June 2010

My Ho-Hum Draft Attitude


Not sure why, but I do not get up for all the hoopla and pageantry of the First Year Player Draft or Rule 4 Draft like some people do around the Tampa Bay region. You will not see me profile or even throw a huge amount of fanfare or prognosis towards a player getting their first taste of professional baseball just yet….They have not cut their teeth yet on the rawhide and still might not sign or make the grade out of the gate. The First Year Draft is not a sure thing draft where stardom and money come falling from the sky like rain, but is it a great starting point towards achieving a lifetime dream.I do not even watch the pomp and circumstance of the whole Draft process even though  I did love the idea a few years ago when Major League Baseball held the draft at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, and the Tampa Bay Rays shipped a bunch of fans across the state to watch the events unfold firsthand. I regret not going on that special one-time only journey more for the life experience than for the names pop on the big draft board.

The main excuse or premise I have for not watching or giving a huge amount of time or effort into this initial draft is that the process will take more than four years before these picks can even attempt to blossom onto even for the Double-A or Triple-A rosters, much less gain a chance to stay long into the Spring Training season with the big squad.

The solid fact that a High School kid hit .450 this season or pitches in the upper-90’s  has my interest, but the level of competition they faced is more cause for me to get overly excited. This First Year Player Draft is just that, a leaping off point for these athletes to decide if their MLB dreams will start now, or they forgo the signing and attend college and take the gamble of seeing their stock rise or lower their future draft position. And maybe this is an underlying element to this draft that has me yawning instead of jumping for joy, not that the Rays selected an ambidextrous pitcher in the early rounds.

Unlike the NFL Draft where it is a minute possibility that a player will decide to not pursue a professional career (unlike Bo Jackson and Tampa Bay), the MLB is centered around more unpredictable elements. Sure most of the 30 Major League scouting departments know more useless information about a player before that player’s name is sent to the podium even far beyond if they are an easy sign, or bankable within the team set monetary guidelines. I do not see the Rays anytime soon paying “Matt White” ( $10.2 million) upfront bonus money to a 18-year old even if he does have a golden arm or can shoot a ball into a basket from 500 feet away. Those numbers are no longer fiscally realities to this franchise….yet.

The draft process can produce flaws and guys who slip into full radar view who never pan out, or achieve even sub-par performances in the minor league and never get a chance to step onto a Major League diamond. I have one firm example for you, and one that most long time Rays fans still shake their head over even today. Outfielder Paul Wilder was selected with the Rays first initial pick in the 1996 draft, and never achieved even a partial degree of what Rays scouts saw in him during workouts and game footage.

Wilder was firmly hampered by injury concerns throughout his Rays career, and never got above the high Class-A level before finally bowing out and disappearing into the darkness. Wilder is a firm example of why I do not get worked up, or excited about signing a player right out of high school or college. There are too many variables between that signature going on that contract, and the day they finally step out of the clubhouse wearing the teams colors for the first time.

So I just watch their progress through the short-season farm teams and wait until they officially get on my radar at Port Charlotte where we can get box scores and information readily available to see daily.
I really have not followed former Rays first pick Tim Beckham’s rise through the Rays system until this season since he is stationed now less than 80 miles from the doorway of Tropicana Field. It is not an idea of “out of sight, out of mind”, but a more realistic view of them not being a viable option until they begin their rise through the Rays farm system with authority.

All we have to do is look at the spirited and enthusiastic tale of Matt White who signed with the Rays after his agent, Scott Boras found a loophole in the draft system and the Rays offered up a huge chunk of change for his right arm. White had numerous shoulder and pitching injuries and never got to be even a shadow of the pitcher we all thought he would become before finally getting to the Major League level. He was selected in the same draft class with local Sarasota southpaw native Bobby Seay.

But while Seay was taking his turn running through the Rays system, White was sidelined by injury or personal situations that hampered him until he finally retired still at the minor league level. That right there in a nutshell is why I do not get excited or even predict, complain or even get ruffled by the Rays draft selections. Too many flip-flopping variables, too many “what if’s” in the scenario, and ultimately, nothing can be cast in cement or gold as to the future of any one of those selected.

But then every once in a while a guy come from out of nowhere like Rays 89th Round selection  relief pitcher Travis Phelps. He showed me that the even the forgotten can rise up and be counted when he made his Major League debut on April 29, 2001 for the Rays against the Boston Red Sox and worked two scoreless innings of relief work. Guys fight to get to this point in their careers to wear the colors of their parent team. We do not see the sweat and toils and struggles firsthand, but see the physical remains of that adventure when they finally make it to “The Show”.

