December 2010

Could a Ramos Injury be Delaying the Bartlett Deal?

 

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 Unknown Orioles photographer

So has Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett been unfortunately transported into some other dimension ? Is there such a locale as a Major League Baseball trade purgatory? We all have probably read the multiple Tweets, snippets and status of stagnant scent of limbo in regards to this recent trade between the Rays and San Diego Padres. But what is the dark secret keeping each party from either walking away or completing this trade? Curious minds want to know!

We have been lead to believe from sources within both MLB communities that the stalemate between the completion of this deal is a certain “injury” situation has been discovered on the Padres end of the trade. But you have to wonder just what kind of effect this will have as the two teams try to ease this trade towards its fruition. Or could the thawing ice under this deal finally melt in the hot California Sun and both parties have to again begin to rebuild this trade brick by brick.

Reports have surfaced that Jason Bartlett went through his physical with flying colors and is more than ready to join the roster of the San Diego franchise who initially drafted him during the 13th Round of the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft. But in this 13th hour, there has been cause for the Rays to put the brakes on this trade and leave both teams suspending the trade’s completion for the moment

With his trade in a state of limbo, Bartlett and his family must be in a state of utter amazement that they can not proceed on any present plans to possibly place their Fort Myers home on the market, or even proceed to journey back to Sothern California to look for another home in the San Diego area.

Bartlett’s prospective professional baseball life has now also put his off the field life into a proverbial holding pattern following a recent problem with one of the duo of prospects heading to Tampa Bay in exchange for the Rays 2010 starting shortstop. Bartlett must be welling up with the impending pressure and stress of this trade possibly falling part at the seams with a problem with either pitcher Adam Russell or Cesar Ramos.

I decided to dig a little deeper into the backgrounds of the two Padres set to becomes members of the Rays when this deal (hopefully) entered it final moments. I hoped to easily find a hidden physical aliment or a current injury that might not have been previously reported by the players and instantly sent up a bevy of red flags up to the Rays medical staff. What I found actually took a bit of time, but might just be the one aspect that is keeping this entire trade from finally being completed, or scraped.

You have to give both the Rays Front Office and their medical staff kudos for possibly finding a hidden situation or future health situation problem. Neither player probably has exhibited or previously established any pattern of injury concerns during the 2010 MLB or minor league seasons.

But recently Ramos was placed on the 7-day disabled list by his Winter League squad, the Naranjeros de Hermosillo ( Hermosillo Orange Pickers) of the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico. Considering Ramos did experience a previous problem with a left elbow strain. Back in 2006 suffered the injury and possibly the Rays are doing due diligence by possibly sending Ramos to their own doctors to examine the extent and possible effects of even a small scale injury to Ramos right now.

You can not fault the Rays for wanting to get a second opinion from their own battery of doctors before finally dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s” on the Bartlett trade.

But in the mean time it has been a cloaked veil of secrecy again from the Rays camp as to the extent or possible injury prognosis in regards to Ramos. I actually had to find a friend who speaks fluent Spanish to even find a hint of nay injury or problems in regards to either Padres player in this trade. But that is the Modus Operandi of the Rays organization to hold their cards close to their vest before I might have found a reason for the trade delay.

With the clock ticking on both the Rays and Padres side of this trade agreement, let’s hope that we can get a valid and feasible window finally established to either kill or proceed with this trade. Lives are being held up in the balance, and that is not fair when people are trying to formulate or adequately plan their upcoming Spring Training home sites.

But sometimes that is the nature of the trade beast where a single variable can sink the trade and send both teams scattering for a solution before exhausting all their options and calling it quits. Hopefully for all three players involved in this trade we can get a fast solution and lives put back into motion, both on and off the baseball diamond.

 

Maddon Celebrates his Fifth Thanks-Mas Celebration

 

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It is an event where velocity and speed are measured with sweat and muscle instead of a JUGS gun. It is a combination of the holiday celebrations that within the last five years has been a welcome relief from the cold harsh realities that face this region. The warmth and comfort surrounding the gathering is not only felt from the heat of ovens and stenos but from the laughter and compassion shown by one of the Tampa Bay area’s biggest hearts.

