July 2011

Safeco Field Should be the Rays Stadium Benchmark


By now most of you who have read any of my 1,111 posts know of my starry-eyed glazed look when it comes to Safeco Field in Seattle. It is one of my favorite all-time Major League Baseball fields. From the pure excitement of the breath-taking sight lines just beyond the top tier of the Leftfield bleachers that look out into this great city from the lifeline of the elevated Alaskan Way, to the pristine waves and vessels moving about on Puget Sound, outside of Tampa Bay, this is my paradise lost.

Anytime anyone, even the local media bloodhounds bring up the idea or issues concerning a possible new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, visions of Safeco go dancing around my head.

With its massive roof mechanism and wheels that churn and burn to open and close their massive roof, to the amenities aimed at the fan’s enjoyment of the ballpark, Safeco is the model I conjure up as a foundation for any future Rays stadium plans. Sorry but the sail idea has left for a port of call somewhere else…possible Japan.

Everywhere within this stadium is a swirling dervish of beauty. From the “Bat in Motion” sculpture above your head as you transcend into the ballpark, to the imprint of signed baseball from the Mariner’s team permanently placed within the points of the marble compass in the floor, Safeco was built for visitor’s and locals alike to gawk and remember forever.

Within the hallowed walls of the exclusive Diamond Club sits a classic photo of Yankee greats Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth poised at the back of a fishing boat just beyond the shores of Pass-a-Grille, Florida.  It is one of the only photos of the two legendary stars off the field, even though they both lived in the penthouse apartments at the Ponce de Leon Hotel on Central and First Street just to the West of the old Waterfront Ballpark. Funny how a small sliver of Tampa Bay slipped into the magnificent Pacific Northwest achievement.

From a concourse that runs a full 360 degrees around the stadium, that always gives guests a clear visual sight lines to the playing field to witness a play unfold while standing in line for Rally Fries or a cold Red Hook.

I often daydream that this should have been the stadium style originally set upon the tract of land at 16th Street and First Avenue South in St. Petersburg, Florida, but the Tampa Bay community leaders called for a futuristic and modernistic ballpark.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon recently cited during his banter about the Rays needing a new abode/stadium that it should feature a roof system that could be opened on sunny Florida days and evenings, and provide possible shade or comfort from the Sun and elements for a baseball complex or park just beyond the ballpark walls. Seattle has that feature, but it is not a park that is covered when the roof is open, it is the staff and player’s parking area. But I like Maddon’s thought process here.

It shows again how someone within the Rays organization might have the same affection for this ballpark style that I do. Even in the crowded SoDo neighborhood where Safeco Field is located, sometimes parking is a premium. But the Mariners helped relieve this burden by building a 6-story parking facility just to the South of Safeco, which also has its own pedestrian bridge to stadium gates.

Did you know original drawings for Tropicana field also had 2-3 story parking garages to help eliminate parking hassles. Wonder when and where that idea got flushed out into the bay?

If the Rays truly want a 1-stop shop of stadium ideas and great features to incorporate into their future plans, Safeco has 60 % of their “wish list”. From the ample suites that ring the upper core of the stadium, to the old time ballpark feel of the Press Box area complete with roll-up windows, This stadium has something for everyone.

Ironically, the Mariners played in a dome a bit similar to the Trop a long time ago, and I still at times go and check out the video of the Kingdome’s final implosion.

I still think in the deep recesses of my soul if the Tampa Bay community did not act with premeditation and “build it and they will come” mentality, this stadium design might sit in front of us nightly for Rays games. Everything about Safeco could be retrofitted or designed to conform with the Florida’s fickle weather.

Humor me here for a moment and day dream on how he National media would not be calling out the catwalks, giggling about lamps busted by foul balls, or Bullpens in the field of play. Safeco somehow magically has taken the Trop’s visual faults and made them simply mute for the media fodder. Only thing the media can complain about is if they jaywalk on their way out of the building. Seattle doesn’t take kindly to jaywalkers. Just ask Chicago White Sox GN Ken Williams.

Even with the Rays Fan Host doing a superior job compared to so many other MLB ballparks, Safeco’s ushers do something I truly find remarkable, and warranted for fan enjoyment. When a hitter plants his toes in the batter’s box, the ushers in unison hoist up a placard prohibiting the disturbance of the fans by walking in the aisles. At Safeco, you are not allowed to walk up or down the aisle to or from the concourse while a hitter is in the box.

Brings about a different take knowing Joe Schmoe is not going to walk in front of you with his nachos or beers and you miss a swing, a hit or possibly a historic moment. Instead you have to stand at the top of the aisle with the rest of the Safeco faithful hoping for a quick at bat, pop-up or 6-4-3 double play.

The modernistic stadium design and motif of the Trop never caught on after Major League Baseball went suddenly into a revival of traditional ballpark styles right after the completion of the Florida Suncoast Dome The wide-eyed vision of a modern design ballpark fell sudden to a untimely and painful death.

Safeco Field should be a constant reminder that local styles, influences and weather conditions can produce a stellar ballpark that even 25 years later people walk in a gawk at the visual eye-candy. I miss Safeco some times, especially since I truly feel that if it was built in 1991 or beyond, I would have been sitting in its majestic splendor for the last 14 seasons.

Hopefully the Rays front office will take hundreds of photos of this landmark ballpark, make inquires into its design cost and realistic structural possibilities within the scope of the harsh Florida Sun and weather. Possibly one day  we could see a future Tampa Bay ballpark being built with the similar fan-friendly quality’s and retracting roof of this exciting park nestled some 3,125 miles to our Northwest.  Or maybe I am still daydreaming.