There is a small percentage of players that the Rays draft in this current two day process who will ever make it to the top tier of the minor league ladder, much less put on a Major League uniform. So the first sound of their names by an announcer during a draft possibly 5 years earlier is not a huge thing to me. But when the Public Address announcer at Tropicana Field finally says their name, you can bet I am alert, attentive and ready to see another Rays player achieve his childhood dream.

The first time I hear their name echoing throughout Tropicana Field, they have made that final step in the process, and now the job of maintaining that spot takes on a whole different set of parameters. So if the Rays drafted an ambidextrous pitcher in an early round, that is fine with me, but until he gets at least to Port Charlotte, he is what Kevin Costner once called “meat” to me.

Barenaked Ladies Fill 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 Robinson 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 Robinson, 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.

 

Saluting the Rays New Wine Gameday Selections

 
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It has been a While since the Tampa Bay Rays , Centerplate held their introductory Wine Tasting party. It was held on Wednesday, May 26,2010 before the Red Sox versus Rays game from 6pm-7pm in a quaint little nook in the back of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. It was kind of odd to me to promote a wine tasting party during the Boston series, but the event was well received and included a variety of six wine selections that can be purchased while at Rays games this season.

The event was formulated by Centerplate and their main wine distributor, Zachys to promote the new addition of wine bar carts and improved wine beverage selections throughout Tropicana Fields concourses by offering glasses of great wines, and also including the option of purchasing a entire bottle at the Batter’s Eye Restaurant during their daily seating before and during the Rays games.

The line began to gather the minute the Rays let the crowds in at 5:10 pm and we immediately saw a nice snake line forming at the bottom of the escalator in anticipation of the Wine Tasting event. I sat there talking to a few people who had already tried a few of the new wines being offered tonight, and got a pretty glowing recommendation to try the Sciarpa Prosecco Sparkling wine to begin my wine journey as it would clean my palate and get my tastes buds ready for a new adventure.

Now I am not a huge wine adventurer, and so I went into the Batter’s Eye that night with a hint of hesitation, but also a need to learn something new And inviting. This might be As close as I ever get to Napa Valley or any wine growing region outside of my local ABC Liquor or wine store clerk recommending any special bottle or vintage. But I was up for the challenge, and ready to be pleasantly surprised and amazed.

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I did start with the Sciarpa Prosecco ( $9.50/glass, $38.00/bottle) as my fellow line mates had suggested and was surprised by the wild by light-bodied notions in the wine of orange rinds, honeyed grapefruit that proved very effervescent and had a gentle kick to it. It definitely went fantastic with the plate of assorted cheeses, banana peppers and assorted meats and crackers set out for the sampling masses. The sales representative from Zachrys was very helpful in my selections throughout the events and also made recommendations as to the best cheese and meat that might accompany the wines.


The second selection I tried that night was a Sciarpa Pinto Grigio ($ 8.00/glass, $32.00/bottle). This white wine selection had a really medium bodied taste and a great set of aromatics. The Zachry’s rep added this interpretation of the selection, “The Sciarpa Pinto Grigio adds a sweet core of fruit elements with an embracing stream of minerality “. Wow, tell me that did not sound like something you had to try at least once. And the sales rep were more than eager to teach and show some of us novices the proper and elegant way to expose the wine’s flavors.
The third selection was a selection from the Box O’ Bird vineyard in Napa Valley. Got to tell you, the name had me at first glance as this Sauvignon Blanc ($ 10.00/glass, $39.00/bottle) definitely brought up a huge fruit bouquet in the wine with hints of grapefruit, passion fruit and some mango essence. The wine representative told me that it scored a 91 in 10/2009 from the Sonoma Wine Journal and I could see why with it light and airy body.

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The fourth selection had to wait a moment as Tropicana Field’s Executive Chef Joshua St Pierre and Executive Sous Chef James Boyd had entered the wine tasting area with waiters serving some of Tropicana Field’s new 2010 food items for our sampling during the event. The waiters mingled and enticed us with samplings of the Andouille Cajun spiced Po’ Boy, Spicy Shrimp Po’ Boy and the incredible Mahi Mahi fish tacos sold in the right field Street and First Base food courts at the stadium.

My fourth selection, another California wine from Sonoma Valley was from the Finnegan’s Lake winery and was a wild and bold Carbernet Sauvignon ($9.00/glass, $36.00/bottle) that went perfect with the Andouille sample as it was picked tonight for tasting for its great compliment to burgers, sausages and even hot dogs. Of course outside the stadium it would pair great with BBQ and steak, but today was all about the ballpark fare.

