December 2010

2010 Was Definitely a Rays “Kumba” Moment

 

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Common.Wikepedia.com Photo files 

 

It has been my custom over the last few years to attach a word, phrase, or commonplace item as a keynote to what the ending year has envisioned to me. This year I am again incorporating my yearly ride with the Tampa Bay Rays by my side into this year end resolution. 2010 was a spectacular 365 day odyssey that somehow closely resembles the Kumba multi-inversion rollercoaster located just 25 miles from my front door within the oddly placed fauna of Busch Gardens in the urban jungle of Tampa Florida.

It really has been that kind of wham, bam thank you Ma’am year for Tampa Bay. One that has taken all of us, including the Rays, on moments of Mt Kilimanjaro-type highs, to the unexpected desolate lows of Death Valley, California while we all scream incisively through the zero G rolls and inverted loops to bear witness of the year’s gut wrenching end result. Hearing the collective loud thumping cadence of our heartbeats within this 32-passenger rail car as the rollercoaster finally finishes off as an unfocused blur.

The 2010 ride started out so serene and calm as we welcomed back 1B/3B Dan Johnson after a short Japanese baseball trek and saw the Rays signed their first European prospect LHP Stepan Havlicek (no relation to the Celtic legend). The impending illusion of a smooth and possibly uneventful ride seemed ease our minds as our car first left the ride station.

We became entranced and hypnotized by the soothing clicking sound of the car as another tremendous Rays Fan Fest came and went where we sadly got to see local Rays resident and Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Roberts for one last time. We all marveled at the Rays Jumbotron at Fan Fest watching the antics of Rays Radioman Rich Herrera and legendary eater Joey Chestnut boast about their hotdog eating skills while systematically standing in line to pursue the autographs of our Rays heroes.

All the while the clicking of track kept us somehow distracted, and played into the final menagerie of peril that was to soon take our breath away. The March signing of RP Joaquin Benoit to a minor league deal made us all giddy with anticipation and hopes of new found glory for Benoit. Suddenly our car took an unexpected 90 degree left turn out of our comfort zone when this Spring we saw LHP J P Howell suffer a bout of shoulder soreness that would start him on his own unanticipated rollercoaster ride during 2010.

With Howell’s injury only thought to keep him out until May, we began our 143-foot lift hill that would eventually send us rapidly screaming at full G force through the highs and lows of the 2010 season. After an incredible Grapefruit season where the Rays finally saw the emerging stars of SS Reid Brignac and 2B/utility man Sean Rodriguez shine bright, our car quickly headed into the Kumba’s signature pre-drop element.

Quickly the Rays season began to take a few twists and turns brought on by a sudden 135-foot drop to our left with the early season struggles of Designated Hitter Pat Burrell and escalated into a 114-foot vertical loop that intensely thrilled us as the team got out to a late April record of 17-5 before the Rays encountered their first diving loop and subsequent first extreme low point of the season.

It all started as the ride entered its initial diving loop segment with the team firmly clutching their pink bats and uniform ribbons when on Mother’s Day (May 9,2010) their coaster ride entered its first Zero-G roll brought on by the Perfect Game thrown by Oakland A’s LHP Dallas Braden that put lumps in our throats and stole our breath from us. But this was only the Rays first venture into a systematic tail spin as more unexpected plots twists were creeping our the horizon for the Rays.

The team then seemed to hit a rough patch as they spent a short spell on a smooth stretch of track before finally entering a much feared Cobra roll on June 25,2010 that saw former Rays RHP Edwin Jackson toss a No-Hitter against the Rays in the comfy confines of Tropicana Field. The result sent us again flipping upside down for the second time this season before we were able to enter a mid-course brake run at the All Star break . It was then that we saw Rays starter David Price become the first Rays pitcher to ever start an All Star game. At the midway point of our coaster ride the Rays end the first half with the Major League’s second best record (54-34) trailing only our division rivals, the New York Yankees.


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Just as the ride was beginning to obtain some sort of normalcy, the Rays and the coaster again began a accelerating fall off the brake run through a series of interlocking corkscrew twists that heightened with a renewed Rays excitement by a No-Hitter tossed at Tropicana Field by Rays starter Matt Garza, and accented by the Grand Slam of another Matt (Joyce) to put the game finally out of reach and into the Rays record books.

Gut twisting and wrenching wins then somehow became the norm as the Rays unexpectedly ran into a 5-game losing streak (their only losing streak above 3 games in ’10) at the entry point of their first corkscrew twist. During this negative twist of misfortune during back-to-back Rays versus Blue Jays games from August 7-8th that saw normally secure starter James Shields surrender 6 Home Runs one day, then saw the Rays have to rely on Evan Longoria hitting a dying quail single through the 1B-2B hole with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning to stave the Rays from becoming the first team to have 3 No-hitter thrown against them within a years’ time.

As Rays Kumba car entered the darkened tunnel after their latest close encounter in Toronto, the Rays again got back on the winning track and eventually approached the end of the season with a playoff berth in their grasp, and a possible American League East title just beyond their fingertips. As the ride entered its final braking run, the Rays faced a 1 game ultimate gut check presented to them to possibly secure another AL East banner for the rafters of Tropicana Field.

In classic rollercoaster form, the Rays took their final game of 2010 against the Kansas City Royals in extra innings and added to the climax and crescendo of that last right hand turn by being greeted by multitudes of Fans at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport upon their arrival again in Tampa Bay before the ride began is last motions towards a ultimate disembark at the rail station.

Their quick exit in the ALDS just showed how accelerated their post season ride in 2010 could be extinguished. Lost in the final equation were a few special Rays moments that only further illustrated just how exciting and thrilling 2010 was for the Rays.

The 2010 Rays team ended up with 96 wins that season, only one “W” away from eclipsing their club win mark set in 2008. It was amazing for a Rays team that many baseball prognosticators did not even envision even a playoff berth for the squad back in April. We saw the maturation and confident emergence of a Rays starting 5 rotation that missed a team goal of 1,000+ inning season by its 5 starters by less than 46-odd innings. Then saw Longoria pick up his second consecutive Gold Glove while Carl Crawford finally got the Golden Glove that has eluded him.

Even with all the eventual ups and down, in and outs of their 2010 season, the Rays sent all of us on a cascading water flume ride of unexpected emotions and thrills as the team finally exit the railcars for the last time in 2010. We then had to say goodbye to 9 Free Agents, almost as many non-tender arbitration eligible Rays as the team began their foundational framework for another future glorious coaster ride.

Not knowing if it was a bead of cooling sweat from the fearsome ride, or a trickle of an unexpected tear set in motion by the thoughts of losing Rays stalwarts like Carlos Pena, Crawford, Benoit, Randy Choate, Dan Wheeler, Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour. I am stricken with a unforeseen bout of silence as I might have been witness to the last ride of a 4-year journey that started in 2007, and will end at the stroke of midnight tonight. I had been an up-close and personal participant in the formulation of a winning culture by the Rays in our short existence. I want to stand in line again for another chance at having my breath taken away on another future glorious trip.

