May 2010

To My Baseball Buddy

Tampa Bay Rays Baseball club
Rays Clubhouse
Attn: J P Howell
100 Tropicana Drive
St. Petersburg, Florida 33710
 
 
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Dude,

We have been Baseball Buddies for some time, and with that distinction, you know I have got your back any time you need anything….anything. And right now, the only real gift I can offer you during your time while rehabbing from your shoulder surgery is to try and constantly remind you that there is a huge amount of positive support and encouraging words coming out of the Tampa Bay Rays Republic community that want to see you smiling and taking the Rays mound as soon as humanly possible 2011.
 
I know it is a setback of massive proportions, but it is also a charcter building exercise as you learn more about yourself as you endure the struggles and the obstacles that come with such a surgery. But by staying in a positively focused mindset, you already would have gained the first step towards heading to the mound again. 

I personally have been in your shoes before in my life with an unforeseen injury taking not only your breath away, but making you face some realistic mortality issues both on and off the field. I have had an negative injury prognosis overtake and consume me to force my mind and soul into a unnaturally dark place that seemed to constantly suffocate all the good around me, and made me dwell and focus on the darkness just out of reach that was seeming to surround and confuse me daily. But, the stark turth is that you and your attitude and mindset are the best foundations to staying positive and remaining encouraged throughout this whole unfolding episode.

It might be time for me to use a really badly conceptualized California allegory right now. You really do have to ride this turbulent shifting wave the rest of the way out to its ultimate conclusion. And it is extremely possible that it will still have a chance to thrash and toss you around a bit with its unexpected twists and turns, but stay focused on the sun on the horizon and you will be able to ride it from crest to the beach shoreline.
 
Try and focus on the “goodies” so that those negative whitecaps just wash by you and far away. It is so easy right now to get into your own head with the demons and demoralizing thoughts, but do not get pulled into that bottom rip current of doubt, uncertainty and utter frustration. Hang Ten and take this as a bonding experience of strength and determination, not as a loss of opportunity or major physical boundary. 

And there will be more than a slight bevy of demons and unforeseen confusing thoughts that will suddenly sideswipe you and try and toss you from the safety of your board. But just keep paddling and riding those turbulent waves towards that serene and tranquil spot (maybe a lagoon in Bora Bora) that brings back your unique aire of confidence, and the “Dude” we have gotten to know during your Rays days.
 
And it is understandable that right now you might be looking towards that deep dark swell of water with a small sense of doubt or uncertainty. Push through that obstacle and focus again on the great things just within your eyesight and heart. The joy of spending extra time with your expanding family,your beautiful bride, and your life outside the lines and clay fields of the game. 
And hopefully you will beam  just from the pure thought that you have the entire Rays Republic and Tampa Bay Rays fan base wanting only the best for you. Many Major League Baseball players have gone down over the age with this same difficult and traverse obstacle to their careers and seen both amazing long-term results and some increased mobility and strength because of this same surgery, which revitalized and energized their careers.

Sure all of us Rays fans miss our own unique “J P ” moments during the Rays season. Be it the special gestures, or even a head nod that tells us we are part of your Rays game traditions. But now it is time for us to return the favor. It is time for us to return all those hand gestures, photos and talks on the side of the field. It is time for all of us collectively to show undying support and to display to you our own levels of admiration and the baseball bond  that has become supremely special to us. It is time for the people within the Rays Republic to visualize that we are there for you in any and every way possible during your recovery process.

And the greatest thing about this Rays organization J P is that you already know the guys in the Rays clubhouse, from the players, to the Medical Staff and all the way to the Fourth floor Rays offices are firmly behind you tri-fold. But there is an even bigger crowd that also want you to know you have our undying support and any positive vibes you might need in the future.


One thing I learned from my days after my injury is that the true fans of your team do not forget you. They are the one who make sure to see how you are feeling every time they see you, or ask you how things are going for you, even when you are playing for an opposing squad. And you have a large group of those fans right now hoping and praying for both a speedy recovery, and a time for you to renergize and focus on a date with the pitching mound as soon as March 2011.

These fans might seem like borderline stalkers at times, but there is a genuine emotional want and desire to see your Baseball Buddies have on-the-field success and a constant reminder of crowd confidence in their abilities. We have seen you not only grow in confidence, but become more extroverted and open up towards the fans in the stands to become a true Rays fan favorite for your smiles, waves and in-game gestures.


And you should pull on those special moments of talking with people like George Stone, or taking photos or chatting with the Pat and Christin Manfredo before the game. Of all the people you see and talk with on your journey down to the Rays Bullpen every night. Most of those same collections of Rays fans people are not only hoping and praying for a speedy recovery, but hope that you strive to maintain a positive outlook even when the pain get unbearable, and the rehab exercises drain you of all your strength in your body.

I know your impending struggles will at times seem totally disheartening and frustrating, but I hope the thought that we all collectively are pulling for you to again to sling a nifty 12-6 curve ball over the plate as soon as possible again for the Rays can provide some small foundation of support and affirmation we can’t wait to see you pitch again.


Working your way through the rehabilitation process after an injury or surgery is a seemingly never ending game of solitude and a roller coaster ride of emotions and painful moments. I can not say I envy the enduring trail ahead of you right now. But if I can offer any advice, it is to just keep those positive affirmations in your life close. Focus within those special moments, take positive emotional stands and push through the pain knowing it gives will provide you strength in the end.

My father once told me the true measure of a man’s fortitude is how he faced his adversities and overcame them. That to turn and run ruins not only your own aspirations, but those around you in life.


J P some doctors in Indianapolis still think it was a miracle I was running and sprinting less than 4 months after being on that field with no feeling in my extremities. But I put the things I cherished on a piece of paper and put to memorizing them into my subconscious so that when it got rough, tiresome and totally mentally and physically exhausting, I could pull out that list and find a few more reps, a few more steps, and even a few more moments of sweat and tears.

I remember a quote by the late Christopher Reeves, who said this passage during a motivational speech session I once attended: “Misfortune can force you into doing things you should be doing anyways. Lessons come from adversity. Anything can happen to anyone…You can find a new lease on life-more meaning that you thought possible in simple things…Let go. Live in the moment. Go forward.”

If you need anything, any time…..You know where to find me, because that is what Baseball Buddies are for….Can’t wait to see you again on the field.
 
 
Rays Renegade
 
Section 138….You know where

 

Are You Ready for a Short Skirmish!….Yankees versus the Rays

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There seems to be an overabundance of emotional waves crashing throughout the Rays Republic right now that have some Rays fans throwing platitudes and prognostication that the Tampa Bay Rays are truly the “team to beat” in Major League Baseball. And if you look only at the Rays overall wins and losses record, that fact surely fall within that comfort zone.

But the stark reality is that baseball is not played with a remote possibility of your opposing teams shaking or quaking with the fact the Rays are coming to their town. And in New York right now, there is no team within the MLB more hungry and willing to chew up and spit out the Rays with angst than the New York Yankees.


The plain fact that the Rays are going into Yankee Stadium for a two game series against their bitter rival, the Yankees, might seem as motivation enough to get fans of both team’s blood boiling and ready for action. But the Yankees are reeling a bit and might be just on the verge of biting back at someone after having a recent one game setback at the hands of those ruthless Boston Red Sox.

And even if Yankee supreme starter C C Sabathia threw last night in bean town trying to secure a series victory, this Yankees team is ready, willing and able to thrust a “L” upon the Rays without a moment’s notice.


And even with the sudden injury and Bullpen implosion situations befalling the Pinstriped ones lately, this Yankee team just seems to be able to reload their arsenal every night. This is not to forecast any sense of doom or gloom, or the remote possibility of the Rays not taking both critical games. But the reality is that both of the Yankees probable pitchers, A J Burnett and Andy Pettitte have their own unique versions of humiliating the Rays hitters. Most Rays fans might remember in the finals games of 2009, it was this same duo who took the wins in the last two Rays home games and it left a bitter taste in all of our mouths.

Mark O”Meara/AP 

Do not let the fact be quickly dismissed that a series in Yankee Stadium is not a venture into extremely hostile territory on the field as well as the stands. The Pinstripes currently hold a 71-29 overall win advantage against the Rays in Yankee Stadium. And the Yankees easily walked into Tropicana Field during early April and handed the Rays two quick losses to provide some extra Rays incentive for this series. It is going to be a fight from the First Pitch tonight until the very last one on Thursday night to gain either some extra breathing room, or provide some cramped space towards the top of the American League East division.


