May 2011

You Win Some, You Lose Some… A Tale of Twofer’s


Not sure why, but this abbreviated 2-game series against the New York Yankees felt so bitterly anti-climatic. Made the fact that neither the Tampa Bay Rays or the visiting pinstripes can thrust their chests out as the absolute “ winners” or “losers” of this peculiar series.

Maybe the pure fact that each squad left the Tropicana Field AstroTurf on Tuesday night sporting identical 1-1 seasonal records took some of the emotional victory out of it all. We are going to have to get used to it this week as 2-games series will dot the Major League Baseball landscape as a way to get the MLB schedule in line for the fast approaching InterLeague showdowns starting this weekend.

It really felt odd during this series to not have that third game to push a bit of supremacy to one team for at least a little while. With only 2 contests in this series, it was hard to focus or even divulge which team might have an advantage in the final 16 games between these two increasingly bitter rivals.

Each of these contests showed a display of polar opposite styles of play with one teams just seeming to not be quite in tune, or just a step behind.

With the Rays playing under the .500 level at home this season ( 11-13), this series really had me worried since the Rays had not scored more than 5 runs in their last 22 home games. Suddenly in the 6th inning, the Rays finally found their missing cask of mojo and quickly posted 5 runs on the board in front of the home crowd.

Oddly enough, the offensive outburst came after Rays Ace David Price was out of the ballgame and did not fact into the decision. Their energetic explosion included 3 Home Runs and helped paced the Rays to their 24th victory of the season. The opening series win got the Rays on the threshold of possibly finally secure a .500 mark at home this season.

The Yankees came into this series with a bit of drama within their ranks, but possibly the loss to the Rays on Monday night pulled them together enough to put out a great effort on Tuesday night to supplant the Rays dreams of hitting that home .500 mark. These 2 games were as different as night and day for each squad as they took turns taking advantage of each other’s minor mistakes, missed pitch locations and each dug the knife in deep to provide enough momentum to secure a win.

The Tuesday contest started to show some signs of being a great pitching display match-up between Rays veteran James Shields and Yankee youngster Ivan Nova. Each pitcher made a few early mistakes and saw solo shots by Rays INF Elliot Johnson and Alex Rodriguez exit the ballpark into the grandstands before the Yankee began to fluster Shields to produce a second error to Rodriguez, plus spot the Yankees to a 4-1 lead.

Somehow the Rays did not have the guns to provide a second night of lighting up the Trop’s roof orange and could only muster another run thanks to a Ground Rule double down the Rightfield line by Ben Zobrist in the bottom of the 9th. 6-2 was as close as the Rays would get as Mariano Rivera came on to get former teammate Johnny Damon to ground out to first for the Yankees 21st win and gain a game on the Rays.

But the night was not without drama. Well, at least on the Rays side of the coin. In that last inning, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach hit a high fly ball deep into the stratosphere of the Trop that seemed to bounce off one of the infamous catwalks.

In every video replay you can see without a doubt the path of Yankees Leftfielder Brett Gardner was alter and diverted by the “ping-pong” action of the ball as it careened off one of the overhanging steel structures. Gardner did somehow position himself under the ball even with a last moment change in his body direction to bring the ball into his glove.

Initially it looked like the ball had hit the C-ring, which would award a solo Home Run to Shoppach. Rays Manager Joe Maddon urged Home Plate Umpire Gary Darling and the rest of the crew to convene and discuss the play for a possible review.

The Umpire crew made the right decision to review the play as it was not clear by television replays whether the ball bounced off the B-ring, or the C-ring. One would produce a Rays run, the other the second out of the inning.

In the end, the Umpires got it right as post game video showed the ball struck the B-ring on its lowest point before heading towards the C-ring. That made it a catchable ball resulting in the inning’s second out. This contest really wasn’t that close, but the Rays have a habit of last inning heroics, and at that moment Rivera was not in the ballgame.

When you play a divisional rival, you love that third game so you can vocally display your pride. This 2 game series basically added a single win to each team’s record, provided some interesting fodder for the future contests, and above all showed that these 2 squads are closer in abilities than their payrolls suggest.

Sure I would have loved a second win on Tuesday night to provide a statement by sweeping the Bronx Bombers, plus the addition of finally getting back to a .500 record at home. With the Rays heading out on a 8 game road trip, which includes a 2-game series in Toronto, plus 3-games series each against the Tiger and Marlins before the Rays hit the comfort of home Turf again.

By ending up the series at 1-1, it did not give either team an advantage in the American League East division except take one win away from each other. This series did not have the usual pomp and circumstance of a Yankees stroll into the Trop, possibly having a bit of the internal drama within the Yankees organization stealing some of the thunder of the match-up.

