Archive for the ‘ Rays Republic ’ Category

Rays Fan Fest Autograph on Your Slate? Be Ready to Donate

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Back in February 2011 if you wanted to get the autograph of a Tampa Bay Rays player you had to purchase a $40 wristband on that day to get unlimited player autographs. In 2013 that price increased to $50 for most current Rays players and Coaches autographs, and a select few more affluent members of the Rays Republic could purchase their own private autograph packages to have a more intimate private autograph session with some of the Rays star players.

ELDPWMThis year if you wanted to secure the signatures of the Rays “Big 3” which included Evan Longoria, David Price and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, it was going to cost you a bit more than the old 2013 option of an $50 “all-inclusive” wristband for all players available during Fan Fest signing moments.

So was really to anyone’s real surprise that the Rays announced recently that during the upcoming 2014 Rays Fan Fest to be held on Saturday, February 22, a new more streamlined and calculated autograph format would be in place. Some have been shocked by the news while others (like myself) have known this type of increase was just over the hill and is in line with other MLB players signing requests at their fan events.

I posted a blog post way back on February 14, 2011 comparing the Rays then request for fans to purchase $40 wristband donation fee for Fan Fest autographs. I started out in that essay stating:More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization”. And I really feel that sentiment is still true today.

kjhgfAt this year’s Fan Fest, for a $125 donation 60 affluent members of the Rays Republic can pre-purchase a more intimate behind the blue curtain opportunity with one of the trio or play a total of possibly $375 for obtaining all 3 players signatures. Immediately I know a few hands will go up that the pricing in “unheard of” and a bit astronomical, but in reality, it is pretty much in line with what donation amounts are requested by other MLB club for their premier player’s autographs at a fan event.

In that 2011 blog I showed you that it cost $175 back then at a Cards fan event to secure a chance at getting then St Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols. At that Cards event, Pujols commanded the most advance donation as the pricing swirled down from the $175 mark to $5 to secure former player Jack Clark’s signature.

pageAnd the Rays autograph donation fees do not start and end at the $125 price point. The team will also offer other Rays players who could/should be on the team’s 2014 roster at $25 each and also some additional players who will sign for kids 14 and younger only for no donation fee. Sure there was an instant shock and awe when I read the Rays autograph proposal, but the common denominator here for me is all money collected will go to the Rays in-house charity the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Foundation to further support research and developments within the Tampa Bay region.

Knowing that the money will all go to help promote and increase the funding for the Rays projects outside of the Trop and secure more than just signatures for the community, the $125 or even $25 each donations do not seem like a huge request. But I know as I wander around Tropicana Field on that day I will see a few tear-filled eyes that they cannot get the autographs of their baseball heroes, or their parents do not have the needed funds to obtain multiple autographs of players within the $25 price range.

jhgfdI know more than a few kids will possibly miss out on their own golden opportunity to be within ear range of their Rays heroes this Fan Fest, but I want to remind you that the MLBPA table is always full of former players from the Rays and baseball’s past and receiving their signatures is still free as always.

Still internally I’m a bit perplexed because for some fans, Fan Fest is their only viable opportunity to get access to their favorite player for more than a brief eye glance and this change will take that bit of uniqueness of being totally fan friendly away. Some fans travel great distances hoping to get this great access to Ray’s players.

Sure there will be multiple opportunities for some fans to get a bevy of additional changes to take photos and talk with players throughout the day, but this year’s autograph policy change might just also change a few minds on attending future Fan Fests, or even deaden a bit their Rays loyalty a tad.

pageI know the team wants to promote the other activities going on all over the playing field from the kid’s games, to the Pepsi display and Fan Wall of Fame ceremonies plus the Clubhouse tours and interacting with various radio and broadcast people on a more intimate scale. I know the Rays Garage Sale, Reading with the Rays will have huge crowds.

But no matter the team’s great intentions, a few tears will ultimately fall.

 

I Definitely have Publishing Procrastination Syndrome

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Just got a Twitter direct message from someone (they know who they are) asking if I ever thought of writing a book.

Honest answer, more than a dozen times in my life since I was about 18. The logical choice might seem to be a baseball book or possibly ghostwriting one for someone else of great prominence, but we all know I try and not burden the friends I have made in sports. Ever since I left my Sports Correspondent gig with the “Evening Independent”, I wanted to write a great sport related book either fiction or non-fiction. I took every Journalism and Comp Honors class they would let me attend driving my want skyward to write something special.

vbnmMy first inclination towards possibly publishing something was while I was in college, basically a “Freshman Year Survival Guide” with topics from class loads, getting the basic classes out of the way and how to not look overanxious to Fraternity Pledge Masters. I had a foolproof guide to getting freebies from the Student Services programs already enacted Nationwide as well as how to successfully study in a budding computer era (late 1970’s). Of course as sports and life intervened that project went into the cobwebbed spaces between my ears.

Then after I transferred from one college to another and then successfully pledged a more prominent Fraternity, I wanted to do a “Cliff Notes-Fraternity Pledge” edition with bullet points and situational guidelines on how to handle amassing Pledge points, getting on the Brothers’ good sides without being a total suck-up, and how to use the pledge status as impressionable date bait. Again I popped the idea into a deep recess in my mind to be covered with more dust than you can ever imagine.

Third time was as recently as November 2008 when I wanted to do a 110 page Tampa Bay Rays e-book scrapbook “Raysin’ the Roof” with 100 player and fan antidote’s, essays, assorted team and my personal photos and Rays Republic reflections on the Rays drive towards their destiny during the 2008 season that ended at the World Series.

