June 2010

Good Riddance Hank Blalock!

 

 


 
Mike Carlson/AP

It was about time. I truly think it was a month or so past due to take out the trash, but finally the era of the “convoluted contract” is over in Tampa Bay. Finally there is some finite closure to the whining and egotistical demands made by Hank Blalock on at least two opportunities before the Tampa Bay Rays reluctantly brought him up with the Big team. Finally there will be so joy in Rays-ville for the might Blalock is gone lock, stock and bat barrel.


With the Rays finally pulling the trigger and designating him for assignment, they have effectively sent Blalock home to Ranchero Santa Fe, California to re-think his logic to getting back to the Major Leagues full-time. But hopefully, it will not be with the Rays. The team could still offer him a Triple-A deal, but I hope Blalock decided to move in another direction…far away from Tampa Bay. This action was really past due in my mind based basically on his blatant disregard for protocol and using the media to spin his wheels in motion back to the Major Leagues.

The Rays front office finally reached down deep inside their mindset and saw a mediocre utility player who basically verbally extorted them in to compliance to the Majors again, then appeared in only 25 Rays games. The Rays could see that their “Less than a Million Dollar Man” was in fact an overpriced benchwarmer who produced only a .254 average with a lone Home Run and 7measily RBI while up with the Rays. Here was a guy who tossed out accolades and performances, but then looked like a wet firecracker when needed. It was a great inexpensive experiment, but had horrendous results.

This was the guy the Rays chose to take the place of another “B”-list player, Pat Burrell instead of other capable MLB quality players stirring the pot in Durham. Former MLB players Dan Johnson and Joe Dillon, who also were having breakout seasons at Triple-A were bypassed for the charming vocal (sarcasm) renditions of Blalock. Either one of the above mentioned hitters would have been an improvement over Mr Blalock, and all three of them can play multiple positions on the field.

 
RRC

Some team around the game might need a average bench bat or a utility player like Blalock, but I hope the rest of the MLB paid close attention to the series of farces Blalock the negotiator played on the Rays management. Hopefully Blalock will play it smarter next time and let his bat do the talking. Some will throw the blame of the end of Spring Training rant, plus the May manic cry for promotion to ‘bring me up or let me go” towards his agent, Scott Boras. But it was Blalock who stood firmly behind those words and quotes. If he felt Boras had pushed too hard, he never voiced that opinion or showed an ounce of remorse.


It was Blalock who thrust his chest out like he was the Rays answer at their dismal Designated Hitters spot., I would characterize Blalock’s Rays tenure as lukewarm ( at best). But there will be those voices heard loud amongst the baseball world that think Blalock was about to break out after posting a 7-19 (.368) mark with 3 walks over his last 9 Rays games. Combine that with his 2010 InterLeague mark of 8-23 (.357) with 5 walks and his only Home Run off Houston’s Bud Norris, and some might say this Rays move was a tad bit premature.
By the Rays deciding to reactivate Gabe Kapler for the Disabled List last night, and send Blalock packing, it might speak volumes about what the Rays expected out of Blalock after all his distractions and banter.

It seemed that Blalock used his mouth to sign check his talents could not cash with the Rays. I am so glad Blalock was designated during an away series and not a home game. Now Blalock can slither away in peace without a throng of Rays fans shouting or throwing fake love towards him in exchange for a parting gift autograph . Some might see this as a extreme measure by the Rays to break a cursed losing streak. The reality is that Blalock has been a part-time player during his brief stay when the Rays needs a full-time leader and DH right now.


When Blalock first signed with the Rays I was hoping he left his bad baggage still in Texas and did not bring his brash, hard nosed attitude with him to Port Charlotte this Spring. But we all know how that worked out as Blalock cried and whined like a little child when he was not awarded one of the final roster spots. Immediately it threw up huge red flags to me of his past Rangers rants. I smelled danger on the horizon, but the Rays took their lumps and finally got him to agree ( after a nice $$ bump) to go to Triple-A and wait his turn.
Then in May, Blalock wanted to either be in a Rays uniform, or be let go to shop his talents elsewhere, and the Rays let him saunter into the Rays clubhouse on May 15th, as former Ray Pat Burrell was packing his bags.

 
J. Meric /Getty Images

Immediately he was on the clock (with me) to prove he was the solid choice. Just because you work out and carry a strong work ethic doesn’t mean it translates into instant game time production. Blalocks’ gun was not loaded with blanks, but his hit and miss mentality began to grow thin with the Rays, and they cut the cord…….thankfully.


