Results tagged ‘ Andy Sonnanstine ’

Thank You Just Doesn’t Seem Enough

On the eve of the day all of us collectively gather together and pronounce our blessing and “thanks” for all the bounty and goodness life has exposed to us in our past year. Like so many other families around this Nation and Tampa Bay, my parents kept that honored tradition of everyone gathered at the table giving “thanks” a loud for the blessing and good things that had transpired over those last 365 days.

I loved those moments, but as the Rays begin to venture into their 15th year of baseball in the major leagues, I have some unfinished business. People and events that warrant not only a “ shout out”, but a significant remembrance or high-5 at this time we want to express ourselves. So, hang on, this list might be a long one.

THANK YOU to the relentless men of the original Tampa Bay Baseball group who shed tears, fought away drowsiness and endured their long path until we got our storied franchise.

THANK YOU to the cities of Seattle, Oakland, Chicago, San Francisco and even the Minneapolis/St Paul Minnesota community that were stepping-stones as the eventual Tampa Bay expansion franchise made it path through the MLB minefields. These MLB teams all brought bits and pieces of themselves to the table as the Rays fashioned their early patchwork franchise.

THANK YOU to our first owner Vince Namoli and his crew who fought the tides and battles early on in this franchise, and still do. Our Captain at the helm since 2007, Stuart Sternberg who has secured a new path, a new identity and a new reason to rejoice being a member of the Rays Republic crew.

THANK YOU to Wilson Alvarez for that first delivery to the plate on March 31, 1998. It completed the completed the mission and set into motion that events that are still unfolding, and will for a long, long time.

THANK YOU to players like Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, and St. Pete natives Casey Kotchman and Doug Waechter who came “home” to play in the Rays colors for Tampa Bay. Each of you have left footprints in the Rays historical sands that will stand the tests of time, and always be some of our fondest memories

THANK YOU to my friends within the Rays 4th Floor from BK to DJ Kitty’s master. Each of your actions have brought together different scenarios and changes to the Rays experience from the concerts, promotional goodies to the foundations of fan-based gatherings like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”.

THANK YOU to the men who have assembled in the Rays Bullpen over the past 14 seasons who have sat, spat and even chattered with me on their journey’s to and from the Rays “second Clubhouse” under the Rays Rightfield stands. From the gum-tossing and comedic activities of Andy Sonnanstine, to the Elvis-inspired guitar styling of Rusty Meacham, I am thankful for those moments.

THANK YOU to guys like Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland and his crew who let me see things behind-the scenes as their Pepsi vendor for years. Getting to see the Rays Clubhouse as it transformed, and even letting me take a piece of it home forever.

THANK YOU to the assembled hundreds who have graced the Rays roster sporting numbers from 1 (Joey Gathright, Akinori Iwamura, Miguel Cairo, Rey Sanchez, Antonio Perez, Sean Rodriguez) to 98 (Jae Seo) for your spent energies, blood and even heartaches as this franchise went through their growing pains and ultimate defeats and celebrations. I consider you all friends for life.

THANK YOU to the fans I have met, entertained and even fought verbally with our these years. Your opinions, insights and even diverse comments have molded these posts and even gave me more than a dozen reasons to question my own logic. From Jeff McKinney, Pat and Christine Manfredo to George, Charlie and the crew up in the 300′s, if we could bottle your optimism and energy for this team, we could light up the Tampa Bay region indefinitely.

THANK YOU to the 2008 Rays team who let me grace a moment within a team photo etching myself permanently into the fabric of the greatest Rays team to date. Still hard to imagine that the Rays, in their rookie attempt in the post season fought so hard and valiantly had an element like rain play such a critical role in their first World Series.

THANK YOU to the Rays scout and player development people like Mitch Lukevics, RJ Harrison who have been linchpin in the development of so many of the Rays past, present and future stars. Their devotion and work ethic knows no bounds, and their tireless emphasis on quality has made the Rays farm system a model of player development efficiency.

HANK YOU to the people of Tampa Bay no matter if you are a long-time Season Ticket holder or someone who graces the stands only a handful of games a season. Your support is needed and appreciated from those among you in the stands, on the field and assisting you with your baseball experience. The lifeblood of this team is the interaction and reaction of the community, and our return to future games.

Giving “thanks” at this time of the year for things outside of Tropicana Field are also very important. So my last THANK YOU has to go out to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his cooking crew of Rays Coaches, Rays staff and employees who have yearly venture out into the Tampa Bay region for Maddon’s annual “Thanks-Mas” celebration.

But I would be remiss if I did not make one more “THANK YOU”. I have to also make a huge and humble shout out to you, the readers of this blog. Since our change over in May 2011, so many of you have stayed the course and returned while others have gone away or have not returned. I “THANK” each and every one of you reading this right now for your support, your time and your comments that have made my writing better since 2007.

But then again, you can never hear the words “Thank You” enough these days.

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.

As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.

This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.

Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?

Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.

Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?

The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.

Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.

Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.

Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.

Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.

From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Will the Price Be Right?

Do not want to douse even a smidgen of the fires that have blazed brightly recently within the Rays Republic as the the growing enthusiasm and enlightenment after Tampa Bay Rays southpaw starter David Price’s recent flame throwing display against the Toronto Blue Jays. But I would be guilty of deception if I didn’t remind the Rays Republic, this same action is going cost us.