I wanted to chronicle the journey from Spring Training to that wild celebration after the team’s clinching post season win at home against the Minnesota Twins to the stress and stories of their triumphant Game 7 ALCS against the Red Sox at home.

fghFelt it was only right to include player nuances, Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s insights and stories as well as include game day stories from the dugout to the bullpen encircling this grand charge of the 2008 Rays squad. Want to do interviews with people like former RP J P Howell who was so distraught on the team plane coming home, but was consoled and spoke to by everyone. Wanted to explore the chemistry and the players in the Clubhouse who were the glue to holding this team in the right frame of mind.

Needed to show the on-the-field as well as off-the-field emotional pull of this community for the Rays from fans that traveled great distances from both sides of the bay to take in that incredible “magical season of baseball”. I had huge wants for this book and some of the inside people within the Rays organization who might have gotten me the access, the viable voices and key people who made this event happen from reporting date to the final packing of equipment before heading home.

Great ideas, possible intriguing words and maybe even a few tear-jerking moments were on my mind, but life signaled in her own set of parameters and this idea as so many other laid its head down never to awaken again. I did think about it in the spring of 2009, but Rays MLB Writer Bill Chastain and James Shields were doing a collaboration called “September Nights” and making a book in the same vein felt to me more like overkill than a necessary at the time.

So the honest answer, I have always wanted to pen a book. I know it will never be a hardcopy novel like my idol F Scott or have the powerful imagery of Hemmingway, but it is something that still churned deep in me that possibly might see the light of day before I leave this life.

tyuEven thought of doing a “fan’s guide” e book with stories, adventures or even a few special moment I have seen while sitting in the stands, being a vendor for the Rays or as a hometown guy who embraced the idea of baseball in St. Petersburg, Florida way before we had a name or franchise attached to our locale.

I went to college to be a writer but somehow ended up on a Pepsi truck and I have a few hundred great stories and thought of the title “Survivor of the Cola Wars”.

Then again everyone has a story, events that changed or fulfilled their lives. Heartaches and triumphs that bring about their special place in the human experience and makes their heart beat faster. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get beyond those first typed words on a web document possibly finally starting something….or I hope I can.

 

“If You Haven’t Got Charity in Your Heart”…….

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I once heard famous comedian and philanthropist Bob Hope speak this line at a USO Show so many moons ago, “If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” 

jgcvCharity and giving back to my present community no matter if I’m in the Tampa Bay, Seattle or wandering somewhere else has always been a firm cornerstone of my personality. I am that random guy who rolls down his window and gives my last few dollars to someone in need. I know for myself, it was just the way I was brought up to give of myself in sweat, money or even time for others. Some might say it might have been those many hours of Sunday School or Church services with endless verses and stories that finally clicked the humanity button within your subconscious.

I personally want to think it was working with my Father at a young age putting on J-hooks and pulling cars out of the sand during storms, changing tires in rain storms or connecting cable to jump-start someone stranded. My Dad was one of the earliest AAA contractors and served the Beaches and West St. Petersburg since the mid-40′s until the mid-70′s. His work ethic along with his relentless humanitarian ways like giving lodging to vacationing people in our home while he repaired their cars, or inviting them to dinner went beyond the AAA service codes, and I valued those times and firmly entrenched that ethical treatment into my being. 

ghjklThe reality is that all my life I have been extremely lucky and not had to worry for much. I have never been without a place to lay my head,had food to eat or been too hot or cold in the elements. Even when I was on the edge of such actions in my life, I would still give of myself whenever possible. Some call it “paying it forward”, other just know it as treating my fellow man as I want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

Charity to me is not a “hand out” or even a “hand up”, it is the sign that we respect humanity and want to show our compassion or unity for a cause or ideal. In a span of  8 days in February I will again do my yearly pilgrimage to volunteer for two different Major League Baseball player’s (Toby Hall & Jesse Litsch) charity golf tournaments, plus another local human interest fundraiser. If you want information on either golf tourney, click on their names in the parenthesis to go to their website for more information or to contribute to their worthy causes.

hgfdsMaybe a bit of my parents did rub off on me to want to give of myself like this. Possibly it is that stark reality that I have been to the top of the mountain in my field and also been tossed into the pits of despair that the sheer act of charity resonates with me so loud and clear. Sure I enjoy the warm feeling volunteering gives me, but seeing a smile on a child’s face or giving someone a glimmer of shining hope where there is darkness makes me want to do more each year.

Once I was in the same position as so many MLB players that I was able to give generously and without regard both during my college and professional career. Now physically providing my services are all that I have to volunteer. Heck, I know a few people with the Tampa Bay Rays who I have pestered and annoyed over the years letting them know I am available 24/7/365  to help in any venture, event or even just lend a hand when it is needed.

Some of those responses have been “Thank you, but we have it handled“, while others have opened their arms and let me do what I do best…work up a sweat and give until I am tired. But like I said in a Tweet once after working an event, “I am tired, but it is a good tired”.

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The reason for this post today is that the NFL’s championship game, the Super Bowl, is always a visually reminder that Spring and baseball are just beyond the horizon. Rays Pitchers and Catchers will take the field in less than 17 days and our thoughts will pull towards the game and not those less fortunate. That is why I hope and wish that all of us can take a moment out in the next 10 days to provide an inspiration, a great smile or even some hard work towards helping someone else.