But one interesting side note of this series is that even if the Yankees were to take both games, they could not regain the top spot in the AL East before the Rays leave because they are currently 3 games behind Tampa Bay. And the image is still fresh that the Pinstripes went 11-7 against the Rays in 2009, and have always played the Rays tough, even in lop-sided affairs.

The Yankees have currently won 9 out of the last 12 overall games played between the two foes. In 2009 contests at Yankee Stadium, the Rays went 6-3 and handed the Yankees their 11th home series crown in the last 12 years. In that 2009 span of games played in the Bronx, the Yankees lost their first three against the Rays, then sparked 6 straight wins at home against the Rays to secure their 4th straight seasonal home series victory at Yankee Stadium.


And even with the aspect of last night’s game in Boston possibly played out under protest, this Yankees team is still itching to get some residual payback at someone else’s expense for them losing a series to Boston 2-1. And the Rays might be entering the grounds of Yankee Stadium at a time that some might venture is a pitching debacle waiting to happen after Yankee closer Mariano Rivera and his set-up men suddenly looked mortal a few nights ago, but the reality is that this Yankee team is just like the Rays in that their memory is short when it comes to losses and they quickly prepare for the next butt-whooping instead of dwelling.

And do not think the Yankees will be looking too far ahead to their inner-city tumble against the New York Mets during the upcoming weekend. The team knows that their focus has to be securely on gaining some ground the AL East race before they put their ducks in a row to fight for the NYC bragging rights. But there is a lot at stake right now for the Yankees with the Rays coming into town. But the Rays can also do a lot of their own residual collateral damage to the Yankees Playoff hopes during this short series by posting up a win or two along the way.

Scott Audette/Reuters 

And with the MLB season almost a ¼ of a way done, any movement up or downwards in the American League standings is critical to both squads ultimate goals.


And it might seem that I am trying to dispel any hopes or positive energy here with these facts and figures. In reality I want to post the severity and the possibilities that this series could change the outcome of the final standings. I have always thought of each win against an AL East foes to be worth two wins, and each loss two losses. That is because it will take two wins against anyone else within the 162 games schedule to hopefully erase a single loss in the AL east division. But winning a series or even two games against your divisional foes can elevate your chance to landing in front of them two-fold ( in my thinking).

You only have to look at 2008 to see the instant ramifications of this thought process. In that season, the Rays 7-11 against the Yankees during the seasonal series and those four additional losses made the Rays final American League East record closer to Boston ( 2 games) than if they would have won two more games and boosted a four-game lead over the Red Sox.

In comparison, if the Rays had not gone 10-8 against Boston and split their seasonal series, the Rays would have then tied with the Red Sox for the AL East title. So to me, a win against a divisional rival takes on a double sense of victory and could play into the ultimate decision making process of this year’s AL East race, or a possible Playoff berth.

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I guess the main message in all this rambling of words and phrases is that you can not take anything for granted this season. Not a single win or loss might tumble either of these teams to the possibility of not fulfilling their dreams, but a multiple effect of constant wins or losses could be beneficial or destructive to either teams march towards October.
 
I am anxious to get these game over with and see the Rays speed off to Houston where the complications are less extreme, and the losses less likely. But you can bet I will not be the only one sitting on the edge of my seat contemplating or even on the verge of hyperventilation during every play and pitch. This might seem only like a May match-up between divisional rivals, but these two game could become a pivotal point to either team’s destiny come October. And there is no harm in stockpiling Rays wins…ever.

Nelly Made the Trop Smolder with Heat

 

 

 I headed to the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday afternoon game wearing my jeans, an old Disney character polo and of course, my old Air Force Ones. It wasn’t Nostalgia Day or even 80′s Day, it was my own way of celebrating Hip Hop Night at Tropicana Field. Think about that wording for a minute…Hip Hop at the Trop…..Word to your Mother!

 

People seem to forget if it wasn’t for Nelly’s emerging talent at the mic he, Nelly might have made his way someday onto the Field Turf of the Trop on his own as a baseball player. He had some mad skills in the middle infield growing up and could turn the corner on a double play like his idol, former St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

 

And as soon as the ball settled into the Tropicana Field stands, and the team concluded their on-field Team Meeting with Aybar as the guest speaker, then it was Aybars turn to get a ceremonial shaving cream pie to his face and head and begin getting in Nelly mode.  I was already feeling the rhythm and the pulse of the bass to get out on the field and take a spot where the photos would fall like rain, and the crowd would swing in unison to the verses and song of the minstrel named Nelly. But I made a cardinal sin ( at least in my book).

 

I had a photographer’s pass from the Rays and I wanted to get deep into the action, so I posted up on a L-shaped corner in the right end of the “Mosh Pit”. At that moment it just seemed like a natural move and perfect move going from shooting the Rays first concert from the middle sections for John Fogerty, to right behind the VIP section during ZZ Top, to down in the pulsating action and sea of motion of the proverbial front row. It seemed like a natural progression….But a hasty mistake on my part.

For I had put myself in the eye of the swallowing storm on the wrong side of the steel barriers. I have been in the front rows tons of times before, but not with a camera, and surely not with a group of most teens to 20-ish fans who wanted to move and groove to every single sound wave of beat or vocals coming out of the supercharged bass system right in front of the assembled mass. From the first deep drumbeat from the DJ, there was pushing and shoving from the side and back as people began to crush forward wanting a taste of Nelly and the music.

 

But then again, I would have done the same thing myself 20-odd years ago. Well, I know I did. And the audience was definitely transfixed as the beats got deeper, and the crowd behind me got more animated and pulled into the rhythm and music. Out of the 480 photos I took that night, I had to trash about 200 photos due to the hands in front of the camera lens or  small waves of motion around me that caused the photo to appear out of focus produced by my arm and shoulder constantly getting hit during filming. But I took the commotion and the frustration in stride as I got popped like a pinball for a few songs but within me I now wished I had taken a position on the stage side of the barrier.

But the music was the center of everyone’s attention tonight as even some of the Rays players like Carl Crawford,Dioner Navarro, Reid Brignac, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Garza and B J Upton swayed and rocked to the beats while doing their own version of Nelly Karaoke on the West side of the stage region. Upton seemed to be totally into the concert as you could see him singing the words and doing his own set of dances to the beats. It was great to see the players having as much fun as the Rays fans that night.
 
 

And it is sometimes weird that Hip Hop has now been around long enough to have Nelly “classics” like Ride Wit Me , “Air Force Ones” and “Batter Up“. I still remember watching the first broadcast of MTV at a college viewing party complete with free MTV swag and music until we left transfixed by this new style of selling the music to the public. How much we have all grown accustomed to this video and music combination that now most of us never hear the song without also seeing a video interpretation of the song at the same time.

 

And from the moment Nelly first emerged wearing a stylish white Rays T-shirt, the crowd on the field and in the stands were immediately consumed by the tunes and the chatter from Nelly.  From his classic Nike Air Force Ones on his feet, to the diamond-encrusted dog tags, and glittering diamond watch bevel, Nelly was quickly transporting us to a part of St. Louis with his music we would never venture into alone. We were taken instantly into Nelly-ville, and he was the Mayor and the man that was definitely large and in charge.
 
 

And the Trop almost seemed to take flight the moment Nelly as his crew began to sing ” E.I.” as well as “C
ountry Grammar
“. The moment the first beats hit the speakers, the entire crowd began systematically swaying and singing to the tunes. It was definitely a well needed audience participation segment, and the assembled crowd did not disappoint as it rang out loud to an almost deafening level all around me. But people forget, it was not all about the music tonight.

But people forget it was not entirely about the music tonight as there was a large amount of young and older women inching towards the front of the stage area hoping to catch an eye glance with Nelly or getting some sort of savoring trinket to take home and cherish forever. At that moment you knew the focus and the attention was firmly bulls-eyed on Nelly as the player of the moment. When one of his crew announced he had a gig later that night at a local St. Petersburg nightclub, it was the assembled women who screamed and quickly asked the surrounding people the 5 W’s of finding this club. Nelly was in full effect, and the ladies were going to be in massive tow tonight at the Push Lounge.
 
