Results tagged ‘ Aubrey Huff ’

Zorilla 2.0

I am starting to believe in this full circle train of thought. That all things go into circles and come back again new and improved and somehow modified in their simplicity. I guess we can say the same for Tampa Bay Rays newly annoited SS Ben Zorbrist, or should I call him Zorilla 2.0?

It was exactly 6 years and 33 days since the first time a young and lanky SS prospect was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros for a gruff and grumbling Aubrey Huff. Along with Zobrist the Rays received P Mitch Talbot, who we all know wears Cleveland Indians garb now. Zorbrist came to the Rays as a infield specialist, but his true specialty was playing the deep hole between second and third base both with range and a cannon attached to his shoulders.

Some say that his ability back then worked B J Upton around the infield from Third to Second before he finally found his home in Centerfield. But 2006 was a memorable season for the defensively maturing Zorilla as he spent only 18 games at Triple-A Round Rock and when Zorbrist and Upton were recalled by the Rays on August 1st after the Rays felt secure enough with the tag team of Upton and Zobrist at SS that they sent starting SS Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

All Zorilla did was start 50 of the final 56 games….all at the Short Stop position. How good was the new acquired defensive neophyte? Well not 31 days later did Zorbrist and Rays catcher Dione Navarro stamp their own brand on Major League Baseball history when they recorded the only 2-6-2 triple play…EVER.


Many might have forgotten Zorbrist was the Rays Opening Day SS in 2007 starting 13 of the Rays first 17 games, then something happened and he fell out of favor and started only 2 of the team’s next 17 games before the Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham and subsequently claimed SS Josh Wilson off waivers from Washington. Most see that as the memorial moment that the Rays might have set their sights on Zobrist being a key figure in the Rays scheme, just not front and center in their future infield.

Still, I think this is a great idea that has been kicked around for quite a while by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who wanted to see Sean Rodriguez take ownership of the spot, but little things have de-railed the S-Rod experience for the Rays along with Rodriguez’s enemic .209 average with only 6 HR and 30 RBIs. Zobrist has a great first move towards the hole, and even with a few years of rust to shake off before he again find his optimal rhythm, I hate to say it, he is a vast improvement at the plate as well as in the field.

There are going to be a few rough patches as he again gains the trust in his abilities on the opposite side the the second base bag, but if anyone can do it and provide the leadership and positive mindset needed to be a consistent and agile SS, it has to be the Rays # 18.

It is a lot to ask of a player who doesn’t even make the Rays all-time Top-5 SS list in any category, but this is also the same stellar fielder who garnered a .989 fielding average and is not listed on either the SS or 2B all-time errors Top-5 list (Upton is #5 @ 2B with 12). So far in 2012, Zobrist has 8 errors in 961 total innings all around the Rays infield, and outfield. As a whole, the trio of Rodriguez, Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson have combined for 31 errors with Zobrist tied with Rhymes for 3rd most on the team.

This is not to say errors will cease and life in the middle of the Rays infield will be a bed of roses. There will be challenges, possibly multi-error contests, but the leadership and offensive confidence of Zobrist should emulate enough so that the rest of the infield can feed off of Zorilla and grow tighter and stingier over the last portion of the season. The Rays have not put Zobrist’s finger in the dike hoping to stave off the total flooding of potential errors, but the maturation of Zobrist and his “can-do” persona should do miracles in a position in the field that was looking more like a gaping hole.

Seriously, to me it is a long time coming, and a position change that will not only get Zorilla consistent starts in one spot in the Rays field alignment, but it can finally give him a chance to possibly not have to lug around the huge equipment bag with 9 different gloves inside it. Who knows, if Zorilla takes to this position like he did in 2006 and makes it his own again…..It would be hard not to vote him again as the Rays team MVP like in 2009. Zorilla 2.0…….I like the sound of that more and more.  

Rays Now 0-11 on May 14th Games

 

 
RRCollections

This date, May 14th, has always held a small special place within me. It has been a day of honest reflection and undefined possibilities. It has been the Alpha and Omega of my entire life, not only as a person, but as an athlete. In High School, this date usually corresponded with either the Florida State Class 5-A Track and Field championships, or the State Decathalon event held every year at the University of Florida. But since that time has long passed in my life, it has come to signify other things. But with regards to my Rays baseball, this date can be murder on me and the entire Rays team.

For the last 11 out of 13 years, the Tampa Bay Rays franchise has been unable to win a single game on this May 14th date on the calendar. In 8 of the past 11 years, they have gone down in defeat and it has brought my joy and happiness on that day to a sudden standstill. The only blemishes on that dubious record is the fact of two “Off Days” thrown on the schedule in 2001 and 2007 to break up the streak a bit. But in reality, this is one date that the Rays have a huge wall in front of them, and I am beginning to blame myself.

Since 1999, I have circled this date on my calendar hoping to see the roof turned orange after a Rays victory. But again this year we came close, but it was no celebratory cigar again to be lit on this date. It has been my epicenter of baseball for the last 10 years. Since 1999, I have either traveled to Tropicana Field or another city or sat idle on this day in response to where the Tampa Bay Rays were playing baseball.
 
That is right people, I use this date as my personal symbol of my commitment to my level of fandom to the Rays. It is my own form of special celebration to the team that descended on my home town to make me have more remarkable summer nights than just cruising the beaches with the windows open, or sitting in a sports bar watching the NHL playoffs.

So here I go doing a 11-year recap of those games and their results. Even if it brings up bad memories or provide a bit of funk, this is a date I truly wished would change in their 13th season (My lucky number). Most people will probably not give a big deal about all of this, but on this day…….It is what I say that goes….Got it. 



Timmer82@Flickr.com

1999:   Tampa Bay D-Rays vs Anaheim Angels. (AWAY)

That is right, the Anaheim Angels. The Halos had not gotten politically correct yet to include the “LA” region back onto their name. But in this contest the D-Rays starter Bobby Witt did not get any signs of offensive support and the then D-Rays fell to the Halos 8-3.  A total of 5 hits were dished out by the D-Rays during this contest. The bottom of the Rays order did most of the damage with catcher John Flaherty hitting a homer in the game. But the Rays did  show some defensive signs of life, converting three double plays in the game.

2000:    Tampa Bay versus Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)

This was my first trip outside of the country since my Army National Guard Tour almost 10 years earlier, and it was my venture to this awesome Canadian town. I  got a wild distaste for customs on this trip, but that is a story for another time. In this game, the D-Rays sent starter Esteban Yan to the hill. Yes, the same Yan who would become the Rays closer later in his career and provide massive puddles of sweat on the pitching rubber. But the game belonged to Blue Jays starter David Wells, who just seemed to have the D-Rays at bay all night in this contest. 

Wells threw a 7-hit 2-run game against the D-Rays, but the Rays Bullpen let the game get away from them in the end. In the bottom of the ninth inning, D-Rays reliever Albie Lopez gave up 2 runs to hand the Jays a 3-2 win.  After the game, I got my first taste of feeling a bit out of place when a French speaking woman was trying to have a conversation with me in a neighboring pub, but I could only understand every fifth word. I only took French 1 in college. Guess that day ended up as a total disaster for me, both on and off the turf.


www.bernssteakhouse.com

2001:                                 Off Day

I decided on this day to just go on out and hit a local James Beard recommended eater that boasts its steaks and fine conversation during an intimate dinner. It was the first time I had ever ventured into this South side of Tampa, and I made my Visa credit card pay dearly for it. I had heard the praise of the food and atmosphere around Bern’s Steakhouse for years, but this was my first entrance into the wine and steak primo emporium. If you have not heard of this fine dining experience, then you have missed out on some of the best foodie tales to ever tell at a cocktail party.

