March 2012

The Baseball Song…Enjoy!

I have to admit, I had never watched a Corey Smith video before a Tennessee baseball friend (Ashley) sent me this great link. Sometimes I get into a music shell from October to March, and Smith definitely did not register as a “blip” on my musical radar before Ashley alerted me to his presence. Even greater news to my ear buds is that Smith will be making a Tampa Bay appearance at The Dallas Bull in Tampa, Florida on Friday, April 13th. I will definitely be in attendance for his show ( tickets cost $10 in advance, $15 day of the show).

I was somehow oblivious to an artist who has already Sold Out 15 of his shows already this year. Heck I am now officially asking the Tampa Bay Rays to possibly bring in Smith who already has the “Fortune favors the Bald” hair style. This same Georgia native, who married his U GA college sweetheart has over the past 5 years played over 650 shows, grossed $ 7.5 million in revenues and put over 600,000 butts in the seats. With his own dollars and musical sense he has released 6 albums that have sold 150,000 copies and 800,000 single downloads. (Hint, hint…Rays he has performed the National Anthem at Atlanta Braves games in the past).

It is a great thing to see an artist no matter if he is Country, Alternative, Reggae or even Pop pay tribute to this great game. I am so glad I got this link, and this video recorded while Smith was sitting in one of his son’s rooms ( he has 2 boys 4 and 5 yrs old) and the tune resonates not only Smith’s love for the game, but hints at some great moments between a Father and son in the future.

Glad I got a taste of Smith’s country flavor of music…And this Southern boy is going for a definite second helping. I hope he plays the tune again on April 13th! By the way, the Rays are on the road in Boston on this date, so maybe a few other Rays fans will join me at the concert.

Thanks Ashley and Elizabeth.

Why Did the Rays Leave Their “Irish” Roots at Home

Come on Tampa Bay Rays. I know you got it in you to be festive, celebratory and even have a few Irish brethren among your midst ( Shawn O’Malley ), but sporting a green Phiten titanium necklace in honor of St. Patrick’s Day is a wee bit disappointing.

Maybe I have seen better Irish intentions out of this crew that would dance an Irish jig at a hat’s toss if it gave them the luck and pathway deep into the post season. But to only wear a necklace and not even the famed “TB” caps brought back on March 17, 2010……I’m a bit ashamed tonight. Might have to drown my sorrows in a bit more Corned Beef and Green concoctions.

I mean even your opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates manned the green cap for this special day. And that cap did look really out-of-place with their usual golden-yellow and black ensemble, but their celebration of this holiday was noted all the way back to the Irish boroughs of the Steel City where the green bottle of Pa brew Rolling Rock helps marks the day.

Heck, even the usually mundane San Francisco Giants who also sported dark uniforms today showed support for the Irish in all of us this solemn day. But alas, the Rays wore a necklace.

It has only been 5 Springs since the Rays dumped their forest green unis and began their immersion into the blue realm. For years just sporting the Rays Batting Practice jersey had you at least in the “green scheme” of things on this March 17th day, but now it has eroded to just a bob of jewelry that might not even have any physical properties to it.

This same Rays team sported Kelly green uniforms not so long ago for charity that made you push your sunglasses down for their brilliance not only in color, but as a charity auction item gleamed throughout the region.

I still remember bidding on those classic uniforms and sporting them at least twice at Rays games and people marveled at their color and wanted one for their own. But they were keepsakes, special editions, once-in-a-lifetime reminders of the one day the Rays truly sported the green for themselves and others.

So as I sit upon this wooden bar stool among a throng of sports fans celebrating this great day I am reminded that every color, creed and national origin for this 24 hour period can boast Irish roots. That even the Reuben sandwich that contains Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, German Sauerkraut, but Irish Corned Beef is a 100% Irish staple today.

Maybe I’m the only person who feels the Rays made a titanic mistake today by only sporting a commercially sold jewelry accessory when so much more could have been concocted and projected for sale to the Rays Republic on this great holiday.

I think if you did a tally of just the 1-day (March 17th) sales on just the daily sales of the Phillies, Mets and Red Sox just today when all three squads donned their festive green field of clover colored caps and ceremonial uniforms, you would find a huge spike in merchandise sales due to the once a year green theme.