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 At midnight the clicking of Kumba will be heard in the background as I wander towards another Rays odyssey. The rise and fall of this franchise definitely mimics the twists and turns of a well maintained rollercoaster that is always pushing the limits of both gravity and the breaking points of humanity before tumbling down towards a sense of reality.

Thank you Rays for this years journey. Thank you for the “firsts”, the “lasts” and the 81 straight tickets to ride as I took my seat in Tropicana Field this year and each time It left me simply breathless and aching for more. Some call this season the end of a Rays era, I think it is the beginning of a tradition of celebrating the “Rays Way” and buckling every New Years Eve for another ride of our collective Rays lives. Now where is that SheiKra coaster located again?

 

 

B J Upton to Hold Celebrity Bowling Event

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I am more than just a little surprised it has taken this long for another Tampa Bay Rays player to promote a fundraising event which involves the lost art of Bowling. Maybe it is a sport that has seen its better days, but it is still one of those family and friends type activities that can bring out the best in all of us.

So when Rays outfielder B J Upton recently announced via his Twitter account his fundraising plans to hold the B J Upton Celebrity Bowling Event at Splitsville lanes located in the Channelside District of Tampa, I was more than pleased to know someone remembers their youth too.

There have been several ex-Rays who have been known to polish their balls and talcum up and toss a few down the oiled lanes of Spiltsville, including neighboring Harborside Island resident ex-Rays Southpaw Scott Kazmir. He used to be among the spares and splits loving masses when local 97X radio DJ Fisher used to have his weekly public appearance outings at the bowling alley in the off season.

With Rays teammates Evan Longoria and David Price also living within walking range of Splitsville, the spectators at the event could possibly see some of the prominent young talent of the 2011 Rays toss a few benders down the slick lanes. Sure to also be in the crowd should be Upton’s younger brother, D-Backs CF Justin Upton plus many more MLB celebrities and players

Upton seems to have move from his usual Celebrity Golf Tourney format for the January 24,2011 extravaganza, which will soon be selling spots among the lanes for bowling enthusiasts within the Rays Republic. Corporate sponsorship is still available which includes several interesting bowling event options.

The Bowling with B J event will again feature Upton’s long time charity, the Society of St. Vincent’s du Paul as its main beneficiary, St. Vincent’s operates homeless shelters and centers to help those in distress in both St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. Another organization that will benefit from the fundraising effort is two neighborhood South St. Petersburg youth groups located within a stone throw of Tropicana Field.

This is not the first time a Rays player has embarked on sponsoring such a more fan-friendly event much like the same Celebrity bowling events once put on yearly by former Rays catcher Toby Hall. He also provided a night out on the slick Spiltsville lanes rubbing elbows with Rays Republic friends and local celebrities when he played with the Rays.

This time the event feels different to me. Maybe it is the plain fact that openly this year people have accused Upton of being a bit stiff and an unapproachable athlete when things did not start out rosy for Upton in 2010. But I have known him since he was first called up by the Rays at 17, and the guy has a heart of gold and definitely gives back to those in the community.


 

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Take the Diamondback Sunday series finale when some accused him of lollygagging on a ball hit to deep centerfield. Upton showed up that night at the Season Ticket event held at Gameworks in Ybor City and signed for hours for the fans, even in the midst of an impending firestorm of controversy. Upton has his moments, but is heart and mind are in the right place.

This charity event should show more than a few Rays skeptics the human side of Upton that only a few outside of the Rays clubhouse have witnessed. Some might be surprised to learn of the late night trips to I-HOP when former teammate Kazmir was in town this past season.

Another group that will receive funds and aid from the event is the ever expanding BJ’s Bunch program which is made up of local youth from all around the Tampa Bay region. There will also be a VIP/Sponsor reception before the public side of the event, and there will be a live silent auction, numerous raffles during the event and refreshments like pizza and sushi including some ice cold Heineken beer provided by a local beer merchant.

Also helping Upton as co-sponsors of the event will be local 1040 EPSN Radio, which will be broadcasting their afternoon show, Primetime with Ronnie (Night Train) Lane and former Bucs WR Mark Carrier live from Splitsville before the January 24th VIP/Sponsor reception. Scheduled to appear are plenty of Upton’s Rays teammates plus sports celebrities from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Lightning and the numerous other local Tampa Bay celebrities.

All involved will have a chance to participate in the Bowling with BJ event that will encompass a speed-bowling. Information will be available soon if you want to purchase separate tickets or spectator passes to the event, but anyone wanting to help sponsor the event by donating for a lane sponsorship, pin sponsorship should go to:B J Upton 2011 Celebrity Bowling Event for up to moment pricing and sponsorship information.

The event should be an amazing time spent with some of your favorite Tampa Bay athletes and celebrities who will all come together for the common bond of helping those less fortunate in the Tampa Bay region. It is great to see one of the Rays starters coming out and giving back to the Tampa Bay community before they have to report to Spring Training.

This event is just another in an ever expanding list of tremendous community support and outreach the Rays have shown to their adopted seasonal home here in Tampa Bay It I also another great example of just how down-to-earth and humble this young Rays team is right now, and they have their hearts in the right place. Hope to see you there.

 

Something Just Isn’t Right Here

 


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Photo by TBO.com

 

Recently the St. Petersburg Times /Bay News 9 (local BrightHouse Network) did a telephone poll around Tampa Bay region that was “suppose” to be a realistic sampling of whether local Tampa Bay citizens would possibly agree to a tax increase to pay for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium. Granted, in this present economy the results would be significantly different than if said construction would begin closer to 2015 than 2011. That got me wondering what was the precise wording and syntax used in this poll, and if it had any time sensitive element within its text?

Another question that puzzled me about the poll was at what time of the day/evening was this telephone survey conducted? Was it between that part of our days where we all collectively relax and unwind from our daily grind, or did the Times/Bay News 9 contact citizens closer to the “prime time” television viewing period when most of us just want to be left alone?

I know I personally did not get a “ringy-dingy” from the Times/Bay News 9 poll, so I have to go under the broad based ideal that maybe the telephone poll message had more than a few bits of wording that might have been a bit vague, or possibly not time stamped as a future proposal. Polling me about a future endeavor would definitely get a different response than in the Tampa Bay region’s present economic state.

I remember getting a telephone survey from the Republican Party during the 2008 election campaigns that had its wordage leaning towards me answering a certain way into the “party’s line” of thought. It is that fine line of verbal manipulation and poking of the “gray area” that can sway any poll into a completely different desired direction that it unveiled intention.

I do remember a bit of my Marketing 101 class where my Professor illustrated how the industry can finely dissect just such a poll to manipulate public opinion and throw a not so clear opinion out into the arena for discussion. As an example, don’t you always wonder what that 5th Dentist recommended if it wasn’t Crest or Dentyne?