The interior is done in a classic French chateau style complete with the red velvet wall coverings and an over abundance of photos of people no one seems to know on the wall. But the real attraction is the telephone book wine list that has the World’s largest and most opulent collection of wines. An added bonus to all of this is an extended aging process on all of their beef offerings, which translates into a bit of ambrosia on your plate. I am going to stop here before I drool and ruin another computer keyboard.

2002:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees ( AWAY)

This was my first baseball venture into the Ballpark in the Bronx. And I did wear my Rays gear into Yankee Stadium and had a minimal stint of problems. I had secured a seat right above the Rays dugout using a Yankee insider friend I knew while playing football for a great ticket. This game was over rea
l early as Rays starter Travis Harper did not last 3.2 innings before Rays reliever Steve Kent came on in long relief. It was my third game on this date, and I was beginning to think I was the cause for the losing on this date.

But in reality, the team was up against Yankees starter Roger Clemens, and he threw a 3-hit, 1-run outing on that night.  Rays Leftfielder Steve Cox did have a good night, getting two of the hits in the game. My old buddy Greg Vaughn did get a hit as the DH  also during that night. But in the end, the Rays fell by a 10-3 score because of a pair of Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada home runs.

2003 :     Tampa Bay vs. Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)  

Here I am again venturing across the open borders on my trip to Canada, but this time I decided to bring a French phrase book (just in case). I decided to stay at Rogers Centre hotel this time, but it did not help in securing a win for the Rays. In this contest, my old Rays friend and current Jays starter Cory Lidle was throwing against the Rays. The Rays sent young starter Dewon Brazleton to the mound, who reminds me of Jeff Niemann sometimes, and he  quickly got roasted with 7-hits and 5-runs in the outing. This was also during the time when the Rays had John Rocker on their roster, and after the game I chatted with him a bit in the hotel lounge.

But the Rays were beginning in this 2003 to show signs of the emergence of one of their key players in the Rays future. This was Rays rookie Carl Crawford’s first full year in the MLB, and he had mixed results in this May 14th game. He did go 1 for 5 in the game, but Aubrey Huff was the star of this game, but even his bat was not enough as the Rays lost the contest 7-6. the Rays did try and mount a offensive counterattack by scoring 4 runs in the top of the eighth, but Jaye reliever Cliff Politte (Ironic a “Cliff” did me in) secured his fourth save of the season by shutting down the Rays offense.



Radioinsomnia@Flickr.com

2004:     Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians (AWAY)

This was my first venture to “The Jake”, and it was the first time I have ever been mesmerized by an “away” stadium. They were celebrating the 10th anniversary of “The Jake”, and it did not even look a few years old at that point. This was the night that my flight got delayed in Atlanta and I was still sitting on the tarmac at 5 pm EST, but  got on a alternate flight and the plane began its descent towards Cleveland-Hopkins Airport at about 20 minutes before game time. The plane banked just perfect so I could get a great shot of the stadium beaming with excitement.

I did not get into the stadium until the fourth inning, and it was “Ladies Night” at the ballpark. I have to say it was the best present I ever got seeing this stadium and going down to the Warehouse District and dancing until near dawn. I even got to catch a home run ball by Indians Casey Blake in the 10th inning of the game. Unfortunately, it was the game winner and I still have that ball in a special place in my collection. We lost that contest 8-7, and it was another friend, Rays reliever Lance Carter who gave up the home run to Blake that night.

2005:   Tampa Bay Rays vs, Kansas City Royals (AWAY)

This was my first post-football visit to Kansas City. I did my usual old habit of hitting a few BBQ joints before the game, but the contest was the real treat of the night. I had always loved to see that night starter, Hideo Nomo pitch in his younger years in LA. Now the Rays had this aging Japanese superstar on their team, and I was anxious to see him pitch tonight. But the Rays offense ended up coming up a bit short during the 6-5 loss. Rays hitters Chris Singleton and Nick Green did their best to try and finally pull out a May 14th win for me, but it was not in the cards again tonight.

2006:   Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays (HOME)

Yes, that is right. This is the only time I have seen the Rays play at home so far in their existence. But the home cooking was not enough this night as the Blue Jays took final control of the game in the top of the ninth to send the Rays faithful home miserable after a 8-3 beating. In the contest, the Rays gave up 3 additional runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach for the Rays.

Jays starter Josh Towers took the mound and was not overpowering, but the Jays defense kept them in the game and the Jays produced just enough offense to pull  the game out in the end. The Rays sent starter Casey Fossum to the mound and he had some success against the Jays, but could not keep the big inning from getting to him in the fifth. Rays reliever Chad Orvella gave up 3 doubles and a triple to Alex Rios that was the deathblow of the contest.

2007:                                 Off Day

Since we were going to begin a 3-game series at the Walt Disney starting this morning, I decided to head on out to O-town and do some wandering of the region. I have to admit I am a bad Floridian. I have never been to Sea World, and have only been to Walt Disney World (before this series) twice in my life. I have not even been there since 1984, but was looking forward to hitting both downtown Orlando and the Disney adult complex after the game that night.

Instead, after the contest I headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios and had a celebration dinner and then just hit the multitudes of clubs in the Orlando area. I did order an outstanding steak and lobster dish at the Hard Rock that gave me boundless amounts of energy for the night. I just wanted to have a great night before the Rays started their series the next day. I heard a rumor that Pop star Justin Timberlake was in the VIP area after doing some Nick show that afternoon. That is as close to getting “Sexy Back” as I have gotten in my life.


RRCollections

2008:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees (AWAY)   

Back to old New York, New York. This would be my last trip into the old Yankee Stadium&nb
sp;haunts, and I tried to make the best of it. I did the usual Papaya King hot dog salute, and went down to Ground Zero, but I decided to sit in the Rightfield bleachers for this game. I do have to tell you I did get some wrath from the Bleacher Creatures at first, but by the end they were telling me a few places to have a post-game brew and maybe meet a Mets girl.

I think what went down better in their minds is the fact we lost a squeaker 2-1 to the Bronx Boys tonight.  Yankee starter Mike Mussina kept his dominance over the Rays intact and tight in this contest only giving up one run in the top of the sixth inning. This was also my first sighting of Joba Chamberlain, who did come into the game, but was gone just as quickly after walking 3 batters. James Shields also gave up all of the Yankee runs, but still pitched a great outing.

It was my last time to stroll amongst this hallowed baseball shrine, and I did take a stroll through Memorial Garden before the game. I even stayed a half hour after the game and was whisked out by security guards as I did not want to leave. But I did, still wearing my Rays gear and getting a few Bronx cheers, but nothing too bad to get me put into Fort Apache. But tonight was different from the other May 14th dates to me. I was at the last Rays game I would attend in this old iconic ballpark. I ended up sitting outside the front of the stadium for another half hour before finally heading to JFK to sleep before my 10 am flight back to Tampa International Airport.

2009:   Tampa Bay Rays vs Cleveland Indians (HOME)

On this night I had the feeling we might finally break the streak of not winning. Something in the air just felt different to me, and that gave me a immediate omen of a possible win. The Rays sent starter James Shields to the mound, but the Tribe quickly scalped him for 5 runs in the middle innings. It was a hole that the team would not come back from, even with 6-run effort to pull closer, the score was still 9-6 at the bottom of the sixth inning.