Maybe I am bit a bit melodramatic that the Rays did not at least sport a Kelly green cap much like so many other of their MLB brethren on this festive holiday. But I do wish the Rays the “luck of the Irish” all season long. A season that I pray this team always has the wind at their backs, and the road that comes to meet them is paved with victories, celebrations and bonds of brotherhood and friendship.

But then again with my original birth last name of Holiday……I feel Irish 24/7/365 even before I don my spiffy circa Rays 2010 white clover-leafed green St. Patrick’s Day cap while downing a stout and a shot of Jameson. But I do truly feel the Rays today left a bit of Irish luck upon the green grass in Bradenton where even Pirates sported green hues on this festive day.

Pssst! At least MLB.com has some Rays St. Patrick’s Day gear for sale now at a 20% discount. Here is the link for the Rays selections. All 30 MLB teams have their own section. 

Joyce Seemed a Hair Off on Thursday

Photo by Jonathan Gannt

I knew someone was going to have a reaction to the loss of their hair during the Tampa Bay Rays “Fortune favors the Bald” event, I just didn’t expect it to be this player.

Photo by Jonathan Gantt

Surely I expected Rightfielder Matt Joyce to be one of the guy to benefit from the loss of locks, but in Thursday contest against the Phillies, he seemed (pardon the pun) a hair off. On a day that burst with excitement, the giggles of children as they buzzed off finely coiffed hairdos, Joyce seemed off-kilter and a bit unexpectedly hesitant on both the offensive and defensive portions of his game..

I had a nightmare before the event that Rays SS Reid Brignac would look like a Cajun Gollum seeking out his “precious” ground balls. Even had a few reservations about Super Sam Fuld losing his curls to the wind wondering if it could effect his balance. Instead Fuld got 2 nice hits, and even showed off the newly trimmed dome forgetting that the sweat now had no hair to grab onto and keep from flooding his eyes.

Joyce had the trifecta on Thursday. He got caught stealing second base, missed a “ dying quail” hit just in front of him, and last, but not least left the contest prematurely after hurting his left wrist. Not sure when the injury happened, but you can definitely place its origin somewhere between his slide into second base and his errant diving catch attempt. He told the Tampa Bay Times today he was “a little sore” but expects to do full camp workout today and possibly be in the line-up for Saturday.

I am hoping it is just a flash in the pan bad Spring day for Joyce since he made such great improvement in 2011 and looked to be in netter shape both physically and mentally this Spring. But then again, on Saturday Joyce and the Rays will sport a bit of the Irish green, possibly that will hasten the bad juju away and Joyce can possibly do an impromptu Irish jig before the contest on Saturday.

Hair Today….Gone Tommorrow… for a Great Cause

Some say Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made more than a few headlines for his follicle hair coloring statements over the past few seasons. From his steady head of gray to John Cash black to a more subtle but pronounced medium brown this Spring, Maddon has made his hair fashionable.

On Thursday Maddon’s “ hair moment” or in fact his “loss of hair moment” will proceed over an event that has seen it’s list of participants grow by the hour. Over 26 members of the Rays are set to see their locks fall to the ground and be swept away as a symbolic gesture of support for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Dubbed “Team Rays” on their website, Maddon will be not only leading by example, but following the road set forth by another Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning F Vinny Lacavalier.

This is the same organization that Rays starter Wade Davis showed such support for in 2011 as he let a young cancer patient shave his head as he sat in a chair over the Rays dugout after the conclusion of a Sunday game. That was only one participant, and the crowd was amazing. Think of the magnitude knowing over 25 members of the team and the Rays staff will also sit in the chair and have their locks fall to the grass in support of this effort.

Rays participants set to join Maddon in the barber’s chair before the Rays Thursday afternoon contest in Port Charlotte include Rays pitchers: Davis, James Shields, Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Ramos. Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, Brandon Gomes, Matt Torra, Albert Suarez, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa and Rays rookie sensation Matt Moore.

Not to be outdone by the pitchers’, the entire Rays catching corps will also have their time in the leather chair as Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Mark Thomas,Stephen Vogt, Robinson Chirinos and follicle-challenged Craig Abernaz will see their hair fly away in the Charlotte Sports Park wind before that days contest. Also making an appearance in the chair will be some of the members of the Rays right-side of their infield: SS Reid Brignac, 3B Jesus Feliciano, INF Elliot Johnson, plus Rays outfield members Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer and the “Legend” himself, Sam Fuld.

