Archive for the ‘ Rays ’ Category

And the Price Trade Circus has Begun

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I swear it seemed like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price didn’t even get his TB cap down upon his head after saluting the home crowd today when the annual M L B Trade Deadline circus circus began its carny barking as to the future vista of Price.

PriceHopefully these ministers of the media keep their whispers and speculation banter somewhere between the tattered chalk lines of truth and facts and only the confirmed facts will eventually rise to our collective ears.

For we are again at that fateful time of the season when the critic’s Circus again pulls back its tattered curtain and all 3 rings are anxious with tales flowing in all imaginary directions set to whet our baseball whistles. 

One local Tampa Bay media talking head boasted the headline “Price delivers in potential final home start for Rays”.

odkyI understand everyone and every body wanting to be the first voice to pop out a possible true scenario and bring to light or put to bed an issue, but with 12 Rays home contests between July 7-30th, I have a feeling unless the Rays get a golden offer around the All-Star break, we should be able to witness  at least 1 more “Price, Price baby” moment in Tropicana Field before the Trade clock hits zero..

With the first high octane voice bellowing the half-truths, Price has now officially embarked on a unwanted and unflattering 65 possible team destinations in 65 days trip with the potential for no return flight to TPA or PIE this season.

I know many in the media will lead their stories with Price’s stupendous double-digit K feats and not be direct links to the circus.

They will adamantly state that Price is again got a firm grip on his game, but I am not naive enough to no worry that some trade darkness might creep into these same reports thanks to that one negative ” last home start” concerning Price.

images (2)I was hoping not to get caught up in the fiasco and stand on the sideline a bit until July 30th, but this unexpected Rays riptide has taken a hold of me and I’m now along for the whole nasty ride….sink or swim style.

Maybe I’m in the minority that believe whole heatedly  that the Rays still have an iota of a post-season chance and go decide ultimately to go “All In” with Price knowing he can muster some vital late season dividends.  

It is the fiscal reality of being a Rays player….If you have success, someone will pay a premium to possess your skills for their own zip code and fan base.  I know deep down into my cavernous baseball soul this dark day will happen and Price will someday pull on another team’s jersey, but hopefully after November 1, 2014.

downloadWithin 5 minutes of the end of this contest, even before Price possibly had a chance to don his street clothes, drums were being beaten as to his new vista.

I heard Los Angeles, Toronto, Seattle and even Texas, and this was just in the stands. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had him as the new Manager of Manchester United knowing Price’s Soccer prowess.  

One ounce of misquoted speculation, rancid rumor or well-placed slight of tongue can bring your own baseball swirling faster than the seams on a Price fastball.

images (9)But even if that is what I truly want as a fan of Price and the Rays, the total opposite can happen with one single phone call or text and the healing process within this community will have to begin for all parties involved.

I plan thinking it is all lies unless Rays VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman, Rays Manager Joe Maddon or Price tell me otherwise. Sorry I plan on being that obnoxious little kid in church who pops his fingers in his ears and warbles “nana boo, boo” noises ‘til the cow-nose rays or Price again comes home.

Oh gosh, I gotta end this now I can hear the Calliope comin’ around the Clubhouse bend…..

 

 

Torres First to Don IsoBlox Cap in a M L B Game

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It is a sound and a quickly approaching spinning blur that every pitcher know will happen at some point in their careers. Sure the ball might have been traveling to the plate at over 90 mph, but as bat meets ball the return boomerang of the white sphere can reach easily into the triple speed digits.IMG_0024At those moment the 60 feet 60 inches from plate to mound can be traveled before the blink of an eye. At that moment an extra inch of protection can be the difference between being a future part of the game or experiencing  a career defining moment.

Reaction times are critical and even the most inopportune blink or body movement can be the difference between being tattooed with a Rawlings stitch line, missed completely, or crumble to the turf in a heap. Tampa Bay Rays fans knew this feeling well back in 2013 as they witnessed firsthand Toronto Blue Jays starter J. A. Happ then Rays hurler Alex Cobb take pitches back through the box to their head regions.