 

And with that announcement, Nelly had just found the perfect segway to pop into his classic “Hot in Here” as he quickly removed his Rays  white t-shirt and threw it straight into the teeth of the crowd as people frantically pulled and yanked and finally separated the t-shirt into two sections before it fell into someone’s hands firmly encasing the prized possession for the night like a prized jewel. It was a white Rays gift from one of the Hip Hop chosen ones, and it now had to be guarded and cherished from that moment.

 

And as Nelly let the crowd know about his forthcoming album to be released some time this Summer you could feel the crowd letting go a bit knowing their dream might end soon. Usually when a singer or group mentions this tidbit, it is nearing the end of the concert. And when he asked for three volunteers from the audience the sound was deafening as every woman within reach of the stage began cheering and more than eager a chance to be on stage with the Hip Hop icon. Three women were finally selected and it was the beginning of some interesting final moments to the concert.

Nelly even gave one of the chosen ones a photo opportunity of a lifetime as she snapped a photo with her phone of Nelly facing her with the screaming crowd behind him. Then he quickly quizzed them as to their singing abilities and then broke into his tune “Dilemma” which he did originally as a duet with former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland.

 

The girls instantly fell into the rhythm and the rhymes of the song and began to sing and dance along with Nelly and his crew. It was one of the slowest moments of the concert, but helped the crowd recharge a bit before the night ended too soon for so many in the crowd. People wanted to hear every song from all his album in his unique styling that some have called a “Missouri Twang”.

 

The night quickly condensed into a meandering of unforgettable song hooks based on schoolyard songs with double-dutch chants. But what is amazing is the simple fact most people do double dutch lyrics as a rap, while Nelly has primarily done them in song, which is a major reason so many see him as a Hip Hop icon. The night was truly an adventure into Nellyville (also the title of his 2nd album) that I will not soon get out of my head.
 

 

But that is the thing about great music no matter what the format or lyric style. If it is good, it stays with you for a while and maybe drills into your subconscious for a future moment or even visual stimulation brings it out again for a great memory. People say that Rap or Hip Hop artists are this generation’s storytellers. They give their versions of the action and stories of life through their musical lyrics and prose. Nelly is a great example of this sage of wisdom and urban existence being told through music. And through it all, we also get a chance to see life through Nelly’s eyes.   

Blalock is the Bandage, not the Rays Answer

 J Meric / Getty Images
 
Anyone who has known me for any amount of time know that I have very well cemented opinions about this whole enchilada concerning Pat “The DFA” Burrell and Rays new poster problem child Hank Blalock. I do agree with the Rays Front Office that it was time to make some sort of residual personnel change and find a feasible offensive option at Durham for the Rays woes at the Designated Hitter spot.

But what concerns me is not the haste of the fond farewell to the Burrell Era, but the Rays reasoning for accepting Blalocks “convoluted” threats and letting him get what he wanted in the long run instead of flushing him out of the Rays organization. This recent action goes a bit against the grain of the Rays usual mentality to purge those negative influences instead of enhance them through promotion in their farm system.


There was already a viable Ray solution currently on the Rays 25-man roster named Willy Aybar who was more than capable of taking over and having instant success at the DH position. Why did the Rays Front Office bring in their resident angry child Blalock who might end up doing more harm than good in the character of this cohesive Rays clubhouse. Why wasn’t Aybar, who has seen his name erased from duty at First Base lately not given a chance to “own” the D H spot for himself before letting Blalock and his agent Scott Boras  deafening verbal barrages force the Rays hands on give in to their temper tantrum problem child.

In essence, the Rays did not have to play any part in Blalocks  tug and pull game, but there might be some sort of dark reasoning to all this madness that will expose itself in time. Sure there have been acknowledgments from the Rays camp that those verbal barrages did not play into the recent decision that could have ultimately exploded on them on May 15th if the Rays did not make a corresponding move to entice Blalocks happiness. My twisted point here is that this is second moment of Blalock misery that has descended upon the Rays Front Office ears in less than 60 days that Blalock has thrown his blatant opinions and close-ended options to the media instead of hashing them out in private with the Rays Front Office like a true professional.

I hate to say it like this, but I have more respect for the two snitches in the Mariner’s locker room right now than a player who whines through the media to hasten his departure from the minor leagues. But sometimes things are done in a business like baseball to hastly dampen outward disruptions while a viable alternative solution or destination can be fully figured out from stem to stern.

If you consider baseball a normal business, then why did the Rays let an “employee” manipulate their cherished positive value system and give him a promotion to the Major Leagues instead of sending Blalock on the same sharp rail that disgruntled former Rays employees Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes took on their treks out of town and to their MLB squads. And we all know how well that move went for the Rays organization. Well, at least the Young trade netted us key Rays contributors Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. 

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But this time for some odd reason, the Rays decided to let the playground bully get his way and stroll into the Rays locker room with his chest extended far and wide. I can tell you I will be one of those Rays fans sitting on their hands until good old # 9 gives me a legitimate and constant reason to raise them and pop them together. And the main reason for my defiance to Blalock comes from his numerous rants and raves that I felt was not needed if he truly did have the stats and the ability to help instead of hinder this squad. But there were other options at Durham who might have also fit the bill for the Rays. Cue the Dan Johnson promotional video.


Seriously, let’s look at both Aybar and Johnson for a moment before I make a final statements on Mr. Blalock. Coming into Sunday’s game, Aybar has been a great offensive addition to the Rays with the constant flux concerning Burrell before his final Designated For Assignment verdict on Saturday. Considering Aybar went a combined 5 for 21 with a HR and 6 RBI on the Rays recent 9-game road trip, Aybar has shown a knack for getting the right hit at the right moment to spark the Rays offense. And his exclamation point just Saturday afternoon of hitting a walk-off Home Run in the bottom of the ninth inning off former Rays reliever Jesus Colume shows he has the gumption and the ability to fill the D H position in-house without Blalock in the fold.

So let’s turn our attention to my subtle reasoning for a Dan Johnson promotion, who like Blalock can play most of the Rays infield positions. Johnson has also been on a bit of a tear in the minor leagues with Durham to start the season. And if you stack them side-by-side, they might make the Rays decision a bit more…well “convoluted” to me. Johnson has appeared in 31 games and has hit .325 while Blalock was maintaining a .349 batting average. Close enough to maybe throw a tie into that mixture of facts. 

If you look at their collective OPS so far in 2010 at Durham, Johnson has a 1.047 OPS as opposed to Blalocks .910 mark. During their Bulls tenure, Blalock has played mostly Third Base while Johnson has manned the First Base bag for the Bulls. But I really think that Johnson’s 11 HR compared to Blalocks 4 HR gives Johnson a distinctive edge as an offensive weapon for the Rays. But maybe the Rays saw Johnson’s 25 strikeouts compared to Blalocks 19 and considered that stat another tie or wash. But then two stats that should of made Johnson a “shoe-in for promotion might be his .651 Slugging Percentage and 15 walks. It shows shows Johnson is more selective at the plate compared to Blalocks 10 walks and .505 Slugging Percentage.

One of the explanations for Blalocks promotion was his overall versatility to play both corner positions, plus add a Designated Hitting option from the left-side of the plate. But Johnson also has that same level of distinction. I hope the Rays did some serious soul searching before they arrived at this final decision to bring Blalock to this Rays clubhouse. Considering the combined abundance of extensive Scouting and player development intelligence within the Top floor offices at Tropicana Field, you got to think there is a secret black ops plan or some sort of alternative universe thought process in rewarding Blalock for his convoluted comments and threats.

And I expect to get hammered by some people who will try and tell me to give Blalock a chance because he was so great for this team this Spring. That was true for the two weeks Blalock played until the last week of Spring Training when Blalock seemed to veer from his “Rays Way” of thinking. That moment provided our first look into the Darkness of the Blalock world. After the Rays announced that Blalock did not have a coveted slot on the Rays final 25-man roster, his first wave of frustration or disbelief hit his brain stem hard and without thinking of possible recourse, he rebounded with an instant call for the Rays to find a team that would “respect his services” or send him packing.

Some will say that the Rays worked with him and gave him assurances and possible scenarios for promotion at certain moments in the Rays season, but Blalock began to get antsy and wanted fruition to the primal Rays song and dance. And there might be a Rays crafty ulterior motive here to let Blalock showcase his talents until possibly the Trade Deadline in the end of July when the Rays could discuss his final visa papers to leave the Rays-land for another location in return for some added minor league talent.

