May 2010

St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster is Eager to Chat with the Rays

 

If you have viewed the any of the three attached Youtube videos, then you might be with me that the City of St. Petersburg and its new Mayor Bill Foster are totally on board with speaking and discussing the Tampa Bay Rays future in the St. Petersburg surrounding community. We all know that sometimes the local media (Tampa Tribune) can show their own one-side response and closed-end stories relating to this pressing Tampa Bay issue. So it was refreshing to see on a St. Pete TV video taken during the April 15th session of the St. Petersburg City Council meeting that Mayor Foster was more than eager on video that he is “willing to work with the Rays as a partner” on the stadium issue.


And Mayor Foster and his City Council are well within their collective rights and civic responsibilities to take a bit of a breather and wait for the Rays to finish their current goals, then approach the Rays to get the ball rolling in the right direction. Mayor Foster showed great vision by saying the support for this team needs to be “regional” and not just localized within his city limits. And I loved Mayor Foster’s comment that ” no one here is the bad guy”, because in most of the media reports floating out there in Internet land from the Tampa-based side of the bay seems to place blame upon the City of St. Petersburg as being mute and deaf towards the Rays. We now know that notion to be a fable.

These videos show that Mayor Foster is more than receptive to having any type of discussions with the Rays on finding a suitable stadium resolution, but Mayor Foster also understands the Rays current code of silence as the team’s main focus is their pursuit of another American League East title, and hopefully more this season. And Mayor Fosters statement of supporting the Rays projects shows a distinctive positive open line of communications between the Rays, the St. Petersburg City Council, and Mayor Foster.

On the videos, you see that the City of St. Petersburg does respect the Rays organization fully and wants to keep a open level of dialogue with the Rays, plus are totally open to the notion of waiting until the end of the 2010 season before beginning serious Rays discussions. The City of St. Petersburg has somehow been viewed as the “bad guy” in this situation by not initially showing positive support for the non-binding findings of the ABC (A Baseball Community) Coalition because of their insistence in providing stadium options outside the city limits of St. Petersburg for a potential Rays future stadium.

The Coalition’s original mission statement was to seek inner St. Petersburg city location options to propose to the Rays organization, not venture out into other Tampa Bay locales. ABC Coalition took it upon itself to deviate from the original mission statement. The ABC Coalition final report is a volatile political firestorm that is mired in procedural potholes and fiscal limitation traps that could have condemned any talks between the Rays and St. Petersburg in an early effort to discuss the options based on the ABC Coalitions deviation from their original mission.

Because of the ABC groups refusal to follow the city’s set parameters, it instantly isolated the City of St. Petersburg to show plausible and viable local options within the city, and has been played out by opposing media segments as a convoluted and inaccurate portrayal of the city’s real intentions to ever consult with the Rays. Even though the ABC Coalition was first devised ,and originated in cooperation with former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, the ABC Coalition quickly took on a life of its own and veered way off course from the initial protocol to explore local St. Petersburg Rays stadium locations.


And by the City of St. Petersburg staying silent for so long on the final ABC’s findings, the City of St. Petersburg became the instant political scapegoat for organizations wanting to point a finger at a governmental agency in regards to the Rays stadium situation. By Mayor Foster’s own words, he spoke candidly that he ” can not make the Rays come to the table right now because they are busy trying to win a Pennant”. The past media reports illustrating the city of St. Petersburg collectively sitting on their hands or with their hands across their mouths has been greatly exaggerated, but that might just be the political climate right now to remain calm, cool and collected until the Rays make their next move..

By Mayor Foster saying he wants to ” assure their (the Rays) success not only on the field, but off the field.” It might be the first time we have heard an “official” voicing by a member of the City of St. Petersburg’s administration on the whole Rays stadium situation since the ABC debacle. But I really like the last segment of the third video where Mayor Foster stated that the “focus ( of the Rays) right now was to win a Pennant, and the focus of the day for us (City of St. Petersburg) is to demonstrate our commitment by getting fans in the seats.” You can bet there are a few Rays Front Office grins from ear-to-ear after hearing that wisdom coming from City Council chamber within the St. Petersburg City Hall.

I have to be honest that I really felt the City of St. Petersburg might have been stonewalling the Rays in regards to the whole Rays stadium endeavor. But the videos show that the City of St. Petersburg, and their Mayor are actually letting the Rays conduct their business currently at hand, before diluting and separating the stadium situation possibly as soon as after the 2010 season. That is the first real solid vocal evidence we have seen that the City of St. Petersburg is not tone deaf to the idea of a possible stadium, but also the first real vocal acknowledgment of open dialogue towards talking with the Rays.

