January 2012

Has it Really Been a Year Since the ManDam Days?

It still doesn’t feel like we have gone full circle. Doesn’t seem to compute to 365 days, but it was 1 year ago today (January 31, 2010) that the most anticipated and exciting Press junket took off like a rocket. The anticipation and excitement within the room had the walls sweating, and more than a few of the assembled media members jockeying for the perfect photo of this grand Tampa Bay Rays moment.

The signing of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to me personally meant we were taking a giant leap of both faith and ability to get to the next level. Both men came to the Rays with World Series rings, plus a lingering bromance between the two MLB stars that bordered on a love-fest.

After the two traded volleys of compliments and platitudes amongst themselves, it seemed like this duo could be the eventual key to the Rays getting past the American League Divisional Series again and not just contend, but have a legitimate shot at seeing this young squad finally thrust skyward that long anticipated golden chalice. You had the feeling leaving that junket that these two MLB vets were here to win another crown and keep the drama to a minimal.

I still remember watching Manny and his father walking up to the Rays clubhouse in Port Charlotte, Florida on the day Pitchers and Catchers reported excited as Manny looked in great shape and had come in early to camp to talk with the staff, players and I even found my hand in his at some point. But we all know how the duo turned out.

One provided a perfect example of an MLB veteran thing and proved night after night his spunk, drive and a determination that has been previously unseen by a veteran in a Rays uniform. The other found himself suddenly an MLB outsider again after partaking in an illegal substance that took him instantly from the sparkling light of the Trop and into his own personal demon field.  I am still dumbfounded Manny did not take the penalty in stride, work to get back into a Rays uniform. Instead he packed-up, shipped out and seemed destined to fail for one of the first times in his career.

As Damon provided  a jolt of energized inspiration by his feats on and off the field, Manny found trouble on his own Florida home front.  I still want to somehow go back in time and shake Manny to and fro and wonder why he again slipped towards the dark side.  Manny signed for a small penance compared to his past contracts, and seemed he had something to show the rest of the league heading into the season.

I still wonder what could have transpired when Manny found his groove and could have been a great asset and weapon to keep American League pitchers’ honest against Evan Longoria. Instead Longo found himself with limited protection in the 5th spot in the batting order. If Manny had only kept himself straight, I shudder to think what each could have accomplished in 2011.

Both are long gone now. Damon pitching his skills and wares outside of his native state of Florida. Hoping to catch on with the Orioles and keep his AL East dream alive. Many have checked in on Manny this Winter, but so far no one has put a possible contract in front of him for 2012. There are rumors the Oakland Athletics might take a chance, but Billy Beane might have a few special provisions in that performance bonus laden contract before Manny has a chance to sign it.

What a difference 365 days have made. Carlos Pena is back in the Rays fold, All 5 2011 starters are still penciled-in for the Spring, and B J Upton is still a Ray. It is a shame the Man-Dam traveling road show could not produce and make the Rays decision harder this off-season to keep or give-up the duo. One showed his class for 180 days, the other was gone even before the blink of an eye. Still, the madness and pretense of that first Man-Dam press conference was one for the ages…..Makes you  realize sometimes things can be too good to be true….Sigh!

Hoping There is One More Trade on the Back Burner

The Tampa Bay Rays have sent out the vibe that they are basically done “shopping” and will just add a few stray parts to their Spring Invite list thus possibly closing the door to any movements before the team’s current player report to Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February. I’m not buying this for nano second.

Maybe it is a gut feeling or possibly a bit too much Chipotle Tabasco sauce, but this team is never done trading up or passing up a deal that could eliminate payroll or provide a bit more stability to security within their roster. And with the Rays having to add a $1.25 million dollar cherry on top of their recent Carlos Pena sundae, this team will be more than n eager to take a call from a certain GM in the Nation’s Capitol, possibly bringing a two-fold relief effort.

Of course I’m talking about Mike Rizzo, the General Manager of the Washington Nationals who has been poking and prodding B J Upton like a prized Angus beef cow for the last few years. Now that the Rays are possibly nearing the bursting point in their budget bubble, the right deal with the Nats for the right player (s) could happen quickly and also relieve some of that payroll pressure instantly giving the team actually a bit of payola if they want to bring in a right-handed bench bat with some of the pressure relieving cash.

Of course I’m talking about the Rays possibly finally sending B J Upton to the Nationals which would relieve $ 7.6 million off the Rays payroll in one swift move, adding the Nats would be bold enough to send SS Danny Espinosa to the Rays as the “other part of the bargain”. Believe me, Espinosa can hit and field and is making the MLB minimum and has not even breached the arbitration process.

With one firm “Yuuuup”, the Rays could plug their question mark at shortstop, bring some cash back into the fold to entice a right-handed bat and still tuck enough away for a possible late July movement if the Rays need additional firepower. It would also eliminate the ticking clock above Upton’s head immediately, give him a clean break to go basically “back home”, closer to his Northern Virgina roots and play in front of friends and family on a more opportunistic basis. Last but not least, it will make the Rays CF transition happen in a timely manner, giving heir apparent Desmond Jennings possibly the reigns to the spot.

It could facilitate a move by Matt Joyce to Leftfield or keep the status quo in Rightfield with Ben Zobrist and Joyce flip-flopping depending on the opposing pitching match ups like in 2011. The movement of Upton to another greener pasture could also give a golden opportunity to both Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to grab a hold of a Outfield flux and prove their worth to Maddon and his staff this Spring, possibly getting them to more time on the field. On the surface it looks like a win-win for everyone.