When the temperature begin to dip a bit here in Florida, it is a key signal that it is time again for the mass of Tampa Bay Rays office staff, players, broadcaster and coaches to assemble with their leader, Rays Manager Joe Maddon to begin the joyous holiday tradition of Maddon’s “Thanks-Mas” celebration.

This holiday season, Maddon and his every increasing band of Merry Men and Women will again assemble at the kitchens deep within the confines of Tropicana Field on Monday to begin the preparations on their annual Italian holiday feast of providing hundreds of portions of authentic Maddon inspired classics such as his Mother Beanie’s succulent meatball recipe and home made pierogies.

As usual, Maddon and his crew will prepare, transport and serve the meals to the less fortunate at the Salvation Army locations in Fort Myers (12/14), St. Petersburg (12/15) and Tampa (12/16). Maddon will also expand his journey this year to one more special location when he ventures to the local St. Petersburg Sallie House, on December 13,2010.

The Sallie House is a local St. Petersburg safe haven for children up to the ages of 11 who have been removed from their current homes because of expected abuse, neglect or abandonment. Children may stay at the Sallie House as long as needed – for a few hours or even several months – until they children can be safely reunited with their parents, placed with supportive relatives, or taken into a local foster home or adopted by a loving family.

 

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(Rays Radio Host Dave Willis) Photo: RVaughn/Raysbaseball.com

Doesn’t seem like it has only been five seasons since Maddon came to the Rays as their Manager and instituted this ever increasing holiday fest that has grown in size, importance and is a highly anticipated event by the community and the Rays each Winter. Over the past four celebrations, Maddon and his Rays elfs have helped feed over 3,000 Tampa Bay citizens who might be struggling or displaced by the region’s economic struggles. Each year you can see Maddon enthusiastically orchestrating both the kitchens and the serving area like a conductor on the podium.

This season some of the guests of Thanks-Mas will also be given the gift of a Tampa Bay Rays ” Hoodie” sweatshirt . The clothing item was made famous by Maddon when MLB sent a notice to Maddon following him wearing the royal blue colored hooded sweatshirt during a televised Rays versus Boston Red Sox series at Fenway Park in April 2010. Several later “Hoodie-gate” was resolved and Maddon again was seen on the dugout steps wearing the royal blue pullover hooded sweatshirt during the Chicago White Sox series.

 
 

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RVaughn/Raysbaseball.com 

“Thanksmas” can actually be found in the Urban Dictionary as ” a non-religious holiday observed by friends, not family who are unable to be together for either Thanksgiving or Christmas.” What could be more appropriate this time of year than getting together with co-workers celebrating the past years successes and failures along with the invitation of great food.

Maddon take his annual celebration to the next level by doing all of the grocery shopping and visually supervises the cooking firsthand so that the integrity and authenticity of his past holiday memories forged in Hazelton, Pennsylvania can be enjoyed equally by his old and new friends within the Tampa Bay community. I know it is a Rays post season celebration I look forward to every year not for the food and possible gifts, but for the pure joy of giving and sharing with a community Maddon also calls home.
 
 

Say It Ain’t So Carl!

 

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 Bill Koustroun/AP

Why is it that last night I had to have this mind numbing but incredibly visual dream where I was transformed back 2 scores into the image of a young boy standing on the stoop outside of Carl Crawford’s downtown St. Petersburg condo just waiting anxiously for him to appear into the crisp cold December morning air.

Why is it that in this poetically surreal dream, the moment my eyes catch a glimpse of Crawford strolling towards a waiting car, all that seemed to come out of my mouth was a paraphrase of the classic line voiced towards “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as he stepped out of the Cook County Courthouse back in 1919.

Why is it at this very moment this the encompassing sounds of that dream or nightmare somehow still echoes vibrantly within my eardrums. Pounding out those classic words back and forth, upwards and downwards seeming to fill every conceivable crevice and alcove within my heart and soul and masking me shudder with despair.

Say it ain’t so Carl. Tell me now that you did it for your young son’s future. That he will never have to go through the trials and tribulations you experienced as a young child in worn down sections of Houston, Texas. Tell me this contract is your life long aspiration of prosperity for your family built upon the sweat and punishment of you playing on an artificial field that you despised, but endured knowing that the final payment would be that you and your family enter into a realm of security and stability you often dreamed of as a teen.

