March 2011

Baseball Deserves It’s Own National Holiday

 

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Maybe it is time. Maybe we are at a pivotal point in our gallant sports consciousness that we can finally take a firm first step in this journey. Make that initial swing towards the process of immortalizing this one special day ever year….. forever.

Maybe this is the perfect time to get a few important political allies in line to push for possible binding legal legislation to make Major League Baseball’s Opening Day a Nationally recognized holiday.

I know a majority of us already use it as a stealth day of fun, even possibly at the expense of taking a sick day or calling into work with excuses with gapping holes like Swiss cheese. Maybe by making it an “official” day we can come out of the closet and profess our baseball love to the world without riddicule or penalty. Viva la Beisbol!

giants-opening-day.jpgIs the want to make this day a more than just a symbolic holiday lost on the fact most of us take measures already to cease production, fake sickness or family matter to rush to the ballpark to see that first glorious pitch of the season in person. If it was a defined day on our yearly calendar, then possibly Human Resources Departments or Sales team could coordinate group outings to the ballpark in support of this great day. More fans celebrating this day means more excitement, more revenues, and more special memories

With a key allie of the game currently residing in the White House right now, who shares in our love/hate relationship with the game of our youth, possibly now is the perfect time to consider such an sports-oriented endeavor. Not only does our President, our Commander-in-Chief boldly salute his own deeply-rooted White Sox love, but his yearly invitation to meet the eventual World Champions is a symbol that the highest office in the land has a genuine sense of ultimate baseball respectability.

Now if we can just corral a minimum of 26 United States Senators who also possess the same passion and admiration for the game, we will be well on the way to securing historic legislation. As Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston) so adamently screamed in “For The Love of the Game” when Billy Chapel (Kevin Coster) was lying on an ER gurney after cutting his pitching hand profusely, “Is baseball not America’s game!”.

Congress needs to acknowledge officially that the American image is firmly planted with roots on the clay and grass baseball field of this Nation, not just subject to apple pie, hot dogs and Chevrolet.

opening_day_2009_1280x1024.jpgAs a baseball community and as a Nation, we should embrace the active thought of a celebrated day solely devoted to “America’s favorite pastime” A sport that doesn’t discriminate on ability, sex, race or even physical limitations. From T-ball, Miracle Leagues all the way to “The Show”, the escalation of the game only breeds warmth and admiration along with the true essence of the American spirit.

We could then outwardly celebrate on this day and support a game that has taught so many of us the rules of teamwork and of binding and bonding together for a common goal. We could celebrate our finest youthful moments again on a yearly basis with a sea of new baseball friends.

Baseball already brings out their own brand of ceremonial pomp and circumstance on this day, but why not include the rest of the sports nation into the fold for a National celebratory moment.

Sure there is still NBA and NHL games on tap, but the first week of April is about the bat and the ball. Of a Spring season of change and possibilities closing with the anticipation of 162 games played between defined chalk lines on pristine grass and immaculately turned clay infields. A game fought with distinctive individual skills, But defined within the team concept. A perfect storm of sports competition.

It deserves a day all its own, red lettered and circled on every calendar in this Country.


Thumbnail image for P4078963AAA.jpgFor this country to celebrate a day dedicated to the sport we know has a long and historic alliance with the United States both at home and abroad, it is a testament to aspect of fair competition and the essence of the American dream. Sure it may be a child’s game played by adults making a boatload of cash, but the childlike expressions on the faces of the players show daily it is not only about the competition, the pride and the admiration of this simple but complex game of chance.

Starting tomorrow maybe we can all collectively voice our opinions on possibly immortalizing forever as a country, baseball’s Opening Day. The time is right for such a couragious venture. We have a President who adores the game. Members of the United States Congress who have either played the game as children, young adults or at the MLB level.

Ground level support is definitely there for all of us to individually and as a Nation showcase our own passion and respect we have for this game that celebrates strength, integrity and unity on the field. Be it Major League Baseball, minor league affiliate or even Independent Baseball, this glorious day should have the added spice of being officially announcing our continous love for this game to the World.

The game has been exported around the World with leagues springing up during every imaginable season of the year devoted to this great game. It is time now to give a big chuck back to the game by getting it the recognition it should have had previously.

BDD_BO_allstar_71409_gett.jpgWe have the chance now with a President who flaunts his long distance alligence, even wearing his South Side Chicago squad’s colors at his current Washington DC address. In President Obama we have a firm example of loving the game from afar, keeping tradition strong no matter the miles or trails and tribulations, of supporting your “hometown” team openly and proudly, even in a polarizing town like Washington.

No matter if you are in the Northeast,Florida, Pacific Northwest or SoCal the passion for your team travels with you and you are open to express that love, even in enemy territory like a Yankee fan in Boston, or a Dodger fan expressing their love in San Francisco. The game transpires all kind of boundaries and deserves a day all its own.

Aubrey was right when she shouted that in “For The Love of the Game“. Baseball is America’s game and now it is time to put it firmly up on it’s pedestal where it belongs, as a National Treasure.

The Escalating Thefts of Evan Longoria

 


 

 

During the last 12 months, Tampa Bay Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria has tried to mold his image a bit with his 2011 Spring Training  Kirk Cameron clone curly-Q hairstyle, a more GQ-inspired wardrobe and the toys that “big boys” buy when they cash a substantial MLB paycheck. As Mel Brooks said in History of the World Part One, sometimes “it is good to be the King.”

Added to all of Longoria’s career accolades is the increased pressure of being marketed not only by the Rays, but by Major League Baseball into one of the most popular players in Major League Baseball. With increased demands both online and in auctions of Longoria jerseys and game-used collectibles increasing immensely in the last year. Suddenly Longo is one of the most sought after autographs of collectors and fans.

