May 2014

Foley Displays the Ultimate Sign of Respect

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I have had a mountain of respect for Tampa Bay Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley over the years. He is a funny guy who loves his craft, is eager to teach and mentor young players and swings a mean golf club.

Evan+Longoria+Boston+Red+Sox+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+znZ91QS5QxXlBut when he recent came out to his usual spot manning an extra “6” on his jersey ( Foley normally wear just a lone “6” ) and emblazoned with the name “Zimmer” on his shoulders, that sealed him permanently among my all-time favorite list of M L B personalities.  

The moment I realized it was emotional for me with my memories of Zim, and amplified this team’s love, admiration and want for the Rays Senior Advisor to recouporate and return to his usual spot on the field during the Rays Batting Practice sessions before games .  

“I’m going to wear it until they (M L B ) tell me, ‘Don’t wear it,’ ” Foley said Saturday. “We are 1-0 9 (now 3-0, all Walk-off wins ) with it.”  Personally I’m hoping M L B let’s Foley wear it as long as Zimmer is recovering and away from the field.

With Foley being “Zimmer for a day”, the action personally pushed the level of admiration and respect I had for him to an astronomical level. It was the ultimate homage by one of the senior members of the Rays franchise displaying his own kinship and affection for the Rays iconic Senior Advisor.  The Zen that is Zim is such a vital piece of this team’s chemistry and spirit. 

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay RaysFoley’s want to pay homage in this way also provides an exclamation point to just how important he also is to the overall fabric of this Rays franchise.

He is the longest tenured Coach in Rays history. Foley first stepped into the Rays Third Base Coaching box back on October 25, 2001 and has survived the turmoil and change of 3 different Rays Managers from Hal McRae, Lou Pinella and Joe Maddon.

That a magical 13 years giving signals and signs to hundreds of Rays players who have passed him during that time. Only St Louis Cardinals Third Base Coach Jose Oquendo, who has manned the same spot for 14 years has patrolled the box longer.

dt.common.streams.StreamServerHow important is Foley to the Rays game plan?  Former Rays Coaches’ Greg Riddoch (1998-1999), Billy Hatcher (2000-2001) and current NY Mets Manager Terry Collins (2001). All have manned that same strategic spot for the Rays, but only Foley has stood there since.

Only 3 other members of the Rays organization’s uniformed corps have pulled on a Rays tunic longer. Field Coordinator and Durham Bulls iconic Manager Bill Evers, current Bulls Manager Charlie Montoyo and long-time Hitting Coordinator Steve Livesey.

Coming into the 2014 season Foley had done his patterned windmill signal and watched 76% of the Rays franchise’s runs cross Home Plate. I do not think there are many if any other Coaches’ in the entire history of M L B baseball besides possibly Oquendo who could boast such an achievement.

I was proud and exhilarated watching Foley’s game day homage to Zimmer. It is not often we see one Rays icon pay homage to another eternal Rays icon.  My one hope is that sometime in the future, whoever takes over that sacred Rays Third Base spot after Foley puts away his spikes will someday display the same honor and be “Foley for a day”..

Remembrance of the Rays Sail Stadium…5 Years Later

 

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Has it really been 5 years?

My how the time and seasons have flown by since the final nail was driven into the coffin that was supposed to be the Tampa Bay Rays Waterfront stadium.  It was May 22, 2009 when the Rays wishes of bay side baseball took its last breathes on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg, Florida

lang1The stadium was supposed to be the new glistening gem on the ‘Burg side of the estuary known as Tampa Bay. Where crisp and salty afternoon sea breezes and occasional showers were to bring outdoor baseball back to the region M L B style. The prototypical sail was to bellow high above the playing field as a new regional Tampa Bay iconic symbol where no balls would ever hide again, and those bloody catwalks would be forever confined to the Rays Wives annual fashion show.

May 23, 2009 was the date the dream officially died. On that date Progress Energy Field or better known as Al Lang won a reprieve from demolition and becoming a baseball footnote in the area. Most people attribute the stadium’s quick death to a lack of sufficient life support from local community groups who bantered and threatened lawsuits, public outcries and general chaos even before the stadium was more than a pipe dream.

SP_278770_BORC_rays_20Most transient residents or non-Florida natives who did not grown up in this region would not know that the city of St. Petersburg in the 1970’s went to great lengths and expense to clean up and beautify this same waterfront corridor between Beach Drive & First Street and the bay. The land not already occupied by buildings such as the Vinoy, St. Petersburg Yacht Club, Al Lang and the former Bayfront Center were victims of the renewal wrecking ball.