Even more interesting is the fact if the Rays did trade for Espinosa, it would bring into effect another “6 degrees of Longo connection” onto the Rays roster. You see, Espinosa like current Rays RP pitcher Cesar Ramos is also a ex-alum of Long Beach State University. Add that to the fact Espinosa can stroke the ball for power ( 21 HR, .735 OPS) and has speed (17 SB, 33 doubles), he could be a nice asset to offset the current short stop power deficiency.

Add plus to it all is that Espinosa will not reach the salary arbitration process until 2014, possibly being the stopgap defender up the middle the Rays could bank on until Huk-Ju Lee gets his feet wet at the MLB level. Espinosa also would have great trade value at the Trade Deadline this season if Reid Brignac rebounds and get off to a torrid start, or finally takes ownership of the Rays SS position.

It all looks enticing, but as we all know, the Rays do not ask my opinion on salary or team concept only if I want a large or medium Dr. Pepper at the concession stand. Still, I like this deal more for the possible immediate values and trade kickbacks this could have towards the Rays putting a team on the field that could suffice those nasty 2011 offensive sand traps.

I know this whole enchilada trade concept is more fantasy than reality, but the Rays have done thing before on the spur of the moment and they have paid some gritty dividends. I know possibly sending a veteran player and a guy who can be an offensive spark plug and defensive bright spot is a gamble, but it is one I would love to see more for the fact I would love to get a quality player in-house before the end of 2012 and possibly see Upton take a long walk and the Rays standing there empty-handed.

If this whole thing is just a dream sequence, please do not wake me until February 18th, I want to believe in its fruition for just a little bit longer.

Next Step for Pena……the Twitterverse?

Since Carlos Pena left the Tampa Bay Rays, a lot has changed both within the Rays clubhouse and with their team personality. Some might not even remember anymore the 2008 MLB blog penned by Pena as the Rays embraced and embarked on their maiden voyage into the Major League Baseball post-season. It showed a well-educated and articulate side of Pena most never knew until he spoke in videos, or in public to groups.

Under the roof of Tropicana Field Pena again blossomed, became a MLB icon whether he was arching his back connecting with a pitch down the center of the plate, or showing his cat-like reflexes that have earned him the status of one of the better defensive First Baseman in the MLB. Some say Pena found his second chance in Tampa Bay and became an instant fan favorite as much for his on-field efforts as for his oratory and charity works off the turf.

In less than a season, the Rays have also evolved without the leadership of Pena as another level of leaders emerged as Pena patrolled the First Baseline on the Northsde of Chi-town in 2011. The Rays collectively have become a team that is not obsessed but social media savvy, almost to the point of TMI at times.

And this is a fan interactive realm that Pena might not have encountered in his short Cubs tenure, but one he will quickly find encircles the personality of his old squad. Still, I wonder how long it will take before his teammates, or even Pena’s ex-Cape Cod teammate on the Rays 4th floor get him thrust into the social media frenzy.

From Rays farm hands Mikie Mathook ( @MikieMahtook8 ) or Stephen Vogt ( @SVogt1229 ) to the ever popular Rays feeds of David Price ( @DAVIDprice14 ) and Evan Longoria ( @Evan3Longoria ), the Rays have become socially savvy and frequent participant in the Twitterverse. I know the college educated and articulate Pena would be another great component of the online media feast for the Rays Republic, but finding the right handle or screen name might be a bit more difficult than we all imagine for the stylish Pena.

Just for giggles, I am going to take a gander at some of the more universally related “Pena persona’s” and see if those name or alias are currently available on the Twitterverse, or taken way before Pena’s first venture into its social realms. I will first post the more common screen names that could be associated with Pena, then move onto possible more obscure possibilities. 

@CarlosPena23 Unfortunately the most universal name that Pena could use is already associated with “Maximilian”, but this name might just be a shell since the author of this screen name has never issued a single Tweet, and is only following 1 person at this time. Sad, this could have been a perfect format for Pena’s Rays splash into the social media pool.

@TheCarlosPena It is unfortunate that Pena also shares the same complete celebrity name with another well-loved and respected Latin personality who won the second season of Latin American Idol. Just like his baseball counterpart, the singing Pena is known for his modesty and charisma. Who knows, maybe the singer will someday grace the Trop’s stage as a Rays/Hess Express Concert Series as we all will bask in double the Pena charm that evening.

@Car_Los23 At least we have an athletic-minded “Carlos” on this screen name. He is (Juan) Carlos Zaragoza (Murillo) who is a Mexican footballer currently playing for Club Leon in the Liga de Asenso. It might be a dummy Twitter site for this “Carlos” since it has only 3 followers and 3 Tweets since it’s inception. Pity, this name could have gone well with Pena, but such is media life.

@ILoveCarlosPena Heck, this screen name would have been perfect for Pena’s adorable other half, his wife Pamela. Unfortunately it is also the “love-fest homage” screen name for the band Big Time Rush fan Ashley.

Maybe I should venture more towards screen names that might be associated with Pena’s old nicknames, possibly bringing up some name attached to him during his Rays tenure that could evolve into a possible Rays Twitter home for Pena. Then again, we might encounter the same obstacles and detours previously seen when trying to get Pena just the right persona for his Twitter and Rays Republic social media moment.

@ElPresidente I had hopes this name would be unused and available, but it is another name that somehow is being underused and not developed to its full potential. Not sure who or what UAT is, but it has the regal “El Presidente” within its kingdom. This account is currently Following 37 Twitter accounts and has a robust 66 Followers even though it’s author has never submitted a single Tweets since its inception.

