So we can already guess upon the top 2 slots in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation without much debate. But number 3 through 5 will definitely bring about a few thoughts, opinions and possible destinations for the one hurler who loses out a slot with the team. It truly seems that SP/RP Roberto Hernandez will have a say on who might take the third slot, then the rest will hopefully fall into place with possibly one odd man out, and he might just find himself in an ironic footnote.
When the Rays first signed Roberto Hernandez I was not sure which pitcher we might see this Spring. We could have seen the guy who was “lights out” as the Opening Day starter for the Indians, or the pitcher who seemed in a daze last season putting up sub-par numbers and maybe battling a bit of a confidence issue due to his “name game”. Instead we have seen Hernandez throwing some interesting innings, and he could possibly push his way up to number 3 if SP Matt Moore has some more control and questionable decision while on the hill.
And I do not mean this as a demotion to Moore, but the Rays could have a guy in Hernandez who could be throwing at a #2 level right now and with Moore fighting a few issues, pushing him back to the 4th slot could give him extra time with Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey or to work on his mechanics and be ready to start off the Rays second home series of the season against the Cleveland Indians. This short reversal in the rotation order could be beneficial to Moore in fixing his small flaws and also get him going against a foe that seems to hate left-handers.
Moore could in all likelihood after a few good starts reclaim his 3rd position, possibly as soon as April 16th in Baltimore due to a Rays off-day on April 11th in the middle of the Rays first road trip of the season. Of course that would push SP Alex Cobb into the final slot for the rotation baring an injury or the Rays decided SP Jeff Niemann would be a better fifth starter. But that is the biggest question mark of the Spring, and that decision might be delayed all the way into the Rays final contest in Tropicana Field against the Detroit Tigers on March 30th.
It seems more than likely at this moment even with a stellar Spring Niemann might be the odd man out and ironically, the Tall Texan could be possibly headed to the MLB team the last guy who fought him for a fifth slot found himself on Opening Day. You might remember the Spring 2008 battle between fellow right-hander and hurler out of options Jason Hammel and Niemann came down to the last possible inning before Hammel got shipped off to Colorado.
Ironically, Niemann could also be heading to Coors Field because just as that moment, he is still out of options and would never pass through the waiver wire without someone hitching his name to their roster. The Rockies have checked in on Niemann already this Spring, and with a trade that might include a few prospects and maybe a fringe MLB player at best, Niemann could be staring at the Centerfield waterfall on the Rockies Opening Day.
So a few things seem to hinge in where the Rays truly see Hernandez in their rotation, either as high as third until Moore clears out a few cobwebs, or possibly as far down as fifth if the team think Cobb has the goods to secure that spot for the season. But with Moore having a few hiccups, using a proven MLB starter at the third slot until he clears his hurdle would be beneficial to him and the Rays especially since they have Hernandez on their roster.
Some might say put Cobb in the 3-slot and let him learn on the job, but with an early seasonal tilt with a playoff and American League East divisional rivals slant, not putting the extra pressure on Cobb could turn out to be a blessing especially if it means he gets to mature at his pace and might get some extremely favorable match ups in the fifth slot that would favor the Rays right-hander.
Niemann seems to be the odd man out, but if the Rays see him as a long reliever, then he might not have to worry about any trade rumors and could find himself seated down where his old teammate Wade Davis sat in 2012…the Rays Bullpen.
This is where another decision might have to be made. If the Rays think long time journeyman Jamey Wright might push Niemann firmly towards the door. If the Rays think Wright could be a right-handed option out of the Bullpen and stay healthy throughout the season, he could find himself taking Niemann’s slot in the Rays 25-man roster.
So it might be a bit of trickle-down right now with the Rays as they decide where to position Hernandez, and if Wright is a viable option for the Bullpen. Either way you seem to slice it right now, Niemann is firmly on the razor’s edge, and any slight wavering by the Rays in the coming week could either bring him back to safety, or mark his trail onward and outside the Rays roster.
I guess the secret is finally out on a global scale. Everyone who watched last night’s Team USA victory over our friends from the Great White North truly saw what everyone in Tampa Bay has known for a long time. Ben Zobrist is a heck of a ball player both at the dish and in the field and provides an unseen element to the game I have come to know as the “Z-Factor”.
Maybe it is a slice of karma that Joe Torre is the Manager of the Team USA World Baseball classic squad because he got to see firsthand that MLB maturation process of a young Tampa Bay Ray named Ben Zobrist as he cut his teeth on the most competitive division in Major League Baseball. And we all know the respect and admiration Rays Manager Joe Maddon has for the player he affectionately calls “Zorilla” for his monster plays in the field and at the plate for the Rays. Zobrist firmly is a player who has embraced Maddon’s “Rays Way” and is a firm Rays and MLB symbol of a player playing his life right on and off the field.
