July 2010

We need to find a Rays Cartoonist!


 

I have been jealous of people with an artistic talent for drawing for a long time. Sure, I used to dabble in simple cartoon characters and landscapes as a kid in Art class, but the really defined and articulate professionals who day in, and day out compose and construct a simple one panel cartoon are imagery masters to me.

With a single comical image, they can conjure up emotions and events that take me sometimes 5-6 paragraphs to illustrate with words. They can do stuff with the flick of their wrist that I could not even fathom with my keyboard and mouse.


 

So as the Tampa Bay Rays ready today to leave the Charm City, I am instantly drawn to the Baltimore Sun website to catch the daily cartoon antics of Mike Ricigliano, who has been doing a daily Baltimore Orioles cartoon for over 20 years for the Baltimore Sun.

And if you want, you can scroll through Ricigliano’s daily images here

 
When  you check out his daily images, you will see that the man definitely has his finger, or wingtip on the pulse of Birdland. And this is something I truly wish I could do, or produce for the Rays, but my talents are far inferior both in drawing and tongue-in-cheek humor to pull it off with any success.

 

But it has been great for the past few years to check in on Ricigliano’s impression of the Rays versus Orioles series, and get some impressive artwork, plus a few chuckles along the way. But seriously, I wish the Rays or the St. Petersburg Times could find a qualified cartoonist who would do the same thing for this community.

The Times did have a great cartoonist for years named Don Addis, but he is now creating in that big inkwell in the sky and is not available for the job. And I grew up with Addis’s artwork daily at the Times, plus he did the character imagery of “Pushy DaBroom” a quasi-janitor/journalist who erratically used to appear to write a sports opinion column in the Evening Independent .


The imagery created by Addis made you want to like Pushy, and his opinions sometimes took a deep soulful look into situations that some journalist tried to shy away from at that moment in time. But the one panel imagery of Addis spoke volumes about the piece even before you set your eyes upon the written words.

 

Sometimes I think that is needed again with the Rays. A simple one panel cartoon or image that could take all the words opinions and clutter and simplify it into a neat and thought provoking image.

And I think Ricigliano and the Sun have shown that it would become popular, and even be considered one of the “must see” items during your daily stroll through the paper or online.

And with the media giants crying “foul” on the abusive use of long words and sentences today, it might be a great clarifying use of imagery that would fit conveniently within a box in the corner of the page. And it could instantly take a situation, such as the swirling Major League Baseball Trade Deadline and use a simple image of a Rays player with the names of players thought to be within the Rays trade bubble, it could actually achieve the action of showing the magnitude of the trade scenario without clogging up the paper with 10-12 paragraphs on the same item.

We all know that saying, “A picture paints a thousand words”, and a cartoon can use that same old quote and click it up a notch. This is something I really feel passionate about, but I do not have the creative drawing talents to pull this off myself.

But there has to be a guy sitting in Art class right now, or maybe creating glorious illustrations in a tattoo parlor that could produce a daily mesmerizing cartoon that could bring together the collective Rays Republic. Maybe I will again go out and buy an artist’s pad and some ink and try to produce something like this myself, but then again, stick people probably will not excite anyone, especially my eight grade Art teacher.
 

Rays are at a Familiar Crossroads

 


 
Mike Ricigliano/Baltimore Sun (2009)
 
I couldn’t believe my eyes last night. What I saw shocked me to my fan core and told me emphatically that this Tampa Bay Rays team needs to adjust and refocus immediately, or we will be left again in the dust. Sure you might say that one loss doesn’t constitute a paranoid rant, or even a wide-eyed response that the “end is coming” to the high heavens. But then again, when you have lost three out of five games to your divisional foes, you might hear a few alarm bells in your own mind.


And that is the problem right now. The Rays are not the same team we began to idolize, and realistically vaulted to a high platform as the “team to beat” in April and May. But they are also not a shell of their former selves….yet. But maybe that is what is bothering me right now today. That the team’s personality and offensive firepower has somehow taken a mid-Summer vacation at a really improbable moment. Maybe it is the pure fact that this squad has been a bit of a chameleon in 2010 since the end of May.

For some reason this Rays team has begun to become a bit more predictable, a bit more vale in their attempt to hide their objectives, a bit more boring. And I guess it all hit me like a ton of bricks last night watching that extra inning debacle where we finally saw the dyke break on the Rays Bullpen’s bandage to holding this team together with a few sticks and paste. The Rays Bullpen finally had a moment. They finally had a time where the offense needed to dig them out for a change….and there was only silence from the Rays line-up.

In April and May, the Bullpen might have gotten challenged, or even bested, but the Rays offense had the will and the energy to step back up and take the game back into their own hands and defeat a team like the Baltimore Orioles. In April or May of this season, we would not be talking about the Rays having to win the “rubber match” against the Orioles, because they would have won that second game. Maybe it is the final realization that this Rays team is actually pretty normal and actually average that shocks me the most here.

For awhile we were lead to believe that they were up to the challenge. That this Rays team was stocked for bear and going hunting for another American League East title and beyond. But maybe I also put the cart before the horse again, or was it a donkey? In hindsight, maybe I fell for the romantic option of this team stealing the region’s heart again and seeing massive “Rayhawks” being carved out in every barber orifice in Tampa Bay. Maybe I was thinking again about passing someone one on the street and having them say “Go Rays” as we past each other. Maybe I thought 2010 was different.

 
Marc Avery/AP

Even with all the cosmetic changes the Rays have endured in 2010, this team somehow got weaker. Somehow got more vulnerable. Somehow became less super human and more like the 2009 model. Now this is not to suggest a pratfall is upcoming, or even that a implosion is amongst us. But the stark reality is that right now, this Rays team can not match up to even the American League East’s top tier with a boost up by an unknown source. Our enthusiasm and our confidence in this 2010 edition of the Rays has been shaken to the core here. It’s mysterious covering has been removed and we see this team for what it really is right now.