As I have grown older the art of charity and giving has become more focused in my life. Called it the wisdom and sage advice of an advancing human, or simple just the ramblings of a closet hopeless romantic, but I do not have to “go Green” to give back to this Earth. I just have to cherish those who also walk along with us on this journey. So let me get back off this soapbox, park myself back in front of this laptop and begin to think of ways to make all of you want to travel the path I will over the next 17 days.

Bob Hope was wise man. There has to be a balance within ourselves of charity and humility for us to grow, mature and even have the respect and admiration of the masses. MLB players can give a percentage of their yearly salaries, but those who are not working, or even homeless can only give of themselves. Since I began with a quote, maybe I should end with another quote that resonates through me daily:

The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. ” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

 

I Hope I Left a Slice of Baseball Love in Kuwait

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 Even in a hostile country thousands of miles away back in 1991, baseball was my link to salvation on those desert afternoons and down times. Those games have left an indelible imprint on my heart and soul. Baseball has journeyed to many American held battle lines all over the World. Seems only natural a team-oriented sport would follow the men and women who make up the many squadrons, platoons and units involved in military actions.

I hope you enjoy my Kuwaiti tale .

I remember one night  back in 1970 when my father and grandfather were sitting on the back porch and their voices began to rise a few hundred decibels while discussing the game of baseball. My maternal Grandpa was born near Pittsburgh and my Father called Philadelphia his home before enlisting in the Merchant Marines, then the Navy. My Grandfathers path was to Europe in World War I and WW II while my Father was shipped off to the South Pacific aboard the USS Denver and USS John W Weeks during WW II.

Each of them had a deep and genuine respect plus admiration for the fortitude and courage displayed by so many of this Nation’s best baseball players who put down their bats and picked up a rifle or wrench or flew combat missions when American soles and manpower were needed to defend this country’s mindset and innate dream of freedom.

I would sit there entranced in their dialogue intrigued by their tales and memories not knowing yet I would one day have a tale or two of my own to spin to my children. Even if my time in the military was short compared to both of these men, I always seemed to make time to let the nuances of baseball intertwine into my daily deployment routine. I was attached to a small unit that made it ashore during some of the first waves of amphibian approaches to Kuwait and hidden within my gear that I took abroad was my old glove and a scuffed ball.

baseball2jx1It was my personal form of stress and daily grind relief to try and toss the ball back and forth daily even as the penetrating sun and swirling sands scraped at my skin like sandpaper. I seemed to throw for hours just to bring some form of home into my mind and heart, not only to break the slow ticks of time in the desert. Even though the majority of the soldiers of my unit had deep cravings for football, there was always someone who shared my baseball passion, or possibly someone boasting that their curveball was unhitable or slick, or that they possessed their own form of rocket launcher attached to their arm.

The game of baseball was an instant bonding agent no matter if we were from St. Petersburg, Florida, Rock City, North Carolina or Portland, Maine. 

To me it always seemed that baseball transcended different ideologies and the languages. Poked past the cultural differences and the social unrest of the region. I even invited some of the local Kuwaiti kids to join us in our games. It felt great to spread this great sport to another region just as my father did in ports in the South Pacific, and my grandfather in England and Denmark.

During my time in the Middle East I found a new respect and admiration for the game, just as my father and grandfather had before me. I began to experience what they meant about how the passion and the pulling power of the game brings not only a group of soldiers together, but is a starting point for interact with the locals introducing them to baseball. This game that could start with two people and then suddenly blossom into 20 or more souls playing their hearts out sometimes blew my mind when the locals, both young and old eagerly began cheering and watching intently during the games.

I can still remember like it was yesterday when we were about to pulling out from our post near the Northern border of Kuwait that I needed to leave of piece of me here. Something had to stay here for this to seem real to me. So as we were motoring through the city of Abdari I saw a few kids throwing what looked like a make-shift baseball around the town’s central square.

I called for one of them to come over to my Humvee. I had a guy in our unit with me who was a translator and he asked the boy for me if he knew how to play baseball. The young kid, maybe 10 told my friend he was being taught the game before the local Marines pulled out and he was left with only the baseball.

I went to the back of our Humvee and I pulled my duffel out and searched for a few moments before bringing out my old college baseball glove, two of my wooden Louisville Sluggers and about 12 more baseballs sent to me from home. Even though I knew soccer was the prominent sport in this country, I wanted to leave  my own piece of my love for baseball in Kuwait.

I gave the items to the boy and through the translator made him promise to use them for sport and not as weapons or as bargaining pieces with his friends. I wanted him and his friends to want the items to play the game, not to sell or even trade for something else. He nodded his head in agreement and he ran yelling and screaming with excitement from our Humvee with his new-found sporting equipment. His small group of friends all encircled him like he had found a golden coins in the sand.

As I got back into the Humvee to drive away, he and his assembled baseball posse all waved to us and I was glad deep down inside to leave a small part of me in this small Kuwaiti town. But more, I was glad to leave a part of the game. We pulled out a few days later in that region and I never got a chance to revisit and see if they played any sort of organized game with the equipment but I want to believe that baseball is still being played in that Kuwati village and that the young boy who I gave that baseball equipment to that day has grown and taught his own children to play baseball just as my Father and Grandfather probably did in their own tours. 

# 20 and 14′s Roles Could Define 2014

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It’s not only odd but a bit perplexing that the numbers have added up in this order this year. # 20 and # 14 will be numbers to watch in 2014 and each could have a huge impact on just how far the Tampa Bay Rays go this season. Seems like I’m waxing a bit too poetic that these two players could be such key pieces to the Rays puzzle in 2014, but sometime reality can be both bizarre and prophetic.

jhgfdbvAt no other point in the Rays history have 2 numbers aligned in such a way that they could be considered linchpins on how the season could or should progress or ultimately regress. Rays outfielder Matt Joyce and David Price  both separately and conjoined have the talents and abilities to make magic happen upon Tropicana Field’s AstroTurf, but each also come into this spring with question marks attached to their names.