I then decided to try for my fifth selection another California winery selection, the Barbara d’Asti ‘Lavignone’ also know as Pico Miccario. ($10.00/glass, $40.00/bottle). This wine by far the most pungent in its bouquet that had slight aromas of raspberries, rosemary, dried basil and hyacinth. But there was one flavoring I could not pick out clearly and the wine representative told me it was macerated strawberry underlying melodies. Got to tell you, got a royal introductory wine terminology and flavor notes initiation tonight.

That fifth selection also went fantastic with the artisan cheese and meat platter set out for our sampling. But I saved the best for last, because this one was a pungent lip-smacking red wine that almost knocked my socks off. The only problem is that this Stella Grey Napa Valley Red ($42.00/bottle) will only be available for sit down dining options throughout Tropicana Field venues. But the huge notes of plum, blackberries, graphite and sandalwood definitely makes you take notice of this full-bodied red wine.

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So as I began to end my trek into the fine wine selections that can now be purchased in wine bars and at adult beverage locations within Tropicana Field, I can definitely tell you my nose was itchy. For I am one of those people who usually doesn’t partake of any stimulants or adult beverages before a game, but tonight I did it for my fellow members of the Rays Republic. I have to say in closing that the people at Centerplate are trying to reach that other segment of the Rays public who like to have a nice glass of wine with their baseball, and these six selections more than do the trick.

These are not your garden variety Sutter Homes or even the fine tuned wines from the famed Coppola winery. These selections were fine tuned and picked especially for the fans of the surging Rays. And with that, let me raise a glass high and send a message to Zachry’s and Centerplate that you hosted a first class event, and one I hope to again see in the future. I have never been a big wine drinker, but there are a few of those selections I might be looking for some September to toast and salute another run into late October. ….Salute!

 
 

Navarro’s Rays Clock Ticking Faster

 


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Somehow I knew the writing was on the wall for Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro. And not just because of the emergence of John Jaso, but because the once “stealthy” catcher had now become predictable. There was a time when Navarro would provide offensive mastery and blocks ball behind the plate like his dinner depended on it. But those days became far and end between in 2009, and beginning in 2010, you knew it was a make it or break season for Navi.


And with a Minor League option still attached to his name, it seems that a travel visa( ticket) is in the near future for the Rays former All-Star. But it has been a long time since Navarro has acted like his former All-Star self as his batting average and defensive skills have somehow diminished and all but guarantee his departure when Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett can come back off the disabled list on June 15th.

But is sending Navi down to the Triple-A Durham Bulls going to ravish his career, or will it be an immediate wake up call to either fight his way back to the Rays come September, or be vanquished to the minors and possibly traded later this year. It is truly a human gut check time for Navarro, and we might just see if the Rays own version of the Stay Puff Marshmallow man has the killer instinct and determination still in his belly to fight for his Major League Baseball existence.

Navarro has been down this road before after being signed as a free agent by the New York Yankees, he was thought to be the future catching star of the Pinstripes before his work ethic and his weight went different directions and the Yankees tired of his yo-yoing tendencies. He was quickly dispatched via a trade to the West Coast and the Los Angeles Dodgers where he was thought to be a buffer before current Dodger starter Russell Martin was ready to take the throne.

Even there, the effort and the talent seemed like polar opposites and he was again jettisoned to the Rays where it almost seemed like his last tango in Tampa Bay might be his last chance to show he had the talent and the ability to match up as a Major League catcher. And this team has never been known for their catching prospects, or even its starting catcher providing offensive numbers that make you take a positive second glance. Navarro had a middle-of-the-road beginning with the Rays before his 2008 explosion put him front and center in the company of the elite.

But just as fast as he risen to the top, he adamantly fell from grace in 2009 showing the “old” Navarro tendencies again and a lack of defensive fortitude in even remotely blocking balls bouncing all over the plate. He had relinquished the “stealth” side of his nature and again fell into the predictable mode.

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But the question now might just be which direction will he turn towards if demoted to the Bulls? Will he take it as a moral imperative to improve, reevaluate and resurgence to his career, or languish in pity and remorse for a bit before again striking out to rebuild?


This time June 15th might be the defining date of Navarro’s career. And the steps he takes from that moment on will define his Major League Baseball chances, or be the beginning of his demise. I have been a conscientious observer of Navarro over the last several months and have seen his bat come alive at moment, but also seen him falter when needed in the clutch. But with this Rays team striving now to revisit the “Promised Land” again, can Navarro regain his former self to rejoin and step with his Rays teammates into that hallowed ground again?

