Results tagged ‘ Al Lang Field ’

Do You Believe……..

 


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On Wednesday night, I could not get a restful sleep to save my life. Sleep and me lately have not been on the best of terms, but I make due with what is dealt to me. And so I decided to go out snooping around one of St. Petersburg’s baseball destinations that have been known to encounter unusual or “supernatural” experiences in the past. I am a firm believer that there just might be some great ghostly baseball games being played beyond a mortal man’s eyesight.

So being in a restless adventurous mood, I decided to hit Progress Energy Park, which was built right on top of the old St. Petersburg Athletic Park, which was the Home field for the Boston/St. Louis Browns, and then the New York Yankees up until that structure was razed and the new concrete stadium rose in 1947.

 
 

I wanted to head towards this park because in my old Pepsi-Cola position as the Special Events Coordinator, one of my greatest job activities was supplying the stadium with products and having the run of the stadium before, during and sometimes after Spring Training. I spent some odd moments going underneath and explore the nooks and crannies of this stadium, and I did find a few treasure troves that I was allowed to take from the stadium.


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Nothing of significant historic value per se, mostly old newspapers dating to the early 1950’s and I even found a small room that smelled of old Cuban cigars that might have been where Miller Higgins went to have a pre-game, or a post-game cigar before heading out of the ballpark. I also could smell the signs of decay from the inner bones of this stadium, but I still marveled at what it must have been like to wander within its hallways during the Days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who both stayed just a few blocks away in the Ponce De Leon Hotel penthouse suites when they came down every Spring. I could almost visualize Stan Musial or some of the other St. Louis Cardinals warming up under the stands ready to play in the revised stadium after 1947.

I really was not expecting anything of value in tonight’s venture, or anything really, just wanted to kill a few hours before finally falling asleep exhausted, and maybe dreaming of those past baseball days in this park. Now I am a huge fan of believing that this life is just a beginning, and that there are some things beyond our control that might have us wandering in this realm after we are gone from this world. I think that basis to my psyche developed when I hit a electrical cable with a J-hook while hooking up a car to pull it out of a sandbank when I was about 8-years old helping my Dad pull cars out of Sunset Beach during bad weather.

So that gives me a realistic basis for wanting to believe shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” could give us a sample tidbit of what life might be like for us beyond breathing. Because believe me, if I have my choice, I am haunting my Season Ticket seat for a long, long time (lol).

 

It was still before 5:30-ish and extremely dark still, so I decided to head to the St. Petersburg Pier and look out at the water and upon the beautifully-lit Vinoy Hotel, which itself holds a fantastic paranormal history between its walls. But it was a bit too windy to even get a great night shot of the Vinoy or nice landscape photo of the bright city lights and I decided to cruise down Beach Drive towards the stadium. It still gets me that I have to call this field Progress Energy Park. The “official” name is Progress Energy Park at Al Lang Field, but that looks really snobbish on a brochure for the City of St. Petersburg.

 
 

The last Rays Spring Training game in this stadium ever was held on March 28th,2008 with Matt Garza on the mound against the Cincinnati Reds. The Rays lost that last home game in this grand stadium 6-3, even though Garza threw 5 innings without giving up an earned run, but the sell-out crowd could not boost the Rays to a win. It seems like just yesterday I went under the stands and found 2 garbage cans full of broken bats and game-used bats with mostly Rays players’ names on them. And here I was walking around the building again with the fine lights of the morning beginning to pop through the cloud cover.
 
 

But I was not outfitted like a Ghost investigator, my only tool was my camera and a small digital recorder, but I was here more for remembering than for a full-on balls-to-the-wall type of venture. In essence, I was trying to kill a few hours of the night without disturbing my neighborhood with 5 am basketball, or even a melody of 1980’s hits from I-Tunes Radio. I took about 30 photos from all different angles and locations while wandering around the stadium.

I wandered around the rectangular building in front of the ballpark that used to be the home of Minor League Baseball before they bolted from St. Petersburg for another locale. And took a few minutes to ponder that I would have been standing in Rightfield of the new Rays sail-inspired ballpark if the POWW committee and the grey Panthers had not put the kibosh on the whole deal and sent the Rays and the City scrambling for alternatives (ABC Coalition).