Now this is not to suggest either will go down with an injury, be traded or be the anointed saviors that could decide the 2014 season. This is to suggest that possibly the addition, subtraction meshing of these two players could decide more than just victories and defeats, but the Ray’s final pitching staff formation or outfield rotation decisions.

Questions will need to be addressed quicker rather than later. I still feel that Price is not on solid ground on if he is living in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February or will be calling another vista his home this spring. With Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees) and Matt Garza (Brewers) off the pitching “wish lists” around MLB, more than a few courtiers could come a-callin’ around the Rays hoping to make one last huge push for Price’s services in 2014.

That being said, could the Rays be secretly able to keep Price no matter the $14 salary weighing on their 2014 payroll, or just being coy knowing someone will offer up just the right bite and the team take it knowing they have pitching talents already in-house who could step up the ladder and perform at a higher level this season.

th70R7PW3ZIf Price were to be with the Rays come March 31st, will another clock begin a countdown to the Trade deadline, or will the team effectively ever put a “No Trade” sign on Price for the entire season no matter if they are a post season race or treading water come the end of July.  A “price-less” Rays rotation could consist of a 1-4 slots with Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and possibly Alex Colome or Jack Odorizzi manning the 5-hole.

You also have to wonder if this whole situation of Price not being on solid ground with the team showing adamant solidarity for Price staying with the team even at this point is not eating at him mentally and emotionally that he is possibly just a phone call away from leaving this team and wearing different colors from today until possibly August 1st.  Confidence plays a huge part of the prep game for a pitcher coming into the spring as they gain that fortitude, that intensity and want to succeed as Spring Training and game evolve. Could not having a solid foundation under Price possibly wreck a bit of havoc during his Rays starts in 2014, or could he essentially be counting the days until his trade in the recesses of his mind.

th20TY036CPrice’s mindset and words from today on will echo loudly as to his progress or regression this season. From a pitching standpoint, Price holds a lot of instability coming into this season. Not on his talents or abilities, but if he will possess the aggressive nature and instinct we are accustom to, or have something pull his usual game mode from him. As much as Price holds some key questions for the team’s pitching prognosis, Joyce could be at a definite crossroads as to his role both in 2014 and in the future with the Rays this season.  

How the Rays decide to use Joyce this season will definitely define his future with the team, but also could signal if his own journey might end with the Rays. Joyce definitely knows his role on the Rays in 2014 will be different than any other time in his tenure here. With Desmond Jennings retuning and the resigning of David DeJesus combined with the third addition of AL ROY Wil Meyers beginning his 2nd tour with the team, suddenly Joyce might find himself as a 4th outfielder on a team with so many variety of player options.

uytrfbIf you also factor in the option of Ben Zobrist, Jayson Nix or even newly acquired utility man Logan Forsythe into the mix, Joyce could find himself after Spring Training possibly even lower in the mix and teetering on possibly not making the final 25-man roster. But that is thinking too far ahead right now.

Honestly Joyce could see more time at the DH spot and be a relief or late inning outfielder than as a consistent figure in the outfield this year.  Joyce has been given the time to address his southpaw woes at the plate and has shown some confidence, but as of his 2013 performances against lefties has subsequently been sheltered from left-handers at all costs.

hgfdWe do not know yet if Joyce had addressed this in the off season, but hopefully the Rays will put Joyce in enough leftie-on-leftie situation to either give the team more confidence his hitting abilities against non-righties or pigeon-hole him to spot duty or trade him off knowing they have some depth in the utility roles to suffice his elimination.

2014 was going to be so key for the Rays even before the questions arose concerning #20 and #14. Hopefully they can be banded together this season as offensive and defensive strong points for the team to help the Rays go to an awesome 5th post season spot in 7 seasons.  Only time will tell just how important those two numbers will be to the Rays success.

Long Live the Zim!

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What do you get the guy who has witnessed over 66 years of baseball in his 83 years upon this great planet? Does he still have an unfulfilled bucket list?  This bit of baseball royalty has shaken hands with more than a few generations of ball players, celebrities and political dignitaries. A special baseball icon whose life we all should celebrate every year when January 17th, hits the calendar.

zinmmmmmmmmmmmmmOf course I’m speaking of the great Tampa Bay Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer who this past Friday celebrated his 83rd birthday and even as age takes some of his physical tools, his mind is still a steel trap and he seems to remember more than most of us forget about this grand game. I mean who else in MLB history has had a bear made of his likeness…and been a giveaway twice in a season!

We all know Zimmer has made the Pinellas county area his home for most of his baseball life and was a citizen of the beach community of Treasure Island as far back as when they had a toll booth, when the old Jolly Roger figurine stood mighty on Gulf Blvd., and the streetcars made their route reversals at Park Street and Central Avenue before cruising on back down Central towards the then Million Dollar Pier.

I bet Zimmer remembers the old Renaissance Vinoy Hotel in the 70’s when it was an abandoned building rotting away with time, and then got to witness the spectacular rebirth of the hotel into a premier 5-star resort nestled on the St. Petersburg, Florida waterfront and is every MLB team’s visiting oasis when they venture into the hamlet to play the Rays during the MLB season. 
 