A few well-known figures in the Rays coaching staff will also need more sunscreen this Spring as Third Base Coach Tom Foley and Bench Coach Dave Martinez will also be supporting this great charity. The Rays front office will also have a few hit the chair as Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Brian Auld, Sr VP Mark Fernandez, VP of Branding and Fan Experience Darcy Raymond, Sr Director of Corporate Partnerships Aaron Cohn,Manager of Corporate Sales Jake Hornstein and two Directors of Corporate Partnerships, Richard Reeves and Josh Bullock.

I think the paragraph on the pcfcutforacure website under “Team Rays” speaks volumes on why the team is so focused and excited about the event:

This is about being there for the kids and their families. We want them to know they are not alone. It’s a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through. We have a saying posted in our locker room that says ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ As we go forward with this campaign we are doing so under the flag ‘Fortune favors the bald.’ As an organization, we are proud to support organizations and institutions like the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) and the Moffitt Cancer Center.”

This is the kind of event that bonds a team. Unified with a common thought and goal, it can be a great starting point of the Rays taking another step not only in their development as a team, but as a great inspiration to other teams around the MLB to follow suit. I commend Maddon and his troops for their commitment, their outstanding community involvement and support, and most of all for donating what some see as a status symbol but they see as only hair and a visual stamp that they support this organization.

If you want to help support this cause with a donation of your own, text CUT to 50555 or go to pcfcutforacure.org. Just as every snip of the scissors is a chance to change a life, every text can also be life-changing for someone.

 

 

Cobb Has the Fire in his Belly

I like that Tampa Bay Rays prospect pitcher Alex Cobb was visibly upset when he got his marching orders to lug his gear and equipment to the “other clubhouse” on Monday. Cobb has done a lot to rehab and get himself into position to fight for not only a roster spot, but now is not his time. Sometimes channeling that emotion, taking that fire churning in your belly and refocusing it to making yourself better and more versatile can make you attractive as a vital tool at the MLB level.

But his attitude shows me something special. A lot of times guys go down after a bit of a rant, but do not show the frustration and fight. Cobb definitely made his displeasure known, and that is a good thing because that kind of fire and commitment to getting back to that level could be critical to Cobb early on this season. It could be the bonding moment where the Rays saw his fire, his passion, but his present skill set might be just a touch below the Rays first 5 penciled in starters at this moment.

Still Cobb has to be realistic that with the exception of David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields, the injury bug to the bottom two starters gave him his first taste of MLB life in 2011. Maybe that chance before his injury and surgery that effectively ended his season awoke an internal burning to stay at this point, to settle in with fellow golfing buddy Hellboy and thrust one of the Rays 2011 starters off that special rotation list.

That little nibble of the MLB lifestyle in 2011 got him hungry, got him committed, but somehow the numbers did not factor up in his favor…for now. I still remember seeing him get hit around a bit in his first 2 starts, possibly tipping off his pitch selection a hair, but suddenly he firmed up, got stingy with his offerings and showed us he was up for the MLB task.

Best case scenario Cobb takes that fight with him to Triple-A Durham and lets the ball be his messenger early on in the Triple-A season. Dominate, show improvement and make his not only his name, but his game on the mind of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey if anything goes South with one of the Rays “Golden Arms”. Cobb did a great job of adjusting to the MLB game on and off the mound in 2011, and should be the first righty to get a return gig to the majors.

But right now, as the embers of the demotion are still fresh Cobb needed to re-focus, re-energize, re-commit not only his game but his mental attitude that he has to show not only himself, but the Rays that he is ready, healthy and can be a vital cog in the Rays pitching machine.

I think we will see him in mid-May, but then again I like people who have something to prove.

Nothing Beats That Walk-Off Rush

Walk off wins are fun no matter if it’s pre-season, regular season, post season, duck or wabbit season”

                                             - Elliot Johnson (@ElliotJohnson9)

I swear there has to be a sign by now that Tampa Bay Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley has perfected to call for the “walk-off” magic. Seriously, how else do you explain a squad that posted not only a Game 162 moment for the ages as Evan Longoria’s Home Run came back down the Earth in the Trop’s Rightfield stands, but has produced over 110 regular season walk-off struts and impromptu celebrations/ team meetings at Home Plate.