For all of the success Longoria has had on the diamond, and with his off-the-field transitions, there have been unseen cloaked figures watching his every moves, tendency and personal mannerisms. They are not MLB opponent’s Coaches or even pitchers’ watching Longoria, they are the unsavory and often criminal element looking to cash in via a 5-finger discount on the new found fame of the 24-year old 3 time AL All Star.


Full.jpgLongoria has quickly been schooled that top tier MLB popularity sometimes comes with a high and costly price tag. Not only do baseball fans want a collective piece of the young star, but stealthy thieves have claimed more than just his signature, or a game used item in the last 12 months.

Suddenly, Longoria’s off-the-field life and adventures has played out more like a high budget Hollywood adventure movie than the real life adventures and escapades of a budding MLB icon.

First there was that epic New Era 2010 commerical where someone stole Longoria’s New Era game cap while he was casually lounging at a Tampa Channelside cafe possibly within a long Longoria throw from his downtown condo. In the commercial, Longo does his best “action hero” imitation as he scampers via a bike, Tampa cable car and also using his charm to commandeer a scooter operated by a cute new Longo fan.

In one of the last scenes of the commercial we see Longo attach himself to the riggers of a rising helicopter from the nearby Davis Island Airport still on the hunt for his prized cap. Inset incredibly ironic moment as Longoria unfortunately finds out the cap on the guy Longo has been chasing is too large for his mullet.

Then we suddenly see Longo transfixed on a guy in a speedboat wearing a Rays cap and he instantly thrusts himself from the helicopter which has by the magic of Hollywood transformed from Florida to the California coastline, complete with a jutting mountain range in the background. Jason Bourne would have definitely been impressed.



Thumbnail image for evanlarge.jpgThen in the last month Longoria got a second more personal jolt of the criminal element as a prized possession bought this off season, a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro was snatched from a Tucson, Arizona lot where it had been stored while undergoing cosmetic alterations. This time because it happened after the beginning of the Rays Spring Training schedule, Longo could not be personally ” on-the-scene” to coordinate the recovery efforts. Sometimes even a budding MLB Superman can not be in two places at once.

The car theft investigation is taking a wild “Gone in 60 Seconds” vibe as former Long Beach

State teammate Troy Tulowizki had a ironclad alibi, he was in camp with about 60 other members of the Colorado Rockies. Nicholas Cage/ Randal “Memphis” Raines was on a out of country movie location.

 

Tucson police have no solid leads, but are investigating every channel, even alerting the Desert Valley Auto Parts crew of the classic car heist since they specialize in older model classic auto parts. You might remember their name from their reality television show, “Desert Car Kings“.

The latest brush with loss has been the recent break-in of his Port Charlotte rental home just a few miles from the Charlotte Sports Park where Longoria and Rays team/roommates Reid Brignac and David Price were in uniform for a Sunday matinée contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Price walked in on the aftermath of burglars coming into an unlocked window to steal personal effects of all three athletes.



Red_Dawn_43622_Medium.jpgBut one item taken stood out from the rest. An AK-47 assault rifle registered and owned by Longoria. It was not bought out of paranoia or even as a personal defense decision after the prior two losses, but as a personal weapon of choice for his own home protection. I could easily envision Longo and his crew in the backyard of his Port Charlotte abode or in the deep woods hoisting this weapon above his head screaming the words “Wolverines”.

This one “weapon” choice of Longoria’s however comes with underlying and revolving consequences. Sure the rifle was reconfigured to be legal for purchase and use as a security item. Everyone in the house had items taken from electronics, watches and a few personal items by the brave daytime theft.


In the wake of all this, Longoria’s image and his weapon choice might have possibly stolen something more valuable from him. Gone forever is his professional squeaky clean commercial image instantly tarnished by this one possibly impulsive purchase option.

The worst thing about this ” choice” is that the weapon is still out there somewhere in Southwest Florida. The fallout is just beginning to hit Longo as both Rays and other baseball fans recoil and voice their opinions on the young player’s actions. Best case scenario is that the weapon was discarded or dismantled and nothing happens with it. Worst case……..I’m not going there.

Listed here are three different and distinctive thefts. One for commercial value, another might have been more a case of wrong place, wrong time for Longo’s Camaro. The third will have repercussions for some time. Will MLB backpedal a bit and not promote Longoria as much in 2011 hoping the media firestorm doesn’t burn Longoria’s popularity or credibility to ashes.


Thumbnail image for 45469_6a00d83451b05569e201156fa04426970c-pi.jpgHopefully this will have a Hollywood ending. The thieves will return the weapon by putting it on the doorstep of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department, or provide a covert lead to have local officials re-acquire the lethal weapon before something bad happens.

Hopefully this is the last episode of someone taking a piece of Longo’s personal property for a long time….if not, we might have another Hollywood classic bubbling to the surface. A recent St. Petersburg Times article on the AK-47 left us wondering just how low this will take Longoria’s trust and respectability ratings. “Longoria’s legal assault rifle is now somebody else’s illegal assault rifle“.

Ouch!

 

 

Central Pinellas Site is Still Perfect for Convention Center/ Stadium


Over the last 30 years during my road trips on I-275 over the Howard Franklin Bridge towards Pinellas County/St. Petersburg, my eyes have always been drawn towards a particular densely swampy parcel of land just opposite of the long abandoned Florida Welcome Center.

I have always puzzled me why some savvy developer/builder had not previously bought or built something amazing on this prime slab of real estate nestled just outside the mangrove wetlands.
It simply astonishes that this parcel of tall grass had not been the jewel of someone’s fast money making scheme, and was not being held vacant because of possible salt water intrusion or interrupting the natural flow of the the mangroves thickets lining the Southern most edges of this parcel.  

