August 2010

Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em

 


 

 During their 13 year existence, the Tampa Bay Rays have always had trouble with their foes in the American League West. Coming into this recent three game series against the Texas Rangers, the Rays have gone a combined 187-277 against this division. The Rays do have a few bright spots in 2010 so far as they swept the Seattle Mariners this season, plus won in Anaheim for the first time since 2008. It is paramount right now that the Rays rise up and throw down their own gauntlet towards this division that has always been a thorn in their side. And it all began again in an upcoming ten game AL West swing beginning with a trip into Tropicana Field by the Texas Rangers.


The Rangers come into Tropicana Field as the American League West division leader, and a threat to the Rays surge to again hold onto first place in the American League East. The Rangers came in with the simple thought that if they could beat the Rays in their own house, they could effectively put some seeds of doubt in the Rays minds before their West Coast road trip. The Rangers wanted to play their own special brand of Texas Seven Card Stud with the Rays hoping that Texas could out hustle the Rays with a few well placed losses that would eventually bring these two squads back together in the American League Divisional Series in October, with the Rangers holding the momentum card.

With the Rangers beating the Rays in two of their three games under the June heat in Texas, the team came into Tropicana Field wanting to show the Rays that Texas had the might and the winning hand to take this critical late season series. As the first cards were dealt on the night of the first contest, with both Texas and Tampa Bay going with their left-handed “Aces”. The Rangers sent to the mound the cunning Cliff Lee, while the Rays sent cool-handed David Price and it was soon evident that this game would be an instant classic.

 

It was a match-up of two of the better left-handed pitchers in baseball going at it with each and every pitch. And the game was a classic pitcher’s duel until Lee flinched first in the bottom of the fifth inning to give up two Rays runs. Both teams fought back and forth before Lee showed his final hand and the Rays put 6 earned runs on the Texas southpaw who had lost this third straight game against the Rays this year. In the end, the Rays had converted the better hand with their Ace (Price) giving them the top card to take this first of three games.


And in the second game, The Rays put up a second “Ace”, Matt Garza on the mound to oppose the 9-1 record of Texas starter Tommy Hunter, but the Rangers were easily out hustled in this contest. The game quickly t
urned into the Rays favor in the bottom of the first inning as the Rays spotted three quick runs on the board off Hunter and never looked back in this game. The Rays “Kings” Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford went a combined 6-9 with 6 RBI and the Rays went 6-15 with runners in scoring position in taking the second game of the series. The final score of 10-1 showed that the Rays had the winning cards on that night with their ace in the hole, Garza going 7 inning with 10 strikeouts and surrendering only 5 hits.

But it was in the third game, which was played as a matinee game where both squads brought this game to another level and fought tooth and nail to the final out. The Rays sent their third “Ace” in a row to the mound in this contest James “Big Game” Shields who finally got some of his control back and gave up only 4 hits in his seven innings of work. Even though Shields did not shut out the Rangers, he did have one of his best performances of the season’s second half tonight to give the Rays the much needed series sweep. But Shields also got some tremendous run support from the Rays as they posted 8 runs in this final game. And that is huge as the Rays were averaging 3.13 runs per game for Shields in 2010.

 

The Rays ended up playing some amazing offensive cards against the Rangers in this three game series. And within the grasp of this series a few things did end up happening. The Rays are again in a tie for the American League East crown with the New York Yankees, and the Rays have also seen Longoria and Crawford emerge from their recent struggles. By out hustling the Rangers with their own cards, the Rays showed that they might be dealing the best cards of the season right now. Combined with the Longoria and Crawford offensive explosion, B J Upton is also riding high on a 9-game hitting streak to help the surging Rays.


The Rays next two series against Oakland (4 games) and Anaheim (3 games) could be just as critical as these first three games against the Rangers. The Rays have played twenty games against the A L West division during the 2010 season, going a unprecedented 14-6, but have gone a combined 3-3 in journey’s to Anaheim and Oakland, which also included a May 6th Perfect Game by A’s starter Dallas Braden. For once in the past few season, the Rays have a bit of an edge on this division, but again the team will have to play their cards close to their vest. They will begin on Thursday night by sending Rays “Jack of all trades” Andy Sonnanstine, who has performed great in relief starts to the mound.

For the Rays to finish off this 10 game A L West stretch in a positive light, the cards have to play right for the Rays. So far with a 3-0 start to this stretch, things are looking extremely positive to begin this road trip. But a losing record on this road trip might damage the Rays cred to both stay atop the A L East race, and have one of the top records in baseball. This road trip could also illustrates or expose a few kinks in the Rays armor heading into other crucial battle with their A L East rivals. Every game can hold a vital part to the Rays quest to again go into the Playoffs, or secure another A L East crown. Hopefully the Rays “Kings” and “Aces” are ready to again throw down the superior cards…or the Rays could fold.
 
 

My Favorite Costner Baseball Flick

 

With so many  of us within the MLB blogging Universe, we all have our own favorite baseball movies. They can be the old balck and white classics like “Pride of the Yankees“, or “Fear Strikes Out“, or maybe a new bree of movie like the 2010 release “Perfect Game“.

No matter what the title or the premise of the movie, it is the elements within that movie that make it special to us. It can be the way the characters fight through adversity, toil through heartache and misery, or just the joy of wathcing a team achieve their highest expecations. Baseball movies get us back in a groove, a pattern and make us enjoy the game even more the next time we view our favorite National pasttime. 

My personal all-time favorite movie that I tend to watch institutionally before Spring Training, and even during the Major League Baseball season is a movie that everyone knows, but might not put on the top of their own prospective lists. I put the German version of the DVD cover on the top of the blog to show you that this movie has made its move to International status, and is not just a America only baseball classic.