That’s right, between the Rays first walk-off victory produced off a Home Run by Bobby Smith back on April 17, 1998 to Longoria’s strut into the climatic win history book last September 28th in extra innings, the Rays seem to have some sort of cosmic energy or karma when it goes into extra frames.

Not sure if the Rays do any drills or activities to get themselves into game shape for such a game changing moment, but I have a feeling Rays skipper Joe Maddon has a handle on it. This season there has been a pretty revel ant saying embellished all over the Rays clubhouse: “Fortune Favors the Bold”.

So why would today’s Spring contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates be any different. Seems a bit poetic that Rays C Chris Gimenez who was signed by the Rays after he became expendable by the Seattle Mariners after the Rays shipped C John Jaso to the Emerald City would be the special guest at another
Rays impromptu team meeting after stroking a 2-run double to post the Rays their first win this season at Charlotte Sports Park.

Maybe it was the added karma of Rays 3B Evan Longoria coupled with the “force” surrounding Luke Scott as the pair made their first struts onto the turf in game action this Spring. Sure the Rays total win total only meets Longo’s uniform number at this moment, but could this kind of win, this kind of moment jettison this Rays team back into the winning scheme of things?

Sure Gimenez’s scoring play was not a ball rocketing outside the confines of the ballpark, but a win is a win, is a win, especially when the Rays had gone winless over 4 previous tries on their home field this Spring. Thor wing another “ good vibration on the woodpile is the fact this was only Gimenez’s 3rd hit this Spring, and first extra base knock as he tries to convince the Rays to possibly give him a solid shot at their back-up catching spot.

Gimenez might be making his move to separate himself from the rest of the Rays catching corps seekers of that back-up spot not named Stephen Vogt. Even though the game winning moment did not vault Gimenez’s batting average this Spring ( .167 ) above the Mendoza Line, his action might get him a few extra looks and innings over the course of the Spring before others in the catching fish pond get plucked and sent to the minor league camp or beyond.


Still, there is nothing like a walk-off moment. It brings about a emotional rush unlike anything else in the game, can separate a player who has the skills and who has the drive and confidence to just try and connect and let history take care of the rest. Today that hero in the spotlight is Gimenez.  Kind of amazing considering Gimenez was considering signing with this same Pirates club before he inked his name on the Rays contract.

A Glimpse into the Rays 2012 Media Guide

This one publication I always await its arrival with great anticipation. This Spring I also had the great option of downloading a version so I could always have it at my fingertips for research, analysis or just gazing upon its 434 pages. I get excited the first time I open its cover. Not for the special freshly printed paper smell, but for the factoids, entertaining sidebars and information that makes it click, breathe and be a cherished item for any true Rays Republican.

Of course I am talking about the 2012 edition of the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide. I remember just a few weeks ago standing in the Rays media front desk awaiting my Spring Training daily credentials and overhearing a Rays staffer chat about their “ all-nighter” to get this season’s guide off to the printer. You had to be there to see the excitement in his eyes along with a hint of sleep deprivation, but within his voice you could hear the pride and resolution that a great product would soon grace our hands.

So let’s go on a little fact-finding mission shall we to seek our some new and interesting factoids about the men who don the Rays white and blue, plus maybe even a few odd facts that none of you knew about some of our current Rays players. It’s now time to feast on the bytes and bits about our roster of Rays players.

Kyle Farnsworth, an avid hunter does a lot of stalking during the off-season on his 2,500-acre plot of land in Georgia. Farnsy plans to so something original this season during Rays games as he will don a special pair of camouflage-style Oakley glasses on the mound this season. Talk about escalating up the intimidation factor to 10 as he stares in for the signs late in games.

We all know already emphatically that 3B Evan Longoria can play the drums. He is known to hit the skins before games, is the Rays in-house drum master during the video game Rock Band performances and even got a lesson from Goo Goo Dolls drummer Mike Malinin before the group’s 2011 Saturday night post game appearance. No word yet if Joyce and Longo might sit in with Z Z Top, 3 Doors Down or Gretchen Wilson during their post game trio this June at the Trop.

