waters here and become totally oblivious to the destructive forces that could surface from the Rays taking for granted the awaking Bostonian giant. The team sitting across from them in the Third Base Visitor’s Dugout is itching to regain some of their glory at the expense of the Rays record. For when you have a active and bitter rivalry like this emerging gem, the little things can mean the sharpened edges between winning and losing.


This does not forecast three straight pitcher’s duels in this series. On the contrary, we are going to see each team’s hitter’s provide a bevy of challenges during this 3-game fandango. We are going to see if the hard hitting Rays, who have either eaten up the base paths, or laid dormant can find a resurgent level of consistency that will be needed to send the legions of Red Sox Nation questioning their path and ending of the year pecking order in the AL East.

 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

But just as easily, the Boston trio of the wily Leprechaun ( Dustin Pedroia ), the grumpy Orge (Kevin Youkilis ) or the ever present missing enchilada (David Ortiz) each could extract their own hitting consistent barrages and set this unflappable Rays pitching staff on their collective heels. For when you play someone 17 times a year, you even know their pre-game meal.


The Red Sox have begun to showcase a level of consistent hitting and a lethal dose of pitching to rival some of their former glory days. And because of that, the Rays should tread lightly, but also hit the Red Sox like a steaming locomotive to test, pressure and bring about their own style of “Rays Way” into this 3-game battle. The Rays will again try to revive those old base running nightmares over the course of this series to the Red Sox catchers of the Rays putting untold extra pressure on the Boston pitching staff to finish off their pitches. The Rays might just stick to their simple game plan of having an uncanny ability to string together hits, move runners over and push the Red Sox mistake envelope upwards tri-fold.
 
I think that this series might not come down to the two pitching staffs, but to the accumulation of timely hitting and defensive errors that can be unfashionably forced upon either opponent. When the Rays get their opposition to provide defensive lapses or untimely throws, they tend to be on cruise control towards a eventual victory.
For when Boston makes mistakes in the field and at the plate, it gives the upper hand to their opposition. And that is how the Rays took the first three meetings in 2010.

Persistent pressure, and an aggressive running game produced runs, forced errors and put the Red Sox on their heels during the chilly series in Fenway Park. Even if the Rays heed this simple formula, the Red Sox have the mental and physical fortitude to contain, dismantle and crush their opposition by forcing their own will of base running, timely hitting and pitching. In their last series in Philadelphia, the Red Sox left the Phillies a bit flustered after dismantling an old familiar ace ( Roy Halladay ) and brought to life the mystical mystery that is Boston and provided some key victories for Red Sox Nation.

And with the Boston again getting the taste of blood in their mouths, this series could turn on a single play or mistake during each game. And with the Rays countering in Game 2 and 3 with their top two gunslingers ( James Shields and Matt Garza) it might just come down to both team’s 32 ounce bats to decide this series. One thing I love about the Red Sox coming into town is their droves of fans flying in, or the closet Tampa Bay Red Sox ex-patriots who come sporting Red Sox jerseys until after Wednesday night, then they will again don their Rays colors for the Chicago White Sox series.


This is going to be a fun weekday series and hopefully will see 20,000+ hit the Rays stands each night for this Monday through Wednesday series. Even as the red colored sea begin to filter around the Trop like that encircling red hued oil sitting in the Gulf of Mexico, hopefully the Rays have the right solvent to eradicate this latest obstacle to their run at another A L East crown. The winner of this series will have an edge going forward, not in the overall seasonal series wins or losses, but in a push of emotional momentum that could push either team upwards.

 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

You do not want to think that a divisional rivalry series towards only the end of May could be pivotal, but this series could define the directions of either franchise. One is sitting with an extended lead in the hardest division in baseball, while the other is clawing and trying to climb out of a hole that was not even imagined as a joke on April 1st.


As the Trop’s doors open today and the parting of the seas of red and blue begin to move into the seating bowl to their seats, it is imperative that one of the Rays take control of these games and guide this series. This series currently does not have the intensity of a Yankees/Red Sox skirmish, but as the underlying pressures and the overall motivation grows this once lowly Rays rivalry will begin to escalate and again cause shock and awe to the supposed hierarchy of the baseball world.