Kudos to Mayor Foster for saying these thoughts during a City Council meeting. It is about time that the Rays Republic hears something besides the other side of Tampa Bay arguing and posturing for a potential Rays stadium. It shows there is an open invitation by the city for the Rays to sit down again with Mayor Foster and begin to hash out segments of the stadium situation in a positive vein. One of the reason I voted for Foster as our next St. Petersburg Mayor was his stark talk about keeping this team in our community. Another reason I voted for him was that he had a plan of having this entire Tampa Bay community co-exist with the Rays still situated within the city limits of St. Petersburg.


Most people forget that the land situated just off of I-275 and Ulmerton Road at the Southern mouth of the Howard Franklin bridge towards Tampa is within the city limits of St. Petersburg. It is one of the three ABC Coalition Rays stadium proposed sites. With the positive response by the St. Petersburg Mayor in these videos by showing his earnest desire to meet with the Rays, and hopefully secure a bright and productive future with the Rays remaining still within his fair city limits.

Some people within the St. Petersburg community had thought that Mayor Foster was tiptoeing this issue recently, or trying to hide it until later in the Rays season. These videos clearly show that St. Petersburg is granting the Rays space so that they can accomplish their seasonal goals, then both the City of St. Petersburg and the Rays can get down to business of securing the future of this team for the entire Tampa Bay regional community. I love it when I back the right (political) horse.
 

Rays Pitching is Setting the Early Tone

 
Elaine Thompson /AP

So far it has been a very interesting year for the Tampa Bay Rays with teams wanting to visit Tropicana Field instead of hosting the red-hot road trip Rays. And it is a great additional weapon to have in the Rays arsenal that they can now boast a almost perfect road record (11-1) while their home record (9-6) has been less than stellar so far in 2010. Coming into the 2010 season, the Rays Coaching staff and Front Office wanted to stress to their Rays players that their road record this season had to be a priority to provide a softer cushion toward achieving their goal of going deep into the 2010 Playoffs.

One well respected mantra from Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been at the forefront this season alive, and might just be a great fulcrum point for the Rays early sucess. Maddon strives to the fans and the media all the time that “pitching sets the tone of a game”, and in 2010, that tone has been  a lot quicker, more decisive and definitely  lethal to teams the Rays have played so far this season on the road.


And if the last month has been any clear indication, I suspect there are teams that winch a bit when they see the Rays on their upcoming home stand schedule. What the Rays have accomplished so early in 2010 is take the stigma of the road and present it as a challenge and an obstacle that can be conquered nightly.

I am not sure of any big changes to the itinerary that would produce such instant positive results, but you can be sure there will be a lot of discussion within baseball circles trying to figure out this new Rays formula to road victories.


Coming into tonight’s game (Thursday), the Rays have started off with not just an impressive road record, but currently hold the best record in baseball, and were the first Major League baseball team to hit the twenty win mark this season. Their current start is the best in the last 5 years since the 2005 Chicago White Sox started out 21-7.

What is even more amazing is the Rays not only have posted their best start in franchise history, but they have five more victories after 27 games than their 2008 American League Pennant winning season.

An added push of incentive might also be that the Rays are currently nine games ahead of their pace from the 2009 season when the team did not win their 20th victory until May 18th. In their 40th game of the season. And since April 22,2010, the Rays have now held sole possession of the American League East for the last fourteen days with the New York Yankees lying in wait for a Rays loss.

 
Ted S. Warren /AP

Currently you could realistically argue that the best two Major League Baseball clubs are located in the highly competitive division.

With the Rays currently garnering two win in their three games against the Seattle Mariners, it is totally conceivable that the team will win their fourth straight road series tonight, and have won or tied every series but their first series of the season (April 9-11,2010) against division foes the New York Yankees.

So besides that hiccup in the Rays plans, the team is on a miraculous start . But there are a few perils on the horizon for the Rays in their next two series against the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim because of past mix results for the Rays.


Coming into tomorrow’s series against the Athletics, the team does have a few great rays of light in that the team has a winning record against Oakland at Oakland Coliseum over the past three seasons (7-5) and are .500 (9-9) in since Rays Manager Joe Maddon took control of the Rays ship.. The Angels have not been as kind to the Rays in past, and have bullied the Rays to a 1-13 record under the Rays skipper’s tenure.