In another great and fantastic twist to the ever-expanding world that is the “Legend of Sam Fuld”. When  Sam had a sore shoulder back in 2007, this prompted Super Sam to  investigate possibly throwing right-handed. Although his left shoulder did recover, he never had to rely heavily on his new-found ambidextrous talent. Still, Fuld borrowed a friend’s glove after the injury and practiced throwing right-handed against a wall of a Phoenix, Az elementary school after his morning workouts with the Chicago Cubs. Later that same season Fuld made his MLB debut….left-handed.

Did you know Rays reliever Joel Peralta began his professional baseball career as an outfielder back in 1997 in the Oakland A’s system. He converted to pitching 2 seasons later prior to the beginning of the 1999 season with the Los Angeles Angels. But his prior hitting skills came in handy on May 20, 2007 when Peralta, then with the Kansas City Royals hit a 2-run RBI double in his first ever MLB plate appearance off Colorado Rockies RP Ramon Ramirez in the 12th inning of an Inter-League contest.

As if Minnesota Twins C Joe Mauer needed another reason to hate facing Hellboy. This off-season Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson was chosen by the Twin Cities Chapter of the BBWAA as the winner of the Dick Siebert Award given to the Upper Midwest MLB Player of the Year. Hellickson’s win in 2011 broke a 3-year reign by Mauer.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon must think SS/INF Reid Brignac is a human rabbits foot. During his 8 professional baseball seasons, Briggy Baseball has seen 11 of his 13 teams advance to the post season, including his last 8 stops in the minors. Brignac only played for one losing team, in his short season pro debut back in 2004 with the Princeton franchise.

Rays RF Matt Joyce began taking guitar and piano lessons this past off-season. Joyce is now versed in Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the piano and “Wonderwall” by Oasis on his Yamaha acoustic guitar. I wonder if Joyce is a left-handed guitar player since he does everything else right-handed like eat, write play golf and throw, but hits left-handed.

Another player trying to secure a spot on the Rays roster as a catcher this season Jose Lobaton had to pick between 2 sports at a young age. Lobaton an avid and skilled swimmer had to make a hard decision at age 14 whether to pursue a chance to play with a traveling water polo squad, or play baseball. Although Lobaton chose baseball, he frequently hit the pool to keep in shape during the season ( and hopefully beats the Florida Summer sweltering heat).

Luke Scott, the Rays new DH/OF has traveled over the past 3 Winters to Valencia, Venezuela bringing supplies, medicine and baseball equipment to the local residents. Scott is giving back to his adopted community after spending several Winters in this region playing Winter ball and practicing his Spanish. No word yet on if this is the place Scott hatched the idea of taking down a wild boar with a spear…..to be continued.

This past January, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment used Tropicana Field to film live cheetahs for a segment of ShamuTV, an environmental educational series distributed all over the country. Upton, a fan of big cats, was filmed with a hight intensity camera showing the speed of an elite athlete compared to that of a cheetah. No word yet on if the cheetah was caught trying to steal second base…or Upton’s glove.

Seriously, I joked on a few of these small snippets because we have a truly amazing assembly of athletics and civic leaders that go above and beyond both on and off the turf for the Rays. There are plenty more great facts within the covers of the Rays 2012 Media Guide including photos and history of events surrounding this great franchise as it enters it 15th MLB season.

You can get your own copy of the Rays 2012 Media Guide at the Rays Fan Store inside Tropicana Field during the upcoming 2012 season. It is well worth the investment and holds so many additional treasures and history.It is worth every penny of your investment.

One last fact before I conclude. Of the 934 players to appear on a MLB roster in 2011, Rays INF/OF Ben Zobrist was dead last in the alphabet. Even more amazing is the fact former Rays 1997 Expansion Draft selection Bobby Abreu ( 1st Round, 3rd D-Rays selection) heads this list of players. Amazing how from A-to-Z, this Rays club finds a way to set themselves apart in the MLB.

It’s Still “Hip, Hip Hoo-Ray”, 17 years Later

If you build it, They will come”. 