This is a team that is fighting among itself for respect. Fighting within its own foundation and borders to become that April-May Rays monster again. But unlike the Incredible Hulk, the angrier and more upset this teams gets, it will not help the transformation. No matter what is said within the walls of the Rays clubhouse, their actions will speak louder than words. No matter what transpires for the rest of 2010,maybe the Rays saw their horse race end when the calendar turned to June. A great team becoming average is not a great sight in the middle of a period where the deciding factor of the season will materialize to all of us.

You think Rays home attendance is bad now, wait and see what happens if the Rays become normal and predictable. The pre-2008 Tropicana Field crowds might evolve again. You might see people beginning to leave in the 8th inning trying to beat the traffic, even when the Seattle Mariners are in town. I do not want to go back to that Rays era. I do not want to relive those moments of realizing that the game got out of hand because we are average.

It is not too late for this Rays team to readjust, refocus and recharge their batteries again. And it doesn’t start with a pep talk or even a grand gesture by this team. It starts with a clarifying moment, a symbol that the fences are mended and that the past is just that…past. Maybe after Wednesday afternoon’s contest in Camden Yards the Rays can find that moment of clarity as their enter a new forum where Rays wins used to go to die. Maybe it is time to show the spirit and the confidence might have laid dormant for a bit, but is still hot and heated within their Rays loins. Maybe it is time for a Rays uprising in the “City by the Lake”.

A Rays great showing in Cleveland will come as a two-fold vision right now. Not only would it show as a moment of clarity as the team defeats a squad within the stadium that has dusted them time and time again in the past, but they can restore some order to their own house. People told us that the 2010 season was going to be special. That this season was going to be a epiphany we would not soon forget. That we were going to reclaim what was our…the AL East title quest. It is not too late to readjust, realign and remember the glory of 2008. Because without it, this might turn into another year, another lost chance, another typical Rays season.

With a Name like Rocco, Never Count Him Out?

 

 

Those around the Tampa Bay Rays fan circles have heard me preach this sermon before about a possible Rocco Baldelli redemption in 2010. I have been known on more than one occasion this year to go into a sort of “prodigal son” type oratory with regards to Baldelli. His inclusion back into the Rays farm system today originates not from any acts of sorcery , psychic premonitions or a magical spell being cast, but the subtle reality that Baldelli always knew he was not done with baseball, and always felt more at home with the Rays.

The addition of Baldelli’s name on the dotted line today doesn’t seem forced on us, minutely trivial or even have the slightest hint of a publicity stunt. Today’s signature is Baldelli’s subtle way of again returning to his baseball roots to a Rays organization that that stood besides him as he suffered through his medical chaos. This could be his unique way of showing his undying devotion to a franchise that did not turn their backs on him as a player, and of a clubhouse that stood proud with him as he toiled to again regain prominence in the Major Leagues.

His signature today spoke volumes about a man who wanted to reward a kindness, evoke again a yearning competitive nature, and show that a determined devotion not only to the game, but to yourself can bring about a career resurrection. I am not blinded by the fact this will not be a vintage 2002-2006 Baldelli on the clay and turf that will be fighting to regain some lost time, and possibly a last chance to regain some baseball glory. I am also not naïve enough to suggest Baldelli is the total answer, but he is an adequate solution that comes at a great price for such veteran knowledge. Sometimes it is not about the money people.

 

Already there are rumbles and grumbles that his signing could be a omen that the Gabe Kapler era could come to a close soon. But in reality, when we see Baldelli moving through the Rays farm system with vigor, then we will be able to embrace Baldelli’s return with more enthusiasm and vitality. But it is key to note that Baldelli could probably have gone elsewhere as he got healthier after rehabbing his shoulder injury this season. The Rays were probably not the only people watching Baldelli’s progress with angst and excitement. But he chose to stay with those loyal to him in the past.


Baldelli sought out a position with the Rays for a reason this Spring. It might of had nothing to do with the Rays organization standing tall alongside through thick and thin before Baldelli returned to the Rays outfield in Seattle in 2008. It definitely did not have anything to do with his choice to play for his childhood idol team in Fenway Park either. Baldelli doesn’t owe the debt of his Major League career to the Rays, but he does have some finite unfinished business with them.

Baldelli was on that bench in Philadelphia during the 2008 World Series and saw that game quickly jettisoned out of the Rays reach. Baldelli soaked in the pain and agony along with the wet and cold that night, and internally knew this Rays team deserved more. He saw the Rays heads go down one-by-one, he saw the Rays spirit and excitement slowly drain from their faces. Baldelli knows how close that series really was, and he wants another chance to change the outcome. Motivational angst, even about an sporting event have made outnumbered armies conquer (Evil) Empires or desolate (Red Sox) Nations.

Baldelli might not have the agility of his former Major League self, but he has gained the aspect of baseball intelligence that will serve him, and the Rays better in the long run. What he lost in mobility and range, he has picked up in positioning and anticipation, ingredients that most young players regard as trivial. His mental thought processes to play this game have been enhanced, while his physical attributes might still better than most still playing. But the most honest emotion Baldelli has going for him right now is he still has that hunger.

Determination and hard work can only take you to a certain limit, but yearning and a hunger to succeed can vault you into the middle of the pack with ease. You could see it this Spring as he worked out lightly to regain touch and feel for the game. Seeing that Baldelli smile again as he exited the Batting Cages at the Trop earlier this season made you proud. His eagerness to get back into that Batting Cage again for another round of pitches, just inspired you more each time. You saw it in his progression in his strength while throwing in the outfield of Tropicana Field as fans and friends whistled for his attention. You just knew Baldelli was going to wear that Rays number 5 again this season.

 

No matter if Baldelli returns in September or possibly sooner, he is a veteran presence that could evoke some fear from American League pitching staffs when he steps into the batter’s box. His acquired Major League offensive skill level has shown he can hit for power, bunt or even go to the middle to get the man in (GTMI). That is a key component of the Rays attack that is really missing right now. Baldelli can be an easy fix to a complex series of problems that has plagued the Rays, and led to improbable losses this season. The addition of a skilled veteran like Baldelli, who also has some unfinished business within the Major Leagues could be a step in the right direction for the Rays.