Just as quickly as we all began to sense a chance at victory in the stands after blanking the Tribe’s hitters in the top of the seventh inning, Rays reliever Grant Balfour gave up two runs and the Rays had to settle for a 11-7 loss. Even the ninth inning run by Ben Zorbrist on a Dioner Navarro double play, it brought the Rays only one more out and a chance to seal a final victory on May 14th. But B J Upton struck out to toss all those percentages down the drain. 

I hope I did not bore you too much with a special recollection on the date of May 14th through the Rays baseball times. I am lucky enough to have a home game again this season, and hopefully the team can break my curse of not getting a single victory on this date with me in attendance. You might notice that I had not included the date of May 14th 1998 on this blog. Well, that year I was here in St. Petersburg by my old dog’s side before he was to put to sleep. He had been my close ally for 15 years and had recently suffered a stroke and could not hold his balance well.

So I was not in Kansas City where the team fell 10-3 that night. As you can see, this can either be a day of rejoicing or pain depending on how you look at it. I see it as a beautiful day for baseball. I feel a bit older every day on this date (hint, hint), but what has not aged is the enthusiasm and joy I feel inside my soul on this date in relation to baseball. 

I truly have baseball in my heart of hearts, and I hope that shows most of the time. As I have gotten steadily older (about to enter another decade) I have been given the gift of remembrance of this date in time. And these past Rays games where I have either traveled or seen my favorite team take on the rest of the MLB from the comfort of my seat in Section 138 have all been classic birthday moments in my life.

Talk Radio Stoking the Rays Fires

 
VillageAdvocate.com/1986

Tampa Bay’s Sports Talk Radio formats are in the same old as most of those encircling the MLB communities. You got your syndicated Sports shows that pop on for hours in the late morning and early afternoon on various spots on the FM dial like the “Mike and Mike Show” or the obnoxious little troll on the “Jim Rohme Show”.

Then around the time the clock strike 3, you get some of the localized radio instigators and rough-talkers that tend to hit the air waves running with a negative vibe, or venom in their voice attacking instead of informing people. Most of the Tampa Bay Talk Radio hosts have a good center of mediation and do not try and throw the shock value into their daily programming.


And with the Tampa Bay Rays entering their third losing game in a row earlier this work week, the local Talk Radio phone lines were buzzing and full of anti-Maddon, anti-Rays chatter surrounded by a cloud of negativity that has not been seen here since Hal McRae jogged around Tropicana Field. Entering this past weekend, the Rays had gone 3-0 to begin their 9-game road journey by sweeping the Seattle Mariners for only the second time in franchise history, but instantly, the positive Kumbaya community feeling seemed to begin crumbling as soon as the team lost on Monday night.

We heard on the Rays Radio Network, a rejuvenated Ben Sheets take the Rays down hard on Saturday afternoon to start the Rays loss avalanche, then witnessed on the Rays Television Network the 19th Perfect Game in MLB history by leftie Dallas Braden who personally handed the Rays their first road series loss of the 2010 season. Then immediately, the Rays stumbled out of the gate against the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim and lost a critical extra inning affair to start their 3-game losing stint in Anaheim, where losses have always been a premium.

At that moment, I think the edge of panic and uncertainty on this team’s foundation scared some of the uninformed members of the Rays Republic, and instant shock waves were developed when radio hosts tossed out a bevy of negativity gernades.

 
Rays Radio Network

The Rays were a collective 22-9 before they tasted the sweet nectar of success again on Tuesday and Wednesday night. But even with one of the best starts in Rays franchise history, and one of the best records ever after only 33 games, the approaching poison was overflowing on the radio waves about the Rays team philosophy and hitting consistency. And a lot of the befuddled radio muses were about things that were not accurate, but were the fables of rambling madmen bent on destroying instead of building up the localities hopes of series resurgence to end this road trip on a high note.

It verged on throwing chum into the waters of Tampa Bay to see what would surface and attack it next. The Tampa Bay Talk Radio call-in sharks instantly smelled fresh blood, and their sense of common reasoning and comments quickly evolved into a frenzy feeding off each others negativity and constant bites and ill-advised snippets were made towards the team. I have been a part of this back and forth bantering by Rays fans in the past, both on the air waves and standing in lines at the stadium and sometimes I have gotten heated by the ignorance of people who do not seem to truly understand, or want to be told the truth.


But this time I was not going to digress to their lowly depths. I did not want to take a step backwards and give the rebel rouser’s anything to sink their nasty teeth into, or let them try and prey on another soul who still believes and sees positive signs on the horizon. Rays fans sometimes seem to forget just how far this Rays franchise had launched forward just in the past three short years. From the Rays uniform and logo change, to a true validation of character and positive energy in the clubhouse that makes players anxious to come to the ballpark.

Ask any of the ex-Rays from the past like Aubrey Huff, Fred McGriff or even Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs if they felt this type of leadership and commitment before in their Rays days. I would bet the farm they will emphatically tell you it is miles above the tension and the turmoil they encountered while wearing their Rays gear. This team is for real and is solidly got their feet on the ground and not stuck in the quicksand of the past.

One stumble on the road and this Tampa Bay region is already seeking a scapegoat or martyr to throw on the bonfires or burn in effigy. That to me is the fault of the Talk Radio hosts who have let the rousing get all consuming before they try to steer the madness a certain direction. I always thought it was the role of the radio host to mediate the approaching storm of alienating opinions by cultivating it with positive affirmations to show an alternative view instead of stoking the fires with kerosene? But then again, I might be old fashioned and not into the regiment of shock jock mentalities or misguided angst.

But it was hard for me here. I have been known to not back down from a fight or a argument, but this recent mob mentality was a bit too extreme for me. And even if a random Rays fan tried to inject their positive spin on the issue and got a brief moment to speak, he was quickly consumed and destroyed by the masses with their nasty wave of opinions that seemed to sting the caller like a hundred wasps attacking an intruder.

 
620WDAE.com

Some of the negative Nellie’s were throwing logic out the window by expressing their opinions like they are spun off golden rays, but forgetful that underneath was a stench and a rotting decay of ignorance and annoyance. And there were a few radio hosts more than eager to let the bloodletting commence in hopes that ratings would take upwards trends, boosted by the loud and proud head-bobbing brood that did not even think of researching for the truth before spewing their carnage onto the radio waves.


How could they just throw away the truth of the Rays historic April 2010 which is not more than a year removed from one of their worst starting points (9-14 in 2009) in club’s history is beyond me. But it is the job of the radio host to move the conversation towards fertile grounds and not fester into the battlefields of discontent or dismay, unless that is their intention. So should we be actually attacking or using subterfuge towards the negative Talk Radio hosts, or just take it on the chin knowing that one day their listeners will awaken to see their motives and move on down the radio to another more rewarding and charismatic voice.

With their victory on Wednesday evening, the Rays posted another win and boosted this road trip record to 6-3. More than respectable considering the past debacles and pratfalls that usually encounter the team on a jaunt into the West Coast Major League Baseball regions. A 6-3 mark is winning over 2/3rds of their games, which for most teams is a beautiful success, and something to build on coming into a small 5-game home stand. But the Rays snarling mob have gotten used to winning after that almost perfect 9-1 road trip to start the season and took that past record as their focal point instead of the fact we still lead our American League East division.

