Peering Through the Rays Looking Glass- Hurlers

15Rays

 

Rays “Man about the Stands” Todd Kalas has informed us all that with a Kansas City or Oakland win tonight (9/19/14), the Rays will be mathematically eliminated from any more post season banter in 2014.

With that in mind, it is time for the second installment of “Peering through the Rays Looking Glass” and focus today on the Rays pitching corps for 2015.

057Going into the spring of 2015 this has to be one of the most secure spots within the Rays organization, but there are some changes that could, should or will happen before the boys again unpack their gear in Port Charlotte in February 2015.

So let’s start with the obvious first here. The Rays rotation might need a few tweaks, but there also might be an omission or deletion before the team again assembles for that yearly pre-Spring pep talk by Joe Ma on the green grass.

I definitely have been hearing great things on the progress of Matt Moore in his rehab and come spring, I consider him 1-L on the Rays starting rotation chart. Sure that might seem funny to some, but has been the case here in Tampa Bay for some time, there are 2 starters who deserve that # 1 position heading into 2015.

thI1Y37WIMOf course I have already assigned one half of that equation to Moore, and it only seem appropriate and totally earned that Alex Cobb will be the Rays 1-R or top right-handed option heading into next season. I’m not going to attach either to a #1 or #2 slot basically because I’m not sure yet which kind of order the Rays Front Office and Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey envision to be the best fit.

That being said, these two names will be at the top of the chart no matter the decision, and that decision will also fully decide the 3-5 slots also.

Just as the Rays #1 and #2  Rays pitching matchups are probably months away from being in some sort of concrete mode, the Rays # 3 and #4 spots might also be a total guess work right now and are totally interchangeable at this moment.

But even with that in mind, Rays left-hander Drew Smyly and Chris Archer should definitely be more than penciled in as the Rays middle rotation guys with either taking the #3 or #4 slot possibly based on a L-R-L-R rotation mix or Maddon could go L-R-R-L giving the Rays possibly a southpaw in every series being blanketed by a tough right-hander.

thILL9QYITEven though Jake Odorizzi produced a very respectable 2014 season and popped out great starts throughout 2004, I suspect he will face a nice dose of competition this spring to hold onto the Rays 5th rotation spot.  I can easily imagine Merrill Kelly, Alex Colome and possibly a veteran being signed by the Rays on the cheap to battle it out in spring training for this last rotation slot.

As Maddon always says, “Pitching sets the tone” again in 2015 on just how far or how low the Rays end up early or late in the American League East standings.

You might notice I did not include Jeremy Hellickson this rotation list. I think that this winter the Rays will definitely offer him up as a trade piece not only because he seems a bit injury prone, but because his salary is only going to rise and he might not be the solid investment for the Rays he was just 2 seasons ago. I would not be surprised if a change of scenery sparks Hellboy back into a frenzy quite possibly to the heights experienced by former Rays P Scott Kazmir this year in Oakland.

thG080DJ9VUnlike Price, Hellboy has not seen his stock rise in value the last few years and it might be time for the Rays to let Hellickson try another vista and re-establish himself.

Some have labeled 2014 a disaster year for the Rays because of their less than .500 overall record and their lack of offensive excellence, but the Rays found out in 2014 that this young staff will step up, will compete and will produce wins even with a less than desired run support by the field players.

But there is also another set of hurlers who will have a say in 2015 and just how far and fast the Rays can rebound again to regain their winning ways.

Leftie Jake McGee has more than shown us in 2014 that he has the right stuff to be our last line of defense, but some of the other pieces of the Rays Bullpen puzzle might have bigger question marks after lackluster 2014 seasons.

Bruce Boxberger’s pitching arm definitely will get him another shot in 2015 to stay at the M L B level, and if he can stay consistent, his spot on the Rays roster can only grow more secure with each great outing.

th02DTSMX8Even though Grant Balfour has another year on his contract with the Rays, he might be a nice piece of bait to wiggle out there for a team that needs a veteran closer who never lets his baseball fires burn out. I like Balfour and his fire, but the money spent on him could be used to bring in 2 relief pieces and with a team that will be pinching pennies ‘til they scream, Balfour is  a cautiously expendable commodity that could be in high demand somewhere else this winter.

You might think the Rays might have an easy decision to make this winter on Joel Peralta, who has been a fine set-up piece for the team. Starting this winter, the Rays hold 3 different club options on Joel in 2015-17. I do not see Peralta going anywhere, but depending on the size of cuts the team will have to make on payroll heading into 2015, his worth to the Rays teeters more on the good side than bad.

thXVN39TTLAlex Colome, who is now out of minor league options could be key pieces to any 2015 realignment of the Rays bullpen. Colome could easily be either the Rays 5th starter, spot starter or just inherit the long reliever slot in the bullpen. Colome has at least 2 more starts in the Rays rotation in 2014, but an impressive 2015 spring could hoist his name easily as a 5th slot contender.

With young relievers like Steve Getz, Brandon Gomes, Jeff Beliveau, Cesar Ramos, Kirby Yate and even C J Riefenhauser getting time this year to impress the Rays in extended looks and chances in 2015, one of the Rays next waves of players being selected from the minors might have a definite reliever flavor.