It is up to Navarro right now to impress a certain former catcher, Rays Manager Joe Maddon, that this decision was not needed. That he had the heart and soul of this team vested close to his own heart and hit the ground running in Durham. Most important might be his indication to the team of his sweat and grit while down in the minor so if Kelly Shoppach or John Jaso fall to fall to injury or their own offensive woes, he is ready to don his catching gear at this level with the full confidence of his Rays Manager.

Gail Burton/ AP 

This truly is going to be a gut check time for Navarro both as a person and as a professional athlete. How he reacts and interprets the final decision of Maddon and the Rays front office on June 15th will be critical to if they see him in the Rays future in 2010. I can end this with a few hundred different baseball cliché’s as to what Navarro needs to accomplish in his time left with the Rays. But in the end, it will be how, and what Navarro does with this last few impressions that will set deep within the Rays organization’s minds as to his viable future with this team beyond June 15th.

How Navarro carries himself out of that Rays clubhouse on that date could be the true telling point to his Rays career. Navarro can either stand tall and stride out of that Rays clubhouse with honor and a plan of action, or he can saunter out with bitterness and angst and hit Durham with a chip on his shoulder. This might be the biggest moment of Navarro career because it will define his future….even if it is not with the Rays.

Vote in Junior for the 2010 All-Star Game



Not sure how to really take the news yet. Might be a bit difficult for the next few days, but time and the countless video and tributes popping up on the Web from his countless legions of Nation-wide Baseball buddies and true fans of the game might ease the pain some what by the end of this weekend. For there is no more joy in SoDo, for the mighty enigma that was Junior has taken off his baseball uniform for the last time.

And as a Rays fan, I should hate Ken Griffey Junior and his Seattle Mariners, but they hold a special place in my heart. Seattle is not the city of my birth, but it was the city of my early youth, and a time when Tampa Bay was only a Spring baseball haven. I should hate Griffey Junior and what his Mariners’ team mate accomplished in the mid-1990’s , their insurmountable wins, the playoff fever, and even the final betray.

How many people outside of this two locales remember the bitter in-fighting for control for their lovable Mariners. How many remember the strife and quick search for a corporation to buy this cherished local icon and keep it in the Emerald City. And how incredible it was that a Japanese company that was based on the video game craze came to their rescue, along with emotional pleas from this great giant Junior who wanted the team to stay in this other “city by the bay”.

I could go on for pages and paragraphs for days on the heroics and the accomplishments of this icon of my generation. Be it his diplomatic mission for the United States, or maybe his ventures back to the city of his birth (Cincinnati) that formulated his middle years. It was this region of teal waters and blue skies that he made his mark. It was here in the Pacific Northwest that Griffey Junior moved out of his father’s giant shadow and brought his own flavor and panache to the game of baseball.


Always playing the game like he was still in his teens, even with countless injuries for reasons to slow down and take it easy. But he did not rest, he did not pout, he just threw out that million dollar smile and that splendid swing to take our breath away when we least expected it. Junior always seemed to keep that little boy in him, and that made him respect and honor the game.

I remember seeing him on the Visitor’s bench at Tropicana Field on May 14th and I called to him for an autograph. He looked tired, a bit drained but I told him it was my 50th birthday and the only thing I wanted was the signature of my generational hero. He chuckled and a friend who works in the Visitor’s clubhouse told him I was alright and he came over bouncing like a kid, smiling and happy at the praise that was raining down on him from the stands.

He did me a square solid, and now it is my turn to return the favor of him taking his time out for me. I propose that we, as a MLBlogs.com community unite and cast numerous ballots between now and the end of the voting period for Ken Griffey Junior for the 2010 All-Star game in Anaheim, California. What better way to show the National respect and honor he has shown us than to get him elected to the 2010 American League All-Star game squad.

And this action might not take much more than being a bit more consistent with our voting power between now and the end of the voting period. Junior is already in second place in the American League Designated Hitters spot for the All-Star game, and our critical votes might just boost him into that coveted slot. Some people say that since he has “retired” he cannot be considered for the position, but I have it on great authority that he can still be selected, and accepted onto the squad.

Can you think of another player in the last 10 years who at the end of his career was still not a pleasure to see on a baseball field than Griffey Junior. The guy is a classic example oft he word “sports icon”. He has been graceful, spirited and totally a true ambassador of the game from Day One to the End. I should have a level of hatred or solid reasoning for not liking Junior because of what he did to ruin a chance for us to field a baseball team before 1998.