Zimmer first fell in love with the Pinellas county region back when he was a player with the New York Mets. He is as much a “native” and local institution to the Rays Republic as the Don Cesar Hotel, or even the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Of all the people who have been associated with this Rays franchise since its infancy.

For that reason, I feel the only gift I can truly give to Zimmer at this moment doesn’t involve anything monetary or even crafted. It is something I feel strongly about and something. I’m going to write tribute to my personal favorite hometown guy and a man generations have affectionately known as “Popeye”.

I’m going to start off with something you might not know about Zimmer, he first began dating his lovely wife Soot (Jean) in 10th grade, and eventually married her upon a baseball diamond in Elmira, New York during a game. 

dfgtreZimmer is as famous as a ball player as he was as a Manager during his years in baseball. Most people remember him as the feisty and skilled shortstop of the Brooklyn Dodgers when Zim broke into the majors back in 1954. For the next 12 seasons he played in the majors, and found his first taste of success in 1955 when the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series.

Some people might not know that Zimmer also dealt with adversity while playing shortstop for the New York Mets in 1962 when the team lost 120 games.  And a lot of younger baseball fans might be shocked to learn his time in organized baseball was almost cut short in 1953 while Zimmer with the St Paul minor league squad.

During a game while with St Paul, Zimmer was struck in the temple and did not regain consciousness for 13 days.  With pressure building on his brain, Zim had holes drilled into his skull to relieve the building pressure and subsequently suffered from blurred vision and went from 170 to 124 pound while trying to regain his motors skills to walk and talk. He was only 22 years old at the time of the incident and was told by his doctors his baseball career might be over. 

But Zimmer rose above the complications to regain his motor skills and again play the game he loved. Zimmer again was hit by a Cincinnati fastball in the cheek in 1956, which broke his cheekbone. Again Zim rose from the ashes and after a steel plate was inserted into his head, trained tirelessly so he could begin playing baseball once again. If nothing else, Zimmer is the true example of the art of positive thinking and determination. Most people would have called it quits possibly after the second incident, and went onto a life after baseball. But Zimmer loved the game, and the people on and off the diamond encompassing it.

dtfyguhijo;l.,kIn 1958, Zimmer moved westward with the Dodgers in 1958 as the team relocated to their new vista in Los Angeles, California. Zimmer then moved from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Mets and then to the Cincinnati Reds in 1962. He then returned to the Dodgers in 1963 before finally moving onto the Washington Senators where he played his last game on the field on October 2, 1965.

In his 12 years in the majors leagues, Zimmer appeared in 1,095 games, compiled over 773 hits,79 homers, with 352 RBI’s and a lifetime .235 batting average. During his playing career he got to go to the Fall Classic with the Dodgers in 1955 and 1959.  Although hitting was not his forte, his fielding was never called into question over his career. Zim was a versatile player who could line up at third, second base, shortstop, and he even caught 33 games in 1965, his final MLB season in Washington. Zimmer pulled on a uniform one last time in 1966 playing for the Toei Flyers in Japan.

But it was in the dugout where the feisty ex-player gained even more respect around the baseball world. Zimmer started out alike most young aspiring Coaches do, in the minor leagues, and he finally got to step upon a MLB field again as the Third Base Coach for the Montreal Expos in 1971.  He again got to patrol the chalk lines in 1972 with the San Diego Padres, but 11 games into the season, Zim was called upon to replace Preston Gomez as the Padres Manager.  Zimmer remained with the Padres until the close of the 1973 season when he was fired and he moved onto the Boston Red Sox for the next 2 1/2 seasons.

tyrjhegaszxZimmer was a key figure for the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series when in Game 6 a ball was hit into shallow left field and Zimmer coaching at third base yelled to Denny Doyle to not run on the play, but Doyle misunderstood Zimmer’s barking and tried to score and was thrown out at the plate. The result of that Home Plate play helped to set up one of the most memorable moments in Red Sox history as Carlton Fisk hit his iconic game winning Home Run later in the contest.

In 1976, the Red Sox did not come out confident or playing up to par, so current Manager Johnson was fired and Zimmer was given the reigns of the young Boston team.  From 1977-79, the Red Sox won at least 90 games for Zimmer. His 1978 squad won 99 game, at the time the 4th best record by a Red Sox team in their hallowed history. But that same season, Zim was remembered more for the collapse of the Red Sox after the squad lead the A L East by as many as 14 games.

 Zimmer was the skipper at the helm of the Boston ship when the New York Yankees finally caught the Red Sox in a series dubbed, “The Boston Massacre.” That year the team went back and forth with the Yankees before Bucky Dent sent a stake through the Red Sox Nation’s heart during a one-game playoff on October 2, 1978.

re6t70pf8tyolDuring that period Zimmer made a few questionable moves that were played out in the newspapers and in the stands. Some also speculate Zimmer might have overused Carlton Fisk during that season starting him in 154 of 162 games. Fisk would begin to have sore knee problems and missed a bunch of time in 1979 due to arm problems. 

Zim also did not get along with popular Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee and further infuriated their feud when he gave the start during the last contest of the “Boston Massacre” to a Triple-A pitcher named Bobby Sprowl instead of Lee.

Zimmer also kept Butch Hobson at third base even as elbow problems began to surface, especially with ineffective throws to first base. Zimmer held firm to the belief Hobson could play until after a series of bad errors when Zim was forced to call up Jack Brohamer to replace Hobson.

sdfffffvbnThe Boston debacle was not the last stage for Zimmer as he moved on to manage the Texas Rangers in 1981, then moved onto three stints with the Yankees and also the San Francisco Giants between 1982 until 1989 when he took over the Chicago Cubs. In that season, Zimmer won a divisional title for the Cubs, and was named the Manager of the Year by Major League Baseball. 