We all know Torre got a front row seat as the Manager of one of the Rays biggest rivals, the New York Yankees just as Zorilla was beginning to show his potential to everyone in baseball. Maybe a few of those vibes and moments stuck in Torre’s mind and he knew possibly tossing Zobrist’s name on the lineup could muster a few more special moments and possibly turn the Team USA tide onto the Second Round of the World Baseball Classic.
You got to think there are many reasons Zobrist got a spot on the Team USA roster, not only because of his versatility to play anywhere at anytime, but also the fact his offensive game is also filled with that same unbridled versatility and variables. From Zobrist’s fine display and precision in the use of small ball tactics to move runners over or score runs to his potential to produce power from either side of the plate making him one of Team USA’s most versatile secret weapons, and one any Manager would drool over to have hidden on his roster.
It did bother me a bit that Zobrist did not get a chance until the third game in the Team USA World Baseball Classic, but if you really wanted to see Zorilla come alive and show his potential to everyone throughout the World, Sunday night’s contest showed why he is one of Team USA’s secret weapons and why Zobrist is a true asset no matter what game plan you envision for your squad. It was evidently apparent to Torre that Zobrist, who sometimes has as many as 5 gloves in his bag, was ready willing and able to do whatever it took to help Team USA fight off elimination last night.
Zobrist responded by showing the rest of the baseball World last night both at the plate and in the field why he is a vital cog in the Rays machine and could translate that same magic for Team USA in their “must have” contest. Zorilla showed his small ball proficiency with his bunting early on in the game and ended up gathering 3 hits in 5 trips to the plate including scoring a run for the victorious Team USA squad that sealed their trip into the Second Round meeting with Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening in the big MIA.
Zobrist could have possibly had a 4th hit last night if not for his bat being a bit under an attempted bunt and watching as the Canadian backstop clutched the ball in his glove for an out. But last night the rest of the baseball world got to see the type of player we have enjoyed here in Tampa Bay ever since he came here along with former P Mitch Talbot from Houston in exchange for Aubrey Huff.
Not only was it a great night for Zorilla at the dish, but he also gunned down Canada First Baseman Joey Votto at Second Base with a precision throw that nailed him, but also prevented a Canadian rally with his outfield assist. Most people in the American League do not run on Zobrist when he is stationed out in the Rays RF, but Votto took a chance and Zobrist made him pay. I have a link on my blog of just how determined Zobrist is when tracking a fly ball as he hit the low retaining wall in RF just to the left of my usual seat and tumbled into the area after a huge thud. That is the kind of play and player that can act as a vat of emotional glue that can help tie together wins and brings the confidence of a team to a zenith.
Hopefully Torre has seen enough of Zobrist in this critical game to warrant another shot in the lineup as Zobrist responded to the Team USA challenge with flying colors and hopefully he did enough against Canada to warrant another right field start, or at least a late inning appearance against Puerto Rico.
Zobrist also has that special gift off the field and in the Clubhouse that inspires and gets people motivated not only by his style of play, but by his exuberance for the game and his passion to succeed.
Zorilla is that type of guy you must have on your team, that motivator through his style of play that brings everyone’s level of play to the top, and boosts not only morale but the belief the game and a victory is firmly within their grasp. The Z-Factor has been rampant in Tampa Bay for years, maybe it was just time for the rest of the planet to also admire this truly gifted ballplayer as we do.
Hele komo la kaua Rays fans!
(Come join us)
Warning! This blog will have loosely translated words that most of us Florida haoles will not understand…at all.
Finally the Tampa Bay Rays come up with a charity event that I can showcase the one style of clothes I wear every day at work, and is the perfect attire for a beautiful Spring day in the Florida sunshine. Over the last 5 years I have amassed a truly gifted and hideous collection of shirts that illustrate our beautiful 50th state, and now I can wear one of my unique colorful floral linen treasures to a Rays event with pride and possibly not stick out like a sore thumb.
That’s right, after the Rays take the hakaka (fight) to the visiting Minnesota Twins at 1:05 pm on Po ‘aono (Saturday), Malaki (March) 23, 2013, the team will host an amazing Rays Spring Luau charity event that will have our own Rays players, coaches and on-air personalities serving us kaukau (food) and beverages as well as showing us that great Rays ho`okipa (hospitality) that always makes us feel like true mo`i (King or Queen) as well as cherished member of the Rays ohana (family).