 I have seen this movie only about 6 times this season (even on cable twice) and the movie never seems to become dull to me. Maybe it is the fact that in each viewing, I sometimes try and  search for something new I have not seen in other viewings.Maybe within the background, or in the way the game is played. Beyond all of that,
For the Love of the Game  is by and far my favorite ” go-to ” movie when it comes to baseball and had always renewed and brought me back to why I love the game.



I actually see “For the Love of the Game” as two types of movies combined into one: A Baseball movie with a perfect romance angle to make both men and women enjoy the film. The sporting sequences are easily worth the price of admission. Little known fact here, Kevin Costner actually threw every pitch you see in the movie. He did not use a “stunt” pitcher ro any type of double in the making of the film. Every pitch came from his own shoulder and there is nor CGI magic or photographic magic to render his image over another pitcher’s body.

That is one of the elements of the film that truly spells out the love that Costner has deep within himself for the game of baseball. I know you might think that this is a fantasy role for him, and it is, but it is also the type of role that he is born to play. He is that type of guy you can believe in this role. Not like some other sports movies, in this film you can visualize he is the character, and not just someone propped up on the mound for publicity shots. But then he is also the kind of guy you would root for if he actually had a chance at a perfect game.

As for that second part of the movie’s drawing point, the romance. I can also see him with a woman as complex and beautiful as Jane (Kelly Preston) in real life. I got a chance to meet his wife (by accident) at the Rays Rally in November 2007. Costner definitely has great taste in women, I can assure you of that 100 percent.  What most people do not know about professional athletes is that they do have women and people thrown at them all the time. Some are there for the right reasons, to be your friend and want the best for you, but there are also the negative fans and people who seem to attach themselves to you who want other things.



But most that walk up and introduce themselves to a MLB player are people who love the way you play the game, but women tend to love the way you fill out your uniform just as much sometimes. I remember when I was playing ball one time in Cincinnati this pretty little thing came up to me asking for an autograph, but the paper already had her phone number on it and I asked where she wanted me to sign since she did not want me to ruin this piece of paper. Well, let’s just say she did not have the autograph showing when I left the stadium parking lot. For the record, I tossed the phone number a few minutes later into a trash can. She was a beautiful woman, but the vibe I got from here spelled out T-R-O-U-B-L-E. 

That is a main reason why the romantic scenes make sense to me in the movie. I know of a few ball players on the Rays that sit in the Bullpen area and check out the stands every game. A few phone numbers have trickled down to the bench, even if they are not wanted by the players. That is a part of life playing a professional sport. Romance is on your own time, and sometimes you have to juggle a lot to even get a simple kiss. But there are always those who will try to push temptation to its threshold and you have to establish clear and defined lines with anyone you keep in your circle.

 

Being a bit of a Rays Renaissance man myself, I can dig a good romance movie especially if there is a sports angle to it. While this movie isn’t perfect, it’s a great “compromise video choice” for couples to watch anytime, and anywhere. As tough as it seems to achieve a balance between the game sequences and the lovey-dovey stuff, director Sam Raimi acquits himself a lot better than most directors would have in pulling off a little for both sides of the couch in the film.

Aging pitcher Billy Chapel ( Costner ) is having one perfectly rotten day. He finds out that the only team he has ever played for, his beloved Detroit Tigers are being sold and that he’ll consequently be traded to the San Francisco Giants at the end of that season. If that doesn’t seem to derail your mental confusion for one day, Chapel then learns that his New York girlfriend Jane is moving to England to pursue her editorial dream job. (The nerve. ) But the third strike in all of this is that Chapel is scheduled to pitch his final start of another losing season for the Tigers during that same day against his arch nemesis, the New York Yankees, and he’s basically in a sour and frazzled state of mind.

Through the course of Billy’s game day preparations and the unfolding of the game itself, the movie flashes back and forth to earlier points in his baseball career. While most of these deal with his romance with Jane, some are memories of close team friendships and some of the unhappy decisions that come with the game. Granted, the constant ‘back-and-forth’ gimmick may grow a bit tiresome, but by that point you’ll either hate the movie or be completely caught up in it.

I actually took these momentary laspes back into Chapel’s  off the field persona as reflective moments that we all have at various points in our day. A simple 30 second day dream can sometimes take you out of the dumps or even elevate your mood and confidence before going into the boss’s office.

The moments in this picture that bring a truer focus of Chapel’s personal demons and regrets  are poised around these numerous flashbacks. You get a better sense of Chapel’s life because of the sequences where you can see his past  career highlights ( Tigers World Series appearance with his parents in attendence), his regrets and his workshop accident in the off season at his winter lodge that alienated Chapel and Jane.


 
I fall personally into the latter category, I enjoy that kind of playful reflection into a character and I actually find the movie a better picture because it is played out like elements of the game as Chapel pitches in the contest. Given some of  Costner’s recent films, there’s no real reason to expect this movie to be any good. But it actually is quite an entertaining movie, thanks mainly to the direction of Sam Raimi ( The Evil Dead series, A Simple Plan ).

I still think that the film crew did an outstanding job making old Tiger Stadium look like Yankees Stadium for the production. And even though they had to do multiple shots of the crowds moving around the stadium and then CGI-ing them into position all over the ballpark, it is a great job of creating the New York vibe in the film. One great hostoric note in this film is that it wll be the last time you will ever see the glorious,cavernous Tigers Stadium on film,and that is another tasty treat to baseball history buffs.

Costner does play Billy as a bit melancholy and with numerous regretful moments, which is the very types of personality elements that cause him so much trouble in his love life in this film. Unfortunately Costner never seems to fully loosen up at all. He’s always stoic and mellow  wqith a wall of steel up to outsiders. He offers up the typical “Don’t get too close to me or I’ll end up hurting you” role with his usual professionalism, but he would seem more real if he just smiled maybe twice.