Pondering What Almost Happened for Tampa Bay in 1992

Every time I see the Seattle Mariners as they take the field, I think of what could have been. Their teal, royal blue and white team colors could of easily transferred into the Tampa Bay color scheme. Funny how the arrogance of one person cost Tampa Bay a team for so long.

It seems like so long ago, but it was only 1992 when the Tampa Baseball Group led by Tampa businessman Frank Morsani almost pulled off  their own baseball miracle. Say it with me for a second, Tampa Bay Mariners. It had that perfect nautical sitting on the Gulf of Mexico ring to it.

19 years ago the Tampa Baseball Group was poised and ready to help subsequently pack up everything Mariners related and move it 3, 125 miles to the hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida. The Tampa group thought they had a clean-cut solid deal in place knowing that a majority of the  American League franchise ownership was poised and ready to approval their deal and move to Florida.

The Mariners current majority owner, Jeff Smulyan could easily visualize that he could be just as rich and remain in an ownership position if he sold his team and also moved along with it to Tampa Bay. There was solid  evidence that if Smulyan wanted to relocate his team to Tampa Bay, the American League would vote the franchise move in a landslide.

Former St. Petersburg Times columnist Hubert Mizell wrote back in 1992: “ Smulyan doesn’t expect a Seattle angel. If the Tampa Bay deal become reality, the man from Indianapolis absolutely wants to be a majority owner. He would steadfast oppose a lame-duck season in Seattle”

As we all know an angel did appear….from the far away island of Japan.

The video game giant Nintendo firmly put themselves at the forefront, hoping to stave off the shady doing of Smulyan.  Suddenly a  local business savior had emerged with a solid reputation, and very, very deep pockets. Smulyan was blindsided by the move that showed the region’s tenacity and resilience. This was the same SoDo community leadership group that he secretly scoffed about in private, and never saw imagined this type of ownership coup  would materialize.

Smulyan immediately started acting like a spoiled child. Smulyan, who was a sitting member of the American League ownership committee shunned his apparent responsibilities of his post, basically refusing to even acknowledge the sale much less endorse the Japanese business Godzilla.

Instead of being in Seattle side of the issue, Smulyan vowed that he would not vote on the sale if there was a vote, depriving Seattle community of a automatic “yes” vote for the sale. Smulyan even went as far as to not recognize or give his blessing in any shape or form regarding the Nintendo offer.

I still love this quote by Smulyan: “I have read the application, but I am not going to comment on it I don’t want to give my opinion on it or any way influence the committee. The Best thing about the process is it’s out of my hands”.

Got to love the arrogance and spite riddled within those words. Here is a owner who put his club up for sale, and a local buyer did not materialize, so he sold it to  the Tampa Baseball Group that would move the franchise cross-country in a heartbeat. Little did the public know at that time in 1992 that Smulyan refused to sign a local cable television deal that would have brought the Mariners between $ 3-6 million dollars just for 1992 season.

You had an owner who wanted to act like an absentee landlord hoping his nonchalant attitude would get his traveling papers stamped and approved by his fellow American League owners so he could motor on down to St. Petersburg. Smulyan had full intention of the 1992 season starting in the then named Thunderdome in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Smulyan tried to bluff the table by acting like a dis-concerned owner and it ended up backfiring in his face and wallet. The Nintendo offer brought to the table the MLB prerequisite of a local Seattle ownership group with considerable wealth and a long term commitment of providing a future investments to the team.

What was so funny about all of it was earlier in the sale process Smulyan had gone on to tell the Seattle community, “ This was Seattle’s chance to step up and save baseball for the community.” 19 years ago Tampa Bay almost got their prized baseball team, but with it might have come the owner from h-e-double hockey sticks.

So the next time you are in the stands and hear a fan rant and rave about this ownership group, or even the Vince Namoli era, maybe you should tell him about the owner we almost got saddled with. The guy who turned his back and ears on his community and tried to pack his team up for Florida without any regret. Still like the sound of Tampa Bay Mariners, but Tampa Bay Rays does have a better sting to it.

Rays Need to Plot a Victorious Course in Seattle

I swear some times the Tampa Bay Rays use my heart like a toy yo-yo. They seem to tear it out of my chest, fling it down and then slowly up until it is again within my chest. I do not take any heart medications, but after a few of the recent games, including today’s back and forth battle…I might consult a doctor.

Is this going to be the hidden mantra of this team to push the limits of faith and trust, or will they again have a solidified basis for all of us to believe and rejoice in nightly. When this team goes on losing streaks, even the rare ones on the road, they do it with a loud bang.

How else can you describe the man-handling of the Rays top tier pitchers David Price and James Shields in this series. Even rookie Jeremy Hellickson was left pondering the “what if’s” during his lackluster performance to start this 4-game whirlpool of emotion.

Can we blame the chatter and talk among the players and fans regarding the Trade Deadline, or is it the curse of this ballpark where Rays wins always seem to come at a premium, even with the great California mountain range in the background.

Starting this contest this Rays squad was a season high 11 ½ games behind American League East front runner Boston with 58 games left, another AL East title may be beyond reach. Even though the /Rays are a considered the third best team in the American League, they are also the third best currently in their division. And their 7 ½ game deficit to the New York Yankees is bringing more than a few of us mild to severe heart palpitations.