Some might think the name of the Rays Reliever of the Year and current Durham Bulls closer Adam Liberatore should be pushed onto this list. Sure he will get a spring major league camp invite, but the Rays still  have a hand full of minor league options on him and could bring him in more for seasoning and extended work with the M L B staff than promote him before quite possibly September 2015 or a more realistically during  2016.

248An extended injury to McGee before 2016 could escalate his chances to gain a quicker M L B chance to impress during the regular season.

Sure the Rays will sign a few veteran and even productive name to spring camp, but I do see the Rays current young and hungry relievers fighting them off tooth and nail to be a part of the Rays machine come late March 2015.

Each of the above relievers should get a chance in the latter stages of 2014 to make impressions and even get a longer look this upcoming spring in the major league camp and it would not surprise me if more than 3 of them break camp with a 25-man secured spot.

The pure unadulterated strength of the Rays heading into 2015 is their great pitching and the depth of said commodity in their farm system.

th37PB61VFThis is a time where the Rays could find more than a few intricate pieces of their 2015 puzzle with very affordable and team controlled contracts that could help the team survive and thrive through the lower payroll expectation of 2015.

It is possible the team might look to shave $20-30 million this winter and if that does come to reality, Hellickson, Balfour and quite possibly Peralta might be the viable and most costly options that get more than a few long and hard looks as to their worth in the Rays pitching corps.

 

 

Peering Into My Rays 2015 Looking Glass-Position Players

2015

 

Well, Dandy Don has sung and the large but svelte woman in that Viking cap has vocally acknowledged the Tampa Bay Rays have lost that final grasp on any chance at an October date with destiny. So the chase is now over, but a few games still remain.

Over the next 2 weeks I think we will see a few slices of what might and could happen this winter in regards to our hometown Rays.

th3JODA4XGWe already know we will not see any fashion of a  $80 million payroll in 2015, but the Rays have a lot of pieces to consider this winter, some expendable, and some they have to keep at all costs. Might be a interesting winter as the Rays have a chance to push out another cycle of truly young pitching talent, might dangle a few names on their hook, and possibly be seeking a consistent power bat that could awaken an offense that rises and falls more than the tides in Tampa Bay.

From behind the plate to down the First Base line in the Bullpen, the Rays have some important work to do to not only up their offensive firepower, but also to shore up a reliever corps that did not have that secure level of consistency we have grown accustom to here.

I truly suspect the Rays will not only dangle but seek out a possible trade partner to take on veteran backstop Jose Molina’s 2015 salary. With the solid emergence of Curt Casali behind the dish in 2014, it makes Molina not only an extra body behind the plate, but a large salary that could be used to possibly secure a power bat for the Rays lineup.

thAWBZUW96In Casali’s favor right now is that he is showing great command of the Rays pitching corps and currently hold the best catcher’s ERA of 2.0 in the majors. He has caught Alex Cobb 6 times this season and sports a 1.09 ERA with Cobbster on the hill, including framing pitches during Cobb’s recent no-hitter adventure.

I think Ryan Hanigan is on solid ground, but people in Cincinnati probably thought the same before the 2013 offseason. Helping his cause for 2015 is definitely his current .306 average in 11 starts since coming back off the DL on August 26th.

Now in regards to the Rays infield. It would seem that 3 of the 4 slots are already occupied by players who should be rubber stamped in as starters for 2015.  Sure anything can happen, but these 3 players also have contracts inked with the team, some long-term, some with quicker expiration dates.

James Loney seems secure at First Base especially since he signed that 3-year #21 million contract in 2014 and should man the Rays 1B bag possibly until someone on the way up in the Rays farm system pushes him off it.  But also making Loney an easy name to pencil in is his superb bat skills and being great at GTMI (Get The Man In). Heading into Sunday’s contest Loney has 66 RBIs, second only to Evan Longoria.

thEFVI841BDo not be surprised if the Rays possibly show Sean Rodriguez a bit more at First Base in 2015. There is no guarantee the Rays will keep S-Rod, but he has been one of the most consistent pieces of the Rays utility corps right alongside Ben Zobrist.

Speaking of Zorilla, could this offseason be the first one where the Rays ask Zobrist to possibly take a few more turns at First as a possible fill-in should the team not re-sign Rodriguez? We all know Rays Manager Joe Maddon is S-Rod’s biggest supporter, but his salary is climbing and with less dollars in the till, could Rodriguez be one of the Rays biggest question marks going into the winter.

Third Base is all Evan Longoria’s until health or just plain age ripe him off the hot corner. People forget Longo is itching close to that big 3-0 that sometimes robs a player of agility and quickness needed to prevent screamers down the line. I do not see 2015 as the season Father Time begins to creep up on Longoria, but if he does we could possible see Tim Beckham or Logan Forsythe as guys to pencil in with spot starts.

th2I88KN6BLongoria did have what many consider a sub-par season in 2014, but he still leads the team in most offensive categories and is still the Rays Clubhouse figurehead, and that will not change for some time. His tear in offense since the All-Star break might just be to him finally finding that mechanics groove we have been waiting for all this season.

Shortstop is also a spot that seems secure, but has also been a spot of ups and downs in 2014. Now I like the spirited play of Yunel Escobar, but I think a healthy Hak-Ju Lee could press Escobar with a outstanding spring. You know subconsciously the Rays Front Office would love this kind of competition considering one would command a MLB minimal salary (Lee), and the other $5 million.