Kevin Costner sometimes seems to suffer from the classic “Movie Star Syndrome”. When he plays a real character, like in “Tin Cup“, he shines like the Sun. While she’s no Oscar threat here herself, Kelly Preston easily holds her own as Jane, although her character is a bit underwritten for the female lead a romantic film. I know a few ofthe Rays wive’s, and they are strong women who can hold their own in almost any situation. But Jane has a sense of vulnerability that make you want to see her get Chapel in the end.  



What matters most in a baseball movie like this is whether or not you care if these characters have a happy ending or not. There are several things that can ruin this for you: poor performances, a cliched and lazy script, or just an air of what I can only call ‘fakeness’. Just watch films like “Fools Rush In” or Costner’s own “Message in a Bottle” for examples of this type of romantic ‘fakeness’. “For Love of the Game avoids these romantic maladies ( for the most part ). If Costner and Preston don’t always click as a couple, that’s OK because she’s really beautiful ( I sometime hate John Travolta for getting to her first ) and is one of the best bankable female romantic leads we have today. 

If the baseball sequences seem a tad forced or convenient, that’s OK because it’s a damn well-made baseball movie. The scenes are pretty fresh. My favorite is still the one where a Tiger’s rookie is playing in the outfield in Fenway Park, and a ball ends up bouncing off his head like it did for Jose Canseco, and the Boston crowd just laugh as he looks up at them. Now I know for a fact that if that happened, it would have to be in rightfield at Fenway, and they would more than just laugh at or with the guy the rest of the series.

Maybe you just need to be a baseball guy like me who likes winning and happy endings, and  truly loves baseball as much as breathing. But let’s put it this way: Male OR female, if you pick up the box at the video store, and it already looks pretty good to you, you’ll like it.

 

While “For the Love of the Game” might not compare favorable in most people’s eyes within the same breath as some of Costner’s other impressive baseball works like “Bull Durham or “Field of Dreams”, the true test to if you might love this movie is the simple fact that you want to or can believe that Chapel can evolve during this movie. I actually see  a transformation within the films itself of Chapel morphing from the top flight ballplayer to finally seeing his life without the game with Jane.

And in that last scene you see that he truly can let the game go without remorse or regret, you see the relevation on his face. And as an athlete, that magical moment is a huge thing. In regards to baseball movies, neither one of the above films can claim to have as romantic a heartfelt center and soul as “For the Love of the Game” . Since the Rays play late today I am heading to the store right now for popcorn, peanuts and some Dr. Pepper. Maybe a evening showing of the film before the Rays take the field is in the cards for this evening. Yes, definitely in the cards, but mostly because I love the game.

Could a Rotation 5.5 Scenario Work for the Rays?

 
 
We all know that Tampa Bay Rays prospect Jeremy Hellickson’s name has been on the lips and minds of most MLB Fantasy baseball owners right now. I can admit he is on three of my teams, but what happens now? Most of us who roam the highways and byways of the Rays Republic know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been more than adamant about wanting to pamper Hellickson’s first journey up in the big leagues and Hellickson will be headed to the Rays Bullpen after his next start (Friday in Oakland ).

His next start will also correspond within a few days of the possible timeline for Rays pitchers Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to come back from their recent shoulder stiffness vacation. With the Rays usual starting five then back into the swing of things, Hellickson will be free to free lance or get some spot duty here and there for the Rays. Maybe we can devise a roation 5.5 scenario and effectively use this hot young arm to the Rays rotation’s advantage through the final 46 games? 

Most people have the assumption that Hellickson will do mostly relief duty through the rest of the Rays 2010 season, pretty much exactly what David Price provided for the Rays in 2008. But I have another idea. I have something that just might be a perfect 5.5 scenario of attack the Rays could employ during the rest of the season.


Why not just let Hellickson take at least one spot start from the top three Rays starters during the rest of the 2010 season, plus one of the four games against the New York Yankees in September in New York to give the Rays starting five a short breather. It would give the Rays pitcher with the hottest arm right now a chance to gain momentum, confidence and also provide a alternative in-house to stave off any dead arm syndrome or possible long term injury.
 
With at least a pair of the Rays starters  currently showing a bit of late inning strain on their tired arms, it would be a possible 6-8 innings of work saved on their arms going into the stretch run of the season…and beyond. W
ithin the next few starts, if it seems that Price will not be able to hit that heralded 20-win mark, it would be a great time to even set down the mighty leftie for a game to also save his arm for the Playoff run.

 

This is not a 6-man rotation idea, but something I like to call rotation 5.5, where Hellickson can use his hot arm, plus give some added relief to the guys who have been grinding it out every five days all year long. Of course, this would depend on the match-ups provided by the opposition, but right now the finesse pitching of Hellickson could adapt well opposite almost any pitcher in the Major Leagues.


It’s just a thought. A rambling of my brain cells that tells me this could work in a perfect crescendo of pitching performances for the Rays. Hellickson has been groomed as a starter, and a small segment of his time can be used for relief, but you really have to be cautious when you fool with a pitcher’s mindset going from a starter’s mentality to the every day grind of a reliever not knowing if he is playing, or watching that game. You only have to look to the Yankees and what has been done with Joba Chamberlain to see how quickly you can confuse and ruin a great pitcher.

if you can get Hellickson a few extra starts before his formal “coming out” party in Spring 2011,then it can only help the young Iowa native. With 46 games left to play, and 28 of those against teams playing .500 or better, it might be time to use the Durham secret weapon to its fullest. Sure there will be boasted bravado from any of the five Rays usual starters that they do not need a tag team pitching match-ups down the stretch, but the Rays have been playing a gambler’s hand for a long time with no huge setbacks and injuries on their starting pitching front.