And with a hard fought series, the Rays could garner more of the National spotlight for their talents for the game, and not the media propaganda machine that hides their Major League best record, but dwells on their current 20th spot in Major League attendance.

Ideas for a possible Rays Public Access Wi-Fi


Most Tampa Bay Rays fans who have attended games over the last two seasons have probably seen me sitting down in Section 138 with my old Toshiba laptop pulled out and have seen me jotting down some notes, or doing a quick post or photo upload on any of the social networks I use daily to pop out my brand of Rays information.

And before the 2010 season, I used the Rays old public access free Wi-Fi options within Tropicana Field before that option disappeared inside Tropicana Field this past off season. Now if you want to use computer Internet access or a Rays Wi-Fi network, you must possess a Rays unique password or you will not be able to access the Internet to change your MLB Fantasy line-up.


Now this is not the reasoning behind me not bringing my laptop to the Trop. Every night anymore, but I leave it in my car and do my posts and photo uploads after leaving the stadium now. But there have been more than a few Rays Republic members who have asked me about the “lost access” and it was while trolling around the Houston Astros Team website that I might have gotten as great idea for the Tampa Bay Rays to institute in the future.

It will involve one of their current Rays sponsors, plus might be another great fundraiser for the Rays Baseball Foundation.


 

Major League Baseball’s 75th Annual All-Star Game that was held at Minute Maid Park was the first time the All-Star Game was played in a venue that has Wi-Fi capabilities for the fans. That is right, not only the in-house media, offices and broadcast networks, but also “Joe Schmoe” in the stands had Wi-Fi access. And this is the first time I have heard of this, but fans can bring their laptops and Wi-Fi compatible devices to the ballpark and were able to surf the web when they purchased a four-hour block of unlimited access for $ 3.95 per game.


And the Astros also had an option for subscribers of Bright House Networks Road Runner high speed online service who brought their user name and password along with their computer devices to the game a FREE 15-minute, no obligation, free trial subscription at every Astros game. This special “Speed Zone” offer is not limited to only Road Runner subscribers as anyone purchasing their four-hour block can take advantage of Road Runner’s fast, simple and secure Wi-Fi hotspot service.

Anywhere in the Astro’s ballpark where there is a sign posted to show a Wi-Fi hotspot will receive the same standard download and upload speeds as Road Runner high speed subscribers at their usual home service: 3Mbps download /384 Kbps upload. But it all became a reality after the local Time Warner Cable facilities team deployed nearly 100 wireless access points throughout the stadium using Cisco System products and support This same option could be installed and functional within the confines of Tropicana Field if the Rays get enough feedback showing that the option would be beneficial to Rays fans.

I have not consulted the Rays Front Office, or even posed this kind of idea to them yet, but I was just thinking outside the box about a few things today when this information came available to me about the Houston Wi-Fi options during game days. I could easily see a possible $ 5.00-6.00 charge being initiated by the Rays for public access four-hour blocks after this equipment is installed within Tropicana Field in the future. And think of the possibilities of just 10 Rays fans buying these cards for all 81 Rays home games.

Just those 10 people could bring in over $ 4,860.that could have a nice chunk broken off for the philanthropist activities of the Rays Baseball Foundation during the baseball season. I know it is a small number right now, but with time it would grow and grow until maybe 100 Rays Republic fans brought their computer devices into Tropicana Field and purchased these special Wi-Fi access cards.

That would boost the incoming revenues upwards to almost $50,000 for the Rays Baseball Foundation, and they could devise a system with the cards being purchased in the Team Store or an alcove location somewhere within Tropicana Field.


Sure this might be thinking way outside the box right now, but it has a viable application and has been in effect in another ballpark with success. That in itself might constitute the Rays Front Office maybe discussing this option maybe even for the 2011 season, and at the least to be included in the design and conception of a new Rays future stadium. And the advantages of offering something like this could be huge for the Rays Republic.