Blalock might go on to prove the Rays wrong, and that would be good for him and his career, but his time here in Tampa Bay is over now. Who knows if he might mimic fellow former Rays DH Burrell and find a spot to rejuvenate and rebuild his career. All I know it is time to finally rest easy and know that the Blalock experiment is over in Tampa Bay.
 
No longer will we see a guy who promised results swing and miss in a critical moment (15 K’s in 63 appearances). No longer will we see a guy brought in to help produce runs have a lower Slugging Percentage than Carlos Pena. No longer is their sorrow in Rays-ville…for the might Blalock has gone home. Do not let the door hit you on the way out.

Barenaked Ladies Filled the Trop.


 

 

The first time I saw the Barenaked Ladies or BNL in concert, It was with my pre-teen daughter on a Father and Daughter excursion to Universal Studios in Orlando during their yearly Spring Mardi Gras celebration. One of the crowning moments of this event on Saturday night was a concert by a band that evokes fun and dancing from the assembled crowd. And I had done a bit of musical research before buying the tickets to the after hours concert put on that evening by the Barenaked Ladies.

 

What I remembered most about that 1 ½ hour musical adventure was the way the band used an up-beat tempo and a catchy set of guitar riffs to keep the crowd motivated and dancing throughout the concert. What I got that night was one of the greatest memories with my then pre-teen daughter, plus a bit of flirting with a girl dressed up in a flamingo costume. The woman flirting with me was great, but the smile on my daughter’s face was priceless that night, and that memory still warms me up today.


 

So when the Tampa Bay Rays announced that the BNL were going to be part of the 2010 Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series, I was immediately transformed back to that time, with hope of not only reliving that great evening in Orlando, but to expand on it and make it burst with a musical explosion. The band did not disappoint me that evening as they were just as exciting and as exuberant as the first moment I saw then stroll onto stage what seemed so long ago. Some people call BNL a Canadian alternative band, but they are of a musical fusion all their own.


 

Their music is tempered with bits of Jazz and Blues and mixed vigorously with plenty of different string instruments from electric guitars to the authentic bass to becoming the first band to use technology to promote themselves. Barenaked Ladies were the first band to use a floppy disc as a “Interactive Press Kit”.

 

In 2003, they initiated a band blog, with band member Ed Robertson also providing pod casts to the website to keep their fans informed on some of the bands antics and travels, including the band’s first trip on a cruise. But BNL were also at the forefront of the social network revolution having a Myspace, Facebook and Twitter account to keep the juices flowing with their fans with multiple updates and ideas thrown out there for the fans to interact with the band.

 

They were also one of the first recording artists to utilize the USB technology by offering their 2004 “Barenaked For the Holidays” album on a customized flash drive in the MP3 format. Even if they might be considered a technology savvy band, it is their stage presence that has mesmerized their faithful fans for so long.

It is not unusual for the band to have a set list in pencil with additions and deletions right up to the moment they hit the stage, also complete with impromptu rap songs and humorous banter between numbers.

 

This moment was perfectly captured on Saturday night when BNL lead singer ED Robinson let the crowd know that the Rays needed a win, and who did they call, but the Barenaked Ladies to the rescue. That classic moment had me laughing and really enjoying the whole Barenaked experience, the band, not the unclothed part.

It was great to hear “One Week” again, but I still have a feeling most people associate the song with Jim’s dance sequence on the web cam to Nadia in American Pie than remember the song just for its own merits. But the catchy riffs and wording catch you instantly bopping along and trying to keep up with the truly over the speed limit tempo and rhythm of the song. Partner that with their classic hit “If I Had a $1000000“, and you got the makings of a great evening on your hands. Most people below the Canadian border might not know about their numerous Juno Awards, but might remember their Grammy nominations during the 1990’s.

 

There were other hits I heard that night that had escaped my mind when reviewing them in April like “The Old Apartment” and “Pinch Me“, but the night was made for good natured fun and frolicking, and BNL achieved that and more. The set really did not seem that long, but it did flood my mind with a great collection of instant video flashbacks and memorable moments. Bass Guitarist Jim Creegan is still one of the best in the business, and the talents of Kevin Hearn from the piano to the keyboards to the guitar simply made the evening a success.