 

Do you want to really tease with disaster when the prize is gleaming right in front of your eyes?  Hellickson could be a huge and key ingredient to how far the Rays go in the 2010 post season. Just like Price, he has the goods and the talent to help fortify the Rays in either the Bullpen or the rotation down the stretch. Even though Hellickson is now the first Rays pitcher to EVER go 3-0 in his first three starts, it is the poise and finesse he has shown both on and off the mound that make him a multi-functional weapon for the Rays.

No matter which way the team decides to use Hellickson over those next 46 games, you can expect Hellickson to want the ball, hit the mound throwing, and providing a chance for his team to succeed… a great mirror image of Price’s same role in 2008.
 

Train Took us on a Musical Journey

 

 

I can tell you from doing years of Special Event planning for Pepsi that I have been in front and in back of some great stages for concerts. But last night’s Train show, which was part of the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series had the feel of an outdoor concert, fresh with anticipation and a want by the crowd to sing along. And Train fits that bill of the smaller concert bands in that they love to use the audience as a essential part of their shows. From musical sing-a-longs, to bring in up some kids to become official “Trainettes” the show had a special magic to it.


 

 

And Train lead singer Pat Monahan showed before the Rays game that he is not a one-trick pony putting a perfect pitch across the plate showing not just a vocal talent, but maybe a spot relievers role. Okay, maybe it was not faster than former Rays reliever Casey Fossum’s loopy pitch, but it was great to see a pitch break over the plate. But that was not the extent of Monahan’s physical show to the assembled fans within Tropicana Field that night.


 

 

 

After changing from his Carolina Blue T-shirt to a pure white T-shirt, Monahan not only shocked the Rays security force with his next move, he shocked the entire audience on the Rays field for the concert by popping down off the stand and doing an impromptu walkabout around the Trop with plenty of fans in tow with him. Monahan wanted all of us to “marry” that night, and the song ” Marry Me” definitely became a special moment for the throng of fans who embraced the action of Monahan that reminded me of former Rays concert performer M C Hammer when he did his epic sprint around Tropicana Field in 2008.


 

 
 

There is something about Train’s simplicity not in their lyrics but in the performers of the band that strikes a great chord within my musical memory that all three from Monahan to drummer Scott Underwood, and guitarist Jimmy Stafford remind you more of that group you saw in a tavern somewhere in your youth than a multi-album recording group that has even had their hits posted on the Country music channel CMT. And that is a major coup for a rock band to be able to cross that invisible line and be accepted by the Country public. But if have heard their songs “Meet Virginia” or even “Let It Roll“, which could be a Country song in a heartbeat.


 

 

 

The group threw their hearts and soul into last night’s performances and definitely made a few of the crowd believers in the group that also brought us “Save Me, San Francisco” and “This Ain’t Goodbye” with a great clarity in their live set that was missing from the CD versions. But the crowd was eager and more than willing to also provide back-up vocals throughout the night anytime Monahan needed a few seconds of relief. And that not often, as Monahan is one of those high powered energetic front men who feed off the crowd’s energy. And the Trop definitely was feeling his voice and their music Saturday night.


 

 

But it wasn’t until they started to do some of their other well known tunes like “If It’s Love“, “Calling All Angels” and “I Got You” that the energy level within the audience that could only be quelled with a song like “Hey Soul Sister“, which started out totally acoustic with the crowd providing some of the lyrics before Stafford joined Monahan, the former Led Zepplin cover band front man to bringing the night with the band to a crescendo moment. Throngs of fans on the field embraced, sang in groups, even thrust their cell phones to the skies to illustrate the old lighter trick of solidarity within the music.


 

 

 

It was definitely one of those nights that made you cherish the work the Rays have done to provide such a great atmosphere this season with these concert offerings. And even if Train kept their hit “Drops of Jupiter” for after their “Soul Sister” moment, it was not lost on the crowd who embraced the moment and again almost became louder than Monahan in their singing of the song. Train should be proud of the moments shared by the band and the Rays fans Saturday night. It was one of those moments so many will remember for Monahan’s stage presence, his stroll through the outfield, and how the band also let the audience become a unique part of the concert.
 


 

But the moment that sealed the deal for me last night was when the band adapted the Rihanna song “Umbrella” and did a resounding rendition of the song accented by Monahan’s tremendous vocals and the way the crowd instantly took Train in as a band not stuck within their own songs and lyrics, but willing to push beyond the borders for the enjoyment of the crowd. Train definitely left it all on stage last night with fantastic vocals from Monahan, inspired riffs from Stafford, and Underwood always seemed in control behind his drum set. You know Monahan and the band came off that stage drained of energy and totally proud of their performance.

 

 

And that is what I want to see in a great band. Leaving it all out there on the stage for the fans to soak in and take home with themselves as memories and moments to talk about for a long time. All that was missing was surly conductor to start us off last night with an “All Aboard” oratory because this Train ride was definitely one worth taking, and if you missed it…..You missed a killer ride.
 

*** Just a reminder, I have a page on Flickr.com under Rays Renegade that has sets of concert photos from all the Rays concerts, plus a few surprises.

Disco lived for One More Night at the Trop

 

 

The first time I heard the Village People, I was a roller skate guard at a place called Gay Blades in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was one of those moment that you liked and feared as a skate guard. You loved it because the crowd got into their rhythmic lyrics and bass notes, but their fans also had a tendency to simultaneously crash to the varnished wooden floors in large piles to form a huge human obstacles course.

Of course the circa World War II large half moon aluminum skating rink is gone now, replaced by something distinctly ironic in its place. A 10-story hospital (Edward White) now looks over the speeding Interstate. It is amazing sometimes how the music still stays fresh in your mind and how 30+ years later, I can still recite the songs lyrics and remember some of their choreographed moves. But I still shudder every time the Tampa Bay Rays have a 70’s Night.