 
MLWGuide@Flikr.com

And maybe the Rays could incorporate some sort of infrastructure within the system for Rays fans between the end of Batting Practice and the first pitch to partake in Rays related discussions, polls or even look at the MLB.com web clips and participate in future MLB promotions. The ground has already been dug up by the Astros with the Wi-Fi public access premise already a reality. And with the Rays fans becoming more and more technology savvy, it could be a great way to attract Season Ticket sales and also additional seat purchases for future Rays dates by initializing a online ticket discount program in effect while the card is valid on that game day only.
 

Come on Rays, you have a great department up there on the Fourth floor office who run your in-stadium web options. Maybe it is time to get the Rays Republic also active and proactive with in-game promotions, trivia contests and maybe even a Rays-based social network that could bring more Rays fans together both on game days and in the future….It is just me thinking “outside-the-box” again.

 

Mantra of the Game..Renegade style

 

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I am beginning to see what fans from cities like New York, St. Louis and Boston have been talking about now. When your team is sitting on the top of the heap in Major League Baseball, everyone and anyone will take any swipe or swing at your team, especially when you are winning. I am beginning to understand the premise that following one of the top teams in baseball can become a unforeseen double-edged sword.

Members of the Baseball community finally seem to be throwing some deserved praise and admiration towards the Tampa Bay Rays, but you wonder what ulterior motives lies just beneath the surface of their accolades. Are they hoping or praying for a collapse and fall from grace so that they can rake your squad over the hot coals with delight.


In 2008, when the Tampa Bay Rays were making their first venture into the National baseball spotlight after years of suffering in the basement of the American League East, I saw most of this action through a set of horse blinders that kept me focused on the long-term goal. I really did not venture into the side views of scuttlebutt going on just outside the realms of the team’s success. It was a new found Tampa Bay air of success that we had not thought in regards to the Rays before that “Magical Summer of Baseball”.

We had finally seen our Rays climb out of their MLB infancy cocoon and were trying to thrust out their outstretched wings and fly high towards the daylight.


And because of that, I might have kept my unusual sense of naivety, an unknown optimism towards the ultimate possibilities of the Rays squad. But during the 2009 MLB season, the horse blinders came off and opened the scopes of reality to show me that sweat, dirty uniforms and even a “Rays-hawk” might not be enough to post up wins against the monsters in the MLB. Maybe I was being a bit naïve even now to think a Rays team that sports a record like 30-12 could finally get a little slack after just coming out of the Bronx with a few “W’s” to their credit.

And here is where my undying sense of optimism can be tricky, and even prove a bit cumbersome at times.


I can admit that I am riding this recent crest of the Rays wave like a body surfer right now, but then something unexpected comes in and sends you crashing into the depths of the surf. You find yourself fighting the impeding forces against you as endlessly tumble and struggle to get to the surface to catch your breath. Something invisible to your eyes can hit you broadside and force you downward towards the jagged rocks below the waves……

Maybe sometimes I need to remove my Southern sensibilities that taught me to respect and use manners even in difficult circumstances because it defuses the angry and hostility quicker. I was brought up with the old saying that “you get more bees with honey than vinegar”, and to poke a sleeping bobcat is a bad thing.

Maybe not becoming a violent or obscene combatant in a battle of words by not getting right back into someone’s face, or tossing venomous comments at my opponent like a spiting Cobra makes me a weaker adversary.

I do not try to be a stealthy ninja who will sneak in my words or opinions quietly and take out my enemy with a well constructed attack in prose, or a violent commotion with a phrase or passage. It is not in my personality to character assassinate someone, but more in my spirit to dismantle and reassemble some sense of logic ultimately to the conversation. But then again, if you raise your hands to me and never take my kindness for weakness for I am more than capable to go from 0-60 in a nanosecond and thrust you back into your bounds of darkness.