But this is putting the problems of the cart before the horse here and the Rays need to post a victory tonight to provide a catalyst going into hostile territory on the last two legs of their nine day, nine game road trip.


But getting back into the positive here, the Rays current mark of 11-7 on the road to begin the season is the second best start by an American League squad in the past twenty-five Major League Baseball seasons. Not since the 2003 Yankees started 11-1 has there been such a lightning bolt start to the season by an American League team.

The reality that the Rays are only one of four other teams overall to start 11-1 in the last 25 years is solid proof that this Rays team comes to play every night. This Rays squad is also one of only seven Major League Baseball teams to start 11-1 or better since the beginning of the Expansion Era (1961). And with a victory tonight over the Mariners, the Rays would become only the fourth team since 1961 to start the season 12-1 or better on the road.

The Detroit Tigers lead the way with a Major League Baseball best 12-0 start in 1984. But I think a few statistics that stand out in bold letters truly shows why the Rays have been so dominating on the road to start the 2010 season.

 
Elaine Thompson /AP

Going into tonight’s series ending game against Seattle, the Rays pitching staff has held its own with a 2.19 ERA (111 innings, 27 Earned Runs) and have held their opposition to a .203 Batting Average. Both figures are currently the top marks in the Major Leagues for a road team.

Another interesting note is that if the Rays do win tonight, it will only be the Rays second series sweep of the Mariners in Franchise history in Seattle. Considering the Rays won a total of three games against the Mariners in all of 2009, the 2010 season is already providing special moment with each game.


A quick example of the dominance the Rays staff has provided on the road is best illustrated in the last two nights in the starts of James Shields and Matt Garza. Both Rays starters have combined for 16 innings, struck out 15 batters and only given up a solo walk. Add onto that the solid stat that the Rays have defeated two former Cy Young winners in their past three games, and you get a Rays pitching staff that is molten hot right now on the mound.

So maybe we need to provide a few bulletpoints of reference here to truly illustrate how red-hot the Rays pitching staff is right now:


** The Rays boast the American League’s best ERA (2.94) since the 2005 Chicago White Sox at this point in the young season.

** Rays starters have only lost 3 decision over the course of their first 27 decisions games and are 16-3 with a 2.61 ERA. Currently, only the St. Louis Cardinals (2.52) and the San Francisco Giants (2.59) have lower ERAs in the Major Leagues this season at this point.

** In their last seven games, the Rays rotation has a 1.64 ERA.

** Rays starters have not lost since April 23,2010 (Matt Garza lost to Toronto 6-5) and are 7-0 with 3 no decision since that loss.

** In their last 19 games ( since April 14th at Baltimore), the Rays Bullpen is 3-2 with a 1.86 ERA

** Matt Garza going eight innings last night is the sixth time this season a Rays starter has gone 8.0+ innings, second to Philadelphia (7).

 
Elaine Thompson /AP

And I have not attempted to talk about Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria’s 11-game hitting streak or early offense and mentioned their MLB-leading .319 average with runners in scoring position this season. It is a really good time to be a Rays fan right now.

The way this team has come out of the gate on the road and provided the needed explosion of runs and shutdown innings by their pitching staff has been key to their current MLB-leading 20-7 mark. But there is a long way to go, and with 135 more games to be played, anything can happen…. And probably will.

 
 
 
 

Did Mount Bradley Finally Erupt Last Night?

 

According to the Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker, after the Seattle Mariners played their worst defensive game of the season Mariners slugger Milton Bradley was no where to be found (at least by the media) in the Mariner’s clubhouse little did he and the other media members know that Bradley actually left the stadium after the sixth inning of the game against the Rays after a brief confrontation with his Mariner Manager Don Wakamatsu. 

Wakamatsu clearly was seeing tell tale signs of Bradleys mental and emotional deteriorating state right after Bradley returned to the bench after his second trip at the plate and immediately Wakamatsu decided “go another direction” for the rest of the game. But unknown to Rays fans viewing the game on television, Bradley had begun a constant barrage of comments and accusations towards Home Plate Umpire  Kerwin Danley. Bradley felt Danley was expanding the strike zone a bit too much vertically for Rays starter James Shields.

Bradley instantly took it upon himself upon his return to the M’s bench after striking out with the bases loaded, to unleash a verbal battle with Danley from the Mariners bench.  Bradley violent fuse might have been compounded by Wakamutsu refusing to become a part of this venomous verbal barrage towards Danley. Bradley quickly escalated his vocal bards towards Danley until  a dazed and confused Bradley finally mentally deteriorated to a point where he fumed he was ” packing my stuff, I am out of here.” 