Say it ain’t so Carl I understood when Rhode Island native Rocco Baldelli signed with these same Red Sox knowing his lifetime dream of wearing the red Boston jersey and playing upon the wet grass at Fenway Park. For this was the team that Rocco idolized as a child, wishing wanting and hoping to get a chance to achieve that dream before he hung his cleats up for the last time. Maybe that is why this is so difficult for me Carl.

 


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Chris O’Meara/AP

 

Say it ain’t so Carl that you have now traded your sunburst and blue uniforms for the grays and reds of a mortal enemy of your former team and that some will brand you a traitor or worse before the pain subsides and booing of the crowd for you at Tropicana Field falls into silence. Tell me how I am suppose to explain this to my teenage daughter who is an avid young Rays fan who idolized you for much of her life and still sees baseball as a game and not as a cold hearted business.

 

Say it ain’t so Carl that I have to now have to somehow turn away when you come to bat at least 8 times a year in Tropicana Field and somehow remove the moments and memories that you helped create with this Rays team. How do I stop the seeping wound within my chest that bled true blue for you, and defended you in every argument or unfortunate moment. Am I going to shake your hand this Spring and honestly be able to look you in the eyes?

Say it ain’t So Carl that the money made you take that bloated contract that will diminish your overall defensive reputation by playing in a position where you have to learn the angles and idiosyncrasies of a huge green wall that will take away your inherent speed and closing ability that got you that first Golden Glove in 2010. That by playing in that park, with that monstrosity just over your turned shoulder will make you a better player and get the chance to possess another Gold Glove.

Say it ain’t so Carl that you expect to be greeted with open arms today by the city of Boston with visions of stolen bases dancing through your head. That by working in tandem with new teammate Jacoby Ellsbury you want to annilate the old stolen base record by a duo in the American League. That somehow you see this Boston club as the team to beat, much like you have the Rays for the last 5 odd seasons. That somehow all the negatives you heard so close to your heart about this same Boston franchise mysteriously vanished from your mind and you welcome the “new beginning”.

 

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Unknown Photographer 

Say it ain’t so Carl that I have to somehow endure your physical existence in a possible 126 Red Sox versus Rays contests over that 7 span without cursing or wish ill will or injury to you. That with time this transgression will leave my mind and I will find some sort of vital peace a Franciscan monk must partake in accepting what I can not change, and having the wisdom to know the difference.

What you are asking me to do here Carl is go against my long standing judgment and set in stone opinions and accept you as a rival American League East player without any epic animosity or derogatory heckling. Right now, what you might ask of me Carl can not be fathomed as my heart and soul are awash in a sea of churning disillusion and astonishment. It will take some time for me to adequately embrace and digest this change.

Hopefully before the end of your 7 year sentence, I mean contract, I can again envision you for what you truly are Carl. A great player that once provided endless streams of memories and moments for myself and the Rays Republic and holding the fantasy that this was all an illusion and tomorrow you will still be a free agent.

I accepted within myself that you were gone from the Rays fold forever back in April 2010. It has taken me 8 months to filter, digest and acknowledge this, and last night’s adventure will take even more time.


At least today I can still achieve a small sheepish smile upon my bewildered face for the plain fact that at the end of this huge Red Sox contract you could have possibly played in as many games as a member of the Red Sox as you did wearing the Rays colors. Even with all those future depressing game moments with you wearing the enemy’s cloth,  I know that one day in the future you will wear the Tampa Bay Rays cap once again. Possibly upon the bronze plaque you hoist at your Baseball Hall of Fame introduction.

I do not wish injury or pain upon you Carl, just want you to “Say it ain’t so!”.