 
 

So I popped the camera through the locked double gates near the Leftfield Berm area, plus the small singular gated entry that had for years been the threshold for game day Umpires and Visiting team members to used to get quick access to the field without going into the clubhouse. I then took a long stroll beyond the high green outfield walls around the outside of the stadium back near the sheds that housed the old Batting Cages and small infield drill areas and found three baseball sitting in the damp grass.
 


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I finally came out on 1st Street North and headed North to end up at the old Knot-hole Gang fencing area just beyond the Rightfield Berm with a clear visual all the way to Home Plate and a nice sweeping viewpoint of the entire playing surface. I took 10 quick pictures at this spot and really was enjoying just watching the sun start to peak out over Tampa Bay and provide a great backlight to the empty stadium. There were Batting Cages set up, but no cars anywhere around the stadium so it had an eerie feel to it all.
 
 

At that time, I really did not know how eerie it really was……..until I got back home and pulled the pictures through my Windows Photo Gallery to see if I had any keeper photos, or if they were all just trash. Well, in one particular photo, I kept coming back to it and looking, then going forward to the next picture taken maybe a few seconds before it, and there was something odd in that first picture that kept calling me back to it. I marveled that I might have caught something, but it was a bit hazy. I made a quick mental remembrance that there was no odd colors draped around the baseball diamond to promote a sort of non-green background in this photo.
 
 

Now I am not saying it is anything, because that is up to total individual interpretation, and someone could have snuck into this dark stadium at night, and walked towards the Home Dugout. I have had a few people check out the photo and have gotten mixed reviews back, but people say that seeing something like this on film is like either of us standing in the Ringling Museum viewing an art masterpiece.

Each person sees a different analogy or interpretation as an authentic piece of art, or someone paint splattered in different directions by a drunk man. But that is also what I love about opinions, every one has one.

 
 
I am not saying I caught a glimpse of the past walking by that night. I think something was caught, and wouldn’t you like to believe that the past does perform residual events, or might be inclined to show us a glance into realms we do not understand. I am a huge skeptic on so many levels about other things, but on this subject, I am a bit torn at both ends. I do not want to think about it as an apparition. I would rather go hog wild and romanticize it as a gift from baseball’s past to me that night. I want to believe, so I might have saw something.
 
 
And maybe that is where the real trouble lies for me in this event. Just like Kevin Costner in his great ” I Believe…” speech in “Bull Durham”, I want to believe in supernatural existence within the annuals of the Church of Baseball, and that they might have revealed themselves to me. I relish the thought of the past saying a quick “Howdie”, then heading for the hills. But then I also want to believe that I could someday do that same thing after I am gone.

I want to believe that I can still enjoy the game from the other side, and maybe even mis-direct a few balls down the foul lines, or tip a ball out of a glove, or over a wall in the future. Heck thinking about it now, that might be the only real chance I will ever get to touch a ball in the field of play during an actual game………And believe me, I am dying to do that…Big Time!

 
 

Repost: Rays Last Spring Game in St. Petersburg

Update:

This blog was originally written on March 28, 2008 to celebrate and commemorate the last home game of the Tampa Bay Rays at their Spring Training home for the last 11 years. This day marked the last time the Rays would play as a team at the site, and would move to  the new sparkling complex in Port Charlotte in 2009. The writing style and the photos are also a sign of the changes made in the last year to my blog and the way I convey my blogs to you. So I hope you enjoy this “Blast of the past” that is a special part of the Rays history.

..

I am filled with both sadness and excitement on this perfect day for
baseball. I am about to see the end of an era in my hometown of St. Petersburg,
Florida. The local baseball faithful here in St. Pete., have been actively watching
and participating in M L B Spring Training games for over 80 odd years. And it all
comes to an end today. Our hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays, will be training at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida  starting next season.