You might wonder why the Rays did not bring up Lee or Beckham in September or after Durham finished their postseason run. Both have 2 minor league options left and if neither fights nor gains a 25-man roster slot in 2015, that gives the Rays some flexibility to hold onto them at least in Durham.

thNYXYJESCSecond Base might again be a “insert here” space in the Rays infield. With names like Nick Franklin, Forsythe, Lee and Beckham possibly fighting for a chance to line up at 2B, this might be one of the most contested spots during the spring of 2015.

Sure you could put Zobrist firmly in black ink in this spot, but I think Maddon still loves to tinker and place Zobrist and his many gloves wherever he sees a possible weakness. I truly think we will see Zobrist either swapping gloves a lot again in 2015, or he will be gone. I think a lot depends on the Rays evaluation of what they could obtain via a winter trade for Zorilla while he still has ample value to a team looking for a players who has a command of his offensive and defensive skills.

The Rays might end up coming out of 2015 spring training with their youngest outfield trio since their inception. I have an odd feeling this might be the other place where competition will be strong and possibly we see a name or possibly 2 change uniforms in direct response to possible 2015 salary as opposed to their overall value to the team.

thNOJJ6HYGOutfielders Matt Joyce and possibly Desmond Jennings might also see their names in print a bit more during the Rays off season. Not because they are not valued or important Rays pieces, but there is a younger crew of Rays outfielders led by Wil Myers and Kevin Keirmaier who can provide the same offense and defensive excellence at a more modest price.

The Rays also need to make a valued judgment on Brandon Guyer who doesn’t have any minor league options remaining. This whole Guyer situation might come down to a mirror image evaluation that the Rays had to make on Sam Fuld before the 2014 season. Believe me, if the Rays find value in keeping Guyer, he could definitely slot in as the team’s 4th or 5th outfield option without a problem.

I will no discuss the DH position since I think that will be a hired bat or possibly more Longoria and Zobrist in 2015 if the team can not find an adequate stick that can elevate the Rays offense.

In addition Maddon could use any variety of bench selections to insert or delete at his leisure. Designated Hitter might be a revolving door for the Rays if a valued bat is not found before the spring of 2015. 

thVSZNTP0FI have a feeling we will see a leaner and more stat-infused Rays team over the next 2 years. The Rays will again possibly show a “youth movement” as most positions will be secured by vets, but the younger corps of the team could mature into the offensive pieces the Rays lacked in 2014.

With a slimmed down payroll and some veterans nearing the cusp of free agency, the Rays might call upon their striving younger core to provide a cohesive and focused 2015 nucleus.

 

Largest Sea Evacuation in History – Sept 11, 2001

 

“I Thought I was watching a movie, “Towering Inferno” at first. And then I looked real close and I noticed it was the World Trade Center. I was compelled because I am the kind of person who can’t stand by and watch other people suffer. And to me they were suffering as they wanted to get off the island. And there was no way for them to get off the island other than the water. And I noticed when I was watching the television I saw a lot of you know the the ferries going up into the slips to take people off . I said, fine we can do the same thing.  I can take people on my boat. Get in there, take them where they have to go. And that’s what I did. 

- Vincent Ardolino, Captain of the Amberjack V

download (1)September 11th has a different meaning to each of us. Some watched stunned while others vented anger and hostility towards an enemy we could not point to with clarity. Others wanted immediate answers to questions even today we still ponder.

We all have our thoughts and memories of this day when lives were lost and a majestic icon crumbled to the hardened soils of lower Manhattan. Moments of silence, work stoppages and tears will fall on this day as our generation of Americans each revisits, remembers and salute those who we never saw again, those souls living and gone who rescued hundreds on that morning.

download (2)September 11, 2001 as a nation watched in horror and disbelief that such suffering reached our shores another band of men bounded together to pull off the largest maritime rescue mission in the history of the world.

The video above is a reminder that if nothing else can be attributed to September 11, 2001, we can definitely see it as the day our nation’s humanity embraced us all, and unlikely heroes rose all around us….even on the waterways bordering that grit encrusted island.

On that day, 500,000 people wanted a way off that island. The transit system had been shut down, bridges and tunnels on lockdown and movement off that bustling borough was erratic and pedestrian at best. Hundreds began to line the seawalls and docks along the river wanting safe passage away from the expanding madness that had become Manhattan.

imagesIt might have started off as simple as 1 boat or even several craft offering a chance for the gathering masses sometimes 10 people deep to make way to New Jersey and a sense of normality that was in slim supply at the moment upon the shores of this New York peninsula.

It was estimated that over 2,000 people who were injured during the tragedy made their way to safe havens via the ever-expanding floatilla.

Before September 11th, the largest sea mission of this type had been the Dunkirk rescue mission in which 339,000 troops had been transferred off the beaches and brought back to the shores of England. That mission took a total of 9 days.

downloadThe evacuation shown in the video above where half a million people were transported to a safer haven was completed in 9 hours.

So the next time you are in NYC, or maybe even taking a ferry from New Jersey, Staten Island or even a pleasure cruise in the region, the man at the helm might have been involved in this heroic adventure that so many never even knew had happened.