 

But it was the vocals of Robertson, who took over the lead singer gig after one of the founding members, Steven Page left the band that sealed the deal for me that night. Even with a active storm front about to hit the Tampa Bay region right as the concert ended, the band kept the crowd into the music and totally forgetting about some of the things going on around them. And that is what great music is suppose to be about. It is suppose to make you leave your everyday struggles and trails for a few moments and relax, stress-free and enjoy the times of your life.

 

 

 The last time I saw the band my daughter and I lost her mother a short time later to melanoma cancer,but every time I hear the band’s music since then, it has reminded me of that special day with my daughter. One I will never get back, but one that was based in Barenaked Ladies music.

There are more Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series photos on my new Flickr.com page under Rays Renegade. All photos are selected for the public, and feel free to download or even print them if you desire. I did this to give people an additional way to enjoy the Rays concert series this season.

 

 

Upton and Longo Fought like true Brothers

 

Come on people, families fight. Can you honestly tell me that you do not fight, even as adults with your siblings when you get together about the little things, or if something annoys you? Honestly can you really play that naïve that your family situation is always crystal clear with no down moments or frustrating elements. If so, then you are definitely a made-for-Television family drama in the making. That is why the recent B J Upton/Evan Longoria dust-up really doesn’t get me all up in a lather here.


The Tampa Bay Rays have portrayed their clubhouse as a bit of a family unit in recent years. A bit of a fraternity of brotherhood which each members having their own good and bad elements that play out during the season. With that in mind, a family can argue and tussle and all is forgotten within minutes. Then why again is this recent argument so vital to the Rays? First off, it clears the emotional air and puts the game back into prospective for all involved. The disagreement came after a costly mistake that netted the winning run, but was not the cause of the loss.

You have to ask yourself, if Upton’s long drive would have been to the left 3 feet and gone out for the Walk-off victory, would this display ever have happened? Would Evan and B J hugged it out on the field after he crossed Home Plate, or would it never have surfaced at all? Common sense tells you it was a heat of the moment event, and one that Longoria needed to get off his chest. Because of the closeness of Upton and Longoria, the event might have been amped up a bit, but the true emotions and actions and reactions show that this was not staged or contrived in any possible way.

Sometimes emotions get the better of you in situations. But just like a family, Longoria admitted after the scuffle that it was already behind him and Upton and it was not a major issue. It was a heated discussion out in the open with no recourses or retaliation by either party. It was like brothers fighting over the same girl (Lady Luck),or maybe wearing each other’s clothes.. Why is it more and more that Sly and the Family Stone song “It’s a Family Affair” seems to stick in my mind in regard to this Rays club? They do not have the outward personalities of that 1970’s Pittsburgh Pirate teams that came to symbolize the team as a family extensional unit, but the song always rings in my mind when this team wins and loses.
 
I have a slightly younger sister, and we fought about the weirdest things in the past, and pull off a few good fights even today. But the biggest part of being a family unit, or a collectively united team is to know each others weaknesses and strengths and play to both of them to produce harmony and some sense of peace. Worst part of all of this is that it was done in front of the television camera, so the media will spark it into internal fighting amongst the Rays and keep driving this home until it sickens us all. Since Longo is considered the “franchise guy”. I would not be surprised or amazed if people ask for and expect a change to be made within the near future.

Did Upton really do some that was so wrong? Upton is used to working with All-Star Carl Crawford in Leftfield, and might have made an error in judgment to expect Matt Joyce to get to that ball before him. Upton made a critical mistake by going into a trailing role during the play assuming that Joyce was racing for the ball. That kind of mistake does happen when you are beginning to work with another outfielder. That same moment was bound to happen sometime, it just materialized at the wrong time for either Upton or Joyce to hold D-Back hitter Rusty Ryal’s to a double. Families seem to forgive mistakes, the media does not.

And that is the jest of this post today. I found it quite amusing that this visual confrontation lasted for days in the papers and on the Internet, but was over within minutes between Longoria and Upton.. Frustrations have been mounting ever since each player has seen his own batting averages take a tumble. We forget that Longoria finally snapped out of a recent slump where he went 4-31 (.129) and some of that anger and frustration still linger within him. Upton has been a blessing at the lead-off spot for the team hitting .320 in the top spot, but .220 anywhere else in the Rays lineup.
 
Collectively the Rays tea kettle has been steaming for quite a bit, and this same situation could have erupted between any other pairing on the team. But the good part is that this one will not leave a bitter taste in either player’s mouths. Upton and Longoria each accept what the other has said and the issue is gone, gone, gone.