 

 

More for the fact that it embodies my teen angst days. My moves from Junior High to High School, those days when you sometimes felt awkward and uncoordinated, but still thought you had the “cool” factor going for you. So it was with a sense of apprehension, but utter curiosity that I wanted to see this late 1970’s “Boy Band” again up on the stage performing and doing their hits. And the group definitely did not disappoint us at all on Friday night.

 

 

Even though as a Rays credentialed photographer for the event, I only got to stand near the stage for the first two songs, then became a member of the huge crowd lingering and dancing on the Field Turf of Tropicana Field. All our favorite were still assembled in the group, the cowboy, construction worker, Indian, biker and the military soldier. But the biggest cheer went up when the police officer finally made his way to the front of the male chorus line singing just as sharp as those 8-track recording I have hidden in one of my many boxes in storage.

 

 

And it was great to see so many within the Rays Republic dress the part of the musicians (especially the teens) and hanging on their every lyric like we did back in the 70’s. Was a bit surreal to hear their songs again and parents teaching their young kids the body moves of such songs as “YMCA“. Was a great walk back into the past to see the crowd chant and sing hits like “Macho Man” and “In the Navy” that were first recorded when 50% of the crowd was either in diapers or not even a gleam in their parents eyes yet.

 

 

It was just pure adulterated fun for everyone and it is simply amazing how a novelty act from the forgettable era of disco can be so refreshing and entertaining when most of us are trying to forget those leisure suit and platform shoes days. And yes, back then I did have a male ‘fro. But back to the music. The group had their usual flair about them last night using props and mannerisms to evoke audience participation at different times in the concert. And maybe that is why they have endured for so long.

 

 

When the Village People perform, it is an all-out party scene complete with glittery caps, construction hats and even a few sequins. It caught my eye early that the construction worker might be a bit overdressed for normal work as his sequins on his plaid shirt, plus his one specially designed mirror sequined construction hat might not make it on the job site today. But it was the advent of fun, frolic and general sense of “getting down” that pegs this concert into it place in history.

 

 

And the pure fact that most of the group who sang back in 1981 were still present on stage last night just speaks to their special place in music lore. And even if most of their songs do not resonate anymore with us as ballads or socially conscious tunes, the group’s main focus still to have everyone moving, grooving and having a great time just letting go for a little while. But we all know that 50 percent of the crowd stayed for one tune. They all seemed to be waiting, anticipating and relishing in one lone vocal and dance song that will transcend generations long after we are gone from this Earth.

 

 

 

The Village People were the perfect send-off to end the Rays “Turn Back the Clock” night. Not only did some of us get lost in the rhythm, but some of us remembered a time when things were simpler, more relaxed and just plain fun. Weird, I have a Dixie High School reunion party on Saturday night after the Rays game just down the street from Tropicana Field at MidTown Sundries. I am debating if I am going to show my mug to my old classmate today, but enthusiastic to the fact that tonight I was reminded why I enjoyed those times so much. Guess I might have an ulterior moment to go tonight…Maybe they will play “YMCA” for old times sake

Using the “Tampa” Name does the Rays No Favors

 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

I guess no one told the Tampa Bay Rays players the history behind the Tampa Tarpons. How this franchise was one of the charter members of the Florida State League and finished last in 1919,their first season of existence in the new Class-D league. But this proud former farm system stop of the Cincinnati Reds did turn it around the following season and posted a 84-28 season for a .745 winning percentage, still tops in FSL history. Or maybe someone left out the tales of this franchise playing every season from 1919 to 1987, except for the four years that most baseball disbanded during World War II.

That the former home of the Tarpons, Al Lopez Field used to be just to the south of the former Tampa Stadium complex before it was finally razzed and demolished to give way to more parking spaces for the Tampa Sorts Authority. The Tarpons were sold in 1988 after Malcolm F. “Bunny” Mick and his brother Mitchell decided to get out of the baseball business. The team was in a state of hiatus until 2002 and re-emerged as the Jupiter Hammerheads.

And how many Rays players knew that in 1961 a young hustler named Pete Rose got his start up the Cincy food chain in Tampa where he batted .331, set a record of 30 triples ( still a FSL record) and also lead the FSL in errors. All this while also helping the Tarpons to the FSL Championship that season.

Other former Reds players who made a stop with the Tampa Tarpons include Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, Charlie Liebrandt, Ken Griffey Sr., Tom Browning and Dave Concepcion. The history involved with this storied franchise is amazing, and should have been a huge inspirational push for the Rays to beat the Baltimore Orioles tonight. The Rays did channel a bit of the Tarpon mystic tonight, but not the positive aspects we were hoping for in the end.

 
RRCollections

The 1970 Tampa Tarpon squad that the Rays honored tonight while wearing their classic uniforms went 64-68 in the 1970 FSL West division. They squad scored a total of 433 runs, but also allowed 452 runs. It was a pretty mediocre team that was led by Manager Richard Kennedy. Most of the players on the 1970 Tarpon squad were between 19 and 23 years of age. It was a Class-A farm team of the Cincinnati Reds organization at that point, and only had a small handful of player who advanced through the Red’s system.
Players like Dan Driessen, Nardi Contreras, Rawly Eastwick, Tom Spencer and Joel Youngblood were the only notables from the 1970 Tarpon squad to make their way up the Reds farm system ladder.

Contreras was also the only Tampa, Florida native on the team’s roster. The top producer on that season’s team was Spencer who hit for a .285 average with 5 HR, 50 RBI and 21 SB in 130 games.

So maybe the Rays were channeling a bit of that 1970’s Tarpons team last night. Maybe they can find solace in the fact the Rays front office picked a team that did not reach the .500 mark in their season as their “Turn Back the Clock” brethren last night.
 
