It was back in 1997 when I moved to the Florida Panhandle up within spitting distance of the Alabama border that I got to have my first huge meal of Country music and began to savor as a symbolic method of expression of my Southern heritage. I had been that rock guy who moved to this region of the state sometimes known as the “Redneck Riviera” and expreienced firsthand the music and the lifestyle usually shown only on videos. Some people call it “simple music”, but I consider it the purest form of musical expression we have in our American culture. Sure we developed and introduced the world to rock and roll, but Country brought rock its soul way before
Elvis used his pelvis to swoon the Nation.
And maybe I was either lucky or just the timing was right as Country music then was transforming itself towards certain rock and roll roots and left some of its traditional sights and sounds to embark in another direction. It was the sunrise of artists like Garth Brooks, Lonestar and Clint Black that gave me my Country foundation, and I ate it up like a slab of pork ribs kissed by the essence of tasty rubs and smoke. I had begun a musical transition that stays with me even today. But when I got my first nibble of Country at the Billy Bowlegs Festival in Destin, Florida, it had me hook,line and sinker from that moment.
And Dierks Bentley has been high on my list of budding Country artists every since his debut album, and the hit “What Was I Thinking” hit the Country Billboard charts. But Bentley is also one of those artists that can transcend the usual “Country” streotypes and provides a show that is high energy and also riddled with greats songs and musical influences from Bluegrass to bona fide old Country licks like the twang of the steel guitar and high notes of the banjo. Bentley is one of the new genratioin of Country artists that embraced the move towards the mainstream, but also remembers his roots with passion and enthusiasm. Bentley definitely took the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series to a new high level of grand old music that makes the hips sway.
But I got to tell you, he showed us some of his new stuff off his recent “Up on the Ridge” album release, which has more sounds based within the guidelines of Bluegrass than your usual Country, and I am going to my local store today to buy that CD, because it was an amazing slice of Tennesse-based Americana, and I am hungry to hear more of it. Not sure why, but I like to hear the banjo and ther steel guitar struming loud and proud from the stage. And mixed with the charisma and musical charms of Bentley on Saturday night, it almost became intoxicating to my senses. To say I had a great time would be taking something great from the experience. It was that proverbial “blast of the past” for me, and we all know how the Renegade loves nostalgia.
And as usual for me, I went totally bananas taking over 500+ photos of the concert thyen spent the last two days in my moment away from the Trop trying to figure out which one were worthy and which needed to be trashed. So I popped in Bentley’s first self titled album “Dierks Bentley” and began the hard task of trying to bring the best to the surface, but the music kept interrupting the flow as I began to sing along with some of the great sounds parading from the computer speakers. It had in me in sucxh a lather I had to click on my ITunes desktop icon and download a few more traks to add to the musical mix of selecting photos for this blog entry.
I began to again live the performances in my mind as a deleted and edited photo after photo while listening to the energy of “Feel that Fire” or the slow beats of “Settle for a Slowdown.” With every beat coming from that stereo system I was again loving stands inb the crowd at Tropicana Field enjoying Bentley’s music bouncing off the white fabric and making it way down to my ears. It was surely one of the best concerts of this season, and maybe in the Top 5 of the always evolving Rays Concert series. And with banter and charm of Bentley made the crowd intense and totally in the moment with him as he went from song to song with great transitions and amazing vocals.
This was definitely another Rays Concert event that made me glad the Rays have instituted these concerts into their Saturday night lineup and has be already excited and anxious for Barenaked Ladies. The band people, not the club. But in all seriousness, tonight’s concert was the best Country offering by the Rays since Trace Adkins ushered in the first musical Country night two years ago. Doesn’t seem like that long ago, but the music and the Rays games have seemed to flow togewther in perfect harmony and rhythm since their inception.