Not only will this event be a great way to talk and be around other Rays fans and players, but it is also a chance for you to bid on any of the 25 special Rays inspired items such as game used merchandise or entertainment. There will be no autographs given out by the Rays during the event, but you can bid on unique as well as autograph opportunities that will be raffled off during the event. possibly take home some additional keepsakes as well as memories and photos while enjoying a great Spring Florida `auinala (afternoon) with other members of the Rays Republic.
The event will be held via a ticket on the Boardwalk section of the Charlotte Sports Park following the Rays game. Added bonus is the already built and sublime Tiki Bar situated in the Baseball Boardwalk section of the stadium to help create that perfect Hawaiian vibe needed for just such an awesome event.
and there will be two distinctively different ticket packages offered by Raysbaseball.com. The first event package is priced starting at $76.60 (which and includes a seat in a shaded area of the ballpark including service fees as well as the festivities afterwards). The second event package is a $50 donation for those of you who might already have a ticket to the game and just need an passage into this unique event.
Who knows, maybe the Rays will have a halau (hula Troupe), but I can bet there will be no Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Picasso triggerfish /Hawaiian state fish) on the ahi (fire) that day. But we can all inu (drink) and eat in the Rays own unique version of a traditional makahiki, which was a Ancient Hawaiian celebration held annually with sports festivities.
The event is being held to support the Charlotte County Family YMCA, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity and the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition. All worthy charities in and around the Rays Spring home location that need support to keep their fight alive in this SouthWest Florida community.
And who knows, maybe we will also get a glimpse of the mo`o (reptile spirit) that some times take a watery stroll in the small retention lakes beyond the ballparks fences. Who know, we might even see a few festive Rays lei’s, a mu’umu’u (Long,loose fitting dress) and possibly a photo op with the Rays own kama`aina (Hawaiian native son) Todd Kalas who will surely be dapper and maybe even kama’a ‘ole (barefoot) by the end of the afternoon.
But seriously, whether you are a malihini (newcomer) to these kinds of intimate and very hu’i hu’i (cool) close encounters with the Rays players, coaches and on-air gurus, you will definitely feel at home and almost like Rays hoaloha (beloved friend) by the end of the event.
So be sure to mark the date of Po ‘aono (Saturday), Malaki (March) 23, 2013 on your calendar or in your cellphone as well as buy a ticket to a special luau and time with the Rays. Hopefully I will see you there and maybe by that time I can say this phrase “Mahalo nui loa na ho’olaule’a me la kaua” or “Thank you for celebrating with us” without my usual Southern drawl ruining the diction.
The sounds of buzzing razors will again adorn the wooden boardwalk of Charlotte Sports Park on March 15th prior to the Rays taking on those longer haired rascals, the visiting Philadelphia Phillies. But this time there is even a chance you or I could also sit in those barber chairs along side Rays players, Coaches and front office gurus and also feel the hair nestle along our shoulder blades while supporting the Pediatric Cancer Foundation at the second annual Rays fandango to bring about awareness and donation to this worthy cause.
That’s right, this year for a $100 donation you too could be draped in a barber’s cape and feel the experience firsthand while alongside you others are seeing their Winter hair growth trimmed, cut and dropped to the Boardwalk in support of this great organization. And at the end of it all besides having a authentic Rays infused new haircut to flaunt during the Spring Training game, you will also part the barber’s chair with one of those yellow “Fortune Favors the Bald” T-shirts the Rays so proudly displayed after their 2012 event.
And if you do not think you can part with any of your own hair follicles this Spring, you can still be a part of the fun with a $ 10 donation every time you use your grand texting talents by inserting the word “Cut” to 50555, or you can go wireless and do a donation via pcfcutforacure.org as many times as you desire even after the event concludes on March 15th.
Last season the Rays had over 70 people involved in the Rays organization from players, Coaches and even principal owner Stuart Sternberg sat in these respective chairs and watched as follicle after follicle fell in support of this great event. Last season we saw so many of the Rays from players to front office staff make their pledge and show support for this great organization and I truly expect the numbers to hit 3 digits this time around with the addition of fans also getting an opportunity to show their own support.
And if you did not know, the Cut For a Cure Challenge in Tampa Bay has raised over 35,805 as of 8 am
this morning (March 5th). Also on April 3rd , a bevy of local sporting teams, civic and community businesses both men, women and children will be manning the chairs in the Bright House Networks Cure Charity Challenge in support of the efforts of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s many programs and efforts. Again in 2013, Team Warhola will return for a second clipping and this team includes Mickey Warhola, the first woman to go under the shears in this event last year.