When he goes to the plate tonight for the Class-A Charlotte Stonecrabs, it will be a renewal of sorts for Baldelli. This is another chance for Baldelli to again rise like the fabled phoenix and provide a possible late season difference for the Rays. No visual magic, no offensive sorcery, no mirrored images of his former self. It is Baldelli’s chance again to show his determination, his undying spirit and his overall veteran presence could be the push upwards the Rays need to fight for their second American League East title. He resurrected his career in 2008 after people doubted him and his abilities to even come back again and play at all. I pity the people who counts Baldelli out again because one thing you can not measure with statistics is heart. And in that category, Baldelli is still batting 1.000.
 

Brignac is the Rays Heir Apparent at Shortstop

 


 
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

More and more it seems that the fulcrum of the events concerning Tampa Bay Rays players Reid Brignac and Jason Bartlett has seen more and more movement recently. With the extended power now being displayed by Brignac in recent Rays games, plus another Arbitration raise this coming Winter for Bartlett, somewhere the fulcrum will shift and the Rays might have to make either a difficult decision, or one made easier by the maturation process.


But that is what happens on teams that are deep with farm systems that supply players as variable rates like the Rays. Player suddenly begin to reach their fiscal top ends, like Bartlett’s expected $ 5.5 million dollar question for 2011. Plus the fact that Bartlett will be 31 during 2010,while Brignac will celebrate his 25th birthday might signal a change in the middle infield for the Rays.

It is not like we have not seen this coming in the last few years as Brignac has made huge positive adjustments in his hitting, plus gotten his feet underneath him enough that when Bartlett got hurt earlier this season, the Rays did not panic and make a trade, they trusted the winner of the 2010 Al Lopez Award as the top rookie in Rays camp to fill-in with no true signs of weakness or vulnerability.
And maybe that is what might hasten this change to come into motion between now and the Winter. With Brignac gaining ground every day on possibly being the Rays 2010 starting shortstop, more and more the possibility of Bartlett being expendable is coming to light. And it is not for his abilities or even his decrease in his hitting for average this season.

Bartlett might have finally outgrown the Rays financial security blanket and might be wearing a new uniform in the future. And Bartlett will not be the only player that the Rays make a hard decision on between now and the Winter.


Within the next few months there will be additional thoughts, ideas and even plans put in place for players like Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and maybe even Rays starter Matt Garza. People sometimes forget that even though fiscal and physical sound a bit alike in their phonic pronunciations, they are very different scenarios in how the Rays will plan their future rosters. It might come down to the $ 5 million dollar question of if Brignac can do Bartlett’s job with the same intensity and performance for a huge fraction of the cost.
Nothing personal, nothing to be ashamed of, the nature of the business of baseball. And with the team dedicated to removing a hefty portion of their 2010 payroll out of the 2011 equation, we might see the Rays soon begin to trim the fat possibly before the Trade Deadline, or if the team falls out of contention for a Playoff spot.

Unlike their divisional foes the Red Sox and Yankees, the Rays have to reload and reconstruct from a minor league system instead of spend dollars to make sense. That puts the Rays at a disadvantage in terms of veteran experience, but give them financial flexibility for a few seasons as their player mature into their roles.


 
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Nothing has been formally announced as to the Rays intentions with Bartlett following the 2010 season, but the writing is firmly on the wall. With a viable option in the system and able to take over the day-to-day duties, it is a matter of time. And with Brignac showing more and more confidence in both ends of the equation, the decision might just be weeks away from fruition. And that is the general evolution of the today’s professional baseball player. As you grow through the system and become more financially secure, you make yourself expendable to teams like the Rays with fixed incomes or revenues coming into the team.


Bartlett is a smart player, and he can definitely see the writing on the wall for himself. That might be one of the reasons we are seeing him fighting right now to show he has the great ability to help not only this 2010 Rays squad, but showing some signals to a potential future employer that he can be the perfect man for the job. Brignac is definitely the man of the future for the Rays at the shortstop position. That is the way the Rays system was designed, and has worked for years. Pieces have been mended and shaped to form a cohesive unit and Brignac is a perfect example of the Rays molding a player for greatness.

Bartlett could survive until the Winter, or possibly be gone as soon as the end of the month, but he has been a total professional and has carried himself perfect while with the Rays. For years Bartlett was in the same position as Brignac while with the Minnesota Twins. He was that supoer utility guy who seemed to possess the abilities to play at any position the team put him at in the field.

The chain is about to again come full circle, and Brignac, who is now in that super utility role will assume the top spot until the next Rays comes to challenge for his spot. It is the natural progression of baseball, and one that the Rays will keep seeing revolve and evolve for a long, long time. Change is on the horizon, and Brignac’s future looks extremely bright as a starter for the Rays.

Rays Already have a Viable Power Option In-House

Sometimes it just gets to me how a highly productive baseball player ,in your own farm system can fly so low under the radar, even after doing something amazing. That in this advanced electronics age of scouting and information, a surging baseball player can somehow go completely “out of sight, and out of mind” to his Major League team executives as they collectively screams and frantically searches for a player with his already apparent talent? This same scenario is happening within the Tampa Bay Rays farm system, and for some odd reason, this productive player is still sitting in front of his Triple-A locker every night suiting up.

The Rays have been searching high and low for a formidable power bat option throughout the Major Leagues, and somehow have skipped over the current Triple-A Home Run Derby Champ in their own farm system backyard. What is it that this mystery ballplayer has done to make the Rays Major League scouting department forget his name, stats or his dramatic flair for the game? It is like he is a ghost in the machine right now. How else do you explain hitting one of the most memorable Home Runs in Rays history, then not being on your team’s Spring Training invite list the following season?