I was asked by someone last night at the Tampa Bay Rays game after the Dierks Bentley concert if I coiuld provide a few more additional photos that the usual 20-30 that I submit during my concert posting,and I decided to add a few here,plus give you a link to my other site where I store my photos from all the Rays concerts, plus some additional photos hidden in the numerous photo files. So I hope you enjoy this fast journey through Saturdays night’s Rays/ Hess Express Saturday Night Concert event again and also take a moment to mosey over to the link and see some additional photos.
Hope you enjoyed this fast romp back into the past last night at the Rays concert. I have got to go get ready to head out to the Trop for the series deciding game between the Rays and Marlins, butI will throw up ,y review of the Dierks Bentley concert soonand hope that you mosey on back and check it out. But, before I head off into the Rays sunset,let me throw out a link to my photo storage area where you can stroll through last night’s concert file, and maybe check out some of the other photo files hidden on this website. Catch ya’ll at the Trop.
I still get irritated every time the Tampa Bay Rays lose a contest. Some people would say that after 10 years from 1998-2007 of experiencing sub .500 records and years of watching your aspirations for your teams dissolve like sands in that proverbial hourglass until the top of the glass is empty and wanting. I have had a ton of those days, days where the hurt and pain of the loss stands still in the pit of my stomach until I enter the Trop. the next night to attend another round of constant emotional wrestling hoping for a win, or a reason to have hope.
For some reason last night I did not feel that surge of twisting emotions and loss, but instead I experienced a ” we will get them next time” mentality. Maybe it was the fact the Rays showed the 19,000+ in the blue seats that this team has shed their 2009 ways of accepting a one-sided score and showed the fire and intensity needed to compete long into October. It was a great sight seeing the Rays battle tooth-to-tooth trying to crawl back into last night’s contest up to the last swing of the bat. I finally believe that lightning does strike twice, and it has in a place that used to be called the Thunderdome.
Usually it has been the modus operandi of the Rays in the past to take players out of the starting line-up and save them for another day. Last night, we again saw the maddening mind of Rays Manager Joe Maddon as he again dropped the Designated Hitter spot for the second night in a row to bolster his offense and provide an additional chance to come out on the winning side. I saw a strain of emotion late into the bottom of the ninth inning that were missing last season, but was reborn in 2010, possibly with the seeds planted firmly during Spring Training.
We again saw the majesty of Rays slugger Carlos Pena providing a example of never giving up and sending his second Home Run in as many days into the seats in Section 139 right beyond the Leftfield foul pole. We saw the grit and determination of Pena again not giving up on a short fly ball in front of the plate by his hustle down the First Base line and rewarded as Marlins catcher Ronny Paulino dropped the easy out onto the Trop’s turf. Faith had reared is magnificent head again, and it was favoring the Rays and giving them a chance of redemption in this game.
That was missing from this team in 2009. This Rays 2009 team did not visualize a sense of gritty determination and hustle last season but accepted their lot in the Major League Baseball season and let their physical downfalls limit their game plan, and also accepting their fate without a scrappy reprise. But seeing the Rays fight the good fight last night and toss those usual notions of playing for another day aside and individually deciding amongst themselves that this game was within their grasps, up until the last swing.And I love that transformation of this team and it starts with the guy who has hit homer after homer over the last few games, honestly leading by example.
And this is one of those emotions that is contagious and infectious in a good way. And the way the Rays fought hard last night showed they have their priorities in line and are striving for more this season. Rays/ Hess Express Saturday Night Concert performer Dierks Bentley has a song, “Feel that Fire”, hopefully the Rays take a look at that songs lyrics and embrace the fiery emotions needed to boost themselves to that next level.
So I walked out of the Trop. last night not upset the roof was not orange, and we did not finally seal that 40th win of the season. The aspects of blossoming accountability and self sacrifice witnessed last night shows this team is on the cusp of something again that is magical and will send all of us home again with multiple smiles in the near future. The Rays might have lost the physical game last night, but they gained in the mental and emotional aspects of the game, and that in itself can be a solid victory and provide more clarity and focus for the future than a simple “W”.