Thankfully in a day that will forever be engulfed in terror and loss of life the sense of humanity shown by these souls who traverse the waterways of New York City also rose to the occasion and brought comfort and a small slice of normalcy to the chaos.

More Rays Decisions on the Horizon

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With just 20 days left in the 2014 season for the Tampa Bay Rays, you can expect an abundance of decision, changes and shifts in their usual format in regard to pitching, fielding assignments and possibly the last shuffle of players after the Durham Bulls complete their drive to try and retain the Governor’s Cup.

thYXLXH91BWe have saw one decision rear its ugly head on Tuesday as the Rays decided they would shut down starter Drew Smyly. The Rays only leftie currently in their rotation will be replaced by right-hander Nathan Karns who was to pitch on Thursday in Game 4 of the Governor’s Cup series, but will now toe the rubber for the Rays in Yankee Stadium for their last contest against the Yankee in 2014.

Even though the Rays have not been formally declared out of the post season, the shutting down of Smyly who has been a bright spot in the latter stages of the season signals the Rays looking ahead to 2015.

Now that doesn’t mean the Rays will re-invent themselves over the next 3 weeks, but the usual line-ups and match ups might go a little left and right and the Rays experiment and try out some new combos or fielding assignment to test their current corps of rostered players.

The first of these movements towards the future might be in feeling out the limitations or flexibility of Brandon Guyer. We all know Guyer has the heart and soul to play with this team, but if he shows a little more flexibility and resourceful use, possibly in Center Field, the Rays might extend their hands and provide Guyer with ample opportunity before the last contest in Cleveland.

thS5U101GFOver the next few weeks I suspect we might see a few tinkers with the lineup seeing if other players can adapt, convert and possibly excel at other spots in the 1-9 slot of the Rays lineup card. We could see a few new names attached to Third Base giving Evan Longoria a few more reps at DH.

Quite possibly we could also see if the Rays value certain player who have been established as 2015 options, or possible trade fodder this winter. One name I think you might want to watch close is the ways the Rays use Matt Joyce over the final games.

Joyce is still under team control in 2015, but I truly thought 2014 was his year to shine or submerge and quite possibly the Rays might be on that same wave length. It is kind of a pity Joyce seemed to have drawn the long straw when Wil Myers went down. I thought the team would try and expand on Joyce’s worthiness through more at bats against lefties, but instead the team went to the minor league system and have made Kevin Kiermaier a new Tampa Bay household name.

The emergence of Kiermaier might makes Joyce expendable this winter, and an affordable name for another team to scoop up at a bargain. And with the Rays possibly experimenting with different outfield setups, names like Ben Zobrist, David DeJesus and Desmond Jennings might find a few teams calling about their availability this winter too.

thC0O2Q3OAAnother decision much like Smyly is on the horizon for the Rays as starters Jake Odorizzi has thrown for 154.2 innings and Chris Archer has 173.2 innings. Taking two fixtures out of the rotation might not happen, but seeing as current Durham starters Alex Colome has only 86 innings on the book before his next Governor’s Cup start, he could be a viable option for the Rays after Durham finishes their playoff run.

But not in Colome’s favor might be the pure fact that would give the Rays 5 starters who all throw from the right side of the rubber. The Rays could go with the option of bringing up 2 different lefties after the Durham playoff run, or promote another right-hander, Merrill Kelly as he only has 114 innings on his arm this season.

If the Rays did want to go the duo lefty option, Mike Montgomery and Enny Romero both have about 126 innings on their stats this year and could possibly be an option for 1-2 starts each to finish off 2014 plus give the team a real time evaluation on if they might be MLB ready in 2015.

th7BV3QC8DInfield wise I could see the Rays possibly bring up Hak-Ju Lee or maybe even Tim Beckham and throw them in Longoria’s spot at Third and test them on being viable future options or possible add-ons to a winter trade.

Who knows, maybe Rays can bring up a Ray…Olmedo to see if he could be a piece of the depth puzzle again next season either in Triple-A or with the Rays.

Everything is just speculation until certain things fall or are decided by the Rays. With the season winding down and the team all but .01% eliminated from any contention the Rays now only fear the calendar.

As soon as the Bulls complete their post season series I truly suspect a few of these name to appear quickly on the transaction wire.

Now if only the Bulls would hurry up and win the Governor’s Cup so we can really see what the Rays are thinking……for 2015.

 

Extreme Pressure on Rays as Post Season Chances Near Bursting Point

BwZbEr9IQAAW_nt (1)

 

Offensively we’ve been challenged this year, but today their guy was that good. We have to be the 2007 Rockies the rest of the way”.

This pressure-filled quote was uttered by Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon after his squad let an extremely important win pop out of their grasp today against the Boston Red Sox.

Inflate the bicycle tyreAnd to mention the ’07 Rockies in a quote with less than 25 games to go is like trying to add 5 extra pounds to that bicycle tire. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it blows right up in your face.

I am all for pumping up the guys in the Rays Clubhouse right now, getting their juices flowing and honing their focus, but bringing up a team that won 21 of their final 22 games to clinch a post season slot.

With 25 games to go in the 2014 season and the Rays currently being 14 games back in their division, the fight for another American League East championship has sailed.

So with that seasonal goal firmly off the table, the team can realign their focus on gaining one of the two American League Wild Card slots. Another good trading point for Maddon is the ’07 Rockies captured the National League Wild Card slot that season, then magic began to happen.