The Rays organization has built a winning tradition here that did not have a footing before 2007 in both the record and the clubhouse. Come heck or high water, this region should embrace and rejoice in the Rays triumphs and forgive the minor setbacks and focus again on the long term goal…Playoffs and beyond. I can tell you I personally do not listen to Talk Radio before heading to a Rays game. I want to be filled with positive thoughts and energies before stepping within the confines of Tropicana Field. But I do partake in the Rays post-game show and enjoy the recaps and most of the banter expressed by the Rays fans on the broadcast.

But every once in a while, a “Negative Nellie” get through to Rays Radio host Rich Herrera and he lets them get out their poison before he tries to again fill them with the positives and show them alternative views and thoughts about the same issue they just vented. And that is a firm example of a Talk Radio host being the skipper of the radio show and steering it off the rocks and sandbars to provide positive affirmation not matter if we win or lose the contest.
 
This is not to mean this region needs a enema of the negative or even overflow of controversial shock Talk Radio personalities. We just need a sense of unity to get people to want to head to the ballpark, and the negative energy just evoke a sense of “bridge-phobia” or even apathy to the whole Rays situation. To paraphrase Ron Burgundy from “Anchorman”, “Stay classy Tampa Bay!”.

A Sad Goodbye

 
 
RRCollections

I am done. I am completely done. Over the last decade I have been fooling myself inside and have finally come to the reality that maybe, just maybe I am not the fan I put out there for everyone else to see at Tampa Bay Rays games. Maybe it was the finalization that I am not even a thought in the entire process that my money is more important than me, the Season Ticket holder. Or maybe it was final obeservation that I am treated like a second class citizen by most baseball fans because I do not have a big “B” or pinstripes on my game day wear.

Or it might have been the reality that I was chasing the dream of the “underdog” for so long that I fell into a rut or trap to where I did not have a way or a reason to want anything different. Or maybe it was the final observation that over the past few Rays season little by little my past Rays special moments have been whittled away from me, that now I am just like the guy **** comes up to the Rayx Box Office at 7:05 pm, I am just a number.

And it is sad that today I will get a huge bag of charcoal, fire that grill up and throw my 50+ autographed wooden bats, tons of photos and paper collectibles and game-used jerseys onto the flames to finally return to the heavens. For maybe the frustration levels just got so bad in my head and my heart that change had to happen now to save my soul for another sports love. Maybe I finally found the sport that will love me back as the Tampa Bay Rowdies will soon come back from the ashes and play soccer again in Tampa Bay.

 
TBO.com

But the stark reality that things have slowly been taken from me as a fan of the Rays has been a stepping stone path towards this funk I am in right now. And it is time to release the devil or demon within my chest and set it free to maybe take the soul of the “Happy Heckler” again. And it was a subtle reversal of my favorite moments that went unoticed within my mind, but now it really looks like a deliberate move by the Rays to remove my presence from their fan base with slow and methodical surgical moves to cut the umbilical cord.

Maybe the first instance that the end was coming was when the Rays held the Rays Season Ticketholder Photo Day the next morning after the team celebrated their first Playoff berth after an evening and night of late into the twilight celebratory drinks, song and maybe even a few Patron shots. When only a handful of Rays players came out for photos and much more of them were ushered way into the field of the surrounding fans and we were not even offered a quick photo or even a snap of a photos are they were whisked down the line not even turning towards the crowd….once.

Or maybe it was the reality that even though I am a kid at heart at the ballpark I could no longer complete my baseball collection each season getting some of the harder autograph becuase I was not under 14 years of age, which is the current age limit for getting player’s autographs in the lines on Sundays. Maybe that was strike two in my obvious heart. For this hurt my 2009-2010 adventure to have an autograph of everyone who was on the Rays 25-man roster during those seasons and now I am left with trading with young fans who want cold hard cash for their signed balls instead of trading Rays collectibles.

 
AP/Chris O’Meara

Or maybe the final blow was finding out today that even thought I have been faithfully writing paragraph after paragraph over the last few years into this very blog entry that I am viewed as an angry fan and not someone willing to post positive or even new news about the team in a “Rays fan’s point of view”. I am flabbergasted that my over 750 posts have been viewed as trash, that they have been proposed as fan propaganda with hidden agendas and motives. That my fan worship has been all about the all mighty dollar and not about the baseball and friendships that come wit it all.

So I guess all that is left to say is that I am done. I am finished. I am going to fade into the dark abyss. Sure I might have paid $ 1,800 dollars for my Rays seats but it will make a nice fire tonight. I can not fanthom following or even writing about a team who can not feel a kinship bond with me, even though some of them are my closest friends. I guess today is the day I am not longer a Tampa Bay Rays fan.

And like a bad relationship or marriage this break-up is coming with a heavy heart. It was not anticipated, planned or even thought possible even 24 hours ago, but now it is here and is a final nail in the coffin as I watch that shaved down Jose Canseco bat burning on the grill putting grill makes on the white pine shaft of the game-used bat. And next will be my “Jersey Off Their Back” Damon Rolls and Aubrey Huff jerseys with the whole episode finalizing with me burning my 1998 Game Used Wade Boggs jersey hopefully around nightfall.

It is said to sometimes say goodbye, but maybe this one has been 13 years long overdue. Maybe on this April 1, 2010 I finally found out that I am just a number. That my significance is minimal and insignificant to the Rays with every fiber of my being. Maybe on this first day of April, even with the season about to unfold…..my seat will be empty for 81 games……Goodbye.

 

 

 

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Rays Finally Sporting Green Again on St. Patrick’s Day

 

 
                    MISC2010 | www.RaysRenegade.com

I love this day. On St. Patrick’s Day everyone among the entire baseball rank and file is of Irish decent for at least 24 hours. And along with the Rays, every other Major League Baseball team seems to embrace this day with zeal and enthusiasm along with a fine bit of the green somewhere upon their uniforms.
 
But for some odd reason, since the Tampa Bay Rays changed their basic game day Batting Practice jersey tops and overall team color scheme away from the Forest Green shade in November 2007, the team had not played a single game on March 17th. That’s right, for two straight Grapefruit seasons the normally blue-hued Rays have had this ultimate green day off for the last two Spring Training seasons.

And it is really wild that a team that used to boast on their backs everyday Forest Green uniforms throughout their Spring Training schedule from 2001-2007, lost their way on this day of consuming corned beef and cabbage and a few adult malted beverages.
 

Ever since the Rays public presentation in St. Petersburg’s Straub Park in November 2007, when the Rays revealed to the Rays Republic their new trend to dismantle the past Rays green and become a new with the Rays blue, we have been absent from the Grapefruit schedule on this one date.
 

But alas ( I always wanted to say that ) with a new decade sprung upon us, hopefully a new Rays tradition has blossomed as I foretold to the Rays Republic 10 days ago on Twitter, about the anticipated Rays headgear for this glorious day. For on that great day, Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland confirmed the wee scuttlebutt I had heard from Irish lad in the Rays Front Office that the Rays would embrace the green again this fine date.
 

 
www.TBO.com

And the tradition would return again in the glorious addition of a Rays Kelly Green cap with a white shamrock upon it nestled just to the bottom left of the Rays “TB” symbol on their cap.

 

And the Luck of the Rays on this fine day in 2010 would be better than the last time the Rays adorned the green back in 2007 when the last Green clad Rays squad lost 5-3 to the Cleveland Indians at Progress Energy Field . On that day, fine Irish names ( at least for 1 day) like Casey Fossum, Gary Glover, Tim Corcoran and Greg Norton graced the Rays Spring roster but could not bring home the victory.
 