@ElPresidente23 I decided to try to see since El Presidente was taken if possibly just attaching Pena’s past Rays jersey number would get me a positive result. Unfortunately, this name too already has been taken and is active in the Twitterverse. It is attached to Peter Nixon, who is an active Twitter disciple who has thrust out over 3,127 Tweets and is following 645 other account and has 328 Followers of his own.

@Los23 This is another nickname that has evolved to a point where Rays fans automatically think “Pena” when it is voiced, written or otherwise communicated. As is our luck today, this screen name is also attached to 2 people with a bit of difference in their “Los” persona’s. One is Carlos Vargas (@Los23), who if you read his Tweets has a mellow kind of homey vibe, much like Carlos. The other does not have a human named attached to it, but @342Krazy who follows only 1 other Twitter persona much be a Rays front office covert ops….It makes sense (just kidding).

@ElGato Most people associate this MLB nickname with Andres Galarraga who was known as the “Big Cat” also during his MLB career from 1985-2004. An interesting side note is that Galarraga, like Pena also calls Orlando, Florida his home. But this account is actually the Twitter presence for Eye TV which is the world’s leading TV recording software and TV tuner solutions for the Mac computer.

As we can see, the usual names that Pena could incorporate his online social persona have either been taken, or are active accounts with some sort of back history that might be dangerous for Pena to cross paths with followers of the present account holders. That would only lead to possibly there being a new Pena persona hatched, or another nickname used to possible develop Pena’s Rays social presence. I have a few suggestions, with one being the best of both worlds for Pena, currently open for his use on Twitter, possibly as soon as he starts his account.

@ElGatodelCrimen This Twitter name might be more tongue-in-cheek than Pena would want for himself, but it is a nickname some put upon him during his Rays days as a bit of an homage to former Rays 1B Fred McGriff who was known as the “Crime Dog”. The name translates into “The Crime Cat”, possibly playing on McGriff’s persona, but with the added flair of Pena’s feline movements while covering the bag. This is not my favorite option, but it could be a nice way for Pena to remain secluded but also relevant among the unique Twitterverse.

@23CarlosPena This is my favorite Twitter name for Pena. I hope he wants to retain the jersey number 23, and if he did, this name would work to not only separate himself from the “other Carlos Pena’s”, it would make his name synonymous with his Rays persona as well as being his personal account to update us on great things in his of-the-field life. Truly this screen name could embrace and include everything we all have love, respected and admired of Pena since he first stepped outside the Rays Spring clubhouse wearing that symbolic number.

I truly hope Pena does take to the social media format just like so many of his team mates did in 2011. It is another way for both the MLB fans and the Rays Republic to see these guys more as humans than just as physical cogs in the Rays baseball machine. Pena has great passion and respect for the game and this community, his Rays presence speaking to that point and showing us another side of himself will make even his harshest critic embrace his Tweets and await anxiously for his next writ of wit.

PS My own Twitter name has been changed to @TheRaysRenegade after Twitter would not give me access to my original screen name after someone hacked into my account. I would appreciate and consider if it privilege if you “follow” me on my new name.  I also have the @TheRaysRenegade account scrolling on the sidebar of my blog again.

Tall Order on the Horizon for the Tall Texan

Not really sure what level of comfort Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeff Niemann has to push away a team offer of $ 2.75 million and hold out in the hope of making his change pocket jingle with his own arbitration figure of $ 3.25 million. Is the difference of a measly $ 500,000 really worth possibly alienating your own 2012 future with a team that already might be considering trading or even banishing you to the Bullpen?

Niemann definitely knows he is not honestly being considered for any of the Top 3 Rays 2012 rotation spots,possibly only penciled in as the 5th starter because the Rays will probably send rookie sensation Matt Moore to Triple-A Durham until mid-May. Not sure if even tipping the boat in a minor way is the right thing to do when you are not on a solid foundation with the franchise in terms of your overall pitching health, and a small bout of inconsistent throwing over the past 2 seasons.

Sure you cut an intimidating figure on the mound at 6’9”, but the Rays have their own bit of intimidation at their disposal going a perfect 4-0 against Rays players who dared go into the arbitrator’s chamber with them. But this shows a new level of confidence from the “Tall Texan”, and might end up being the best thing to happen to him this Spring.

But even Niemann has to admit he is not a solid “ sure thing” to make the Rays rotation in 2012. This off-season feels much like the Spring of 2009 when Niemann had to battle ex Ray SP Jason Hammel throw-for-throw during the Spring until the Rays made the decision easier by trading Hammel to the Colorado Rockies on April 5, 2009 for pitcher Aneury Rodriguez.

Seems to me that if Niemann’s arbitration years had started in 2009 or 2010 he might have more foundation to stand on his proposed arbitration figure as his win totals of 13 victories in 2009 and 12 in 2010 are a step above his 2011 total of 11 wins. But maybe Niemann and his agent are banking on the facts his 4.06 ERA was the second best final ERA of his Rays career.

Not sure what the mathematical equations or system Niemann and his agent are using to bring up a $500,000 windfall over the Rays offer, but we know it is not based on Niemann’s last start (38 pitches, 1 inning of work) or the fact Niemann was on the shelf for a total of 42 games, effectively only making 23 starts in 2011 while compiling his 11-7 record. Still, having only 5 no-decisions is a nice accomplishment, but it certainly is not worth half a million dollars.