It really doesn’t seem possible that Price has been going to the Rays hill every 5 days for almost 3 full Major League Baseball seasons. It still seems like just yesterday he thrust his arms and glove into the Trop’s air celebrating a ALCS Game 7 victory over the troublesome Boston Red Sox. Has time, and Price’s abilities really flown by us that fast, and vaulted that high into the stratosphere?

Considering Price just pulled a proverbial late Dog Days of Summer juicy rabbit out of his Rays cap during his uniform inspired 14 strikeout matinée performance, all Price’s agent and Rays front office could visualize on Sunday was a plethora of giant “$’s” piling up instead of the classic “K’s” around Tampa Bay.

Believe me, I am not trying to downsize or minimized the importance of this feat of establishing a new Rays single game K mark, it just come at a bit of a….price.

Most of us around the Rays Republic possibly have dug a deep hole in our subconscious to hide the fact that Price will wander into virgin territory this off season becoming first arbitration eligible for the first time This Winter Price could easily double his current $ 1 million dollar 2011 salary. Some “guesstimates” have his starting figure at $ 1.8 million and growing with each impressive outing.

You could realistically say that Price is pitching his way right now towards either a lucrative possible multi-year situation with Rays management somewhat like the Rays payroll team friendly contract guidelines that fellow Rays starter and graybeard James Shields signed a few years ago.

Even if Price were to command a larger starting point to a multi-seasonal, possibly $ 2 for 2012 then escalating, it would be more payroll friendly than awaiting yearly arbitration figures to be exchanged and possibly going to a hearing and having the Rays come out on the losing end. I know we all collectively hope the writing will be on the wall soon to shadow a possible long-term Price love fest.

Maybe the Rays are secretly whispering sweet nothings, or sliding little Fourth Floor Conference Room Post-It notes already with respectable dollar figures to Price’s representation as we speak. I can see the Rays wanting to adamantly keep Price’s mind and talent between that 60 feet 6 inch tunnel until the season is completed, with no interruption, and no tangled webs.

You have to believe that the ever tightening purse strings of the Rays bankroll from here on out this Winter will be stretched so far Ben Franklin will be screaming from the pain. With the likes of Price, B J Upton, Andy Sonnantine, J P Howell and Joel Peralta all hitting arbitration this Winter, money allocated might be tighter than 2011, possibly even reduced a bag or two of Franklin’s.

But Price is the big fuzzy prize that needs to be either compensated with a nice salary escalation, or his escalating arbitration amount could possibly transform into a yearly bloody dagger thrust deeply into the Rays payroll’s heart.

Of the 5 names above, Price is the one that will possibly get the lion’s share of the arbitration prize, with Upton all but assured publicly being granted his walking papers this Winter by so many outside Rays prognosticators.

Even with so many hurlers knocking on the Rays doors to get a Major League chance from the Rays Triple-A Durham Bulls corral, Price is still the Rays King of the Hill, their Ace par excellent, The Rays promotional focal point for many years. Price is here to stay, and that will come with… a price.

Believe me, I am one of those who think that the Los Angeles Dodgers discussions with their own ace Clayton Kershaw will have a direct correlation with what happens with Price this Winter. Kershaw’s “secret covert” contract extension could set the early bar as to what extent or how wide the Rays will have to open their own pocketbook. The Dodger Blue have been spoiled this season by the emergence of Kershaw, and his pay day is also coming this Winter.

In the end, Price deserves to be rewarded. He has been a valuable and valiant member of this Rays rotation and has plenty of more years and feat still hidden within the cells of that magical left arm. With every feat however his salary balloons, the Rays chances of retaining Price when he finally hits that top plateau increases.

Price is magical both on and off the field. Be it community events, signings or even a small chat by the walls before a Sunday contest. Price is proving every 5 days his ascending worth and value to this Rays franchise. Soon it will be the Rays time to show Price a balance sheet to illustrate their own projections of his worth through their own eyes. Hopefully they will not see the “$’s”, but will see his heart bleeds Rays Carolina blue and reward him for his sweat, tears and occasional sunflower seed showers.

Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

Always a great guessing game trying to decipher correctly the needs, wants and desire of any of the 29 other MLB squads for anyone on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Sure there might be a few GM’s just coming by doing some future window shopping or prod and nudge a bit of the merchandise, but is there really any top shelf Rays that will exit before the end of the Trade Deadline?

Can’t be easy time span for a player either with a large contract or even a “ walk” season under their belt until the clock strikes midnight on August 1st. Sure even then deals can still be hashed out, but the large majority of the transactions will be at least attempted in the next few working days. But even the best deal can be stricken down by the might pen of the M L B Commissioner Bud Selig if it seems unfair or has too much cash considerations.

So who among the 25 currently rostered Rays players do you think will garner the most attention? Who do you feel will be showcased now for departure in the off season? There are plenty of options, including a few that could either make or break the Rays post season surge. Then again, if the Rays do go into a tailspin over the next few series( Kansas City/Oakland/Toronto), they could instead purge before the last moments in July?

Even the Great Kreskin would have a difficult time trying to summarize some of the gossip and whispers currently doing the rounds in the MLB circle. With the emergence of SP Alex Cobb and Rays Manager Joe Maddon staying with a 6-man rotation. Could this be a precursor to a starter leaving town?