                 



It is sad because my grandfather,who lived within a stones throw of former
Yankees’ training site, Huggins-Stengel Field, and spent many a day at the old
Busch complex off 62nd Ave. He spent many an afternoon near Cresent Lake watching Spring Training games
both there and at Waterfront Park. That my dad, who loved the game of baseball, and counted a few  MLB players
as friends could not say a fond farewell to this stadium that he saw built and
watched  hundreds of games there from 1947-1976.



Being a third generation baseball fan is a huge responsibility to me. It
involves my commitment, loyalty and a sense of knowing the sky will not fall
for my team. The ending of the era at Al  F. Lang Field/Progress Energy
Park/Waterfront Park is special to me.



                   

 
Special because I spent a lot of my youth here in the Spring and Summers.
Both watching MLB and Minor League teams leave it all out on the dirt and grass.
Watching the St. Petersburg Devilrays win a championship, and the hometown M L B
squad wrestle for wins. Special because my old job with Pepsi Cola had me at the Training complex and
at Al Lang almost every day in the Spring furnishing them with product and
watching some of these players’ develop into stars. I would be on the phone
daily getting orders and securing the items for the team and its clubhouses,
both at the Ray Namoli Spring Training complex, Progress Energy Field/Al Lang Field, or Tropicana Field, just a few miles to the west of the stadium.



 I have pushed,pulled and sweated in these clubhouses’, under
the grandstands, and in the dark recesses of Tropicana Field. I loved
working with the Rays’ and I consider them  very special people in my
life. They have bestowed on me a place in their Wall of Fame for my
loyalty, and I have received numerous phone calls and smiles from the
Executive and Front Office staff when we see each other outside of the
stadium. I also hold dear a million memories that would fill a Myspace
server. From winning players “Jersey’s off their backs”, to winning
roundtrip airfare to Seattle for a 4 game roadtrip.

                                  

But back to today’s final game.

It had all the fanfare and tradition of an Opening Day. You had the local
political forces out. Both teams’ starting players were announced and stood on
their respective foul line before  a barbershop quartet sang the National
Anthem. It was pomp and circumstance at it’s best.



                            


There was a special flyover by a Air Force KC-135 tanker unit that had the
sell out crowd on their feet applauding the sight.


                                  


An anticipated event that did not happen today is that Hall of Famer, Monte
Irvin was not able to attend the game. He is a proud supporter of the Rays’ ,
the fans missed a rare opportunity to talk and get autographs from this great
former player. I send  personal best wishes and hope for a speedy recovery to Monte, and
hope to see him at the Home Opener this year. Another item I picked up on the sly was the fact that there were no special
collectibles or items listing the “last game” on them for sale in the entire
stadium. I thought the Rays’ missed a monetary gold mine here. But was informed
that the Rays’ wanted to pursue this angle, but M L B vetoed the idea. They  might
be afraid of a future conflict if a team ever trained here again. I can see
their point, but this stadium might be gone by that time.


You see, the Rays’ had a spot out in Right Center that was the spot for the
new proposed stadium’s home plate. The Rays hope that the city’s faithful voters decide in a  November
referendum to change the zoning for the area, or sell the stadium land to the
county for future ballpark considerations. Most of this is up in the air right now, but the Rays’ new complex is already
being constructed, and there is no turning back at this time.



                             


The game featured the third sellout game( 6,759 attended) of the season for
the Rays’, and even had some odd places for fans, and creatures to watch the
last contest
.
                            

                    



They were treated to a great contest featuring three bunts for singles, a
ground rule double over the Left Center field wall. A long towering homer, and a
odd play in  Right Center by B J Upton and Eric Hinske. It saw Rays catcher Dioner
Navarro go 2-for3 with a perfect bunt single and a crushing hit to Left field. It
saw Carl Crawford hit two doubles, and Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips hit a
triple. It was great contest no matter what the score. Of course, we know that
the Rays did not win today, but it was a thrill just to be there on this
historic day.

                     

                               



After the game, the Rays treated the fans to a hot dog,chips and soda
extravaganza in the Right field corner of the field. It was a time for the kids
to “run the bases”, for the all fans to toss a few balls around like the pros’,
and a time for all to celebrate this Spring’s great record and team. It is also
a time to recharge the batteries for the upcoming season. It was a great event,
and one that should be a yearly event, even in Port Charlotte next year.