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I am happy being a carefree Southerner, who has an undying intensive love for the greatest game on dirt. I am not happy about team’s losses, but I will not let my subconscious fall unbounded within the unseen darkness to dwell and possibly obsess about an early Fall collapse, or a Rays internal combustion situation in mid-May. Like the surfing analogy, I am riding the Rays wave right now eagerly taking in the positive vibes and energy for as long as this wave takes me. Hoping to somehow provide some solace and sage advice along the way, and not get bashed in the head too many times by pessimistic parasites for being an optimistic old fool.


But that is the thing about this great game of baseball. It can go on for hours and hours forever instantly changing your game day prospective several times during the course of a contest before ultimately handing you either failure or success in the end. But like the proverbial Gulf of Mexico surfer, I do not stress the bad moments, or hinge my ultimate life existence on the extreme possibility of the Rays crashing on the waves, or the jagged rock beneath.

This great game of baseball has ever changing moments that keep your mind and heart coming and going with a continuous ebb and flow experiencing both the Ying and Yang while watching the games, taking black and white images and colorizing themselves in front of our eyes. I will not be that silent samurai who attempts to slays or tries to change public opinion.

I am a baseball fan who keeps my own prospective, understands the limitations of negativity, but ultimately understands the game doesn’t expose its plans to us mortals. My life maybe very intertwined into the expanding fabric of the game of baseball, but ultimately I will dip, slide, glide and do everything possible to stay on top of that surfboard and continue to keep the faith……Hang Loose Dudes!

Rays are a AL/NL Hybrid Squad

 


 1080theFan.com
 

During the Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankee game last night Rays Television Announcer Dewayne Staats made sure to mention that the Rays have basically played like a “National League style team” this year. And with the Rays sporting the best record (30-11) in both Leagues right now, being a little like the “Senior Circuit” might not be a bad thing heading into the first round of games against a National League foe on their terms.

And with that, the Rays will be totally comfortable playing by the National League standards since they have been playing that style of baseball since the first week in April. The Rays have been masters at executing and perfecting the sacrifice bunt, squeeze bunt and even the suicide squeeze, which have been National League staples among the N L squad’s offensive arsenal.

But what was once considered a N L advantage with the American League teams sending their pitcher’s into the batter’s box for the first time this season, the Rays might have some special surprises awaiting their N L foes.


Sure heading into Houston we will first see Rays starter Matt Garza hit the mound to start the 14th season of Interleague play . And even with the Rays entering this season’s Interleague schedule with a less than .500 record All Time (99-115), they have been a combined 43-29 since Rays Manager Joe Maddon , which is the sixth best record in the Interleague play format since 2006. And over the past two years, only the Minnesota Twins (26-10) own a better Interleague record than the Rays (26-11) coming into their series against the Astros.

But just because this is usually the first time they send their bevy of pitcher’s to the plate, the Rays over the last two years have batted a Major League best .295 in Interleague play and their pitching staff has held their opponents to a .236 average, also best in the Major League. And even during their 2009 campaign into Interleague play, the Rays posted a 13-5 record last season which was beat only by the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim (14-4).

But playing in unfamiliar parks have been a bit of thorn in the Rays sides as they hold a 44-63 record in the National League ballparks, but they have begun to reverse that trend as they have gone 11-7 over the past two seasons in their strange surroundings.


But heading into the confines of Minute Maid Park with its train that moves throughout the outfield during Home Runs, and their unique Centerfield incline with their majestic flagpole in the center, this will only be the second time the Rays have ever wandered into the Astros home turf. But back in 2003, their last visit to Houston, the Rays did not leave with a great bit of Texas hospitality as the Astros swept them during contests from June6-8, 2003. And only one Rays player still remains on their roster from that 2003 squad, and Houston just happens to be his hometown (Carl Crawford).

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But the two teams did meet during 2008 from June 20-22,2008 as the Astros took two out of three from the Rays with former Astros Brandon Backe beating the Rays in their “throwback jerseys on that Sunday contest. Surprisingly, all three of those game were one run contests that season. But there will be quite a few Rays who will have a crowd or two on hand during this road series as Rays starter Jeff Niemann, who will start the Sunday finale, Crawford, Rays set-up man Dan Wheeler, and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey all have Houston roots. But the real treat might just be in how the Rays pitching staff does at the plate during this series.