James Shields has reconstructed his delivery and career to a point some teams are eager to get a guy who can push out innings and provide strikeouts. Shields might have de-valued himself a tad during his recent 4-game tailspin.  With a team friendly $ 7 million dollar salary for 2012, Shields is still affordable and could be in the plastic bubble until this time in 2012.

Do the Rays instead sell high on SP Jeff Niemann while he is on his own hot streak? The Tall Texan might not garner a top tier return, but a few teams do have veterans who might walk after this season, and if they fit into the Rays mold….Niemann could be on a flight by August 1st.

With that in mind, why not put SP/RP Andy Sonnanstine on the top shelf to see who wanders by for a long look. Sonny has all the qualities a good team needs with MLB experience, stability and is a solid “company man”. He can be used in a variety of ways, and his tenure with the Rays might be on unstable ground with the emergence of Cobb and others pushing hard to break through the Triple-A ceiling to the majors. Sonny, like Niemann will not collect a bevy of returns, but his shelf life with the Rays might be getting near its expiration point.

Cesar Ramos is a southpaw, and with the Rays currently having 3 in their Bullpen, excess might not be the keys to the Rays Bullpen success. He might bring in a better haul than Sonny, but knowing the Rays and their love of the crafty lefties, he might stick. Still, the Rays would not offer up fellow relievers Jake McGee or J P Howell unless the return was something they could not refuse.

That brings us to the Rays field players. A few names possibly jump out at you, but one that I truly think is “off limits” is First Baseman Casey Kotchman. The job he has done since he cemented himself at First has been incredible. With only 1 error this season, Kotchman might be tied to this Rays team soon for the next 3 years. I have heard a few whispers in the hallways.

In the infield, with the thoughts also swirling that SS Reid Brignac is taking backward steps, this effectively closes any possible discussions on Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez. Their stability will be needed now more than ever, and cutting loose even one of the pair would be disastrous unless an infield MLB caliber upgrade is received.

With the recent injuries surrounding the catching position, it might be a hidden blessing for C Kelly Shoppach. Still, the Rays could deal the often offensively maligned backstop for prospects, or maybe even a little cash. The market is not seeking Shoppach with gusto, but a back-up with experience heading into the stressful last months of the season and beyond can be a blessing to a young team.

That leaves the outfield has one of the biggest question marks with at least 4 possible Rays players getting a few glances and maybe trade discussions. Still think Desmond Jennings is here to be looked at by not only the Rays, but by 29 other teams. I really think the Rays have a lot of questions about Jennings, and he could be traded for the right package.

You might have thought I would thrust B J Upton in the top spot for trade discussion, but I truly think the Rays will keep Upton until the end of the 2011 season, then listen intently to offers. Upton might not be the most attentive player on the bases, but he plays solid defense and has trimmed his swing a bit to be more productive. Who in their right mind thought he would get over 15 Hrs in 2011?

Still, with the Washington Nationals eager for Upton, and with names like INF Ian Desmond or RP Drew Storen being put on the end of the pole, the Rays could bite and fill a future hole in their team with young replacements who are starting to show their MLB potentials. Still it is a long shot these names are included with Upton’s’. Then again, Friedman can deliver brilliance with Bull-hockey pucks.

The guy who might garner the most outfield attention doesn’t actually play there on a daily basis. Johnny Damon could bring a nice haul in return from a team on the cusp of contention, or wanting to stay hard in the race until the end. But is he worth the gamble of leaving with the type of offense and ability to help charge up this team with a single swing?

You can’t buy that kind of massive production on and off the field this time of year. But if the Rays are truly in a mood to upgrade now, Damon might be the perfect carrot to dangle in front of the MLB herd. There is another player who has emerged to a point his status might be at its zenith, and a downward spiral is definitely in the cards.

I think the world of the abilities and freestyle aerial moves of Sam Fuld, but I also know MLB is treating him more like a novelty act right now than a budding star or long producing commodity. Here is another Rays player who might be at the peak of his trade value right now. Combine his on-field heroics with his solid base running and you get a nice threat either off the bench or in the field heading into the post season.

There is still the possibilities the Rays just bluff and stay with their current format, but the more realistic approach is someone will go, changes will be made. Upton should be planted in CF until the off season, Shields even though he turns 30 in December is a great anchor for this Rays rotation.

That being said, Sonny and Niemann could be on the “watch list” and be the two pitchers most likely to exit stage left. Shoppach could still be dealt even with the Rays catching corp down to their bare knuckles. This is one part of the Rays farm system that seems loaded for bear, and could endure a spell without remorse.

Jennings is the Rays top field prospect, and I have a sneaking feeling his up-coming promotion to “The Show” has a hidden agenda. Exposing Jennings to MLB caliber pitching with 10 days left could persuade someone to take a risk or gamble on a guy who might not be considered the best outfielder even on his Triple-A squad. But if the Rays do keep Jennings, Upton better look over his shoulder later in the season.

Fuld might be safe, but if his average goes South along with his “Legend”, his time and days will be numbered. Damon is the best Rays commodity right now and might be plucked. But Friedman will not trade him for a “rental” player or even a marginal player or prospects. When you have a guy who is putting up consistent numbers like Damon, the price tag has a few zeros in it, even for the short term.