But I know one thing Maddon will not remind the Rays players is the pure fact that Colorado finished the 2007 season a ½ game behind N L West Division winner, the Arizona Diamondbacks and won 90 games that season.

20131002_ajl_ar7_003-f024b9fbbed4c733df86918e9cd1a78fSo possibly in comparing the Rays chances to the last season magic of that inspiring Colorado squad might be cutting the Rays odds a bit close to the razor’s edge, but if Maddon could pull this off in the same fashion as the Rockies, it might also be a slice of pure brilliance from the Rays skipper.

So that leaves a viable chance still for the Rays to make a few waves towards securing a AL Wild Card slot and the Rays are currently 8.5 games out in that race. To makes the waves even a bit harder to tame is the fact 2 AL East teams are in front of the Rays as well as a fired-up Seattle squad that is less than ½ game out of pushing Oakland behind them.

downloadEven more interesting is the fact that the Cleveland Indians are also firmly in the hunt for October and they play the Rays in a season ending 3-games series in C-Town that could have more even more significance if the Rays surge, or the Indians stay tightly gripped to the Wild Card race and the Rays could play spoilers.

But let me throw a little more honesty out while I’m at it here. That same 2007 Colorado squad after winning 21 of those 22 games kept the winning charm alive by popping off 7 straight victories to eliminate the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and their NL West rival D-Backs to claim the National League Championship.

And in the end, winning 28 of those 29 games didn’t help as they met a swirling buzz saw in the World Series. Boston didn’t want any part of the Rockies “Purple Haze” form of winning and quickly eliminated any Rockies revival by beating them in 4 straight to take the 2007 World Series.

6a00d834515ddf69e20133ec9c59a0970b-500wiIronically, Boston has a hand in eliminating any Rockies-Rays comparisons by beating the Rays on Monday.

As long as this Rays team still have even a 0.01 percent chance of garnering a post season dream, I’ll believe in the magic because the alternative is something I do not wish to imagine until it slaps me hard in the face.

But then again, Maddon is a bike guy and may just know how much pressure he can put on his Rays bike tire before it blows Guess we shall find out.

It is “Put Up or Shut Up” Time for the Rays

 

And so it begins.

The Texas Rangers are the first team that has been mathematically eliminated from any chance at a 2014 post season berth.

From this point on that number will grow constantly until the final 10 spots are secure and the celebration champagne flows around the league.

1378648_10151724900023429_1227590394_nSure I want to see the Tampa Bay Rays in that hunt until the end, and possibly get a chance to fight again even if it is Game 163 to claim that glistening trophy. If this team needs any visual reminder of how they are respected around baseball……just play the video above.

It sucks that once again the Rays are not included in clips showing spectacular game ending plays, walk-off heroics or even a hint of pitching brilliance. That video in itself would make me work a bit harder, grind a bit longer and produce a bay of salty sweat to grip another post season chance.

Sure time is passing quickly for any rise of the Rays to get within single digits of even a chance at an American League East title. But maybe, just maybe if this team can duplicate their recent road magical essence at home, they could easily erase a few competitors, start a righteous climb up the Wild Card ladder and grasp a chance of baseball in October.

mlb-tampa-bay-rays-minnesota-twinsI am one of those fans who believes until the door is shut. That Destiny, Hope and even her twin Faith can embrace this Rays squad and help them on their journey.

This Rays home stand will decide if they travel upward or slide down further out of any contention.

. To add a little bit of spice and additional drama to the mix is the pure fact the Rays play 22 of these final 28 game against their A L East rivals.

That’s right, the Rays only have 2 sets of 3-game series against the Chicago White Sox (@ home) and the Cleveland Indians (in C-town) outside the confines of the A L East.

The Rays have will play Baltimore Orioles only 3 more time ( 3-Home) this season, the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees  each 6 more times ( 3-Home, 3-Away) this season.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay RaysBut there is a bright and shining light as the Rays will get the chance to face the current cellar dwelling Boston Red Sox 7 times (4-Home, 3-Away) before the season wraps up.    

It is no longer about playing .500 ball over the rest of the season.

During their current AL East only home stand, the Rays might have to win 7-8 of these contests to make their future  a bit brighter before they head on a 6-game New York, Toronto road trip.

Now is the time to win at all costs, it is truly time for this Rays squad to fully articulate and embrace that this home stand is the true essence of a proverbial “Put up or shut up” moment.

mlb_a_postseasonsign_576With only 28 games left in the 2014 schedule the Rays have to intensify their game and win at least 18-20 of these contests at a minimum to be within the last cloud of dust for a post season slot.

Now is the time for the Rays to truly leave it all on the field.

I Choose to Not Buy Centerplate Products

 

I am a huge dog  and overall animal fan. I have on numerous occasions told people that my pure black German Shepherd Hansel was my DFF (Dog Friend Forever). Animals have dotted my entire life and sometimes I do get an affliction of treating them almost like another human.

images (7)So maybe it is just me, but I’m appalled at the recent video surfaced on August 21st showing a man with his dog on a leash basically beating discipline into his dog while traveling in a closed elevator while staying at a hotel in Vancouver, BC.