But I can’t hate a single bone in his body. Can’t find the reasoning or the seasoning to push him into the dark without wanting to see him again on top and get to say a formal goodbye to 30,000+ of my friends in Anaheim during All-Star week. In an era where cheating took a chemical advantage, his name was never mentioned or spoken about. In a time when distrust and hurt feeling centered all out hearts after the baseball strike, he just stepped to the plate and hit.

Junior is my Michael Jordan, he is my Tim Tebow, he has been that force in the game of baseball that seemed to remain pure and rightious for the sake of the game. Griffey Junior to me for so many years was the game of baseball, but the games will still go on without him.

And the American League pitchers’ no longer have to fear him standing in the On-Deck circle. But I think he needs to put that baseball uniform on one more time, just to see how it feels….during the 2010 All-Star game….Batter up!
 

Selig and Pandora….Interesting Pair

 

RockyMountainNew.com 

We all know the tale of Pandora’s box( jar) from Greek mythology. It is base on the actions of Pandora opening the jar she carried with her and unleashing many things upon mankind like toil, ills and sickness. But within all that negative elements was one good and humane element hidden deep within that sacred jar, and it was the element of hope. And that is the key element of the Pandora’s box (jar) that I trust will transfer effortless following the investigation by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig into the umpiring events of the recent Detroit Tigers versus Cleveland Indians match-up.


Hope that the right thing will be done in this seesawing endeavor, even if it does come with penalties of changing the essence and protocol of the game even in reference to the men who governs its rules. Even if Selig is viewed as toying with the fabric of the established and historical baseball traditions, that his true intention of providing some sort of uncontested justice might just start an avalanche effect into the sturdy mountain of transcendental thoughts surrounding the game.

That Selig even mentioning that he is going to “look into the matter” could send ripples into the historic pond of baseball history and call for other future considerations or radical interventions from the Commissioner regarding his enforcement arm of the game. I agree that the game in question did end on a play that will further tarnish and flaw the role of the MLB Umpires within the scope of a baseball contest. And with all sincerity, how can this unrighteous action not be held up high and mighty for all to see to display the inherent wrongs that can happen with the human element prevalent in the outcome of the game.

We saw today a unusual and unique gesture/signal by MLB First Base Umpire Jim Joyce admitting his wrong, and knowing he might have fully changed a important slice of baseball’s history with his outstretched arm and his “safe” call last night. But human error is part of the unfolding essence of the game. It is expected and it is admonished at the same time. Just like death and taxes, it is a given in the game that errors are human, even by the protectors of the rules. Every job has its flaws and imperfections, and recently baseball mistakes have been earmarked and played continuously for the World to judge for themselves .

Hope that Selig’s involvement into the sensibilities of this “tragedy” will not further open his own Pandora’s box and bring numerous rule enforcement issues back to the surface to produce his own toil, sickness and ills towards his reign as MLB Commissioner. Sometimes trying to fix a bad situation from reoccurring can fester itself into a multitude of eventual dogmatic controversies than could again gain legs and begin crawling from out of the darkness for all to view and gasp. But what final conclusion would be correct?

Even the thought of bringing this controversial game’s unfortunate outcome into plain sight again and dissecting the Umpire crew’s actions could open old MLB officiating wounds and further push the envelope of conspiracy and inconsistent judgments of the “Men in Blue” into the open for a feverish discussion. Even if the MLB Umpires Union has an opinion in this matter, the Commissioner of Baseball hires and maintains the umpiring crews. His mire eye glance towards this game’s misguided “safe” gesture could have repercussions beyond this single Umpiring crew.

Paul Sancya/AP 

Hope that if Selig does come to the ultimate conclusion of wrong doing in the call by Joyce, that he also has the willpower and the omnipotent fortitude to make an executive decision as to the final outcome. In all fairness to Galarraga and the Tigers, the final outcome of the game can not be changed. Even with the outcry from Detroit and National voices for justice and a reversal, it has to stay cemented and the judgment remain consistent and not be challenged or changed for the overall integrity of the game.


But in rehashing and revisiting of the night’s actions, Selig could produce and set into motion viable changes and radical rethinking of some of the evident problems currently surrounding his enforcement arm of the rules of the game. But then it could be something as simple as expansion of the Instant Replay system to possibly include review of questionable base calls when the Umpire assigned to that position can not fully vest himself in his decision, and a secondary opinion can not prove to be formulated with 100 percent certainty. Replaying the play could provide an honest interpretation of the game, but will open the flaws of being human tri-fold.