Then again, if they polled Rays fans coming out of Tropicana Field after a Rays game the poll might have gotten 2/3rds of the people agreeing to a possible tax proposal. Realistic stadium scenarios have the Rays possibly pushing more towards a dateline of 2013-2015 to begin any sort of construction. This would be after a few years of sifting through the mountains of designs, logistics and local ordinances before a single silver shovel is poked in the Earth by local dignitaries in a Groundbreaking Ceremony.

Could the Times/ Bay News 9 poll have twisted the truth a bit to make the general public come under the assumption that this tax increase proposal was under current advisement, and not be a future item for discussion? Some people say that the “shades of gray area” around an idea or discussion can actually end up getting the proposal accepted or axed. Did the Times/Bay News 9 duo effort folly into the gray matter too much and possibly damaged the black and white truth of the poll?

It is not above any organization to slide step and construct even a poll or story to gain a more cohesive vantage point towards their own agendas then push it out onto the eyes and ears of the masses. The present economic climate doesn’t speak well for even the thought of construction of anything expensive, much less a possible half a billion dollar (or more) sports complex.

If the Rays had thrown out this tax revenue idea during our present economic struggle, I would indeed expect possibly 2/3rds of those polled to give a thumbs down to the idea, even from the fans leaving Tropicana Field. Times are so tight right now I swear I hear George Washington scream ever time I take a single dollar out of my wallet.

This poll also comes on the heels of Hillsborough County voters turning down a penny sales tax increase that would have gone towards a proposed Hillsborough County light rail system. There is a highly vocal citizen sediment right now in this region to oppose anything that would take more out of a families or individuals’ expendable income. Even a single penny to some is a huge increase at a time when that penny multiplied over a weeks time could be the difference between a meal or starving.

The poll seemed to also take a bit of biased cross section of Tampa Bay by only selecting 300 people from Pinellas County (St.Petersburg, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs) and 300 from Hillsborough (Tampa, Brandon, Riverview) but forgetting the Tampa Bay citizens in areas like Sarasota/ Manatee Counties, or those in Pasco/Hernando Counties.

Sure the cross section of Rays fans might be less in those sections of Tampa Bay, but they are a intricate part of the entire Rays puzzle. Two cities should not be able to securely define the opinions of residents of this region. But even with the hint of the “gray areas” and wording possibly contaminating this poll, there were a few great points that emerged from the results that can be illuminating towards a future positive poll result:

77% of all Pinellas County residents polled had attended at least 1 Rays game ( no time frame limitation stated).

62% of all Hillsborough County citizens polled had attended at least 1 Rays game.

37 % of those polled from Hillsborough wanted a Tampa stadium location.

32 % of the same area polled would still attend games at the Rays present site (Tropicana Field).

That last statistic might showcase the fact that the site of the future stadium might not be as important as some local publications might think in either county.

This whole idea, thought process and final Rays stadium decision is a long way away. Ask any Oakland A’s fan and you will find out the turmoil and tribulations of their own recent stadium decisions is not as easy as it was 50-odd years ago. The Rays are not seeking the same debacle that is currently plaguing Hillsborough County government when they built Raymond James Stadium for the NFL Buccaneers without any funds trickling down from the Glazer family. The Rays have been adamant they will push some substantial funding into the kitty for a future stadium.

Even if there was a 100% privately funded stadium proposal boosted up into Tampa Bay tomorrow, it would not be celebrated a much as when the economy and the local government begins to again see some black instead of red ink in their all of their budgets. When disposable income again hit’s the collective local Tamp Bay areas wallets, then such a stadium request might be more welcomed than feared. Hopefully in the future I will get a telephone poll from the Times/Bay News 9 about this situation. I look forward to the call.

 

 

Peralta Could Win the Closer Role this Spring

 

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(Getty Images) Vs Rays 7/28/2008 @ Tropicana Field

 

With the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen beginning to take some shape and form, the glaring question that is still out there shining bright is who might assume the closer’s role for 2011? Some have speculated recently that former Rays closer Rafael Soriano could possibly stroll back to the Rays for a one year contract, then embark again in the 2011 off season or at the Trade Deadline to another locale. If you believe that, I got a nice bit of land to sell you 30 miles deep in the Everglades.

Not that I wouldn’t love to see MFIKY (Mother Fudge(sic) I Kill You) back on the Rays mound to again promote some sort of stability to this Rays off season Bullpen purge. Soriano would give instant credibility to the Rays rebuilding process, but it would come at a astronomical gut shot (> $ 10 million) to their 2011 process of decreasing their payroll. Even if the Rays could promote an “out” into a Soriano 2011 contract that he could depart in late July before the Trade Deadline to a team poised for playoff chances, it might be a fantasy option. I still have that swamp land people? Are there any takers?

So with the idea of Soriano still floating up in the dream clouds of the optimistic few within the Rays Republic, let’s take a more realistic gander at a player who might have the solid credentials and moxey to simply scoot into the Rays closer spot right now for 2011.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon has pulled menagerie of a “closer-by-committee” approach before with the Rays, and if the season started today, I could honestly see him implementing it again until someone like Joel Peralta rises to the top. There is a formidable albatross hanging around the Rays Bullpen neck that Maddon will possibly go heavier into using his patented approach of using pitcher-to-hitter match-ups again.

When the Rays recently signed RHP Joel Peralta to a one year contract, it might have gone under the Rays Republic radar that he could be the eventual closer for this team in 2011. Peralta will be the oldest pitcher the Rays staff in 2011. His age will not be the defining factor to put him high on the list for consideration for the closer’s role. The right-hander signed after declining arbitration from the Washington Nationals, but the former Nats reliever did post some impressive numbers in a limited role for the Nats Bullpen in 2010.

Peralta has been recently compared as another “Dan Wheeler”-type pitcher for the Rays, but his 49 strikeouts in 39 relief appearances in 2010 begs to differ and shows he might have a better upside than Wheeler did for the Rays in 2010. And with his adjustments in 2010 while with the Nats, his plummeting ERA against left-handers (1.59) have given the Rays a reason to be optimistic in 2011.

Holding his opponents to a .170 batting average, Peralta only threw on the Major League level after the Nationals recalled him from Triple-A Syracuse on June 21,2010. Peralta only posted a 2-0 record with a 1.08 ERA to go along with a nifty 20-for-20 mark in the save department for Syracuse.

Peralta lowered his ERA to a paltry 0.64 in the late innings of close games in 2010 for the Nationals. In 12 late inning appearances, Peralta allowed only 4 hits and a solo run while striking out 20 batters. From the day of his 2010 debut (6/21) with the Nets, Peralta ranked 4th among National League relievers in innings pitched and second in on-base percentage( .214). His WHIP in those late inning appearances was a minute 0.50, all clear indicators that Peralta should be the front runner to the Rays closer spot.