 
KebinH@Flickr.com

Maybe the trigger moment for this behavior came during Bradleys second trip to the plate that night.  Bradley seemed in a daze as he watched that third called strike all the way from Shield’s hand to Rays catcher Dioner Navarro’s glove without a hint of swinging at the ball. But we can only guess what has been building up in Bradleys frustrated mind during the first month of the M’s disappointing start to the 2010 season, and with the M’s currently compounding the frustrations with odd defensive miscues, Bradley might have simply given up inside himself at that moment last night.
 
But what is at the forefront of all of this is the fact that Wakamatsu had replaced Bradley with recently called-up outfielder Ryan Langerhan before Bradley even began to berate and badger Danley and then uttered he was leaving. Subsequently the Mariner’s Manager had done the right thing considering the quickly deteriorating mental attitude of his Leftfielder, who could of taken that mental state to the outfield with him and compounded the problem with an interaction with the fans.

Wakamatsu quickly used his managerial hook and replaced Bradley for both the betterment of the team and Bradley at that point in the ballgame. According to people within the Mariner’s clubhouse, Bradley became instantly upset with the decision adding on to his fury at Danley, and he instantly became vocal about being pulled in the game after the sixth inning, for a “defensive replacement”.


But the reality of the whole situation is that Bradley was probably not pulled just for the fact he stood there staring at Shield’s pitch down the heart of the plate without a swing. Especially in a baseball game that was still close, and when even a 4-run lead by the Rays at that point is not a safe margin in Safeco Field. The first warning sign of impending Bradley disaster might have been right after Bradley came back to the dugout after his first strikeout of the night and he flung his Seattle batting helmet at the ground and it bounced up violently before coming to rest near the dugout.

But Bradley did not stop there as other batting equipment was tossed when Bradley finally entered the M’s dugout, and was a sure signal of Bradley’s internal combustible frustration. Bottom line, Bradley was not in a mood, or a positive position to hold a meaningful and articulate conversation at that tense moment with everyone on the Seattle bench weighing the considerable boiling emotions churning within Bradley.

But when Wakamatsu was asked post game about Bradleys absence in the clubhouse, Bradley’s Manager’s silence might have spoke volumes to the assembled media corps. When Wakamatsu did not have idea or a comment to the media, it truly sent a signal of detachment by both parties in even discussing the events in a civil manner at this time. 

 
KebinH@Flickr.com

Could Bradley have “exited, stage right” to keep from fuming or bring this episode to an instant boil when he showed his frustrations and violence to his own batting gear  then learning Langerhan was  taking his spot in the top of the seventh inning? Could this one action by Wakamatsu set in motion the turbulence within Bradley to begun the cycle of a total mental implosion by the volatile outfielder?
 
The Mariners insist that Wakamatsu had replaced Bradley before the all too surreal scene began to play out within the Mariners dugout and clubhouse. At this moment it is unclear as to the extent of any actions or reactions from both sides prior to Bradley leaving after Wakamatsu expressed his stark opinion to Bradley to cease antagonizing the Umpires following Bradley direct barrage on Danley.

This is also a Seattle team that has been mired recently with a bit of a confidence problem, and this latest episode by Bradley will only throw more kerosene on the fire until something can be done to restore some good vibes within the team.

Bradley was brought into the Seattle Mariners fold this off season with the hopes that calmer veteran teammates like Ken Griffey Junior and Mike Sweeney might be able to nurture and massage the volatile Bradley and give him a more calming and soothing veteran sounding board for his outbursts before exploding and escalating into verbal or temper tantrums with fans or the Umpires.
 
There must be an immediate meeting between Wakamatsu and the Seattle Front Office with Bradley to either hash out this particular incident, or form the beginning of a “parting of the waves” might be in order for both sides to heal from this situation. Bradley could either be suspended or disciplined for his outburst, or the team might make  it instantly known throughout the MLB that Bradley is a trade piece right now .

But if Bradley’s baseball talents outweigh his emotional outbursts, then a viable solution or resolution should be made to make both parties again respect themselves and their mission this season. And maybe that is the key to this situation.

In the past teams have discarded him as quickly as possible without finding a common ground or instituting financial penalties or discipline for Bradley. Maybe he is just acting out as a form of releasing his stress and tension and has not been instructed or advised of more positive ways to reduce or eliminate these pressures in the past. 