Maybe even back in March the Rays had a plan to maybe hold onto Blalock when he would become a “premium” player and use the market to their advantage to get some needed resources heading in their quest for a 2010 Playoff berth. And if that is the intention of the Rays in the long run, then Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would have been wise to swallow his tongue and take the verbal abuses when it might net some key member(s) to a future Rays squad.

But in the end, this should have been Aybar time to shine for the Rays. Even if he is only hitting .239 in his limited appearances, he was riding a wave of increasing offensive firepower and could reward the Rays greatly in their ultimate faith in him. But then again, Aybar was batting .308 in his past 13 games prior to Saturday afternoon’s contest after starting the season 1 for 12. If that is not the sign of a positive turnaround, then I am as dumb as a box of rocks So with Blalock here, it is a no-brainer that Aybar might get the multitude of appearances against left-handed hitters while Blalock might get his moments against a right-hander.

 Mike Carlson / AP

It seems to me that the Rays made the choice of bringing up Blalock with a more than ultimate chance to showcase Blalock to other team’s who might be in the market for either power hitting options in their corner infield spots or possibly DH. It might end up being the Rays real ruse to use Blalocks talents to win some key ballgames and propel them within sight of their goal, then jettison him before the fire in his belly begins to burn again…..possibly in late July.

So I will sit silent until Blalock makes me a believer that the verbal assault were just his ploy to show he has the talent and ability to be here. But until then, my hands are folded for him, but cheering wildly and loudly for Aybar to take the position firmly in his hands and keep Blalock on the Rays bench. Oh, and hopefully during his tour in the minor leagues, Blalock finally learned how to hit a breaking ball on the outside corner. If not, it is going to be a long Summer for Blalock.

 

Rays Now 0-11 on May 14th Games

 

 
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This date, May 14th, has always held a small special place within me. It has been a day of honest reflection and undefined possibilities. It has been the Alpha and Omega of my entire life, not only as a person, but as an athlete. In High School, this date usually corresponded with either the Florida State Class 5-A Track and Field championships, or the State Decathalon event held every year at the University of Florida. But since that time has long passed in my life, it has come to signify other things. But with regards to my Rays baseball, this date can be murder on me and the entire Rays team.

For the last 11 out of 13 years, the Tampa Bay Rays franchise has been unable to win a single game on this May 14th date on the calendar. In 8 of the past 11 years, they have gone down in defeat and it has brought my joy and happiness on that day to a sudden standstill. The only blemishes on that dubious record is the fact of two “Off Days” thrown on the schedule in 2001 and 2007 to break up the streak a bit. But in reality, this is one date that the Rays have a huge wall in front of them, and I am beginning to blame myself.

Since 1999, I have circled this date on my calendar hoping to see the roof turned orange after a Rays victory. But again this year we came close, but it was no celebratory cigar again to be lit on this date. It has been my epicenter of baseball for the last 10 years. Since 1999, I have either traveled to Tropicana Field or another city or sat idle on this day in response to where the Tampa Bay Rays were playing baseball.
 
That is right people, I use this date as my personal symbol of my commitment to my level of fandom to the Rays. It is my own form of special celebration to the team that descended on my home town to make me have more remarkable summer nights than just cruising the beaches with the windows open, or sitting in a sports bar watching the NHL playoffs.

So here I go doing a 11-year recap of those games and their results. Even if it brings up bad memories or provide a bit of funk, this is a date I truly wished would change in their 13th season (My lucky number). Most people will probably not give a big deal about all of this, but on this day…….It is what I say that goes….Got it. 



Timmer82@Flickr.com

1999:   Tampa Bay D-Rays vs Anaheim Angels. (AWAY)

That is right, the Anaheim Angels. The Halos had not gotten politically correct yet to include the “LA” region back onto their name. But in this contest the D-Rays starter Bobby Witt did not get any signs of offensive support and the then D-Rays fell to the Halos 8-3.  A total of 5 hits were dished out by the D-Rays during this contest. The bottom of the Rays order did most of the damage with catcher John Flaherty hitting a homer in the game. But the Rays did  show some defensive signs of life, converting three double plays in the game.

2000:    Tampa Bay versus Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)

This was my first trip outside of the country since my Army National Guard Tour almost 10 years earlier, and it was my venture to this awesome Canadian town. I  got a wild distaste for customs on this trip, but that is a story for another time. In this game, the D-Rays sent starter Esteban Yan to the hill. Yes, the same Yan who would become the Rays closer later in his career and provide massive puddles of sweat on the pitching rubber. But the game belonged to Blue Jays starter David Wells, who just seemed to have the D-Rays at bay all night in this contest. 

Wells threw a 7-hit 2-run game against the D-Rays, but the Rays Bullpen let the game get away from them in the end. In the bottom of the ninth inning, D-Rays reliever Albie Lopez gave up 2 runs to hand the Jays a 3-2 win.  After the game, I got my first taste of feeling a bit out of place when a French speaking woman was trying to have a conversation with me in a neighboring pub, but I could only understand every fifth word. I only took French 1 in college. Guess that day ended up as a total disaster for me, both on and off the turf.


www.bernssteakhouse.com

2001:                                 Off Day

I decided on this day to just go on out and hit a local James Beard recommended eater that boasts its steaks and fine conversation during an intimate dinner. It was the first time I had ever ventured into this South side of Tampa, and I made my Visa credit card pay dearly for it. I had heard the praise of the food and atmosphere around Bern’s Steakhouse for years, but this was my first entrance into the wine and steak primo emporium. If you have not heard of this fine dining experience, then you have missed out on some of the best foodie tales to ever tell at a cocktail party.

The interior is done in a classic French chateau style complete with the red velvet wall coverings and an over abundance of photos of people no one seems to know on the wall. But the real attraction is the telephone book wine list that has the World’s largest and most opulent collection of wines. An added bonus to all of this is an extended aging process on all of their beef offerings, which translates into a bit of ambrosia on your plate. I am going to stop here before I drool and ruin another computer keyboard.

2002:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees ( AWAY)

This was my first baseball venture into the Ballpark in the Bronx. And I did wear my Rays gear into Yankee Stadium and had a minimal stint of problems. I had secured a seat right above the Rays dugout using a Yankee insider friend I knew while playing football for a great ticket. This game was over rea
l early as Rays starter Travis Harper did not last 3.2 innings before Rays reliever Steve Kent came on in long relief. It was my third game on this date, and I was beginning to think I was the cause for the losing on this date.

But in reality, the team was up against Yankees starter Roger Clemens, and he threw a 3-hit, 1-run outing on that night.  Rays Leftfielder Steve Cox did have a good night, getting two of the hits in the game. My old buddy Greg Vaughn did get a hit as the DH  also during that night. But in the end, the Rays fell by a 10-3 score because of a pair of Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada home runs.

2003 :     Tampa Bay vs. Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)  

Here I am again venturing across the open borders on my trip to Canada, but this time I decided to bring a French phrase book (just in case). I decided to stay at Rogers Centre hotel this time, but it did not help in securing a win for the Rays. In this contest, my old Rays friend and current Jays starter Cory Lidle was throwing against the Rays. The Rays sent young starter Dewon Brazleton to the mound, who reminds me of Jeff Niemann sometimes, and he  quickly got roasted with 7-hits and 5-runs in the outing. This was also during the time when the Rays had John Rocker on their roster, and after the game I chatted with him a bit in the hotel lounge.

But the Rays were beginning in this 2003 to show signs of the emergence of one of their key players in the Rays future. This was Rays rookie Carl Crawford’s first full year in the MLB, and he had mixed results in this May 14th game. He did go 1 for 5 in the game, but Aubrey Huff was the star of this game, but even his bat was not enough as the Rays lost the contest 7-6. the Rays did try and mount a offensive counterattack by scoring 4 runs in the top of the eighth, but Jaye reliever Cliff Politte (Ironic a “Cliff” did me in) secured his fourth save of the season by shutting down the Rays offense.



Radioinsomnia@Flickr.com

2004:     Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians (AWAY)

This was my first venture to “The Jake”, and it was the first time I have ever been mesmerized by an “away” stadium. They were celebrating the 10th anniversary of “The Jake”, and it did not even look a few years old at that point. This was the night that my flight got delayed in Atlanta and I was still sitting on the tarmac at 5 pm EST, but  got on a alternate flight and the plane began its descent towards Cleveland-Hopkins Airport at about 20 minutes before game time. The plane banked just perfect so I could get a great shot of the stadium beaming with excitement.