The Rays front office gurus might do the Rays a little favor in 2011 by checking the references and the statistics of the teams they are going to represent before deciding on the city, team and final standings in that season’s league. With that in mind, let me make a suggestion for the 2011 Rays “Turn Back the Clock” representative team.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

I am thinking it should be either the 1968 St. Petersburg Cardinals who finished 96-43 (.691) and had hitters like Pedro Borbon, Boots Day, Jerry DaVanon and young First Baseman named Jose Cruz. Or maybe we can remember the Rays first team to win a Divisional Championship in their farm system, and honor the 1997 St. Petersburg Devil Rays who won the 1997 FSL Championship in their first year in the league. They were backed by a 81-56 record that season and had a host of future Rays on their squad.

This roster included a 19-year old Jared Sandberg, pitchers Mickey Calloway, and Rolando Arroyo. This team also had local baseball stars Scott Romano (Tampa), John Kaufman (Tampa), John Cafaro (Tampa) and Greg Blosser (Manatee).

Considering the “Tampa” name on the jerseys last night did not produce any sizeable advantage or confidence, maybe the Rays might be wise to again grasp their St. Pete roots and bring home a victory next year when we “Turn Back the Clock”.I almost forgot this nifty nugget of 1970 FSL information. During the 1970 FSL season, the Baltimore Orioles Class-A affiliate in the league was the eventual 1970 FSL Champions, the Miami Marlins. How ironic is that.
 

Another Rays Promotion at the right Price

 

            

So far this season the Promotions gurus of the Tampa Bay Rays have given us two special giveaways that were not on their original promotional list that was handed out in the beginning of the season. Both have been figurines that have featured prominent and rising stars within the Rays roster. The first one was the horizontally challenged Evan Longoria Gold Glove figurine given out to Rays fan back on Monday. July 5th given out only to fans wearing Rays gear . It was a great unexpected treat for Rays fans, and a great tool to help boost up their usually bland Monday crowds.

On Wednesday, September 1st, the Rays will again bring out a special Rays starter David Price figurine for the first 10,000 Rays faithful. This one of a kind figurine is a great way for all the Rays fans to celebrate Price’s American League-leading 15 wins ( so far) this season. It is great that the Rays could find a corporate sponsor like Sweetbay to help all of us celebrate this great moment in Rays history with a keepsake of our own.

With Price’s garnering his 15th win the other night, he is currently the Rays leader in victories in a single season, and has 8-9 possible starts left in the 2010 season to take this record to astronomical heights. We are all proud of Price’s maturation and development as a consistent Rays pitching weapon this season. You know this will not be the last time we see a Price giveaway connected with the Rays, but it is great that the Rays Promotion’s department move so quickly to give the fans a great reminder of the stellar season that Price is having in 2010.

Rays Vice President of Marketing/Community Relations Tom Hoof and Rays Senior Director of Marketing Brian Killingsworth definitely deserve a standing ovation on the timely execution and our Rays humble thanks for a offering such a great item for our Rays collections. This is just another great example of why some of the fans of the other 29 Major League Baseball fans are a bit envious of the Rays commitment to their providing special items just for their Rays faithful.

Rays need to Find their Evil,Mean and Nasty Gene

 
 
Mike Carlson/AP

It is one of those things you want your team to possess at this late season juncture. There is definitely something to that old warrior’s credo that only the strong survive. That nasty, vile and dog-eat dog mentality can be the fulcrum point that can get players through the pain and suffering that always happens around the 50-games left mark in the season. It is either transform into a meaner version of your team’s former image or you run the insane risk of defeat rather than victory. Plain and simple, it is time for the Tampa Bay Rays to take on a “no more Mr. Nice Guy” persona.


It might sound a bit melodramatic for the Rays to have to abandon their Boy Scout sparkling clean and virtuous image, but the stark reality is that each and every loss can put another dagger in the Rays heart and potentially sabotage all the hard work the team has done to this point. Sure the Rays currently look to be in fine shape only two games out against the New York Yankees, but there are foes hiding in the darkness that want that A L East and Wild Card spot the Rays hold in their pocket.

I am not saying the Rays have to become the “Ty Cobb” reincarnations and go into bases with their spikes up, or look for a fight, The things is right now the Rays do have a “Mayberry RFD” mentality posing as the kinder, gentler version of the Yankees. This has to be squashed right now before the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles this weekend, and the Texas Rangers next week. The Rays have to instill a mentality that someone stole their lunch money and they are not going to take it anymore!
And today’s game fully illustrates just that pattern of good natured intentions that has to be nipped in the bud before the Rays are making golf tee time reservations than hotel reservations for friends and family during the Playoffs. The Rays had the Detroit Tiger’s right where they wanted them prior to the beginning of Wednesday’s matinee game. They had a chance to make some special Rays all time seasonal series history in this contest. If the Rays would have defeated the Tigers today, it would have been the Rays first ever seasonal series sweep. That’s right, the Rays would have gone undefeated against the Tigers both home and away…A major coup heading into this final stretch of the season.

But instead of the Rays stepping on the Tiger’s necks and twisting, the Rays seemed to go about their usual game plan and made it look interesting, but shot blanks in the end. That is not the way to “man up” at this point in the season and take the opposition for everything they give you. Sure Detroit starter Justin Verlander got into a groove in the middle of the ballgame, but the Rays let him establish that comfort zone. Winning teams that go far in the Playoffs take control of those games and dictates the outcome, not hope or look for a rally or fortunate chances to sustain anything.

 
Bill Koustoun/AP

During the last series, media members said it was going to be the “most important series of the season”. Well I hate to break it to everyone, but every series is important, since April. From that loss in Motown on Wednesday afternoon, to the final game in Kansas City on October 4th, the Rays have to fully integrate a “them or us” attitude. And it all begins when the streaking O-birds try and nest at Tropicana Field this weekend. The Rays have to come out in those three contests like a cat hungry for moist, juicy black and orange Oriole treats. They have to adjust their mentality to leave nothing to chance, that a 1-run lead will not cut it, they have to play as if October depends on the outcome.