Garza Chatter is Stoking the Rays Hot Stove Fire

 

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Chris O’Meara/AP 

 

In the waning moments of the 2010 Major League Baseball Winter Meeting there is an increasing chilly wind whistling around the ornate columns of the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort. Within the sound swirling through the colorfully decorated corridors, the name heard on the cusp of the wind is that of Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. The Rays front office has more than let it be known that they will listen to offers and discuss their young budding star, and possibly provide him as additional luggage for some lucky GM before they hit the tarmac off Sand Lake Road.
But more than a few will balk at the attached price tag, while others will try and haggle and possibly snatch the young pitcher but he will not come as a bargain basement item. Garza can easily be thrust up into the top three pitchers made available during the Winter Meetings joining fellow starters Cliff Lee and the Royals Zack Greinke as the 1-2-3 combo of pitcher currently wetting the lips of fellow MLB GM’s. With Lee basically pigeon-holed to the top tier of moneymakers like the Yankees, Nats and Rangers, that leave right-handers Greinke and Garza as top dollar showpieces.


That being said, the Rays would love to keep someone of Garza’s ability and future potential, but the market sometimes dictates the flow and impending exit visa of a player like Garza. And he has gained the most possible trade inquiries instead of fellow starter James Shields. If you melt Garza’s last three season together you get the persona of a highly competitive hurler with an extremely emotional passion for the game. With a projected arbitration guesstimate of $ 5.5 million for 2011, he would be a financially viable option.

One of the possible negatives surrounding Garza might be the return the Rays would expect to pluck Garza from the Rays roster. Even with the aspect of a reduction the Rays payroll with sending Garza to another team, the Rays will want more than a single player in return. And that can be a defining factor that could quickly eliminate more than a few MLB teams from even calling about the right-hander.

But a crafty GM who knows about the Rays impending fiscal binds combined with the stark reality that the Rays might need to pursue a trade with one of their pitchers before the 2011 season to unblock the path of top prospect Jeremy Hellickson who has shown he is ready for full-time MLB duty. After an impressive September, Hellickson is not guaranteed a rotation slot or even a roster spot for the Rays in 2011, but am impressive Spring could force the Rays into a snap judgment pitching decision.

Maybe it is time for all of us within the Rays Republic to accept that even with Garza’s increased proficiency on the mound, maybe he has reached his ultimate zenith in trade value. That by trading him at his highest level, Garza will bring a healthy player return that will fundamentally secure the Rays next level of player development. With the Rays currently having up to 6 open slots in their bullpen for 2011, using Garza to gain some impending relief depth might be the best playable card in the Rays deck of cards.

Most in the Rays Republic might want the team to shop fellow starter James Shields instead of Garza, but Shields is coming off a sub-par 2010 season and needs to reestablish his value in the trade market before the Rays dangle him on a line. Garza has also received the most nibbles by prospective MLB teams, and could provide some internal team control since he is a Super-two arbitration eligible player and a prospective team could control him longer before Garza would hit the free agency trail. But then again, posting a No-hitter automatically has more than a few mouths watering around the league.

 

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Chris O’Meara/AP

It is that classic “Dang if you do, Dang if you don’t” scenario that even putting Garza out there to entice the rest of the league could come back to bite the Rays in the end. We have seen recently that the Rays are trying to get the most in return for anyone they consider “tradable”. With recent Jason Bartlett trade rumors falling by the wayside, it is becoming evident that the Rays value quantity as well as quality in their trade talks. Some teams might want to strike while the Rays iron is hot in the coals and steal Garza away, but that will not happen.

The Rays do not have to trade Garza or any other player currently on their roster to afford them. But the underlying aspect of possibly getting two or three players under contract for the same $ 5.5 million might entice the Rays to trade Garza a little less in return right now. But the deal will still be on the Rays terms, and will involve the players they as either future keystones or possible 2011 foundations rocks to rebuilding the franchise’s current weak spots. The Rays have never been a club that will thrust up the K-mart blue light and proclaim a special low cost price for one of their players. It is not known yet if the Rays will pull the trigger on a trade of any of their players during the Winter Meetings or before the team again begin to assemble this February.

Garza has done a lot for this Rays franchise. He has produced some of the most memorable moments in Rays history from securing the 2008 ALCS Most Valuable Player award to thrusting his fist skyward after his No-Hitter in front of the home crowd against the Tigers. I would be disappointed to see him leave, but I also understand the limitations and circumstances that surround the Rays this off season that facilitate such a move.