I did not get into the stadium until the fourth inning, and it was “Ladies Night” at the ballpark. I have to say it was the best present I ever got seeing this stadium and going down to the Warehouse District and dancing until near dawn. I even got to catch a home run ball by Indians Casey Blake in the 10th inning of the game. Unfortunately, it was the game winner and I still have that ball in a special place in my collection. We lost that contest 8-7, and it was another friend, Rays reliever Lance Carter who gave up the home run to Blake that night.

2005:   Tampa Bay Rays vs, Kansas City Royals (AWAY)

This was my first post-football visit to Kansas City. I did my usual old habit of hitting a few BBQ joints before the game, but the contest was the real treat of the night. I had always loved to see that night starter, Hideo Nomo pitch in his younger years in LA. Now the Rays had this aging Japanese superstar on their team, and I was anxious to see him pitch tonight. But the Rays offense ended up coming up a bit short during the 6-5 loss. Rays hitters Chris Singleton and Nick Green did their best to try and finally pull out a May 14th win for me, but it was not in the cards again tonight.

2006:   Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays (HOME)

Yes, that is right. This is the only time I have seen the Rays play at home so far in their existence. But the home cooking was not enough this night as the Blue Jays took final control of the game in the top of the ninth to send the Rays faithful home miserable after a 8-3 beating. In the contest, the Rays gave up 3 additional runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach for the Rays.

Jays starter Josh Towers took the mound and was not overpowering, but the Jays defense kept them in the game and the Jays produced just enough offense to pull  the game out in the end. The Rays sent starter Casey Fossum to the mound and he had some success against the Jays, but could not keep the big inning from getting to him in the fifth. Rays reliever Chad Orvella gave up 3 doubles and a triple to Alex Rios that was the deathblow of the contest.

2007:                                 Off Day

Since we were going to begin a 3-game series at the Walt Disney starting this morning, I decided to head on out to O-town and do some wandering of the region. I have to admit I am a bad Floridian. I have never been to Sea World, and have only been to Walt Disney World (before this series) twice in my life. I have not even been there since 1984, but was looking forward to hitting both downtown Orlando and the Disney adult complex after the game that night.

Instead, after the contest I headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios and had a celebration dinner and then just hit the multitudes of clubs in the Orlando area. I did order an outstanding steak and lobster dish at the Hard Rock that gave me boundless amounts of energy for the night. I just wanted to have a great night before the Rays started their series the next day. I heard a rumor that Pop star Justin Timberlake was in the VIP area after doing some Nick show that afternoon. That is as close to getting “Sexy Back” as I have gotten in my life.


RRCollections

2008:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees (AWAY)   

Back to old New York, New York. This would be my last trip into the old Yankee Stadium&nb
sp;haunts, and I tried to make the best of it. I did the usual Papaya King hot dog salute, and went down to Ground Zero, but I decided to sit in the Rightfield bleachers for this game. I do have to tell you I did get some wrath from the Bleacher Creatures at first, but by the end they were telling me a few places to have a post-game brew and maybe meet a Mets girl.

I think what went down better in their minds is the fact we lost a squeaker 2-1 to the Bronx Boys tonight.  Yankee starter Mike Mussina kept his dominance over the Rays intact and tight in this contest only giving up one run in the top of the sixth inning. This was also my first sighting of Joba Chamberlain, who did come into the game, but was gone just as quickly after walking 3 batters. James Shields also gave up all of the Yankee runs, but still pitched a great outing.

It was my last time to stroll amongst this hallowed baseball shrine, and I did take a stroll through Memorial Garden before the game. I even stayed a half hour after the game and was whisked out by security guards as I did not want to leave. But I did, still wearing my Rays gear and getting a few Bronx cheers, but nothing too bad to get me put into Fort Apache. But tonight was different from the other May 14th dates to me. I was at the last Rays game I would attend in this old iconic ballpark. I ended up sitting outside the front of the stadium for another half hour before finally heading to JFK to sleep before my 10 am flight back to Tampa International Airport.

2009:   Tampa Bay Rays vs Cleveland Indians (HOME)

On this night I had the feeling we might finally break the streak of not winning. Something in the air just felt different to me, and that gave me a immediate omen of a possible win. The Rays sent starter James Shields to the mound, but the Tribe quickly scalped him for 5 runs in the middle innings. It was a hole that the team would not come back from, even with 6-run effort to pull closer, the score was still 9-6 at the bottom of the sixth inning.

Just as quickly as we all began to sense a chance at victory in the stands after blanking the Tribe’s hitters in the top of the seventh inning, Rays reliever Grant Balfour gave up two runs and the Rays had to settle for a 11-7 loss. Even the ninth inning run by Ben Zorbrist on a Dioner Navarro double play, it brought the Rays only one more out and a chance to seal a final victory on May 14th. But B J Upton struck out to toss all those percentages down the drain. 

I hope I did not bore you too much with a special recollection on the date of May 14th through the Rays baseball times. I am lucky enough to have a home game again this season, and hopefully the team can break my curse of not getting a single victory on this date with me in attendance. You might notice that I had not included the date of May 14th 1998 on this blog. Well, that year I was here in St. Petersburg by my old dog’s side before he was to put to sleep. He had been my close ally for 15 years and had recently suffered a stroke and could not hold his balance well.

So I was not in Kansas City where the team fell 10-3 that night. As you can see, this can either be a day of rejoicing or pain depending on how you look at it. I see it as a beautiful day for baseball. I feel a bit older every day on this date (hint, hint), but what has not aged is the enthusiasm and joy I feel inside my soul on this date in relation to baseball. 

I truly have baseball in my heart of hearts, and I hope that shows most of the time. As I have gotten steadily older (about to enter another decade) I have been given the gift of remembrance of this date in time. And these past Rays games where I have either traveled or seen my favorite team take on the rest of the MLB from the comfort of my seat in Section 138 have all been classic birthday moments in my life.

Talk Radio Stoking the Rays Fires

 
VillageAdvocate.com/1986

Tampa Bay’s Sports Talk Radio formats are in the same old as most of those encircling the MLB communities. You got your syndicated Sports shows that pop on for hours in the late morning and early afternoon on various spots on the FM dial like the “Mike and Mike Show” or the obnoxious little troll on the “Jim Rohme Show”.

Then around the time the clock strike 3, you get some of the localized radio instigators and rough-talkers that tend to hit the air waves running with a negative vibe, or venom in their voice attacking instead of informing people. Most of the Tampa Bay Talk Radio hosts have a good center of mediation and do not try and throw the shock value into their daily programming.


And with the Tampa Bay Rays entering their third losing game in a row earlier this work week, the local Talk Radio phone lines were buzzing and full of anti-Maddon, anti-Rays chatter surrounded by a cloud of negativity that has not been seen here since Hal McRae jogged around Tropicana Field. Entering this past weekend, the Rays had gone 3-0 to begin their 9-game road journey by sweeping the Seattle Mariners for only the second time in franchise history, but instantly, the positive Kumbaya community feeling seemed to begin crumbling as soon as the team lost on Monday night.

We heard on the Rays Radio Network, a rejuvenated Ben Sheets take the Rays down hard on Saturday afternoon to start the Rays loss avalanche, then witnessed on the Rays Television Network the 19th Perfect Game in MLB history by leftie Dallas Braden who personally handed the Rays their first road series loss of the 2010 season. Then immediately, the Rays stumbled out of the gate against the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim and lost a critical extra inning affair to start their 3-game losing stint in Anaheim, where losses have always been a premium.

At that moment, I think the edge of panic and uncertainty on this team’s foundation scared some of the uninformed members of the Rays Republic, and instant shock waves were developed when radio hosts tossed out a bevy of negativity gernades.

 
Rays Radio Network

The Rays were a collective 22-9 before they tasted the sweet nectar of success again on Tuesday and Wednesday night. But even with one of the best starts in Rays franchise history, and one of the best records ever after only 33 games, the approaching poison was overflowing on the radio waves about the Rays team philosophy and hitting consistency. And a lot of the befuddled radio muses were about things that were not accurate, but were the fables of rambling madmen bent on destroying instead of building up the localities hopes of series resurgence to end this road trip on a high note.