Has it really been 2,000 Tampa Bay Rays game? Seriously, it seems like just a few brief moments ago that I witnessed the Rays first pitch thrown by starter Wilson Alvarez past Detroit Tigers lead-off man Brian Hunter to produce the first game photo opportunity for Rays fans. How long ago does that March 31,1998 5:08 pm start seems today now that it has been revealed that we (the Rays) have played 2,000 contests against some of the best who have ever played this great game of baseball. I really doesn’t seem all that long to me, but then again it has been a bumpy ride at time over the last 12 ½ Rays seasons.
I would be totally absentminded if I did not to note the great baseball dignitaries that were on hand to throw out First Pitches prior to Alvarez’s low and outside first Rays MLB offering. Baseball Hall of Fame members Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin and Tampa’s own Al Lopez were on hand to celebrate the beginning of regular season baseball in the Tampa Bay area. Even though the Rays did begin their history with a loss to the Tigers that night, every one of their 1,136 losses still cause the same aches and pains in my heart as they did in 1998. Even if the Rays record from 1998-2007 (645-972), their first 10 years of existence is the worst MLB club mark over that 10 year period in the majors, their current win-loss record since that time has been inspirational and shows the solid growth of the franchise.
From 2008-2010, the Rays have the fourth best record in the Major Leagues providing a 220-164 mark and that record growing more impressive with every game.1998 seems so long ago now, but the memories I have witnessed sitting in my Rightfield corner seat has been amazing over that 2,000 game journey. I still remember during the last home game during the 2001 season, when Rays pitcher Brain Rekar sat with me and a few friends in the Bullpen Café during the ninth inning, just shooting the breeze during his last day as a Ray. I still have the hat he gave me that afternoon with the handwritten NYPD FDNY symbols in the brim of the hat honoring the men lost during 9-11.
Even thinking of that past moment has the memories suddenly began to flow like a waterfall, remembering moment after moment both at home and when I took my fandom on the road, like my first experience with the “rain delay” aspect of the game while in Cleveland on May 14,2004. Or hitting Safeco Field for the first time in years and feeling that wind gush through the stadium and wishing for my Rays warm-up jacket. Home or away, the Rays expansive memories keep piling up and for some odd reason, the stories seem to get longer now.
But the aspect of this team finally hurdling that 2,000 game plateau is simply amazing to me. A quick thought to the talent that have pulled on a Rays uniform over that time period, from Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez, Bubba Trammel, Roberto Hernandez, Toby Hall, Jonny Gomes, Ozzie Guillen, Randy Winn, and hundreds of other great ballplayers who made Rays fans laugh, cry and cheer with the wins and losses. And the tears of sadness we expressed when former Rays players Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle were taken away too early in their lives. Experiencing not once, but twice as Rays fans grimaced and reacted to the horror of starter Tony Saunder’s breaking his left forearm in front of the home crowds.
The countless snippets of chatter and conversation over that 2,000 game span with an army of former and current Rays Bullpen members about important things like the birth of a child, or just congratulating a Rays player after a great outing. This blog is too small to even attempt to relay and include the massive amount of memories associated with those first 2,000 events. I truly hope I am physically around to celebrate the 4,000th, and even 5,000th Rays game, but we know that the game is immortal, while we are skin and bones, and nothing is guaranteed past 30-90 days anymore. The Rays memories formed by myself and the rest of the Rays Republic within the Trop could fill up a computer’s memory banks within nanoseconds.
Rays fans have seen odd and confusing moments like the odd multi-million dollar contracts of Rays (then) prospects Matt White and Bobby Seay, even before they threw their first professional pitch for the organization. Or the injury and contract craziness of Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman that still baffle the mind. But there have also been great Rays player finds like Jorge Cantu, Travis Phelps, Dan Wheeler and even the Bullpen reinvention of J P Howell that saved his MLB career. But we can not neglect the shock and horrors of Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla and their “Hit Show” debacle that produced more ammunition to make the Rays a laughing stock team, than as a force to be reckoned with on the Trop’s diamond.