Sure you might have developed double vision at one point in your past MLB career when you got suntan lotion in your eyes before an afternoon contest, but you have rebounded and proven you can be a power hitter and a consistent bat in the line-up. But then this same Rays front office sent you on a Japanese vacation as you played for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2009 like a baseball castaway. So you somehow got were sent farther out of sight and out of mind. But then these same Rays front office folks signed you in January 2010 for $500,000 and you again thought you had an honest chance to prove your worth in the Major Leagues. But again you were met with a career roadblock, and off to Triple-A obscurity you go again.

And during the 2010 Triple-A season you have gained a solid reputation for timely hits and huge Home Runs, but still you still sit in the Durham Bulls locker room waiting for that mystical call to “The Show”. You might have guessed by now, I am talking about Durham Bulls power slugger Dan Johnson. It has been a weird year for him, but what does Johnson have to do to show his willingness and abilities are just what the Rays need in their line-up without the Rays resorting to a trade? Does he have to hit 3 HR in a game? Steal a base? Or maybe Johnson just has to sit silently and watch as the parent team ache and pain for a talent like his without muttering a single word.

 
DurhamBull.com

I consider it a crime against great Major League talent here. Are the Rays so stockpiled with talent in their minor league system that Johnson has somehow slipped through the cracks without a head nod or mention as a in-house power option? It saddens me to think that a talent like Johnson has been relegated to being a second class citizen mired in the minors when he has the abilities to not only help the Rays, but produce runs, provide depth and bring a bit of fear back into the Designated Hitter’s spot. Currently there has to be no American League pitching staff that is in fear of the Rays trio D H force of Matt Joyce, Willy Aybar or John Jaso. But could Johnson the ointment needed to finally provide some relief to that burning lack of production in the Rays line-up, or are the Rays just seeing him as another quick fix bandage?


Considering Johnson’s statistics with the Bulls this season, you have to think he is the hidden treasure trove of multiple talents the Rays have been searching for during this seasons Trade Deadline. Johnson has played in all 83 games for the Bulls. Moving around the infield from his customary first base slot and playing third base, which provides more depth and versatility to his resume’. Could his “new position” be a viable reason Johnson is being stonewalled from being brought up?

Johnson is hovering at a .295 batting average with 24 HR and 80 RBI., but Johnson also has 87 hits, which currently leads the Bulls roster. Then there was his recent show of dramatic power during Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run Derby where Johnson blasted out 25 Home Runs, and ultimately won the title. But in the event finals, Johnson and Lehigh Valley Ironpigs slugger Andy Tracy each posted 10 HR each in the final round. So it came down to a HR shootout format and Tracy did not connect on any of his five swings. It took Johnson only one swing of his bat to decide the Home Run Derby, and proved once and for all, he still has a dramatic flair to his hitting style.

But this was not the first time drama had entered Johnson’s Rays life when it came to hitting the long ball. Most Rays fans remember the Coons Rapids, Minnesota native for his improbable Home Run during a September 9,2008 contest against the Boston Red Sox. Johnson was called-up earlier in the day by the Rays and was inserted into the starting line-up, but plane delays and slow meandering cab rides brought him to Fenway Park at 6:50 pm that evening. Johnson might have been scratched from the starting nod, but he got another chance to project his broad shouldered persona on the Rays as he went to the plate as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.

 
TBO.com

Johnson had been called-up to the Rays after posting a .307 average with 25 HR and 83 RBI since the Rays claimed him off waivers on April 18th from the Oakland A’s. Johnson stood at the plate with the game on the line and put a Papelbon fastball clear into the stands above the Red Sox Bullpen in right-centerfield for the first pinch-hit Home Run of Johnson’s career. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in the last 50 years that a player had hit a September Home Run in the ninth inning (or later) in his first at bat for a first place team. Johnson had made an immediate impact on his new Rays teammates, even before formally meeting most of them.


But why is it that the scouts and the Rays front office do not find Johnson so alluring right now for their slumping DH spot? Johnson is a guy who has toiled and done his time in both the minor leagues and abroad to show he has the innate ability and the broad confidence to hit both for average, and for power in dramatic settings. That is the type of player who is now being sought after by the Rays through the Major League grapevine. But it is really a tragedy that we have a proven asset sitting just up the Atlantic Seaboard Coastline in North Carolina who would not cost the team another single penny or a player from their packed farm system.

The Rays are actively doing their window shopping around the Major League right now looking for the same option they have in-house and who is ready for the phone call. It seems a bit illogical to send talent or even money to bring in a high cost alternative to hit for the Rays when you already have a proven commodity right in your system. Hopefully within the next few days, the Rays brass will somehow rediscovery Johnson and his talents because I would love to see him hit the ball “out of sight“, and if the Rays forget about this great player, and let him fester in the minor leagues, then they are “out of (their) minds“.

 

 

Sometimes You “Gotta Have Hart”

 

 
Kevin Cox/ Getty Images


I was excited when I first heard that the Tampa Bay Rays were exploring a possible trade scenario of plucking Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger Corey Hart and bringing him and his big bat to the Tampa Bay area. But after a few days of thinking with both logic and emotion, the truth of the reality sets in that by opening the Rays farm system vault, or possibly sending a member of our rotation north to Milwaukee, I am having second thoughts. It is not as if I do not think it is a prudent and totally plus deal for the Rays, but I am saddled with the reminder that Hart is still in his arbitration years, and with his current monster-sized 2010 season, could be a fiscal nightmare for the Rays in 2011.


Last season during an Arbitration hearing in St. Petersburg, Florida, Hart was awarded a $ 3.5 million salary for 2010. That is comparable with his peers, but after a out of character season like 2010 is becoming, could his price escalate to above $ 4.5-5 million salary and block the Rays from maybe extending their hands to a few of their Free Agents?

Sure Hart has the baseball ability and strength to help propel the Rays a bit closer to the reality of getting back into the Playoff mix, but is he the key ingredient needed for this formula to gel? Does Hart possess that magical element missing from the Rays line-up in 2010, or be another strike against the team as they search for that last vital piece of the puzzle?