Sure we all have disciplined our pets, but not while they are seated on an elevator floor and by kicks to their middle regions or applying foot to hind quarters. For me it was a newspaper slight pop and putting their nose near their badly placed deposits. And neither of these actions were done out of anger, frustrations or even a hint of hurting my beloved pet. 

Subsequently after the British Columbia SPCA viewed the actions a search warrant was issued for Desmond Hague the current CEO of Centerplate Inc., which is the largest food services vendor that provides food options for us locally at Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic games and at many other major sports venues in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

images (5)Even though the investigation into the animal abuse case involving Hague is on-going, it will be interesting to see how this event will effect in-stadium sales for Centerplate for the rest of the baseball season and possibly hurt the conglomerate during the upcoming MLB post season.

Hague has issued an apology for his actions, but maybe it is a bit too late to possibly fend off the extremely negative effect such actions will have on devote animal loving fans and if the vendor will feel any significant financial pains while the case is open.

I can definitely see fans possibly making a choice in the coming weeks by possibly invoking an in-stadium silent protest and just stroll by the Centerplate booths instead buying their food items at Centerplate vendors located within your stadium or arena.

images (2)Centerplate also caters the Rays VIP areas like the suite area, Dex Imaging Home Plate Club, Hancock Bank Club, 162 Landing, Papa John’s Bullpen Box, Left Field Terrace, and new Back Porch group seating areas. They also provide food and beverage items for the Everglades Brewhouse and the Rays Press Club.

 But even if you feel Centerplate should feel some sort of financial pain because of their CEO’s disregard, the vendor might not be the only one to feel less dollars in their pocket because of this animal abuse.

A lot of the charities or team organizations also run booths that have to use Centerplate food and drink items and they could also feel a significant pinch to their fundraising efforts if fans decide to boycott buying in-stadium food or beverage items.

images (4)Even worse, the beer, ice cream and cotton candy vendors who patrol both the bowl and upper deck areas are independent contractors who do not work for Centerplate but work on a commission basis when they sell you that cool beverage or neon-colored cotton candy. Such a protest could affect them.

So if you do plan a silent protest of Centerplate please be sure decide individually who you want to hurt the most.

You are permitted to bring outside food into Tropicana Field as long as they fit into these parameters. All items must be for individual or single family consumption. The items should be wrapped, bagged or contained in individual proportions in a soft-sided container not to exceed 16 in. by 16 in. by 8 inches. Only sealed water bottles no larger than 1 liter and child single-serving juice boxes are permitted into the stadium.

images (6)I’m a firm believer in discipline in your animals, but not by forcing fear of physical retaliation into their training or projecting violent interactions with an animal that can’t defend or speak for themselves.  

My actions is in no way a negative reflection on the Rays overall organization, their staff and hope my stand is not viewed as a disapproval of their connection with Centerplate because no one could of seen this event coming without psychic ability.

But I feel strongly about this issue and have decided to partake in this action on my own, but if others want to follow my action……

As of this moment, and during the rest of the Rays 2014 season (which hopefully extends into October), I personally do not plan on buying a single food or drink item from a Centerplate operated stand.  

downloadI do however plan to show support for the volunteer fundraising organizations throughout the Trop. by donating to their cause via tips not food or drink purchases, the tips will never touch the hands of Centerplate and will be the sole monetary property of that organization.

The fundraising organizations should not be collateral damage for this event and hopefully will see a lot more tips coming their way.

I’m going to eat before I hit the stadium for a while and lug around a 1-liter bottle of Aquafina I purchased before entering Tropicana Field. It is as much in a sign of protest as it is cheaper on my wallet overall and will give me my own small sense of doing the right thing.

I worked with Centerplate for many years as their Pepsi representative and most of the employees, supervisors and managers are good people who would or could not do such actions privately.  

I am venting my disgust upwards way beyond their pay grades to the highest level who has done the unthinkable in my opinion. I am not an active animal right activist, but I do believe in the fair treatment of all creatures not mosquito, brown recluse spider or cockroach, but that is just me.

download (1)Unfortunately I do not have the means or proper media influence to let the visiting fans coming into the Trop know about this event. But hopefully the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees and White Sox faithful are abreast of the Centerplate situation and will take their own actions.

Hopefully Hague will get what coming to him in the coming months, but even in Canada you can’t strike Hague in punishment with the same swiftness he hit his defenseless dog.

Litsch Embarking on Next Chapter of His Life

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I learned earlier today that former Rays batboy and Toronto Blue Jay hurler Litsch had officially announced his retirement during an interview with Jeff Sammut on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

I’m a bit sad right now.

download (2)It truly sucks to learn that one of my baseball friends has decided to hang up his spikes for good because I know the game will miss his energy, determination, comedic antics and well as his steadfast perseverance.

But I’m also extremely glad because those same traits makeup a firm foundation for a great teacher of the game’s nuances and skills. So it’s going to sting a bit knowing Litsch has thrown his final pitch as an MLB player, but I’m excited as he embarks on another journey possibly having the thrill of coaching another player towards their goal of pulling on a MLB jersey.

I respect and admire Jesse for his want to give back to the game that has given him so much. Not just in money, but in lasting friendships, great connections and a boatload of memories that will spill out forever when conversing with his baseball and non-baseball friends and future students.