Over the last several years there has been an increase in batted balls vent on human destruction coming back through the pitcher’s mound area with speeds in excess of 100 mph. Doesn’t matter if you threw a curve, change-up or even an high and inside fastball…..If it was your time, your next move was critical.IMG_0020M L B consulted a few manufacturers to devise and invent a protective cap that could or at least would eliminate some of that explosive interaction of ball meeting noggin, and selected IsoBlox’s version for distribution around 2014 M L B spring training camps.

I wrote a post how the new caps were AWOL on the head of members of the Rays starting or relief corps this spring, but someone with at least a former lineage to the Rays has been the first to wear the modified “Charlie Brown”  front crown and brimmed cap to a M L B mound.

Torres might be the first to sport the cap as a possible new piece of M L B pitching attire, but I doubt he will be the last. And some time has expired since Torres had his own head injury scare this past spring on a ball batted back through the middle. 

IMG_0022Torres did quickly or automatically order a protective cap after that incident, but  decided his health was first and foremost and ordered the cap last month and IsoBlox had it in his locker within a week’s time.   

I mean I knew former Ray, now San Diego Padres reliever Alex Torres was a smart guy, but possibly his action of wearing the cap to the hill in Saturday night’s match-up against the Los Angeles Dodgers might just be the motion needed for other pitchers, both starters and relievers to possibly don the new cap for themselves possibly later in the 2014 season.

Sure the cap seems a bit bulky and possibly cumbersome on first glance, but what that overshadows is the extra element of safety it might create especially for a leftie who leans down through his delivery and has his head exposed towards the plate before coming back into a more upright position.

HT_alex_torres_jt_140622_16x9_608I could see the rest of the M L B hurlers not even thinking of wearing this style cap if they had to thrust into their own pockets for this extra padded brim, but IsoBlox has made the cap FREE to the M L B and believe me, Torres seemed to be not only smart enough, but possibly has the bulk of the new caps sporting the Padres logo at his disposal.

Torres added post-game, “It doesn’t feel bad. The difference between the regular cap and this cap is not really that big.” 

And Torres after the game did share that he did have a few quips and possible giggles directed his way from teammates as to his odd-shaped mound attire, but Torres might end up having the last laugh as he will now be a lifetime baseball trivia answer for taking the first steps to don the front-heavy head gear.

IMG_0018But Torres was also eloquent enough following Saturday night’s game to the possible safe results of the cap as well as it’s perfect price point.

It could save our lives if someone hits a ball to your head. I get it for free, so I’m just gonna use it to see how it feels.

People always talk about players being pioneers, doing something incredible during a game that will be remembered for eons. Will baseball history remember, or celebrate the fact Torres embraced the protective cap and proudly wore it on his head when he strolled to the mound in the top of the 8th inning in front of 43,474 fans seated in Petco Park Saturday night?

Torres threw 25 pitches during his appearance against the Dodgers and not once did ball meet cap, or cap meet turf.  

imagesI applaud Torre’ effort for not only being the first to don the new protective cap, but for being the first to experience it under an actual M L B game time situation. Hopefully because of what Torres did a few other bulky “Charlie Brown” caps with other M L B team logos will make their own game day appearances.

I tip my non-bulky cap to Torres for leading the way with an IsoBlox cap upon his head.

 

 

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

Rays Getting into the College Groove

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I got an email the other day from the Texas Rangers as they were doing promotion for their upcoming “University Day” on July 11th featuring a special Baylor color scheme inspired cap and game day promotions.

Of course I’m a bit biased being a Baylor grad., but after seeing this I visited my own local team, the Tampa Bay Rays website and found out they are also going to show some Rays love to our Florida universities.

uf_hat_300x131The Rays will also have 3 separate college nights in 2014 with the first showcasing the Florida Gators aka “Chomp at the Trop” on Sat., July 26th when the team takes on the Boston Red Sox.  The University of South Florida get their chance on Sat., August 2nd when the Los Angeles Angels come to the Trop, and Florida State has their “Chop at the Trop” event on Sun., August 3rd.