These two high powered squads will not mix it up again until a 4-game series (July 7-10) in the Bronx as the last series each team will have before the All Star break. In the end this abbreviated series got each team’s feet wet in their 18-game seasonal series.

Gave each team’s pitchers and hitters a quick glimpse into what each team has to offer, and what changes need to be implemented before their next battle. Still kind of weird that here we are in mid-May and this is the first time either team has played each other in 2011. I guess you win some, and you lose some, even in the battle of the MLB schedule

Rucker Couldn’t Get Us a Win, But He Did Put Melody in Our Soul

Been a big fan of Darius Rucker for quite some time. Sure I was a guy who sang his Hootie and the Blowfish hits in my car in my younger years, but I also have become a instant fan of his switch from Rock to Country, especially with his twist towards incorporating some of his personal life into his tunes.

So when the Tampa Bay Rays announced this April that Rucker had been added to the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series, I was one happy dude. A nice double-dipper of a bonus was that Rucker would be onstage less than 24 hours after celebrating his own birthday ( 45th) where he did a private concert and workshop on Clearwater Beach, Florida on Friday evening in the company of young aspiring singers and musicians. Then you have the added personal cravat for me that he was performing on my birthday, and was a definite “win-win” scenario in my book.

Got to tell you, if 18 holes of golf makes you as energetic and enthusiastic as Rucker on stage that night, I am heading out to get    some DVD’s and learn how to monster the club head through the zone myself. Rucker had a glow about him on stage on Saturday  night that immediately spoke to me.

 From his first tune “Love Will Do That” from his latest Country album “Charleston 1966” to his last vocal note of the night, it felt just like sitting in a corner tavern with a friend on the mike singing his heart out…But that is how true music should hit us…right between the ventricles.

And Rucker’s music did hit that spot with a passion. All from a guy who possibly had a late night Birthday celebration, threw out the Ceremonial First Pitch, plus sang the National Anthem all before hitting the post-game stage and again making us swoon to and fro to his music.

My personal favorite of the night was “Southern State of Mind“. Mostly because every word in that little ditty was so true towards people square pegging people from this region of the country.

Ironically enough, when I took my coast-to-coast trip, I honestly mistakenly ordered “Sweet Tea” in Arizona and the waitress brought me tea and a huge sugar dispenser. Then while in San Francisco, I did hold the door open for a woman and she glared at me. Sorry, but manners do still run in my family.

From his up-beat song “Alright” to the more dramatic marriage tale ” I Got Nothin’“, it was a night exploring all thing Rucker, with a few visits from his alter-ego “Hootie”.

Got to admit I was happy to again hear ” Let Her Cry” from his Blowfish days, plus a special rendition of the Steve Miller classic “The Joker“, it felt totally like a bunch of friends just sitting around enjoying great music that night.

I let the horror of another loss slip from me as Rucker bellowed out his number 1 Country hit ” Comeback Song” with its catchy segments and great words to letting it all go as he sang “History in The Making” that echoes my own life is so many ways.

It was another great concert offering from the Rays, a great spokesman for their Country Night, and the perfect artist on stage singing his heart out for the assembled fans. Got me wondering after the show when we will see Rucker again in this region as the guy seems to always have a show here every 6 months or so….I think I better reserve my ticket now because I always love a good Southern song told by a great storyteller like Rucker.


Rays Can’t Muster a May 14th Victory….Again

The date of May 14th, has always held a small special place within me. It has been a day of honest reflection and undefined possibilities. It has been the Alpha and Omega of my entire life. When the Tampa Bay Rays finally began play in 1998, suddenly there was another reason to circle the calendar, another reason to hoist an adult beverage to the roof, another bit of joyous hope on this May date. 

This date has been simply murder on myself and the entire Rays Republic. For the last 11 out of 13 years, the Tampa Bay Rays franchise has been unable to win a single game on May 14th. On 8 of the past 11 years, the Rays have gone down in defeat and it has brought any idea of joy or happiness  to a sudden halt like I had been spun into a brick wall. The only blemishes on this dubious losing streak on this date is the solid fact that 2 “Off Days” appeared on the Rays MLB schedule in 2001 and 2007 to break up the sadness a bit. 

In reality, this is one date that the Rays have a huge albatross circling above them, and I am beginning to come to the realization that possibly I should blame myself.  Since  the first Rays contest in Kansas City against the Royals back on May 14, 1998, I have encircled this date on my calendar hoping to see the roof turned orange, or a mad team meeting on foreign soil after a Rays victory on this date. 

But again last season, the team and the Rays Republic got real close. In the end there was no celebratory cigar again to be lit on this grand date. This date has been my epicenter of baseball for the last 14 years. Since 1998, I have either traveled to Tropicana Field or another city on this day in response to where the Tampa Bay Rays were playing baseball. 