So far in 2010, the Rays have an 0-2 count against them in trying to find a viable big bat to fill their Designated Hitter slot. We have seen the “pulling of the plug” on the Pat Burrell experiment this season (Strike One ). Then we saw the Rays front office go the complete opposite direction to finally promoting our in-house cry baby, disgruntled Rays employee Hank Blalock got his shot at securing the position.

Blalock provided some brief moments of hitting clarity, but was constantly a bit out of focus with the Rays visions and intentions for the position (Strike Two). With two pretty visual strikes against the Rays front office in their ever changing quest for a power bat, could the addition of Hart provide the ultimate difference from now into October? Are the Rays searching and sprinting in the right direction for a possible payoff pitch, or could we be subject to a called third strike if we do not find a suitable upgrade before the end of the Trade Deadline?.

Around the beginning of the 81st All-Star game celebrations, I was among those within the Rays Republic singing small phrases like the musical “You got to have heart” and thinking of Hart using his Canadian twin Cory Hart’s song “Never Surrenderas his walk-up music. I was searching to get in touch with my inner- Brewer side and remember the past great trade relationships with the Brew Crew that brought us Rays reliever Grant Balfour or our own set of outfield plug-in twins Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler. On the trade surface, there seemed to be a “win-win” attitude swirling and gaining momentum towards a deal.

Could the Rays be lucky enough to go to the player well three times with the Brewers’ and still pluck a winner from the barrel? Or could we finally have pressed our good luck enough to come up with a dud, or a player who might have peaked a bit early in 2010? This has been a constant thought as I gazed over Hart’s 2010 numbers. It is great that Hart has appeared in 82 games ( all in Rightfield ) this season for the Brew Crew. And it was a great sight to see that Hart went 9-30 (.300 average) in Milwaukee’s last home stand before the All-Star break.

 
Dilip Vishnan/ Getty Images

Combine the two previous statistics of hitting goodness into the melting pot with the fact that Hart has led the Major Leagues with 18 HR and 53 RBI since May 15th, and has hit safely in 25 of his last 26 games and you get a appetizing recipe for success. Hart’s current 2010 stats just seem to leap out at you as a surefire and clear cut replacement either at Designated Hitter or in Rightfield for the rest of the season. I winch somehow among all of this positive energy and vibe regarding these statistics. Maybe I am used to seeing the premise of success hindered by the plight of reality for this Rays teams. Both of our previous choices seemed to be deemed a positive move, until they failed and were tossed like yesterday’s news.


Hart’s 2010 stats leap out at me with the brilliance of a star. The innate possibility of this being Hart’s peak MLB season glows ever so bright to me. I do not feel secure in the fact this could just be the crest of a young hitter finally finding his groove and place within the MLB. Making this apparently easy decision even harder for me was the fact he slugged out 13 HR in the First Round of the State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday night, with a few of them beautiful monster shots that the Rays crave in their line-up. But how many of those shots are left in his arsenal for 2010? And will he keep the consistency and the power at peak efficiency for the rest of the season…and beyond?

Then someone tosses more positive trade affirmations on top of Hart’s already glowing resume’ of his recent 20-game hitting streak, which was the longest in the National League this season. All of a sudden we see that not only could Hart produce a few power moments in the Rays lineup, but he also could also bring some sense of consistent hitting to the table too. Is he the ever tempting double-edged sword the Rays have been searching for? As I continued to view the RHP and LHP splits of Hart’s accomplishments this season, the Pros and Cons of trading for Hart begin to weigh down heavily upon the Pro side of the chalkboard.

More and more it seems the Rays Republic have become entangled in the possibility of Hart actually being that special ingredient missing in the Rays Playoff recipe. But something is still troubling me. It is something small and minute to most Rays folks, but seems to flares up at with a vengeance in my eyes. With his 2010 salary hovering at $ 3.5 million, and a Arbitration Hearing in his future this Winter, could Hart become a Rays fiscal nightmare, but an offensive dream?

Can the two opposite ends of the Rays spectrum unite and somehow find a plausible reality after 2010? Or are we again plagued with the possibility of trading him again this off season like a hired gun?

Right now I am firmly stuck on the ridges of the fence in regard to a Rays trade for Hart. But I also know the stark Rays reality that move like this might have to be made to upgrade the offense a tick or two with an eye on the coveted prize in sight.

Other names have also been flying by my eyes and ears recently with players like Brewers’ first baseman Prince Fielder (No), and even Washington National’s slugger Adam Dunn (maybe) listed as potential additional firepower for the Rays. But in regards to the Rays current love of Hart’s 2010 numbers, I am firmly sitting on the fence, but have a chance to be swayed to either side.


I can agree right now, Hart is a prime candidate that could help the team. But I am not totally sold yet. Maybe it is something unseen right now to my unbelieving eyes that will transform my doubt into a massive affection for his power and consistent hitting to provide the difference, and damn the negatives. Maybe I am thinking too much with my logical head and transferring the negatives into huge roadblocks instead of viewing each side of the equation equally.

My whimsical nature has been tossed into a safe place in this situation. Can’t think totally emotional right now, or this would be a done deal. Maybe my first impression was right. Maybe it is time to think with both sides of my brain in this situation and one side of the argument would send me falling from the fence. Maybe it is truly time for me to “Gotta have Hart“.

 

First Annual Rays Senior Prom for Senior Citizens

 

It was originally a tonue-in-cheek remark made by Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria in a recent Pepsi Refresh commercial. No one probably thought it had a chance to become reality, or that fiction would turn into reality for the Rays to have a Senior Prom for Senior Citizens, but on August 18th at 1 pm, the reality will sink in fast as the participants of the first annual Senior Prom for Senior Citizens all gather to honor Longoria’s suggestion, and also relive a few moments from our past.

I opened an email today from the Rays requesting my company at the first annual Senior Prom for Senior Citizens event, and I got to say, I am excited about it. Not only does the team have a great ticket package going on right now with a select seat inthe Press Box section of Tropicana Field, but it is also the same price as my original Senior Prom. The usually $ 35 seat will be available that day for a reduced price of $ 19, and if you are one of the first 1,000 to select this seating option…..More surprises are in store for you.