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News,bostonherald.com photo

 

The Dominican born Peralta is just finished his 2010 Winter season with the Dominican Winter League playing for the CIBA Giants in the Dominican Baseball League. Peralta did post a 0-1 record. But appeared in 15 games and produced a 1.17 ERA with 9 saves. In his 15.1 innings, Peralta surrendered one Home Run and two earned runs behind his .124 opponents batting average and 24 strikeouts.

After Peralta’s impressive Dominican Winter experience, it seems that Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman might have possibly found another “Benoit”-type Bullpen addition for the Rays this off season. But with the Rays Fan Fest date of Saturday, February 12, 2011 coming quickly, Peralta might just have the longest line for autographs even before the season begins.

Sure the line will be long to welcome and introduce him to the Rays Republic, but something tells me deep down that Peralta just might be that solid anchor and legitimate pitcher who might make all of us forget a little quicker the tremendous job done by Soriano in 2010. Peralta is not just one year wonder who is suddenly sprouted up out of the ground in 2010. He made it to the show as an outfielder with the Oakland A’s back in 1997, but was converted to a pitcher in 1999 by Joe Madden’s old club, the Los Angeles Angels.

Peralta then spent part time duty with the Angels (2005), Kansas City Royals ( 2006-2008) Colorado Rockies (2009) and then the Nationals. His overall career ERA of 4.22 might not speak “closer immediately to you,. Peralta’s time in the hitter friendly Coors Field while with the Rockies vaulted his ERA to the 6.02 mark, but has shown massive improvement after getting closer to sea level in Washington.

Right now (at least in my mind), Peralta has a solid chance to take the reins and be the reliever the Rays must have in the late innings. He has the MLB experience, the statistics to warrant a hard look, he is posting numbers this Winter to solidify a claim for the role this Spring.

The ball is now in Peralta’s hand to establish that his name is clearly written in ink at the end of the Rays Bullpen order instead of Madden possibly using a pencil to erase, or add Peralta’s name to that nights closer’s role using his old pitcher-to-hitter match-up system. Winners like Peralta want the ball. Hopefully Madden see this too and gives him the ball in the closing moments of games in 2011.

2010 All Holiday Squad

 

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Every Christmas Eve it has become customary over the last several years for me to wander through the pages of MLBlogs and take a journey into the Christmas minds of some of our great bloggers. This year my adventures turned up several great redux renditions of the Christmas classic poem “T’was The Night Before Christmas“, and I even found a few Holiday “Wish Lists” searching for wins, the postseason and an eventual ring for 2011.

As I was traveling through MLBlogs, I thought to myself, “Self, what would be the ultimate Christmas All Holiday baseball squad?”

I somehow answered my own question immediately in my mind and began to seek the right combination of Christmas-based characters both human and cartoon to field such a Holiday squad. I ventured back into the cobwebbed recesses of my past favorite memories on film and television.

Let me tell you that sometimes even Wikipedia can’t help as I entered into a vision quest to determine the right pairing of 10 players and coaches for the Polar Express. Being that we will be playing in the North American Winter League, I have instituted the Designated Santa on my team. I think this squad has the right hint of animation and human elements to make this team a winner.

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Starting Pitcher:

I decided that the only person who could be the starting pitcher for the Polar Express had to be Charlie Brown. His classic Christmas TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first hit the CBS airwaves way back in 1965 and was an instant hit with kids of all ages. I thought Brown was my perfect holiday pitcher because of his vast past experiences pitching.

Of course I did balk at the chance that Brown could somehow be suddenly de-clothed by a sharp liner up the middle after he hangs one of his patented mid-80’s curve balls. Brown has the uncanny fortitude to throw hard and long into games for the Express.


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Catcher:

I did not have to think long and hard about the right guy to catch for this team. I did however need someone who had some brawn and might be dumb enough to sit back there and be ready for anything coming off the fingertips of Charlie Brown. I considering all the positive and negative variables and kept with my first impression that Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” was the man for the job. “Christmas Vacation” first hit movie houses back in 1989 and became an instant classic for it’s off beat humor and odd but familiar family gathering situations. Eddie is a pretty big guy, and he looks like he could block the plate like an ice sheet.

Now that you have seen my pitcher/catcher battery, I decided that this team will not need any relief pitchers since it might have the 10-run rule in effect going into the 5th inning knowing the way Charlie Brown pitches to batters’. So let’s get you now acquainted with the 5 infielder I selected for my All Holiday team.

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First Baseman:

I wanted to get a guy who has some solid baseball experience to man the First Base bag. We needed a solid guy to protect the line and can post up correctly on the bag if the ball gets hit into the infield. I chose a guy who owns a few minor league ball clubs in real life as my first bagger. I think he can do the job with a flair, and if not, provide a comedic relief maneuver or two while out hugging the bag.

I decided to with Francis Xavier Cross from the film “Scrooged“. I have always thought this was a awesome Nuevo take on the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The film originally hit theatres back in 1988, and is still one of my favorite comedy movies for the holidays. I think that Bill Murray captured the perfect sarcastic essence of a socially detached Scrooge, and his comic genius shows brilliantly through in this adaptation.

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Second Baseman:

I wanted a Second Baseman who could be as quick as a rabbit (or bunny). He needed to have that rifle arm and accuracy to get the double play, or to cover the bag when Cousin Eddie launches a rocket to tag out a rambling polar bear trying to steal a base to get into scoring position. I with smart Ralphie Parker from “A Christmas Story” to play second base for me. The movie has been another holiday appetizer since its original screening date in 1983. Wonder if I can talk Ralphie into asking his Dad if he wants to sell that lamp yet?

In the film, Ralphie showed the type of moxie I want on Second Base who is smart enough to think on the fly to either talk about the notorious leg lamp, or just be quiet as a mouse. He also has the determination and spunk to keep pestering his parents for that Red Ryder BB gun. Hopefully the ball coming in hard and fast from Cousin Eddie from behind the plate will not put his eye out.

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Shortstop:

My Shortstop has to be extra agile and have smarts to think on his feet at the same time. He has to be able to use his internally cold instincts to decide if the throw should be made, or possibly cover second as the pivot man on a ball hit to the first base side of the bag.

I think, that Hermie, the dentist elf from “Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer” would be the perfect guy to man the hole position for the Express. He showed remarkable smart judgment during the TV special, which first hit the networks in 1964. And with over 46 years of intelligent moves, Hermie should be a valuable addition to the squad.

Third Baseman:

Playing third, I had to find a big guy who could move laterally and go blindly into foul territory for pop-ups. He also had to have some horizontal versatility towards the chalk on the left-field line. He had to be a power hitter to help produce runs and add some protection for our little squad. It had to be a movie character from the couple of years to add some youthful vitality and vigor.