With the hopes of a May 14th victory firmly nestled upon the shoulders of Country singer Darius Rucker and the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series, I am enthusiastic and confident that finally………finally I will have a second reason to celebrate this May 14th. But in the end, it was just another day to wander outside the stadium, look towards the Trop’s Teflon roof and not seeing a hint of any orange-hued venturing skyward for the mighty Rays had fallen victim to the May 14th curse once again.

I was really optimistic heading into this 2011 contest, but just as quickly, the dark cloud formed over the Trop. Sure it produced huge winds, large amounts of rain and even a few thunderous vibrations that shook the seats within the Trop., but I still had a positive vibe about this year. The Rays have been notorious for winning with crowds over 30,000, plus combined with a post game concert, the odds seemed to be finally tipping towards victory.

The Rays now stand 0-12 on this single day in May when I had hoped we would finally celebrate. This team that struggles to fight from a lowly 1-8 mark to finally sit atop the American League East summit still can not conquer the demons that possess the May 14th date.  Hard to keep a levelheaded version of optimism between my ears with musical notes of despair ringing louder and louder in my ears.

Cursed, doomed or possibly just a string of bad luck are encircling negative words that now seem to echo through the Trop long after Rucker and company have packed up and the last Rays fan has found their way to the exit.  So now do I take the cheery attitude that “we will get ‘em next time ( in 2012)”, or do I just keep some sense of a positive vibe within me knowing every streak no matter if good or bad finally has a end point.  

I do not have the right segment of words to fully describe the sorrow and pain that is burning in my gut. I know this team is good enough to win, even on May 14th. Do I keep my head up for another 364 days with high hopes, lofty expectations and a sense of fulfillment that 2012 will be the year we finally win on this dastardly date……This team deserves a celebration on this date in May, plus it is the day of my birth….Maybe that is where the bad luck spills into the whole equation.



Shields Finds “Another Way” to Victory

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Since the beginning of the 2011 Spring
Training, Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been stressing the
mantra of finding “Another Way” to win games this season. Most of
the Rays squad has taken the skipper’s words to heart and have been
re-tooling parts of their game to help the team transform a few
opportunistic situations into victories.

Rays starter James Shields has taken a part of his game to the next level, and that might be his personal

stamp of “Another Way” for his pitching in 2011. The art of the
pick-off is a bit foreign to most right-handed pitchers.


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Because of their angle towards the
plate, and the extra motion needed to throw across their body to
First Base, the pick-off play is a lost and sometimes forgotten
special play within the game. But in 2011, it seems that Shields has
found a way to again stoke a level of fear in base runners when he is
atop the hill.


If you look at the Major League
Baseball leader board among pick-offs, it is usually dominated by
mostly left-handers who have a distinctive advantage throwing-wise to
nab stray base runners. But in 2011, Shields and another Rays rightie
Wade Davis had combined for 4 pick-offs already this season. Then Shields took his game into hyper-drive today.


That was before today’s afternoon
performance against the Cleveland Indians that saw Shields erase 2
separate base runners, one who was in scoring position. Somehow, some
way Shields has amped up his usual throw to first by deceptively
getting the drop on runners this season.


Maybe it is his use of his upper body
to throw towards the bases, or possibly his footwork has improved so
severely it boggles base runners into a trance. Not sure if that is
the real reason, but it is great to see another direction and another
tactic providing positive results for the Rays pitching staff.


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Seriously here. After Shields picked
off Indians OF Michael Brantley off First Base in the bottom of the
third to end the inning, it marks his 4th pick-off of the
young season. Suddenly Shields had a chance to catch current pick-off
leader Oakland LHP Brett Anderson who coming into today lead the
majors with 5 pick-offs.


Then 3 innings later in the bottom of
the 6th inning with Indian Shortstop Orlando Cabrera in
scoring position with power option Cleveland LF Shelly Duncan at the
plate, Cabrera was caught leaning towards Third Base and was picked
off by Shields easily.


I know at the moment Shields did not
know he had tied the MLB lead, but the grin on his face was ample
notice that not only did the play erase a sly base runner, but it
also ended the inning and negated another scoring threat by the
Tribe.


Suddenly not only was Shields change-up
something for hitters to worry about, now they also had to worry
about him turning and burning a throw towards the base with a chance
to eliminate any and all base runners in sight. That can be a very
valuable weapon. It can put a notion of taking a shorter lead,
possibly getting into a runner’s head when Shields is on the hill.