Each event have their own ticket pricing variables from which includes a seat in the Lower Level and a special edition cap featuring your school. USF ticket packages start at $34 and you can use the password: USF1 for your Bulls package. FSU fans ticket packages start at $38 and you can get your special Nole seats with the password: Noles1.  Florida fans can get their $42 packages with the password; Gator1.

usf_hat_300x250If you plan on attending the game with a larger group of 10 or more fans, call the Rays Group Sales dept. at (727) 825-3396 or email them at groupsales@raysbaseball.com and you could possibly see a few more dollars in all of your group’s wallet come game day.

I think it is awesome that the Rangers and Rays have devoted a special game day for colleges within their regional grasp and promote their love for those universities with their own college color scheme inspired Rays cap design. I will definitely be in house on July 29th when the Gator Nation invades the Trop and could help the Rays fans out cheer the sporadic outbursts from the Red Sox faithful.

fsu_hat_300x124My only complaint or hope is that in the future the Rays can provide a more colorful cap more in tune with each school’s color scheme more like the Baylor cap the Rangers will hand out. The Rays caps seem a bit “plain Jane” to me compared to the Baylor cap, and usually the Rays do not go with a plain promotional item, especially one that will be seen around town bearing their trademark “TB”.

Hopefully this is only a beginning and someday each of the M L B’s clubs can one day carry these special college caps in their respective Team Store and promote these school and their Rays ties 365 days a year instead of for one glorious night.

Now if I can figure out a way to get my hands on one of those awesome Baylor caps….

My First Encounter With a Humble Legend

 

Zimmmmmm

 

Renegade Note: Everyone has their own Don Zimmer moments within or outside the game. The following is my first encounter with the beloved baseball soul who held the game close to his heart and embraced it until the end. We will miss you Zim.

It was late January of ’72 when I met Zimmer as he and his wife Soot for the first time as they were out and about the town from their then home situated on the finger-shaped islands of Treasure Island.

I didn’t know the first time he drove into the station he was even a ballplayer. People in that time either dressed up or wore cotton shirts and pants more than the T’s and jeans fashionable today. And M L B merchandised clothing seemed more reserved for the diamond than plastered across your body as every day clothes when you traveled.

I was around 11 years old when I first met Don Zimmer. I always idolized my Dad and worked a lot of after school times and weekends at our Union 76 gas station (Wittig’s Motor Pool) on a popular crossroads towards the beaches here in St. Petersburg, Fl.

Back then every 6 pump demanded Full Service attention. That meant as a young kid I would wash windshields, check air pressure in tires and put the regular or premium gasoline nozzle into that car’s tank. I loved doing my duties in a scaled down shirt emblazoned with AAA patches, the orange Union 76 globe patch and the name “Cliff” sewn in above my breast pocket.

As I was under the hood checking the brake fluid, wiping down the oil dipstick and checking for corrosion buildup on the battery cables. I noticed Zimmer’s eyes peering at me through the small space between the hood and the windshield section of the car.  He was laughing and seemed to get a kick out of this young kid going gangbusters servicing his beautiful automobile.

After I heard the click of the gas nozzle and finished filling the car’s gas tank. I then approached and told Zimmer the amount and awaited the payment for the gas.

He asked me if we, (the station) every got large used tire tubes he could use as an inexpensive but fun float for when his family headed out to the Gulf of Mexico. I assured him I could help him for honest price. I saw that most of them were not very large in size and remembered I had a huge truck tube outside by the alignment rack I used as a baseball aid.

Zimmer watched as I went through the moves of making sure the tube was filled, had no leaks then pronounced without hesitation, “I can sell this fine tube to you for .75 cents”. Now do not forget, a gallon of regular gas at that time cost between 39-45 cents by itself, so for the price of about 2 gallons of fine gas, he could have hours of enjoyment stretched out on that huge truck tube. 

I finished the exchange and Zimmer presented the money to my Dad for the gas and the tube and Zimmer asked why there were white lines on the inside circle of the tube. My Dad explained it was my “throwing tube” to practice my aim and accuracy as I played Third Base and sometimes Shortstop for my Little League team.