Sure I have seen a few scattered condo communities and office buildings spring up just off this uneven and sometimes water-soaked parcel, but even with the prospect of future encroachment by modern civilization to its grasses, this pact of land has remained pretty consistant and dormant for several decades. 

Even as I gaze upon this large parcel this afternoon, my vivid and wild imagination envisions a plethora of possibilities of what could one day be built upon this land. That one day a calling card monument could be built upon this land and become a regional welcoming beacon to travelers cruising Southbound on I-275 just a click beyond the Ulmerton Road and 9th Street exit ramps towards the hamlets of mid Pinellas County and St. Petersburg. 

Why has this massive singular parcel withstood the rush of greed and easy money to somehow be sparred by the decades of real estate speculation and explosions to remain clear and free of development?

Was there a wise benefactor, or  a possible (hopefully) dealbreaker botched by someone stuck somewhere within one of the neighboring office buildings without adequate windows to not build, sell or even excavate this lush green segment off the tip of the Howard Franklin Bridge.
Could it possibly be held in secret by a sly developer or real estate mastermind for the rebound of the real estate market future with visions of dollar signs dancing through his head. 


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Could someone have really envisioned so far into the future that this same parcel could one day  be the site of a great architectural symbol of the Tampa Bay region built upon its sandy soil and forever be known throughout the World for its construction on this very site?

That this same piece of land could one day possibly house the benchmark in stadium “green technology” while also communing and embracing the surrounding mangroves and oyster beds to showcase that man and nature can systematically co-exsist, even with the intrusion of sports just beyond the shallow canoe trails and tide pools? 

It is a divine miracle this same plot did not go under the blades of a bulldozer or excavator before now. For the sake of total honest here, this same parcel of soil was my personal choice for the building of a baseball stadium site back in the late 1980’s when the discussion first came up for the site of the proposed multi-use stadium that would evolve into the Florida Suncoast Dome/Thunderdome/Tropicana Field. It was just built 9 miles in the wrong direction. 

It is so wild that this little preserved parcel of land could one day be considered as the perfect centerpiece parcel for the building or state-of-the-art stadium/convention center facility that the Tampa Bay community has been seeking for so long.

It is still a bit mindboggling to me that this parcel of land has stood the epic test of Florida’s construction explosion and is still standing here, undeveloped. It might just be the perfect location to make both sides of Tampa Bay again embrace baseball with open arms from both sides of the pristine blue waters. 


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It is simply unimaginable that at this very location lies within a few feet of this region’s highest traveled throughfares, with great infrastructural groundwork already being done to improve the area’s roads and room for possible additional external ramps for the future. 

This parcel might need a bit more subtle tweaking and upgrading to take on the extra burden of game day traffic along with the usual commuter congestion, plus maybe a few additional ground transportation options to and from all points around Tampa Bay. This parcel of land sits smack in the middle of a ever growing section of Pinellas County that can support such a complex being built on this site, and should flourish beyond present expectations as both an entertainment center and transportation hub. 

Even the odd thoughts of reliable forms of alternative transportation options might have been done by accident in the past, but could prove a bright shining star to showcase this parcel as a shining example of what a stadium site should envision.

Because of the already exisiting business district around the 28th Street/ Carillion Parkway hub, there is an established Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus route that serves the surrounding neighborhood office complex/condo community to the west of this parcel of land that could be greatly expanded to ease the transportation burdens of fans or might even be fine tuned to the needs of a convention center/stadium complex. 

I personally like the idea of a year round Convention Center being constructed on the parcel to help bring an extra burst of daily activity to the stadium year round.  Top priority would have to be given to designing a feasible infrastructure support system to ease the demands of both I-275 traffic returning to and from Hillborough County at the 5 pm rush hour on game days. 

And if you really want to look into the future for possible traffic solutions, maybe the PSTA and Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART) can combine their collective resources as a community unit and effectively create a regional remote parking lot alternative or establish a multiple-county transit solution to bringing fans to Rays games from satellite parking lots or pre-destined pick-up locations throughout Tampa Bay. 


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The Pinellas County choice is simply ideal as it is situated within a critical epicenter of the cross-county area to give more access to Tampa residents and upper Pinellas and Pasco-Hernando county citizens, but might prove a bit of a additional driving burden for people traveling North from Sarasota or Manatee Counties.

But if it is a state-of-the-art stadium with all the bells and whistles to entice corporate America to expand their involvement and support with the Rays, then we are all going to be winners in the long run. 

This beautiful parcel of land was left in it’s present state for some reason. It has withstood the Florida construction boom, stayed true to it’s natural roots for decades. Could this be the ultimate locale for the Rays future proposed stadium?

Can we finally put to rest the echoes of discontent by the citizens of Tampa to their “bridge phobia” or the hour long commute to games and finally bridge this stadium location into a unified show of community support by the Tampa Bay region on one potential site. 


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Next time you rush down Ulmerton Road on your way home from Tampa, look to the northwest and check out this parcel of land and see if you can see what I envision on that parcel….

A beautiful retractable roof stadium with a natural grass surface situated right off a main span of Interstate, but with a unique nightly background of distant flickering lights of the downtown buildings surrounding Tampa Bay from any sightline vantage points.This stadium debate can no longer remain silent or continue with each side of the bay proclaiming to the heavens that their stadium site location has some thin sliver of an advantage. This one site fulfills a lot of the criteria, is centerally located, and has breathtaking scenic nature views into the eustary that is Tampa Bay.