This is the time of the year where guessing, predictions and even off-the-cuff remarks come with a glance from the baseball world. Teams want to chuck, acquire and sometimes streamline for different reasons. The only reasons any of these players might be plucked off the Rays roster is if this team truly thinks they have the horses for a playoff run.

Upgrading by trading would be the only reason right now the Rays would open their doors for change. 

Sternberg Still “Staying the Course” of the Rays Ship

The assembled Media mob down by the Rays dugout before this game merited a quick look. You usually do not see this many assembled media talking heads without reason. Then I saw the trademark sweater, the smile that radiates towards the Trop roof and immediately knew Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg was holding court with the media minions.

On tap this day was a bucketful of concerns within the Press Box about subjects like the possibilities of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations heading to his Houston hometown to head up the new Astros future. Also on the minds of the media was if the Rays would be “buyers or sellers” before the Trade Deadline at the end of the month.

Sternberg just showed his pearly whites, tap-danced a bit for the assembled crowd and really again made the masses fall in love with him all over again. That is the mark of a great salesman. Using his charm, personality and a bevy of great information and background materials, Sternberg tames the Media beasts once again.

Sure he might not have stabbed an issue in the heart like the attendance concerns or about Friedman, but he also did not skirt the issues at all. Some of the things that came out of Sternberg’s mouth did follow the Rays “ party lines” and did not surprise me in the least. But others comments did pose a slight concern, not in their rhetoric or presentation, but what was not said by Sternberg.

Still it is always refreshing to get the words straight from the “horse’s mouth”. Sternberg was asked about items like the Rays downward trend in attendance figures, if the Rays have the fiscal resources to “upgrade” their team before the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline.

His comments on the Rays struggling attendance was refreshing since one local media source seems to want to force-feed the public the attendance figures every night. Sternberg’s statement actually instilled a bit more confidence in me that the Rays owners is really here for the long haul, not a possibility of selling the team and moving onto more fiscally “greener pastures”.

To be frank as I can about it, I’m really not focused on the attendance. I’m tired of thinking about it, talking about it, and I know you’re tired of asking me the question and most importantly, everybody is tired of hearing about it. It’s really all about what’s going to be is going to be and what it is what it is. The numbers coming through what they are and I don’t anticipate talking about it or focusing on it at all this season or any time in the near future after that.”

Refreshing to hear an owner talk straight from the hip and not sugarcoat, project pessimistic intentions or evoke a sense of entitlement that fans flock to his stadium. Sternberg has always remembered that this town is a tourist-based locale, and with that comes fluctuation in the fan base, community monetary flows. There is a presence of support, a foundation to build on that is solid, plus his focal group, the youngsters growing the Rays tradition are maturing.

But so many are focused on the end of the month Trade Deadline, and Sternberg had a few great sound bytes on that upcoming event in the season:

 “There’s resources in money and resources in players. A lot of that depends on what player you’re willing to give up and how much money you’re willing to spend. Sometimes you can spend less and give up more players. So we are always willing to expand resources, but it’s a question of what we get back and where that puts us. It’s certainly difficult doing that in our division more so than some of the other divisions and competing with the teams that we can compete with and have to beat.”

This comment by Sternberg might seem more versed in risk management assessments and terms than baseball, but you get the jest completely. The Rays are focused on getting a good return on any investment, trade or salary dump. With high profile Rays players like B J Upton, James Shields and possibly even Andy Sonnanstine on several M L B team’s radar, the return has to justify the decision.

Here is where Sternberg and his henchmen Rays President Matt Silverman and Friedman have excelled in recent seasons. They understand the power of the trade, and use it to their advantage. You only have to look at the trade of Rays starter Matt Garza before the Spring of 2011 to see the team is committed to getting a return that develops into a positive flow.

In that transaction the Rays got their “legend” Sam Fuld, outfielder Brandon Guyer and a future starting shortstop who has seen his stock as a top prospect rise repeatedly this season towards a Top 10 spot. Interesting enough, one of the players the Rays trade to the Cubs, outfield speedster Fernando Perez has already been cut from the Cubs system.

Then someone in the Media addressed the elephant in the room, the Rays stagnant stadium situation. This is where Sternberg really shined and provided a beautiful oratory on his thoughts, direction and true feeling as both an owner and fan of this frustrating issue:

We’re not changing anything at this point. I’ve tried everything. People know that. We hear it all the time, we’re winning on the field, we’re putting a good product out there, the place is inviting, we’ve got concerts, we’ve got the second most affordable team. There’s not much else to be done at this point. It’s baseball here. I believe in the game, I love the game. And just like (Tampa Bay Lightning owner) Jeff Vinik loves hockey, or the (Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners) Glazers might love football, you follow your passion and you put everything into it that you possibly can.”

But I think his last comments of the day after almost 20 minutes speaking to the media speaks volumes on his intentions and his focus surrounding the Tampa Bay region and baseball:

 “There’s nothing more perfect than having it all work here right now. This isn’t about putting up Sternberg’s palace, or my idea of a perfect ballfield. The concept when we first came here was that we were extraordinarily confident we were going to make it work. Winning the American League East twice out of 3 years, no, not necessarily. But be competitive. So I went in with this mindset and said Okay, great, we’re going to be friendly, prices are going to be great, we’re going to fix the place up, put all the dough in here and you know what, were also going to win. So I think it surprised each and every person here, but this is what it is. And we’re still going to keep going at it day after day and doing the best we can.”