Combined his short start with the fact Niemann’s last start on Saturday, September 24 was actually 2 days later as the Rays scratched him from his Thursday start against the New York Yankees due to soreness and you see a Niemann pattern developing. But I want to keep positive here, possibly Niemann’s 5-0 record with a 2.08 ERA in his last 6 starts against AL East teams can be the boost needed to have the arbitrator seeing eye-to-eye with the Tall Texan on his arbitration case this Spring

Or possibly Niemann and his agent will flaunt the fact that since Niemann came off the DL on June 20th, and prior to his September 24th debacle start, he posted a 10-3 record with a stellar 3.41 ERA with 88 strikeouts. Possibly the Tall Texan’s team will thrust up the almighty fact Niemann was 8-2 on the road in 2011, the second best record in the American League. Adding to his road list, Niemann had a 3,27 Era on the road to go along with winning 8 of his last 9 decisions, including a complete game 3-hit exclamation point against the Red Sox in Fenway on August 17, 2011.

Maybe Niemann’s representative will be sure to note to the arbitrator that the second member of the “silent assassin” clan went 11-1 when the Rays scored at least 3 runs, plus posted 10 or more K’s in 3 of his starts. Or maybe the proverbial cherry on top of this mound of stats might be the pure fact Niemann won 7 straight decisions from June 20-August 16th, tying his career high and the Rays club record. This is also the second time in his career Niemann has done this feat, previously posting the same results from Oct. 3,2009-June 9, 2010.

Or possibly the fact Niemann went 4-1 in his 5 starts in August 2011, which tied the Rays club record for the month plus the added bonus of his July numbers when he posted a 1.06 ERA in 5 starts setting the Rays club ERA record for any month. These numbers ranked 2nd in the MLB for July, trailing only NYY CC Sabathia and lowered Niemann’s 2011 ERA from 5.58 to 3.51 in the process. Niemann also set a career strikeout mark in 2011 when on July 29th in Seattle Niemann struck out 11 Mariners over 6.2 innings breaking his previous high of 10 K’s.

Still, going up against an organization that boasts a flawless 4-0 record against their players in arbitration begs to differ the difference of $500,000 is worth all the aggravation and possible internal damage beyond the playing field. Who knows what will happen once the doors closes this Spring, or if the Rays and Niemann can somehow reach an accord before the door firmly shuts and Niemann could become another victim of the Rays arbitration winning machine.

I’m not betting on Niemann coming out of this unscathed. No matter if he wins or loses his arbitration case, Niemann has to think he is a pitcher on a bit of a death march. Even if he doesn’t come out with an arbitration victory, Niemann could still find himself out of the Rays fold by April because of the Rays developing pitching talent, and not his overall pluses or minuses to the squad. Arbitration to me seems like a no-win situation where you go into a room fighting your boss and hoping he gains respect, admiration and sees you have that killer instinct you want from your starters. I wish Niemann luck….He is going to definitely need a Texas-sided batch of it heading into his arbitration date with the Rays.


Seems Like Yesterday I Began Writing on MLBlogs

I wonder if I printed all 1,200  of my posts that I have submitted since the beginning (September 7, 2007) end to end if they would reach the cupola atop Tropicana Field? Probably not, but I wonder if I stacked them horizontally would they fill the Progress Energy mosaic walkway that stretches just beyond the security gates outside the Trop’s rotunda as it meanders towards the 3rd Avenue South parking lot entrance.

1,200 doesn’t seem like such a huge number until you add in a few facts and figures, then it shows its magnitude. To reach $1,200, a Floridian making minimum wage (7.67/Hr) would have to work almost 156.45 hours to hit the amount. That was the total price of my Tampa Bay Rays Season Ticket for a Lower Box Seat in Section 138 in 2006. I could purchase 150 $8 beers in the stands at the Trop, possibly enough for everyone in Section 138 to chant my blog name in unison, but I digress.

It still is mind-boggling to me I have written so much is such a short period of time, but I love to write, and especially about my favorite hometown team. You can truly call it a ‘labor of love”, because there is no other team I follow as close any more, or with such blind abandon than my Rays. And my muses during those 1,200 posts have rum the gambit from the dropping of the “devil” in the team’s name, to the hope that 2012 is going to be the “Year of the Stadium for the Tampa Bay community.

I have gathered together my second passion, photography and tried to bring you unique one-of-a-kind photos from my times at the Trop, or down in the photographer’s pit during the Rays concert series over the past few years. From Adam Lambert to ZZ Top I have tried to bring you a little bit closer and a little bit more informed on things around the Rays Republic. Given the causal Rays fan access into the post season celebrations, some planned 2008 celebratory cocktails, and a visual and written access to special events and one of a kind charity happens in and around the Tampa Bay region.

I have also taken you on a journey as to the drugs in our own bathroom cabinet that could produce a positive MLB drug test, did a series on the maple bats and a few inventions in the darkened hallways that could replace this splintering menace if MLB approved them. Gave you my opinion more than once on the Rays stadium situation, and even a site that I still feel strongly fits all the criteria of both the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg. Brought you photos and commentary from Port Charlotte since 2010 on the first day of workouts, plus events like the indoors fireworks display or the Sunday magic of Raymond and his miniature Rays-ettes.

I still remember hitting the Lastest Leaders list for the first time a little over a season after posting my first blog post. September 12, 2008 is a special day to me because it was the first time I cracked the Top 20 blogs on our site sitting right in the middle at # 18. Nowadays I tend to sit in the top-tier, even finishing 2011 as the 2nd most page views for a Fan Blog on MLBlogs.com. I know there are websites who hits these numbers daily, but since we made our switch to WordPress( mid-May 2011), a total of 271,642 of you have clicked on my posts.

I love writing here, and it has been you, the MLBlogs.com family and people outside this blogging community who have built up my writing confidence, stamina and determination to keep thrusting out posts both during the season, and in baseball’s down time. People always ask me what my favorite post is, and my true answer is all of them. Each has a little bit about me you never knew, or a Rays fact that has escaped most people’s eyes.