He might never have known this, but I used to be one of the first people into the Trop back when Jesse was a batboy for the Tampa Bay Rays. Sometimes I would just sit there in my usual seat at the bottom of Section 138 and watched silently as Jesse took side tosses and suggestions from former Rays Pitching Coach Bill Fischer.

images (17)You could see in Jesse’s concentration he had that special form of girt and want to become a success. I have to tell you, even back then while still a young hurler at Dixie Hollins, he had a nice drop on his curve ball and seemed to be toying with a cutter.

So it was no surprise to me Jesse would be drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2004 MLB Draft. Then a little over 3 years later, on July 31, 2007, Jesse got to walk out to the Tropicana Field pitchers mound in his home town as his name bounced and echoed throughout the stadium.

I was there in the right field stands that night and remember well Litsch strolling to the mound in the bottom of the 1st inning and was on my feet to the dismay of some cheering for him as he made his exit after 6.2 innings of work.

I’m also glad to have gotten to know Litsch off the field as I attended his last 4 Jesse Litsch and Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournaments and got to witness another side of him that will only help him in his future endeavors.

images (2)Thank you Jesse for letting me tag along a bit during the first part of your baseball journey. I got a feeling we will not only hear but see your name a lot in the not so distance future.

Godspeed my friend.

 

 

 

 

American Legion & M L B, Two Peas in a Pod

 

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I was especially proud and honored this past weekend to hear that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon decided to honor the “American Legion” brand of baseball spirit.

images (7)And adding a cherry on top of it all, Maddon picked St. Petersburg Florida’s own American Legion Post 14 just a few miles down the road from Tropicana Field as a focus point.

American Legion unique style of baseball was first proposed during a speech by Major John L. Griffith (then collegiate commissioner of the Western Conference or called the Big Ten today) during a state convention in Milbank, South Dakota back in 1925.  Griffith centered his comments towards the role athletics can play in the development of youth.

Griffith stated to the assembled American Legion members: “Athletic competition teaches courage and respect for others, fostering their growth into active citizens.”

images (4)The South Dakota convention agreed and passed a resolution urging the Legion to create an organized summer baseball league that started each June and ended with a World Championship series. American Legion’s 1925 National Commander James A Drain backed the resolution and was easily passed during that year’s National Convention in Omaha, Nebraska.

The American Legion held its first World Series in 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where a team from Yonkers Post 321 defeated a squad from Pocatello, Idaho. A World Series was not held in 1927 due to the rising costs of attending the American Legion’s National Convention in Paris, France, but soon the Legion found a common ground benefactor to help nurture the development and funding of its young baseball program.

images (8)Early in 1928 the Legion’s Americanism Director Dan Sower had a plan to help keep the Legion baseball league solvent. Sowers attended an executive meeting of Major League Baseball hoping to catch a sympathetic ear of then Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  The M L B Commissioner pledged a $50,000 annual donation and within 2 years’ time the Legion baseball program expanded to include teams from every state plus the District of Columbia.

During the lean years of the Great Depression, MLB had to rescind their $50,000 a year endowment, but as the economy rebounded so did their contribution that started again at $25,000 in 1935 and gradually worked its way back to the original donation amount. M L B now contributes about 3 % of the total budget.

images (3)Since its inception in 1925, the American Legion baseball program has grown tremendously to now sporting over 5,400 teams from all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Almost 100,000 young players ages 15-19 pull on American Legion jerseys annually. Nearly 60 % of all current college players are graduates of the Legion baseball program.

M L B has help fund American Legion baseball almost since its inception and Legion baseball has produced a huge bevy of M L B prospects. The amount of former Legion ballplayer who go onto the professional ranks increases with every season and it is estimated more than half of all current major leaguers have Legion roots.

From fresh-faced M L B rookies playing short season summer baseball to current M L B players and Baseball Hall of Fame members, many got their true starts towards a professional career by playing Legion ball.

images (6)Hall of Famer Yogi Berra played for the Fred W. Stockholm Post 245 in St. Louis, Mo and was once heard saying American Legion ball was” the most fun he ever had.” Ted Williams pulled on a Legion jersey for a post back in San Diego, California.

Frank Robinson helped lead his Oakland, Calif. Squad to the only back-to-back World Series win in Legion ball history.

Babe Ruth however never got a chance to play Legion baseball as he was too old to participate during its younger years but spent the final years of his life promoting the Legion program as its director of operations.

Even though Maddon chose Post 14 as his local Post, it is not one of the most prolific American Legion baseball programs in Tampa Bay. That honor goes to Post 248 in Tampa, Florida which produced such future M L B players as Luis Gonzalez, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield.

images (5)Other Florida notables include David Eckstein who played for Post 53 in Sanford, Fl and Chipper Jones and Luke Scott both played for Post 6 out of Deland,Fl.

American Legion baseball even has another great ambassador who played on the gridiron in Bob Griese who played for the Evansville, Indiana post who were the American Legion champs in 1964.

Here is just a small list of some of the current M L B players who have their baseball roots firmly planted within the American Legion program: Cliff Lee (Benton,Ark), Justin Verlander (Post 201), Drew Stubbs and Will Middlebrook (Texarkana), Craig Kimbrel (Post 15), Jason Motte (Post 152), Chad Billingsley (Post 300), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Post 146), Brian Wilson (Post 27), Madison Bumgarner (Post 29) and many, many more…..

downloadI hope this shows some of the sheer magnitude of talent that has come through the American Legion system and are now inspiring members of the major leagues.    