This season is again starting to mirror image a bit of the 2009 Rays season where no matter what they did, it was one hit, one win, one pitch away from securing something magical. But the good news is the Rays head to Seattle next, where wins have been extremely rare lately. The reality of the Rays losing 5 out of the 7 games currently on this road trip tends to sho maybe this team peaked too early.

Again, after the first week this team had, any push upward, even towards a .500 mark seemed like a gift from the Baseball Gods. Mixed into this losing streak was the questions about this teams offense, their run support for their starters, and why certain teams just seem to choke the Rays into submission.

It was only three weeks ago this same Rays team was 49-39 matching their high-water mark of 10 games over .500 and were sitting in the catbird seat just 3 ½ games behind the Red Sox. In these 21 days, the Rays have gone 4-11 and have tumbled 8 games farther behind their divisional foes farther into the dismal abyss.

Again a dark cloud looms for the Rays as they jet northward to Seattle. Mariner’s starter Erik Bedard, who might be making his last M’s start will get the call. When healthy, Bedard has been a Rays killer. Post that with the stat that the Rays are a MLB worst 7-12 against the AL West, and we might hear a few late night screams.

But there is a shining light on the horizon, or at least for tonight in that the Rays showed pride, confidence and a renewed vigor at the plate in the final innings to hand the Athletics at least one loss in this series. Now it is off to the town of coffee and seafood to battle a Seattle club that until recently had been in their own cauldron of disappointment.

This series might decide more than who stays and who goes as the Trade Deadline approaches, it could prove to be the final resting place of the Rays 2011 post season dreams. Sweeping Seattle would not push the Rays into playoff consideration, but the confidence and stride as they headed back home could help them face their home field demons with more vitality.

A lot os going to be riding on this 3-game series. A chance for redemption in this un-Rays like road trip. A sweep would push their present 10-game road trip record towards an even 5-5 mark. Not the expected Rays road results, but would be a 4-game winning streak heading into a 10-game home stand with revenge games against Oakland and Kansas City on the horizon.

Watching this Rays team over the past few nights have been an adventure with emotions running rampant from pride and hope to despair and frustrations. This 2011 Rays squad might not have the depth and stability of the 2010 squad, but they have more than enough in heart, courage and determination. Let’s hope those latter emotions lead the Rays to victories and not another sequence of heartaches and turning the channel. 

Your Day at the Trop To Drop 140-Characters

So how excited is the Rays Republic heading into the Tampa Bay Rays first Tweet Up? I would say as excited as a walk-off homer, complete game shutout and hitting for the cycle. Who wouldn’t be excited about sitting just beyond the shoulder of Rays Bullpen legends Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos.

We could have a possible dancing brown bear moment, or maybe even a Kyle Farnsworth sighting. Seriously, it has been a great thing that the Rays front office and their marketing department embrace the social media phenomenon and provide a chance for the Rays Republic to possible hi the Worldwide trending board with such an effort.

That is where I am predicting this event will fall in the ranks of the Tweet Nation. Even if we just hold that sacred spot for a minute, the work, hustle and bustle would be a complete success. So that is a goal within our reach, one we can touch or type, to provide a Rays moment Worldwide. I love the sound of that personally.

We know @RaysRepubilc, the Rays official word smiths of the social media universe, will be providing interesting incentive, prizes and possible inclusion of witty banter posted during the event. Did you know the creative brainiacs behind @RaysRepublic now have over 100,000 Twitter followers? Who knows, maybe we can even get a up close and personal moment with the @RaysRepublic crew, a picture would be perfect (hint, hint).

I have heard that each person buying a special Tweet Up ticket will not only enjoy the company of other 140- character Rays fans, but will have the chance to sit in the exclusive Papa John’s Bullpen Cafe nestled just beyond the Rightfield line a stone throw away from the Rays Bullpen. Heck, it is just a soda cup away from my own old roosting spot.

Being offered even before the event in Twitter contests by @RaysRepublic will be a chance to win tickets to the event, a chance to throw out that night’s Ceremonial First Pitch that, plus a unique chance to hand the Rays line-up card to the Umpires before the game. Of course the crafty minds within the Rays Promotions department are not done there.

Also on tap is a chance to be the personal (game day) assistant of Emmy award winning  CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) who like the @RaysRepublic crew sports more than 100,00 followers. Another special treat at this game will be hearing Rovell perform the National Anthem, plus have a chance to view his tweets as he moves about Tropicana Field.

The ticket package is still being finalized, but you can go to www.raysbaseball.com for updates and hopefully a official announcement and begin of ticket packages for this unique Rays Twitter experience. Who knows, you might have a chance to sit by the spirited and spunky @Lovebees, or maybe even meet the Rays twins @TBRaysTwins, or possibly get a glimpse of the lovely@Sportschix1.

Seriously now, the Rays are sporting a impressive Twitter collection of MLB player based accounts with the likes of @DAVIDprice14, @Evan3Longoria, @BJUpton2, @SamFuld5, @TheZobrists , @ShopHouse10 plus @Acobb53, @TheRuggianos, and @d_jennings15. The Rays even have a Bullpen presence with @ceez_27, @robdelaney55  and @CheckwitEck tweeting out of the Bullpen (not during games).