5 years ago a group called P.O.W.W. (Protect Our Wallets & Waterfront) did a bit of an Irish jig as they took their victor’s strut around the stadium’s grave. The small but politically tight group basically put a line in the white silky sand and no one from the city or the Rays dared pop a big toe across it.

The Rays also did their own dance by stating that maybe the downtown stadium site might have been a huge oversight or more of a fantasy wish than a real reality for the team. Back then former Rays Sr. VP Michael Kalt stated in a St Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) article: “It’s pretty clear people did not want a ballpark down there. From what we’re seeing, we’re probably in that camp, too”. 

SailStadiumSpin doctors were not only playing on the radio, they were doing damage control on this Rays PR gaping wound.  The club did a 180 degree turn in their prospective in a 6 month period and to this day has not gone past initial conversations on another potential site either in Pinellas County or beyond.  

Sure well placed volleys and comments have crossed both the Rays and St Pete municipal bows, but no movement beyond the political picture-taking and handshake on another potential Rays stadium. As the days tick away cities like Charlotte, N C, Portland Oregon, Nashville, Tenn., and even a city within the Rays own TV and Radio 100-mile radius market, Orlando grow more confident in their own possible M L B  dream scenario.

sp_288140_ho_raysdesigBut even as 5 years has now passed since the last physical plans have been shown for a potential Rays new home, you know there are a set of plans somewhere within the offices at One Tropicana Drive that fully explores and provides all the nuts, bolts and screw locations for a modern and sleek Florida baseball nirvana aka the  Rays stadium. Problem is the plans might be 5 years old and the Florida humidity or moths might have gotten to it and it will be gone forever.

Oh, and did you know the original design for the Rays current home was suppose to have a sail style design with an open air  vista down left field to center field?

Boxberger Threw 9 Immaculate BB’s

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It was the Immaculate Inning.

I loved this quote. Not that it brought a great illustration to the unique and almost unheard of task of producing 3 strikeouts on 9 pitches, but that the above comment came from Tampa Bay Rays rehabbing starter Alex Cobb, who himself had his own grand moment in his 3-inning simulated game earlier in the day.

How rare was this pitching moment?

download (3)Elias Sports Bureau shows only 1 other occurrence of this same feat ever in the game’s recorded history. The first time happened to another American League East team back on April 16, 2008 when then Toronto reliever Jesse Carlson came to the hill in the 11th inning of that contest with the bases loaded with Texas Rangers in the 11th inning.

Elias has limited historical access to pitch count records from the past, but you can see not only the unique nature of the feat, but that it’s occurrence is as rare as a M L B starter producing a No-No or perfect game. The element just have to be right and the magic seems to unfold.

In a season that has seen Cobb plus fellow hurlers Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson get chomped on by the injury bug, maybe this was a sign from the Baseball Gods all is not lost for the squad. Sometimes that solitary enlightened moment on the field can transcend to the dugout, to the stands and bring faith again to a team who might be pondering their prospects or questioning themselves personally.

If there was one aspect of the Rays game that needed this moment most, it was the Rays reliever corps. This band of brothers down the Rays right field line needed something tremendous to happen. This crew has been through the ringer lately as the Rays starters and offense have sputtered and occasionally gone limp taxing the Bullpen’s arms with sometimes back-to-back-to-back slow walks to the mound in the middle, late or extra innings.

I witnessed more than a few smiles, pumps of a fist and an almost instantaneous uplifting of the bench’s overall spirit when their fellow combatant Boxberger provided his quick and decisive elimination of Baltimore’s 6th inning scoring threat.

download (2)Boxberger, who has not allowed a run during his 9 innings of work during his 3 stints with the Rays this season showed why he sports a 0.00 ERA and has hitters hitting a combined 2 for 28 going into Saturday’s game. Boxberger has only been back up with the Rays since Tuesday might have done more good for the team as a whole with those 9 pitches than any of us truly imagine.

His effort will definitely be a unique Rays trivia question, but its true magic might have meant more to the assembled Rays crew as it brought a bright spot to a squad that not only needing a shining moment, but a occasion of emotional and triumphant clarity among the assembled chaos that has been the Rays current home stand.