 
Seattle Times

Bradley will not be the first, nor will he be the last Major League Baseball player who has let an “on-the-field” situation internally destroy him during the course of a season, and possibly destroy the rest of his career. But you really regret seeing his baseball talent and his game-changing abilities get consumed by Bradley’s frantic and volatile actions that continue to ruin what could be a highly productive and fulfilling career. We have seen videos of players meltdown before, and even totally get physically sick from the outpouring of mental and emotion toxic materials within them.


Seattle is a pretty laid-back place in comparison to some of Bradle’s stops on his MLB career. And hopefully the locale will help mellow and entice Bradley to remain cohesive with his Seattle teammates and serenity will in the future, rule one day for Bradley. It is either that or  we all will have to be ready to witness one of the most intense explosion since Mount St Helen’s in the Pacific Northwest when Bradley finally hits his breaking and boiling point. Hopefully, this will not happen during the next two Rays and Mariners games because I personally would hate to see the last images of Bradley be being pulled from the field, or escorted out of the stadium.
 

ZZ Top Photo Blog…Extended Cut

 
 

 

I got about 15 Emails and Direct Messages yesterday asking me to post a second photo blog of the ZZ Top Tampa Bay Rays Concert last Saturday night, and of course I am more than willing to throw up another 18 photos from my small segment I shot that night. But along with it will come a small story about that night that I hope all of you enjoy.

 

 

Before the Rays season began, I was talking with someone up in the Rays Front Office about the possibility of maybe getting an up-close vantage point during the 2010 Rays/Hess Express Concert Series. With some great acts coming into Tropicana Field, I wanted to provide a bit of extra photos and concert review that might entice other Rays fans who had not seen one of these Concerts to come down to the ballpark for the remaining 8 Rays concert dates.

 

 

So I came up with the idea of maybe submitting my name into the Rays Communications Department as a Photographer for the Concert series in 2010. The idea did have some basic merit as I decided in 2010 to try and get the bulk of my photos and special shots myself instead of using the stock photos or daily photos submitted by the wire services. And I had a pretty fool-proof plan, or so I thought at the time. I did not want access to the field for pregame photo opportunities, or even position myself in one of the photos wells on each side of the dugouts.

 

 

So I submitted my name and credentials request to the right person and awaited a hopefully positive answer concerning my request. I got back an answer that did not rattle me, but showed that the road was not going to be bright and yellow, but I had to have a bit of luck on my side. For the Rays had to submit my name to the band’s management team and either I would be approved or denied a photo credential to take photographs of that band performance.

I actually thought in the beginning this might be a smart way to proceed because hundreds of fans would be on the Tropicana Field turf taking the same photos and videos without the band’s consent. I was banking on the fact I was being honest and upfront to be my entry into this special world.

 

 

So I submitted my request for the first concert when John Fogerty was going to play a week or so ago. I got a denial letter back from the Rays Communication Department and was a bit humbled by my idea going through 100 percent without a problem. But I also did not take it as a total slap in the face, but as a wake-up call to either get serious about this adventure, or forget it all and take photos from my seat with a telephoto lens.

I shot my photos of the Fogerty concert and was not totally impressed with them and knew that I had to again grind it out and hope to get access to the field to take photos of ZZ Top when they came into Tropicana Field. So again I submitted my email to the Rays Communication staff and was very anxious to see if it was “Strike Two” or if I might have actually cut the mustard and gotten a chance to show my stuff.


 

 

The minutes did feel like hours and I was constantly checking my email box every hour hoping that I would get a chance to give the Rays some confidence I was going to use this to do positive things and not use it as a tool to use or abuse my credentials. Finally an email came back from the Rays Communication Department, and I at first did not want to open it for fear of that second “X” high above my head. But I also had the confidence that someone in one of the ten band’s management teams might give me a shot in 2010 to do something special.

 

So I finally got the nerve to open the email and got the first glance at either success or failure in trying to get some exclusive photos in 2010. For some odd reason the words “granted permission” seemed to jump out at me from the page and instantly I did the infamous “crab dance” around the room. For I was finally going to get a chance to expand my blog postings again with photos taken within feet of the artists, and with a greater clarity than in my Rightfield seat.