How many of us in the Rays Republic remember those iconic words spilled out over the Q105 FM Q Morning Zoo DJ Mason Dixon. Sure the phrase might have been literally “borrowed” from one of the best baseball movies ever, but “If you build it, they will come” still resonated loud and clear some 17-odd years later. I still remember so many other baseball communities scoffing this region with ridicule instead of patting this area on the back for their bold and courageous move of building the Florida Suncoast Dome without a hint or promise of a future MLB seasonal tenant.

The bravado displayed by this small Florida ensemble of communities would eventually wear down some of the old school mentality of owners within MLB and showed that the Tampa Bay area was eager for seasonal baseball after April 1st. Who would of imagined almost 17 years to the day back on March 9, 1995, at 12:54 pm, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig would stand at the podium in the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach and in his usual stoic emotion-less style announced the creation of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise.

By a unanimous 28-0 vote by the other Major League Baseball owners, the St. Petersburg Baseball Group led by Vince Namoli was finally going to pop the cork on that celebration champagne bottle. Yes, finally Major League Baseball had decided the Tampa Bay area was worthy of admittance into the MLB fraternity.

And the Breakers Resort has been a great good luck charm in the past for group trying to bring professional sports to Tampa Bay. For this was the same resort and same conference room that held a similar announcement back in 1991that the Tampa Bay region was awarded their National League Hockey franchise.

And so began the journey for this young franchise that would continue to evolve during the last 17 years from the inaugural Devil Rays, to our present day Rays. I still remember reading the quote by then Rays Team Owner Vince Namoli to the TampaTribune that amply summed up the great community celebration and the knowledge that we still had a long journey ahead of us before that First Pitch in 1998.

It’s been a path of 10,000 steps, 10,000 phone calls, 10,000 frustrations. Now we’re at the end of the path, but we start a new path,” Naimoli said. “We start to focus on hiring a General Manager, on the Dome, on the development of the franchise, on the minor-league system, on Opening Day 1998. We’re into the fun path.”

What a huge emotional and physical roller coaster ride it has been over the last 15 years. From setting up a professional baseball complex and training center on the existing Spring Complex that had housed former MLB tenants, the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals in the Jungle Prada are of western St. Petersburg, to finalizing the lease agreement with the City of St. Petersburg so that the then D-Rays could pursue their initial changes needed within their new domed home.

Namoli and his group initially paid $150 million to bring baseball to this region, and that figure seems like such a financial windfall for the Tampa Bay region considering all the great moments and events that have transpired since that announcement. From our first pick (Paul Wilder) in the 1996 First Year Players Draft, to the recent announcement of former Rays slugger Carlos Pena returning to again play for the team, to paraphrase an old television commercial, this team has come a long way baby!

And today I hope all Tampa Bay fans take a moment after 12 pm to remember and enjoy this moment. Sure we might have had a few rough years starting out before our Rays farm system began to churn out players like outfielder Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, or pitcher Joe Kennedy who showed us that building through our minor leagues was our path to the top. But people would have sent for the men in the white coats if we predicted a Rays World Series trip just 10 years after our inaugural season.

And as we near that special moment in time, it is actually fun for me to go back in time and remember I was sitting in a local gym when the announcement hit the airwaves that sent the room into an instant celebration. Because around me also working out were minor league players from the Orioles system. Instantly the mood went from working out to celebrating, and I know we were not alone in wanting to paint the town red that night.

Already there is a hint in the air that this season the Rays might send out their most talented team ever in the home opener on April 6th against the New York Yankees. This season the possibilities are more than evident that the Rays can again claw there way past division rivals Boston and New York to fight for their October rights to play for that shiny gold trophy. Persistence definitely paid off for the Rays franchise back on March 9,1995. But did you know it was the Tampa Bay area’s eight chance at trying to secure a Major League team?

I remember a story posted by the Rays team writer for MLBlogs.com and MLB.com, Bill Chastain, who in 1995 was an employee of the Tampa Tribune. The last paragraph of his article was a quote by the joyous new Rays owner Namoli on the day’s events. I can think of no better way to end this post than remembering those words spoken by a man who somehow saw into our team future and made such a prophetic statement over 17 years ago.

Some fans and media will shorten our last name to Rays,” Naimoli said. “And, so, I will leave you with that: Hip, hip hoo-Ray.