The ups and downs of this franchise have been both extreme and subtle at the same time. No one other than Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir predicted the magic that would ultimately unfolded in 2008. Kazmir made an honest comment that the Rays would make the Playoffs during a 2008 Spring Training interview. Most in the assembled media circle chuckled and pushed the comment as bravado and not a reality at the moment. But Kazmir’s brave comment that day turned into one of the Rays greatest moments as we saw the team raising of that banner to the rafter of Tropicana Field proclaiming the Rays the 2008 American League Champions.
We have seen former MLB greats like pitchers Hideo Nomo (2005), John Rocker (2003), Bobby Witt (1999), Norm Charlton (1999) and current Yankee Pitching Coach Dave Eiland (1998-2000) take the mound for the Rays. We have also watched the batting exploits of guys like Greg Vaughn (2000-2002), Julio Franco (1999), Travis Lee (2003, 2005-2006) and Aubrey Huff (2000-2006) taking their shots at the outfield seats surrounding the Trop. Highs and lows, like the tidal pools have plagued this franchise until in 2008, when it seemed the proverbial ship seemed to be destined for more smooth sailing than rough weather.
Spectacular catches and impossible throws have begun to become routine and common place to the Rays faithful. Walk-offs, stealing home for the lead, and putting down that elusive bunt to score or advance the runners were past and future hallmarks of these Rays. And the history grows again in a few hours.
Each of us had a unique perspective or thought process in remembering and reliving these great moments of Rays history. Not one of us sees any one action the same, or reacts with the same emotion on any given aspect of the game as it unfolds in front of us. But there is one general emotion and feeling that is felt by all of us daily about this Rays team, from that first moment on March 31,1998 to tonight’s contest. We are proud to be fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, and that pride shows on every one of our faces as we begin our trek through the next 2,000 Rays games…..Play Ball!
If the Florida Fairgrounds can change their venues name, what is stopping the Rays from maybe ending their relationship with Tropicana/Dole Brands and maybe throwing a new name on the dome the Rays currently call home. This same enclosed arena has had three names since its inception, the Florida Suncoast Dome (1990-1993), the Thunder Dome (1993-1996), and it’s first commercially named rights holder, Tropicana Field (1996-?).
Bradenton’s own giant Tropicana Dole brands North America announced their naming rights deal on October 4, 1996 months before a baseball team ever set foot upon the turf in the 72 degree venue. There is no general mention that I could find today as to the extent or expiration of the Trop’s naming rights contract. And with Tropicana’s parent company Pepsico holding the “pouring rights” within the confines of Tropicana Field for the first 15-years, could there be a name change in the future for the Trop?
With the expiration of Pepsi’s “pouring” monopoly possibly ending in October 2011, could there be a wind of change among the signage at Tropicana Field? In all honestly, I see Pepsi and Tropicana extending and continue contributing and “pouring” at the Rays facilities for a long time. But sometimes a local company can make an instant name for itself by spending million of dollars every year for an instant advertising focal point that gets mentioned numerous times in every television and radio broadcast throughout not only Rays games, but in other events held at the dome after the Major League Baseball season ends.
So if the Tropicana/Pepsico relationship were to end…..What company or product would try and attach itself to the dome and makes its visibility explode into the Tampa Bay region. We know that Pepsi’s biggest rival Coca-Cola no longer has a huge dominance in the MLB parks, but would they attempt to push the Pepsico brands name off the stadium and maybe throw their own drink Powerade aid up on the stadium’s signage?
Of course all this conversation is actually all speculation and hypothetical thoughts considering Tropicana still has a firm naming rights deal in place, but if for some reason Pepsi was removed from the Trop’s concession stands after the 2011 season, would Tropicana pull themselves from the stadium’s signage as a sign of solidarity towards Pepsi? But of course this is all null and void since an agreement is solidly in place, and Tropicana has made no intention or conclusion to end their relationship with the Rays.