I was amazed to learn this stat when I was on the Cut for a Cure website recently that over 160,000 are diagnosed with Pediatric Cancer each year and that the simple action of donations and watching your locks fall to the wooden floor will help provide funds for research, programming and pediatric care for children and their families who are fighting the grand fight to beat pediatric cancer and blood disorders.
Not sure yet if my head will be one for the hair artists canvas this year at this great event. No matter what I decide, I know I will definitely be making a few donations possibly in the name of my favorite Rays players or staffers who again felt the passion and want to give back to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
I just hope this year someone remembers to bring a Value Club sized bucket of sunblock. Do not want any of these brave souls worried about a burn while feeling the warming effect of the Florida Sun upon their newly minted hairless cap holders.
I think Tampa Bay Rays INF Tim Beckham is at a tipping point in his quest for a long-term fit with the team. After his 2012 MiLB Substance Abuse suspension (50 games) and with fellow Rays infield prospects knocking at both the MLB and Triple-A Durham doors, it might be the Spring where the Rays finally decide Beckham’s role in their franchise’s immediate future. Beckham has been extremely open to change this Spring in regards to his future positional spot on the Rays. Proving his worth to the club this Spring beyond and on the field might go a long way to him securing a longer visionary path for his escalation with the Rays.
I will be honest, before the Rays sent INF Elliot Johnson to the Royals as the final piece of the Rays and Royals trade puzzle, I truly thought Beckham was the potential PTBNL. This was not because I felt internally Beckham was not a fit for the Rays, but with numerous players below him at the Rays farm system franchises, it might have been an ample chance and time for the Rays to possibly cut him loose from their farm system so he could grow roots somewhere else and get ample time to play.
With his name still firmly attached to the Rays 40-man roster, this Spring might be that long awaited chance for Beckham to make that big push either at the plate or in the field that proves he has evolved and his talents and flexibility can play a unique role with the Rays.
With the Rays current Utility guru Ben Zobrist not in Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s direct eyesight while off playing with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, Beckham has to firmly utilize his chances in the lineup to make a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays Front Office. This Spring Beckham has to push up stats and situations that show he is a valuable asset to this squad for the long term, or he might find himself elsewhere quickly.
Beckham doesn’t only have to embrace the Rays proven “Zorilla” utility model for his possible existence as a MLB player, he might have to mold himself into another segment of that proven utility style player. Beckham can also look to another former Rays transformation as a symbol it can be done and provide another chapter in his career.
With Beckham being more open to a possible shuffling of position like Upton and Zobrist early on in their own MLB careers, Beckham not only makes himself more of a insertable pawn anywhere in the field as a piece of Maddon’s maddening game of Cerebral Baseball Chess, but opens the possibilities of a longer Spring look. With Beckham having 3 more minor league options, there is a long shot he would break camp and move up to St. Petersburg, Florida with the parent club, but if he evolves significantly, the door could be open to almost any scenario.
But if Beckham shows his willingness to expand his glove towards maybe even an outfield situation, he could easily be the prototypical player the Rays will need as Zorilla ages and flexibility will become a trademark of the Rays future roster.
Beckham is a smart guy who knows learning from the past can be as beneficial to his MLB survival as it can be his downfall. But if he shows the heart and hustle, willingness to try new things, Maddon might just try and find a way to keep someone with the talents of Beckham for the long haul. Tipping the scale into his favor has to be the number 1 priority of Beckham this Spring. Showing Maddon his expanded flexibility can provide diverse ways for the Rays to utilize Beckham and make him more of a Rays fixture than a expendable piece of their franchise.
I do not know how many of you are like me and anticipate the release or even first glimpse of the upcoming season’s Media Guide. I get a bit antsy about the time the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide is available for purchase, and I carry it with me for always as a quick statistical reference guide and to feed some of the fan base’s appetite for tidbits of information about their favorite Rays.
And the 2013 edition of this grand publication is a few weeks away from general purchase, but I’d like to now give you a small tasting menu or sampling of some of the great items stashed within it’s covers this season. Most of the things I will divulge today will be tidbits of information about new players added to the Rays 40-man roster acquired via Free Agency or by trades this Winter. So without further ado…it’s time to learn something about the new guys.
*** Will become the 8th Cuban player to grace the Rays roster, and the first since C Michel Hernandez.
*** In 2012, Escobar compiled a .982 Fielding Percentage, the 4th best among MLB shortstops and committed a total of 12 errors.