Touch e` Stu. Spoken like a man, a confident business owner and beyond all of that a honest baseball fan. We are lucky to have someone like this pulling the reins on this organization. Sure he wants to make a profit, show a positive gain both in resources and even fan commitment, but he also know the product will sell itself.

Baseball fans around the country know the Tampa Bay franchise is a hidden gem with boatloads of potential and possible moments. Sternberg is the man at the top of the heap, the guy who ultimately decides the direction of this franchise…He is the perfect person to help guide this currently turbulent Rays ship through the shallow Tampa Bay shoals and sandbars unharmed before emerging into the crystal blue waters where smooth sailing will be par for the course. Oh Captain, my Captain.

Rays Pitchers are Ready to Hit

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It is always a special time of the
season when the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff brings out the lumber.
It signals the Inter-League schedule is upon us, and brings back that
great memory when Esteban Yan cracked a Home Run back on June 4,2000.


I mean the 6′ 4″ 275 pound pitcher
had the build and stature of a power hitter, but who in their right
mind could have predicted he would connect on the first pitch he ever
saw in live pitching, then come up later in the game and get a single
for a perfect MLB lifetime 1.000 Batting Average and a out-of-this
galaxy 2.500 Slugging Percentage.


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That one moment in time has set the
hitting bar super high for Rays pitchers turned sluggers.
Inter-League play is usually the only time Rays pitchers get a honest
chance to take a bat, pine tar it up and swing it with a donut firmed
engaged on the barrel. Sure some have a bat in their hand in the Rays
dugout when they are not pitching, but it is more cosmetic to most of
them.


It was fun this Saturday to see some of
the Rays pitching staff hit the batting cages on the field since both
teams opted to not take B P on the field. Rays pitchers Andy
Sonnanstine, David Price and Wade Davis decided to take a few pitches
thrown by Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to get themselves primed for
the upcoming Inter-League Inter-state rivalry against the Florida
Marlins in just 18 days.


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This current brand of Rays rotation
members tho pride themselves on their hitting ability that could
inevidently help their own cause with an RBI single or a perfectly
executed bunt down the line to get a man into scoring position. Sure
they only take swings prior to these annual AL/NL bragging rights
battles, but some take it more serious than other.


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Take Rays long-reliever Andy
Sonnanstine who prides himself as a hitter so much he has taken his
Rays team picture the last two seasons holding some lumber on his
shoulder. And there is good reason for that. Out of the entire Rays
pitching staff, Sonny might be the best suited both physically and
mentally to stand in the box during a regular season game.


How many of us remember back on Sunday,
May 17, 2009 after a line-up card snafu Sonnanstine, who was that
day’s starter became the first pitcher on the starting line-up cars
since Chicago White Sox P Ken Brett back on September 23, 1976 ( vs
Minn).


Sonnanstine responded by going 1-for-3
with an RBI double becoming the first Rays pitcher to ever bat in an
American League game, and the first pitcher to walk to the plate at
Tropicana Field. You might be surprised then to know Sonny also
pinch-hit twice in 2009 for the Rays, both in National League home
games against the Marlins (May 23) and the New York Mets (June 21).


But he wasn’t the first Rays pitcher to
ever pinch-hit. That honor went to current rotation member James
Shields who picked up a bat on June 28,2008 in a game in PNC Park
against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not surprising, Sonnanstine owns a
career .318 batting average with 2 RBI, 6 runs and a .400 On-Base
Percentage heading into the 2011 Inter-League schedule.


On Saturday Sonnanstine was actually
the first Rays pitcher to put a ball out of Tropicana Field and
Sonny took a step forward and tipped his hat to the guy who snagged
it in the first row of Section 144. The St. Petersburg Times reported on Sunday that David Price hit the first ball out, but that was incorrect.


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Even so, Price did hit one out a few
minutes later to a huge round of applause to Rays fans who became
aware that the Rays pitching staff was taking a few hacks in the
cage. Price did hit his ball a bit farther than Sonnanstine, but
Price also did something Sonny did not when he took a celebratory
jog around the bases with the crowd cheering him. 


Price is not yet
a hitter on Sonnanstine’s level, but he did get his first
professional hit off Colorado Rockies starter Aaron Cook back on
June 17, 2009 in Coors field. 
Price currently hold a .200 (
2-for-10 ) batting average, but went an impressive 1-for-3 back in
2009, his first season in the Major Leagues. On Saturday, Price did
show a better more level swing with the element of power a few times
to the Right-Centerfield gap.


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That leaves us to the only right-handed
batter in this threesome, Wade Davis. He is still sporting a shortly
cropped haircut since Davis shaved his head this April for a Cut for
a Cure event that took place right on top of the Rays dugout. Even
though Davis is the second cousin of former Cubs catcher and NL All
Star Jody Davis, he has gone hitless in his only career MLB at bat.


Still, on this day he was stroking a
few well placed liners down the line and took some extra time getting
his bunts down with precision in between. Davis also had his moment
when he deposited his own pre-game souvenir for a fan in
Section 143.