Zimmer returned to Boston in 1992 to help one of his former players, Butch Hodson with the Red Sox.  Zimmer was then on the 1993 expansion staff of the Colorado Rockies, and in 1996 began a tenure as the Bench Coach of the New York Yankees. He was on the bench for 4 of the Yankees World Championships.

Zimmer also took over the Yankees Manager’s position when Joe Torre was recuperating from prostate cancer in 1999. Zimmer went 21-15 in Torre’s absence, then returned to his usual spot in the dugout again.  Those game were never officially credited to Zimmer, who won over 906 games as a Manager. 

xfhhjhThe event that further pushed Zimmer into another level of legend status was the 2003 ALCS game between the Boston Red Sox and his New York Yankees. When an on-field brawl began, Zimmer went out onto the Fenway grass and found himself face-to-face with Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez who then tossed the nimble Zimmer to the turf. The scene made Martinez an instant enemy to Yankee fans and empathically endeared Zimmer to baseball fans who did not wear pinstripes.

In another contest, Zimmer was sitting on the bench when the Yankees Chuck Knoblach hit a screaming foul ball into the dugout and got Zimmer flush on the head. Zimmer used the event to use some tongue-in-cheek Zim-style humor as he came out the next day wearing an army helmet with “ZIM” written on it in white. 

thSince his time with the Yankees, Zimmer has been the Tampa Bay Rays Senior Advisor helping the squad with expertise during Spring Training and he can often be seen down on the field during the Rays regular season home contests in his Rays white or blue Rays jacket uniform during Batting Practice chatting with both team’s Coaches’ and players. 

Every season, Zimmer moves up his uniform number one more. In 2014, Zimmer will be issued the number “66″ jersey. Zimmer is the last member of the long gone Brooklyn Dodgers organization still serving in some capacity in baseball. 

Zim is a proud author of 2 books, “The Zen of Zim” and” Zim: A Baseball Life.” 

If you have ever had the pleasure to speak with Zimmer about baseball, you will instantly see the twinkle in his eye as he remembers some of the greatest moments in the game.

sdfghjkl,mWith less than 4 weeks until the Rays head to Port Charlotte, Florida, Zimmer should be again manning his customized golf cart greeting fans and players alike and spinning great tales of the game.  Thank you Zim for everything you have done for my hometown team and for this great game. Looking forward to see you at the Spring Training complex and I hope this post is a fitting birthday gift to a icon I feel blessed to see still giving of himself for the sake of the game.

Long live the Zim!

 

Price’s Signing Doesn’t Guarantee Anything…..Yet

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I could have sworn that 30 mph wind gust out of nowhere that just blew through the St. Petersburg, Florida might have been the accumulated sigh of relief given off by so many of the Tampa Bay Rays fan base with the news of Rays ace David Price and the team avoiding arbitration. How many of us within the Rays ranks since the team’s last 2013 game in Boston have been holding our own breathes pondering the many scenarios and possible destination for Price outside of the Tampa Bay region.

th3YRYYPQLThis 1-year, $14 million contract signed by Price did beat the arbitration clock and is the highest current or past contract for a Ray’s player in a single season. But do not stop hyperventilating yet Rays fans, the Price rumor mill for 2014 might be just beginning to gather some serious wind and steam heading into Spring Training.

Right now I think is the time we as a fan base need to worry the most about Price.

Things tend to happen fast within that 30-days window of MLB team’s reporting to Spring Training. The Rays might be giving Price upwards to 20% of their 2014 salary (based on a projected $70 million payroll), but with his salary written in black now, teams have definite number to contend with and could make an estimated risk to procure the southpaw by Opening Day.

Now that teams around the MLB can see a finite salary in place for Price in 2014 it might make him a bit more attractive as some current Free Agent hurlers want mega money to -5 years a solid contracts.

All this in essence guarantees to us in the Rays fan base that the teams that will eventually lose out on possibly signing Masahiro Tanaka might instantly see Price’s stable salary as a huge selling point and be a more reliable return on their investment than a few other names lingering on the MLB free agent pitching market. With current rumors (1/16/2013) surrounding Tanaka possibly seeing the Chicago Cubs going in hard on the Japanese ace’s services.

092512-al-cySuch a victory by the underdog Cubbies could leave a large hole statistically between the talents of Tanaka and the current MLB free agent pitchers seeking employment for 2014…or beyond. Price with a set salary for 2014 and time to discuss any future salary discussions before his free agency could make that gap lessen considerably now and the right franchise might be willing to gamble Price’s 2013 campaign as a mire career toe-stub.

Even though Price did fire an early Winter warning shot across an earlier winter rumored trade to Seattle, before today’s announcement, all has been quiet on the southpaw’s social media front about any other possible alternative 2014 venue…or apprehension.

thZH6S2KP3The Rays fan base cannot be overly secure in the fact Price will be here after Price’s signing today. Sure it does give us a bit of solid ground heading into the last moments of the off season, but nothing is set in stone yet and the Rays front office has yet to voice any solidarity that Price is here to stay…at least for beginning months of the season.

Brrr, I just felt another cold chill and wind gust blow right through me. Wonder if that was the Rays faithful all taking a collective gasp knowing the Price saga is far from over. Then again, maybe this move will warm all of us up a bit before the next wave of reality hits us like another cold and bitter trade wind. 