And who knows, if Longoria had attended the Rays Season Ticket holder party on Sunday night ,maybe Upton and Longo would have signed autographs back-to-back as the issue was over and done with. But then again, that is what you do as a family. You fight, argue, and make your point, then you forgive, forget and again bond back into that protective family unit…..Or that is at least what the Brady Bunch did.

Tantric was Soothing to my Rocker Soul

 
 

 

The first time I heard the band Tantric’s music was in a Sylvester Stallion produced film called “Driven” back in 2001. The film followed the scent of a young racing driver as he took his horrific plots twists and turns to getting his fingers on the Champ Car World Series trophy. The film was considered a flop by many in the film industry, but the soundtrack included a new band (Tantric) and their rising hit “Breakdown that hit the # 1 slot on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks List that year. And with their song being the first track on the movie’s soundtrack, people playing snippets of the soundtrack instantly got to know the band’s sound.


 

But Tantric has matured and shown great growth since their first sound hit the charts with a solid bang, and the band from Louisville, Kentucky has made sure to keep their rock roots close to their hearts. Sure the band has gone through a small transitional phase of tweaking its membership, but the quintet now have shown above and beyond that they are ready nightly to get the heads rocking and the music popping on stage. Most people might not even realize that Tantric used the social network Myspace back on May 8 2003, to release three of their upcoming album tracks to the public for a upcoming release called “Tantric III“.


 

When the band took the stage after the Rays versus Arizona Diamondbacks game on Friday night, lead singer Hugo Ferreira was more than ready to see if they could use their bass and make the canvas cloth high above the band’s stage sway with the pumping music out of their speakers. Coming into that night performance, most people had only heard maybe a few bars of their song “Down and Out” that was the walk-up music for Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.


 

But tonight, the crowd would get to hear and feel the pulsing bass thump throughout the Trop and see that the song has long meaning, and tremendous appeal, even enough to post up as high as # 8 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock list. Tantric has been pushed into that label of being a post-grunge band with a solid sound and tremendous vocals, but the addition of electric violinist Mark Ratzenboeck, who is also a Sarasota native to the band, brought out another element of mixing a classical sound into the heard pulse of rock music.


 

Some say the opening bars of “Down and Out” with Ratzenboeck might be one of the most frequently identified sound bytes of the band’s career, which spans 4 albums since 2001. Ratzenboeck also showed his many talents before the game doing the National Anthem on his electronic violin, but not doing a live segment of Longoria’s batting walk-up music as Longoria did not fair well the last time Ratzenboeck did it live from just beyond the playing field.

 

It was a great night if you are a hard rock fan as the playing surface soon filled with fans who did not have to purchase or wear wristbands as all in attendance were welcome to come down on the field and enjoy the Rays free Friday Fest Concert from ground zero. That is one of the measures that makes these Friday night concerts pop. The fact that fans can come down and dance, sing along or even just sit on the Trop’s field turf and take in some great music all by simply buying a ticket to that night’s Rays game.


 

Here is a band that used to tour with the likes of Creed, past Rays Concert performers 3 Doors Down, Kid Rock and Shinedown. Tantric is a group that covered the old Fleetwood Mac classic “The Chain” and has seen their level of success grow since they changed their original name from C-14 ( short for radiocarbon). Ratzenboeck is the only Rays fan in the band, but there is a distinctive American League East flair to the band as drummer Richie Monica (New York Yankees) and guitarist Joe Pessia (Boston Red Sox) all keep close tabs on the standings throughout the Major League Baseball season.


 

The band tonight threw out a number of songs from their recent release “Mind Control“, and made sure to leave all of us wanting more before they ended the night playing the song most people had been waiting for….”Down and Out“. The crowd had thinned a bit by the time the first few chords were strummed by Ratzenboeck, but immediately a huge cheer went up and the assembled mass quickly got into the music and some even sang along with Ferreira. The song was pulsating with the riffs of lead guitarist Erik Leonhardt along with the increasingly intense drumbeats coming from Monica’s drum set.

I swear the white cloth fabric was swaying with the music at that moment along with a constant wave motion of the crowd.
 
 

It might only have been the second in a series of four announced Friday Fest Concerts, but if this is the style of music and performances we will ascend to, then Vanilla Ice (7/9) and Los Lobos (7/30) will just send us into a harmonious upward journey.

 

 

Tantric put on a fantastic show, and certainly got a few more fans from their performance. There is an old saying that you have to “live and breath Rock and Roll for it to be real to you”. Well, if that is the case, then Ferreira is living the dream, considering he has the band’s name tattooed on him.