The Rays have to take their normal “good guy” routine and toss it off the top span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. With 28 of their final 48 games against their American League East foes, and another 16 against the always tough A L West bunch, the season could pivot right now. You can bet your stars that Baltimore, Seattle, Oakland and Toronto would love to provide some noise and angst for the Rays by dropping them lower in the standings and give someone like Boston, Minnesota or even the Chicago White Sox a chance to push the Rays down for the count.

Now is the time for a Rays uprising. It is time to toughen up and show no mercy in any of the final 48 games. I am not telling the Rays to keep pushing even if they are 5 or 6 runs up on a team, but do not get off their throats, do not let them breathe, do not let them even think they have a remote chance to survive a game. Some people talk about the Yankee persona. That image is boosted by the historic tradition of finishing the job and making the Playoff and beyond., That pinstriped army doesn’t take anything for granted and will step on your neck and twist until you are gone….every time.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

This is not a call to emulate the Yankees own credo of intimidation. But this is a call for the Rays to put away their manners and get after what they deserve this season. I respect this 2010 Rays team for their spunk and bond between all the Rays players in the clubhouse, but it is time to get physically and mentally hungry. For the Rays veteran leadership to make the young guys hungry for another taste of that sparkling champagne. I guess it is time for the Rays to quote the movie “The Program” to “put the women and children to bed and go hunting for dinner.” And if that means eating a few extra Orioles, Blue Jays and even Angels, then so be it, because you never get in the way of the big dog when he is feasting, it is bad for the digits.
 

I Think Hellickson Needs a Moving Van

 
Duane Burelson/AP
You could see his dedication to his craft this Spring when he pitched with the “Big Club” until they optioned him to the minor league camp on March 15,2010. The kid had something special about him. He projects a shy and reserved side to him, but the minute he brushes up against that pitching rubber, Jeremy Hellickson is all about the game.

Most Rays Republic fans thought we might have to wait until September call-ups before we got another shot to see the kid named “Hell Boy” compete again at the highest level. But after last night’s performance, I am thinking the Rays might not be in any hurry to give him another ticket back to Durham, North Carolina. Hellickson last night became only the third pitcher since 1920 to post 7 innings in a game and allow less than 3 hits in his first two starts. Hellickson also joined the late Joe Kennedy (2001 ) as the only other Rays starter to ever post two “W’s” in his first two starts.

But if you had watched any of the Rays Spring Training outings by Hellickson, you already knew the kid had a great understanding of the pitching process, and had some of the best stuff in the minor leagues, but needed a little polishing around the edges. But if Hellickson can keep up his consistent performances, he might just have to have someone motor on up to Durham and get his stuff and bring it down to Tampa Bay permanently. Sure you might think his 1.29 ERA over these two starts will gets his biggest test on Sunday when Hellickson get a chance for three wins in a row against the surging Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. I have a feeling it isn’t in Hellickson’s pitching nature tot shy away from the big games.

All you have to do is go back in time briefly to the 2009 Triple-A Championship game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to see a perfect example of his high standards and commitment to his craft. Hellickson ended up throwing 5 scoreless innings and earning the Bobby Murcer trophy as the games Most Valuable Player. But maybe you only need to go as far as looking at his Durham stat sheet for 2010 to see that he is ready for the step up to the Major Leagues.
Since his first MLB start against the Minnesota Twins on August 2nd to tonight’s start, Hellickson was optioned back to Durham, but got a call-up just yesterday to replace former Bulls teammate Wade Davis who was experiencing shoulder stiffness and went on the 15-day DL for the Rays.

Even with not starting a single game in Triple-A since the beginning of August, Hellickson still leads the International League in wins ( 12 ), ERA (2.45) and strikeouts (123). Hellickson’s 12 wins is currently the second best win total in the minor league baseball system. And Hellickson has gotten great run support from his Bull’s teammates in his 30 starts over his past two Bulls seasons The Bulls have gone an impressive 22-5 over that span when Hellickson takes the mound.


 
Steve Nesius/AP
But what might be even more impressive is his consistency over his minor league career that has now transformed so well in his first two Major League starts. Over Hellickson’s minor league career, he has maintained 9.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, plus posting a career minor league record of 49-16 with a 2.66 ERA in 103 starts. And if you need to bolster his credentials up a little more, Baseball America in their mid-season Top 25 list, posted Hellickson as the fourth best prospect in the game right now and the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.

And all of that hinges on the huge upward curve in Hellickson’s maturation process this season that draws nothing but praise from Rays catcher John Jaso, who also caught many of Hellickson’s starts in 2009. Jaso told FSN Sports in-game commentator Todd Kalas that Hellickson was coming to him before the game and between innings trying to devise a set of pitching parameters for them both to join together on when he took the mound last night.

Here is a guy who was pitching only his second ever MLB game, and he is already starting to try a dictate and formulate an effective plan to get the upper hand on his competition. That also speaks very highly to the competitive nature and fire that burns deep within Hellickson to want to take control of some of the aspects of the game as such an early stage. But you would expect that maturity and confidence level from a guy who started for the Team USA squad at the 81st All Star Futures game in Anaheim, California. In that contest, Hellickson only pitcher two innings, but secured the win after a resounding 9-1 victory by his Team USA squad.

 

All this from a guy who only appeared in 2.2 inning this Spring for the Rays and, posted 9 strikeouts, no hit or runs allowed in his short time in the big league camp. But he made an immediate impression on the World Champions as he struck out both Yankee hitters Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in his 2010 debut on March 5th in Tampa. All this from a guy Rays Republic fans have been itching to see up with the big club. And now that Hellickson is here, he is earning every letter and syllable of his persona Hellboy.