Even the medical staff is Twitter bound. Rays Strength and Conditioning guru Kevin Barr has a Twitter home, @TheBBRcom. You can even follow Rays In-Game host Rusty at @RustyKath if you need post game banter. Rays Manager Joe Maddon can also be found making sporadic quips, and witty banter from @RaysJoeMaddon. Last, but never least, Rays post and pre-game savant Rich Herrera can be found @richatthetrop

Going to be a wild and exciting night where the Rays Republic far and wide can contribute and expand the Rays Way all over the World. And added bonus is tweeters who use the hashtag #RaysTweetUp will get a chance to have their tweet posted on the Rays jumbotron during the contest. How’s that for expanded media! Also heard a few whispers that each ticket holder might have future bragging rights with a special edition T-shirt just for holders of a Rays Tweet Up ticket.

Purchase your Rays 2011 TweetUp tickets at this link (Special code word is TWEET) which will also entitle you to a personalized Rays TweetUp T-shirt, some light food and beverages while you relax and tweet from the Pappa John’s Bullpen Cafe, plus a special invite to a post-game Q and A session with Guest Darrell Rovell on the Social Media ( If he survives the scavenger hunt).

I already know you can count me in for the event, plus will have the laptop primed and ready to go before the game, and ( hopefully) well after the final pitch. Personally I am hoping to get some time with the fellow Rays Twitter Nation and talk, chat and maybe even watch the Rays take on the Toronto Blue Jays who also sport their own legion of MLB Twitter foes.

Hope to see you there (I will be sitting by Bobby and Scott)…..or just tweet me @TheRaysRenegade. I will come see you…I promise.


Could Upton’s Refusal to Long Term Deal be his Downfall

Even before the Tampa Bay Rays were bought and their brand re-invented by Stuart Sternberg, the Vince Namoli ownership group tried to convince their young “ shortstop of the future” to a long term deal…..He declined.

After his subsequent removal from the then D-Rays Shortstop carousel, he found himself subsequently hopping around the team’s infield like a rabbit at Target Field, but still he was adamant about dodging a long term deal with the new ownership. Some thought he was being arrogant, some thought he was selfish, in the end, he is still doing only 1-year deals with the Rays.

Finally Sternberg and Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman tried over the last 2 Winters to get this stalwart star to finally commit to possibly signing a deal for longer than one season. Even at this stressful juncture with the Trade Deadline looming like a vulture, there are hints that the Rays still want to venture into possible long term deal.

So far all they are hearing is a deafening silence from Upton’s camp.

Could this be another legitimate reason the Rays are now positioning CF B J Upton on their top shelf of players available for trade chats? Could Upton’s long standing refusal to stall or put off any long term discussion past the first refusal. Sure Upton has been known to be sometimes surly and gruff to American League Umpire spats, but inside the Rays Clubhouse and speaking with team officials, he has been nothing sort of cordial..

Legitimately you want a budding star to give you some financial security along with the thought of no service interruptions via a team-friendly  long term deal. In Upton’s case, discussions have been held with his agent, but nothing have materialized past the initial talking stage. Pity, a more contract secure Upton could relax until Sunday while the 1-year deals will have him guessing all the way to the end now. 

Must be frustrating for Sternberg and Friedman to know just as Upton is beginning to finally mature on the field and show that true potential we have been basically begging for for years,  he might be dealt because Upton might have ultimately priced himself out of the Rays equation. But the same could have been said for Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena in 2010 as they entered their “walk ” seasons, but they ended up staying with the ball club and helping the Rays to their second A L East title in 3 seasons before departing for the deep pockets of Boston and the North side of Chicago.

Teams are poking and prodding at Upton have been quoted to be offering everything from a small package of prospects to “the Moon”. Because New York Mets CF Carlos Beltran has an American League anxiety towards the Designated Hitter position, Upton has vaulted towards the top as  a key outfield acquisition target.

From Atlantic (Nats/Braves) to Pacific (Giants) teams are throwing together their best package hoping Friedman pulls the trigger.

With the surging emergence of Rays outfield prospect Desmond Jennings posting out-of-this planet offensive numbers, it has not only the Rays brass excited, but every MLB Fantasy Baseball geeks. Sam Fuld and Jennings can both play Upton’s Centerfield position and can make a transition pretty effortless if they wish to ship Upton out before the end of the Trade Deadline, or the season..

But with the team on the cusp of falling out of at least an American League Wild Card slot, Friedman might be more willing to at least listen to offers right now. This is not to say if Upton signed a 2-year deal today he would still not be dealt by the Deadline’s last moments on Sunday. But with a year m ore of team control, Upton would not be traded to become a “rental” player.

Got to be hard on a guy knowing eyes are prodding him nightly, stats are being compiled in big piles and everything from his speed from Home Plate to First to his bat swing is being monitored and evaluated with intense scrutiny.

Sometimes a change of scenery is good for a player mentally, emotionally and physically. Upton was hyped for so long as the “next big thing” for the Rays. Hints of that ability have risen then fallen just as quickly.

Not matter what happens to Upton over the next few days, you got to give him a ton of credit for not showing the stress, emotional tug-of-war or snap out at the Rays. Rays Manager Joe Maddon has said he has discussed around 65 trade scenarios with Friedman over the past few days. Let’s hope if Upton is in that bunch, the team again gets a return that will help them in the long term. 

Rays on Cusp of Going From “Buyers” to Possible Trade Deadline “Sellers”

So when is too much, too much? What is that final tipping point where the Tampa Bay Rays consider themselves “ sellers” instead of “buyers”. Originally I was firm in my opinion that the team will hold tight on OF B J Upton and SP James Shields.