The cool Florida winds are still blowing through the Resort lobby, but somewhere beyond our eyesight I can still feel the warmth of the Rays taking calls and making inquires trying to find those special pieces of cordwood to stoke their Hot Stove fires.

 
 

MLB is Going to Love O-Town!

 

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The Major League Baseball 2010 Winter Meetings will setting up shop not more than 90 miles from my doorstep over the next three days (Dec, 6-9,2010). After the grueling daily grind of meetings, networking and the general business of doing MLB business, there will be a shark tank of prospective agents, players and shady characters laying in wait for the G M’s and decision makers trying to push their respective client’s “MLB Wish List” upon the assembled MLB head honcho.


This is a great time for the agent bloodhounds to get everyone in the decision making position within a confined region to try their closing arguments for that elusive deal, or possibly even pull off the proverbial “Steal of the Winter Meetings”. With the local Orlando weather only peaking out in the mid-50’s over the next several days, the rest of the Hot Stove season is expected to warm up considerably during the Winter Meetings.

The Winter Meetings have always been famous for the mixing of business with pleasure that sometimes progresses into a unexpected late night backroom session that gets a deal done. Since I was a Florida native and have spent more than a few wild night patrolling the adult sections of O-town, maybe I can help provide a bit of a primer of the places to be seen…or not seen over the next few days.

There are countless restaurants within a short cab ride of the Walt Disney Dolphin Resort where the main hub of the meetings are being held over the next three days. Just beyond pearly gates of the “House that the Mouse built”, outside the comfort of the Disney imposed happiness is the neighboring Universal Studio’s property known as City Walk that is a playground for adults, or those who become young at heart after dark.
From celebrity restaurants, themed bars to musical venues, this section of O-town definitely has consenting adults fun and relaxation at the core of their entertainment options.

This adult fun center has more than a few places to possibly get lost in the crowd and casually discuss things over an adult beverage or some exquisite cuisine. So let’s say after a hard day of listening to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig speak on his (sometimes) monotone thoughts for the upcoming 2011 MLB season you get a unique craving for some great grub, then you can motor on over to City Walk and entice your taste buds.


With creations from the Emeril’s restaurant, or the Pastamore’ Ristorante or any of the other specialized and popular dining adventures outside the confines of the MLB resort location. Or possibly you just want to further unwind and let it all go a step or two while dining and pick the fun and relaxation of plopping yourself down in Florida icon Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville cantina or hit the nearby Hard Rock Café. Or maybe you have a hankering for some classic Florida seafood and can’t wait to visit the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company .

Maybe you have a musical song beating within you and want to partake in a eating experience at Bob Marley’s or the Latin Quarter complete with spontaneous entertainment and music that is as spicy as the food on your plate. There is a reason Orlando is a tourist hot spot, and it doesn’t always revolve around the Mouse or Harry Potter. For the next three days foods from all over the United States and the World are within a few miles of the MLB host hotel, and even include a two-story McDonalds where you can purge that urge for a late night McRib.

Even the local bars have something that will cater to every single one of the alphas to the omegas of MLB personalities to provide more than a few options for anyone visiting O-town. From authentic sports bars to iconic places like the NASCAR Café or NBA City, sports is always just a television away in Orlando. But maybe you want to revisit a place from your past like Pat O’Briens in New Orleans. Well, you can definitely get a authentic Hurricane here in the state known for winds, rains without the feeling of a Tropical depression. Or possibly you just want a more chill atmosphere with a chilly Martini and some tapas or apps, then the veranda seating at the Velvet room at the Hard Rock is just for you.

Maybe you have some closet envy as a hidden shower singer who has always dreamed of being the front man /woman of a band. Then Rising Stars is the place for you. Picture yourself on stage with a full band behind you as you hit the high and low belting out tunes from today, yesterday or possibly your own rendition of a classic. Suddenly on center stage all eyes will be on you and your vocal talents. I can only imagine uber agent Scott Boras and Nationals GM Mike Rizzo up there singing a duet of Peaches and Herbs classic “Reunited” after their recent “coming together” over the Jayson Werth mega deal.
 