 

 

I got my first green Rays photographer credentials the afternoon of the concert from the Media Table at Gate 4 and instantly could have gone to field level and enjoyed the pregame festivities, but I wanted to chill and just enjoy the game and after the contest take some great photos of the band. No agenda on my mind but taking post-game concert photos. But it was a special moment in my mind. Sure it will not guarantee or even get me anything in the way of priority from that moment on, but the thought that I finally achieved it and brought back some great shots is enough for me.

 

The night was incredible for me. Not only did I get a chance to provide some of my first photo credits of a concert date in 2010, but I had the time of my life reliving and revisiting every song that ZZ Top sang and played that night. And it was special to again get down on the field again and be a part of the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert experience.

Sometimes moments in your life just seem to come out of the blue that provide a different direction for you. On that night, on the floor of Tropicana Field, I again saw that I love doing my posts and taking photos for other to enjoy. I again got to remember and feel why I wanted to work for the media as a kid, and wanted to again feel that rush of accomplishment and knowing I provided some extra information to others that would never have been given if not for my photos or posts. I remembered why I loved to write again….And that is a scary thing. 

There was Nothing “Cheap” about ZZ Top

 
Saturday Night after the Rays Republic had to endure the Tampa Bay Rays second loss in a row, the air within Tropicana Field quickly became charged and energized knowing that within a few minutes a recent inducted member band of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be taking the stage and tranforming Tropicana field into a bluesy West Texas dive bar/Rock and Roll palace for the next few hours.

Transforming the Rays playing field into a makeshift concert venue, it was instantly apparent by the LED video screen attached to the back of the stage area that we would get a light show with our musical meal. And believe me, the crowd was ready for a sampling of everything that ZZ Top was going to put on out plates last night, including a few nice tidbits from their past, their musical influences, and most of all their long and deep list of classic tunes we all still rock out to in our cars while driving towards Tropicana Field for Rays games.

But little did the Tropicana field crowd know that within seconds of the Rays dimming the lights inside the Trop, we would all get a instant re-education in why these 3 Texans will always have a place deep within our hearts when it comes to classic Rock and roll music with a distinctive blues flare. From the totally wild and elaborate ZZ Top drums stand, to the video replays of their classic video clips on the stage-wide LED screen behind the band that showed classic black and white photos and color imposed video clips all throughout the concert bringing a swirling bit of musical and visual imagery that was intoxicating to say the least.  The trip that the band was going to take us on tonight was going to be an epic visual and audio snack that we would all savor and relish long after the last note was played tonight.

For I know personally I spent many a day in the weight rooms during both High School and College lifting weights and doing stretching exercises to the deep pumping of the bass and the isolation of the electric guitar rhythms to get me into a pattern of working hard and producing a great sweat. And even listening to them tonight I got an instant flashback to those days, and I truly can tell you, the music sounds the same now as it did so long ago. 

For if the trio of Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank beard were concocting a recipe up on that stage last night, it was based purely on the simple ingredients that has made them VH-1’s  44th “Greatest Artists of Hard Rock”. From hitting us with the big tastes of “La Grange” and “Sleeping Bag”, to playing a homage to their departed friend Jimi Hendrix, the rocking never stopped and the crowd was singing from the very first verse.

And even if the furry guitars did not get to do a 360 degree turn tonight on stage, the presence of such history making instruments sent the crowd into a loud ovation of approval to the band. And you could tell by the interaction of Gibbons and Hill that these two guys still love their job and do it not only for the nice rewards it brings, but enjoy playing the music and hearing the crowds still. Sometimes that is rare in a group that has been around since February 1970.

And even during all of that 40 years of music, Gibbons still can tell the tale with his voice and make his electric guitar sing like a little school girl. Here is the same band that was inducted into the

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by none other than Rolling Stones own guitar legend Keith Richards. To say that Gibbons is not the premier blues guitarist is like saying Evan Longoria is just another Third Baseman. The best always makes sure to let their soul show in their music. 

And Hill surely is still one of the better bass guitarist of his era and still sports that mean looking beard of his own with pride and joy. But I was amazed that he seemed to have gotten a bit smaller with age, or maybe it is because this is the closest I have even been to this trio in person, and I was totally in the moment watching all three create some great music last night. But the chemistry that still seems to flow between the two of them up front and center on the stage is remarkable to see in person. And the pure fact that both Gibbons and Hill are having a ball on stage performing for us was not lost on the crowd that kept it’s cheering loud and proud by singing right along with the band and the multitudes that were dancing  on the turf of the Trop just shows how universal ZZ Top’s music is to this region.