The Rays Senior Prom planning committee will also offer Free Rays boutonires and corsages, plus an opportunity for a Prom keepsake photo for the first 1,000 participants, plus if you take in the festivities with a group, you can get an opportunity to select a Prom King and Queen who will then be presented pre-game in a ceremony to the Rays fans in attendance for this afternoon game at Tropicana Field.

 

And this Senior Prom is coming at a great moment for me personally. I just hit a milestone birthday and this blast to my past will be a welcoming event that will make me accept the numerical change with a bit more grace and glamour by wearing a slick tuxedo for the first time in years. So I am planning on getting that old crushed velvet blue tuxedo out soon and checking to see if the multi-colored bowtie and cummerbund still fit at all and then purchase my tickets for this outstanding event.

To make the moment a bit more surreal, the Rays will have Frank Sinatra and Elvis impersonators singing and bringing back loads of Senior Prom memories as we all enjoy a few dances, romances and maybe even a few chuckles about our original Senior Proms. I simply love this idea, but then I am usually a big social animal who lives for these moments. So get your tickets now and join me and the rest of the Rays innuagural Senior Prom dance participants. Who knows, maybe I can somehow spike this punch like I did at my Senior Prom in 1979?

Trade Winds are a-blowin’..Strong and Swift

 
This is the time of the year where the rumbling and thunderous sounds always seem to grow louder and louder by the moment, and then burst in a show of intensity and confusion like a sudden swirling dervish. The impending sounds from every conceivable direction can deafen you and bring a heightened state of anxiety and frustration upon you within a matter of seconds. But usually, if you wait 20 minutes, the Florida trade winds will subdue, and all will somehow return to normal as if nothing has ever happened. But that is the nature of this time of year all throughout the Major League Baseball landscape.

It might sounds as if I am discussing the volatile Florida weather patterns that envelope this region during this time of year, but I am not. It might seem like I am talking about the swirling winds, high seas and rough patches of rain and possible hail that could fall from the Florida sky at any moment past 5 pm like a habit formed at birth…But I am not.

The tropical disturbance I am talking about right now is a simple trade winds phenomenon that plagues not only Florida teams, but the other 28 Major League teams at this juncture in the season. I misspelled the word “trade winds” for a reason. Because at this juncture in the MLB season, trades are the reason for the volatile season.


Talking about Trade Deadline season, when the storms of comments and swirls of team advice hit dangerous levels that could easily strip the paint off your car, and the acid comment responses from vicious crosswinds or fans to ill-advised moves can cripple a possible Playoff venture. Even if this season traditionally heats up during the days following the All-Star game.

During this short period of time every year , the furious winds of possible trade movement speculations increase at an alarming rate, almost to the point of catastrophic. Along with the increased swirls of predictions come the ever increasing vocal revelations from the pocket baseball prophets who have begun to assemble their yearly collective congregations.


Beginning today you will see daily flimsy reports and potential trade advisory warning that will be either acknowledged, or discarded as yesterday’s new. But the true essence of the period is change. And hopefully change for the better for all 30 teams in increasing their offensive firepower, or sustaining a pitching dominance that might propel them up the standings. This is the type of season for dreamers and soothsayers to make their mark. To make a name for themselves, or simply perish beneath the enveloping storm surge. 

It is the time of year that can make you a household name, or another professor of lies and deceit. The Trade Deadline season can be as callous as a construction worker’s hands producing endless leads and sources that end with dead ends and unsubstantiated circles of information.


This is the time of the spin doctor. The person within the industry who can spin any tale in any direction and make you believe it. And do not think for a moment that every MLB team doesn’t have a viable candidate in their front office who’s job it is to turn the focus towards another direction to deflect the truth into a bundle of inner circling confusion until it is time to reveal the true intentions, or the final components of the trade.

This time of year is not made for the rain slicker, but contrived perfectly for the BS artist that can see the mannerisms and the words and dissect them with skill to find that inner lining of possible truth and direction. Just as the players and coaches need to memorize hand signals and body motions or positioning to suggest a certain play or action happen during an at bat, this time of year also has it’s tell tale signs of movement and a team earnest intentions.


Reading between the lines becomes a necessity right now, and a trade secret. Until the end of the month we shall see a mountain of useless information packaged as a team viewpoint or trade direction, but that same pamphlet could also contain a few tasty morsels as to their true intentions and possible future movements. Visual body language can not be interpreted online with clarity, so the written word is a minefield of booby traps and hidden minefields to assert misinformation on a grand scale.

I attribute this time of year fully to a wily gambler who studies his game, looks for a recognizable pattern, then bounces into the fray with knowledge and not innuendo. The next few weeks are going to be a tropical depression of mammoth proportions.


Half of what we see and hear before the conclusion of a deal is rambling muses of misdirection and depth charges to change our pattern of finding the true directions. My advice is to bundle up, take every comment and snippet of information with a grain of salt, and trust only what you know. With spin doctors employed, spies and counter intelligence in use, and intentions disguised by constant double talk, the truth will come out in the end.

But usually it will be projected by the person at the podium who has done his job within the secret society of G M’s and MLB team leaders. It is the collective calm after the storm, and the rebuilding moment to regroup and reflect on that days actions. Thunderous sounds then again boom and emulate from the Web and the stadiums.

Either with joy or remorse over a collective move. But the storm warning will not cease until August 1st. For it is Trade Deadline season, one of the most dangerous times of the year to be wrong.
 

I Will Miss “The Boss”, My Baseball Friend

 


 

I was sadden today when I heard of the passing of a true modern gladiator. A man who befriended me years ago, who always greeted me with a handshake and a smile. A great business tycoon who always had the heart of a true baseball fan. In life we sometimes meet people who leave a lasting mark on us inside forever just by their warmth and love for the game of baseball. I can honestly say that George Steinbrenner is the only Yankee fan I admire and respect for his devotion and strides to change the face of baseball for the betterment of the fans and the league as a whole.