I yearned early on in life to be a journalist, and let my creative side of go “idle” after leaving the Sports Department of the defunct Evening Independent and began my post-sports life. I wrote both in High School and college about sports, but something was missing. It all didn’t click again for me until back in 1996 when I first plucked down $20 for a Season Ticket seat deposit. I can truly say the Rays are the reason for me to again write, amuse and hopefully entertain you about the ways and means of the Rays Republic.

But in the end if it wasn’t for you reading my posts, commenting or even talking to me in the Trop stands, this adventure would have been scrapped long ago. I do not write for money, fame or even special treatment, I write to hopefully make one more person want to follow, attend games, to buy a Rays item for themselves. I hope it doesn’t take another 52 months to hit my 2,400th blog post, but then again, it seems like just yesterday I was talking about “D No Longer Stands For DevilRays”. Want to know something really ironic, that  first post was 860 words, same as this one today.

Why is There Such Fear and Loathing for the # 13?

I really do not understand the big brouhaha or problem with about the number “13″. How many people actually suffer from Triskaidekaphobia, and is it more mental obsession than an attack of physical anxiety? I guess it depends on who you ask with that line of questioning, because you might get a different viewpoint from every person.

When did this fear begin, and why is it that even today so many people still have such a fear of anything 13-related. If you dive into the research online, you will find the first common fear of this set of numerals was written by the early Christians who spoke of the thirteenth disciple setting the norm after his attendance at the Last Supper. We all know a version of the story of Judas, but could this be the true origin of this cursed number?

In actuality, the number is not all that forbidden and cursed in Christian literature. Most religions and belief systems still adhere to the thirteen attributes of God. The Torah and some Christian churches still use these same formal attributes weekly in sermons and teachings. But for all its evil intentions, the number is still just 3 plus 10 to some cultures, and doesn’t hold the bearing of evil, or even a darkened cloud of impending doom.

In Romanian, Greek and Spanish cultures, they still believe in a cultural fear of bad luck and terror on this calendar day. These cultures also consider Tuesday the 13th to also hold the same evil intentions and superstitions. But why is it that baseball doesn’t really take to this superstition.

Even though Major League Baseball players have been characterized as some of the most superstitious and ritual-based athletes on the planet, most do not hold a negative or evil judgment on the number. Several MLB players have garnered this numerical evil and done quite well for themselves. Several MLB players have taken it upon themselves to basically “laugh at the devil” and any evil intentions that might surround the number and wear the 13 jersey.

There have been more than a few examples of both positive and negative actions and reactions to players who have worn the number 13 on the field. The number “13” jersey has had it share of negative actions, but were these commotions caused by the number, or could the player possibly just mentally jinxed himself into experiencing a bad game?

For example, Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Bianca defiantly wore the “13″ jersey and even posed with black cats before the 1951 playoffs. Bianca would become famous footnote in baseball lore for surrendering the pitch that San Francisco Giant great Bobby Thomson’s slammed to the heavens for the proverbial “shot heard round the world” playoff defining Home Run. This event has been viewed by many as one of the most famous Home Runs of all-time. Did the number on the back of Bianca’s jersey or its psychologial effect play into the final events unfolding? That depends on your own superstitions.

Pittsburgh Pirate legend and Baseball Hall of Fame member Roberto Clemente was remembered eternally for wearing the number 21, but did you know Clemente started his career with the Pirates in 1955 wearing the number 13?

Both a skillful hitter and a brilliant right fielder, Clemente garnered many awards during his career including the National League MVP in 1966, 12 consecutive Golden Glove awards, and World Series MVP in 1971. He was the first Hispanic American elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Even though the number can be considered evil, mean and nasty, is it all just hype, or does this number really have the power to take your best and make it change 180 degrees?

I would be curious to ask this of former MLB pitcher Jeff Fassero,who wore no. 13 in 1999 for Seattle and Texas while compiling a 5-14 mark with a 7.20 ERA, the worst MLB single-season ERA (for pitchers with 150 innings) since 1937. Fassero’s nasty events aside, even battery mates can find the number to have a bit of an unlucky hue.

Current TBS baseball commentator Buck Martinez was considered a great catcher during his MLB career, but was his decision to wear number 13 the beginning of his eventual downward spiral? Martinez donned the # 13 while playing behind the dish for the Toronto Blue Jays. Martinez did last 17 years in the big leagues but held a career batting average of just (gulp) .225.

During the 1985 season Martinez was bowled over by a player attempting to score and suffered a severely dislocated ankle. The injury eventually ended his playing career. Martinez again wore the number 13 when he was hired as the Manager of the Blue Jays from 2001-2002. Martinez never seemed to gain the support of ownership or his team, and his tenure was short-lived in Toronto.

Former MLB closer Billy Wagner wore the ill-fated number back in 1998 with the Houston Astros and missed considerable time during the 1998 season after a line drive struck him on the left side of his head. Wagner did make a successful return in 1999, but missed most of the 2000 season after elbow ligament surgery. When he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005, he still dressed out in his usual 13 jersey.

With the Phillies, Wagner encountered a nagging shoulder strain that effectively got worse and the Phillies shut him down for the season. Wagner again had this cursed number on his back in 2008 when he went down in a heap on the mound with a torn medial collateral ligament and damaged flexor pronator ligament. The prognosis meant the season-ending Tommy John’s surgery. Did the jersey number play a part in the end result, or did Wagner’s hard-throwing style play into it? Depends on your beliefs in the numerical evil, or just an ironic set of coincidences.