My Third Baseman had to have the energy and the motivation to add to this teams awesome charismatic chemistry. The personality that fit like a glove perfectly to me was Buddy from the movie “Elf.” He has the comedic chops to take one for the team and would sacrifice his body. His quick wit and glove along with his power stroke should provide more than a few Kodak moments as his long high drives make it over the high walled snow fences.

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Left Fielder:

My choice for Left Field could not have two-left feet. He has to have the agility and the coordination of an athlete, plus run like a deer. He had to be sure footed and be able to dance in the outfield while chasing down flares and dying quails. The guy who I think would be a model Left-Fielder for this squad was George Bailey of “It’s A Wonderful Life“. I just hope George remembers to put some extra Zuzu petals in his uniform pants pockets before he takes the field. We know they are magical.

 

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Center fielder:

I needed to find a shrewd and sometimes calculating Center fielder. Someone who could snipe a base runner who made a mistake, or tried to score on his arm. I needed someone with a huge heart who would run and run all over the field and get the ball where ever it was on the field.

I needed someone who could exhibit some sense of emotion even if he is a problem-child at times, but plays the game on the team’s level too. For that reason, I picked Grinch from the movie “The Grinch“. I wanted someone who could go from bad to good in a heartbeat. If he did make a bad play, or a questionable action on or off the field, I could just say it was the “Grinch just being the Grinch”.

 

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Right-Fielder:

I wanted to find a Right-Fielder who was not be afraid of the snow wall, or of sprinting towards a pop-up down the icy foul line. I wanted to see a nice combination of horizontal or vertical movement towards the failing sphere. He needed to have a rifle arm and a uncanny wit about him to keep base runners honest on the base paths.

I chose Ernest from “Ernest Saves Christmas“. This 1988 sequel, to a sequel, to a sequel kept a long line of profitable movies going for over a decade. We needed that kind of staying power in our Right Field. A streak like that can be contagious on a team. If the team has that kind of confidence, they will go above expectations and strive to be the best in the Winter League.

 

 

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Designated Santa:

I needed a huge lovable character who could also slam the tar out of the ball for this spot in the lineup. Someone who evokes the bit of charm and the joy of the big guy himself. He had to be able to belly up to the plate and hit it a mile, or at least to the South Pole with his swing.

The guy I picked for this position has been cranking out several installments of his own movie franchise. I picked Scott Calvin as my Designated Santa from the movie, “The Santa Clause“. That kind of confidence and staying power will be needed in the clutch for this team. It also helps protect the younger hitters on the team by showing the power and the possible results of pitching to this Christmas giant.

First and Third Base Coaches’

Now that we have finished with the fielding and Designated Santa position, let’s meet the two extraordinary base coaches’ selected for the Polar Express. Both come with their own sets of particular unique in-game behaviors, and both can help base runners and hitters alike in the game situations.

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First Base Coach:

Over in the First Base box we have a guy who can make the ball seem to “freeze” in mid-air. He was instrumental in teaching players how to hit frozen ropes down the line for extra bases hit for the 2010 Express. This Coach has been described as a cold hearted soul, who can always melt you with just his smile.

His cunning direction and cool nature makes him the perfect First Base Coach for this team. I am talking about the always cool cat known as the Snow Miser. He was in the 1974 classic movie ” A Year Without Santa Claus“, and has been giving icy banter to opposing players for years. His cold demeanor is legendary. He uses his cold hard facts to make the opposition freeze in their tracks while trying to diving for low balls or foul pop-ups hit by the Polar Express. He is the kind of guy you do not want nipping at your nose, and the perfect Coach for this team.

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Third Base Coach:

Our Third Base Coach is a Christmas Hall of Fame legend. He had been blazing the trail like a beacon in the night for years pioneering the use of unique signals and well placed lighting to facilitate the proper transfer of anticipated moves and pre-arranged actions to Polar Express base runners’ and batters’.

His expert knowledge of reindeer games and his leadership expertise is unparallel in the Winter League. I am talking about the brilliant Rudolf. Since his first sighting on televisions in 1964, he has been leading a lighted path for children and players alike to the real spirit of Christmas.

His classic “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special is a holiday necessity that is even today without an equal. It is for that reason that he should be the perfect choice as the Third Base Coach for this high-powered squad of Christmas icons. Without Rudolf showing us the way on Christmas, we would be blinded by the darkness and might end up losing our way around the base paths.

It has been a great pleasure today giving you some of my All Time Christmas iconic players that had to take the field for this special squad.

There certainly will be your own thoughts and rationale for extra additions and subtractions of certain characters to this team, but unless these selected All Holiday baseball players moving on, or are retiring to the celluloid and video vaults, the true essence and the spirit of this team will live on forever in our hearts and minds……………………..

Merry Christmas to everyone in the MLBlogs.com community and beyond!!

 

            

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rays Renegade and The Pitch-Outs Wish You a Merry Christmas

 

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As we gander closer to the Holiest nights of the year, I want to take a moment out and thank the many viewers, commenter’s and baseball friends who have made this year of 2010 so…well glorious. I might not be sporting 5 Golden Rings, but another A L East banner for the Tropicana Field rafters was an expensive present, but more than enough to send 4 Lords a-leaping in my book.


I thought it was only right to honor and pay a holiday tribute to guys who made a lot of what happened for the Tampa Bay Rays possible in 2010. No, I am not talking about the Rays 3 Wise Men, Stuart Sternberg (Owner), Matt Silverman (President) or Andrew Friedman (VP of Baseball Ops), even though their leadership and vision, along with over $ 70 million little helpers did play a significant role.

I am talking about the quintuplets of quality, the Rays starting 5 rotation. These five hurlers rocked both the Trop and everywhere else in the MLB this season to produce 96 wins ( only 1 win short of their 2008 record). The Rays rambunctious five even tried to produce 5 separate 200+ innings producers, and only got derailed by a late season road bump by Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis and still came within 37.2 innings of the feat.

So it was only right that the Ray Clubhouse new Rock, Rap and Reggae band, The Pitch-Outs should bring you a little holiday cheer. The band is lead by the dramatic and charismatic vocal soundings of Matt Garza, who gets to those classic Rock falsetto high notes just as quickly as his 95+ high and tight fastball screams over the plate. His physical nature as the Punch-Outs front man is showcased by him toying with the crowd before delivering a solid move that is more crippling than his backdoor slider.

Behind him we have the always rock solid lead guitar work of the Ace of the quint, James Shields, who sometimes wears a gray beard off stage as a disguise to keep his many fans at bay. But on stage there is no disputing the talents and ability of this emerging rock legend as his fingers take to the Stratocaster and take you on a melody ride on his crazy train.
 
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On the left side of the stage we have the southpaw David Price who is very noticeable in his blond flowing locks and seems to be the shy guy of the bunch until he get his guitar strap over his shoulder, then he turns into a modern day Bootsy Collins just up there trying to seduce, embrace and groove to the music. His rhythm guitar is one of the solid reasons this Rays band of hurlers is going places, and might just eventually challenge Garza for some of the band’s spotlight in 2011.
 