*** He is a childhood friend of Tigers C Brayan Pena and the pair got the lucky chance of being teammates in Atlanta.
***His parents are farmers and comes from a family of 3 brothers and 3 sisters. When he is not working out in the off-season, Hernandez can be found working the cattle on his family’s spread in Yamasa in the Dominican Republic.
*** Interesting enough, he pitched with former Rays closer Roberto Hernandez on the 2007 Cleveland Indians.
*** At some point in 2013, Johnson and Escobar will take their spot in the Rays middle infield for the 3rd different team. They have been double-play duos with the Atlanta Braves, Toronto BlueJays and now barring injury, the Rays. Only former MLB stars Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino have beaten that 5-4 duo mark as they started at those positions for 4 different teams during their careers.
***Johnson was drafted by the Braves as a shortstop, but made his MLB debut as a outfielder. After recovering from Tommy John’s surgery, Johnson learned the ropes at Second Base and has played primarily at that spot ever since.
*** Johnson was the Central Texas High School Player of the Year back in 1999 as a Junior.
***Was the Los Angeles Dodgers nominee for the service-oriented Roberto Clemente in 2008 and 2010.
*** Is an avid bowler and hosted the Dodgers Dream Fund Bowling Extravaganza the past 3 seasons and he is not even the best bowler in his family. That honor goes to his younger brother Anthony who has rolled a Perfect Game (320). Loney also donated $7,500 to dedicate 2 bowling lanes to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles so kids battling cancer could spend a night bowling with the Dodgers and their families.
***Just like former Ray Carl Crawford, Loney came out of the Houston RBI baseball program and was a huge supporter of the Los Angeles area RBI program while with the Dodgers.
*** Loney is a former First Team Baseball America All American team member as a utility player and his Lawrence E. Elkins HS squad had a 30-1 record and was ranked #1 in the nation during his tenure there.
*** As if being a piece of the puzzle in a trade for SP James was not interesting enough, Montgomery used to be in the stands at Hart HS baseball stadium where his father taught algebra and Women’s Golf and watched a young James Shields pitch. Second great occurrence between the pair happened a week after the Royals and Rays trade when Montgomery met Shields during a ceremony retiring his old # 33 at Hart high.
*** During his Senior year at Hart, the baseball rotation included Montgomery and Trevor Bauer. In another odd coincidence, Bauer got traded from Arizona to Cleveland days after Montgomery’s trade from the Royals to the Rays.
***Became just the third player ever to be awarded the Baseball America, USA Today and Topps Minor League Player of the Year award in the same season. The other two were Josh Beckett and Andruw Jones.
*** The Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls have a unique ticket opportunity called the “Wil He,Won’t He”. The package contains 3 distinctive Bulls games: Opening Day (April 8th), Fourth of July, and Fan Appreciation Day (Aug 24th) plus a voucher for an additional game of your choice if Myers not start the season with the Bulls.
*** Myers was selected as the #2 Best Pure Hitter prior to his MLB Draft by Baseball America and is considered only 1 of 10 players in the last 50 years to hit over 35 HR at Class-A or above before the age of 22.
*** Odorizzi is an avid gamer which will fit in well with the Rays Clubhouse featuring uber gamers Evan Longoria, Alex Cobb and David Price. Maybe we will see a future tandem of Longo and Odorizzi doing raids on “Call of Duty” online during the season.
***Was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, a Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-American, a Rawlings Perfect Game All-American, and a member of the USA Today All-USA Team back in 2008 while sporting a 14-0 record, 0.10 ERA while leading Highland (Ill) HS to a state title.
Well, I hope this small bit of information gives you a bit of comfort and confidence we obtained a pretty select and special group of guys this Winter. The Rays 2013 Media Guide is chock full of more interesting information and stats on all the Rays players, minor leaguers and staff with career and personal notes. I hope everyone gets a chance to either browse through one this season or purchases one for their home archives.
Am I the only one who felt the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday contests which composed of two split squad contests was out of the MLB ordinary? I mean the team doesn’t set their Grapefruit League schedule, that comes out of the hallowed halls of Major League Baseball in New York City.
Doesn’t it seem beyond just plain odd that MLB would not only split the Rays squad on the opening series of games, but also might have scattered a bit of their diverse Rays Republic fan base with some of the Rays usual fans motoring possibly 40-odd miles to see the traveling portion of the Rays roster as they took on AL East rival, the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers.
I hate to put it out there, but I feel a bit of the MLB grip here in reference to this odd and peculiar set of Spring opening contests. I glanced over the rest of the MLB Spring opening slate both in Arizona and Florida and did not notice another team having a split squad set of contests this weekend.