Right now Hellickson’s Rays future looks bright as the team might be able to keep him within their 25-man roster right up until the roster expand on September 1st. Not bad for a Des Moines, Iowa farmhand the Rays drafted in the fourth round out of Hoover High School in 2005. It has only taken 5 years for Hellickson to develop, mature and become the Rays next big thing. And if his career preparation plans are anything like his in-game plans, he is here to stay for along, long time.
 

Rays Star Shine Bright in Price’s Universe

 
 

15 may just be a series of number to you and me. The number 15 might not suggest or emulate anything out of the ordinary to us, but to one Tampa Bay Rays starter, it is the beginning of finally grasping that golden ring and encompassing a major breakthrough both for himself, and for his Rays club. 15 is usually associated with the time most of us get our first chance to venture onto the highways and byways with our parents in the passenger seat of the family car. But for Rays starter David Price, 15 is just a huge stepping stone moment to get to another huge plateau in his young pitching career…..His 20th win.

For some reason people put a major emphasis on that one two-digit number (20) as the initial entry point towards pitching greatness. Even with both Leagues giving relief pitchers more opportunities to take precious wins away from the game day starters, that illustrious number is still a symbolical threshold of establishing a lasting impression of pitching supremacy. And with Price now ¾’s of the way to that historical mark, each step forward in the wins column, Price will rewrite another strong pitching entry into Rays pitching record books.

For the past two starts, Price has shared the Rays record books with James Shields, Edwin Jackson and Rolando Arroyo as the only four-some to achieve at least 14 wins during a Rays single season. Last night, even with a few shaky moments, Price walked solo into the spotlight as the Rays lone 15 game winner. And with a possible 10 starts still on the horizon in 2010, Price could have a great chance to step to the forefront in Rays history with each start and could possibly become their first 20-game winner. But that 10 game slate is a long and perilous journey that could be altered or even reshaped throughout the rest of the season by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, or unforeseen obstacles or pitching limits later in the season.

Price could be the last Rays starter to take the pitching mound, in the last game of the 2010 season against the Kansas City Royals in Kaufman Stadium with a chance to establish another level of Rays pitching history. It would be another bright star in Price’s 2010 universe that has seen him quickly post 10-wins and maintain his uncanny control and command along the way. His extremely impressive start in 2010 provided Price with the great honor of starting the 2010 All-Star game after getting the nod from a rival Yankees Manager who could have chosen one of his own, but admitted Price dominated the competition early on in 2010.

 

Price is also beginning to get another extremely important reputation among his Rays teammates, he is becoming the team’s losing streak buster. With his win last night, Price effectively doused the Rays 5-game debacle streak that saw the Rays lose their last two contests at home against the Twins before getting swept in bold and uncharacteristic fashion by divisional foe, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays had the right cure for their losing aliment as Price had won his previous start against the Tigers at home in a 4-2 victory just a few weeks beforehand. Price’s 15th win last night came in his 21st start of the 2010 season and has pushed him to the top of the American League win list.


And for Price to see such success as such an early age is tremendous, and makes watching this young talent mature more enjoyable with each and every start. The last pitcher Price’s age or younger to be leading the AL or NL in wins on this date was Detroit’s Justin Verlander, who had 14 wins in 2006. Another star pushed right up into Price’s ever expanding universe that just seems to get bigger and bigger every day. To illustrate another impending star that could find its way into Price’s galaxy, ESPN currently has Price as the top points getter in their Cy Young Predictor on ESPN.com. High praise for a guy who always seems to have a calm and cool demeanor on his game.

And Price has developed that demeanor after posting some impressive and focused numbers so far in 2010. Price has surrendered less than 3 earned runs in 20 of his 22 starts this season. Another tasty Price pitching morsels include more strikeouts than hits allowed in 8 of his last 9 starts. The last time he gave up more hits than strikeouts was his first start after the All Star game on July 18th when Price gave up 7 hits versus 3 strikeouts against the New York Yankees on the road. But the cherry on top might be his .159 average with runners in scoring position this season. When the Rays have needed someone to shut down the opposition, Price has answered the call with authority.

But during 2010, Rays fans have kind of gotten spoiled a bit by Price’s success. We sometimes forget just how young Price truly is as he matches pitch for pitch with some of the best in the game every 5 days. To illustrate just how impressive this budding star has been in just the first half of 2010,at the All Star break, Price was the youngest pitcher in either league to lead the league in wins and ERA since the Twins Scott Erickson in 1991. Price was the youngest pitcher to start an All Star game since New York Met and former D-Ray Dwight Gooden (23) in 1988 and the youngest in the AL since Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen (23) in 1987. To fully put this into proper prospective, Price received his first All Star game on the player’s ballots, and had a total of 290 players votes cast for him. To show the early dominance of Price, that was 76 votes more than his closest competitor (Boston’s Clay Buchholz).

 

To further put Price’s rise into prospective further, Price’s 100 strikeouts at the All Star break made him one of 6 pitchers all time under the age of 25 to reach at least a dozen wins, an ERA under 2.50 and post 100 K’s before the break. Price was also the first to do it in 25 years since Roger Clemens did it in 1986. This all might seem a bit perplexing to Rays fans right now, but we are seeing the foundation right now of a pitcher who could possibly set the standard in the next few years in the American League. With 50 games left in the regular 2010 season for the Rays, the consistency and the calm of Price’s demeanor could be key to if the Rays gather a chance to win their division, or garner a Wild Card berth for the Playoffs.


Some might have found it bold of this left-hander during the Rays 2008 Spring Training to point out he wanted to be at the Major League level by September. Some might have found his bravado and calmness a bit alarming until you talk with Price and see that the cool nature of his personality makes you want to see him succeed. Stars can still be seen shining bright in the sky even with the urban haze in Tampa Bay. It is even better to see one more special star shine every five days as the Rays try to again make history within a small part of Price’s ever expanding universe.

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