But as the team falls towards that double digit mark trailing the current American League Wild Card holder, the New York Yankees, at what point will the Rays throw up their hands and either give in, or buckle down and hope for another “Miracle of Summer”.

At this point the Rays are 9 ½ games behind the American League East division leading Boston Red Sox and 7 ½ games behind the Yankees. With an unexpected late loss last night in Oakland, the Rays are on a slippery slope. This was suppose to be the time between series with Boston and New York for the Rays to pack on some victories, and possibly sneak back into the race before this Sunday’s 

Trade Deadline.

If the Rays do not take bot this series against the Athletics, plus their 3-game set against the Seattle Mariners in the Emerald City, they could be past that double digit comfort level. But when is it too late? When are the Rays past the point of no return in regards to a post season berth? In any other division this would not be an issue at this time, but in the strong A L East, being 10 games behind the A L Wild Card is a pretty steep rock to climb.

At some point between the West Coast trip destinations this team has to decide their path. Presently it seems that all engines are churning towards trying to catch the Yankees and pull off another super road trip. These next 5 games could produce either the selling of talent, or the revival the Rays need to thrust themselves back into this playoff race.

Personally, I am of the mind that if this team does stumble in their next 2 contests and go under 10 games back of the Yankees, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman will accept a few more phone calls, listen intently and possibly sell high on a few guys.

I was hoping the season would come down to a key series in September. If the Rays go through an abnormal road trip free fall and come back home with a losing road trip record, they might be minus a few key players due to trades and deals made before the Sunday final bell.

If the Rays do begin plucking off a few of their player assets, it is great that these players would have played their last game in Tropicana Field against the rival Yankees, and took a victory with them on the road. But it also brings up a touchy subject that again, just like when the Rays traded SP Scott Kazmir while on the road (in Detroit), the home fans might never get a realistic chance to thank them for their past efforts. That is one of the really awful parts of the Trade Deadline coming on the heels of a road trip.

Hopefully this doesn’t happen, but the possibility is still there for a last minute change, a up-grade, or possibly just the right time in the Rays eyes and minds. This is that time of the year that players and teams can not control, but right now, the Rays have the choice to be the “buyers or the sellers”. 

Found New Respect for “Doc” Gooden

Sometimes in life our role model or people we come to admire do not get that respect and admiration for what they have done on the diamond. Sometimes it comes from actions, reversals of their previous bad intentions to themselves or other, but in the end their true colors find a way to shine bright.

Not everything we do in life is simple, defined or even the right path, and this one former ballplayer definitely fits that bill to a “T”. Kirk Radomski’s was a New York Mets Clubhouse staffer during the beginning and most of this ballplayer up and down career. He saw the talent, the generosity and ultimately the decline of a person who got caught up in a drug whirlwind that he could not escape.

In his novel “Bases Loaded” he revealed early on in the book ( pages 31-33 ) about 2 separate MLB Drug testing incidents where a ballplayer adamantly asked him to take his MLB urine test for him because he feared a positive result. It was the era where ballplayer were beginning to use extra curricular drugs like marijuana and cocaine.

The first instance happened in July 1988 when Dwight Eugene Gooden feared for his career after testing positive previously. Gooden approached Radomski shaking and told Radomski, “The pee guy’s here and I can’t pee. I went out with a couple of guys the other night, and if they test me, I’m going to get suspended”.

Randomize fashioned a plan that was executed perfectly to get a positive test result for Wooden. Then again two weeks later, Gooden again asked for another favor. Again the result came back positive since Randomize did not partake in after hours recreational drugs and no traces of any substance was found in Gooden’s test sample.

Finally when asked a third time for help, Randomize had to bring the “tough love” and refused to help Gooden. He was suspended Radomski asked Gooden to consult then New York Mets Team Substance Abuse Counselor Dr Alan Lans. It was a solid action by Radomski, and possibly by Gooden finally being “outed” and found with traces in his system, the mending process could begin.

It has been a long time since that period in 1986, and Wooden has had an on and off again battle with the demon that first took some of his brilliant career away from him in Flushing, New York. His oldest son, Dwight Gooden Jr was also born in 1986 in this same time of turmoil.

Not until recently when watching VH-1′s “Celebrity Rehab 5 ”, where Gooden is a patient did I hear of the idea Gooden had for his son and himself, and it broke my heart. Gooden wanted to hang on in baseball until his son came of age and got drafted, and wanted to play on the same team with him before finally retiring.

Instead they both spent time at Orient Jail in Hillsbough County (Tampa, Florida), Dwight Jr for a drug trafficking charge, and Dwight Sr for DUI and driving on a suspended license. No baseball field for them to play on, and only orange jumpsuits for uniforms.

It takes courage, a drive and a straight forward conviction to take on your demons and drive them from your life. In this episode of “Celebrity Rehab”, both father and son came together and finally began to repair that bond between the parent and their child. So many other families go through this same scenario daily, in this instance, father and son embraced and promised to be each other’s guide.

Finally facing the guilt, shame and remorse of not being their for your children is a giant burden for anyone to hold, much less a man who once held the Big Apple firmly within his pitching hand.

When I saw that bonding moment between father and son, I found a new respect, admiration and want for Gooden to defeat this demon just like he did on a pitching mound so many times before. I have Gooden’s autobiography “Heat” on a shelf in my home, and will take it down and begin reading it this week during my trip, hoping to get to know this alter-self of Gooden.

Our heroes, champions of right and wrong and people do defeat the odds are what pulls us to players like Gooden. His struggles are not our own, but we empathize, want to give a hand or even guide them after they admit their shortcomings.