That leads me to ponder the question if MLB in their scheduling genius had done this to make it possible for the Rays to not sell out their 2013 Spring Opener in Charlotte Sports Park. I know the Rays would have not only enjoyed but anticipated a better turnout on such a fantastic day, but with the split squads with main players in both locales, it might have split the Rays Spring fan base a bit with people from the Tampa Bay area hitting the home opener, and locales from South West Florida possibly hitting the Red Sox contest some 40 miles away.
Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but this bizarre Spring opening slate also brought to the front a interesting possible Spring attendance transference situation with the Rays having only 4,436 souls in Port Charlotte witnessing a awesome 3- innings of shutout baseball before the wheels began to come off and the team losing their home opener 3-2 to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.
Meanwhile some 50 miles away, the Red Sox shoved a sell-out 9,680 fans into their ballpark, but even the capacity crowd could not help the Boston squad to victory as they came up on the short end losing 4-3 to the traveling Rays caravan. Sure the Red Sox faithful make their pilgrimage to Fort Myers each Spring in huge numbers, but doesn’t the difference of ballpark attendance figures of 5,422 souls make for more then me to wonder if this was on purpose instead of built around schedules and the Spring feasibility concerns.
Adding to the mystic here is the fact the Rays sent possibly their starting outfield of Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings to Fort Myers while the Port Charlotte crowd got to see a younger and possibly a roster battle with a Rays outfield consisting of Rays top prospect Wil Myers, minor leaguers Kevin Kiermaier,Tyler Motter and a pair battling for the Rays 4th outfield slot, Sam Fuld and Rich Thompson. It might seem by that teeter-todder of talent the Rays sent their veterans to face their seasonal rivals.
Sure I know split squads try and divide the talent up to an even keel, but it seemed the traveling Dave Martinez-led Rays contingency had the offensive advantage going into their away contest and ended up producing the first “W” of the Spring with mostly a Triple-A laden pitching selection.
I know the Rays would have much rather had a full Rays contingency at Charlotte Sports Park for their Spring home opener, but I have a deep feeling MLB might have inserted a split squad arrangement to test the Rays Spring fan base commitment too. If MLB was hoping to see such an attendance disparity between Port Charlotte and Fort Myers, then they got their wishes.
As I stated before, I’m not a huge conspiracy theory guy, not even deep down inside, but I do feel some of MLB’s fingers were at play when this schedule was formalized. Who knows if the Rays would have sold out their Spring opener if they did not have to send a second squad traveling on Saturday. I want to think the Rays Republic would have come out in droves and gotten the stadium at or near its 6,823 capacity with the berms and stands full of Rays fans.
But I guess we will never know thanks to this bizarre Grapefruit League opening slate of games.
This is the day a lot of us wait for wondering who will smile, who will not, and who just might have the most character in front of the photo lens. When the Tampa Bay Rays take their Team Photos, you never know what will transpire and make itself to the Web. So I hit up a familiar website that usually posts these photos in nano-seconds and took 21 of the photos uploaded and presented them here for you to get a first glance/peek at before the final set is divulge.
As always most of the main characters within the Rays roster got their time in front of the lens, but a few of the Rays team photos did not make it into this first batch and probably will make their way onto the blogosphere some time soon, but I’m hoping they might show a bit more character and possibly a splash of that classic Rays humor we all know and love.
Of course Evan Longoria is not in this first set as he was motoring towards the St. Petersburg area to attend to a bit of baby business, but we know when his photo does surface, he will definitely have a grin from ear-to-ear as Papa Longo heads into the 2013 MLB season. But the 2013 edition of the Team Photos does look a bit tame compared to some of their previous Team Photos since the Rays moved their Spring Training complex 79 miles to the South in the hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida
Out of this first batch of photos there are the usual pairings like Ben Zobrist, David Price and Rays Manager Joe Maddon that look more like a Glamor Shots shooting than a Team Photo. But the camera again this season seems to love some people while also doing a 180 shift on others to kind of dull their enthusiasm and excitement and make fun of others.Some times the worst thing to do in front of a camera lens is try and look too professional be too serious as the camera doesn’t have a brain and can then tend to make them look more demented or possibly deranged even before the first Grapefruit League contest.
This season the “Grumpy” awards might go to Rays SP Alex Cobb who looks serious, but also has that serial bean ball artist look much like Kyle Farnsworth’s every year photo.Interesting enough, minor league prospect SP Alex Colome might actually get the old moniker I stuck on his Uncle, ex-Rays RP Jesus “Smiley” since his photo looks more like a mug shot than a happy occasion. But that is what sets Team Photos apart.