But with the new about the Amphitheatre at the Florida Fairgrounds changing its name, it brings up an interesting thought process of what would be the Rays stadium’s next name? With a new stadium on the increasing horizon, and conversations moving forward hopefully after the 2010 season, will the Rays carry the Tropicana name with them to a new home, or seek another identity for their new digs. Could the Rays want to wash the stigma away clean in their new stadium with no ties to Tropicana, or will the relationship still flourish as nothing ever changed. I could see a viable change to the Rays stadium naming rights when they vacate the current Tropicana Field dome.
Maybe it will be a investment banking name attached to the stadium, or possibly a large grocery chain. And considering the new stadium will house the best and brightest “green” energy alternatives at that moment, could a local power provider or even home improvement empire try and construct a new relationship with the Rays and push their visual agenda. Corporate revenues and sponsorships are critical in today’s fiscal environment not only for the team’s survival, but for their future. So it is a realistic thought that Tropicana Field will cease the moment the Rays play their last game under it’s white dome.
Could Pepsico maybe be innovative and try and attach one of their more wholesome environmentally friendly brands like Sobe into the mix for the name of a Rays future home. I kind of like the name Sobe Center, it flows right off your tongue like Sobe’s own Green tea product. I guess we will have to wait and see what happens.
How cool is it when you open something from your favorite baseball team and it is an invitation to an exclusive invitation only FREE night of food, fun and meeting and mingling with the players in a social setting. Well, it happened again today as I strolled to the mailbox and saw a nice envelope with the Tampa Bay Rays blue logo planted firmly in the left hand corner.
I was giddy with anticipation as I ripped that sucker open to find it had an invitation for the Rays Season Ticket faithful to again head to Centro Ybor for some fun. Again the Rays faithful would have the entire place to themselves on June 27,2010 from 6-10pm to play as many games and eat some tremendous food while also talking and speaking with some of the Rays players in attendance.
Earlier this year I wrote about the Gameworks parent corporation closing the video game and food emporium in Ybor City and was shocked and bummed out that we would not again get a chance to mingle with the Rays after that Sunday’s matinee game in a social setting. Well, I guess the franchisee’s who purchased the right to the location also came to another great agreement with the Rays to continue, for the third year, this exciting Rays tradition. But that wasn’t the only surprise I got that moment. Steve Kovich/Rays
As I was reading the enclosed invitation, I noticed a familiar hat and shirt in a picture on the right side of the invitation. Yes, that is a picture of me sampling some of the wares from the multicolored chocolate fountain in the lower photo on the right side of the invitation. It kind of shocked me as that photo was taken by Rays photographer Steve Kovich back in 2008, and featured on the Rays home web site, but I thought it had disappeared into the mist.
But then again I do feel blessed all the time just to enter Tropicana Field every home game and see some amazing baseball and some awesome fans. And again the Rays Sales department has pulled off another kudos by getting our familiar Gameworks event back on track and set in stone for 2010. And I have already talked to one Rays player on the phone who is eager to again get his revenge on the “Dance, Dance Revolution” machine both at me, and another of his Rays teammates.
So you can be assured that I will again be trolling the video floors looking for some awesome games and also chatting with fellow Rays fans and players again. I am even thinking of getting my own “She-fan” camera to take snippets from the assembled crowd. Sure the addition of this fantastic event to the never-ending assembly of Rays activities that weekend from the musical hangover left over by the Train concert on Saturday night, combined with a afternoon game and ending with a 10 pm conclusion of this event will make for an extremely long day and early night, but well worth the tired eyes and aching muscles from the dance competition. So as you read this I am submitting my RSVP for this event and look forward to see so many other enthusiastic Rays fans crowd the tore front again sampling great food, providing awesome experiences, and taking photos with their favorite players. It is just another example of how this Rays franchise, and their players are fan friendly and accessible to the fans…….all the time.