This location to me is perfectly suited to entertain the notion and the construction of a new masterpiece stadium for baseball. People soon forget that the first drawings of Tropicana Field had the stadium open to the elements on its southern sideWith Minnesota opening Target Field in 2010 and forever leaving the Metrodome, the Trop will be the last of a dying breed of domed stadiums within Major League Baseball. So maybe it was some sort of divine intervention that left  this parcel vacant for so long and loudly screams “baseball stadium” to me.

Hopefully it will be heard loud and long enough for even the multitudes of Rays fans in both counties to conclude….This would be a great parcel of land for the future home of Rays baseball. 

 

Sternberg Speaks Honestly on the Rays Tampa Bay Future

 

 

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It was the Tampa Bay Rays stadium conversation and whiplash response most members of the Rays Republic knew was just peeking above the horizon. The Tampa Bay community as a whole had hoped such a cold water splash in our faces would have a more postmarked expiration date.

Somehow we all knew that the ever present sunshine attitude that surrounds our typical Florida Spring day would suddenly be darkened by an omnipotent comment cloud that would overshadow the usual optimistic banter whenever the Rays future stadium plans have been mentioned.

Just as suddenly the veil of silence has been removed from the Rays stadium debacle, and a few of the comments from Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg paint a more daunting image of an hourglass whose ribbons of sand are constantly spiraling to and end instead of a more optimistic conclusion.

Recently Sternberg told reporter Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times:

“It seems clearer to me by the day that we’re going to be the last man standing (Oakland A’s stadium talks are in a more advanced stage of discussions),” Sternberg said. “And everything I know, and talking to these guys, baseball is just not going to stand for it anymore. And they’ll find a place for me. They won’t find a place here though. So it’s up to us, to everybody, to figure out how to get it right. …


Stu2008.jpg“We’ve come so far with this, with all the people who are interested and watching. I do believe we’ve grabbed into (them) a little bit, and to say it’s a good thing, it’s fun, it’s good for your kids, it’s a nice sport. … And that’s my real concern, that we won’t get to finish the job that I know we were right there to do.”

For the first time I can remember since Sternberg took over the Rays reigns, it seems like a hint of pessimism has crept into his tone when discussing the Rays future home. For the first time, Sternberg has bluntly envisioned both sides of the Tampa Bay region losing out if some sort of constructive movement is not made in the near future.

A good first step might be St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster allowing the Rays a little latitude to venture into other Tampa Bay locales without the threat of harsh legal actions or local repercussions by the Rays landlords possibly letting the process systematically eliminate some of these cost deficient locations from contention.

But that would be a huge leap of good faith by the City of St. Petersburg who has so much to lose not only in possibly losing their biggest tenant, but seeing a reversal in some of the recent positive financial surges in the city’s economically sensitive downtown core. Losing the team would turn downtown St. Petersburg basically into a ghost town again after 9 pm.

No matter how you try and twist, convolute or even manipulate Sternberg’s words, the message is loud and clear now. Major League Baseball with all its omnipotent power hover and circle above the whole stadium process like a lurking Florida vulture has the upper hand.

No longer is this only about St. Petersburg or even Tampa, it is about the future existence of our own Major League team in a town with rich MLB roots, but a transient populous that still has not fully embraced the Rays as “their team”. Even with the recent return of Spring baseball to Progress Energy Field (Al Lang) , the vibe concerning St. Petersburg is beginning to fade a bit more towards black than sunshine.


Stu2010.jpgI am not the only one to notice Sternberg’s particular word usage or possible hidden messages in his statements. Rays Index, another Rays top blog spot also noticed this one particular sentence that might heed this Tampa Bay region to having a few “burning the midnight oil” political strategy sessions. In a perfect world, both sides of the Tampa Bay region would meet in the same clandestine room.

Hidden within the midst of Sternberg’s comments is the small phrasing, “they’ll find a place for me. They won’t find a place here though.”

Immediately you see the unveiled reminder that the upper echelon of Major League Baseball loves the energy and past work Sternberg has done in rebuilding the Rays franchise from the ground up again, and might have some hidden agenda for his future.

The losers here will not be Sternberg, but it could be this region forever cast as a land of Spring baseball only again if the Rays do get harvested like an orange and taken somewhere else.

Contraction with a MLB/MLBPA labor negotiation in the near future is not an viable option, but if this region keeps their minds and mouthes closed for too much longer, it might be too late to salvage the fruit on the vine.


LockTrop.jpgI think the month of April will not only be the beginning of baseball again being played in St. Petersburg, but the beginning of the sands beginning an accelerated pace through the Rays hourglass. Sternberg has been more than vocally adamant that he is not the only person who might view this whole Rays stadium process as being stagnant for too long now.

Something has to be decided soon before the sands from the hourglass become quicksand that devour and destroy that forward progress of baseball in this region over that last 14 seasons.

 

The Tampa Bay community needs to make the first step soon, the first lunge into diluting this dark cloud and again bringing the warmth of the sunlight firmly back into view……or the cloud will overtake the region and when it finally begins to dissipate, the Rays may be gone…forever.

 

 

 

Batter’s Eye Restaurant to evolve into Everglades BBQ Smokehouse

 

 

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Since the opening of Tropicana Field, it has been an iconic part of the landscape of this unique domed stadium. It’s dark tinted windows concealing plenty of zealous Rays and visiting fans perched just above dead Centerfield.

It was one of the only a few restaurants options right off the playing field that I know of in Major League Baseball that seems to be so perfectly placed for dining fans to get that “up close and personal feel”, almost like they are just hovering above Tampa Bay Rays CF B J Upton’s left shoulder. I know the San Diego Padres havea their own Batter’s Eye Pavilion, but it is not a sit-down restaurant concept. 