Not all of them will be masterpieces or utter clusters, but it is the time of the season when you can definitely tell who is relaxed, who might need a long hug, or who should be tackled by Raymond and tickled to the point of a huge smile and giggle.
Still, I think Luke Scott might actually have a twin in the Rays Spring Clubhouse mounted right alongside his locker. Now if he dyed his mutton chops white they might actually look like the tusks of that wild boar currently residing with a Rays Spring starburst cap in the Clubhouse.
But it is still great to see most of the photos are relaxed, tranquil photos that definitely shows who is eager, who is relaxed and who the camera seems to love.
Rays newcomer James Loney seemed to have brought a bit of that old LA vibe with him into the photo day as he looks perfectly calm, cool and collected as the Rays head into their 2013 slate of Grapefruit contests in less than a few days.
Also within the first 21 photos released were SP Jeremy Hellickson, INF Sean Rodriguez, SS Hak-Ju Lee, Desmond Jennings and someone who might just make a player for a rotation slot this Spring, Roberto Hernandez. There will be more photos in the future, but this first crop of Rays Team Photos for 2013 definitely shows the vast polar realms of personalities on this Rays squad this Spring. Not matter what transpires, I can definitely see this team this Spring not being a bore…or is that boar?
Recently I was volunteering at a golf tournament and got to speaking to a pretty well known Catcher who was on the Free Agent market for a bit this Winter. I had met him a few times on the sidelines at Florida Gator games, but never really got into the baseball discussion until about twilight just as the gold tournament was coming to a close. This is a ample backstop who has a World Series ring, a few All-Star selections (2), caught a No-Hitter (Mark Buehrle) and a Perfect Game (Phillip Humber) under his belt and is considered by some one of the most hated, but fiery competitor you either love or hate (depending on if your team can overcome his special karma).
You might have guessed by now I’m talking about Catcher and Orlando native A J Pierzynski who even drove former his CWS Manager Ozzie Guillen a bit nuts with his “gray area of the MLB rulebook and on-the-field conduct. Here I was face-to-face with the guy who possibly pulled off 2 of the most debated plays that seemed to magically bend the MLB rulebook like a slider dipping towards the outside corner of the plate rules. You hate playing against him for his slight of hand moves and borderline antics, but you also know if he was on your team you would defend him to the rafters and beyond.
I really had that almost universal love-hate feelings in regards to the new Texas Ranger Catcher, but what he said that day kind of shocked me, both in a good and bad way. Pierzynski only had a few minutes of time to sign an autograph for a baseball fan who showed up hoping to score some of the athletes scribbles, but as he signed, I threw out a few questions and without batting an eyelash, a few interesting revelations quickly came to light.
I found out he kind of knew heading into the final White Sox games of 2012 that he might not get an offer qualifying or not from his former club, and knew fully expected he would be venturing down the Free Agent highway for the first time in his career. I asked if he had every thought of calling the Tampa Bay Rays and then again without hesitation came the bombshell I knew was lying in the deep grass.
Pierzynski and his agent had contacted Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman about a possible spot on the 2013 roster. Since Pierzynski still has an off-season home in the Central Florida town about 100 minutes from the Trop, A J could have possibly commuted with RP Kyle Farnsworth daily from the Orlando region during Rays home stands. I wonder if Friedman took the call as a courtesy, or if he thought long and hard at what offensive power Pierzynski could bring to the bottom of the Rays lineup, or if his style of play would bring a little havoc into the Rays fold on the field.
In the end Pierzynski was blunt that the money was not a right fit, and he in turn took the Rangers $7.5 million offer. Still I wonder if Friedman had offered $5 million with some offensive incentives if Pierzynski would of thought long and hard and made his “X” on a Rays contract?
We all know the Rays catching corps has been a roller-coaster over the last 2 seasons, and with Jose Molina making a club friendly $1.5 million this year, and Jose Lobaton being out of minor league options the Rays hands might have been tied unless an offer that blew the doors off the Clubhouse had been received by Pierzynski. But then again you have to think the offensive upside of having A J behind the dish along with his ability to frame pitches with the best in the MLB might have merited a longer bit of discussion between the pair.
But Pierzynski is now a Ranger, and will probably be a thorn in the Rays side again this season, but still I wonder just what would have happened if he had somehow found the right combination to entice the Rays to bring him into their fold. If that had happened, I wonder how many of the Rays Republic would have still greeted his presence with a clenched fists or a forgiving gesture of open arms?