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Even though we only got to see 3
members of the Rays pitching staff on Saturday, there are others who
will get their chance real soon to pick up a bat and take their spot
at Home Plate. Rookie Jeremy Hellickson has never stepped to the
plate in a MLB game, but will get a chance this season. 


Then you
have the tall Texan, 6′ 8″ Jeff Niemann who has gone 0-for-10 with
7 strikeouts. Niemann’s career stats might not evoke any clear
cheerful thoughts, but the final member Shields, should give you
reason to feel confident on the Rays staff’s abilities.


2011 will be Shield’s fifth season
hitting during the Inter-League schedule, and he is hoping to up his
current .250 ( 6-for-24) batting average with a solo RBI and a .308
Slugging Percentage. IT might have been a while, but Shield actually
hit .478 with 11 HR and 45 RBI when he was selected the Los Angeles
Times
Player of the Year back in 1999.


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Pitchers hitting in game has never been
a huge part of the Rays game plan. But with Shields and Sonnanstine
able to connect and help the team’s cause during the Inter-League
schedule, I would not be surprised if Rays Manager Joe Maddon sends
one of them up as a pinch-hitter. It just adds another element of
their 2011 mantra “Another Way”.


I mean who can forget walking through
the Rays clubhouse during Fan Fest in 2010 and seeing Sonnanstine’s
bat and gloves sticking out of his locker like a sore thumb. Something curious I noticed on Saturday afternoon, at no time did Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton make an appearance on the field behind the cages to either instruct or watch the Rays pitchers. I find that kind of curious.


Got a
feeling this season, one of these guys is going to be trotting around
the bases. And when that happens take a look at the other four
members of the Rays rotation, I bet they are the first people on the
dugout steps to give congratulations to their peer.


Rays “Company Man” Keeps his Silence

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Sometimes the simple game of baseball can be so complex and so covert it would surprise you to find out some of what you have seen with your own eyes was not even planned that way. Spring Training games is the time for Coaches and Managers to tweak the game plan, possibly tinker with a pitcher’s delivery or mechanics hoping for a positive outcome.

Then suddenly something just seems to go so horribly wrong, and no one is the wiser. The pitcher takes the eventual storm from the blustery outing, but underneath it all, something might have been afoot.

This happened recently during a Rays Spring Training game and neither the Pitching Coach, Manager or even the Rays player involved ever revealed that a undercover pitching mechanic change was behind the whole fiasco. Spring Training games are the perfect time for pitchers’ to try and address a pitching angle change, or a shift in their mechanics without the general public being able to focused on it.

With games not being televised, sometimes these pitching changes can go completely under the radar, unless you know what to look for, or possibly the opposite. Sometimes a pitcher has a tendency while learning a new grip, angle or even pitch to telegraph that pitch, and then the scoreboard lights up like a pinball machine.

l.jpgThis recently happened to one of the Rays most silent partners, reliever Andy Sonnanstine as he got rocked hard and heavy in Spring Training game against the Baltimore Orioles. During a prior Rays Bullpen session there was talk of changing a bit of Sonny’s delivery, and both parties in question decided to work on the change and possibly use it during his recent spot start.

Some might say the 2.2 innings posted by Sonny was disaster, but underneath it all it was not about the 5 Home Runs, two by Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis. For Sonny to even stick with the game plan and the pitching change and not throw it all by the wayside when trouble hit the fan says a bunch about the confidence Sonny has in the Rays staff’s ideas.

It is easy to second guess the change, or even try and want Sonny’s head for giving up 6 early runs in the contest, but Spring is the time for teams like the Rays to try these hidden magical moves when series victories, divisional standings or even just absorbing a “L” is not a huge hindrance.

Can’t say I would have had the same mental fiber and confidence in the change as Sonnanstine to stay with the plan, but that is why the Rays staff have always liked him on the roster. He is one of those “throw-back” hurlers who will pitch his arm off if it will get his team a win or help in the long run.

But still, did the Rays staff really have to stay with the pitching game plan after the first inning saw 3 quick Baltimore blasts and a 4-0 deficit. When a pitcher is putting himself out there trying something new, you would hope the Coaching staff would have a short leash with the change and get the pitcher out of there before their confidence level hits rock bottom.

Same thing happened to James Shields in Toronto in 2010 when he got rocked hard by the long ball and stayed out a bit longer than anyone, even Shields expected. You want to second guess, you want to rant and rave, you obviously want success in the end. Spring baseball can sometimes be reminiscent of Recon Ranger training.


Sonny1.jpgThere are covert offensive weapons being fortified and trained (rookies), secret strategy meetings and maybe even a clandestine BP session or two going on. But the end result is that sometimes what you see during the Spring really is half the story.

But that is what Spring baseball is all about. It is not all about the wins and losses, those stats do not transfer to the regular season and do not guarantee even a good season.

Sure I would have loved for someone from the Rays staff to say that Sonny was working on something and it did not work. Possibly give the Rays faithful some hope that Sonnanstine is not experiencing some pitching problem, but trying some adjustments, or fine tuning before the season starts April 1st.

But then that would make me guilty of baseball espionage by me trying to decipher the who, what when and how without a veritable flashlight to see into the darkness. Plus it might cost me my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, or possibly my membership in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen… Okay the last one was a stretch.