The Rays pitching staff have been taking their turns in the Batting Cages over the last several weeks with several Rays pitchers showing they might just come out and surprise a few of us during the N L-slate of the Interleague this season. And starting with tonight’s starter Matt Garza, who is a career 0-8 at the plate, but has been showing increased ease and poise at the plate in recent B P sessions with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton.

And Garza has a bit of revenge on his mind as this will be his second start against Houston lifetime. But his last outing on June 20,2008 when he opposed Astros ace Roy Oswalt did not go well as he lost the decision 4-3. But Garza also brings in a nice 3-2 mark All Time in Interleague play with a special one-hitter in 2008 against the Florida Marlins.


And with no Designated Hitter in N L parks, the Rays might be at a distinctive disadvantage seeing that only 5 other members of the entire Rays pitching staff after Garza even have a Batting Average. We could possibly see Lance Cormier ( 5-46 .109 2 RBI ), Dan Wheeler ( 1-7 .143 ) make at least one plate appearance this series. But Rays Saturday starter leftie David Price owns a 1-3 .333 batting average, and last night’s starter James Shields could get a go at the plate in the middle innings if Maddon wants to save his bench players for a late inning rally. Shield sports a 5-22 .227 average with 1 RBI. But the pride and joy of the Rays pitching staff hitters might be their “secret weapon” Rays long man Andy Sonnanstine who is a career 7-21 or .333 with 2 RBI.

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But most Rays fans might remember his May 17,2009 clutch performance when a line-up card snafu had Sonnanstine batting in the 3-hole after a mix-up on the initial lineup card given to the Home Plate Umpire before that contest. For some odd reason, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria was suppose to be the game’s DH, but was listed on the lineup card as a second Rays Third Baseman and was disqualified from the lineup. Sonnanstine responded with a 1-3 day with a RBI double.


And with Sonnanstines first step into the batter’s box, he became the first AL pitcher to be in the lineup in an AL ballpark since Chicago White Sox pitcher Ken Brett stepped in the box on September 23, 1976 against the Minnesota Twins. On that date, Sonnanstine also became the first Rays pitcher to ever head to the Batter’s box in an AL home game, plus was the first Rays pitcher to ever bat at Tropicana Field.  

Because of that hitting success, Maddon used Sonnanstine again on May 23,2009 as a Pinch Hitter against the Florida Marlins at then Pro Player Stadium, he then again stepped into the box on June 21, 2009 against the New York Mets at Citi Field. During those appearances, Sonnanstine became only the second Rays pitcher following James Shields example from his June 28,2008 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Three Rivers Stadium. Sonnanstine also pinch ran on June 6, 2009 in a AL game against the New York Yankees and scored a run for the Rays.

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But after the aforementioned five Rays pitching “hitters”, the rest of the Rays Bullpen and starter have laid golden goose eggs to a tune of going 0-19 lifetime during Interleague play. Rays starters have combined for a 6-38 mark or a .157 average combined, but Wade Davis has never made an appearance yet in a Major League batter’s box.  The Rays Bullpen (including Wheeler, Cormier and Sonnanstine ) have gone 13 for 93 or a .140 Batting Average in Interleague play. Hopefully we will not have to see Rays relievers Randy Choate (0-5), Rafael Soriano (0-4), Grant Balfour (0-1) or Joaquin Benoit (0-9) make plate appearances during this series.

 
So they Rays, who have the basis of a National League squad down pat will come into their first series against a N L foe with a bit of confidence and a few tricks up their sleeves. But with that one extra hitter missing from the ninth spot in the Rays lineup, it is going to be really interesting to see how Maddon utilizes his troops and his pitching staff for spot duty at the plate.
And who knows, it could be the advent of the short game by putting down a well executed bunt or even a single through the hole that provides the difference in one of these three contests. But playing ” small ball” is the advent of the National League system. And even if they are considered a totally power-based American League team, they think like a National League squad, which could be dangerous for the Astros this weekend.
 

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