Vogt Has Impressed and Amazed This Spring

If you are a true believer in “the Rays Way”, you know his name. He could have a great career outside of baseball possibly headed for the bright lights of tinsel town or even the home of the Evil Empire, but he graces us with his skill, ability and the true action of striking the ball so hard it screams off his bat. The one to watch in my opinion this Spring is Rays C prospect Stephen Vogt.

He is already one of a long line of guys fighting for a slot on the 25-man roster for the Rays, but I truly feel his bat will be the difference. A beautiful kicker is he can play First Base, plus be an amazing backstop which could give the Rays the chance to carry 3 legitimate MLB quality catchers on their 25-man roster. Another added bonus is his bat can be as explosive and as lethal as a former Ray who has produced more trhan a few moments of glory for this team. To me, Vogt is Dan Johnson light, in a good way.

Now this is not a man crush, a bro-mance or even a kinship brought together through the giggles and adventures from Vogt’s talents via Charlotte Stonecrabs videos, or his antics and 2 time Rays Talent Show top honors. This is a guy who could be the dark horse and a true contender for a 25-roster spot because of his versatility and the power stored within his wooden club.

Vogt has made sure over the past few games that his name is whispered among those in the Rays Republic. Whether it is stroking and legging out an impressive triple today in the Rays first win against their AL East menace, the New York Yankees. Do not let the afterglow fade so quickly on his 3-for3 day with 2 RBI and 5 total bases on the day. Bask in the heat off his bat, for it is real and it will be a weapon of destruction sooner than we think in the MLB.

Sure I might be waxing it a bit rough with poetic justice here with Vogt, but when it comes to catchers who can hit with power and has speed as a secret weapon, Vogt is the secret weapon this Spring for the Rays. Need more proof. How about a prospect putting up a .545 average in his 8 at bats so far this March combined with a .667 average against right-handed pitching and you got a dark horse ready to run for daylight.

Need more stats to whet your whistle. How about a paltry .800 average this Spring away from the confines of Charlotte Sports Park with 2 RBI and an explosive 2.000 OPS. That is no typo, a 2.000 OPS, which is unheard of, even in the Spring. Want another nibble. How about a 1.492 OPS in his 11 atr bats this Spring to go along with a .600 average with the bases empty and a 1.467 OPS during those “empty base” moments. Oh did a fail to mention, he is a left-handed batter…SWEEEEET!

Seriously, Vogt is starting to make a few of us take notice when he swaggers up to the plate this Spring because the potential for something grand is just a simple swing away. Combine that with his many gloves and many options the Rays could use a bat like Vogt’s during the season….He is my player to watch this week…. and hopefully for a long, long time. Oh, and he does a mean Rays skipper Joe Maddon impression.

Interesting side notes concerning Vogt:

*** His daughter Peyton was born during a wild 36-hour time span of time while Vogt was heading to Tropicana Field to accept his 2011 Rays Minor League Player of the Year Award. His wife Alyssa went into labor that same day and gave birth before Vogt could return to her side.

*** Vogt who was out with a shoulder injury  actually put on the Umpire’s blues and filled in during a night game of a doubleheader while with the FSL Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs after the Home Plate Umpire was injured in the arm by an errant fastball. After both Managers agreed, Vogt took a position on the field as a Base Umpire for the rest of the contest.

*** We all know Vogt has comedic talents, but sis you know he also hosted the 2011 Rays Talent Show after winning in both 2009 and 2010. No word on if Ryan Seacrest had a bead of sweat on his brow after watching the video.

***Vogt won the Florida state League Batting Title in 2010 hitting .375 for Class-A Charlotte. It was the 3rd highest Batting Average by a Rays farmhand that season.

***The Vogts’ are an athletic family. His wife, Alyssa is actually taking a year off as a Basketball Coach at Evergreen State College to be with newborn Peyton.


Spring Ball not Bouncing the Right Direction….Yet.

Looks like we’re (the Rays) trying to get ou6 0-6 start out of the way early this season” #smartness”

Sam Fuld (@SamFuld5)

Is anyone within the Rays Republic ready to walk the gangplank, find themselves stressing out to the point of exhaustion so far this Spring? My advice to you then is to simply chill. Find yourself a shady spot, bask in the evening glow of the sunset and relax, it is Spring baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays will be fine, they are just tweaking and honing their skills with April 6th as the red letter day for their 2012 re-introduction to the rest of the MLB.