But there was another time, and not so long ago that the Rays wore this same shade of Kelly Green, and it was amazing. The entire Rays staff and players donned Kelly Green uniforms on this date in 2002, and they did it both to celebrate the day, and to also support their local in-house charity, The Rays of Hope Foundation.

But during that special 2002 St Patrick’s Day game during the Namoli days, the Rays of Hope Foundation used this day to celebrate and entice the Rays faithful into giving from their hearts. On March 17,2002, every single member of the Rays organization from the Rays players and Coaches down wore a Kelly Green cap and jersey top especially fashioned for the occasion.
 

The uniform top and cap made a bold statement that day, and also was an instant collector’s item for the Rays fan base. But there was a catch. For the chance to own a piece of this special Rays history, you had to go on line at the team’s website and participate in a silent Rays auction bidding on the autographed cap and jersey you wanted from your favorite Rays player or Coach.

 

 
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I know I did my part during the next week constantly submitting bids on three different jerseys and caps, finally winning two jerseys for my Rays collection. I ended up owning a jersey signed by Rays reliever Jesus Colome and Aubrey Huff jerseys to my budding Rays collection. It was a great item to add to my collection, and I was helping the Rays charity in their work around the Tampa Bay community with my purchase.

I have even worn them to Rays games the last several years and people are surprised that the team wore that bold green shade even once during their “green” days.

 

But I have a burning question today. Why didn’t the Rays current charity arm, The Rays Foundation not even think of reestablishing this 2002 Rays tradition when the Rays would be playing at home in Port Charlotte, Florida for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day?

Before the Rays two-year absence on this date, the team last played the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater on St. Patrick’s Day, and you know the Phillies were sporting their green uniforms proudly that day. And how nostalgic it would have been if the team again donned the green uniforms against the same Twins team they faced in 2002 wearing Kelly green uniforms.

 

I truly think it was a lost opportunity for the Rays Foundation to gather additional charitable funds and establish a secondary yearly auction idea with the team again poised to wear green upon their heads today. And the Rays Foundation could have easily gotten a substantial payday to put towards those 2010 charity goals, and maybe even surpass their 2010 expectations with such a event.

Back in 2002, both Majestic and New Era caps were on board when the Rays last held a St. Patrick’s Day auction, why could it have not worked again in 2010? It is not like The Rays Foundation has not done this type of charity autographed uniform auction fundraising.

The Rays Foundation has the experience in focusing on this same type of event since they are an active participant in the Rays online “Throwback Jersey” auctions held the last several years when the Rays wore either their own past Rays past colors, or those of former Tampa Bay area teams like the St. Petersburg Saints.

 

I am not going to say the Rays Foundation dropped the ball here because they might never have even picked it up in the first place. But I would have thought someone roaming around up on the Rays third floor offices would have approached such an idea, or even attempted to duplicate this extremely popular past event and also make some great coinage to support other charitable Rays Foundation endeavors.
 

When I was calling around trying to get confirmation on the Rays green cap for St. Patrick’s Day way back in February, I asked someone who works up in the Rays Front Office about if the Rays had a plan to again play wearing an all-green uniforms on St. Patrick’s Day, and they had no idea why the Rays organization did not fall all over this idea, and institute again an all green Rays 2010 moment on St. Patrick’s Day.
 

Sometimes it truly amazes me that the Rays for some reason do not embrace their old not so distant history. but then again, the current Rays ownership has been trying to move from the “Rays” basic team concept from the image of the swimming docile creature, to a more omnificent “Rays of light” concept.

Funny, I even went in the archives of my Rays Renegade blog and found that one of my 2010 New Years predictions was hoping the Rays would embrace this past great event with gusto again.

 

 

There are plenty of Major League Baseball teams sporting green today. Some like the Oakland A’s still have it as their primary color in their jerseys. But the Rays abandoned that part of their past, and on a special day like St. Patrick’s Day, I would hope that the team again embrace their “green” past, plus provide a special moment for everyone, especially their fans. The special edition cap can be purchased at the Rays Team Store in 2010, and online for $19.99, but it doesn’t sport the shamrock on it in the online photo.

 

I am glad the Rays have taken the first steps to again bringing the “green” back to the Rays at least for St. Patrick’s Day this year. I am actually happy that the organization made this move, and I hope that I might have put an brainstorming future idea into the Rays Foundation for another future St. Patrick’s Day uniform auction.
 

And I kind of find it a bit of poetic justice that the team the Rays last wore Kelly Green against, the Minnesota Twins are again in town today to play the Rays. Hopefully this time with the added shamrock the luck of the Rays will come through. In 2002, the Rays lost to the Twins at home on this date 7-5.

 

Well, it is game time here in Port Charlotte and I have to go catch some Rays baseball. But I will be sure to raise my cold and frothy glass high today at the Rays Tiki Deck bar and salute the past, present and future Rays health, glory and bevy of wins on a day when we all should be proud to be truly Green Rays fans.
 

Hodge Podge of Saturday Samplings

 


Steve Nesius / AP

Today I am thinking a million things and my mind is running a mile a minute. Every once in a while it seems like there is so much going on that I can not even think of getting even 50 percent of it out to people since my little Acer net book went down in a pile of flaming programming errors. That is right, my new little toy decided it did not want to be in the media world and committed cyber-suicide by shutting down the operating system and playing dead for me.

I was lucky enough to have this happen within the 90-day warranty time and they are in the waiting process of sending me a spanking new unit that they have check out prior to them sending it to me. Put that little adventure along with my room mate now getting into blog talk radio and I have limited time on my own home computer. Imagine that, I have to schedule time on my own computer now. Guess living in the laundry room no longer has its perks. lol

Seriously, I get most of the day and some night time hours that I squeeze in by force, not by kindness. But it could be worse, could still have that refrigerator box on the three skateboards moving the box to different locales every third night for ambiance. So let’s get to some Tampa Bay Rays news that the local media might not know, or want to tell you right now.


Fly Like an Eagle

I have to admit, the idea was amazing the pageantry of the event was spectacular and even the first glimpse of that majestic bird leaving the arm of the cute handler was a sight to be seen. It brought a great wave of positive emotions while I stood there during the National Anthem and watched that beautiful creature do several laps around the Rays outfield before finally deciding to rest.

The birds motions while flying around the outfield were so fluid and amazing to me. I have seen eagles fly in the wild while staying in Washington state with relative for the summers, but watching one in your favorite ballpark was truly a memory for the ages.

 

But the place this majestic bird decided to roost for about an inning was not the planned ending spot for the event. The bird, maybe by divine intervention, or maybe just for a bird’s eye view decided to finally come to rest on the letter “S” in Rays that is painted on the slanted roof of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in Tropicana Field. We know it was not a planned event because of the sheer facial expression on the trainers face as she stood in the middle of the Rays outfield looking up that the bald eagle sitting boldly and triumphantly on the roof.

Of course they did finally get him to move towards the trainer up on the roof, but not after a good 10 minutes of him just sitting there checking out the crowd like the proud symbol he represents. It was only by accident that he picked that spot on the roof, but it made for a classic Rays moment, and hopefully an good luck omen for the team the rest of the season. I hope we can again see this awesome bird fly at Tropicana Field and you too can see the effortless flight and beauty up close of this great bird.