The Head was Sad, but my Heart is cheering for Action Jackson

 

 
Associated Press

You want to hate that it happened again to the Tampa Bay Rays. For the second time this season another team not only shut the door hard on them, but left a few toes stubbed and bruised in the process. There were many honest scoring chances to change the final outcome, and even postpone an impromptu Arizona Diamondback Team meeting on the field with Edwin Jackson as the keynote speaker. The chips, dip and the alley-oops did not get instituted into the usual “Rays Way” of evoking late inning theatrics to the thunderous climax, but instead the Rays ended up with a solid and deafening thud heard throughout Tropicana Field.

With the band Tantric set to hit the stage after crushing loss, you hope the band did not start their hour long set with the song “Down and Out“, because right now, how much lower can you go, or feel at this moment if you are in Rays gear. It was one of those nights of mixed emotions and for all intentional purposes, it is am immediate game to forget and discard without review or even thought. Could the Rays be having their one month of trials and tribulation now, nearing the middle way point in the season. Or could this just be the storm before the clear skies and easy sailing for the Rays? This one just leaves you a bit dazed and confused.

 
Associated Press

You are glad to see an ex-Ray and a great person like Edwin Jackson finally get some props for the job he has done to learn the art of pitching,. That even after tying a Rays club record with 14 wins in 2008, he was jettisoned off to the Motor City for Matt Joyce (who went 0-4 tonight), but his 149 pitch eventual No-Hitter against his former team mates will probably never happen again …..Ever!

How wild is it now to imagine that even after Jackson settled into the Tiger’s locker room and posted 13 wins in 214 innings, plus represented Mo-Town in the All-Star Game, it would net him a plane ticket to hot and steamy Arizona, and not just for Spring Training. I have a feeling that even in the musty and crusty high humidity of Tampa Bay tonight, Jackson is just chilling, enjoying the flow, and reliving that magical moment in his mind over and over again with that wide smile of his on his face. This is the kind of night that defines a player.

                                RRC 

But even as Jackson has been on shaky ground ever since he left Tampa Bay, how many people really thought of how far this former positional player would escalate upwards in his career. How many people remember a Rays pitcher who was smiling on the mound even as he went 5-15 in 31 starts in 2007 before he snapped into pitching mode and rattled off 27 wins for the Rays over his next two seasons with the team. Some still say we sold out short on Jackson, before he truly hit his prime. But others saw a chance for decline in Jackson’s control and might have misplayed his calm demeanor for complacency, not a hidden gem of confidence and reviving ability.

But you truly had to admire the effort tonight. Jackson gave the Rays more than enough rope to tighten the noose around his neck, but the bats went deadly silent at the wrong moments. The Rays mantra of “Get The Man In” fell on deaf ears and misaligned swings. Jackson stood on the pitching mound more than once tonight and saw a bevy of Rays players pushing off on the surrounding bases. But the Rays failed to deliver, even remotely, to deliver that crushing blow. And in turn, Jackson just kept plugging away, getting his outs and simply going about his business hoping to go as deep as possible in this game.

But realistically, if Jackson was still a Rays pitcher, he would have never been allowed to hit that 149 pitch plateau that made him part of Major League Baseball history tonight. If he was still wearing a Rays uniform, even with the intense effort, it would have fell on the Bullpen to secure this win. But the Baseball gods were surely smiling along with Jackson tonight as he dodged several Rays attempts to rattle his cages after he hit his close friend B J Upton in the bottom of the sixth inning, then saw D-back teammate Stephen Drew bobble an easy out from his second base position for a sure error and give Carlos Pena and the Rays a chance.

 
Associated Press

But his defining moment tonight was not in the bottom of the first inning after Jackson walked Ben Zobrist, who advanced to third base after a wild pitch, but was stranded on base. Nor was it a cause for alarm in the bottom of the third inning when Jackson loaded the bases with Rays uniforms on three straight walks, then proceeded to get three straight Rays hitters to produce easy out opportunities and get out of the inning without a scratch. It was after that Drew error gave the Rays a fighting chance and Maddon inserted speedster Carl Crawford into the game as a pinch-runner. After a quick Joyce fly ball to Rightfield, Crawford was gunned down after a 93+ mph fastball was delivered to D-Backs catcher Miguel Montero who threw a perfect high strike to Drew to erase the scoring chance, and end the inning for Jackson.