Sure the Rays have posted their first ever 0-6 start to the Spring schedule, but what do you expect when you have a fire drill of changes, bring in certain pitchers for obvious situation and sometimes the opposition’s momentum doesn’t stop like Rays skipper Joe Maddon’s classy old, but new ’55 Chevy (bad brakes). So what if the end of all 4 games this Spring have left you with a bitter taste, it is the Grapefruit League for gosh sakes.

But during these 4 losses to start the Spring the Rays have found as many diamonds as they have clumps of fool’s gold. Some of the competitions we have been eager to watch unfold have taken a few wild turns already, with some results showing light on some to favor, and a few dark spots that might extinguish a few chances in the near future.

I can easily dismiss the apparent late error today (Tuesday) by Rays SS Sean Rodriguez as he tries and entrench his name upon the line-up card as the team’s starting short stop. S-Rod might have made a bad play today, but his .750 average with a run scored in 2 contests shows Rodriguez came into the Spring wanting a starting gig to call his own.

S-Rod finds himself in a belly of the beast, a nice dogfight early with rising Rays SS prospect Tim Beckham who has suited up and played in all 4 contests, mostly after the 4th inning, but has shown the skill and athletic grace needed to one day man the Rays 6-spot. Reid Brignac, who was expected to be a throne in Rodriguez’s side as so far not cranked it up the needed notch to retain or keep his 2011 Opening Day SS spot. “Briggy Baseball” has gone 0-3 at the plate.

The second spot thought to have more than a few Rays eyes glued to it, the back-up catching position has seen the Rays two young guns Robinson Chirinos (.500) and Jose Lobaton (.333) basically trying to 1-up each other as the 2 back stops have produced great numbers. 2011 Durham Bulls catcher Steven Vogt has proven in the last 4 games he is not ready for the Comedy Corners of America just yet posting up a .375 average with 2 doubles to go along with his .650 Slugging Percentage. Suddenly the Rays back-up catching role might have a dark horse, with the initials “S V”.

So even as the Rays have clunked to their first ever 0-4 record in their 15 Spring seasons, with the way the line-up card has needed the large spacing of your First Grade writing tablet combined with an over-sized eraser and giant pencil production from the regular 2011 Rays line-up has shown this team is better than their record.

In the first 4 innings of these 4 games the Rays have given up 6 runs while scoring 2 themselves. That is also a bit deceiving as the Rays sandwiched their 2 worst performances giving up 2 runs in the first 4 innings during their Opener to the Minnesota Twins, then 3 today as the Twins visited Port Charlotte. In between that, the Rays gave up only 1 run in the first 4 frames of their 2 middle contests.

Surprising enough, the guy the Rays have penciled in as an apparent relief pitcher possibility for 2012, P Wade Davis only went to the mound on Monday in Sarasota and blanked divisional foes the Baltimore Orioles with an outstanding 1-hit, 1 K effort over 2 innings. That puts more pressure on SP Jeff Niemann and possibly rookie Matt Moore to produce or possibly not be wearing a Rays uniform on April 6th ( home opener).

 So do not fret the 0-4 record. It is a passage of Spring to test and put some of the younger guys through the paces and situations that will make them better MLB future players. Some of the Rays losses might have been avoided if the “A” team had gone the distance, but in the Spring, it sometimes looks more like a Church League softball game with constant line-up and position changes and number that reach up to almost 80.

One last note, keep your eye on Rays Spring invitee OF Jeff Salazar who has 1 of the Rays 2 Hrs, plus is sporting a 1.375 OPS and .875 Slugging Percentage this Spring in 4 games. They Rays are said to want to carry at least 5 outfielders this season, and if Salazar keeps up his pace, he could be the 2012 edition of Sam Fuld and find himself not only a roster spot, but considerable playing time, even in the early innings. Let’s just hope the bus trip up to Tampa on Weds with SP James Shields taking the hill for the first time this Spring…Maybe it is just the time for some Big Games James to break this streak.

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