                            

                          



I can not end this blog without a few pictures of Carlos Pena. My other half
is a true Carlos mark and she should get some good pictures of her guy in
action.  So, here are a few for your enjoyment:



                                  

                                      


In honor of the last game at Al Lang today, I am going to leave you two
Trivia questions. Please fell free to answer them in comments and I will let you
know if you are right, or might offer a few hints.  Good Luck

1,) In  1947, who hit the first Home Run in newly constructed Al F. Lang
Field?

2.) Who made the last out in today’s game?

 Photo Credits: All Photos RRCollections

Ken Griffey Junior Adds a New Role to his Career……. Diplomat

 

 

 


If there is one player I wish we could have found space and money for him in Tampa Bay for 2009, it has to be the guy who will go into the Hall of Fame having played for my second favorite MLB squad. With the  Tampa Bay Rays recent signing of  former Phillie Pat Burrell, it ends that secret hidden deep in my heart to see Ken Griffey Junior play and succeed in a Rays uniform. If you really consider what this guy has done in such a long and productive carrer, he is a one of those guys who I believe will be a  sure thing first ballot Hall of Famer, without a question.  I was justing looking forward to watching that swing 81 games a year at the Trop., but I will just have to buy the MLB Package and watch him play maybe in my second city, Seattle again in 2009.

 


From the days at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, where he was a twice voted the best baseball player of the year, to at 19, being the youngest player in the major leagues. The guy has always been at the top of his profession. And to even imagine that he had the chance to do it side by side with his dad is beyond words. Now that is something that I find truly amazing to me. I know I would have loved to play baseball or even box against my dad, or his uncle as a kid growing up, and  would have really learned how it was to play the Philly type of street/ parking lot football and baseball. But Griffey Jr. got to do it along side an All Star dad, while playing for the team that made his dad a star, the Cincinnati Reds is truly amazing to me.

 

 


He is one of the first player to ever be on a major league roster at the same time as his father and playing in the MLB. And if that was not a huge event, he also got to finally play along side his dad after his trade from the Mariners to the Cincinnati Reds. Both Father and son did appear in several lineups that season. And his  outward enjoyment of the game of baseball is clear to see by anyone watching him before, during and after the games. For the art of baseball with all of it’s simple parts and complicated segments never seemed to get him down or stress him out at all. He has always been that care free and smiling figure on the sidelines signing autographs or posing for photos with the fans. He respects the game and pay homage to those before him for letting him have the honor of playing this great game.

 


He is the essence of what you want your teams’ professional baseball player to be, and what you might want you own kids to become someday. He might go out with the boys’ to nightclubs and dinner while on road trips, but he also has been clean and clear to others that he is happily married and loves his lifestyle. The Daily pressures and expectations might take a toll on him, but  doesn’t show the effects or even the worry because when he hits that field for Batting Practice, he tries to convey a sense  of fun and pranks, almost child-like play, and  does not take anything serious around the ball field before the first pitch of the game.  How can you not like a guy with that kind of idealistic joy.  And how can he not be on your list of people in baseball to admire and respect.

 


And people tend to forget he was the youngest player to ever hit the 350 home run mark. He also still hold one of the best  career batting average marks ever in All Star play by hitting over .571 in the mid summer classic. And if that was not enough, the guy also won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves as a center fielder in the American League. He also hit a homer in 8 straight games once during his career, and  has hit a home run in every ball park in the American League, and still will be in uniform to maybe hit one in 2009 in the new Yankee Stadium. Depending on what team finally signs him in 2009, he might still also have a chance to hit a home run in the New York Mets new dig, Citi Park this coming season. If he does sign with the Mariners, he will not get a chance in Inter-league play to go beyond the Mississippi River in 2009. But if he did resign with the Chicago White Sox, he as an option of going back to Cincy during the Inter-league series form June 19-21, 2009.