Jackson’s effort might not have been as squeaky clean and tidy as Oakland A’s hurler Dallas Braden’s earlier season dismantling of the Rays hitters, but he got the same kind of result. But a finite defining moment in this game was the attitude and the on-the-field adjustments by Jackson to keep himself into contention all during this game. In his past, Jackson had gotten into jams by his own hand and could not convert and close the door on the opposition. Tonight Jackson not only closed the door, but he might have bruised a few protruding toes in the process.


RRC 

So Rays fans, I think it is wise tonight to take Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s clubhouse philosophy of taking 30-minute to dwell, ache and let the pain seep out, then discard it like a used tissue and move onto the next game. Lady Luck flirted with both teams tonight, but she took a special liking to Jackson, and he was handsomely rewarded with a lifetime memory. For the Rays, it is back to basics and the sooner they forget this night the better. But I know when I see Jackson as he wanders over the Rightfield tomorrow, the prior evening hurt and pain will be relived for a few moments, but when he flashes that huge smile, I will be glad a former Rays baseball buddy got the gift of a lifetime.
 

                

 

 
 
 

Is This Cheating, or being Informed?

 


 

 


Baseball has endured all kinds of horrors and indiscretions over its duration. There has been the Spitball or doctoring the ball Era, the Dead Ball Era, Live Ball Era, and of course, the recent Steroid Era. But for some reason, I am beginning to think Major League Baseball might be entering into another new and systematically devastating era that has just starting to peak its way over the horizon…. I am beginning to think we are just on the threshold of the Electronic Era.

With the advancements in electronics, video equipment and also audio response devices, the whole scenario has endless possibilities. There are now people assigned to the job of breaking down a opposing pitcher’s mechanics to show indications of what pitch might be coming out of their hand at any particular moment. Teams have endless research and statistics at their fingertips from web sources and in-house agencies like Bloomberg Sports. And then there are the players who seek every advantage to get the upper hand on their competition, not just to gain a “W”, but to get added motivation and confidence. This Era could be the most devastating to the sport.

 

 

You might wonder why I am beginning to bring such matters up, why I am focusing on this one item that could explode and show that technology has made it was onto the field, and that one recent discovery, maybe by accident, could show that violations could already be effecting the game I love. It is not like Major League Baseball players will take an edge or any advantage they can get and throw it out the window if it is in a gray area. But when they step into that black and white area where few dare to tread for repercussions and penalties, that is when I am concerned.


 

 

Tuesday night during the Tampa Bay Rays game against the San Diego Padres, I first heard a few mumbles from a few faithful Rays fans of a certain player maybe having a “cheat sheet” in his back pocket on the field. Now I know players are allowed to have a small laminated sheet to illustrate maybe fielding positional changes, and maybe even give a heads up to hitting tendencies to a certain spot, or gap. But as I watched this player kind of without immediate attention that night something began to stir.


 

 

There I was again remembering how I used to use tactics of my own to get an edge in sports. I was not a dirty player, but if you let me have an advantage, I did take it and run every time. And the fielding “cheat sheets” by Padres Tony Gwynn Junior and Will Venable did not bother me until I personally saw something else pop out of Venable’s pocket on Wednesday night. From that moment on, for the rest of the night, I saw him take out both a laminated card and read it before certain Rays hitters, and then something else seemed to have come out of his pocket, and it shocked me.


In this blog I decided to include both the partially blown up photos to show the item in Venable’s hand, plus the original photo so you can download and blow it up in any shape or form for yourself to show that this item was bigger and more pronounced than the smaller white edged laminated sheet. It seemed that Venable might have been using a P D A or I-phone, or some other form of electronic items while he was camped in Rightfield at Tropicana Field. It shocked me at first, but then I realized that maybe it might be permissible during this type of series since the Rays and Padres would play only this small 3-game series, then maybe not see each other for another 6-8 years, unless it is in the World Series.

 

 

Fran Fusco, who has a long history of baseball in their family blood (she is the sister of ex-Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman) first alerted me to the situation on Wednesday night before the game. A few other Rays fans in the stands also gave their vocal interpretations to the events of the previous night, so I decided to try and find out for myself, see if this is really happening, or was just a mirage caused by the reflective lights of the Trop. hitting the paper at a weird angle. Wish I could say it was all a figment of our collective imaginations, but it was as real as Carlos Pena hitting an opposite field Home Run, or Matt Garza’s goatee.