Steinbrenner sometimes got a raw deal because of his deep and passionate drive towards his love of the game. His devotion and commitment to the game of baseball is as legendary as his strife within his own Yankee organization. I could easily see him being the man to quote, “You got to break a few eggs to make a perfect omelete”. But even through that period of strife, there was a respect and admiration for a man who could spin a simple blue pinstripe into Mida’s gold.

I can not imagine or fathom what the New York Yankees might have evolved into if Steinbrenner had not taken the team’s reigns and lead them through their rough years. But even with numerous stories of turmoil and bitter fighting, the team became a stronger unit, a beacon in the baseball marketplace, and ultimately, an International baseball icon. All of this was done under a shipbuilder’s watch, and we as a baseball nation are glad to have known him….even if it was from a distance.

I first met Steinbrenner outside the Sheraton Hotel on Kennedy Blvd before the 2001 Super Bowl held in Tampa, Florida. Steinbrenner had come down to see the owner of the New York Giants as the team assembled in the hotel foyer before heading off to Raymond James Stadium to take on the Baltimore Ravens. I was standing outside near the valet area when Steinbrenner walked out and commented on my Tampa Bay Rays hat.

I quickly acknowledged his comment and told him to please be nice to our ex-Rays guy Dwight Gooden, who had been working for the Yankees organization after a rough patch in his personal life. Steinbrenner looked at me and smiled and liked my sense of compassion for Gooden and asked if I was going to the Super Bowl. I commented that I did not have the funds to adequately acquire any tickets and Steinbrenner waved to his bodyguard/driver to come to us.

We talked for a few more minutes about baseball and the Yankees legacy, Steinbrenner asked me for my name and local address. He then excused himself for a few minutes and his bodyguard/driver got my information and talked to me for a few minutes himself. I remarked how great it must be to work for such a symbol of commerce and business integrity. The bodyguard looked at me and told me ” Steinbrenner is stern, firm but totally loyal to his employees if they showed the same qualities and respect to him”.

We both stood there a few minutes, then Steinbrenner came back with a envelope and handed it to me. He told me to have a great day and that he would be sending me something special soon. I was in awe at the moment and as he got into his car, I could only babble and say thank you a million times. But I had still not opened the envelope and he noticed that. Steinbrenner asked me why I had not opened the envelope yet.

Steinbrenner told me “true fans sometimes need to be rewarded”.

As he rolled up his window. I clutched the envelope and walked out of the Sheraton foyer then walked across the street to a small shopping center where my car was located and noticed that Steinbrenner had pulled into the gas station. I went up and asked his driver if I might be able to ask Mr. Steinbrenner for a photo. He chuckled and told me “it might make his day”. I approached the car window and got more nervous as it rolled down.

I somehow mustered the courage to ask one of the most important men in baseball to take a photo with me. Steinbrenner was more than happy to take a photo with me and asked if I had opened the envelope yet. I told him I had not opened it yet, but was saving the moment until I got back to my car in case I was going to jump and scream like a schoolgirl. He laughed at that moment and the end of that laugh is captured on the photo of the two of us on that corner of Westshore and Kennedy, just a few miles from his old Tampa home.

It is still one of my most cherished photos, and one I enjoy displaying on my collectibles shelf. I was a bundle of nerves after that photo and decided to head to a nearby sub shop and have lunch.

After I ordered my food, I sat down at a small white table with my beverage and stared at the envelope wondering what might be inside. I quickly tore the top off the envelope. Inside that envelope was a note from Steinbrenner asking me to contact him during Spring Training at the Yankees complex in Tampa.

Tucked inside that note was also two tickets to the game and I suddenly gasped and someone in the shop asked if I was okay. I told them the greatest guy in the world had just given me two tickets to the Super Bowl and all I gave him was a few moments of my time.


I met Steinbrenner several times after that day while performing my duties as the Tampa Bay Rays Pepsi representative. He had a great suite on the 200 level at Tropicana Field, and when I saw he was in attendance, I used to go up and give a cordial welcome and shake his hand. I have a lot of respect for George Steinbrenner both as a man, and as an icon of stability in baseball. It saddens me that he will not be able to take in the splendor and the pageantry tonight as the 81st All-Star game commences tonight. I can just imagine the level of pride and honor that envelopes him during such events. 

Steinbrenner loved this game with  the same overflowing passion and honest commitment that millions of us attest to every day. The Yankees would not be as strong or as mighty without this man’s demeanor and devotion to achieving excellence. Steinbrenner was known by millions around the World as “The Boss”, but for that one moment in 2001 in Tampa, Florida, I considered him my true baseball friend.

The Metamorphosis of the David Price Bobblehead

 

During the last two Tampa Bay Rays home stands, I have been amazed and laughing daily at some of the stages of image metamorphosis that has transpired to Rays leftie starter David Price’s cartoon image. I decided on this first day of the 2010 All-Star break to go back in time a bit and try and pull out the photos and images of the changing Price bobblehead over the past few weeks and try to construct a time line of the changes that has made this one section of Tropicana Field a “must see” before every Rays game.


I am seated not more than 35 feet from the figurine’s pristine image , so I have gotten a pretty straight shot at most of the creative handy work done on the image. But it has become a great game day adventure to try and foresee the imagination and the creative talents of Rays long reliever Andy Sonnanstine as he daily morphed the Price bobblehead promotion sticker every game.

It has been one of the true pleasures of the last two home stands to nightly come in and see what has transpired along the Rightfield wall in Section 140. I hope you enjoy the walk back into the mind of Sonnanstine, and the transforming of Price from a simple wall image, to an “All Star”. It all started with a simple gap-toothed smile upon the Price bobblehead on June 22nd, but it was only the tip of the artistic iceberg that would evolve over the next few weeks. 
 
 

The first image of the gap-toothed smile was very subtle compared with the rest of the image arsenal Sonnanstine would devise over the next few weeks. Who would have guessed that Sonnanstine had this hidden talent,but we had seen glimmers of it before with the 2009 Dale Thayer mustache move during an InterLeague game against the Florida Marlins.