Everyone knows and addict has to live life “One day at a time”, and a slip, fall from grace or even a full blow episode is just a bad decision away. But I heard something different in Gooden’s voice on the show. Along with the heartfelt letter he wrote out to his kids telling them how he he has apologizing to his kids for “basically divorcing you guys for drugs,” the healing was started.

Some people look forward to a players fall from grace, providing a defining moment of bad judgment or consequences that makes them human. Other like myself want to extend a hand, give a friendly pat on the back or claim admiration for someone who once made us cry by his actions on the field, and humble us by his admittance of his past and present faults.

I wish you sobriety, courage and a continued positive life affirming results to a man who was born in Tampa Bay. Know there are hundreds beside myself you also wish and pray this same sentiment for you. Go get ‘em Doc!

Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

Always a great guessing game trying to decipher correctly the needs, wants and desire of any of the 29 other MLB squads for anyone on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Sure there might be a few GM’s just coming by doing some future window shopping or prod and nudge a bit of the merchandise, but is there really any top shelf Rays that will exit before the end of the Trade Deadline?

Can’t be easy time span for a player either with a large contract or even a “ walk” season under their belt until the clock strikes midnight on August 1st. Sure even then deals can still be hashed out, but the large majority of the transactions will be at least attempted in the next few working days. But even the best deal can be stricken down by the might pen of the M L B Commissioner Bud Selig if it seems unfair or has too much cash considerations.

So who among the 25 currently rostered Rays players do you think will garner the most attention? Who do you feel will be showcased now for departure in the off season? There are plenty of options, including a few that could either make or break the Rays post season surge. Then again, if the Rays do go into a tailspin over the next few series( Kansas City/Oakland/Toronto), they could instead purge before the last moments in July?

Even the Great Kreskin would have a difficult time trying to summarize some of the gossip and whispers currently doing the rounds in the MLB circle. With the emergence of SP Alex Cobb and Rays Manager Joe Maddon staying with a 6-man rotation. Could this be a precursor to a starter leaving town?

James Shields has reconstructed his delivery and career to a point some teams are eager to get a guy who can push out innings and provide strikeouts. Shields might have de-valued himself a tad during his recent 4-game tailspin.  With a team friendly $ 7 million dollar salary for 2012, Shields is still affordable and could be in the plastic bubble until this time in 2012.

Do the Rays instead sell high on SP Jeff Niemann while he is on his own hot streak? The Tall Texan might not garner a top tier return, but a few teams do have veterans who might walk after this season, and if they fit into the Rays mold….Niemann could be on a flight by August 1st.

With that in mind, why not put SP/RP Andy Sonnanstine on the top shelf to see who wanders by for a long look. Sonny has all the qualities a good team needs with MLB experience, stability and is a solid “company man”. He can be used in a variety of ways, and his tenure with the Rays might be on unstable ground with the emergence of Cobb and others pushing hard to break through the Triple-A ceiling to the majors. Sonny, like Niemann will not collect a bevy of returns, but his shelf life with the Rays might be getting near its expiration point.

Cesar Ramos is a southpaw, and with the Rays currently having 3 in their Bullpen, excess might not be the keys to the Rays Bullpen success. He might bring in a better haul than Sonny, but knowing the Rays and their love of the crafty lefties, he might stick. Still, the Rays would not offer up fellow relievers Jake McGee or J P Howell unless the return was something they could not refuse.

That brings us to the Rays field players. A few names possibly jump out at you, but one that I truly think is “off limits” is First Baseman Casey Kotchman. The job he has done since he cemented himself at First has been incredible. With only 1 error this season, Kotchman might be tied to this Rays team soon for the next 3 years. I have heard a few whispers in the hallways.

In the infield, with the thoughts also swirling that SS Reid Brignac is taking backward steps, this effectively closes any possible discussions on Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez. Their stability will be needed now more than ever, and cutting loose even one of the pair would be disastrous unless an infield MLB caliber upgrade is received.

With the recent injuries surrounding the catching position, it might be a hidden blessing for C Kelly Shoppach. Still, the Rays could deal the often offensively maligned backstop for prospects, or maybe even a little cash. The market is not seeking Shoppach with gusto, but a back-up with experience heading into the stressful last months of the season and beyond can be a blessing to a young team.

That leaves the outfield has one of the biggest question marks with at least 4 possible Rays players getting a few glances and maybe trade discussions. Still think Desmond Jennings is here to be looked at by not only the Rays, but by 29 other teams. I really think the Rays have a lot of questions about Jennings, and he could be traded for the right package.

You might have thought I would thrust B J Upton in the top spot for trade discussion, but I truly think the Rays will keep Upton until the end of the 2011 season, then listen intently to offers. Upton might not be the most attentive player on the bases, but he plays solid defense and has trimmed his swing a bit to be more productive. Who in their right mind thought he would get over 15 Hrs in 2011?

Still, with the Washington Nationals eager for Upton, and with names like INF Ian Desmond or RP Drew Storen being put on the end of the pole, the Rays could bite and fill a future hole in their team with young replacements who are starting to show their MLB potentials. Still it is a long shot these names are included with Upton’s’. Then again, Friedman can deliver brilliance with Bull-hockey pucks.

The guy who might garner the most outfield attention doesn’t actually play there on a daily basis. Johnny Damon could bring a nice haul in return from a team on the cusp of contention, or wanting to stay hard in the race until the end. But is he worth the gamble of leaving with the type of offense and ability to help charge up this team with a single swing?