Sure every MLB stadium has it’s own special type of dining experience for game day fans, but none were perched within feet of the playing surface, or who give you a chance to hear the bang of a long Home Run bouncing on or down its roof during a MLB game. I still remember the first time I ate in the restaurant during Batting Practice and watched the action from above the playing surface.


9745.jpgThe Batter’s Eye Restaurant has been for years one of the most unique dining experiences inside Tropicana Field where you could dine before, or during a Rays game in the luxurious setting of a tasty and gourmet ballpark inspired menu. The restaurant was a famous stop for Rays fans before the games also for their ala carte menu and their free Wine Tasting gatherings during 2010.

The Rays and their concessionaire Centerplate tried during 2010 to revive the old dining glory by offering unique Diamond and Platinum game buffets when the concession lines used to overflow with hungry fans. They event tried to get the casual Friday night fans into the CF icon with $ 19 buffets with everything a ballpark menu should be. And Saturday nights the Restaurant offered a dining experience at $34 dollars per person which bordered on a gastronomical ballpark menagerie.

 

Heck their Sunday brunch buffet (my favorite) even offered made to order omelette’s, entrees, salads great pasties at a affordable $26 a head. It was one of the great meet and greet places before the Sunday matinée games with seating available the moment the gates opened at 11 am. But all that is going into the Rays history book this April. A big change is about to happen to that huge Batting Practice target as the Rays open their 2011 season.

Thumbnail image for steaknfire.jpgGone will be some of the posh and exclusive dining atmosphere as the Rays and Centerplate have remodeled the location and turned it into the Everglades BBQ Steakhouse.


The new Rays BBQ experience will again offer an external simplified Everglades BBQ menu that can be purchased ala carte at select concession stands in the First Base Food Court and the Right Field Street area for an BBQ-insipred moments for attendees of Rays games.

But you can bet this step back towards a more casual “family-style” dining experience will be an instant hit with the Rays Republic as the menu will feature such Southern classics as pork, ribs, chicken and wings smoked fresh daily on site at Tropicana Field by the Rays/Centerplate culinary team. There will also be barbecue favorites like corn on the cob, potato wedges and a few unique dessert options.

The Batter’s Eye held it’s last “official” function during the Rays Fan Fest as the site of Joe Maddon’s “Thanksmas” celebration and Q&A session. It is a bit sad to see the old concept go, but it might have outlived its Rays usefulness. In its place will be a vibrant, new and exciting concept that will offer its food creation both inside and outside the restaurant for Rays fans to enjoy.

URyaTo3S.jpgI am actually looking forward to the new BBQ concept that will bring back a few of the great food items lost when the American Plate and Chef Enzo did not return to bring buckets of BBQ ribs and Southern inspired creations to my taste buds on a nightly basis.

Got to give the Rays and Centerplate a huge round of applause for again providing that missing Southern food element back into my game day experience. Hopefully it will explode into one of those “must have” food selections for visitors and fans to the Trop that will entice, entertain and become a new Rays ballpark tradition…just like those old Batter’s Eye Sunday brunch buffets…. only this time it will be finger licking good.

 

 

Rays Steamline 2011 Ticket Stock Player Selections

 

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Something is afoot within the Tampa Bay Rays organization. It has become a bit of a tradition for the Rays ticket stock to have at least 6-8 of their high profile or ” up and coming” Major League Baseball players showcased on the season ticket stock given out before the season. But in 2011, that number has dwindled to 3 Rays players and Rays Manager Joe Maddon.


The Rays Manager is a great selection, with his slogans, mantras and now slimmed down glasses front and center in the “Rays Way” of thinking. Not every MLB Manager is treated like a rockstar, but Maddon has produced some amazing results in his short tenure and winning a AL Easts tile for the second time in 3 seasons tends to make you a front and center piece of the puzzle.


The three Rays players picked this season to emblazon the tops of the Rays tickets are starting pitcher David Price, All Star Third Baseman Evan Longoria and the “Zorilla” himself, Ben Zobrist. Missing is usual staples like Starter James Shields, B J Upton or even up and coming catcher John Jaso.


Heck you might even think the Rays would showcase the addition of Manny Ramirez,or Johnny Damon since they have included them in the promotional giveaway items for the season. Maybe the Rays are considering them possibly Trade Deadline roster deletions or not wanting to promote their short term players.


Even with the “Manny dreadlocks ” destined to possibly be in-house in the Rays Team Store by Friday’s Home Opener, it seems a bit “safe”, possibly even a bit “vanilla” for a team that always seems to be stirring the palate with new and interesting bright ideas.


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But the Rays decisions on the three highlighted Rays players gracing the ticket stock were great choices. How can you not include Price in the mix as he was the 2010 Warren Spawn winner, thew starting pitcher of the 2010 All Star Game and one of the top AL Cy Young candidates. Longoria is another simple no-brainer because of his top 20 MLB player presence, another Gold Glove and a string of All Star appearances.

But the addition of Zobrist as the third and final Rays player on the ticket stock is a bit curious to me. His 2010 stats took a bit of a backwards slide compared to his break-out 2008 season, but he is genuinely likable and has that killer nickname.


His elevated 2011 salary ($ 4.5 million, 3rd highest on the Rays payroll ) and the increased offensive demands on him in 2011 might become a possible marketing implosion. Got to say I have a bit more faith in Shields getting his act together than Zobrist, but I am personally hoping I am also wrong about Zobrist’s 2011 season.


You would have thought the Rays might promote starting SS Reid Brignac a bit more since he is going to be a significant cornerstone of the Rays defense in 2011. Or possibly play up the possibility of OF Matt Joyce finally getting a fair chance to compete more on a consistent basis possibly finally showcasing what he’s got since his trade here from Detroit in what seems like eons ago.