Even though some found only pain and sub-par performances with the number 13, some MLB players like former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jeff D’Amico had some interesting mixed results while wearing the number. D’Amico posted some truly excellent stats during the 2000 season when his ERA hovered around 2.00 for much of the season and he contended for the NL ERA title.

Needing just a few additional innings to finally qualify for the NL ERA title during his last start, D’Amico surpassed the 162 inning minimum threshold, but during the contest gave up just enough earned runs to see the title slip out of his grasp. With his great showing, D’Amico was expected to be the ace of the 2001 Brewers staff, but injuries kept him from ever returning to form, effectively cutting short his MLB career.

Adrian Brown did not have an extended stay in the MLB, but he did have the great flexibility to play every outfield positions. Brown reached the Majors in 1997 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, spending seasons with them before moving to the Boston Red Sox (2003) Kansas City Royals (2004), and Texas Rangers (2006). Brown’s most productive season came in 2000 with Pittsburgh, when he posted career-highs in batting average (.315), home runs (4), RBI (28), runs (64), doubles (18), and stolen bases (13) in 104 games.

Edgardo Alfonzo was a former Major League Baseball infielder who worn the number 13 ever since his MLB debut, but switched to # 12 in March 2005 to give the # 13 to his former San Francisco Giants teammate Omar Vizquel. It is said Alfonzo gave up his long time number to honor not only the career longevity of Vizquel wearing the number, but because wearing the number 13 is a term of respect and honor.

Fellow countryman and former Cincinnati Reds SS Dave Concepción who also hailed from Venezuela wore the number his entire MLB career. Another son-of-Venezuela, current Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen has worn the number 13 his entire playing ( D-Rays 200 season) and managerial career and has had some mixed results, but still be bears the number on his back.

Omar Vizquel might end up being the most famous MLB player to wear the number. forget he was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Mariners back in 1984. Vizquel is considered one of baseball’s all-time best defensive shortstops, winning nine consecutive Gold Gloves (1993-2001) and two more in 2005 and 2006. He also tied Cal Ripken’s AL record (since surpassed) for most consecutive games at shortstop without an error (95 between September 26, 1999 and July 21, 2001). On May 25, 2008, Vizquel became the MLB all-time leader in games played at that position, passing the great Luis Aparicio.

Many current players including New York Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez find no fear or evil with the number on their back. In some instances it is considered a lucky charm to the players. Recent troubles in Rodriguez’s life might be turned around and blamed on the number, but the instances might have happened without the uniform firmly on his back. Former Tampa Bay Rays LF Carl Crawford wore # 8 when he first came up with the team, but quickly swapped for the # 13 since it was the same number he wore in high school.

I wore the number # 13 in high school and college. I am also one of those people who do not walk around ladders, I step on cracks and pet black cats. I think that if you have positive attitude and a mental foundation of knowing you make your own luck based on your own intentions and actions, then what number you wear is an innate decision.

I know there are people who subscribe to the thought process that the number 13 is steeped in negative connotations. But that is what is so great about being individuals. We make our choices in life based on our belief system and our personal habits. I got to go right now, there is a black cat in the middle of the road and I have to go chase it through the painter’s ladder on the cracked sidewalk…………Wish me luck!!!!

Post Script: Not sure why my Font changed from yesterday….Could there be an evil presence?…….Gotcha!

Great Scott!

Not sure if I should send an edible fruit bouquet or an animated “thank You” card to Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations. I know some found the “Ghost Protocol” blog a bit far-fetched or even too realistic, but the pure fact is the Rays were on silent running because they did not want the rest of the AL East to know they finally got the player Friedman has asked about for the past 2 Trade Deadlines.

I honestly think the signing of Luke Scott to a one year deal with a club option for 2013 is a firm step in the positive direction of finding a Designated Hitter that can grow within the Rays fold. Sure Scott might be a bit of a late bloomer, but they said the same thing about Jonny Gomes when he was a DH, and he blossomed quite nicely after leaving for the Reds and eventually being traded to the Nationals.

Considering Scott also has a home in Florida located in De Leon Springs (Volusia county). The only thing that could possibly stand in the way of Scott taking the Rays DH role and pouncing on it is a setback from his July 2011 shoulder (torn right labrum) surgery. But all indications are that his rehab has been productive, and Scott should be ready to go in about 45-50 days at full steam and is currently in the midst of his own intense off-season workout regimen. Scott also could see some time possibly during the Inter-League portion of the 2012 schedule in the outfield if his throwing shoulder has healed sufficiently.

He seems to be the offensive weapon the Rays have been seeking for a few seasons, with Friedman always asking the Orioles about his availability come late July, and always finding the prospective package too rich for the Rays blood. But when Scott is healthy, he could be a godsend to a Rays offense that at time rolls into a hitting funk at the wrong moments. Scott has hit 23 or more home each season from 2008-2010 before he was limited to 9 HRs over his 64 games in 2011. In his best showing for the birds, Scott hit for a .284 average with 27 HR, 72 RBI and a .368 on-base percentage back in 2010.

Still, it was great the Rays could finally get Scott without having to send prospects or even MLB ready players to their divisional foes the Orioles thanks in part to them non-tendering Scott earlier in the off-season. The terms of Scott’s 2012 Rays contract are still being ironed out, but you can bet there will be plenty of room for incentives if Scott can knock the cover off the ball or deposit some nice white souvenirs into the Trop’s stands. Scott does come to the Rays with the accolades of being a top-tier offensive weapon having been selected as the Oriole’s 2010 MVO (Most Valuable Oriole). And the cherry on top of it all..He is also an avid First Baseman.