I saw a member of the Tampa Bay Rays front office while doing my usual trading card route a few days before that Saturday’s Rays Fan Fest. He seemed really excited about the anticipated fan to player ratio at the multiple events held throughout the day, and believe me, the Rays not only delivered, but a few of their players such as INF Sean Rodriguez and P Chris Archer seemed to be everywhere.
All day long I heard stories of players going above and beyond. We all have heard of Archer inviting a young fan up to the Autograph tales and behind the Rays blue curtain to meet a few of his Rays friends in the “Blue Room”. It was stuff like this, plus the added touch of players reading to young fans, being open to fan’s questions and requests all day long that made a deep and lasting impression as to their investment in this region and this special fan base.
I did not hear a single story of a player turning down a fan, or refusing any request during this special Rays day that is a huge celebration of the season that is now upon us. Heck I think we all might even have gotten a glimpse at a possible Rays future draft pick as Toby Hall’s son stroked a HR out of the curtained off ballfield a few times from the left side of the plate.
I mean I even saw Rays P Jeff Niemann at one point basically depositing basketball over by the hoop carnival games like he was dropping a wad of paper into a wastebasket. And during all of this were a gaggle of screaming and excited kids, adults and a combination of the two relishing in this increased presence of the player this year. Over the past few years as the team has grown increasingly competitive some of the fold reverted a bit back into old habits of selective signings and photos with fans. On this day if they were able, photos were snapped and memories were imprinted forever thanks to their increased visibility.
Combine this breathe of fresh air from the Rays themselves with the over 25,000 fans who walked into the Rays Rotunda on Saturday, this region still craves baseball and made sure other in and around the MLB World knew there was a fan base in this community. Even with the huge turnout of fans to Tropicana Field for Fan Fest, it was overshadowed by the fact the team only drew over that 25,000 visitor threshold 17 times during the 2012 season.
Hopefully the recent blast in the media of supposed apathy and nonchalant attitudes towards the game have been erased at least until the regular season when the proof will be in the proverbial pudding if the fans will again flock to the Trop.
But this day was about the 2 lucky fans enshrined into the Rays/Pepsi Wall of Fame, the hundreds of scavenger hunters snapping pictures around the Trop in hopes of grabbing an Even Longoria signed bat for their collections. Everywhere you looked there were kids, parents and even long time fans walking, talking and making mostly positive comments about the days events. Baseball Hall of Fame member Peter Gammons visited Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “Thanks-Mas” event prior to his own panel discussion making a few of those fans not only full of Maddon-induced food goodness, but also got to hear a baseball analyst’s take on the Rays and baseball.
Sure there were moments that made you scratch your noggin for a second like Rays INF/OF Shelley Duncan and Rodriguez as a pairing for the “Family Feud event. There were a few scattered “boo-birds” when Duncan was announced, but most have let the Spring incident of 2008 be finally put to rest. Still, it would have been interesting if Elliot Johnson was still here…pairing him with Duncan would have caught everyone’s ear. Still this season’s Fan Fest was amazing in the items up for sale in the Rays Garage Sale to the amount of MLBPA Alumni players participating in the Home Run Derby (won by O’s OF Mike Deveraux), to the huge table of past stars both of the Rays and other MLB vistas.
All in all the event might have been a bit reduced in total time we all spent within the confines of the tilted cap, but it was a day spent watching kids frolic in the batting cages, running the bases and getting a high-5 from Archer as they hit Home Plate. Matt Joyce also made a few more Rays fans as he stayed after his signing time was over and came to the side of the autograph stage and signed for a bit longer for fans who did not get a chance to get to him before his time was over.
Rays new Stud-du-Jour Wil Myers even made extra time for Rays fans who did not know him before his recent trade to the Rays and with Myers taking that extra moment, he sparked a few comments from people hoping he makes it to the MLB level some time in 2013. So now that the Rays Republic got a chance to see and meet a few of our new players to the Rays fold, and a few of the hungry and eager ones wanting a taste of the MLB life, it is now our time to show support for this team not only this Spring, but all the way until Game 162.
The Rays invest a lot of time and money in an event like this, and with 16 of them now in the books I can definitely say without any remorse that the 2013 edition definitely has set a new standard for future Rays Fan Fest’s. I made a tongue-in-cheek Tweet the other day about the whole Rays front office forming a Congo line today and each of them pat each other on the back for pulling off this grand event in style. I think it was Pepsi who sealed the emotions of the day as the Rays staff and players definitely “Rocked the Trop” on Saturday and I do not think anyone did not leave with a bit of Rays swag, autographs or maybe even a former players jersey tucked under their arm. The Trop definitely rocked a bit on Saturday, but I think we were all having too much fun to notice, which is a good thing.