 

 

So after the game I showed the pictures to a member of the Rays Radio Network, and he asked me to forward the photos to him for further examination. He also asked me not to bring attention the knowledge of these photos for a day, which I was more than happy to oblige since I had not been able to blow them up properly while sitting in the seating bowl. But when I did blow up two of the photos later that night at home, there was a distinctive difference in the shapes and sizes of the two items in question…The plot thickened immediately.


 

 

I especially paid close attention to Venable’s left back pants pocket that was showed a huge change in the shape of his right pocket, which had a pair of batting gloves sticking out of them. The rectangular shape could have been a tri-folded laminated card, but there was also a dim light source that could not be formed by the lighting pattern within Tropicana Field, so the mystery got thicker and thicker for me. I kind of half paid attention, but still got some good shots of the pocket, and Venable taking either item out to glance at it between innings, or during pitching changes that night.


 

 

Venable was definitely using the chart or device to gain an advantage or educate himself on the Rays tendencies during that contest. I first noticed him looking at the chart/device during Rays D H Hank Blalock’s plate appearance, then during pitching changes of two Padres relievers, Rick Webb and Mike Adams. Venable was so nonchalant about the items in his left rear pocket that it really did not alarm me that night. But after the game the Rays front office member I sent the photos to, plus the urgency of that transfer told me I might have stumbled on something here.

 

 

I got a rumor floated to me that Venable had told a few members of the Rays that it ” was a laminated card”, which in a few of the photos it definitely looked like just that, but a few of the other photos, there was a darker item that was thicker and more like a portable device than a simple one-ply piece of paper with lamination on it. I had heard through the Rays grapevine before Thursday afternoon’s game that three other Rays fans had reported the event, plus one writing a letter to the National League President Frank Robinson about the episode. So with so many people now showing extreme attention to this set of events, I carefully studied and watched Venable with extreme precision on Thursday.


Sixteen times in Thursdays match-up Venable went to his back pocket in plain sight of everyone in the stands, to check his card. This time he made it clear and evident to everyone that it was indeed a card and not anything else. He even did it at multiple angles to give any camera now trained on him an exclusive look and possible angle to show he was in compliance during that game. It was also during Thursdays contest that I also saw Gywnn bring out his card during a break in the action. The Padres had definitely heard someone was watching them, and they played the game to the fullest.

 

 

And it is alarming to me that this kind of event could be going on at other games and venues right now. I can understand using these kind of devices in the clubhouse, or even the dugout to inform and help players adjust accordingly for games. But if this technology creeps into the fabric of the game during play in the field, that is where I personally draw a line in the clay. There are Coaches on either bench who can adjust or even sway a defensive alignment with a hand gesture, and there are charts that can be reviewed between innings to help guide a impromptu adjustment. But electronic devices need to stay outside the lines.


 

 

There are already too many calls for reviews, electronic strike zones to complicate the game instead of simplify it. If there is an Electronic Era evolving around the game as I predict, hopefully we can keep it off the field and in the dark where it belongs. Not darkness to not acknowledge its existence, but darkness to keep prying eyes way from vital information that each team collects and administers at the right moment. One of the reason kids take up the game of baseball is not for the team building skills but for the simplicity of the game. Throw the ball, hit the ball, run to the base.


If this violation is found to warrant further review it will not change the outcome of the Rays two losses during this series, but it could be an indication that some people are seeing loopholes in the system. Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey came over before Thursdays contest and asked me what I had seen the night before. I immediately let him know I transferred photos to a Rays team official, and that the photos were now also in the Rays hands to do what they will with them.

 

I am not out to get someone in trouble, suspended or even fined for something that happened during that Rays versus Padres series. But I want fairness to be achieved. I want the Rays to know that nothing is going on that gives another team an advantage. I learned as a young kid that “cheaters never prosper.” Hopefully that old quote also applies to the MLB too.
 

Will Venable Photo Album 6/24/2010

Humor is Helping to Heal the Rays

 

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Some times turning a frown upside down when you are in the middle of the weird string of games can not only relieve some of the game day pressure, it can also bring a team closer together by bonding them through laughter and pranks. The Tampa Bay Rays have had their assortment of great pranksters and laughter motivators in the past, but this 2010 team is all about the Sonny.