If Scott can hit anywhere close to his .500 Slugging Percentage that he has displayed in the past, he could be a nice addition and a good bit of protection for Evan Longoria. It has been a few years since Longo has had a hitter behind him who can command a pitching staff to pitch to him in fear of giving the next guy an ample chance for a run-producing at bat. Scott could be a great equalizer, especially if he gets ahead in the count and makes his rival possibly groove one in on him.

That is where Scott reminds me so much of Gomes. He has that type of power to get the bulk of the bat on the ball late and drive it towards First Avenue South with a simple twist of the wrists. That kind of consistent power display and ability has been missing with the Rays for some time. Plus with a one years deal and a 2013 club option, if the Rays and Scott do not fit together right, Scott could again be a free agent in the off-season of 2012.

Scott has a pure passion for guns and hunting, which might make him an instant friend of Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, but he is also someone who has his opinions and is not afraid to voice it loud and proud no matter if you in his corner or not. Mark Reynolds, an old Baltimore teammate of Scott possibly has the best explanation of “Scott being Scott” :

He doesn’t hide it, he doesn’t talk behind people’s backs about anything. A lot of people have those opinions and don’t say anything. Did I think he needed to go to the Winter Meetings and say all those things” Probably not. But he’ll give you his opinion.”

So as you can see from Reynold’s comments, Scott comes with some concerns, but has generally been a positive force in the clubhouse. It is away from the playing field and his teammates that Scott has made a few less than adamant “followers”. He was a Baltimore fan favorite, being accessible and gracious to the fan base, but he did have a tendency to rub some the wrong way with his devote religious beliefs and political opinions. I think if the Rays did win the World Series in 2012, Scott might not have an instant invite to the White House.

But he has also been known to have a razor-sharp wit sometimes going above and beyond the usual lines like throwing plantain chips at a player to keep him in line. But that is another quality that is very similar to Gomes in that Scott is almost like an larger-than-life animated cartoon character in the clubhouse and vocally.

Heck, some might remember Scott ruffled a few Rays feathers in the past spouting off about former Rays hurler Matt Garza and making sure his Home Run celebrations against the Rays had a bit of an extra kick to them. So Scott might be one of those “tough love” guys, one of the people who will tell it like it is, and make you sorry you asked the question for the abrupt response to your query.

But Scott should love this region. Did you know Scott is fluent in Spanish and loves the Latin culture. That should go great with a team with plenty of Latin flair, plus a community that boasts the second largest Hispanic population in the state. In the end, the Rays got the guy they have been peering at from afar for several seasons. Scott is also a great contributor to local clinics, special events and charity events. He has the personality that can be a crowd pleaser and a seat filler not matter the event or the reason for the assembly. 

The echo of his bat meeting the ball in the trop should sound like thunder, and hopefully he will rain down a few HR showers over the course of a season. His love for all things Latin, including the language will make him likeable, respected and a quick fan favorite. I can hear the Raysvision clip now as Scott rounds the bases after hitting one into the seats. On the scene is Doctor Emmitt Brown in a clip from “Back to the Future”, and you know the line……”Great Scott!

Who knows, maybe they will use this clip……

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.

So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.

Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.

Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.

But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.

The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.

But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.

I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.

But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.

I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet.  Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?

A “Must Do” Event to Circle on Your 2012 Spring Training “To Do” List

This Spring event always seemed to have that musty and stuff feel about it, a wedge of a baseball nobility or royal twist to it in the past. One of those pristine and ceremonial Spring events that precedes the influx of moving vans, travel trailers and those baseball fans needing a Spring subtle kiss from the Baseball Gods. In the past it’s air of an ancient closed door society vibe kept me away even with yearly invites. But time has a way of trimming off the excess and finally bringing about a redefined and refined way to celebrate the Spring return of baseball, with a distinctive Tampa Bay twist.

I am more excited about the events transformed name,  Dinner with David & Friends  which will be a great new Spring event co-sponsored by the Rays southpaw David Price and his One Four Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame which is located  on Centerfield Street inside Tropicana Field. The event will be held on Friday February 3, 2012 from 6:30 pm to ??? It is an early chance for the baseball community both within and outside the Tampa Bay region to help the children’s charities around Tampa Bay on the same night the Hitters Hall of Fame will induct their 16th class of splendid hitters (and a few crafty pitchers). All for the donation of $99 which will include more than just a meal on the AstroTurf of Tropicana Field.

Included with your donation is the chance to meet and talk with current and past baseball legends, the incoming class of 2012 Hitters Hall of Fame inductees like the Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson, former Rays Tino Martinez, Cecil Fielder, the late Mike Flanagan and the Rays Skipper, Joe Maddon and possibly a few special celebrity guests invited to the event. Every diner will also receive a commemorative autographed ticket signed by Price (worth the donation price by itself).

Also on the event agenda is a special autograph signing by present and past MLB stars, a silent auction and a dinner that will conclude with a special message from Price as we begin to embark on the MLB experience for the Spring of 2012.

Maybe it is the new title that embraces and beckons the average baseball fan like myself back into its ceremonial post-Winter arms. I feel more of a Spring warming effect and embrace from this yearly event now that has been vacant for so long. That finally the upper crust of the baseball community have extended a hand to us possibly bringing the event out of the darkness and hopefully can become a “must attend” seasonal event for everyone from the top tier players, movers and shakers plus an average fan like myself can daydream and visualize the upcoming season while sitting at a table remembering the past, present and future of baseball as we gaze upwards at the Trop’s Teflon roof.