Mike Carlson / AP


C C Does it Again

The have been tons of amazing feats and plays by Carl Crawford in his Rays career. The guy has been a huge part of this franchise since he first came up from the minors in 2002. It is hard to imagine this Rays team without him on their roster. But among all the spectacular events and game play during Saturday nights game was lost some huge moments for Carl Crawford as a Rays player. 

Crawford on Saturday night played in his 1,000th Rays game, and according to the Elias Bureau, the Rays are the last of the 30 current MLB clubs to reach that 1,000 game plateau in their careers.  During that time, Crawford has amassed 87 triples and 341 stolen bases for the Rays.

What is more amazing is that he is the only player aside from Ty Cobb who has amassed as many triples and stolen bases through his first 1,000 games. Crawford is already the Rays All-Time leader in a multitude of categories like triples, stolen bases, hits, RBI, runs and at-bats. With his next double, he will also take over the current doubles title currently held by former Ray Aubrey Huff at 172 doubles.

Crawford is also one stolen base shy of his 6th season of 40+ steals in a year.  What is truly amazing is that his 39 current steals are the most by Crawford before the All-Star break. And right now he is ahead of his career high when he stole 59 bases in 2004.


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Home Sweet Home

Every team in the major league baseball knows of the traditions of the noise that can rock Tropicana Field during Rays home games. The traditions of the cowbells and that the Trop’s roof become a orange beacon that can be seen from the Howard Franklin bridge in the horizon as you come back into Pinellas county from Tampa on winning nights. But how many fans have noticed that the team since May 15th have gone 19-5 for a .792 winning percentage.
 

And we have only had two concert series where we are currently 11-0 when the crowd swells to over 30,000. So it was no surprise to most of the Rays faithful when we set down the Florida Marlins on Sat. night before the Lady of Rock and Roll, Pat Benatar took the stage to celebrate the win with us.


So here we are with a current 4-1 record during the home stand with one game to play against the Marlins in the Citrus Series. With the yearly bragging rights already secured by the Rays in the Citrus series, it is the Rays fifth Citrus series win in the last eight seasons, including back-to-back series triumphs since last season. 

Also included in all this great karma is the  fact the Rays have won seven out of the last nine at home against the Marlins.  They will look to Sunday’s game for a chance to take three of the last four series at home against the South Florida based Marlins. But what is even more amazing is the fact that during the 2009 InterLeague schedule, the Rays are currently 12-5 in mixed league play and will go for their 13th win tomorrow.

Their 12-5 record is currently tied for the third best record in the MLB this season.  The best InterLeague win total for the Rays was 15 victories set in 2004.  They are currently averaging 6.4 runs per game, and are hitting over .300 as a team, both marks are the best in the MLB this season. Also based on winning percentages, Rays Manager Joe Maddon has the third best winning percentage in InterLeague play right now with a 42-29 record for a .592 winning percentage.

 

Benzo, Zorilla, Zobrist for All-Star Hybrid

 


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You have heard all the hype and the  high brow accolades being thrown his way recently on countless Fantasy shows.  And the country is just getting to know the awesome offensive and defensive abilities of a player Tampa Bay Rays fans have been watching develop since 2006. He might not have seemed to have such ‘ambidextrous” promise when he was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros on July 12, 2006 along with current Rays Triple-A pitcher Mitch Talbot for Aubrey Huff, but his numbers and playing time has risen just like his persona to an almost cult like status at Tropicana Field. 

Such a player might not even be a glint in a manager’s eye come All-Star time.

He was originally brought in to be an insurance policy for Julio Lugo, who was a streaky shortstop for the Rays at that time, and because  former First Rounder, B J Upton, who was going to be the Rays heir apparent to the shortstop position was considering other options within the  Rays future concept. He ended up garnishing a utility role on the Rays from 2006-2008. But it was after he came back from a broken left thumb sustained in Spring Training in 2008 that Rays Manager Joe Maddon finally sensed he might have found a special athlete and key component to his lineup in the young “Super Utility” player.


A spot on the All-Star team honoring such a player would be akin to the NBA’s “Sixth Man” awards.


Before the 2009 season, Zobrist had always been listed among the infielders on the Rays 40-man roster, but beginning in April 2009, he was listed on the outfield section of the teams 40-man roster for the first time in his career. He had grown into that hybrid role so well he was now going to be roaming any of eight positions in the field for the team, and with his emergence with a bat, Maddon was toiling daily on where to put the budding star.

So, because of his new found glory on the field the Rays were in a pickle about where his new natural position might be for the team. Maddon basically decided to leave him as a hybrid player who will play any position needed, and Zobrist has responded beyond even Maddon’s expectations. 

Shouldn’t a valuable member of a team as the 10th man be included on the All-Star ballot no matter what is position?

All he did that last portion of 2008 is give us all a sweet taste of what he would do in 2009. He only went to the plate 198 times in that season, but he posted 50-hits and 12 homer runs. More impressive was the fact he also hit two Grand Slams in that short period to send the switch-hitters stock skyward among utility players.  His Slugging Percentage of .505 was remarkable for a player who did not play every day. But what he seemed to lack at that time in offensive number he made up for in defensive skills. He played four different positions for the Rays in 2008, participating in 190 total chances in the field and only committing 7 errors. What is more remarkable is that all 7 errors were at his old position, shortstop. At the other three positions for the Rays, he was flawless in 2008. 

Shouldn’t both defense and offensively superior players be included on the All-Star team in a new ballot position?

So as 2009 came around, the Rays and Zobrist were retooling the young player into a hybrid player that could be inserted anywhere in the line-up at anytime to either produce offensively, or be a competent backstop to end defensive laxes late in a game. So far the defensive numbers have been consistent for the budding star as he has posted only two errors in 135 chances this season. That comes out to two in the infield to go along with his two outfield assists so far in 2009.  His play in the outfield has been a breath of fresh air to the Rays fans, and his bat has been a godsend to the offense that has struggled at times this season getting key runs in close games.

        
         Steve Nesius / AP

His offensive numbers have proven he is a needed member of this offense and he is extremely gifted at both sides of the plate.  He is currently tied for third on the team with go-ahead or tying runs  with Carlos Pena in 2009 with 9 runs. You might not have seen his 2009 numbers on the MLB Leader board this season based on the fact he is still under the numbers of at bats needed to qualify for the big board, but his numbers are consistent with the leaders in a lot of categories in 2009. His current average of .296 might not grab your attention, but he is currently tied for second place with Nick Swisher of the Yankees for home runs by a switch-hitter, and he is not even a starter. 


A Hybrid player is among the Big Boys in Hitting, can you say…Impressive!

He is currently tied for third among the big boys in RBI (33 ), just behind  the Yankees Mark Teixeira (50) and Indians slugger Victor Martinez (41). He is in a three-way tie with 33 RBI with everyday players Swisher, New York Met Carlos Beltran and Dodger infielder Orlando Hudson.  Every player mentioned on this list so far has a good chance to be on the 2009 All-Star roster, but Zobrist. 

In his last 5 games he has homered three time, including his new Rays team record fourth Grand Slam of his career.  He has joined Swisher as the only player to hit a Grand Slam from each side of the plate in the same season. In his last 24 games he is hitting .338, with 6 homers, 3 triples and 19 walks.

Defensive Gold Gloves never go to Utility players, maybe an All-Star nod?