On the bass guitar is country born and bred Wade Davis, who has taken to the music the same way he takes the mound…with authority and has produced one of the best Rays rookie campaigns in the team’s short history. In his first extended time at the MLB level, Davis has shown he can step to the mound and deliver and be a consistent part of the future of this amazing band. Sky is the limit as Davis enters his Sophomore tour with no signs of letting up or moving into the background.

Last, but definitely not least we have the Tall Texan, Jeff Niemann who was put behind the drum set only because he kept hitting the band’s stage lighting with his head during their earlier sets. But the big man can definitely hit the skins and showed in 2010 that his beats are as good as anyone out there, and that you can never count him out. With his patented move of jumping up from the drums set and leaping into the air with the band’s last number, the 6′ 8″ Niemann suddenly produces one of the band’s great moments of the night.

So this holiday season it just seemed only fitting to let the band successful CD’s like “Buckled your Knees” , ” KO Blues” or even “Pitching My Heart Away” should be in the stocking of the ones you love. The band optimizes the energy and gusto that is the frankincense and spice that encircles the Rays Republic universe. So be sure to watch and listen to the holiday styling’s of The Pitch-outs and look for another CD to drop in April 2011.

From everyone, even the mice at the Rays Renegade abode, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and hope that all of life’s gifts are delivered to you under your glistening Christmas tree or in your stocking this holiday season.

Time for the Shields Vintage to Mature

 

 
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St.PetersburgTimes/TBT.com Photo
 
Sometimes Tampa Bay Rays starter James Anthony Shields seems to act more like a cartoon character than a veteran Major Leaguer. You can definitely pick up his voice among those on the Rays bench during his non-pitching Rays game days.

Shields is often heard in the background on dugout microphones throwing out these definitely unique brand of “Shields-isms” that makes no immediate sense until they suddenly hit you right between the eyes and you find yourself either rolling your eyes or emitting a huge belly laugh at them. It was Shields non-pitching character to keep the team loose and carefree.
So on the 29th anniversary of his birth today(12/20/1981) in Newhall, California I want to publicly start the James Shields birthday celebration. Shields has always felt he was the Rays “graybeard” of the pitching staff, and in 2011 that seniority will be much needed within the Rays clubhouse.

Some joking aside, maybe it is time for Shields to consider himself more of a finely matured Cabernet within Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s clubhouse instead of the whimsical Sangria. With the Rays roster renovation project firmly entrenched to begin in the Spring of 2011, now more than ever Shields has hit that finely aged vintage stage of his career where providing a veteran presence throughout the Rays clubhouse is more important than his off-day dugout verbiage.

It is time for Shields vintage to either ferment and mature along with his young Rays teammates, or he could eventually be turned into expensive red wine vinegar and subsequently sent a sail into the Gulf of Mexico sunset. As one of the most vocal Rays veterans remaining from the 2008 American League Championship team, it might just be Shields time to shine as a clubhouse leader and provide more than just another inspiring page to the Rays 2011 Media Guide.

This Spring Shields begins the fourth year of a four year contract with the Rays, but he also has 3 one-year club options in 2012,2013,2014 firmly on the horizon. With a season like 2010 behind him, it is time for Shields to again lead by example and reclaim his Number one spot in the Rays rotation.

Coming off the statistically worst season of his career,

Shields had some Rays Republic members losing a bit of faith in his alter ego “Big Game” James, and some scoffed at the notion that Shields could pull off an unprecedented fourth straight Opening Day Rays starting nod in 2011.

It has been almost 10 months since Rays hot prospect Jeremy Hellickson inadvertently said in an interview he could “learn some things from the Rays older pitchers”. But is his true whimsical nature, Shields did not mope or get his nose out of joint with the comment.

Shields instead took it in with gusto and came out into the Florida Sun on February 28,2010 sporting a fake gray beard beaming with pride that he was the staff “graybeard”.

Some veterans might have been offended or even taken the young Rays buck aside, but Shields relished in the comments and even told the St. Petersburg Times that day: “I saw what Helly (Hellickson) said about the older pitchers, so I figured I would be one for the day”.

That just might be the type of bend but not break mentality and banter needed as the Rays rebuild from within both on the field and in the clubhouse.

 
 

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With a large Rays leadership void created with the departure of long time Rays clubhouse mentor Carlos Pena and long time Ray Carl Crawford, the Rays will count on guys like Shields, Evan Longoria and fellow starter Matt Garza to fill some might big character cleats in the Rays locker room. Shields who is coming off his second straight Roberto Clemente Award nomination just might be peaking and ready for the challenge this season.

You wonder if that new found wisdom and confidence of Shields will come from his age, or the pure fact that leaders step forward in adversity while other tend to follow. It is the time for the newly minted 29-year old to show his grey MLB seniority whiskers and possibly bring out that gray beard upon his face to show his commitment to supporting and leading this young Rays unit.

Now more than ever the Rays need a figure like Shields to thrust his hands into the crisp Florida air and call for his team to unite and bond under the banner of the “Rays Way” as the Rays reporting date for pitchers and catchers (2/13/2011) quickly approaches.

It will ultimately be the strength and leadership roles portrayed by Rays players like Shields in the coming months can will repair and hermitically seal the Rays leadership.


Shields has the heart and desire along with his pitching talents to help raise the Rays game both on and off the field. The best praise a pitcher can get is from a teammate who has face him at the plate.

Infielder Eliot Johnson, who will be fighting for a utility spot this Spring for the Rays might just sum it up best: “He (Shields) didn’t lose a thing. He’s still crisp no matter how old he is- or isn’t.”


Happy Birthday Shieldsy, I think it is time to show the rest of the baseball world your vintage has mature and is ripe for a leadership role. Take the reins graybeard, it is your time to lead this crew, all 25 of them.
 
 

Give Credit Where Credit is Due !

 

 
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For some reason one recent Tampa Bay advertisement just doesn’t seem to have a right or clear cut answer for itself. For what ever side of the AL East fence you lay your loyalties, no matter how you seem to slice it, dice it or julienne the argument, this one isn’t going to be that simple. For whichever direction your common sense take you in the departure of Carl Crawford from Tampa Bay, somehow the whole ball of wax just seems to ultimately come back full circle again and again with no clear compromise.

The swirling bi-polar gambit of emotions seem to be taking me from the highs of adulation to the brink of suddenly swirling down through the circling drain towards an ebb tide of constantly churning polar opinions that makes you dizzy by wanting to simultaneously applaud and bang your hands in utter frustration at the same time. Two great minds of thought both good and evil somehow occupying the same brain matter without a sign of mental implosion……yet.