I can easily see this event becoming a important piece of any true baseball fan’s annual “To Do” list during their seasonal pilgrimage from the North as they head into the region thawing out their baseball heart and reawakening their internal hunger for baseball. If this event is handled right, it could become a pre-Spring celebration party just a week before the first report dates of 2012 Spring camps. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of snow bound and the snow weary fans and disciples of the MLB community could descend upon this sun-kissed state and make this event and it charities a beginning point on their yearly journey as the “Boys of Summer” begin to develop their seasonal swagger.

My personal opinion might be a bit biased since I have always been a fan of Price and have given countless dollars to the Ted Williams Museum’s silent auctions over the years to support their causes. This is a great way to include the two together, spend some time remembering and enjoying the careers and unfolding careers of the inductees while also being in the company of the real baseball nation. The $99 cost is minimal when you consider the memories, photos and autographs obtained while visually being pulled in by the exploits and dramatic events of the inductees will will reach its climax with a oratory by Price. Only thing missing is a photo op with Price’s dog Astro.

For event information click on the Dinner with David & Friends link in the blog post.

Additional links for the Project One Four Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame websites.

Where Do We Pencil in Rodney’s Name?

Photo: Rays Index

On paper, the signing of experienced closer and set-up man RHP Fernando Rodney seems like a solid investment for the right coinage to solidify the back-end of the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Rodney’s contract leaves the Rays 7-8 and 9th inning possible options with a combined commitment of just over $ 7 million and the clarity that they do not have a huge reliever contract lingering over their heads. Somehow I think Rodney is of the opinion the closer role is wide open and he wants toi take a huge step towards claiming it this Spring.

Rodney will take home $ 1.75 million for 2012 with a club option kicker of a $ 2.5 million dollar question mark for 2013 (with a $ 250K buy-out), which seems within the guidelines of what the Rays value their relievers. Current closer Kyle Farnsworth will pocket $ 3.3 million and the new contract by Joel Peralta will net him a cool $ 2 million. Just under $ 7.1 million for the Rays possible 7th, 8th and 9th inning slots, which is considerably less than the $11 million the Philadelphia Phillies will pay for just their new closer, Johnathan Papelbon.

Here is where this signing by the Rays can become a bit hazy and gray. Is Rodney being brought in as an insurance policy in case the elbow tenderness that wrecked havoc for Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth this past September rears its ugly head again and promotes an angst that will remind all of us of the 2008 Troy Percival debacle.

Do the Rays see Rodney possibly as a “situational closer”, but more in tune with being a 8th inning set-up guy pushing Joel Peralta back to the 7th inning or into his own situational black hole. For some reason I have a sneaking suspicion the Rays are wanting a little competitive spirit and competition tossed into the Spring, and Rodney and Farnsworth have history as  a pair of late inning guys. But there are still a few things that worry me about Rodney, and it is not the fire in his belly or his experience.

Sure Rodney has posted 87 career MLB saves, but only 17 of them have come over the past 2 seasons while he was with the Angels. 87 career saves over his 9 year MLB tenure with the Tigers (7 yrs) and Angels ( 2 years) doesn’t leave me with a true air of confidence he could be the guy to set in if Farnsworth does have an elbow setback or is lost for a prolonged hiatus from the Rays. Rodney did post 26 K’s in his 32 innings of work in 2011, but he also tacked on 28 walks and 26 hits during his 2012 Angels season.

Still there is a great similarity between Farnsworth and Rodney that they both take care of their bodies, and can throw some extremely hard stuff at times, but can this former duo who used to work together in Detroit find that magic again in Tampa Bay? For Rodney is dominant on the hill when he has control over his change-up.

Could the Rays be a great matching for Rodney considering Rays starter James Shields has one of the best change-up in the game and is constantly tinkering with his grips and release points. Possibly the two hurlers could get together and find a better change-up in the mix for Rodney and bring him back to the top of his game. Rodney also employ a decent slider that tops out at around 86 mph, which can be greatly effective when his fastball is sitting in the high 90′s.

The problem I am having here is the inconsistency during 2011 of Rodney in his limited role and if the off season will produce amazing results or will he remain within his present flux state when it comes to his pitching. What effect could this have on Peralta considering he might have thought the 8th inning slot was his to lose, and now the Rays bring in competition. It could be a blessing or a curse for either player, but I still have a boatload of confidence in Peralta possibly pushing Rodney into a 7th inning slot by late March.

Some have already brought up the old baggage in regards to Rodney and his high and outside fastball up towards the Rays Press Box back in 2009 when he was a bit over excited during a save opportunity in Tropicana Field. Rodney ended up getting a 3-game suspension on the heels of a letter sent to MLB by Tampa Bay Times Rays writer Marc Topkin. I would love to be a fly on the wall on the first day of Pitchers and Catchers reporting and see if Topkin and Rodney shake hands. Still, as far as I’m concerned, he did the crime, the time and it is in the past.

Still, the signing of Rodney did not break the Rays piggy bank, and it filled a void left when they did not re-sign Juan Cruz. The final determination of the usage of Rodney has not been revealed yet, but you can definitely pencil in his name in the late hash marks of the game. It could end up being another blessing in disguise for the Rays in 2012 just like the unexpected signings of Joaquin Benoit in 2010 and Peralta in 2011. I have an odd feeling Rodney knows he has a chance to be with a contender and will come out fighting for his slot this Spring. 

This signing of Rodney could end up being the huge exclamation point the Rays Bullpen need heading into the Spring, or a demise in waiting. My money is firmly on Topkin and Rodney burying the hatchet and Rodney throwing so much heat a few of the Rays catcher’s mitt will need flame retardant materials sewn on them. In the end the Rays reliever corps will be a better unit with this competition, and who ever wins out and claims the closer role, well the other will probably be the first one to shake his hand. ….I hope.


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