Maybe Boxberger had the right initials for the night because it definitely seemed like his pitches were the size of BB’s as he shot down the Orioles hitters Steve Pearce, Jonathan Schoop and Caleb Joseph 1-2-3 and into the record books.

 

 

 

Bell Unfortunately Clanged as a Ray

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On paper the December 2013 trade that brought Heath Bell from the desert to the Gulf coast seemed like a nice addition of Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen depth and a nice sprinkling of leadership. It seemed like a nice added relief corps bonus to insert perfectly between Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour…that is on paper.

download (5)Today the Rays did something that could cost them mega bucks for their thrifty franchise, the designated Bell for assignment and if they cannot find another abode for Bell in 2014, the result could be a major blow to any late season help being brought onto the Rays roster.

Bell had a predetermined salary for 2014 of $ 9 million before even pulling on a Ray’s spring jersey, and even with the magical work of financial warlock aka Rays VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman, the team is still on the hook for around $5.5 million.

This move smell incredibly like a past Rays decision to shed a player who not only could not live up to his potential, but did not seem to have enough in the tank to provide a possible upside to keeping him on the 25-man roster. Oh, you mean you do not remember the mid-May slashing of offensively anemic Pat Burrell? How soon we forget a DH who hit only .202 with 2 HR and 13 RBIs over his first 24 games back in 2010.

Bell’s Designation  For Assignment today unfortunately has the same odor to it. A guy who was counted on for stability and consistency somehow fell into the “Pat the Bat” funk-a-delic whirling dervish and found himself sucked out of a promising M L B clubhouse while on a road trip….double whammy.

downloadBell appeared in a now unlucky 13 games for the Rays amassing a 1-1 record and a highly elevated 7.27 ERA for the team. In a completely ironic twist, Bell had been used in both games of the Rays current series with the New York Yankees and was rewarded with his first win since August 27, 2013 when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  

Want to know just how much the Rays were counting on Bell this season for consistency and long relief appearances? 4 times already in 2014 Bell had thrown 40 or more pitches in an appearance and with Cesar Ramos doing some short-term starting assignments, the team was counting heavily on Bell to take the long reliever role and stress off the Rays Bullpen until Ramos could return to his familiar role.

Bell just didn’t seem to provide the needed stability even though he was on  a roll to surpass his previous long-relief record of 7 appearances with 40 or more pitches set back in 2006 when he was with the San Diego Padres. Maybe another vital nail in the coffin of Bell was the pure fact he had allowed at least a run in 7 of his last 9 trips to the mound with an exclamation point last night surrendering 3 runs on 28 pitches in his late inning of work.

Sure Bell did not provide the Yankees initial runs scored that sunk the Rays chances on Saturday night, but his 3 runs given up during his last Rays appearance definitely added enough weight to tip the Rays scales of not seeing him as a viable option for the rest of the season.

images (3)Maybe Bell’s April 24th gig when he gave up at least 5 runs during an outing sent warning bells chiming for the Rays. Possibly the 3-run shot given up to the Twins unknown Aaron Hicks in that appearance might have shown a pure weak spot in Bell’s arsenal that he could again give up double digit HR in consecutive seasons ( he gave up 12 in 2013). Even though during that same game Bell experienced for only the second time in his career entering a contest in the 5th inning.

I think the final ring tolled for Bell in the fact entering Saturday’s game he was tied for second among American League relievers with 21 hits allowed and had right-handers hitting .375 against him compared to his .244 mark set in 2013.  Bell ended up giving up 3 more hits on Saturday for an even 2 dozen (24 over 17.1 innings of work.  Over the last 7 days Bell has appeared 5 times, thrown for 5.1 innings and seem his WHIP explode upwards( 2.09) with a 3 walk/4 K split over that span.    

Some might see my display of Bell’s stats as a bit harsh, but this is a player who has been given the task of protecting leads, admonishing scoring chances and keep his team in a game with his pitching. Bell has not lived up to that task in my opinion for the Rays.

download (2)Ultimately in my eyes, and it seems the Rays, Bell has not only faltered, but slide a bit down the scale as a trusted reliever on this team.

Trust me, I know from talking to some of the Bullpen guys at times that being an M L B reliever is a thankless job at times that requires a Teflon shield and a mind healthy game-to-game case of amnesia, but Bell did not answer the call and so his designation was not unwarranted, but was still alarming until you look deeper into the abyss at his 2014 stats. The Rays will have 10 days to try and trade Bell, waive or release him outright.

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