It verged on throwing chum into the waters of Tampa Bay to see what would surface and attack it next. The Tampa Bay Talk Radio call-in sharks instantly smelled fresh blood, and their sense of common reasoning and comments quickly evolved into a frenzy feeding off each others negativity and constant bites and ill-advised snippets were made towards the team. I have been a part of this back and forth bantering by Rays fans in the past, both on the air waves and standing in lines at the stadium and sometimes I have gotten heated by the ignorance of people who do not seem to truly understand, or want to be told the truth.


But this time I was not going to digress to their lowly depths. I did not want to take a step backwards and give the rebel rouser’s anything to sink their nasty teeth into, or let them try and prey on another soul who still believes and sees positive signs on the horizon. Rays fans sometimes seem to forget just how far this Rays franchise had launched forward just in the past three short years. From the Rays uniform and logo change, to a true validation of character and positive energy in the clubhouse that makes players anxious to come to the ballpark.

Ask any of the ex-Rays from the past like Aubrey Huff, Fred McGriff or even Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs if they felt this type of leadership and commitment before in their Rays days. I would bet the farm they will emphatically tell you it is miles above the tension and the turmoil they encountered while wearing their Rays gear. This team is for real and is solidly got their feet on the ground and not stuck in the quicksand of the past.

One stumble on the road and this Tampa Bay region is already seeking a scapegoat or martyr to throw on the bonfires or burn in effigy. That to me is the fault of the Talk Radio hosts who have let the rousing get all consuming before they try to steer the madness a certain direction. I always thought it was the role of the radio host to mediate the approaching storm of alienating opinions by cultivating it with positive affirmations to show an alternative view instead of stoking the fires with kerosene? But then again, I might be old fashioned and not into the regiment of shock jock mentalities or misguided angst.

But it was hard for me here. I have been known to not back down from a fight or a argument, but this recent mob mentality was a bit too extreme for me. And even if a random Rays fan tried to inject their positive spin on the issue and got a brief moment to speak, he was quickly consumed and destroyed by the masses with their nasty wave of opinions that seemed to sting the caller like a hundred wasps attacking an intruder.

 
620WDAE.com

Some of the negative Nellie’s were throwing logic out the window by expressing their opinions like they are spun off golden rays, but forgetful that underneath was a stench and a rotting decay of ignorance and annoyance. And there were a few radio hosts more than eager to let the bloodletting commence in hopes that ratings would take upwards trends, boosted by the loud and proud head-bobbing brood that did not even think of researching for the truth before spewing their carnage onto the radio waves.


How could they just throw away the truth of the Rays historic April 2010 which is not more than a year removed from one of their worst starting points (9-14 in 2009) in club’s history is beyond me. But it is the job of the radio host to move the conversation towards fertile grounds and not fester into the battlefields of discontent or dismay, unless that is their intention. So should we be actually attacking or using subterfuge towards the negative Talk Radio hosts, or just take it on the chin knowing that one day their listeners will awaken to see their motives and move on down the radio to another more rewarding and charismatic voice.

With their victory on Wednesday evening, the Rays posted another win and boosted this road trip record to 6-3. More than respectable considering the past debacles and pratfalls that usually encounter the team on a jaunt into the West Coast Major League Baseball regions. A 6-3 mark is winning over 2/3rds of their games, which for most teams is a beautiful success, and something to build on coming into a small 5-game home stand. But the Rays snarling mob have gotten used to winning after that almost perfect 9-1 road trip to start the season and took that past record as their focal point instead of the fact we still lead our American League East division.

The Rays organization has built a winning tradition here that did not have a footing before 2007 in both the record and the clubhouse. Come heck or high water, this region should embrace and rejoice in the Rays triumphs and forgive the minor setbacks and focus again on the long term goal…Playoffs and beyond. I can tell you I personally do not listen to Talk Radio before heading to a Rays game. I want to be filled with positive thoughts and energies before stepping within the confines of Tropicana Field. But I do partake in the Rays post-game show and enjoy the recaps and most of the banter expressed by the Rays fans on the broadcast.

But every once in a while, a “Negative Nellie” get through to Rays Radio host Rich Herrera and he lets them get out their poison before he tries to again fill them with the positives and show them alternative views and thoughts about the same issue they just vented. And that is a firm example of a Talk Radio host being the skipper of the radio show and steering it off the rocks and sandbars to provide positive affirmation not matter if we win or lose the contest.
 
This is not to mean this region needs a enema of the negative or even overflow of controversial shock Talk Radio personalities. We just need a sense of unity to get people to want to head to the ballpark, and the negative energy just evoke a sense of “bridge-phobia” or even apathy to the whole Rays situation. To paraphrase Ron Burgundy from “Anchorman”, “Stay classy Tampa Bay!”.

Rays need to Flush Blalock

 


Getty Images

So Rays farmhand extraordinaire, Hank Blalock is starting to again make some loud noise with something other than his 34 inch bat. You knew it was coming, but you hoped he had more respect for himself and this Tampa Bay Rays franchise. Word is leaking out from all side, and even over the Internet that Blalock is hearing constant chatter (from his agent) of the mumbles and grumbles of other clubs looking for offensive help while he sitting there blasting the ball off the Blue Monster in Durham. 

And if I was someone within the Tampa Bay Front Office, I would be beginning to be a bit annoyed at his spoiled child act flaring up again.  Most people around baseball might have forgotten Blaylock pulled this same “if you do not put me on your Major League roster, I will take my toys and go away” scene back during Spring Training, and the Rays did not budge an inch from their positioning.

At that time, no one within the MLBs many front offices or scouting departments were eager or even remotely responsive to the Rays trying to entice their brethren with Blalock’s persona across the phone/email trails. It seemed that most MLB people still had reservations about the 2-time All Star being a productive member of the baseball society at that time. And because of that, the Rays did not get a big bite or a favorable offer to even move Blalock.

But now the team might hear at least some introduction to trade discussions from places like Seattle, Washington, or maybe even parts unknown for Blalocks services due to their own team’s downfalls in offense or defense. There are several teams who might nibble this time at the Rays bait, but a huge bite might not even be forthcoming at this moment for Blalock.

But for me, this song and dance is getting more than a bit old to me.

Blalock do you think we are absentminded enough to forget you tried this same lame approach a few months ago, and it backfired in your smug mug. 

Hank, buddy, pal, you tried this childish temper tantrum and had to swallow your pumped-up pride and take a plane, train and automobile ticket to Durham to try and showcase your talents to not just the Rays, but to the rest of the Major League. People had enough doubt in you to want to see you produce the “goods” again before they would even discuss your name in conversation. That my friend is a ego-blast that should have humbled you.

So you have gotten your own predesignated 100 minor league at bats, which might have been your own self-diagnosed starting point to begin your trail of exile from Rays-land. Or could it have been that you just reached your minor league boiling point because you are still doing the minor league bus thing and you and your agent think you are better than that.

 
Sportsnext.Ca

I suspect a bit of both here. You know you have the Major League talent, but there have been more “no” votes than “yes” for your exile from the minor league survivor island before now. So maybe now that you have shown you still possess the Major League “pop” ( 4 HR, 23RBI) to go along with a nice consistent average (.366), it was time to make your exit visa a reality.

You have shown both yourself and the baseball world that you still got the goods and should maybe be basking in the MLB approved 5-star hotels eating expensive room service instead of  getting your paltry minor league per deims that scream out Country Fried Steak or fast food. Maybe your appetite went from 3-squares to 5-star because of the whispers into your ears recently.

Maybe it is that Angel/Devil on your shoulder, or on your cellphone voice mail that is making the most noise behind the scenes. Uber-agent Scott Boras is not know for his tact and diplomatic talents when it comes to getting his clients what they want or desire. He is one of the great illusion masters of sports subterfuge and deceptive countermeasures to get what the client (he) wants before they expire on the marketplace shelf.

And I think it is more of a financial bully attack right now that Boras has pumped Blalock full to the brim with the 6-figures motivational speech of his choice that he is losing out every day at the minor league level. And if these two want to play this game….fine. If I was Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, I would throw his name out into the fodder trade pit of the Major League Baseball and see which team comes to sniff out Blalock the most in the next few days.