When the idea of a Crawford “TY” note was first mentioned a few weeks ago, the idea in the local fish wrap to give homage to Crawford, it had great merit. I can say I stood behind it 100 % when it was first introduced by a certain Tampa Bay Rays website. The idea was to celebrate the career of Crawford with a hearty send off of “Thank You” from website sponsors and accrued donations sent in to purchase a full page advertisement.
What bothers me here after the scandalous decision of Crawford to go to our bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox is the fact this one Rays based website took reader donations and contributions to place this ad in the Tampa Bay Times (TBT) Friday publication, then made sure to add their own special footprint to the whole adventure on a Getty Images photo without giving proper credit to the initial photographer.
I used to also do this all the time, but since January 2009 after reading a response by Ted Fleming, a devoted journalist and Rays fan who writes on Examiner.com. Fleming wrote a great comment about photo credits and copyright infringements, and I decided at that moment to always try and add a simple photographers’ credit to all photos not taken directly by me. How many people outside of the Getty Images photo corps know that photographer Dillip Vishwanat took this photo on July 13, 2009? I guess a few more know now.
Here is something Flemming also referenced from from Mark A. Fisher who wrote an article called “Copyright in the Digital Age“. Fisher states the following with photo copyrights/ fair use:
American copyright law has long offered the copyright-infringement defense of “fair use”. One problem with fair use is that it is a defense against infringement, not a right. Additionally, it has been duly noted that outlets such as the Associated Press, Getty and others have copyright ownership for everything that is distributed by them in print and/or photos.

When it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of fair use would clearly apply to the situation. The Copyright Office can neither determine if a certain use may be
considered fair nor advise on possible copyright violations“.
There is a gray area there that is being more and more define and being transformed into plain black and white every day by the large photo agencies, like Getty Images and AP. I guess more than a few of us have tried to right-click a photo during the 2010 MLB season from AP and found out quickly that they were not able to save the photo to their hard drive. It is their photo, they paid its creator for the priviledge to isolate that photo to their customers, and for you to not duplicate or reproduce without permission.
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Since I began to take my own Rays game day and events (concerts) photos I have a new found level of respect for the guys in the MLB camera wells. I am not trying to condemn the rival Rays website, just trying to nudge them a bit and hopefully enlighten them (and others) to the plain fact that the photographer should get that recognition for their great work. If a Rays fan takes a great shot, I make sure to give them a photo credit…It just seems right.
I know this Rays website took one on the chin today after Drew Fairservice over at Walkoff Walk toasted them a nice shade of caramel with:
Maybe, just maybe, if you squint your eyes just cynically enough, this looks like it might be more about DRB than Carl Crawford“.
I do see a glint of self promotion here or the ad might never have gotten off the ground. But did you have to make it so blatantly obvious to even someone without a pair of bi-focal lenses that you paid for the ad. I might have been inclined to throw the words “Rays Republic” up there, or possibly just a “Thank You” on the green facade of the outfield wall.
Most of all, I would have been sure to have somehow personally made or photo shopped the name of Vishwanat and Getty Images NA somewhere on that ad, or below the picture to just throw props to the guy who captured the amazing photo.

By the way, I made sure to give a photo credit on the same Carl Crawford’s original All Star game photo back in 2009. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well today, a photo credit would have kept me from writing my own thousand words. I stand up and applaud the intent, then shake my finger at the conclusion. Please everyone, give credit where credit is due…..That gets you the respect of everyone.

 

 

 

The Dude’s 2010 Rays Wild Ride

 

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It has been a pretty wild ride for Tampa Bay Rays reliever J P Howell since the New Years shiny ball first dropped on January 1,2010. Fresh off his off season wedding nuptials and a honeymoon in the exotic locale of Bora, Bora, the Rays southpaw was experiencing a high point in his life and career after signing a $ 1.8 million salary through arbitration on January 19th for the 2010 season. Little could Howell have known that within the next 30 days, his life and baseball world would begin to resemble the Disney’s Mr. Toad Wild Ride rollercoaster.

When the Rays pitchers and catchers first came out of the clubhouse and strolled to the practice field in late February, Howell was the first Rays player to come up and chat with me at the Rays complex in Port Charlotte, Florida. He was bouncing around like the Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon character Tigger out on the outfield grass just beaming with enthusiasm and spouting the tales of his off season. We all were totally oblivious to the winding turbulent ride that Howell was about to encounter during 2010.

The southpaw first began to experience weakness and pain in his left throwing shoulder during the early workouts even before the Grapefruit (Spring Training) season began and he was subsequently would be shut down for further evaluation by the Rays medical staff. Howell even commented to the St. Petersburg Times on March 30,2010 that he “encouraged” by a recent strength test performed by the Rays medical staff on his wounded left wing. Howell was so convinced of the success of his rehabilitation that he felt he could possibly be back in the Rays Bullpen by mid-to-late May. Little did Howell know that his wild rollercoaster ride was only about to begin.

The Rays finally scheduled a simulated game session for Howell at Tropicana Field on May 17th in hopes of possibly sending Howell on a short rehab assignment in the Rays system after the game simulation before bringing back to the MLB roster. Howell suddenly stopped throwing after a total of 12 pitches. His wild adventure was about to make one of it’s darkest moments surface right in front of him. Howell immediately went straight into Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s room in the Rays clubhouse.

After a short examination, a Rays teammate was seen bringing Howell’s clothes to Porterfield’s trainer’s room. Before that evenings game against the Cleveland Indians, Rays Manager Joe Madden spoke to the media and told them that Howell had suffered a “setback” and that he would be re-evaluated by the Rays doctors. It was the beginning of the steep rise and then quick freefall for Howell during 2010.

The darkening prognosis was further amplified by the blinding fact that Howell, who was usually one of the most out-going and quotable Rays players mysteriously snuck out of Tropicana Field without talking with anyone. The Rays had him visit Dr. Coco Eaton, the Rays staff orthopedic physician. After an examination by Eaton, it was advised that Howell seek a second opinion from Rays Medical Director Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama. Suddenly the coaster ride again began another rising ascent to the top.

Just 24 hours later the Rays announced that Dr Andrews would perform surgery on a damaged left labrum and that Howell would be lost until possibly May 2011. Suddenly one of the Rays Bullpen bright candles had been inexpertly extinguished without throwing a single pitch.

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After the announcement, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman revealed that when the Rays first got news of the weakness in Howell shoulder, the team envisioned possibly losing him, but held out hope that Howell could have been back at some point for 2010.The surgery dashed all hopes of a return to the Rays Bullpen for Howell.

Friedman spoke to Howell before he underwent his surgery on May 23rd and Friedman stated, “Obviously he was frustrated, it was an emotional moment for him, going through this for the first time,” Friedman said. “He’s in great hands, he’s a great worker, great competitor, so I would certainly never bet against him.”


After his a short stay in Birmingham, Howell returned to the Tampa Bay area, and released a few statements through the Rays PR Department on his surgery. “I feel like I just went 12 rounds and only punched with my left hand. It feels good to be moving forward and not sitting in limbo wondering what’s wrong. Now each day is a step forward.”