DeJesus Getting Ready to “Strike A Chord” in Perfect Harmony

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Music has always had a great foothold in our National pastime and been a great instrument to excite, motivate to and inspire fans attending games.  Players from the minors to the major league level use music as small glances into their personalities as each bar of music you hear as they stroll to the mound or batter’s box has a special meaning to them or emotional trigger. Music blares from every speaker in our MLB cathedrals between innings or stoppage in player to keep us entranced and involved in the game.

Every single clubhouse around the MLB boasts its own unique of pre and post-game ritual or celebratory sound bites that seem to be heard non-stop in the background of Clubhouse interview videos helping to soothe and let the players wind down from that day’s game. Be it an in-house team-appointed DJ who is in charge of the music tastes, or even a simple I-pod/I-phone set-up with a docking unit, music is as much a part of the game as rosin and pine tar.

sacThose beats and measures mean so much to the game that a simple verse or beat and rhythm can blend perfectly within game time moments within the game and act somewhat like a pulse or heartbeat of the contest.  As we get closer to the day again our teams head to warmer climates and begin their initiation into another baseball season, it only seems perfectly aligned that music, charity and possibly a few awkward notes for a great cause help usher in the upcoming spring sprint towards another season.

“Strike A Chord” is an great event headlined by current Tampa Bay Rays and former Cub fan favorite and outfielder David DeJesus and his wife Kim that will combine the smooth transition of music along with charity and hit the high notes of having some of the current and past friends and family of the Cubs sing their hearts away for a variety of causes and charities supported by the DeJesus Family Foundation and the Cubs Charities.

chi-20140106-001Who wouldn’t want to see DeJesus and many of the players who have graced the chalk lines of Wrigley belt out a few tunes, have a few laughs and show their love for not only music, but the charities within their community. It is great to me to see a player who now plays in another baseball haven not only return, but show such devotion for his former “home” that resonates so beautifully as this event with untold great moments to play out upon the stage not matter if they be a solo, group or possible audience participation sing-along with the exhilarating crescendo of everyone no matter their singing experience meet in perfect harmony.

The only thing that stinks at least for us here in Tampa Bay is the blunt fact the event will be held too many miles away from the fun and Sun (and warmth) of the West Coast of Florida. That’s right, this Thursday evening at American Junkie located at 15 West Illinois Street in Chicago, Illinois, DeJesus and his wife Kim will host a grand night of singing and instant memories when they hold their fantastic Celebrity Karaoke Event with current and past members of the Cubs ever-expanding team family.

Things will start off with a VIP and Cocktail reception at 6:30 pm with the main event starting around 8 pm as the celebrity guests will begin to rock out and help raise funds for the ALS research and support. The night will have numerous karaoke duets as well as a raffle and silent auction and appetizers will be furnished by such great eateries as American Junkie, Chicago q, GT Fish and Oyster, Siena Tavern and Wow Bao.  Individual event tickets start at $ 125.00 or you can reserve a table of 4 for the event for $1,000,

dfghjklCurrent and former Cubs Players like Anthony Rizzo, Edwin Jackson, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Wood,Darwin Barney, Donnie Murphy and Ryan Sweeney have already stepped up to the plate for the event this Thursday evening. Who knows what other celebrity surprises will greet fans and participants that night….? 

Sounds like the perfect event, and I’m jealous of my friends in the Windy City right now as they can witness this event while I’m seated here at my laptop in St. Petersburg, Florida. Who knows, maybe the Rays Baseball Foundation (nudge, nudge) can take a musical cue from the Chicago event and possibly get DeJesus and his wife to co-host another possibly a Southern version of the event some time during the 2014 season, or maybe during baseball’s short vacation time next winter.

I mean I know personally Karaoke has been a bar and entertainment option in the Tampa Bay region since the mid-80’s and where else can you truly “rock it like a hurricane”.   But one suggestion…..next time David and Kim and you are on video signing (on WGN-Chicago with Hoover), please do not play that song by one of our AL East foes that makes my ears bleed (Sweet Caroline)……Besides that, still love ya David.

A Rod Should Tread Lightly Right Now

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We as a collective baseball world knew under no uncertain terms this cleat was to fall. That Alex Rodriguez would definitely pay some sort of penance for defying Major League Baseball, but none of us if it was to be an abbreviated sentence or seasonal exile. Now that we know the price ($25,000,000) and length (162 games + any possible 2014 post-season visit) such defiance will cost A-Rod, only time will tell if we have seen the last of the defiant one on any MLB diamond.

835675aa-904c-3cf7-b8b2-a4533bdea3c3You can speculate anything you want right now, but when A Rod finishes his “sentence”, he would have been off any regular season diamond within the MLB for almost 2 years. He has already flaunted the idea to the masses he will try and roll into the New York Yankees Spring Training site in Tampa, Florida this February hoping to put some mind at ease on his entire shenanigans, but the reality is the Yankees and most importantly MLB has time between now and mid-February to not only forbid such an arrival, but possibly shut A Rod out of an y rehab, conditioning or even a slight eye glance towards their Tampa facilities.

Right now with A Rod saying he will strut into Spring Training, the ball is in the Yankees court firsthand to either welcome him with open arms, or a clenched fist. It is actually a bit of a double-edged swords for the Pinstripes. The Yankees brass already know that the upholding of A Rod’ suspension by the arbitrator in essence saved them $ 25 million this season and some might view A Rod’s arrival as him accepting that final verdict and wanting to get his legal, and professional ducks in a row for  a possibly re-birth in the Spring of 2015.