Was the obvious overlooking of Rays Rookie starting pitcher Jeremy “Hellboy” Hellickson a calculated move, like Brignac to keep the pressure off the pair with an eye to future promotions and possibly a marquee spot on the 2012 ticket stock. It might seems a bit perplexing to overlook the dynamic pair, but the pressures of their Rookie campaigns along with finding their own MLB grooves might take presence now.

With the remodeling of the Rays Bullpen, the Rays could not effectively focus on anyone in the Bullpen except possibly RP Andy Sonnanstine or J P Howell as a per-Spring Training Rays Bullpen member who might outlast the late March purge to possibly make the final 25-man roster.



TB20111.JPGBut maybe that is the underlying theme of this season. Maybe the Rays knowing so much change has evolved since the end of Game 5 of the ALDS that a step back might be more productive at this point than thrusting a fist full of players in the faces of Rays fans with a chance for a few players setbacks or departures during the late end of the season.


Already this is looking like a season that will be a bit more subdued, possibly with the team following more of the mainline MLB “status quo” than being outwardly flashy and “in-your-face” off the field.

Maybe I am just a creature of baseball habit here, a fond admirer of the Rays past tradition. Maybe it is also time for me to adjust to a new Rays direction.

 

Sure I am a bit disappointed that the Rays players on the ticket stock got streamlined to a small handful this season. In this case, for me personally, more is definitely better.

 

 

Tommy Bahama to Offer Unique Rays Collectible

 

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When I first heard that Tommy Bahama was going to introduce a special Tampa Bay Rays collector’s edition inspired shirt this season, I began to hide a little bit of money every week so I would have the cash on hand to purchase it on the first day of its introduction.

Then I got the email inviting me to the special reception complete with an RSVP, and a few lite bites, music and cocktails. Seemed like the prefect way to ring in the 2011 season with a special gathering at the International Plaza in Tampa.

There was even a chance to win a special autographed player photo and a special baseball inspired gift with every purchase. More and more my mouth began to salivate and I almost had to pick-up a napkin.

 
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Looking forward to seeing who shows up, and who is ready to plop down some hard earned cash for the exclusive shirt just in time for the Rays Opening night gig on April 1st. Will there be a few Rays players scattered out in the event’s crowd? Will there be a speech, or just a pulling of a white sheet from the sales racks and the race is on to grab your unique Rays collectible?

 

I am actually looking forward to the event, and hopefully I have put away enough chicken scratch to hopefully get two of the Tommy Bahama shirts….I gotta dream big.

 

 

 

Et Tu Governor?

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Politics and baseball just seem to go hand-in-hand. When the country was much younger, it would be to a politician’s benefit to be seen or even throw out the ceremonial First Pitch at a baseball game in front of his home crowd constituents. It seemed to make the politician more likable and showed he had the hometown spirit and his team at heart.

Sure there have been moments when a local or even National politician has taken to the mound and either thrown up an air ball or tossed the ball so far right of the plate you instantly wanted to stand and give the “wide right” football field goal signal. Those are the moments made for ESPN and Youtube immortality.

Then there is the politician who listens to one of his staffers and decides to wear the warm-up jacket and cap of a particular team as a show of support, and it goes all horribly wrong. You wonder what the politician was thinking at that moment. Did he just have a brainless moment, or was it an intentional act?

The politician in question is current Florida Governor Rick Scott and his ill-advised motive to don a New York Yankees warm-up jacket and cap while throwing out the ceremonial First Pitch during a Yankees versus Toronto Blue Jays contest last Saturday. Really Governor?

r-RICK-SCOTT-BOOED-large570.jpgDid you really think the Rays Republic would look the other way when you donned the colors of the Yankees while hitting the mound with smiles and giggles, then looked astonished and bewildered when boos began to rain down from the stands. You were already not on most of the Tampa Bay region’s “Most Loved” list, but this action really set a few fires burning.

Governor, I can see the reasoning for being there that night, but to flash the colors of the Rays bitter rival less than 30 miles from their own hometown is insulting, and will definitely have repercussions.

I mean I understood President Obama wearing his White Sox warm-up jacket when he throws out a First Pitch, and I respect the fact the President has never hidden or disguised his affection for his hometown South Side boys, but Governor Scott…..You were in Rays country. That is like doing the Tomahawk Chop on Florida Field…..This already is making more than a few waves within the sports community, and will not fly with your Tampa Bay constituents (unless they are NYC transients).

RScott2.jpgHeck, I didn’t vote for you because of this kind of brainless thinking process and off-the-cuff behavior. This was an irresponsible bit of hogwash that will not be forgotten in 9 days when you hit the mound of Tropicana Field for Opening Night.

Trust me Governor, you thought the unpleasant sounds coming out of the Tampa stands were bad…..Just wait as the Rays Republic gets 9 whole days to let this bubble up inside us. Letting this betrayal seep and steam within the Rays Republic until we get to a point where we are so upset you will be lucky if most of us stand for the First Pitch.

Today I have had more than one person asking me to write a petition or hark like a town crier from my soapbox to admonish you and have you replaced on that day for your Benedict Arnold moves. How you forget most baseball fans are registered voters ( I know I am). But there is tradition at stake here.

It is ceremonial that the Florida Governor throw out the First Pitch at the Rays home opener. What is even more comedic to me is that it will take place on Friday April 1st this season. So I am not asking for a boycott, not asking for a shower of boos or comments streaming down from the stands. My action is simple and will make an instant point.

I will stand when you are introduced and possibly be faced towards you as you slowly stroll towards the pitching mound waving to the Rays crowd as if you are a Rays fan.