NYTimes.com 

Hope that the investigation my Selig will turn out to be a Godsend to the governing body of the game and that the Special Rules Committee and the Umpires Union do not see it as pressing his thumb down for change, but be welcomed to bring about a successful conclusion for all involved in the process. This same element will be debated and weighed continuously until the Commissioner deems his will upon the game in this matter. Let’s hope Selig gets it right the first time.

Gunfight at the Rogers Centre Corral

 
 
AP/The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

Sports columnists around the country will tell you the perfect Major League Baseball game is one where the Umpires’ are completely invisible, and every play goes along like on an organized plan with no need for interpretation, or controversy during the games nine innings of play. I hate to admit it, but that same serene scenario might be as rare as the 20 Perfect Games that have been thrown in Major League Baseball. 

I always thought growing up as a kid learning the rules of the game of baseball was that the Umpires were on the field to help guide us and teach us the rules, not become a part of a unfolding fabric of the game. For some reason, today’s mega-personality Major League Umpires seem to be developing their own agendas and meshing them into the convoluted mixture of the game.

With the “hurry up” mentality expressed by today’s Umpire Crews, you expect to see the White Rabbit behind Home Palte with a huge stop watch basically turning the game their direction by throwing their own interpretations and nuances towards every facet of the rule book. 


And one of last night’s Umpires has been center stage this season in the “hurry up” offensive move throughout the Major League Baseball system. Seasoned MLB Umpire Joe West has been more than vocal, even complaining after a Red Sox versus New York Yankee game about the molasses pace of the game right now. Anyone within the American League East knows that Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon uses the entire time allotted for every one of his pitches to his advantage, and with that goes the impending song and dance of Papelbon stepping off the rubber, the Boston catchers’ going out to the mound, or the opposing hitter asking for a “time out” right before a pitcher get set in his wind-up.

West had been more than vocally adamant about his displeasure for this routine game action dragging the last several innings of the game to a snail’s crawl. It was kind of funny (strange) to me last night during the Rays and Jays game when the battle betwwen the plate and mound became a bit testy and slowed to a well htought out chess match. The Rays had begun to get the upper hand on their opponent’s closer, then bang! In steps a supposibly conscientious observer, the Umpire. 

The Umpire again  made his presence known at centerstage when Home Plate Umpire Angel Hernandez decided to look the other way and focus elsewhere when Rays slugger Carlos Pena treid to ask for time during a strategic 3 ball ,2 strike count. Hernandez decided to not voice, hand signal or even flinch as he let Jay closer Kevin Gregg throw a perfect strike right down the middle as Pena quickly had to try and readjust after taking his lead hand off his bat and  stepped instantly towards the spinning sphere. The pitch sailed easily into Jays catcher John Buck’s glove and Hernandez wihtout thought rung Pena up on a third called strike.

Instantly Pena began to question the action, or non action by Hernandez, but he was talking to a concrete wall at that point. Quickly Rays Manager Joe Maddon went to furiously to work on Hernandez  by questioing his interpretation of the “time out” request by Pena and his subsequential rant was not for those under 17 years of age to lip read. With Moddon’s opinion well set into Hernandez’s mind, Maddon was instanyl ejected from the game by Hernandez, Maddon still hot under his Rays collar, decided to vent some more frustration since he was already going to have to pay MLB a significant fine for his previous  rant with Hernandez.

He instantly strutted up the Third Base line to confront the Umpire Crew Chief  “Cowboy” Joe West and the Battle at the RC corral was off and running at that point. Maddon made sure to push and shove his own interpretation far down West’s throat, and Maddon adamantly let West know the recent MLB Umpires “hurry up offense” move was all West’s fault and made more than sure West knew his entire opinion on the matter.  There are quite a few MLB Managers, including a duo within the American League East( New York, Boston)  that wish they could have done the same themselves to West last night.

 
AP/The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

It is great when a baseball game can remain clean and unfolds without the Umpires putting their “two-cents” into the mix. What really got my goat was not what unfolded on the turf during the ninth inning last night in Toronto. It was the impromptu vocal aftermath in the Umpire’s Room after the game when West made sure to throw his own spin on the whole episode. Marc Topkins of the St. Petersburg Times got a chance to sit down and have a soda and some grub with the “Cowboy” and his crew following last night shootout. It is unheard of that an Umpire will provoke an episode like this outside the realms of the game, but West is an old style gunslinger who sometimes seems above the rule book.