 

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Maybe you just want to take in the famous Blue Man Group performance to have a few laughs and giggles at their notions before retiring and awaiting the next day’s agenda of meetings, networking and glad handshakes with new and old MLB “friends”. There is a reason that Orlando is considered the Entertainment Capital of the World with acts as diverse as a set of dueling pianos, live TNA wrestling, Reggae and rock music. Heck, you know Selig himself will probably have a backstage pass to the Mannheim Steamroller event held at the Music Plaza Stage where holiday tunes will fill the crisp Florida night air.

The Winter Meetings are primed and focused toward the plans, dreams and aspirations of those within the business of baseball to entice their fellow brethren with planning session and arranged symposiums on all sorts of interesting topics. It is also a time for the legions of baseball inspired people within the MLB conglomerate to let off some steam before the real work of the off season begins.

I really only mentioned a dewdrop into the pool of entertainment values and options surrounding the Walt Disney Dolphin Resort. From Luau’s poolside at the Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort to NBA Orlando Magic games at the new Amway Center, the Orlando region is only as limited as the imagination of each and every MLB employee attending the Winter Meetings.

First and foremost on the agenda is business, but after that, it is a time to truly connect and become a part of the whole MLB experience. Be it meetings with prospective players’ agents or doing intelligence gathering for future promotional items, the only thing that can put limitations on the entertainment expansion surrounding you is your own mind…..and maybe a low per diem amount.
 
 

Rays Sonnanstine Always Seems to Endure

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Tampa Bay Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine might not be the guy you first envisioned when you thought who might be the “last man standing” when the Rays begin their systematic Winter dissection of their 2010 bullpen. When you think of lasting elements in regards to the Rays Bullpen, honestly Sonnanstine was not the first name that crossed my mind. But he has been fighting that type of thinking his entire life as well as his professional career.


In a pre-2010 MLB season Rays Index Trade Pool contest, 3 out of 12 Rays Internet bloggers thought Sonnanstine would be the Rays top trade target during the season . I, can honestly tell you I was one of the trio who thought Sonny’s career might be outside the Rays circle of trust by this juncture of the Hot Stove season. Plenty of times I thought the Rays “sixth starter” would be dealt away to give himself a chance to again sustain a starting role instead of being pigeonholed into a long reliever role.

There are so many previously unseen twists and turns within starter/reliever/jack-of-all pitching trades Sonnanstine that you can see why he has survived to the end. Sonny is a proverbial human “onion” with so many multiple layers and talents within his overall skill set besides just throwing a round white sphere at a moderate velocity. Did you know that the Ohio native once actually worked as a pheasant hunt guide at the Hill and Dale Hunt Club in Medina, Ohio as well as being a great clay target shooter?

Then you peel away another layer of the onion to find out that the quiet Sonnanstine was also once a school janitor during his High School days.

Sonnanstine initially got on the Rays radar in another very unusual way. He originally was not a collegiate baseball player on the Rays scouting department’s radar in advance of the team picking him in the 13th Round of the 2004 MLB June Draft.

His Rays career might have never materialized if former Rays owner Vince Namoli had not witnessed Sonnanstine’s magic as the tall lanky right-hander handcuff Namiloi’s 5th ranked Norte Dame Fightin’ Irish baseball squad in a 2-1 upset in the opening round of the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Baseball Championship.


Did you know that Sonnanstine during his red-shirt Freshman year helped the Golden Flash defeat the number one ranked Georgia Tech squad sending them to their first loss of that season and posting the first win of Sonnanstine’s collegiate career. Even to this date, two of Kent State’s biggest baseball victories have Sonnanstine listed as the winning pitcher.

Recently another layer of the Sonny onion has been exposed as Sonnanstine will be inducted into the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) Hall of Fame for his play during 2002 and 2003 with Sanford Mainers. Sonny will be joined by former 2004 Rays RP Mark Malaska along with current MLB players Chris Iannetta (C, Rockies), Andre Either (OF, Dodgers), former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent and Joe Consentino in a ceremony held on November 6, 2010 in Sanford, Maine.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved baseball,” Sonnanstine wrote in 2005 on attheyard.com, an online journal for professional baseball players. At the time, he was pitching for the Rays former Class-A affiliate, the Charleston Riverdogs. “I think I was four or so when I first picked up a baseball, and since then I’ve had a dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. Making that dream come true has been the biggest priority of my life“.