Zimmer just looked at me and asked if I was good. He looked at my Dad then me and I told him I wanted to be the next Brooks Robinson and Zimmer smiled telling me that “Brooks was a great ballplayer to watch and copy parts of his defensive style”.

As we opened the trunk to put in the tube I saw a few gloves, a stack of bats and a bag of worn and clay stained baseballs.  Zimmer quickly said he also loved the game of baseball and worked out with his young son when he had the time. At no time did he pump out his chest or proclaim he was an ex-MLB player.

At that moment he seemed to me to be just an average guy who also loved baseball and seemed to be passing on his love for the game to his own son. After Zimmer had left the station headed back west towards Treasure Island, my Dad told me who he was, and that he was a former M L B player who had played for teams like Brooklyn, Chicago, New York and the Senators.

I was upset I had wasted an opportunity to chat or get a few pointers from a big league infielder, but knew he was also a loyal customer and would be back.

He even came in for fuel before he headed off to San Diego that spring to begin his Managerial career with the San Diego Padres that spring.

I always felt at ease around Zimmer, never got the “better than me” vibe or saw any irritation from him when I asked questions or wanted advice. That is what initially got me to follow his career and take every moment possible to talk with him when I became the Rays Pepsi rep and had a little extra access around Tropicana Field or the Rays Spring complex.

Every time I have met Zimmer since that day in 1972 I start off with asking him if he wanted “Regular or Premium today”. It always takes a moment, but he always chuckles and asked how I was doing while extending his hand for a firm shake.

I will miss Zimmer as much for his humanity as his storytelling and bits of wisdom bestowed upon another generation.

There has never been anyone like him around the game of baseball before, and there truly will not be another beloved soul like Zim to ever grace the game again.

With the Loss of Zim, A True Cornerstone of the Game is Gone

 

 

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I always hoped that if someone could live forever, it would be baseball icon Don Zimmer.

zinmmmmmmmmmmmmmSo as I was advised that the Rays Senior Advisor had passed away in his sleep tonight at only 83, I feel a bit empty inside right now.  Baseball has lost a true legend tonight. I truly believe that if I pulled a dictionary off my shelf and looked up the word “Legend” What do you get the guy who has witnessed over 66 years of baseball in his 83 years upon this great planet?

I can truly say without hesitation that when I have in past talked or shaken hands with Zimmer I was in the company of  baseball royalty. And to think of how many thousands of fans, generations of ball players, celebrities and political dignitaries have also gotten that honor boggles the mind.

This past January 17th, Zim celebrated his 83rd birthday and even as that evil viper age had begun to take some of his physical tools, his mind was always an awaiting steel trap. I mean who else in M L B history has had a bear made of his likeness…and been a Rays cherished keepsake twice!

sdfghjkl,mWe all know Zimmer 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 drawbridge and toll booths,  back when the old Jolly Roger figurine stood mighty along the hotels/motels 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. 

Zimmer  in his lifetime got to see the color barrier not only broken, but smashed to bit and witnessed firsthand the rugged path of teammate Jackie Robinson. From that historic moment Zimmer also got an upfront seat to a players strike, seeing Hank Aaron pass another legend and see not one but many expansion club be awarded and begin play within the game.  

Zimmer was as much a Florida “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, he reigns supreme with the highest obtainable levels of respect, dignity and honor from not only players, umpires and visiting teams, but the legions of baseball fans from sea to shining sea. 

'I’ve lite a candle tonight for Zim on a on-deck circle in front of my baseball collection to show my sincere want to honor a man who’s love of the game transcended uniforms, rivalries and whose lifetime love and devotion to this fine game shall never be forgotten.

If there truly is a “Field of Dreams” in heaven for I know Zim will be the first to take the field and start the chatter.  And I hope if such a place truly exists Zimmer gets a standing ovation by the players, fans and anyone within eyesight of the angelic field for if anyone ever deserved to play and witness the game for eternity, it is Popeye.

Personally, I want to thank you Zim. For the short moments, interesting chats and just being you…. a true gentleman of the clay and grass. 

 

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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