In the end, this change in Shields game
plan could keep runners at bay for a while as they sort out why he is
becoming so deadly. That could also play into runners not trying to
stretch out their leads on the bases for a bit, and might keep a few
runs from scoring. Some might call it intimidation, some might call
it slight of hand, I call it just what it is….”Another Way” to
win ballgames. And Shields is using his new weapon to his advantage
to secure a few more “W’s”.  


Cleveland’s “10th Man” Doesn’t Employ Human Nature

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Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has
always been proud and loud about the noise and ability of the Rays “
10th man”, their fans. But as the Rays venture into
Cleveland I was wondering what the Indians might consider their “10th
man” because I have a few suggestions based on past events within
this great baseball environment.


Sure you could point immediately
towards the ginormous scoreboard that is possibly higher than the
Trop’s center ring cupola, or you could just open your ears and hear
the rhythmic “thump,thump,thump” of the famous Indians drum
always present in the leftfield stands.

For some reason to me, these are not
the Indians ” 10th Man”. Possibly their “10th
Man” might not even be in human form. It seems like every time the
Rays wander into Progressive Field, Mother Nature tends to have her
own version of the “10th man”. And some times this
great woman’s obsession with Indian wins ventures into the realm of
insanity.

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She is known to throw rain at the Rays
at every occasion she can. I remember going up to Cleveland for a
birthday road trip and spending most of the Saturday afternoon
nestled by the Rays dugout with rain dripping off my cap as I talked
to the Indians ground crew and former Rays Damon Rolls.


Mama Nature has had clusters of storm
cells postpone games, had single thrusts of moisture keep the Rays
confined to the Progressive clubhouses for hours before letting the
game resume to only punch a cloud again and send fans, Umpires and
players scurrying like church mice to the warm and dry confines.

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But she not only uses weather as a
clever tool to take the wind out of the Rays sails, she also has her
own “Air Force” of pesky midges,sea gulls who have changed the
path of driven balls in the outfield, and who camp out in Centerfield
as if they belonged there. But then again, what else did you expect
from a woman who can call on the forces of nature in all realms.

So Mother Nature is the Indians
greatest “10th (Wo)Man”. Seriously, the only thing
more dominating within the confines of Progressive Field to even
compete with Mother Nature might be the famous Stadium Mustard. But
it doesn’t have the troops to employ havoc, mayhem and drama…Unless
they run out of this tasty condiment during the upcoming $ 1 Hot Dog
night.


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Mother Nature has won playoff games,
regular season series sweeps and provided a nightly reminder that the
cool winds coming off the lake can turn into moisture madness in a
New York minute. Seems like the second most popular person at any moment in the Press Box is the guy watching the impending weather on the local radar.


It might not be the classic “10th
Man” like the Yankee’s Bleacher Creatures, or the Rays cowbells,
but Cleveland special lady makes sure every team during every game
knows she is sitting just above the rim of the Progressive Field
Upper Decks ready, willing and able to provide tense moments,
unexpected showers and possible a few animal intrusions……



Thank You Rays, For Doing the Right Thing.

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I still find myself before every Tampa
Bay Rays game still glancing down the Bullpen “clubhouse” tunnel
expecting to see St. Petersburg Police Department Officer David
Crawford stroll around the corner. But then the reality hits me again
and it is tough.


I had to go on a work project that
could not be delayed to San Francisco, California the week of Officer
Crawford’s viewing and funeral, so in some ways, I did not get to say
“goodbye”. It has been hard to go to some games knowing his
presence is there for me, still wandering around that little
cubbyhole near the Rightfield foul pole. But that also comforts me to
know he might be watching over “the boys”.


So when the Rays announced that they
would permanently “retire” the official calls signs of the 3 St.
Petersburg Police Officers prior to the Friday, May 13th
contest against the Baltimore Orioles, I gave out a sign of relief.
The trio were the first officers lost in the line of duty in 30
years. All three have a long history of working various Rays games at
Tropicana Field and were well known to fans and employees throughout
the park.

From Friday on, I will be able to look
above the Rightfield stands and say a nonverbal “hello” to the
Crawford and his fellow officers who befriended me and our Section
(138) for so long. I will be able to remember, honor and celebrate a
police officer who I described on a local television station as a
“Teddy bear with a heart”. I will again be able to hoist up my
drink and salute a true baseball friend.

These men were part of the Rays
family
” said Rays President Matt Silverman. “Their service
contributed to a safer St. Petersburg, and they also helped create a
more welcoming environment at Rays games. We will miss them dearly,
and they will not be forgotten
“.


I had spoken of wanting to do something
pretty much like this before in the Rightfield location before the
2011 season began. But mine was on a more personal note for myself
and the friends within the Section 138 family, possibly just
scratching in Crawford’s name within the coats of yellow paint on the
RF foul pole that he leaned on for so many past Rays games.