Suddenly while you are gesturing before throwing that pitch, I will turn my back to the pitching mound as a vivid visual of the shame and embarrassment I felt upon seeing my Chief Executive Officer of the state of Florida don a Yankees jersey. I will stay in that position until you leave the field, hoping you see a sea of backs towards you and finally see that the fans of this MLB franchise felt betrayed.

You probably will not notice, caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the moment with visions of Longorias’ dancing through your head. But my mind is made up. I am secure in the knowledge you might feel it is disrespectful, but I am going to exhibit my rights set forth by men wiser than you.

Sure I would love it if other Rays fans joined that same sentiment, but sometimes the one voice can be heard in the throngs of the masses. I am just visually showing my personal disappointment once again in your process of thought since you took office not long ago.

This time it is not about State Pensions, Unemployment or even the High Speed rail debacle. This is personal, you defamed my MLB team. Maybe I will be the only one to show any visual signs of disapproval, but it is my right, just as it was your right to throw on that blue and white jacket with “Yankees” emblazoned on it and walk out onto that field Saturday night.

 

Interesting how this all happened around the time of the ides of March….Et tu Governor?

 

 

 

Rays “J-Hook” Gang

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The J-hook is an intricate part of the towing industry. It can be a valuable tool to help extradite car from ditches or lakes. Can be used as a tool help bring about the process of overturning a car on its hood, and it was a essential piece of towing before the advent of the wheel-lift.

I grew up knowing how to attach a J-hook to a car’s rear axle or front A-frame even before I could ride a motorcycle. It was the essential part of towing cars in the past. And the success of failure of toeing during that time was directly related to this one hardened piece of shaped steel

I think it is actually kind of poetic that three member who are fighting for roster spots current in the Rays Bullpen should comprise this special “J-Hook” Gang. There are currently three members to the brigade, all with names that begin with….J. Each will have a significant job and responsibility in 2011 that could either raise the Rays, or wreck their chances.

c4s_raysnotes022111_163530c.jpgThe members of this special “gang” are relievers Juan Cruz, Joel Peralta and Jake McGee. Each has a significant role, and has shown so far this Spring that they can answer the emergency call and respond with confidence and ability on the mound. Let’s start off with Juan Cruz.

Heading into the 2011 Spring Cruz was not even being considered initially for the Rays Bullpen, but the team signed him to a minor league deal just before the Rays Pitchers and Catchers reported (Feb 3,2011). Cruz who will be 32 when the season starts has over 7 years of MLB service time, and actually made the Kansas City Royals Opening Day roster in 2010 before being released after 5 appearances.

Little do people know that he was experiencing shoulder pain even before the season began with the Royals, and was advised to seek a secondary opinion on surgery, but he decided to forgo the doctor’s request and throw…..He was released by the Royals on April 23, 2010.

After having the shoulder surgery out of his own pocket, Cruz had more than a few reasons to attach to a team like the Rays and prove he was healthy and ready to compete. Doesn’t this redemption scenario seem a bit similar to the reasoning the Rays used in 2010 to sign Joaquin Benoit to a minor league contract.

So far, the Rays investment is paying off in huge returns as Cruz came into tonight’s game against the New York Yankees having not surrendered a single run this Spring. Sure Cruz did not get out of his Monday night appearance without a few scratches, like surrendering his first run of the season, but was in the right place at the right time and earned his first “W” of the Spring tonight after going 2 innings.

Cruz definitely seems to be on cruise control right now posting 9 strikeouts in his 8 innings of work, and can be expected to see more action in the next 10 days. This is one J-Hook who has stood the stress and pressure this Spring and shown his shoulder is strong and capable of helping the Rays toe the rubber this season.

2233113.jpgThen you have another right-handed J-Hook, Joe Peralta who might not be tall in stature, but has been a giant on the mound for the Rays Bullpen this Spring. Peralta is another one of those MLB players who did not begin his career with his toes pinned against the pitching rubber.

Peralta initially began as a outfielder (1997) in the Oakland A’s farm system before moving on to the Angels, then Royals, Rockies and last but not least, the Nationals in 2010. Peralta posted a 2.02 ERA with 9 k’s per 9 innings and 1.7 BB/9inning with 49 innings of work for the Nats. in 2010. Peralta also ranked fifth last season in fly balls (55.6%) among relievers with at least 40 innings of work.

This Spring Peralta has been throwing imaginary balls up to the plate as he is the only Rays reliever to post a current 0.00 ERA heading into the last 10 days of Spring Training. In his 8 innings of work, Peralta has only surrendered 3 hits and posted 9 strikeouts with 2 walks.

Right now it could be safe to say this J-Hook has firmly connected with a spot on the Rays Opening Day roster barring some mechanical failure. Our third member of this special group throws from the opposite side of the rubber and will be called on to be a intricate part of this Rays Bullpen machine.

mcgeex.jpgJake McGee came into the Spring wanting to prove himself as a reliever and get a viable chance to make the Rays Opening Day roster as a left-hand reliever. Earlier this Spring I was not sure he had made the adjustments or mechanical changes needed to be an every day option.

This Spring McGee has proven me wrong by becoming the Rays most consistent left-handed option out of the Bullpen. I guess his numbers from 2010 had me worried he might not be able to sustain his pitching as McGee only made 8 appearances after his call-up on September 14, but 7 of those were scoreless affairs.

After starting off his professional career not allowing a hit in his first 6 outings, I just felt he might need a bit more….fine tunings. But upon further review, I found out he was one of only eight pitchers in MLB history to not allow a hit over his first 6 MLB appearances. The last to do it was San Francisco Giant pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, and the last left-hander to do it was Brian Fuentes when he was with Seattle in 2001.