2011 Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament

 

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I remember once as a kid some one telling me that things happen for a reason. That fate, destiny and even the kiss of the Gods can not foresee some things that bring people together. I think this was focused more on romance than one two people bonding under a common goal, But I’ll take it.

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So here on the last day of the “Charity week” I am going to tell you a story about how two different individuals got together and formed something that is changing lives. It is a reminder that two different worlds can combine and conquer anything in their path.

Jesse Litsch volunteered for a off season charity golf event back in November 2008. In his paring was a young financial wizard named Kevin Bechtel. The golfing event was to help children in the northern reaches of Pinellas County. During the nightly awards ceremony, the two shared stories of other charity tournaments they had both attended and came upon the realization that if they combined their charitable efforts, both could reach a wide spectrum and fulfill their passion of giving back to children in need.

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Each told swapped stories about how Litsch had done fundraising and benefits before for the Boys and Girls Clubs, and Betchel told Litsch about his “Bikes For Kids” charity that gave bikes to needy and under privileged kids through the Pinellas County Sherriff’s Department. When both attended the opening of the Police Athletic League (PAL) center in the Lealman region of St. Petersburg, the bond began to form a tournament to facilitate the needs of both charities.

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What might have cemented the bond was the way Litsch talked about how the PAL had helped mold him and performed a vital part of his life growing up in this region of Tampa Bay. Soon, Litsch attended the “Bikes for Kid” event that holiday season and Litsch witnessed firsthand the joy and passion of Bechtel’s own commitment to his program. That evening over 100 bikes and helmets were delivered by PCSD deputy’s. That day formed the basis of what became the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.

The first joint effort between the two newly formed friends came in 2010 and expectations rose quickly as to the extend and paths the future could bring for both organizations, and for the tournament as a whole. I caught wind of the tournament right before the Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic and spoke with Jesse Litsch tournament organizer Sarah mire moment before I was heading out to help in that tournament.

 


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When I saw Litsch that day on the golf course I spoke to him about my volunteering and he gave me that huge smile I had known for so many years when he was a Rays batboy/Rays intern. I was anxious for Friday to arrive so I could have my first experience of this tournament.

I got there just as Kevin from the Pinellas Park Boys & Girls club along with a few other volunteers were fitting each cart with some golf tees and some water for the days action. I then went up to the registration area and met Jesse’s fiancée and walked into an amazing silent auction site with just over 50 items up for bids. The items ranged from signed hockey sticks and framed signed photos to a pair of glistening exquisitely cut diamond earrings that held an appraisal price of $ 1,650.

 

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Massage and photo opportunity for yourself or family, plus if you bid for a razor scooter, the charity will but another scooter with your bid for another youngster in the Tampa Bay community. But the thing that had me salivating was the chance to purchase 1 of 10 bats that were signed by every celebrity in attendance.

 

 

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But there was some additional high brow auction’s out there that piqued my interest. A chance to join your favorite MLB player on the field for BP, plus two tickets to the game. A California Wine Country Tour complete with hotel accommodations, dinners and a plethora if wine tours and tasting’s. 2 tickets to Vinny Lecavalier’s suite for any Tampa Bay Lightning game. Two Park Hopper passes to any Walt Disney Park in the World.

 

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The event was a “who’s Who in the Blue Jays organization such as pitchers’ Brett Cecil, Casey Jansen, Shawn Camp, Travis Snider, Ricky Romero, David Purcey, Scott Richmond, Jesse Carlson and Josh Roenicke. But not being outdone was the display of hitting talent from the Jays Jose Bautista, J P Arencibia, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider.

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The Tampa Bay Rays had a few member in house today representing the Rays present and past. Shortstop Reid Brignac and reliever Andy Sonnanstine, plus former Rays catcher Toby Hall were all out here for the kids today. Heck even World Class skateboarder Anthony Furlong was out there giving his all for the event. And the display of interesting golfing attire was out with a fury today as both Bechtel and Litsch had on by far the most eye irritating pants of the event.

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I am going to flash forward to the Awards dinner that was MC’ed by local television personality Charlie Belcher of Channel 13 fame. The show of support by Litsch’s Jays teammates combined with the other golfing competitors today made the night just seem to sing. This really felt more like a team gathering than a golf event with great bellowing laughs and bold predictions as to the tournament’s winners.

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The team that actually pulled it out today was led by celebrity Toby Hall, who’s 5-some spotted a score of 55 over the 18 holes. But the real winners here today were the two charities of both Litsch and Bechtel. There were whispers in the air that night of an even larger event in the future, and possibly two or more years at this same golf course.

The Jays player community came out in force to support one of their own, and everyone involved vowed to be a part of the 2012 event. When a cause and a golfing event both run true to themselves, people want to be a part of it again and again. I hope to volunteer in 2012 for another go-round of fun in the Sun, competitive tomfoolery and to support two great and noble causes. By the way, I did end up bidding on one of those 10 autographed bats… all for a pair of great causes.

 

 

2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic

 

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Day 2 of the Charity Week experience. This charity event actually took place last Thursday, but somehow I lost my little camera video card in the movement from the camera to the computer. Now that the day’s photos are safely within the computer, it is time to give you some of the highlights and tales from the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic.

 

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This is my second year volunteering for this golfing event that first started out as a bowling event in Tampa so many years ago. Arrived at the Bayou Club gold clubhouse about 9:45-ish and immediately came face-to face with three off-duty members of the St. Petersburg Police Department. 