I find this honor to be above and
beyond anything I could have envisioned or performed myself. I stand
and applaud the Rays management, ownership and the team as a whole
for providing this location for friends to always remember these
exceptional three SPPD members.


Crawford perished on the night of
February 21st after an altercation with a young armed robbery suspect
and will have the “call signs” of fellow SPPD members Sergeant
Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, who were both slain
on January 24th, just four weeks prior to Crawford while
attempting to arrest a fugitive during a raid in St. Petersburg.


Thank you Rays. This remembrance for
these three brave men where their 3 SPPD “call signs” will now
be permanently displayed above Rightfield giving the entire Rays
family from top to bottom a place to glance towards before the start
of Rays contests.


I look forward to saluting and raising a cup to these three fallen heroes Friday night. It will bring a sense of closure for me
towards understanding the loss. It will also bring me a greater sense
of closeness knowing that possibly Baitinger, Yaslowitz and Crawford
will always be there, guarding the Rays Republic.


Bring On the PINK!

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Bring on the PINK. This is the time of
the year that brings out a bevy of colorful uniform options from the
special pink shipment of game bats, color schemes among batting
gloves, cleats and even wristbands, plus that symbolic pink ribbon
among every uniform, even the Umpires on this day.


Mother’s Day, the day we celebrate the
person who nurtured us, supported and cheered for us in our early
life sports adventures. Where we pay homage to the woman who kissed
and put Neosporin on our many sports boo-boos. Sure flowers,
breakfast in bed and even a special dinner is in order, but Major
League Baseball should also be on the plate for today’s festivities.


Not just because of the pink-themed
uniform choices, or even the discounts and specials for those special
women in our lives, but to celebrate those who also took on the
monster of cancer and are here surviving and thriving every day.

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Among those on the sidelines today will
be numerous survivors’ of breast cancer who will serve at every Major
League Baseball game today as Honorary Bat Girls. Today is also about
those special women who took on the seemingly endless battle of an
illness that claims so many.


Today is about those who have
triumphed, pushed through and made the sacrifices that gave them back
their lives. The Rays will celebrate this great achievement on
Sunday, May 15th against this same Oriole’s squad when the
team again meet at Tropicana Field.


Among those on the sidelines that day
will be 35-year old Bradenton, Florida resident Shari Elliott who
took on the personal challenge of deciding to “live with cancer
instead of thinking of dying of cancer.”

Elliott is an active volunteer in the
Tampa Bay region at numerous breast cancer awareness events and
personally helps other women who have recently been diagnosed with
the disease cope with the news. During the May 15th
contest, Elliott will throw out the ceremonial First Pitch.


The Rays have also donated 200 tickets
to the game to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and cancer survivors
and volunteers will be handing out pink ribbons symbolic of the
cancer awareness program. Rays and Orioles players will again adorn
their pink-themed gear as a show of faith and support for those who
helped give us life.

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Got to admit, the Honorary Bat Girl
program first enacted in 2009 is one of the greatest symbolic
gestures and events brought to life by Major League Baseball in my
opinion.


I lost both my adopted and birth
Mothers’ to this horrendous illness and applaud and feel proud for
those who have battled and seen positive results for their efforts
and commend those who strive for a cure. Hopefully like so many
deadly illnesses in our human past, this one too will have a cure in
our lifetime.

Even though the Rays are not home today
(May 8th), the chance to bring it to life again on May
15th when the Rays are again at home. In the last 3
years, nearly 4,000 testimonials and 6 million votes have been cast
supporting this great event Elliott is one of 30 “winners”
selected for each of the 30 MLB clubs to participate in this great
event.

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Elliott was among 1.500 entrants that
were selected from more than half a million fan votes on
www.HonoraryBatGirl.com.
From specially made pink bats furnished with the MLB breast cancer
awareness logo, it is a visual sign to the support MLB has for this
heart-wrenching illness.


So let’s hope the balls flies out of
stadiums at a record pace today, and next Sunday as MLB and its fans
celebrate and remember those who took the fight to this disease, and
those who battled gallantly to the end. I think the best way to end
this post today is with a special quote…from the heart.



A Mother is the truest friend we
have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us;when adversity takes
the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our
sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she
cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to
dissipate the clouds of darkness and cause peace to return to our
hearts
.” —    Washington Irving.

C-Town Suggestions for Upton’s Upcoming Mini-Vacation

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By now everyone around the Rays
Republic has learned of the $1,500 smackaroos fine and a 2 day
vacation that will be imposed on Tampa Bay Rays CF B J Upton. Sure
Upton could of started his suspension during this current Baltimore
series, but why take a few days off when you are smacking the ball at
a .281 average in the confines of Camden Yards.