You can’t buy that kind of massive production on and off the field this time of year. But if the Rays are truly in a mood to upgrade now, Damon might be the perfect carrot to dangle in front of the MLB herd. There is another player who has emerged to a point his status might be at its zenith, and a downward spiral is definitely in the cards.

I think the world of the abilities and freestyle aerial moves of Sam Fuld, but I also know MLB is treating him more like a novelty act right now than a budding star or long producing commodity. Here is another Rays player who might be at the peak of his trade value right now. Combine his on-field heroics with his solid base running and you get a nice threat either off the bench or in the field heading into the post season.

There is still the possibilities the Rays just bluff and stay with their current format, but the more realistic approach is someone will go, changes will be made. Upton should be planted in CF until the off season, Shields even though he turns 30 in December is a great anchor for this Rays rotation.

That being said, Sonny and Niemann could be on the “watch list” and be the two pitchers most likely to exit stage left. Shoppach could still be dealt even with the Rays catching corp down to their bare knuckles. This is one part of the Rays farm system that seems loaded for bear, and could endure a spell without remorse.

Jennings is the Rays top field prospect, and I have a sneaking feeling his up-coming promotion to “The Show” has a hidden agenda. Exposing Jennings to MLB caliber pitching with 10 days left could persuade someone to take a risk or gamble on a guy who might not be considered the best outfielder even on his Triple-A squad. But if the Rays do keep Jennings, Upton better look over his shoulder later in the season.

Fuld might be safe, but if his average goes South along with his “Legend”, his time and days will be numbered. Damon is the best Rays commodity right now and might be plucked. But Friedman will not trade him for a “rental” player or even a marginal player or prospects. When you have a guy who is putting up consistent numbers like Damon, the price tag has a few zeros in it, even for the short term.

This is the time of the year where guessing, predictions and even off-the-cuff remarks come with a glance from the baseball world. Teams want to chuck, acquire and sometimes streamline for different reasons. The only reasons any of these players might be plucked off the Rays roster is if this team truly thinks they have the horses for a playoff run.

Upgrading by trading would be the only reason right now the Rays would open their doors for change. 

This Time of Year………..Fear the Friedman

The hands of time are moving quicker, the sands in the hourglass falling at an alarming rate….Yes, it is that special juncture in the Major League Baseball season when the days finally fall towards single digit working towards the July 31st M L B Non-Waiver Trade Deadline that the anxiety and impatience leads to lopsided deals.

The unpredictability of this entire trade charade keeps all of us wondering until the final period is typed on that Press Release, or the official “Approval” stamp slams upon the trade document in the New York M L B offices in Manhattan. You can never be sure just what is actually going on, especially within the Tampa Bay Rays camp.

I swear to anything and everything holy that the Rays conduct a stealth boot camp ever season to prepare for just these final fleeting moments. The Rays organization has effectively mastered the art of the Samurai “air of silence”. Still, I would think if you are a MLB GM, you kind of even a courtesy call by Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman a call to action.

How effective has he been on trimming and honing this Rays roster and farm system towards the Rays lean and mean standards? Heck, I consider our farm system to be the “Minka Kelly” of farm systems. Red hot top prospects with a side order of 3,000 hits. Friedman has taken a system that was not in shambles but uncoordinated at times and turned it into a fine tuned concerto.


When was the last time you heard about a Rays trade before the rest of the baseball World knew about it? Still think each Rays desk has a cyanide capsule or dome of silence to keep idle chatter from hitting the mainstream. Kind of proud of that fact actually. It is so easy for one tongue to wag and then the World hears the vibrations.

Take 2010 for example. If you would have told me the Rays would trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the last days before the Trade Deadline for RP Chad Qualls, I would have reserved you an ample living quarters in the fluffy padded room at Windemere.

Somehow this deal got sign, sealed and delivered without fanfare, media knowledge or even a single cricket chirping before its announcement. Sure the trade was about eliminating a pricey Bullpen piece while the Rays added another veteran, even if it was a higher than normal risk for the Rays.

That is what is so intriguing about this time of the baseball season. Sometimes I wish I could be that “fly on the wall” just to see the process. Get to understand the Rays parameters and guides to the deal….Heck, we could market it and sell at least 100 copies to just baseball top tier guys. Seriously, if the Rays could bottle their trade success and finesse, it would be award winning.

Even if the Rays go into pure “buying” mode, you could see them still effectively shift a few attractive assets towards another roster while stockpiling more potential trade bait and appetizers for another day.

In a “buyer’s” mode the Rays could still bring in a few future commodities that will eventually mature and provide stability and increased productivity. I know it sounds a lot like I am reciting a insurance binder, but the reality is the Trade deadline is about insurance.

No matter if you are in “Buyer” or “Seller” mode, you want to assure your top tier management figures, your roster and farm system, plus your fan base that a move of this caliber at this time of the season will reap benefits towards your team’s goals, or help reduce future overhead limitations like a heavy salary so the Rays would have the cha-ching to go get that valued replacement part.

The art of the deal is a highly skilled and honed system that should bring results. You do not have to be a car salesman to get a great bargain this time of the year. Dangle a pitcher who is having a breakout season, finally burst through the wall of productivity or has a attractive present or future salary structure and you just have to sit back and take the phone calls.

Mix a great potential deal with the likes of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman with his senior counsel of Gerry Hunsicker, and these two could take an average deal and make it shine for years. All you have to do is look at the Rays and Chicago Cubs deal for emotional roller coaster Matt Garza.