On June 23rd, the Price bobblehead got his first “mature” addition as Sonnanstine gave him his first full mustache, complete with an “Errol Flynn” flair. It was the first “facial hair” modification, but it certainly would not be the last time we saw an extra bit of facial growth upon the usually clean shaven Price bobblehead. This first image of facial hair got me thinking of the “Frito Bandito” cartoon commercial image I grew up with as a child

 

Then during the Rays afternoon game on June 24th against the San Diego Padres, Sonnanstine decided that Price needed a set of eye black under each eye to help the image reflect the glare away with a fly ball coming into the Rightfield corner. On this day,the eye black was not imprinted with a inspirational or symbolic gesture, but we knew the mind of Sonnanstine was not done yet.

 

During the Friday night game on June 25th, Sonnanstine gave us all a small deviation from the plan, but a great image as Price got to have a nasal strip attached to the bridge of his image’s nose to hopefully get him a bit more air while staying plastered on the RF wall. The white tape of the strip projected great off the image and could be seen quite well all the way over in the Visitor’s dugout area.

 

 

On June 26th, Sonnanstine let Price pay homage to his hometown a bit as he again applied a bit of eyeblack to the Price image during a Fox Saturday afternoon game against the Arizona Diamondbacks complete with a nice “615″ area code imprinted inwhite on each piece of eyeblack. I thought it was great of Sonnantine to include this imagery today considering some of Price’s friends and relatives would be enjopying the game that day on a regional feed from Fox.

 

 

 

The on Sunday June27th during the last day of that first Rays home stand with the Price image in Rightfield, Sonnanstine decided to give him a little “intensity” and popped on a nice little Matt Garza chin hair onto the Price image on the same day Rays kid’s were getting their Evan Longoria bobblehead. In some ways, these daily facial hair changes might give Price an idea how he might look if he every let any facial hair dominant his face.

 

So with the Rays on a road trip, the Price bobblehead was moved to the left side of the Rightfield wall access point and when the team arrived back home on July 5th, he was joined by a Matt Garza future promotional bobblehead smiling away to his right. But it was not the end of the metamorphosis of the Price image. Far from over.

 

When the Rays came home on July 5th to play a critical three game series against the Boston Red Sox, Sonnanstine got the day off right with deciding to attach a set of glasses to the Price bobblehead that evening. It definitely make the tension go down a bit in the stands as we all enjoyed Price’s new accessory. The video on the top of the blog is also a daily video transcript of the transformation of the Price bobblehead image on this day.

For some reason, I did not have a video card in my camera on July 6th, but I hope I can give an adequate description of that day’s Price addition.  Today the Price image got a set
of whited-out eyes. Not sure of the intent or the reasoning, but it was a bit wild and crazy of Sonnantine to completely white-out Price’s eyes on this day’s image change.

But I did remember my camera video card on July 7th, and it was the beginning of a small transitional period of daily facial hair changes again for the Price bobblehead. It all started with a pretty well trimmed mustache and starter-kit goatee. Actually seemed to fit Price’s face, and who knows, maybe this might be a future Price addition to his baseball persona.

 

If the rest of this week’s transformation, Sonnanstine went a bit more subtle in his next addition (July 8th) only adding some extended sideburns that came down into the Price bobblehead’s current beard and goatee and filled in a bit more at the chin region with some facial additives. Little did we know that the whole thing was going to be a time elaspe image of Price in full 1970′s glory. On the July 8th image, the beard got a bit fuller and the sideburns more visual. It was becoming apparent that Price’s bobblehead was getting his groove on now.

But Sonnanstine had also gotten wiser to my daily photos and images of him tinkering and adding to his Price artistic display. He began to make his daily changes before the Rays fans were granted entry into the seating bowl, and this was the last time I would catch him doing his daily “magic” upon the Price bobblehead image.
 
On July 9th, Price’s transition went straight into full beard mode, and we definitely got a chance to see what the leftie might look like with a full face full of facial hair. It was kind of funny how the image had materialized from a simple series of facial hair, to a full blown beard and sideburns now. What you could not see without a telephoto lens was the nice set of gold earring Sonnanstine gave Price on that Friday night’s image. I got this close up shot as I was waiting for the stage to be set up for the Vanilla Ice Concert.


 

 

But on Saturday night (July 10th), we got the biggest surprise of the week as Price had grown overnight a glowing 1970′s afro that would have made member of that decade’s Pittsburgh Pirates green with envy. It was the biggest change yet in the Price image, and we still had one more day to go before Price’s bobblehead would be presented again to Rays fans 14 and under. With this burst of new hair upon the Price image, it seemed as if there was no where else to go with the facial elements of the image.

 

 

And just as it seems we had hit the top of the facial food chain with Sonnanstine’s renditions on the Price bobblehead, it was gone. On Sunday July 11th, the Price image was again adorned with eye black for the afternoon contest, but his time Sonnanstine play homage to his Rays teammate by simply adding the words “All Star” to the eye black pieces. And with Price going to the mound on Tuesday night as the American League starting pitcher, I was a loud and proud send-off for Price to the 81st All-Star game in Anaheim,California.

 

 

 

Hope you enjoyed the photos of the metamorphosis of David Price’s bobblehead over the past two Rays home stands. Sonnanstine was the winning pitcher on the Rays Sunday conclusion before the All-Star break. During his on-the-field interview Sonnanstine was asked if he was going to do the same with the Garza bobblehead image as he has done with Price’s following the Rays return to Tropicana Field after the road trip.

Sonnanstine remarked that he would have to think about it and see how many days we have in the next home stands before the Garza bobblehead was presented to the fans. Got to tell you Sonny, you will have 14 Rays home games before that August 15th date that Garza’s bobblehead will reach the Rays fans hands. Maybe we might have 14 days of Garza metamorphosis too. If that happens, I will be more than glad to let all of you see the changes.   


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