 


But Griffey Jr. is entering a new phase in his playing career. Ever since 1995, when he broke his wrist while with the Mariners, small injuries and mishaps have taken him down a road he hates to admit might have derailed a lot of his career. Simple injuries have cost this guy a chance at maybe beating Barry Bond’s home run record. He was for years the heir apparent to the crown before his string of injuries cost him at bats and chances at homers over the years. In 2008, an errant foot locker left out in the area near his locker caused him to suffer a knee injury that plagued him the entire season. This off season he has taken measures to correct the injury and should be ready by the Feb. reporting date to again pratice and regain strength in the knee.

 


He is about to enter a second career of sorts for a few months in 2009, maybe setting himself up a bit with a life after baseball motivation.  I could see him maybe in a political role somewhere down the line, but did not think it would go hand in hand with his baseball career. Well seriously folks, for a few years there he could have ran for mayor of Tacoma or Seattle and won by a landslide vote. But recently, United States Secretary of the State Condoleeza Rice named Griffey as a Public Diplomacy Envoy. In accepting the honor, Griffey Jr. is challenged with a new goals and set of parameters. He is entrusted with the act of spreading the values of the United States by helping to spark interest  in America and  in our culture. Griifey also will share this honor with former figure skater Michelle Kwan and  former television star, Fran Drescher, better known for her role and voice as ” The Nanny.”



Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., who was appointed in 2007 to the same post will accompany the newly appointed envoys when they begin their adventures in January with a trip to Panama Since Griffey Jr. has played both on the U S Olympic and World Baseball Classic teams for the United States, he seemed like the logical and most visual player to ever be considered for the post.  ” Public diplomacy must be a dialogue” Rice said recently after a meeting with Griffey Jr.  “This dialogue must extend to every citizen in every country, especially to the young people.”  Because of his still boy-ish looks Griffey Jr. will convey a sense of All American values and be a great example of the type of person an American youth should use as an example for life. Griffey Jr. is excited about the position and is looking forward to his missions for his country.

 


Well-known athletes and celebrities, who exemplify the best in their sports and professions, and as a individual citizens, are appointed by the Secretary of the State to be American Public Diplomacy Envoys.  This special envoy not only reaches out to youth though sports and communications, but promotes the best aspects of American culture and democratic principles. So our latest diplomatic weapon to show people the values and great traits of our country has 611 home runs and has just reached 39 years of age. Griffey Jr is only the 3rd athlete to ever hold this position with the U S government.

 


He also got an honor a lot of people never knew about unless you lived on the west coast of America. In 1989, Ken Griffey Junior got to taste a chocolate candy bar named after him, and it sold over 1 million bars before they ceased production of the bar. Just another great fact about this very like-able baseball player. He has had countless  video games produced and released with his likeness and name upon the packaging. Who can forget the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 games with his name on them that we all played for hours in our family room around the country.


 

 


So what does the future hold for the great Griffey Jr in 2009?  You would think that during the World Baseball classic he would be doing the tours along the sites to promote and entertain the ideals of this great country, while maybe serving in some role for the United States team. But nothing is guaranteed for him in 2009 with the W.B.C. But what might be of concern now is where will he be reporting to after the classic is over in 2009? In a recent article online, it was stated that Tiger’s center fielder Curtis Granderson called Griffey Jr about his time in the 2006 WBC and asked his advice if he should play for the team.  It is not known what Griffey said to Granderson, but the player accepted a invitation to play for the U S team today, and he might be one of  the heir apparents to Griffey’s center field spot on the squad.

 


Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Burrell, it seems that he will not be near home in 2009, unless the Rays can find a way to bring him on board at a reduced price, or maybe shave off some payroll in other areas of the team. Now personally, I would have been honored if the guy had chosen my Rays as his team for 2009. I think the guy is all class, and I got to meet him briefly before the ALDS becuase of an old friend who is playing for the Chicago White Sox. I found him refreshing and totally accessible, and he signed a ball for me without me even asking him for an autograph. We chatted a few minutes before he had to get into the locker room, but it  will remain as one of my best baseball moments. It will sit right along side of photo memory of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris  both holding me for a picture at Al Lang Field when I was young ( 1961 ).