His .662 Slugging Percentage would lead the would lead the American League and be third in the majors behind Cardinal Albert Pujols and Philly Raul Ibanez but he is 11 plate appearances short of qualifying his OPS of 1.070 would only be bettered by Red Sox Kevin Youkilis in the American League. As a pinch-hitter this season he leads the major leagues in RBI with 9 and is tied with the Phillies Matt Stairs with 3 home runs.  To put a final exclamation point on his 2008-2009 season, he has 23 homers in 340 plate appearances or 14.78 At Bats per Home Run, which is an astronomical number.

Shouldn’t  the utility player also get an All-Star spot?

So here is my problem fans. As the 2009 All-Star balloting is starting its stretch run we know that a utility player like Zobrist might not have a chance to make the final list. He has played in too many positions to qualify for the ballot in even one spot. For that reason we have a simple problem, MLB needs to make a decision if all his votes will be counted as a whole instead of as his Write-In position.

I know I have made out over 1,700 ballots that put him in the outfield position, but I also know of people who have given him the nod as an infielder. Since he is such a hybrid player, maybe he should have all his votes counted not withstanding what position they come in as on the ballots.

           
            Steve Nesius / AP


This is a huge change of policy for the head honchos at MLB, and might spark a change to maybe add another position to the ballot. I mean why would you not want to reward the 10th man on your roster the way the NBA celebrates its “sixth man” awards. That one guy who can do it all, and doesn’t complain and produces at the plate should be the same honor as another player on the turf.

But so far there is not “grass roots” or even written acknowledgement that a change should occur. I proposing right now that the MLB take into consideration the fact that this 10th man is as vital to the league’s success as the other nine guys on the lineup card. It might be a defensive change, or a change based on the late inning hitting match-ups with pitchers, but this hybrid position is expanding every year. Shouldn’t they also get a change to celebrate at the All-Star break with the rest of the league?


Could we see a change on future All-Star ballots MLB? Just let us know……

I am hoping that Maddon uses Zobrist this year as an example of what that 10th man can do for an All-Star roster. We are playing in the National League park, and a bench player such as the hybrid could be a huge plus for either team’s roster. It might be a gamble right now of “too little, too late,” but I am making the campaign promise that I am going to try and get some sort of result out of this.

Every team has a guy of this caliber who sit on the bench waiting and hoping to change the outcome of a contest. Why not reward that kind of player?


The utility player/hybrid has changed the way we have played baseball. It was usually just a guy on the bench who could hit, but now it has transformed into a player who can take on multiple roles for his team. This position deserves a spot on the All-Star roster. Every team has one. The Red Sox have Jed Lowrie who would fit into this category perfectly with Zobrist.   It might be too late for 2009, but with consideration and thought, it could make an appearance in 2010 if we, the fans really want it to be on the ballot.


Steve Nesius / AP

Sure it will take away an additional spot on the roster right now reserved for a bench player, but why would you sit a usual starter and bring him off the bench when you could have a utility/hybrid player selected by the fans to come off the bench in any situation and be completely comfortable in the spot. Madness I tell you, progress is madness. Now where did I put my straitjacket?

Matt Joyce is joining a Special Rays Group

 


Steve Nesius / AP

After last night’s game, during the Florida Sports Network post-game interview newly anointed right fielder Matt Joyce acknowledged the fan base in rightfield that was so supportive of him after he hit his second homer in two games. The young right fielder has only been back in the Rays fold since coming back up to start in centerfield for B J Upton during the Sunday afternoon game. He is beginning to get the feeling that the rightfield crowd can make or break a player in Tampa Bay. During the interview he was quick to voice his appreciation for the show of support and loud applause for him so early in his Tampa Bay career.

Joyce is a local guy who dreamed back when he was in Tampa’s Armwood High School of someday patrolling the outfields at Tropicana Field. It is quickly becoming one of those great hometown stories that national and local papers like to use to show the local fan base is alive and well in Tampa Bay. And little by little he will get to know that sometimes this same fan base that is happily clapping cowbells louder and louder for him can be a fickle bunch at times.

From the first game ever for the Rays on March 31, 1998, when current Bench Coach Dave Martinez was the first guy to man the “9” spot for the Rays, the love-hate relationship with our rightfielders have been a very open subject. In that first contest, Martinez got the first hit by a Rays player in history and the crowd in right field was there to show their support for him loud and clear that night. From the days of Martinez to the fan adulation of another right fielder, Bubba Trammel, the position has had its share of positive and negative men man the spot under the Jumbotron. Martinez has since gone on to become another special piece of the Rays puzzle as he is the second eyes and ears of Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but you know he still has a special place in his heart for that rightfield corner.

Martinez played with Tampa Bay until they traded him to the Chicago Cubs in 2000 for pitcher Mark Guthrie.  Most of all, Martinez had played in over 1,799 games as a player and did not get to the post season one time. During his first stint as a coach for the Rays, he got his dream and more in 2008.  But it might have been the tough guy Bubba Trammell that so far has been the most revered of Tampa Bays rightfielders.

He was the chosen object of affection of the old 142 Crew, which sat out in Section 142 of the Trop and cheered for him nightly. And he was the kind of guy you wanted to see achieve great things. He was a hustler and a gambler on the field, and carried a big bat into the box with him nightly. Originator of the 142 Crew,Ted Fleming, who now is a member of the local media for The Examiner.com covering the Rays and hosts his own sports radio show on WSRQ-1220 AM in Sarasota, Florida was one of the first to loudly and proudly cheer for Trammell. 

His 142 Crew used to be so vocal during Trammell’s at bats that the Rays stopped the music early so that the “Bubba” chant could be heard throughout the stadium. 
Trammel was one of those guys you wanted to see do good and excel in the game.  After his short time in Rays-land, current Kansas City Royal Jose Guillen enjoyed moments among the Rays rightfield crazies. But who knows, maybe the 142 Crew can reunite and find a second life now in Section 142 again with the likes of Matt Joyce patrolling the outfield fences.

But there have been a host of great outfielder to gain fans vocal support in the past in right field. Current Royals rightfielder Jose Guillen spent a few seasons listening to the cheers and jeers in the Trop. Guillen was known mostly for his rifle arm that just seemed to be able to pinpoint and throw out anyone on the base paths.  The you had the always smiling Damian Rolls, who was more of a Ben Zobrist clone in the early 2000-2002 seasons.

He used to play wherever and when ever the Rays needed him, but he liked playing rightfield for the fans yelling where the base runner was right before he turned around to throw. Jonny Gomes, another fan favorite for his playing style that seemed more “Pete Rose”-style than anyone else to ever put on a Rays jersey used to love jogging out to right field because of the cheers he got every night from the fans. He also made sure to reward them with balls ever so often to show his appreciation for the fans support.

Jose Cruz Jr. also made a stop with the Rays after playing for the rival Toronto Blue Jays and saw a quick difference in the jeers to cheers he got for finally playing for the Rays. Cruz used to batter Rays pitching in Tropicana Field, and he continued to hit well in the Trop while he was with the Rays. Even when Gabe Gross first took his right field spot in 2008 after being traded to the Rays, the crowd made sure to welcome him on his first night with a thunderous applause.

But not everyone who played rightfield was met with cheers every night. Some players who played out there actually dreaded some of the nights they had to go out and play in right field. To say the rightfield crews were not well versed in baseball would be a crime. But some of the guys who have also manned the spot forgot how to play the game sometimes. Ben Grieve came to the Rays after a great beginning to his career in Oakland.

He never seemed to be at home here and quickly he seemed to garner the vocal backlash from the fans. His playing style was not accepted by the Rays faithful because he seemed to be so lackadaisical about the simple things of the sports. Add that to some hitting woes and it was a recipe for insults and catcalls for the young player.