I saw Howell for the first time when his wife was promoting her children’s book, “The Adventures of Dangles” at the USF-St. Petersburg campus during the Times Festival of Reading event. His hair and beard had darkened a bit as hide behind the main area wanting his wife to have her day without any distractions. We spoke for just a brief moment as he quickly told me his rehabs were going great with the Rays staff and in his sessions in Birmingham, Alabama.

Some of his time away from the game had helped him focus his family’s involvement with discoveryourpath.com, which was a charity his wife and him both enthusiastically support.
At that moment I initially had the feeling his rollercoaster ride might finally be in its final deceleration stage. But there was one more gut wrenching twist to come.

On December 1st in his pre-Winter Meeting press session, Friedman advised the Rays Republic that Howell would definitely not be starting the season with the Rays. That ended a stream of optimism that Howell could/would be back with the team by Opening Day. Friedman added that Howell was working extremely diligent during his rehabilitation, but would not be ready by April 2011. Instantly I heard the click, clicking sound of the coaster car again as it ascended to the ride’s summit.

Howell was a key component to the rebuilding process of the empty Rays Bullpen that presently only has pitchers Andy Sonnanstine and Mike Ekstrom initially returning for 2011. With this latest news of Howell missing the beginning of another season, combined with an upcoming arbitration decision by the Rays, there was a ever growing cloud of doubt suddenly hanging above Howell’s name.

When the Rays finally unveiled their plan to non-tender an arbitration offer to Howell for 2011, most immediately thought the Rays reliever was destined to not be a part of the Rays rebuilding process. Most saw the move as a cost cutting measure to insure that Howell would instead sign for less than the projected $ 2.35 million dollar arbitration amount. The pure fact that Howell openly stated that he “wanted to be a Ray” spoke volumes about move.

This was just a calculated fiscal move that guaranteed the Rays some financial give and take with Howell. The non-tender gave the Rays a loophole around a rule that limit’s the reduction of a player’s salary to 20 percent ($ 1.44 million). In the background, Howell and his agent were furiously working on a contract when the Rays made their intentions public. Suddenly the rollercoaster ride that seemed to be going downwards fast ultimately ended up taking a upward motion.

On December 13th, exactly 11 days after the Rays initial decision to non-tender Howell, it was announced that the team finalized a $ 1.1 million salary plus incentives for the 2011 season. Howell again could regain a place in the Rays Bullpen at some point in 2011.

 
The rollercoaster ride had finally emerged from its trip into the darkness and a burst of sunlight is illuminating warmth finally onto Howell. Somewhere between St. Petersburg and Birmingham you know that Howell is again doing that Tigger dance, but this time mentally to protect that shoulder until he finally pulls on his number 39 Rays jersey in Tropicana Field during the 2011 season. Can’t wait to see him.

 

Bob Feller Was a True Baseball Immortal

 

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Photo:Answers.com

There are always people you meet during the course of your life that seem to click with you. It can be a piece of their personality that makes you notice them, or even something as simple as a moment of respect and courtesy shown to you that puts them always in your mind. I felt that way about former Indians great Robert William Andrew “Bob” Feller.

I first met him at a MLB Players Association Alumni game at Al Lane Field several years ago and was immediately drawn to him like a firefly to a night light. Maybe it was the way he treated the kid of all ages who came down before and after the game to get his autograph and hoping to hear the story about how the Tribe won their last World Series title in 1948. And all three of his nicknames from the “Heater from Van Meter”, to “Bullet Bob” to his most infamous “Rapid Robert” only speaks to the legend that was Bob Feller.

I felt compelled to listen to him any time I saw him after those years whenever the MLBPA Alumni players their games either in St. Petersburg, or up at BrightHouse Field in Clearwater, Florida. Always dug into a seat just out of the crowd hoping to hear another Feller original story from either the past or present about his Indians.

I always admired Feller for so many reasons. For signing at a young age with Cleveland scout Cy Slapnicka for just a $1 and a baseball. The impression that Feller left on Slapnicka stayed so sharp in his min d that when Salonika was given the GM position in Cleveland, he tried to by-pass Feller’s time in the minor leagues and bring him straight to the Majors, which was a violation of the MLB rules at that time.

Legendary MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis conducted a 3-month investigation into the quick acceleration of Feller’s rise through the Indians system from Fargo-Moorhead to New Orleans to the Majors without Feller having even stepped within either minor league clubhouse concluded that it was a violation of MLB rules, but ruled for Slapnicka and Indians owner Alva Bradley even though he did not believe the team acted with good faith. Some say that the testimony of Feller and his father to Commissioner Landis helped pave his way to Cleveland.

Even if that tale is an urban legend, it solidified the legend of Feller being the ultimate team player. But how can you argue with a man who played 18 years for the same Indians franchise posted 266 victories with 2,581 strikeouts and threw three No-Hitters and 12 1-hitters during his career. Or maybe it was the exclamation point to his career of throwing a No-Hitter on Opening Day in 1940 against the Chicago White Sox that even today stands as the only No-No ever thrown on Opening Day in Major League history.

In the end I finally found out what attracted me to Feller. It wasn’t that Feller was once clocked officially throwing 107.6 mph in 1946 after returning from a few years of military service in World War II. It was for the level of respect and pride Feller had for the game and anyone who ever pulled on a pair of cleats.

I truly admire Feller for helping to formalize a petition along with fellow Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams that was then submitted to the Commissioner of Baseball back on January 14,1998. The document is signed by both Feller and Williams and went about asking for the reconsideration of a lifetime ban or a pardon for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson so that Jackson could be rightfully examined by his baseball peers for possible future selection by the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee for consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I would have loved to see Feller pitch in his heydays, but I have only seen him in his later years at MLBPA Alumni charity exhibition games when fun had more of his attention that barreling that ball in there close to the ribs at his peak speed of 100 plus mph. What a joy it must have been to be a Indians fan back in the late 1940’s or even one of the Cleveland faithful today who ever got the opportunity to have a long and important discussion with such a baseball icon at an Indians home game.

 
 

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Photo: Commons.wikimedia.org

People want to throw out poetic phrases and resolute adulation at a time like this, but Feller was more than baseball. He was a war veteran, a father and a true image of everything that is right with the game of baseball. It saddened me a few weeks ago to hear of Feller being transferred from the esteemed Cleveland Clinic to a hospice unit after battling an invisible foe, leukemia for most of the 2010 season.

Feller passed away from pneumonia finally losing the most important fight of his life. But I want to remember Feller for his virility and strength back in June 2009 when he was one of the starting pitchers in the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Classic at 90 years of age.

I want to remember him as the player who’s Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa was built by his own son Stephen, an architect. I want to remember him for buzzing the tower of “Mudcat” Grant during one of those MLB Alumni games then staring Grant down at the plate. I want to remember Feller as a fighter, a competitor, but most of all as a true baseball immortal.
 

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