Got to admit to you, I had a woman clearly in her 60’s standing next to me for most of the concert who was so into the music and the moment she was not afraid to thrust and elbow or twenty my direction as I was snapping photos. She even proclaimed at one point I was ” bumming her out” because I was not also hooting and hollering at the top of my lungs like she was tonight.I know she surely had a blast standing up front near the band swaying and crooning to every single tune the band played, even the slow ones. 

The night however did seem to slip away from us, but still seemed too early to stop the music, dancing and remembering the moments and times that once co-existed within each of our lives surrounding these hits. Most of us hoped and wished for more music, another tune or two as the band made their way to their 4 Tour buses parked just outside the dome. But ZZ Top did not disappoint a single person tonight, even throwing down their signature bow-legged shuffle during one song.

The night air was very humid outside the Trop when we all finally left the cool confines and hot tunes still lingering inside the stadium.  Our ears still ringing with the sounds and the rhythms from all the ZZ Top classic songs played on this night.  I suddenly felt like a sharp dressed man, or had a feeling for some Route 66 magic.

ZZ Top truly came out on stage tonight and served up one of the tastiest musical meals to us even with some morsels I had never even heard on the radio before tonight. In the end, it was another great show nput together by the Rays Front Office (BK) to entice and make us all want to come back for some more real soon. With Rap artist Nelly coming to the Trop next Saturday, May 15th, I can surely tell you in all honesty I am hungry and ready for another fine helping of musical delights served up by the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series. Can’t wait to dig in again for more good music and fun.


Giving the Rays Some ZZ Top Lovin’

 

With Texas Rockers ZZ Top set to perform after the Tampa Bay Rays play the Kansas City Royals tonight, it only seemed appropriate that maybe I should try and pair up a few of the Rays players with some classic ZZ Top songs. Every once in a while it is fun to just take a moment out and sit back and relax and either poke fun or show the respect I have for this Rays team and their stable of workhorse style players.

I could have rambled towards a posting of Kentucky Derby hopeful candidates that currently play for the Rays, but we already know that coming in one-two in that race might be the sprinter Carl Crawford and the long strides of B J Upton neck and neck at the wire. Honestly might come down to if CC has a forward neck bob at the moment he hit’s the finish line. But it only seemed fitting that I take a few names and personalities off the Rays roster and give them a one-night only ZZ Top song. I can tell you that I-Tunes is going to love me today with this research.



Raysonthe Runway

Sharp Dressed Man:


Now this one might seem like a pretty self explanatory song choice for Rays fashion plate and G Q model in residence slugger Carlos Pena. But I actually have two Rays figures in this choice. The first is of course Pena who has been the fashion sensible member of the Rays since day one. But my other selection might fool a few people, but he is trying with what he’s got, and for that I got to give Rays Television announcer Brian Anderson an Honorable Mention in this song choice.

Anderson might not have the fashion runway swagger of Carlos Pena, or even the handsome looks that make more than a few women faint, but Anderson is a budding fashion police poster child who seems to get better with every road trip. Maybe Pena is secretly taking Anderson out on road trips and getting him a new tie or stylish sports coat or tie to go with his daily ensemble on the Rays broadcasts. No matter what the true story is, we all know Pena is the true fashionista on the Rays roster, but Anderson might be raiding his closet if Pena is not careful…maybe.


 
Raysbaseball.com/ MLB.com

Gimme All Your Lovin’:

I got to go classic tongue-in-cheek here and give this royally down to Rays All-Star and female heartthrob Evan Longoria. For during the last Rays road trip while the team was in Boston for a 4-game series, Longoria made the Boston papers with complaint letters that he was sending multiple texts to a unique collective group of women in the Beantown area. What was so amazing is that people somehow seemed a bit shocked about all of this.

I do not see how this could be a surprise to anyone. Major League Baseball players get handed cellphone numbers and even room keys all the time for prospective romantic interludes, but most disregard them as “groupies” or even trouble waiting to happen. But the fact that is totally humorous is that these same women had Longo’s digits in their cellphones, so they can not play as innocent either here as they might have had conversation with Longoria either before they met their current squeezes, or during their courtship.

Either way, it really has just up the ante and further advanced the mystic and allure of Longoria to women from coast-to-coast. So the next time your “significant other” gets a text message that she either smiles at or giggles like a schoolgirl, just ask her point blank is it from Longoria. It probably is not, but you never know, some guys might think it was an ultimate compliment if Longo was texting his girl….Not me, but there might be someone like that out there in the Rays Republic.