No, the likely destination for Griffey Jr. might, and should be the place where it all began for him. He should be allowed to return to Seattle and help the Mariners during their rebuilding years and to finally play his last game in the stadium that he helped get built in the Emerald City. He has had that town in his mind ever since they drafted him in the First Round in 1987. He finally made it to the big leagues in 1989, and has not looked back since then. He was a part of the Mariners first post season berth, and still has a soft spot for the team’s ownership and the town in general.

 

 

I know I would love it if he was still playing in 2015 ( doubtfully, but I can dream) when I retire to Seattle to see this great player stride to the plate in his last at bat, in that last home game. I know it will be an end of a era of sorts not only in Seattle, but also in baseball. We might never see another player like Ken Griffey Jr. in our lifetime. There are a lot of ballplayers I grew up with that I see at Legends games and charity events throughout Florida during Spring Training, but the games I alsways have looked forward to were the contests against the Reds and the Rays to watch Griffey Jr. just hit the ball during B P . His troke is so pure and seems without effort at times. It is a wonder to just stare at the bat and watch it go through the zone to make contact with the ball.


 

 


Just as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig mesmerized and produced a baseball love affair  for my dad and millions of other fans who never even saw them play some 80 years ago, Griffey Jr. will be one of the true baseball icons we remember when we are sitting on the porch remembering the greatness about baseball in our old age. And you know the one thing I will remember most about this great guy…………..that boyish smile that starts at BP, and grows until the last out of the game. I have never, ever seen him get angry or even get ejected from a ball game, even though it  might have happened a few times in his career. 



Griffey Jr. deserves to be a first ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame after his career.  I think the guy has a few more productive years in him before he might even think about hanging up his Nike spikes and spending the rest of his life in Orlando, Florida with his wife and kids. But, you never know with baseball. In all probability he will be signed before Spring Training and report as usual to begin another great year on the diamond. And to see him having fun in the sport that has given him and us so much to always remember.


 

 

A Hodge Podge of Number 2 Ray’s Moments in 2008

 

Coverrays

 


I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.

 

If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season.  There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.

 

 


I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.


So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.

 

 

The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.

 


Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.

 

 


Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.



Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats.  Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.

 

 


Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940’s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.

 

Eric Hinske hits a one-out double during the Rays' two-run second inning. He tripled in the fourth and homered in the sixth.

 


Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single.  Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.

 


Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The  first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.

 

Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.

 

 


On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot.  The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when  pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted  home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.

 

 


Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.


But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.


 

 


On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.

 


According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.

 


On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.

 

Rocco Baldelli gets the shaving cream pie treatment after driving in the winning run in the ninth.  (AP)

 


While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season.  It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.

 

The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox.  It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.  

 

 

Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.

 

 


With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of  scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.

 

 


After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.


 

 


On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.

 

 

When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game  showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.

 

 


The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays.  In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly  in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.


 

 


Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.

 


The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.

 

 


All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow.  Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.

 

Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.

The End of a Spring Training Era

I am filled with both sadness and excitement on this perfect day for
baseball. I am about to see the end of an era in my hometown of St. Petersburg,
Florida. The local baseball faithful here in St. Pete., have been actively watching
and participating in M L B Spring Training games for over 80 odd years. And it all
comes to an end today. Our hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays, will be training
in Port Charlotte, Florida  starting next season.


                 



It is sad because my grandfather,who lived within a stones throw of former
Yankees’ training site, Huggins-Stengel Field, and spent many a day at the old
Busch complex off 62nd Ave. He spent many an afternoon near Cresent Lake watching Spring Training games
both there and at Waterfront Park. That my dad, who loved the game of baseball, and counted a few  MLB players
as friends could not say a fond farewell to this stadium that he saw built and
watched  hundreds of games there from 1947-1976.



Being a third generation baseball fan is a huge responsibility to me. It
involves my commitment, loyalty and a sense of knowing the sky will not fall
for my team. The ending of the era at Al  F. Lang Field/Progress Energy
Park/Waterfront Park is special to me.