Sure the Cubs got a guy who potential is as tall as the Sears Tower, but in my opinion, Friedman got a King’s ransom in return. One of the pieces of this puzzle that was sent to Chi-town, OF Fernando Perez has already been released and is on another team’s roster. In return the Rays got a new urban and M L B “Legend” ( Sam Fuld), an outfielder (Brandon Guyer) previously not in the Rays 2011 major league roster framework who made Fantasy owners giddy with his first game stats (10 points).

Add to that mix a shortstop who is only playing at the Class-A level, but who scouts and baseball gurus have gushed and gone all flustered with that has risen up the prospect charts like a rocket (Hak-Ju Lee). Suddenly it seems like Friedman and Hunsicker sold Garza when his talent and potential both reached their ceiling.

Wondering if the same magic will fall in the Rays hands before the final seconds of the 2011 Trade Deadline. Will it be a monster player haul, a salary dump or even the Rays taking on a player in their “ walk” season who could help them waltz into the post season.

Still think the biggest horror I would face if I were to ever become a M L B GM is hearing Friedman’s voice on the other end of the phone……Hopefully it will be a congratulation call, not a trademark Friedman “kick the tires” conversation….Those have ended badly lately.

How Can You Not Love “Hellboy”

His nickname will stick with him for the next 20 years. It seems that once you get a powerful and though provoking moniker like his, you are stuck with it for your entire career. Still not sure if there is a hidden story, or a mystery reason for this to stick so firmly to this young hurler, but the names does seem to fit him like a glove.

I have heard the legends, the stories of intrigue and power from his minor league past. Even saw a few hints of it in 2010 when he finally got to scuff the dirt on a real Major League mound. From that first moment on his name has been etched in our souls, our hearts and our prays. For some reason we all think the future encircles the young gun they call “Hellboy”.

His minor league rap sheet reads like a introduction to greatness. Who else has gotten the glowing endorsement of his home state’s Governor as then-Iowa Governor Chet Culver told the media last August: “The Rays organization will be better off for having this mature, focused and decent young man. His demeanor isn’t surprising at all to Iowans who have grown up with Midwestern values and unrivaled work ethics. Jeremy (Hellickson) is the epitome of Iowa”.

I guess you are starting to see that all who seemed to witness, play against or even play behind are admirers of this product of the farming community of Des Moines who somehow missed everyone other M L B scout’s radar before the Rays finally plucked him off the vine in the him Fourth Round back in 2005. Want to become more of a fan of “Hellboy”. I have to warn you, he is addictive.

How can you yell, scream or even hassle a guy who gave his Gold Medal from the 2004 World Youth Championship held in baseball-crazed Taiwan to his great-grandmother (Louise Abbas) Even more amazing, it seems the Midas touch is alive and well in the Hellickson bloodline, Abbas won her own Gold Medal at the Iowa games in bowling in the 75-and-up division.

Want more Hellickson goodness? How about he became the first pitcher in the modern era of baseball ( since 1920) to pitch 6-plus innings allowing 3 hits or fewer in each of his first 3 M L B starts. Need more coaxing, Hellboy posted 18 strikeouts over those 20 innings with a stealthy .136 opponents batting average. Starting to see some pitching goodness oozing from his seams.

Still not convinced? How about the pure fact Hellickson made a unheard of clean sweep of the Baseball America and USA Today Minor League Player of the Year award. Hoisted up as the Minor League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News and was the pitching rich International League Pitcher of the Year.

Still not enough to make you a believer? Hellboy also won a spot as an International League All-Star, Baseball America Minor League All-Star and a Topps Triple-A All-Star. To say a M L B All-Star selection is not within each soon is a understatement. All while going a combined 16-3 with a 2.69 ERA and 156 K’s in 31 games (25 starts).

With the Trade Deadline looming and a good chance Rays stalwart Shields might not be in the Rays uniform for much longer, Hellickson is definitely a candidate to possibly move up to maybe the third starter slot coming into the Spring of 2012. Sky, Heaven and that other place are definitely within his grasp even this season.

Some might discount his 9-7 record, but underneath all of that Hellickson is third on this Rays squad in innings pitched (110.2), is closing in on 100 K’s this season ( currently 75), plus is currently tied with Price for the Rays wins crown. All from a guy most people thought had number 5 pitcher stuff, but Hellboy has not only rose to the occasion, he has been almost money in key situations in 2011.

Talk about coming through in a pressure situation, Tuesday Hellickson took the mound after an unprecedented 15 days of rest since his last start. All Hellboy did was go out and put on a beautiful performance against the New York Yankees going 7 innings, tying his career high in strikeouts ( 7, 8/10/10 @ Detroit) and post a “W” while opposing a former Cy Young winner (Bartolo Colon).

All aisles in Tropicana Field lead to you wanting to see this young gun become one of those who you whisper about when he walks by you either at the ballpark or in public. Hellickson is on his way to that plateau, and I hope he keeps that “Hellboy” tag, for some reason it really does fit the feisty confident kid…..

I could definitely see “Hellboy” as the perfect guy to hoist up and produce a 2012 Rays Superhero figurine. Heck, could be the best promotional item since the Carlos Pena toothbrush holder……Maybe better! Maybe we can get Hulk Hogan to cut a Rays promo: What’s you gonna do Brother when Hellboy Mania runs rampant on you!

Has a nice ring to it.

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