Honestly I do not see a lot of olive branches and love being shown at this moment for Rodriguez, but there is almost 4 weeks between now and their report date for pitchers and catchers, so anything can happen…….and MLB could ultimately take any harmonious union between the team and A Rod firmly out of Rodriguez’s and the Yankees hands.

1d1fdcf4f545262900694855285dc0e3One serious roadblock besides the shunning of MLB upon any out-stretched hands to Rodriguez might be the simple fact A Rod will head to Tampa, Fl in about a month’s time with so much baggage you have wonder if the franchise really wants the spotlight off the 2014 team that will cross the chalk lines this April, or corral daily and with hesitation the impending the media circus that would definitely surround such an activity with the focus upon everything A Rod being in the crosshairs.

Such a move could be a blow to the formulation of a cohesive Spring chemistry of the Yankees squad as the focus would be squarely upon who mans the “hot corner” in any or all spring training games and if there is not a solid and viable candidate who can do so with defensive and offensive finesse, the media could end up baiting the Yankees to internally question someone or everyone above their pay grade.

In the end you have to wonder if any spring arrival by A Rod will be to boost team morale or be a last plea to stroke his ego and importance until he has to fade into the background and possibly find play outside the MLB norms. Right now would be a great time for the Minor League Baseball governing unit to stand behind the MLB and the arbitrator’s decision by not letting any Yankee affiliate use A Rod on any of their rosters, effectively showing a sense of solidarity from Rookie ball to the MLB-level.

a4295222-28d3-3ea2-ae0d-d4614e86fb61Personally, I would not want a play who is facing such a negative circumstance aside me in the dugout. Rodriguez has no one to blame in this situation but himself and his legal commando squad. He could of admitted something, possibly gotten a reduced expulsion from the game, but right now him even showing up in Tampa, he would be a viable pariah and whose action could further burn both himself and the Yankees brass with any actions or unfounded counteractions. Best case scenario is either A Rod fades into the background for the 2014 season, licks his wounds and get physically in the best shape possible and make a return in 2015….or not at all.  What Rodriguez ultimately decides over the next 4 weeks will say as much about his ego and not his lost paycheck.

But then again, the Yankees could release him and he would be someone else’s problem come spring 2015……Hopefully Rodriguez does what is best for himself, what’s left of his reputation and possibly hopes and prays the Yankees dump him sometime this season. I mean everyone loves an underdog situation, and if A Rod is team-less and free to roam to whoever needs his services, a change of attitude and scenery might be the best thing ever to happen to him.

Hope A Rod makes the right moves for everyone involved.

Nix Has That Special AL East Knack

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Versatility in baseball can make you a solid career. Being able to play a multitude of position both in the infield and outfield can get you shots other players do not get. Even though INF/OF Jayson Nix has not put up substantial numbers during his trek across the MLB landscape his bag of many different gloves might just possibly keep him with the Tampa Bay Rays.

th (2)I was glancing at comments on the Rays signing of Nix to a Minor League deal which by all normal purposes has a major league invitation to Spring Training in Port Charlotte,Fl and one stuck out at me as if it was highlighted. “Smart move. Another Zobrist type except Nix has better wheels.”- MrSativa.  Certainly will not hurt Nix’s chances of staying past March that he has been exclusively in the AL East over the past 3 years with the New York Yankees (2012-13 seasons) and the Toronto Blue Jays (2011 season). Even more enticing possibly to the Rays is the simple fact that over parts of Nix’s 6 year Major league adventure he has only spent 1 season outside the American League (Colorado Rockies-2008).

Combine his versatility along with familiarity with American League pitchers and their arsenals, and you might see Nix as a possible plug-in player into a multitude of spots on Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s Chess board. You can definitely bet if Nix can secure a utility spot on the Rays 25-man roster his versatility around the diamond might be overshadowed a bit by Nix’s 19 stolen bases in 23 attempts over the last 2 seasons. Having a guy like Nix on your bench in a close game, which the Rays seem to have more than most MLB teams,  a pinch-runner like Nix can be a great weapon to have especially in the late innings or with a slow-running body nestled 60 feet from a lead.

th (8)Not to say Nix’s only asset to this team might be the fact you can plug him in almost anywhere but First Base or Catcher, but having a speed guy to replace the departed Sam Fuld, Nix would give Maddon a great option when the time might call for a swift change in the game’s flow. Of course Nix doesn’t bring a huge amount of offensive prowess to the Rays evident by his career .218 average with 37 HRs and 127 RBIs over 6 seasons.

But hidden inside that same bit of career stats is the fact over the past 2 season in which Nix has had 505 plate appearances, he has also produced his highest consecutive career batting averages (.243 and .236). If Nix can again find the power stroke he had back in 2009 with the Chicago White Sox (12 HR) or 2010 with the Cleveland Indians (13 HR), he might a bit more of an offensive pop off the bench or in a utility role.

Worst thing is, this is January and every player looks like a gem in the rough right now and could be a missing piece or nice addition. By his last 2 seasons in the Bronx, Nix has shown he can be a vital cog in the overall 162 game season as he appeared in over 74 games both seasons. That kind of stat could become a vital and substantial machine cog if someone in the infield or a corner outfield spot goes down with an injury in 2014.

th (3)So maybe MrSativa is right, Nix might be a great addition to the Rays . I mean a multi-faceted speedy player who also has ample experience playing in the toughest division in baseball can definitely be a great tool to have in your game day toolbox….Sounds kind of like the same description giving about Zobrist when he arrived in St. Petersburg. 

Welcome aboard Jayson, it’s going to be a fun year!

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