Whispers are getting louder that with
capable OF Brandon Guyer now up with the Rays, Upton might actually
begin his ” days off” in a bargain “Take 2 off, get one Day off
free
” promotion courtesy of the MLB schedule.


With the Rays flying into Cleveland
after Sunday’s game for a 2-game series, it seems more appropriate
for Upton to take a few days off then since he has hit a dismal .180
against the Indians in Progressive Field.


So what will Upton do with his MLB
mandated “time off” while sequestered in C-town? I decided today
while watching the game on Fox to find him a few choice things for
him to do in his ” down time”. I am actually going to send this
list of activities to Upton tonight and see if he banks one or two of
the suggestions.


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Upton is someone who enjoys a fine meal
and a great restaurant, so I am thinking one of the things he has to
do is hit up Iron Chef Michael Symon’s B-Spot burger joints to send
his taste buds into the stratosphere. Symon’s new burger concept
bistro has been awarded 2 straight “Best Burger in America”
awards from the annual Sobe Wine and Food Fest.


I really want to suggest the B-Spot’s
Fat Doug burger which has been a crowd favorite since its inception.
The Fat Doug is a monstrosity with cole slaw, pastrami, Swiss cheese
and mustard for about $ 9. It is a burger Upton will never forget,
and should include some Porky Fries on the side. Seriously, who could
not want to have a plate of fries topped with pulled pork, Cheese
Whiz and pickled chilies. I am salivating just thinking of it.


Another possibility for Upton might be
to try and seek out one of the best Progressive Field food staples
and hit the Cleveland warehouses of Bertman’s and possibly get a
behind-the-scenes tour of the famous Stadium Mustard plant. I would
eagerly venture to see the condiment that has ” cut the mustard”
as a Cleveland necessity for generations. Heck, this is the same
mustard requested for 3 Space Shuttle missions. Call me B J , I have
an “in” at the plant.


Three days off in a town like Cleveland
can be torture to some people, but I am going to try and give Upton
more than a few other options besides condiments and delicious food
decisions. There are also some unique cultural, or artsy fartsy
events being held why the Rays are in town.


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Upton could bring along clubhouse
rockers Evan Longoria and John Jaso and check out a screening of the
U2 3D live action digital film at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that
puts each viewer in the middle of a U2 concert’s craziness. Included
in this special film just for the Hall of Fame is a performance in
South Africa that has not been seen in other U2 video productions.


Maybe Upton is more inclined to want to
take in something different during his time off during the Cleveland
series. He could always hit the Cleveland Public Theatre and start
his own treasure hunting adventure at the Someplace Special Gem Mine
exhibit. What could be more fun than panning for gold, silver,
emeralds and sapphires. Upton could mine enough to offset the $1,500
fine imposed on him by Major League Baseball.


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Or maybe Upton could hit the “Get
Motivated
” Mega event taking place on Wednesday in Cleveland at
Music Hall Cleveland. This 1-day event touts that “this is your
chance to truly Get Motivated!” their website enthusiastically
states, “From the minute you walk in the doors until you leave you
are going to hear from the most successful leaders around.”


Might even be a great event for the
always positive Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Upton to attend since it
begins at 8 am. Could be a real bonding moment for Upton and his
cerebral sensei Baseball guru. I mean do you think Maddon would not
want to hear people like Bill Cosby, former US Secretary of State
Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw or Goldie Hawn.


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Last, but not least, Upton could head
on over to the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center for an 11am
matinée of “Stellar Stars“. What could be more relaxing
than a quite moment when you can grab your passport and visit one of
the billion of tourist attractions within out solar system. Each
week a different star is selected as lasers move to music and you
could take home a photo of your visited destination.


Or maybe Upton will begin a 3-day
battle on line playing FIFA 2011, or possibly come out and do
play-by-play on Twitter while his teammates take on the Indians on
Tuesday and Wednesday night. Upton could be back in his usual
on-field position for the Rays and Indians day time ( 12:40 am)
finale before the team heads back to Tampa Bay. 


Hope Upton takes me
up on a few of these suggestions, and BJ, take pictures…I want
proof this time.



Calling On All Positive Umpire Vibes

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 “An Umpire is a loner. The
restraints of his trade impose problems not normally endured by
players, coaches, management press and other connected with organized
baseball. He is a friend to none. More often he is considered an
enemy by all around him-including the fans in the stands who threaten
his life
.”
San Francisco Chronicle writer Art Rosenbaum.

I have to agree wholeheartedly with the
above quote. It is a very unenviable job to try and portray a equally
measured balance with the bang-bang action and speed of a Major
League Baseball game. An Umpire has to make a vital split-second
decision and have the resolve to stand there like a statute even as
video replays and radio voices echo around him scalding them for
their mis-deeds.