 
RRCollection

Legs:

This actually might have been the easiest song to place with a Rays player basically because I seem to smile and chuckle every time I see him attempt an extra base or turn the corner for a try at a triple during a Rays contest. Carl Crawford has streamlined his glide around the base paths over the last several years to provide more energy and push to accelerate his speed within a few strides. But still when he rounds the First Base bag and he seems to be leaning at a 45 degree angle and chugging those arms back and forth, his legs always seems to come out in my photos as magical blurs or looking like time lapse photography.

So it was a perfect choice to include Crawford’s name as the player associated with “Legs”. And even if this song ultimately illustrates a love for the female form, I hope Crawford can take that I am using a bit of literary license here to portray this song towards his burst of speed and not the way his lower lips seems to drag like a English Bulldog when he is pumping towards an extra base. And I want to apologize in print if you read the lyrics to the second verse and think I am referring to Crawford with hair down to his fanny….I am not….Seriously ( My Grey’s Anatomy voice)….Seriously!

 
RRCollection

Cheap Sunglasses:

You might think this would be a natural for Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but I have another victim, I mean choice for this classic ZZ Top tune. To me this song screams out Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. Maybe it is just me, but Garza sporting that James Shields T-shirt during his side Bullpen session yesterday showed me that he is ultimately the “Too hip for school” guy on this team. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Garza has always had that persona to me. The one where he seems to display and cool and clam demeanor under that bundle of emotions and inner frustration sometimes with himself on the mound. He usually can wear those cheap sunglasses as a outer shield to keep him from actually showing his highly charged confidence and emotions. But then again, Tom Cruise pulled it off with the same pair of cheap sunglasses in “Risky Business” and it turned him into a movie superstar. Maybe Garza can turn his cheap sunglasses into a Cy Young?

 
Rob Carr/ AP

Blue Jeans Blues:


I am not sure why this next one seems to fit just by the title of the song, but I see Rays fifth starter Wade Davis as the perfect poster child for this song. Maybe it is that outer shell he has that eludes most strife and controversy as he seems to glide through his starts even against some of the opposing teams top pitchers. Davis has provided some interesting performances already in 2010, and has been totally in control and often times kind of in his own personal zone of tranquility while attempting to provide pitching brilliance so early in 2010.

And I am not trying to play on his nickname “W D-40″ to provide some raw angle of southern gentleman meets ferocious beast, but the guy is from Lake Wales, Florida and is as calm as a cucumber and soft-spoken as they come. But then again, when things are clicking like they are right now for Davis, there is nothing to worry about anyways….really.

 
Steve Nesius/ AP

Got Me Under Pressure:

For some reason I think this song actually could apply for most of this Rays team this season. Sure I could of thrown this out as a Rafael Soriano selection based mostly on his new role as the Rays closer, but in actuality, I think this entire Rays roster is feeling the pressure this season. Most of them know that this might be the last season that this collective body of players get a chance to revisit or remove some of the pain and feeling of not completing the task at hand that still lurks within some of their minds from 2008.

It might be the last time Crawford, Pena and even Dioner Navarro and possibly Jason Bartlett all hit the field at the same time to try and right a situation that seemed to melt them apart like the cold weather on that unusual October night. Maybe it is the mantra adopted by Maddon for 2010 that no longer uses mathematical situations, but asks the simple question: ” WIN or What’s Important Now”. Maybe it is that urgency of completing the mission, of finally breathing a sigh of relief that will act as the whistle from this pressure cooker called the MLB season.

ZZ Top is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member. They got their start just like so many other musicians did struggling in the small bars and honky tonks in the Texas landscape. But their telling of the stories and the message in their lyrics, they got the rest of the country to not only experience a bit of Texas, but of their own personal cultures and rituals.

But hopefully in the next several months the Rays can duplicate the success and get the admiration of the rest of the Major League Baseball world to again see them for the hardworking and diligent team that they are….And maybe after it is all said and done, the Rays could actually shadow another ZZ Top song as a team.

 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

For if the Rays hit that desired pinnacle they seek so dearly in 2010. If this Rays team can climb that last rung of the ladder and stand proudly at the top with a golden trophy in their mitts, then maybe they can all collectively sing “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” on the pitching mound as they shower each other with praise, champagne and memories just like ZZ Top has given all of us over their long career.

Got to go people. Got a small errand to do since I am getting Photo Credentials to shoot the ZZ Top Concert tonight. And yes, tomorrow will be a ZZ Top post Concert Photo blog. See you later Gator…

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