American Legion baseball is something truly special and I was thrilled to be a part of it back in the late 70’s playing for Post 14.  And even though Post 14 never advanced to the World Series while I was playing Third Base, it solidified my personal growth and life foundation through competition, unity of team and created experiences I have used throughout my life.

Playing Post ball helped mold me tighter and wiser as a person while also embracing the spirit of the organization and embracing as well as respecting and honoring for those who fought bravely for our freedoms.

images (2)Some people see the High Schools and college systems as the feeder systems towards a M L B career. I hope this post shows that the American Legion program has deep roots within the American game of baseball and its presence is only going to increase.

I am glad Maddon decided to embrace this past weekend as an American Legion weekend and that he rewarded those in attendance Friday night in Post 14 by picking up that night’s bar tab of over $550.

I wasn’t there that night but if I was, I would have raised my glass high and saluted Major Griffith for having the foresight to embrace a Legion baseball program and giving so many of us great Legion memories.

I mean as the banner said that was displayed in the Rays Clubhouse, Post 14 is “The Fun Post”.

Getting That Rays Autograph Just Got Harder

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(Jenn McKenney/Photo Credit)

The Trop pre-game fan rituals, they will be a-changing…..and not by our choice.

So if you are one of those eager young or old autograph hounds, or want a photo with your favorite Rays player, it just got a bit harder to accomplish this feat within an hour of game time.

images (2)Seems last night just after the conclusion of the New York Yankees BP, the Sentry security team which protects the field regions around Tropicana Field were informed pre-game to begin informing the amassed crowds of Rays fans who seem to migrate and linger within the Lower Bowl seating area that they will no longer have access to this area 1 hour before game time.

That means that this once prime autograph and photo real estate will be off-limits.

No longer will you be permitted to stand or await a Rays player on the rail or in the first row of seating after B P unless you possess a Rays ticket for a seat adjacent to that area.  If you seem to be loitering or waiting in this area, no matter if you are young or old, you will be instructed to leave the area.

images (6)No longer will kids or adults be able to pop down and get a quick selfie with Longo, “the Outlaw” or others as they finish their pre-game runs and stretching.

Gone will be that last ditch effort some have used to get a signed ball from a player before they head into the Clubhouse or stand for the National Anthem.

Now if you want to possibly get that “must have” autograph or have a conversation with your favorite player, you might have to be there as the gates open and hope and pray the player has not participated in the early rounds of BP and have head into the Clubhouse to get “game ready”.

The Rays will not change  their usual gate opening times so during the week (Mon-Thurs) the gates will open 1 hour before First Pitch while on the weekends they will still open 2 hours before First Pitch.

images (7)With this rule hitting the fan base at the Trop., you can surely bet there will be a bigger grouping of fans over the Rays or visiting dugout during their Batting Practice sessions as this area might be the only viable way now to get a last second signature.

It is not only going to make the task of getting an wanted autograph harder for the fan who planned a weekend or unexpected trip to the ballpark to get that script, but he will be fighting a larger contingent of Rays fans now who know with an hour to go the Lower Bowl area will be off limits to them.

I truly think the pure test of if this rule can be truly effective will be on the Sunday games when fans are let into the Trop 2 hours before game time and usually there is no BP by either team on that day.

images (5)Some of the Rays Field players might wander out to toss a few on the turf before Sunday matinee games, but the largest contingency will be the Rays pitching staff who come out and do long-toss and possibly a side Bullpen session.

With Sunday also being the day we celebrate Family Fun Fest, larger numbers of small children will be on hand hoping to get a glimpse or noticed by a ballplayer, possibly ending with a genuine baseball or an autograph.

What is really going to suck is seeing a small child who used to be able to come down and get an autograph all the way up to the National Anthem be turned away because they do not have a ticket in that section of seating.

I understand totally that the Rays fan base has been spoiled by the great interaction between the Rays very out-going and personable players who have graced our roster. And a huge majority of the Rays fan base has respected the set boundaries between the players and fans, but who knows what happened to set this rule into motion.

images (1)Did someone make a wrong gesture or comment? Could someone have taken a liberty that offended someone on the Rays roster or staff? Might there have been a swift hand involved that took someone’s item as they signed? Or could the worst have happened, someone took a player’s glove, cap or something else?

I have tried to get some glimpse for the quick policy change from more than a few members of the Rays staff and the Sentry security staff, but we truly might never know if this rule change might not be just a security precaution or happened because of an event that transpired between a player and fan at the Trop.

downloadThis is a blow to that Rays unique sense of small degree of separation that the Rays fans had become accustom to since 1998.  This team truly since its inception has been one of the most fan-friendly teams in sports…bar none, but now a slice of that acceptable pre-game ambiance that set the Rays apart has been eliminated.  

Times they are a-changing within the Trop.

If you want that much anticipated autograph or photo you will have to get to the game sooner, post up in a valued spot along the rail or dugout and hope to garner both eye contact and voice recognition with your target before engaging towards fulfilling your goal.

 

Editor’s Note : I want to give Jen McKinney a shout out for awakening me to this new rule and for the 1st Photo……Thank You.

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