You can be sure the Seattle Mariners will be sniffing around and carcass and might actually take the Rays up on a trade since they have seen more two sluggers bats go cold within the last month.

Blalock might hope that the Rays finally take it upon themselves to demote current Designated Hitter Pat Burrell and insert Blalock to be the rising hero when the team returns to Tropicana Field this weekend.

But  I hope the Rays might are wiser than that. They might just want to see who, and what might be available and let this festering cancer completely flush itself from the Rays professional system. Friedman already seems to not have a huge amount of professional respect or admiration for Blalock and his child’s games, maybe Friedman will send him to baseball purgatory as his reward.  I think it would be fitting for Blalock to go somewhere he will lament and basically beg to get out of by the Trade deadline.

But for myself, I am ashamed we took the additional time, extra effort and considerable money to pay a guy like Blalock who always had a secondary plan in his mind the entire time he wore our colors. I truly do not think he ever had a viable intention to be a contributing member of this Rays team, but was going to use this franchise until he got what he wanted , then leave in a mad heated rush.

So I say without reservation, we should flush a **** like Blalock far away. Get what we can for this disgruntled Rays employee who can swat the ball with power, and play a corner infield position. Give him his ultimate freedom so he can make this huge mistake and sit back and see the error of his ways come October when the Rays are still playing baseball, and Blaylock has packed his gear and headed home. He doesn’t deserve to play for a team like the Rays.
 

 
ImagesbyFerg@Flickr.com

He definitely doesn’t deserve teammates like the 25 players assembled who will go out and basically die for their team without showing their battle scars and wounds as an example of their chest-thumping glory. I  truly say Friedman and the Rays should toss Blalock into the porcelain bowl for a few days and let him float there as the Rays take offers and trade feelers about him. Let him marinate in his own devices, maybe even purge himself of some of his smug attitude and firm posturing.

Then, when he least expects it send him tossing and turning around the bowl with doubt and false expectations before you finally take the handle within your grasp and flush him forever from the confines of this Rays organization.



It was a crap shoot when we originally signed him to if Blalock could regain his Major League ability and be a viable option for the team if Burrell faltered or got injured. But Blalocks deceptive desire to vacate the Rays premises shows he had no true intentions of being a productive member of the Rays army. And for that, he should be gone by sunset in seven days. Hopefully we can flush this trouble down the drain without calling Roto-Rooter.
 
 
 

Bret Michaels to Rock the Trop

 
 
Jonasbrotherfan4@Flickr.com

*** Country star Dierks Bentley Rays/Hess Express Concert has been rescheduled for June 12,2010 after the Rays battle the Florida Marlins.
Rock and Jazz band the Barenaked Ladies also being added to Rays/Hess Express Concert series on Saturday, June 26 after the Arizona Diamondbacks game.


Bret Michaels has been having his own shares of ups and downs lately both on television and also in his personal life. I think any one of us who have been watching this season’s installment of the “Celebrity Apprentice” have been a bit transformed to see that the former Poison front man is as versatile and as passionate as he is about his Diabetes charity as he is about his music.


And I have to admit full circle here that I am stoked that he will bring his solo show to Tropicana Field on Saturday, September 25,2010 as a member of the Rays famous Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series. I have seen him in concert as a member of Poison, as a solo act right after the conclusion of his first season of VH-1′s “Rock of Love” franchise, plus seen him at an outdoor venue in Texas last Fall.

The man is a ball of uncontrollable energy on stage, and hopefully by the September date, Michaels will have regained enough of his past poise and vocal talents to have the crowd singing with him all night long. And the guy does it the right way in concert stopping and telling tales and exploits you usually do not get to see or hear in the “plain Jane” rock concert formats we have become a custom to nowadays. Michaels seems to take the audience on a journey with him from his Poison high points (Talk Dirty to Me), to some of his low moments in his own life (Every Rose Has its Thorns).

There are not many people in this world who can take on the title “Rock Troubadour” like Michaels who can incorporate his rocking out tunes with his well known solo ballads. I can guarantee you a night of fun and adventure you did not expect unless you have experienced his solo concert the last time he played at Ruth Eckerd Hall in 2008. But we also hope that he will have fully regained his energy level and his endurance by this date.

Most people know of the simultaneous family situations that came upon Michaels in the last few months from his daughter Raine being tested for possible childrens diabetes, to Michaels own health going south and suffering a brain hemorrhage on April 21st while sitting on his home couch. Michaels felt an increasing amount of pressure and pain, which was caused by a build up of blood at the base of his brain stem region.


Only a week before Michaels had undergone an emergency appendectomy was on the road to recovery at home. But the prognosis on Michaels has been simply positive since his emergency surgery to relieve that blood and pressure and he is getting ready to start physical therapy with hopes of hitting the road by the end of May again on his Concert Tour.

I really have to say if you can get tickets to this event, please do because Michaels is incredible on stage both as a singer and a storyteller. And even if you think the hair is fake and the many Cowboy hats a bit.. hokey, the guy gives you everything he has on stage and is well worth the price of admission.


Got to say, I was not always a favorite of this glam rock icon back in his Poison days, but through his Reality Television revelation, I got to see that Michaels is just a working father who also loves the ladies and his occasional adult beverage on the side. After his first season of “Rock of Love”  I bought tickets to the Ruth Eckerd Hall show in the middle of the third row back, and got to see the guy really reel in the audience and pulsate from their energy. Truly have to say if you want to mix Rays baseball with some kicking music, this is the Rays Concert series event you can not miss…..Honestly!

Braden’s Gift on Mother’s Day is just….Perfect

 
 
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty
Yogi Berra would have been very proud to watch this Mother’s Day baseball game today. In fact his classic line of “Déjà vu happening all over again” would have been the “perfect” ending to the conclusion of the game. All week long there have been numerous National media members and broadcasters  who have been saying that your team had to be almost perfect to beat the surging Tampa Bay Rays right now.
 
And for one Sunday afternoon, the level of perfection by Oakland A’s starting pitcher Dallas Braden proved to be the right and exclamation point answer to finally trumping the Rays, and securing the first road series victory by an opposing home team from the Rays this season. Coming into today’s game, the Rays boasted an unheard of 13-2 road record, and were 4-1 on their present road trip. 

With an overflowing sea of pink Mother’s Day MLB merchandise scattered across the assorted tables in the Oakland A’s clubhouse, you have to think that primary on Braden’s mind coming into this start was his departed mother, and the maternal grandmother who stood by him in rough times and turned the rebel youth into a prototype model for left-handed perfection. His Grandmother did not teach him to pitch, but she did teach him how to be his own man. And after today, no one will ever remember the “mound” spat with Yankees Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez earlier the 2010 season when absent-minded A-Rod stepped on Braden’s mound during one of his starts.

Now the world will remember Barden for his articulate off-speed pitching that seemed to dazed and confused the Rays. All day long the Rays were caught looking or guessing at the combination of change-ups, sub-90′s mph fastball and a stifling curves thrown at them over the nine innings. Barden never seemed to sweat, or seem remotely nervous in this Mother’s Day start and was still throwing in the ninth inning for the first time of his short MLB career. Along with the “Perfecto”, Braden threw his first complete game of his career on a day that MLB used to celebrate all of our mothers.

 
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty

And firmly planted within Braden’s mind during his pitching performance on Sunday afternoon was the many sacrifices and the pain and suffering shared by his two “Mother-figures” in his life. For Barden’s life might have taken a different path if not for the hardnosed approach by his mother, Jody Atwood during his high school years.  And the light bulb finally came on for Braden during a high school trip to Mexico, he began to see the constant path through his mother’s guidance and talks and made an immediate 180 degree turn in his life choices.


But Atwood was not in the stands today to see the mature and well poised Braden throw his first professional pitching gem as she had succumbed to melanoma cancer while Braden was still in his late teens and turned the ball to her mother Peggy Lindsay. So it was only fitting that Braden was so emotionally charged and focused on the mound today as he wore the pink ribbon over his heart on his A’s jersey. But even more important today was that at no moment in the game did we ever see a crack in his armor, either in his facial expressions or his pinpoint pitching accuracy.

Some will say that he might have been channeling former Athletics southpaw Jim “Catfish” Hunter who only 15,331 days earlier had thrown a similar Perfect game for the Athletics back on May 8, 1968. And this is not to suggest that Braden will transform into the second coming of Hunter, but to even be within  a small piece of that shadow of a Baseball Hall of Fame inductee will do wonders to Braden’s inner confidence as a pitcher, and as a man. And amazingly enough, the final score of that 1968 game was 4-0, the same as today’s final score.