That’s right, Rays long reliever Andy Sonnanstine has again proven that Bud Abbott and Oliver Hardy, two of comedies most famous straight men have nothing on the antics and comedic pulse of the young reliever. If something mysteriously ended up somewhere, out of the blue outside the Rays realm of reality, then usually no ones eyes would focus or train on the quiet and confident Sonnanstine as the creator of that magical moment. But within the Rays culture, if even the smallest thing goes a bit off kilter, people are looking for Sonnanstine’s whereabouts, and his alibis.

This was the same guy who made up moustache’s for 24 members of the Rays roster in 2009 to celebrate the awesome and profound imagery that was then Rays reliever Dale Thayer’s 1270’s style porno moustache. But if you have ever known anything about Sonnanstine, you would definitely notice the dry, but intelligent sense of humor that comes out of his ideas and his antics both in and out of the Rays clubhouse. The stories I have heard are not raunchy or misguided, but carefully thought out methods of attack, and sometimes the execution of the acts are completely as flawless.

So when it came to cracking the case of the mysteriously changing David Price bobblehead fathead sticker on the Rightfield wall just under Section 140, my eyes quickly trained to see where Senior Sonnanstine was at that very moment. And it all started to innocently this Tuesday as I walked into Tropicana Field and noticed the new location of the promotional sticker to celebrate the Rays Sundays kid’s giveaways. There was the Evan Longoria bobblehead that will be given out this Sunday, then right next to him was a 6 foot Price rendition clean as a whistle and shining against the green outfield wall background.


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But just after game time on Tuesday, a mysterious black piece of regular black electrical tape ended up taking out one of Price’s incisors, and immediately, I looked for Sonnanstine. But he was no where to be found, for he had sneaked out of the Rays Bullpen bench area, shook hands with the Rays security guards, then popped the element onto Price and quickly vanished into the Rays secondary Bullpen Clubhouse (That’s my name for the small enclave). About five minutes later he was coming out of the secondary home without a hint of what had transpired, and not an ounce of acknowledging anything unusual had happened that night.

 
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Then on Wednesday night, I arrived at my seat at the Trop. and Price again was sparkling on the wall, this time without his black tape imperfection. But that lasted until just after then end of the first inning and Sonnanstine again began his usual routine of greeting the Rays security force, then put up his latest creation for Price’s bobblehead that evening. Tonight Sonny decided to go a bit South of the border and presented the image with a classic “Frito Bandito” pencil-thin moustache that gave Price a hint of Antonio Banderas meets Denzel Washington that evening.


 
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But this time I was ready with camera in hand and caught the mysterious Sonny in mid-application, and before he could glide into the confines of the enclosed Bullpen Clubhouse without detection. What was more amazing is that Sonnanstine had a microphone on him that evening for FSN Florida’s Television broadcast and hopefully the rest of the Rays Republic also got a chance to see this side of the Rays reliever’s personality. It was classic Sonny, and again he came back out into the air of the Trop. Without a hint of deception, premeditated collusion and without cracking a grin or giggle towards the outfield wall.


 
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I thought maybe that night would be the end of the Sonny surprise parade, but I never thought with a days game starting at 12:10 pm, Sonny would attempt a third act of funny on Price’s bobblehead image. But I was wrong. Oh so wrong. After the end of the first inning again on Thursday afternoon, this time Sonnanstine flashing a bit of a grin this time, walked right towards the wall and applied two nice distinctive eye black patches under each of the Price fat head image. For we were playing a day game, and the sunlight might deflect off Price’s cheeks into his eyes today.


 
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I can only imagine what might be in store for all of us come Friday night when the Rays take on the Arizona Diamondbacks. We had already seen the eye back application, the Latin moustache treatment, and the Cotton-Eyed Joe missing tooth gag. Could the next one his sherry on top, or could he have at least a trio of other facial applications to conclude with the end of this current Rays home stand on Sunday. Teams like the Rays needs guys like Sonnanstine on their team for a variety of athletic reasons and talents. But what this Rays team has needed lately off the field is a bit of that comedic humor and visual brashness that Sonnanstine has shown for the past three games.


 
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The actions will not change the Rays fortunes on the Jumbotron, or even in the box score, but things like this can release some of that pent-up emotional stress and let each player on this squad release the tightness by laughing and seeing his humor. I remember reading a Reader’s Digest as a child in my doctors office and in there was a headline, “Laughter is the Best Medicine”. Right now, that medicine might be doing some great internal healing and also bringing about a change to the overall cloud that has built up over this team for the last 25 games. Maybe I should start calling him Dr. Sonny, practitioner of the Funny Bone. See, even that well earned title brings a smile.

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