                   

 

Special because I spent a lot of my youth here in the Spring and Summers.
Both watching MLB and Minor League teams leave it all out on the dirt and grass.
Watching the St. Petersburg Devilrays win a championship, and the hometown M L B
squad wrestle for wins. Special because my old job with Pepsi Cola had me at the Training complex and
at Al Lang almost every day in the Spring furnishing them with product and
watching some of these players’ develop into stars. I would be on the phone
daily getting orders and securing the items for the team and its clubhouses,
both at Namoli,Al Lang, and the Trop.


 have pushed,pulled and sweated in these clubhouses’, under the grandstands,
and in the dark recesses of Tropicana Field. I loved working with the Rays’
and I consider them  very special people in my life. They have bestowed on me a place in their Wall of Fame for my loyalty, and I
have received numerous phone calls and smiles from the Executive and Front
Office staff when we see each other outside of the stadium. I also hold dear a
million memories that would fill a Myspace server. From winning players
“Jersey’s off their backs”, to winning roundtrip airfare to Seattle for a 4 game
roadtrip.

                                  


But back to today’s final game.


It had all the fanfare and tradition of an Opening Day. You had the local
political forces out. Both teams’ starting players were announced and stood on
their respective foul line before  a barbershop quartet sang the National
Anthem. It was pomp and circumstance at it’s best.


                            


There was a special flyover by a Air Force KC-135 tanker unit that had the
sell out crowd on their feet applauding the sight.


                                  



An anticipated event that did not happen today is that Hall of Famer, Monte
Irvin was not able to attend the game. He is a proud supporter of the Rays’ ,
the fans missed a rare opportunity to talk and get autographs from this great
former player. I send  personal best wishes and hope for a speedy recovery to Monte, and
hope to see him at the Home Opener this year. Another item I picked up on the sly was the fact that there were no special
collectibles or items listing the “last game” on them for sale in the entire
stadium. I thought the Rays’ missed a monetary gold mine here. But was informed
that the Rays’ wanted to pursue this angle, but M L B vetoed the idea. They  might
be afraid of a future conflict if a team ever trained here again. I can see
their point, but this stadium might be gone by that time.


You see, the Rays’ had a spot out in Right Center that was the spot for the
new proposed stadium’s home plate. The Rays hope that the city’s faithful voters decide in a  November
referendum to change the zoning for the area, or sell the stadium land to the
county for future ballpark considerations. Most of this is up in the air right now, but the Rays’ new complex is already
being constructed, and there is no turning back at this time.


                             


The game featured the third sellout game( 6,759 attended) of the season for
the Rays’, and even had some odd places for fans, and creatures to watch the
last contest

.

                            

                    



They were treated to a great contest featuring three bunts for singles, a
ground rule double over the Left Center field wall. A long towering homer, and a
odd play in  Right Center by B J Upton and Eric Hinske. It saw Rays catcher Dioner
Navarro go 2-for3 with a perfect bunt single and a crushing hit to Left field. It
saw Carl Crawford hit two doubles, and Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips hit a
triple. It was great contest no matter what the score. Of course, we know that
the Rays did not win today, but it was a thrill just to be there on this
historic day.

                     

                               



After the game, the Rays treated the fans to a hot dog,chips and soda
extravaganza in the Right field corner of the field. It was a time for the kids
to “run the bases”, for the all fans to toss a few balls around like the pros’,
and a time for all to celebrate this Spring’s great record and team. It is also
a time to recharge the batteries for the upcoming season. It was a great event,
and one that should be a yearly event, even in Port Charlotte next year.

                            

                          



I can not end this blog without a few pictures of Carlos Pena. My other half
is a true Carlos mark and she should get some good pictures of her guy in
action.  So, here are a few for your enjoyment:


                                  

                                      



In honor of the last game at Al Lang today, I am going to leave you two
Trivia questions. Please fell free to answer them in comments and I will let you
know if you are right, or might offer a few hints.  Good Luck

1,) In  1947, who hit the first Home Run in newly constructed Al F. Lang
Field?

2.) Who made the last out in today’s game?

 

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