More and more you dig into the onion that is the life of this Rays player, the more interesting and intriguing experiences you seem to uncover. The fact that Sonnanstine does an off season Wii fitness program might not be too exciting or surprising to most people, but it is not the usual baseball themed regime, but a Yoga-based program to help with his overall flexibility and stamina while spending his off the field time with his faithful canine companion Murphy at his St. Pete Beach home.

We all immediately got to see a first sliver of the comedy side of Sonny’s onion during a Rays road trip in 2009 when the Rays pitcher organized a covert team wide prank on Rays rookie reliever Dale Thayer to have a little fun with Thayer’s 1970’s style facial hair. At a predetermined time during the game, the entire Rays bench and the bullpen both systematically pulled out a bushy moustache substitute and applied it to their face in homage to Thayer. It was a quick look into the creative mind of Sonny.

During the 2010 season, The Rays fans all got to collectively see more of Sonny’s inherent artistic talents as he was the main conspirator in the changing daily facades to the Rays upcoming promotional giveaway images plastered on the Tropicana Field Rightfield just beyond the Rays bullpen. His daily transformation of both the David Price and Matt Garza figures were always well received and recorded for their sheer attention to detail and overall humorous intent.

Little did most of us know that Sonnanstine actually had a bit of an MLB pedigree before the Rays drafted him out of Kent State. It seems that the Ohio natives great uncle on his mother’s side was former Cleveland Indian Third Baseman Ken Keltner who New York Yankee fans still curse as the guy who made two great defensive plays to end Joe DiMaggio’s 52-game hitting streak back on July 17,1941.

Sonnanstine also got to live a moment of Rays irony on September 1, 2010 when he was optioned because of a mysterious right foot contusion to the same short season Hudson Valley Renegades ( love it) club where he began his Rays career. The same franchise that once presented Sonny with their Pitcher of the Year award back in 2004.


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The Rays resident ping pong champion who was once referred to in the past as a “poor man’s Greg Maddux” has again defeated the odds and remains standing tall. During so many of the Rays previous seasons, the Rays right-hander has been the focus of countless trade rumors and opinions, but has always seemed to survive the cut and stay firmly planted within the Rays fold.


But the most defined peel of Sonny’s onion might be in his mental preparation and overall athletic ability that has even made Rays Manager Joe Maddon secure with a line-up card error. Back on May 17,2009 during a home start against the Cleveland Indians, an error on the game line-up card posted both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist playing Third Base.

The mistake eliminated the Designated Hitter position from the Rays batting order and thrust Sonny into the third slot in the Rays line-up Sonnanstine rose to the occasion for his Rays teammates by going 1-for-3 with an RBI double, plus picked up the pitching win to add a double dose of misery to the Indians, who were Sonnanstine’s favorite team as a child growing up in Ohio.

Sonnanstine’s first trip in 2010 to the disabled list for a right hamstring injury threw the door wide open for the Rays to recall Rays top prospect Jeremy Hellickson to make his MLB debut against the Minnesota Twins on August 19th. Even with an injury, Sonny finds a way to help the Rays win games.

Maybe the guy who once spent his college years in a dormitory room at Kent State just beyond the statue that still bears the bullet hole from the Kent State Massacre (May, 4,1970) surely knows a thing or two about surviving, even in the Major Leagues.

Some people might be surprised to learn that Sonny is double-jointed in his right elbow, or about his in-game superstition of throwing numerous pieces of bubble gum to the masses in Section 140 of Tropicana Field during Rays home games. The recent Rays Bullpen purge is quickly turning into huge question mark for the Rays. Possibly Sonnanstine has the right stuff to remain and provide more than just an onion slice of consistency for the Rays Bullpen heading into 2011.
 
 

Rays Bullpen Undergoing Extensive “Renovations”

 

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 Mike Carlson/AP

Just when I thought I could feel a tad secure about the Tampa Bay Rays unstable Bullpen situation, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has to drop another bombshell on the already scarred Rays Republic. With the recent revelations that even Rays stalwart reliever Grant Balfour is shunning the Rays arbitration offer, the team has quickly seem it Bullpen’s health go from unstable to critical.