West voiced his opinion that he supported Hernandez’s actions, and even quoted the specific rule in the MLB Rule book for all of us out in Leftfield barristers to intrepret ourselves. West contended that the Jays closer (Gregg) had begun his delivery, so under MLB Rule 6.02 , the timeout should not have been awarded since the rule protects the pitchers’ on the rubber who have already begun their delivery.

But post game replays on FSNFlorida of the play in question showed that Gregg was not yet beginnig his “set position” on the mound.
That is a clear sign that Hernandez missed the call here, but it was at his own discretion at that moment to grant Pena the initial”timeout”. The uninterpreted grey area here is huge because it is up to individual Umpire’s personal interpretation of the rule and its boundaries, which should be solidified in black and white with more clarification, but multiple shades of grey were bountiful last night.


West told the St Petersburg Times, “You can not ask for a timeout once the pitcher is coming to a set position, or once a pitcher would be in jeopardy of hurting himself“.


West made sure to point out that the MLB does provide clubhouse signage to each of the 30 MLB teams explaining the rules in great length and the “official” MLB interpretation of these rules. On a side note, I have seen a poster of these rules, and they are printed both in Spanish and English to keep  a possible language confrontation to a minimal. West went on to tell the St Pete Times


“The rule is two-fold- One is to protect the pitcher from starting his delivery, and then having to stop because the hitter stepped out. That is why we do not let hitters cause balks. It’s all intertwined with the protocol of the pitcher and the hitter and the Umpire. And the hitters all know, you ask for time and have to be granted time or it’s not out. They do not get to call time, the Umpire calls time.”


As Topkin sat there in their usually “off limits” Umpires sanctuary as West held court, Hernandez did the right thing by not stirring the pot or adding any additonal to the spice to the mix and I gained a smidgeon of respect for him last night as he added a bland, but honest opinion to the St Pete Times :

“Technically we’re not supposed to comment on the strike zone. Obviously you can watch the game to see how things dictate, all we ask is that it’s (the strike zone) consistent throughout the game and consistent in the ninth inning.”
 

This will  eventually evolve into another Joe West involved gunfight either won or lost according to your sense of fair play and gamesmanship. The Rays ended up overcoming the ruling and winning the battle, but could Maddon have stirred up a hornet’s nest that could plague his squad in tonight’s finale against the Blue Jays. My opinion is that the MLB Umpires are the true providers and protector of the rules of the game of baseball. I understand their wide interpretations and even their bending of set guidelines at time with both the strike zone and some “in-the-neighborhood” calls on the field.


In the end, these bad judgment calls are further  diluting the games and extending its time by the arguments and ejections following a confusion over the rulings. But the Umpires should never be  a visual part on these contests. Umpire crews should do everything in thier power to remain invisible and not be made an intricate part of the game. I like that West has fire in his big old belly for the rules of game, and that Hernandez made sure to vocalize to the St Pete Times that he doesn’t have to explain his action to them, but basically only to his own superiors.

Baseball games should be decided by the players on the field and not those croaching along the foul lines or behind the plate. It is great that the game has such colorful characters within its ranks, but those same characters should not be anointed protectors of rules of the game, all dressed up in their dark blue uniforms. They should be ghosts…invisible until needed.
 

PENA = Present Explosive Nature Absent

 
RRCollection

I feel bad even writing anything without a positive spin about Tampa Bay Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. It is painful to think that the Rays Republic might be headed for uncharted waters with Pena in the coming weeks if his bat doesn’t respond in a surging manner. That we could even consider the collective thoughts of putting another body at his First Base position seems insane to me right now. Makes me almost sick to my stomach thinking that the charismatic Rays icon who had me all giddy with anticipation back in 2007 could possibly be spending his last season in a Rays uniform and surrounded in a cloak of offensive struggles.

Usually in a contract year you see the future Free Agent player hit for a higher average, or just blow you away with his overall abilities and you then do not even question not trying to sign the guy again. But right now, Pena is making a departure notice a bit easier with his slumping lumber and the Rays Front Office could be prudent in exploring unforeseen options for 2011. And that has me in a quandary trying to dissect and analyze his downward spiral this season. Pena’s first class defense is still churning and burning on all cylinders, but the Home Run torque he once had in his might ash bat is slowing becoming….well expendable and unfortunately predictable.