Suddenly it seemed that maybe I was being a bit too careful with McGee and possibly he could handle it all. This Spring McGee has appeared in 7 games, given up only 1 earned run while posting a 0-1 record and a stellar 1.13 ERA. Suddenly it seemed that McGee and Cesar Ramos might be fighting it out for the left-hand specialist role so revered by Rays Manager Joe Maddon. So far it seems McGee has this on the hook and running away with it this Spring.


610x.jpgSome might not get my towing analogy,but the Spring stats so far speak for themselves. These three “J-Hooks” have made themselves valuable commodities that need to be in the Rays toolbox this season. Each has their own unique quality and possesses their own steel grip that could help tow the Rays ship towards victory this season.

In the business of towing cars, the J-hook is an invaluable piece of formed steel that can make your job easier and more efficient. Ironically, one of the biggest towing companies in St. Petersburg, Florida is called Tri-J Towing….For some reason, the 3 Rays “J’s” in their Bullpen just seem to have the ability and strength to add up victories for the Rays. Maybe because they are already effective “tools of the trade”.

 

 

 

This One Bad Apple (Fan) Needed to be Plucked!

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I still remember the day when my father’s gas station had a third bathroom designated for a certain racial group. It bothered me even as a young child because my church bible school told us we should love our brothers and sisters no matter what.

I attended a Pinellas County High School where our own Junior Varsity football team wore rebel flags on the shoulder pad region of our jerseys. This was done because the first name of our school was “Dixie” and not intended to for racial segregation or dissemination.

Around that time period my Southern middle-class school was learning a hard lesson in social responsibility and equality. Harmony and change did not come easy, but it happened. …slowly. That was over 30 years ago that we began a social conscientious process of changing, of evolving, of maturing to accept that same church bible school reasoning.

A lot has changed since the evolution of that racial tide to go from arrogance and insensitivity to understanding and harmony within our community as a whole. Not only as a Southern society did we gain tolerance, but we also shed that huge snakeskin of racial ignorance and became a more conservative human race.


uptonsmid.jpgThen something like the horrific events connected to the Tampa Bay Rays versus the Baltimore Orioles happen and you wonder just how much of that change locally was cosmetic and not internally digested into our lifestyles. If you have not heard about the event yet, an opposing view fan decided to announce his own vicious barrage towards Rays CF B J Upton while he was standing in the open air Rays dugout.

This episode bothers me deep down within my Southern Son’s soul. The language will not be repeated here, but it would have contained a few censor marks much like this from MLBlogs (**** ****). Suddenly this one fan set back this region racially almost 30 years with his venom-packed comments. I do not hold the team whose jersey he wore ( not the Rays) in any way responsible since they can not censor a First Amendment right, but this foul-mouth baboon was in violation of a simple human right…respect one another.

I will be the first person to stand up and say I have thrown a tirade towards Umpire crews and opposing players for great players. But Have never and would never direct a venom-laced racist statement towards a player, umpire or a field staff member. How is something like that even considered “constructive”?


3697277.jpgWas the fan hoping Upton ( who is a big HOCKEY fan ) would leave the Rays dugout area like a hockey player and chase him through the stands. I can assure you, someone would have tripped him up hoping he knocked himself out on the way to the concrete steps. Was this all an attention based move by a Twitter twerp who still professing innocence even after Rays Coaches and players attest to his horrific comments.

I commend Rays Manager Joe Maddon for getting the attention of the Rays security staff and getting that piece of garbage escorted out of the Charlotte Sports Park. That kind of fan is not wanted and should not be tolerated in this day and age. 30 years ago I felt embarrassed and humiliated by the action of some of my peers when it came to those kind of comments. Today, it angers me to the point of confrontation.

It did not matter what jersey he wore, or his upbringing at that point. It was a show of complete disrespect and reversal of everything we had done for years. Sure the fan thought he was being “cute” or being a passionate fan by his comments, but what he needed was a beating. I personally do not tolerate that talk from people. If a friend says it, even in jest, I am done with them. I have a Zero Tolerance for ignorance and stupidity.

I understand “heat of the moment” statements proceeded by anger and rage, but to direct it towards an MLB player in the middle of a contest? Absurd is too simple a word. A fan like that using that sort of insane directive should be banned from the ballpark..period. And not just for one game or the rest of the Spring.

Arrogance like that can breed with a few more adult beverages. Ignorance can spread like a cold if done in the right environment, but the ballpark is not a place for either infectious insane behavior. I might have firmly popped myself on the soapbox here, but this can not be tolerated.

bj-upton-420aj062710.jpgWhat if Upton had jumped up and proceeded to rearrange the guy’s facial features…..Upton would be held criminally and personally accountable and the guy would be considered a victim by some people’s standards. Sportsmanship also applies to us in the stands.

Sure we give it back to Boston and New York fans in my section of the Trop., but it is done within boundaries and not personalized by race, color or creed……Accents are not off limits though.

My father once told me a tale of Bob Gibson while he was in St. Petersburg during the Cardinals Spring Training in the 1960’s going into a diner and asking to be served. The man behind the counter said “We do not serve your kind at the counter”. My Father told me Gibson looked the man right in the face and told him, “well, if you don’t serve ballplayers, that is okay”. And left. Now that is tolerance from a man famous for a temper.

103268_raybucs9.jpgIn the end, this country and the Tampa Bay community went through a long learning process of equality until it actually became a reality. It is a pity that one stupid fool has reversed that whole chain of change with a tirade of racial stupidity. Maddon did the right thing, Upton did the right thing, now can we all still keeping doing the right thing in the stands. Zero tolerance for ignorance.


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