With a upcoming contract tender decision today concerning Rays long reliever Lance Cormier and Rays jack-of-all-trade Andy Sonnanstine, there was bound to be another interesting twist or two before the Rays began to effectively rebuild their Bullpen and possibly contend again in 2011. But the bomb that came out of Friedman’s mouth yesterday during his pre-Winter meeting press junket might have delivered a death blow to the Rays post season aspirations for 2011.

I instantly felt like Daniel-san from “The Karate Kid” with a hearty leg sweep taking me out and sending me to the canvas. Suddenly the foundation I thought was flimsy but fixable, might just be undergoing a major overhauling. Maybe I invested too much into hoping, praying, thinking that Rays southpaw reliever J P Howell could somehow be that impending shining light we would need in the Spring of 2011 to blaze a Bullpen path.

Instantly, that foundation, that hope of some stability was swept clean, at least for the first few months of the 2011 Major League Baseball decision. Friedman had very encouraging words about Howell’s rehabilitation program since his 2010 shoulder surgery, but the only words echoing through my mind again and again was the possibility he would not be available until May or June. With just those few words it seems that a total transition of the Rays Bullpen was underway, and would Sonnanstine and Cormier be spared from the purge?

In reality, the Rays Bullpen went quickly from a slight rebuilding mode to a full blown reconstruction mode even if Sonnanstine and Cormier are brought back for 2011. Howell was thought to be some of the glue that might bond this unit tighter with his hugely optimistic attitude and energy. But with Friedman’s announcement of a possible road bump in his rehabilitation process, Howell quickly goes from a veteran cog of the Rays Bullpen 2011 machine, to an in-season inserted piece.

Suddenly the instability of the Rays Bullpen reminds me of those moving grass patches in the Florida Everglades that on the surface look like solid ground until you walk on them, then you fall through into the murky water below. Even with young arms like southpaw reliever Jake McGee and righthander Mike Ekstrom possibly returning for another Rays extended gig, Friedman made it clear that McGee would have to prove himself this Spring or possible start the season with the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

With the Rays possibly carrying 12-13 pitchers going into the 2011 season, suddenly only the starting five of James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann seems to be on any form of solid ground for now. But we have a long way to the Rays first reporting date of February 13th and anything can happen. If the Rays do consider carrying 12 pitchers’, that would mean that 7 new faces could possibly enter the Rays Spring Training complex in Port Charlotte, Florida on that date. I hope the team is stocking up on ” Hi! My Name is….” tags.
 
 

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Such a major re-configuration to the Rays late inning staff could take them immediately out of the thought process of contending during 2011 and might have damage their post season aspirations for several years. Suddenly the once solid and reliable Rays Bullpen unit is a shadow of its former self. And with the Rays farm system a bit discombobulated after 21 minor league free agents were not offered an olive branch by the parent club, more change is expected.

Going into the Winter meeting in Orlando, Florida the Rays might be going on an extended window shopping journey to see just what affordable options lie within their price range in the free agent and trade routes in regard to relief help. It could easily be considered that any trade even on the back burners would have to have at least one farm hand or MLB ready reliever to even be considered. With the Rays closer, leftie specialist and 3 key set-up pitchers possibly having played their last game wearing the Rays unis, the team might be in definite stealth “buying” mode.

It is a long way to February 13th, and the Rays could possibly entertain a multi-year offer with Balfour, or possibly have the chance to sign Wheeler to a lower salary figure than his declines $ 4 million option and retain some form of reasonable back end stability to the Rays Bullpen. Tendering 2011 contracts to Sonnanstine and Cormier could alleviate a bit of the Rays relief flux, but would only be a band-aid on the seeping wound.

With a limited payroll the Rays will have to effectively find a legitimate closer, a few set-up men and possibly a left-hand specialist. Even with the influx within the Rays Bullpen, McGee and Ekstrom will have to prove themselves to even be considered in the Rays overall relief equation this Spring. What was once a steady and reliable relief unit has quickly turned itself sideways and could be at its weakest point since Rays Manager Joe Maddon took the Rays reigns.
 
 
 
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