I wanted to originally write a post
exposing the mistakes and errors of last night’s Tampa Bay Rays
versus Toronto Blue Jays match-up, but thought maybe venturing
towards the sunlight instead of the darkness of the job was more
warranted.

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One of the really wrong theories
about officiating is that a good official is one you never notice.
The Umpire who made that statement was probably a real poor official
who tried to get his paycheck and hide behind his partners and stay
out of trouble his whole life. Control of the ballgame is the
difference between Umpires that show up for the players and
Managers.”
-
former National League Umpire Bruce Froemming.

More often than not, a MLB game can go
without an Umpire stamping his personality on a contest or providing
their personal agenda by instituting a wobbly strike zone that
changes every inning, or blatantly missing a call, then becoming
wishy-washy for a moment before barking your original judgment.


It is not a job description I could
maintain with any regularity since I do have a temper, and choice
words do spill out of my mouth with regularity. Also the constant
badgering of verbal abuse, even before the First Pitch has been
thrown would wear me down in time. It is a job only those strong in
their convictions, and who love the game without malice can endure.

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Umpires have the toughest job in
baseball. Ever since the birth of boos, they have suffered more abuse
than a washroom wall.”
- late Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster
Ernie Harwell in the book “Tuned to Baseball“.

Most MLB Umpires try to put their best
intentions out daily in retrospect to following the rules of this
great game. The majority of those wearing the Umpire’s black uniform
do their best, to bring their integrity and honor within the chalk
lines every night. Some have moments of regret, haste and maybe even
mis-guided motives, but strive to be right in the end.


But then comes a common play within the
scope of the game that is instantly dissected and re-hashed by slow
motion technology to where a split second can be trimmed into
multiple frames to show flaws and a moment of injustice towards a
team. Technology is the enemy of these souls who travel just as much
as the MLB players, but have to remain incognito while the MLB
players are revered when they venture out after games.

I couldn’t see well enough to play
when I was a boy, so they gave me a special job-they made me an
Umpire
“- President Harry S. Truman.

A MLB Umpire main contribution to the
game is to be an enforcer of the rules. Using pre-determined Major
League Baseball guidelines and wordage that has been provided in
black and white then use the human element to constantly fill in the
gray area that comes up in games, then effectively promote a
stabilizing force on the field of fairness and consistency.


With the game getting faster by methods
employed by Umpire crews and MLB, Umpires have to make decisions in
the heat of the moment with no show of remorse or emotion, even if
they know it was a mis-cue. Keeping that stoic character in place is
sometimes more important than correcting the mistake.

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Umpires, you see, have a flashing
button. They don’t like to be shown up. Push that button and you’re
pushing the button on your own ejection seat
.”
– Jay Johnstone in
Temporary Insanity“.

Worst thing you can do sometimes is
question a man who is blinded by his own sense of righteousness.
Umpires have a short attention span by their own design. Within
seconds of the end of a play they have to reconfigure their brain for
the next situation, possibility, plus set themselves in a formidable
field position to see the next play unfold with total clarity…. or
hope for that to happen.


Mistakes do happen upon the playing
surface. Things do get missed and sometimes angles muck up the visual
integrity of the situation. Phantom tags, mis-played sweeps of the
bag on a double play and even a moving strike zone are by-products
of a non-perfect game.


How the Umpire reels in these errors in
judgment can be more important than the initial call. But then there
are those who want more electronic /robotic measures put in place to
solidify the equality for both teams. Some have suggested more
evasive measures as machines or superimposed laser grids within
Umpires headgear to bring more stability to signal calling.

If they did get a machine to replace
us, you know what would happen to it” Why the players would bust it
to pieces every time it ruled against them. They’d clobber it with a
bat.
-former N.L. Umpire Harry Wendelstadt.

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Even with the anticipated addition of
MLB adapting for the 2012 season possible play review options on the
validity of struck balls down the chalk lines, or on whether a ball
was trapped or caught, the decision will still hinge on the Umpire
crew’s honest conception of the play, and then their agreement to
take an additional moment to clarify.


It might be a move in the right
direction, but also might be one loaded with potential land mines as
machines and equipment gain a foothold in taking officiating to
another extreme. We have seen it employed in other sports with a
mixed bag of reviews and questionable applications. Human element and
participation has to be employed within the game to keep both side
honest and within the scope of the guidelines
.

I might not agree with their calls.
Might be more inclined to want to rant and rave their directions
instead of agree with them on a nightly basis, but they are a evil
luxury of the game. Nightly as they saunter out of their hidden
Umpire’s Room we hope for equality, integrity and most of all a hint
of humanity. That is until the first close play or borderline
disparagement…then it is game on for the men in black!