It is difficult to consider this Rays team, that Pena has taken firmly under his long wingspan as his own, without seeing him firmly in the line-up every night. How long do we take the inconsistencies with the skyrocketing strikeout amounts and the rally-killing hitting into the shift with more regularity and look into another direction. It is difficult for me to think of another person or player even manning the First Base bag for the Rays, even on a short-term assignment. But that is why the Rays have power guys like Dan Johnson, Chris Richards and Leslie Anderson in our farm system…They are available explosive ammunition for the Rays offensive weapon.

When is enough, enough? Could Rays Manager Joe Maddon pull the plug on Pena in the coming days, or will Maddon wait until Pena himself or someone from the Rays Fourth floor brings the option up? Maybe what makes this idea seen remotely unfathomable is the fact Pena is truly one of the nicest and fan friendly guys in Major League Baseball. Pena is a Rays poster boy for giving back not only in the Tampa Bay community, but also to Haiti and his home country of the Dominican Republic with an undying regularity and vengeance.

 
Raysbaseball.com/RaysontheRunway

Maybe it is the fact Pena is one of the best dressed MLB players who has an impeccable G Q mentality about himself and his wardrobe that I envy at times. Maybe it is the simple fact that his smile and his exploding dimples just makes the churning within me about his offensive frustrations all seem to melt away with a simple glance and head nod. Sometimes it just seems that you could pop Pena up at a podium during a National disaster and he could make it all seem a bit better with that great smile and those dimples doing that dance they do so well. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit far fetched, but you get my reasoning here. He is a likable guy who you want on your team.


The Rays currently have their former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner in a troubling slump where he is hitting at the sub basement level from the usually alarming Mendoza Line. Rays fans have not been as outwardly vocal towards calling out Pena for his recent unimpressive hitting level as they were with former Rays Vinny Castilla or Greg Vaughn. Some have mentioned it in passing, but no vocal storm warning or approaching turbulence has been sounded as of yet. But you can hear a few rumbles and grumbles in the background, and the storm clouds might be forming for Pena in the distance.

When is enough, enough? It is easy for Rays fans to Pena’s past as ammunition to keep him in the Rays lineup because of the rationalization of how can you bench a star like Pena who less than a year ago celebrated his first All-Star gig just because his bat has suddenly become frozen solid? Next thing you know dogs and cat will be living together….total World anarchy! It has been a while since we have seen some masterful shots by Pena, who is currently mired in a 1-20 skid right now.

I like Pena as a person, a player and as a symbol to our community. He has been tall shoulders above any of our past Rays clubhouse leaders as a upfront, vocal and consistent positive influence to all who step within the Rays confines, but something is flawed right now within his baseball persona. Something is eating Pena’s stroke away and his batting average is sinking quickly before our Rays eyes. His May monthly batting average was a paltry .120 ( 12 for100) with 3 Home Runs and 37 strikeouts and a sub par .250 Slugging Percentage. We have steadily watched his average hit a extreme landslide slope from a presentable .247 to a shocking .175 in the last 31 days.

 
Raysbaseball.com/MLB.com

With a decrease in your batting average has come other obstacles that block his forward progress. Pena currently leads the American League in strikeouts with 58, and his last homer against Boston starter Clay Bucholz on May 24, 2010 was his first within the home confines of Tropicana Field since April 28th. Last season, Pena was hitting Home Runs at a clip of one in every 12.08 at bats and became the first player in the live ball ear (since 1920) to lead his league in HR despite missing at least 25 games to end the season. The past accolades since Pena first put on a Rays uniform in 2007 are more than impressive. From his Roberto Clemente Award, to his first All-Star selection in 2009, Pena has always been a class act and a personable guy who always seemed to know what was right for this Rays squad.


It pains me to say it out loud, but maybe it is time for Pena to sit for a bit. Time for reflection, dissecting his hitting stroke and maybe re-adjusting this stance to hitting to the opposite field to take away this dang shift that is employed against him with regularity. Bunt the ball, half swing for a single through the hole at Third and Shortstop, anything to get the defense to play him honestly again. Maybe the Rays need to bring up Dan Johnson from the Durham Bulls to bring some extra power back into the fifth position in the Rays lineup. We are not giving up on Pena, just letting him reallocate his talents and focus full time on regaining his plate composure.

Great player know when enough is enough. And I truly think Pena knows he is struggling and not seeing the ball with extreme clarity right now. Pena is a fighter and might be trying to fight through this slump to keep his team in contention. But even with the most honest intentions here, something is lacking in the current Pena puzzle. Hopefully it is a phase that is nearing its conclusion because I would hate to see Pena go out like this because he has been a awesome class act for the Rays and deserves to go out with an loud explosive bang, not a single whimper.

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