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 They were there as special guests of Hall to participate in a fundraising event through their memorial T-shirt benefiting the families of two recently slain SPPD officers. During the charity event, the SPPD representatives set up a tent at the turning point or Hole 9.5 of the course and as the golfing pairs came up to do the putting challenge, they could also purchase T-shirts and speak to the officers( including a K-9 officer) that knew the two officers.

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 When Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder B J Upton’s 5-member pairing came up for the putting contest, Upton took a moment to go over to the SPPD tent and purchased not one, but over a dozen T-shirts, including one for everyone in his pairing group.

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Fellow Rays Fans Wall of Fame member George Stone was on the scene again that day spreading the word about the featured charity of the event, The Miracle League. Some might not know that the Miracle League is a baseball league formed so that children of all ages with special needs and abilities can also enjoy the greatest game on dirt. At one point later in the evening, Stone actually got a verbal commitment from St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to attend the 2011 Opening Day event in St. Petersburg.

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There were plenty of Rays, plus ex-Rays on hand this day helping Hall in his quest to help this great organization. I remember a few years ago when they completely re-constructed the Miracle League field in the Azalea region of St. Petersburg, just down the street from the old Rays Spring Training facility.

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On hand that day supporting Hall’s charity event was Dan Wheeler (Red Sox), Jesse Litsch (Jays), Brian Stokes (Jays).Boof Bonser ( NY Mets), Jason Michaels (Astros), Trever Miller (Cardinals),Ryan Webb (Marlins), Gregg Zaun (Padres), Miguel Cairo (Reds). Bobby Wilson (Angels) and Jorge Cantu (Padres), plus former NBA star Matt Gieger and retired Bucs running back Mike Alstott.

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Representing the Rays was Upton, starter James Shields, RP Andy Sonnanstine, and new RP Adam Russell. Also on hand were a few other well known Rays faces either from the Coaching ranks, or from their on-the-field reporting. Broadcaster Todd Kalas was joined on this day by current Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley and former Rays Coaches Bill Evers ( Durham Bulls), Ozzie Timmons (Columbus Catfish) and former Hitting Coach Steve Henderson. Rays shortstop Reid Brignac was also scheduled to attend, but had an emergency.

 

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I was stationed to begin the day in the registration area handing out specially made Toby Hall caps, visors and rain slickers. But just as it seemed I might have an early end to my day, I volunteered to run the putting contest. It was a great time in which each pairing member got a chance to hit one golf ball into a sectioned off squared area for multiples of points with a maximum of 10 points if you sunk your putt..

 

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You could cut the air with a knife as to the early competitive nature of the event as Cairo was the closest to the hole for most of the day until 5 pairings from the end, the cream began to rise to the putting top of the pot. Local attorney David Papa, who was in the Wilson pairing found the center of the hole to become the first to thrust his team to a sizeable lead. ( total 14 points).

 

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That total seemed safe until one of the last groups, which included LPGA star Brittney Linicome, had their first putting contestant Tim Nalls of American Marketing put in square in the hole. With an immediate 10 points, this team was quickly putting (bad pun) itself into contention for the Putting contest crown.

 

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But suddenly we all noticed that Linicome, who had an early flight out of Orlando in the morning for a LPGA event had left before taking her putting chance. I made an executive putting contest decision to let Nalls put his way to either team victory, or a second place finish. The climatic moment was short lived as Nalls pulled his second try to the right and did not even register a single additional point. I wonder if Linicome would have gotten them that needed 5 points for their victory by putting her golf ball in the inner square within a foot of the hole? We will never know.

 

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But the solace of placing second was definitely short lived by the Linicome pairing as they finished the event with a 52, good enough for the eventual top finish in the tournament and bragging right for the entire year. As the teammates from the Linicome pairing basked in the afterglow and celebrated at the after party at Courtside Grille minus Brittney. The real winner here was the Miracle League.

 

 


I have been proud the last two years of volunteering in this event, and also made a commitment that day to help another event that will be held this Friday. On that day I will be helping out the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament in Oldsmar, Florida. How can I possibly complain, another great day in the Sun with athletes supporting their local charities and spreading the news of this great charitable golfing event.

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I want to remind the Rays Republic that the memorial T-shirts that benefit the families of the two slain SPPD officers will be ongoing in the Tampa Bay community. You can contact, or visit the St. Petersburg Police Department’s lobby to purchase a T-shirt, or contact them about ongoing outside T-shirt opportunities within the community. Please support this worthy charity and remembrance of these Tampa Bay heroes.

 
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Again I want to thank Tracey and her staff plus Toby for the adventures and memories. Believe me, I have more than a few moments to tell people about that would not fit on this post today. But that is the great thing about charity events like this that happen so close to Spring Training. The excitement levels in seeing past friends and the approaching report dates just adds to the zeal and essence of the tournament.

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I am already looking forward to the 2012 event. I want to post a link here for the Miracle League of the Gulf Beaches and hope that all of us can contribute in some way to a great organization that brings the love of the game to some that might not be able to run, hit or even pitch like everyone, but the smile and joy on their faces as they move around the bases makes it so worthwhile.

 

All photos taken at the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic can be found in a photo set on Flickr.com

 

 

 

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