Prove Me Wrong “Briggy Baseball”…Please!

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When the Tampa Bay Rays traded SS Jason
Bartlett in the off season, I was hoping that young shortstop Reid
Brignac had made the transition needed to play on a daily basis and
provide a stop gap up the middle using the assets of his outstanding
athletic ability.

Having a solid and consistent bat to go
along with a brick wall defense would just be the delicious icing on
the proverbial cake. But something seems to be missing. What I have
seen so far this season is a young player who is still trying to find
his groove.

Your alter ego “Briggy Baseball” has
the defensive chops to play at this level. I am still waiting for
that player we have seen the past 2 Springs that seemed to punish the
ball both at the plate and in the field. Somewhere, somehow this guy
who produced some dramatic defensive moves and provided more than a
few gasps has been MIA in the Rays infield.

Maybe I am being a bit too critical
here right now since the Rays staff and the front office must have
seen the potential and commitment intertwine as you must have made
the needed steps to sprint over the hump ans was the perfect
candidate to replace Bartlett.

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I wasn’t expecting a early season
hiccup of 3 errors and a .971 Fielding Average with 25 games under
your belt. Do I push that under the category of “growing pains”
as you learn the position full-time, or do you need a little more
work than we all originally diagnosed.

Please prove me wrong over the next 10
days. Come on Briggy, you have the talent and the moxy to push out of
this sluggish mode and provide a solid game day performance as the
Rays try and raise the Rays win levels. A good guy in that shortstop
slot will go a long way in securing a few wins.

I want to overlook an early potential
fielding error when there was some miscommunication between you and
Second Baseman Ben Zobrist when no one was covering the bag when
Toronto OF Rajai Davis stole a base in the first inning. Blue Jay OF
Cory Patterson, who is a left-handed batter was at the plate, and if
I remember, when a base runner steals off a left-hander, it is the
Short Stop’s responsibility to cover the bag.

It might have been a slight malfunction
made more interesting by your acrobatic save of the ball not going to
the outfield wall by hurling you body perpendicular to the turf and
grabbing it on the bounce like it was designed that way. If someone
would have been there to catch a great throw by Rays catcher John
Jaso, it would have been another caught base stealer on Jaso’s stat
chart.

I have seen more than a few plays in
the field by you in this young 2011 season to make me think it is
just an on-field adjustment for you, but do we have the time to wait
for all the pieces to be pushed into place? A .971 Fielding
Percentage is above average for a young player…over 162 games, not
a stitch over 2 dozen starts.

If you glove is having a bit of a
problem, it can be compensated by bringing the lumber at the plate,
but you are hitting at a .240 mark against right-handers (like
tonight’s starter Brandon Morrow) and has struggled profusely to post
a disappointing .125 against southpaws. Coming into 2011 you were a
.268 hitter against right-handed pitching with 9 career Home Runs.

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Instead you are hovering at a .206
average right now with no Home Runs and 4 RBI. Brignac has not had a
extra base hit in 31 games, the longest drought in Rays history.
Interesting enough, the former streak of 29 games without an extra
base hit was by former SS Bartlett back in 2008. Tonight you have
gone 0-for-2 with a nice bunt, but still you are just a bad game away
from meeting Mr. Mendoza.

Do we have to post up teammates Elliot
Johnson or Sean Rodriguez at your spot when Southpaws hit the mound.
I had such great expectations for you since your rookie campaign
where you ranked in 3rd among rookies with a .256 average
4th in RBIs (45), and 4th with 8 Home Runs. You future to
me looked bright as the Rays sunburst.

But I am beginning to worry more and
more with each ball hit towards the hole if the athlete in you is
clicking that night. Becoming more anxious when you hit the plate,
mostly against right-handers now and you seem to have lost that “pop”
that produced a stellar .367 average.

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Somewhere between Opening Day and now
the lines have crossed somehow. Briggy you are better than this both
on the field and at the plate. Adjustments have to be made now, or
you might see yourself sitting more and more and might lose that
chance to compete nightly.

Maybe going back to “Briggy Baseball” basics is the best solution. You have one of the best infield
instructors in Coach Tom Foley in your clubhouse, maybe sitting near
him when you are on the bench against right-handers will make the
bells and whistles finally begin to chime for you.

I really want to see the “Briggy
Baseball” persona we have fallen in love with over the past 2 seasons
to rear its charismatic head. You have the talent, now it is time to
show all of us why you are here and not back with Triple-A Durham as
you figure things out. Please prove me wrong Briggy….I double-dog
dare you…..Please.

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