But then some others will say that the always rightious Baseball Gods might have rewarded Braden for his stern discipline of safeguarding the “Unwritten Rules” of the game by his argument with A-Rod today. But the conclusion I  have come up with is divine guidance through physical integrity. This is a guy who was so cool, calm and relatively collected after throwing his last pitch of the game in which Rays Rightfielder Gabe Kapler hit a ball towards A’s shortstop Cliff Pennington who threw to Daric Barton at First Base to secure the perfect game for the left-hander.

 
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty

How ironic is it that within the last year, the Rays have been victims of two different Perfect Games by two outstanding left-handed pitchers. In their July 23,2009 game against Chicago White Sox starter Buehrle, the Rays struck out 6 times in their 27 times to the plate. Interestingly enough, they also struck out 6 times today against Braden. Buehrle threw 116 pitches while Braden only needed 106 to complete the Perfecto. Both pitchers earlky on seemed to be “in the moment” but today, Braden did not need a “big play” to secure his Perfect Game. The closest he got to that was a hard hit line drive by Evan Longoria down the Third Base line that A’s Third Baseman Kevin Kousmanoff took in easily early in the game.


Braden got his own personal revenge on these same Rays who took advantage of his early wildness the last time he faced the Rays on April 28,2010 in Tropicana Field.  On that day Braden also opposed Rays starter James Shields on the mound, but the Rays got to Braden early and chased him from the game after only 88 pitches. The loss he suffered that day ended Braden’s personal three game winning streak. You got to think he mentally put it in the back of his mind for some redemption today to end Shield’s own 4-game winning streak when he took the mound against the Rays today.

It was simply amazing to watch the top of the 9th inning as all 12,228 fans in attendance stood for the entire Rays at bat, then remained standing and becoming more emotionally attached with every single pitch thrown during that final half an inning. For they instantly knew of the impossibility of this moment when Braden came back out to the mound in the top of the ninth inning, and knew the immediate importance of this win that would snap the Rays early season dominance on the road.


Jed Jacobsohn / Getty

It truly did take a tremendous effort on the mound today against the Rays for Braden to eventually have his name mentioned along with Hunters in that elusive collection of Athletic’s outstanding pitching performances and capture this memorable Perfect Game. And if I was in attendance at Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum today, even if I was head-to-toe in Rays gear, I would have stood and cheered along side the huge amount of A’s fans after the conclusion of this sparkling pitching gem.

It is the thought of achieving such levels of perfection that drives some athletes to sweat more, and work increasingly harder within the sport of baseball. And  for an athlete to even have a chance to finally fulfill that destiny, the momentum of the moment and final gasp of breath after achieving that moment is unexplainable. On a Sunday when the entire MLB community is showering the stadiums with support for those special women in our lives, perfection was in Braden’s heart today.
 
And  Braden’s transformation on the mound today was remarkable and makes me want to stand up and cheer loud and proud for him today. Baseball immortality is now shining long and bright on Braden today, or maybe  a few of thowe past motherly influences finally coame to fruition to lighten up this memorable Mother’s Day. 

 
Jed Jacobsohn / Getty

Cherish the moment.

Reliving my MLB Radio Memories

 

Today I decided to do something different. Well, at least for me it is totally different and a bit out of my high tech redneck comfort zone mentality. I have become in my own little video/television obsessed world a bit of a video-graphic fool who always seems to know the cable channels by heart no matter what subscriber service, and the broadcast times of most of the top shows (like AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) just on the tip of my tongue.


So when I looked during the off season at the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays road and television broadcast schedule and did all my usual cross referencing and synchronizing of both my time and social calendar to have the time and the perfect place to watch my Rays take on their opposition within the confines of my technological enhanced home, or the local sports bar with mega HD screens and the MLB package.
But there was one date in May that kept pulsating up at me from the laptop screen throwing a bit of a greenish neon glow harking me to the possibility of no baseball on television for one afternoon.

I instantly was drawn to the Saturday, May 8th game to command my instant attention that the Rays versus A’s game that afternoon was to begin at 4:07 pm EST. That game time automatically pushed it into that dark recess of Fox Saturday Baseball’s darkened stealth zone that makes it verboten that there be no other television competition while their “Game of the Week” was systematically going on at the same time.

So I instantly began to hash out a nostalgic “blast from the past” type party where I could again hit back to some of my youth growing up, and one of the last memories of my father before he passed away just weeks after the 1976 World Series.

The main theme of this sports bonanza of pork, beef and chicken BBQ-d goodness would focus on the old Saturday and Sunday family adventures that took my family into the backyard with the Kingsford glowing red, then black and steaks, ribs and mountains of hot dogs would steam, cook and become instantly invisible after the kids and parents threw themselves on the altar of my father’s grilling mastery.


 

For the weekend days were the time for him and I to listen to the National games of the week on the radio while enjoying the fun, sun and even a few laughs after a hard workweek. It was the perfect remedy for my father to forget the hustle and bustle of his job and connect again with me in our passion and fascination with baseball. And so on May 8, 2010, I wanted to pay homage to that tradition and invited a few Rays friends to my little hidden home and reinvest myself into this special piece of my past no one ever knew before that afternoon.


So I made sure to have the perfect afternoon of baseball complete with the grill full of charcoal and the meats all marinated and ready to awaken from their marinated slumber upon the coals. For today this BBQ would be a little more chef-oriented with my own special recipes for Dixie Cole slaw and Kansas City method bake beans and frozen Captain Morgan Lime Bite frozen concoctions. It has been so long since I had held one of these events, and the time and the game not being televised provided the perfect moment to go back into the past and enjoy some nostalgic memories.

Listening to the baseball games on the radio had been a family tradition between my father and I since I was very young. And since we did not have a local Major League team at that moment, but the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals had called our town their “Spring” homes, we instantly gravitated towards those National League squads. So as 3:30 approached I moved my bedroom stereo out into the backyard and positioned it for the assembled folks to enjoy some old time radio broadcast magic…the type I grew up with in my youth.

 

And sure the technology was a bit advanced as some people sat there on their I phones poised watching their screens with the MLB At Bat application while Rays broadcasters Andy Freed and Dave Willis began to get us ready for another afternoon of Rays baseball. I was anxious to hear again the descriptions and the accounts of the game without visually seeing the action right in front of me. It immediately harkened me to that simpler time of my youth where I would cheer and yell at the radio with each corresponding move either good or bad in the course of the game.


And even if the game did not go as planned, and the Rays lost their first game in eons, it was a time I really would not trade for anything. I again became in love with the game as told by two very descriptive visionaries who for 162 games a year tell the rest of the world what we can not see due to other commitments or driving to or from a game in another town. Again I could hear and see by the tone and the register of their voice the kind of play or action playing out in front of them, but I was blind to those events.

Some people at the party did have some problems with this concept, but they did enjoy the food and the conversation with a few adult beverages, so they too actually took in the day with a smile without knowing it. And at the end of the game after all the kids were packed up into their parent’s cars after soaking in the small pool or climbing the trees beside my place, everyone seemed to leave with a smile.
And at that moment when cleaning up I had a tear in my eye because the one person who would have enjoyed this blast to the past more than me could only look down and enjoy it from another plateau.

But at that moment I did look skyward and instantly threw a smile and a wink towards the heavens knowing my father would have really enjoyed that time with me and the other fans. I have missing those kinds of parties for a long, long time and really do not know why I took today to bring them back into my life.


 

Maybe it was the upcoming date on the calendar that proves I have seen so much and lived so well. Or it might just be the total fact that I did something special today and not until my friends read this tonight will they know the real reasoning for it. I would have loved to invite all of you reading this too, but reality is that my backyard is not that big, and Tropicana Field was booked ( not really, but whatever).


Listening to a baseball game on the radio takes a bit of imagination and creativity that we seemed to have lost in this video enhanced world. I returned to a simpler time, both in life and in my love of baseball. But I honestly might hide a small FM radio in my laptop bag for games the rest of the season. I revisited a part of my past and fell in love with it again. I now might just marry the action in the stadium with the radio accounts of the game to enrich and enhance my baseball experience. I guess that would make me a high tech red….baseball fan.

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