But the fans seemed to be just getting started because after Grieve left the Rays, another player came out to play in rightfield who always seemed to get a mixed bag of reactions from the fans. Aubrey Huff did not come out and vocally state he did not like playing in right field, but sometimes it did give that impression to the fans out there.

Even though he was still a monster at the plate, his defense in right was questioned a few times during his brief time out there. Huff played his last baseball in Tampa Bay in rightfield, and even to that last day the fans always held him in a love-hate relationship.

But the guy who seemed to be the most hated rightfielder was not a member of the New York Yankees, or even the Boston Red Sox. He was a guy who was quiet on the field and might have even been hated or despised even before his first game in a Rays uniform. Delmon Young never seemed to have gotten a fair break from the rightfield fans, but then again, he never reached out to them either.

The young star held an air of entitlement and fut
ure glory from the moment he first stepped towards the slanted rightfield corner. Most of that was played out in comments and actions by him while he was coming up through the Rays minor league system.

But his lack of general respect for the game was not lost on the rightfield faithful, and they rained down on him whenever he made a goof or a mistake, even a unintentional blunders on the base paths. I can not say he never got a fair shot, but he also never seemed to care, so the rightfield fans fed on that and rain down catcalls more than cheers for him while he was here. 

So the Rays fans have embraced the young Joyce and have seen greatness in him. The best part is that he has been here before in his career. Unfortunately he was in leftfield, but he has heard the roars from the right field stands before and might have been more aware of the fans because of his 2008 time with the Detroit Tigers.

Most might remember that he went  2-8 during the Tigers only visit to Tropicana Field from August 1-3, 2008. In that game he played two contests in leftfield, but made impressions for his hustle and defensive skills. He also played in all four of the Tigers home game against the Rays from September 25-28, 2008, but only managed to secure one hit in that series. He is off to a great start in his career with the Rays.

He has made a great impression in the spring when he came back from his ankle and calf situations to pound the ball late in Spring Training.  So far with the Rays he is 6 for 17 for a nice .363 average to start the fans in his favor. His 6 RBI, with 4 just last night will also go a long way in securing the fan’s early support for the young star.


Mike Carlson / AP

Rightfield in Tropicana Field has seen its good and bad times. But the players who have manned that position have made not only a impression into Rays history, but some of them still are considered a part of the Rays family. Joyce is just the latest in the line of great players to man the “9” spot, but with his future bright and the crowd behind him.

He could easily move into cult status like Jonny Gomes or Bubba Trammell with a great season for the Rays.  And wouldn’t it be great to see more signs like the one last night that said, “The Right Choice…. Matt Joyce” ever night in rightfield.

Bird is the Word Last night

 

                Orioles 7,      Rays 5

           
                   Mike Ricigliano/www.baltimoresun.com

During last night’s game, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds kept going through my mind.  You might remember the scene where they were stuck in the gas station and the pumps were about to blow up and the anxious and terrified adults were looking for options, but none came to their minds. That is the same rationale that was floating through my head after watching seven innings of the Tampa Bay Rays scrambling for answers and coming up blank.

I mean I could have only had to watch the game from the first pitch just past 7 pm until American Idol began on Fox Television at 8 pm, and I would have seen all the Rays offense in that contest.  I know there were more scoring chances in the game after that huge second inning, but the Rays did not execute or even seemed to have the ability to provide any additional show of consistent offense after that inning.  The wildest play of the night had to be on a fly ball hit by Ben Zobrist and a wild game of “catch me if you can” in centerfield by Adam Jones and Ty Wiggington.

That play was a negative Web Gem all its own. Jones came in for the ball and Wiggington stood to his right to watch him glove the ball for an easy out. But instead we had a Three Stooges (Wiggy was playing the part of Curly Joe) routine where Jones misplayed the ball and it popped off his glove and smacked Wiggy in the chest and he had a chance to be the hero, but the ball finally fell to the grass.  For his efforts, Jones did get an error on the play.

From the third inning on tonight the Rays only got five additional hits in the game. Unfortunately the Rays did provide the Orioles defense with 2 strikeouts and two double plays in those last 7 innings to secure their 14th win of the season. Missing were Akinora Iwamura and Pat Burrell from the Rays lineup tonight. Rays Manager Joe Maddon had decided to give Aki the night off since he has been working extra hard recently and did play extensively  and looked a bit fatigued coming off the field after the Red Sox series. And Burrell has been battling a neck situation that had come and gone for the last week or so.

Considering this might have been a perfect match up for Burrell tonight, one has to wonder if the Burrell injury might be a little more than advertised by Maddon. And it is a shame he could not even use him as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning when George Sherrill, the leftie closer for the Orioles was on the mound. Both Sherrill and Hendrickson might have been great pitchers for Burrell to get some needed hit and confidence at the plate from in this game. Hopefully, we can see Burrell again at the plate in Wednesday nights contest.

 
Nick Wass / AP

Rays Did Have Offense..Early

As I stated before, the top of the second inning was a great display of what the Rays can do against a struggling pitcher. They seemed to be putting pressure on the jugular in that inning and never let Hendrickson get any reprieve until Carlos Pena finally flied out to Nick Markakis to end the inning. But the damage was already done by then by the Rays, who had a 5-1 lead at that point. In that inning Gabe Kapler hit a nice sacrifice fly to deep left field to score Willy Aybar, who had singled to lead-off the inning. It was Kapler’s first RBI as a Ray.

Dioner Navarro then hit a RBI-single up the middle to score Jason Bartlett, who had doubled down the third baseline earlier in the inning. B J Upton then walked to put men on the corners with Carl Crawford coming to the plate. Crawford, who had doubled in his first at bat, took a hanging breaking pitch and hit a 2-run double to deep left that Orioles leftfielder Felix Pie tried to dive for, but came up short.  Evan Longoria then extended his RBI streak when he put a pitch off the out-of-town scoreboard in rightfield to drive in Crawford.

Carlos Pena then hit a long fly out to  Nick Markakis to end the inning with the Rays now up 5-1. In that inning, the three outs recorded against the Rays were also hit balls.  But a few great thing did happen for the Rays. Crawford moved past Aubrey Huff with his 2 RBI in the inning to become the All-Time Rays RBI Leader for the young franchise. And Longoria, after the Orioles announcers were debating if he could keep up his RBI pace, hit his ball off the scoreboard with the next pitch. Longoria is still the MLB RBI Leader, now with 45 on the year.

               
                Nick Wass / AP

Sonny is No Longer Money

Man how it pains me to write that last line. I really like the lunch pail work ethic of Andy Sonnanstine. I can see that he has the drive and passion to go out there ever five days and throw until his heart gives out, or his arm falls off. But when is enough going to be enough here. At this time last year he had a 4-1 record, not the 2009 version that sports a 1-4 record with a inflated 7.27 ERA. Is there something wrong here, or am I just be too critical of a guy we had total faith in last season and might have a few struggles on the mound in 2009.

I am not a Pitching Coach, so my opinion is based solely on what I see and what I know about pitching, but there is something tell tale about him in 2009. I am not saying he is tipping his pitches, but something is tipping off the hitters more this season than in 2008.  Or could it just be something a simple as he is not re-inventing himself a bit every start. Maybe the team Volvo has finally hit the point where team have scouted him so much they can even tel
l when he is exhaling now.

That does happen in the pitcher’s career, and they have to re-adjust or re-invent their pitching style to confuse and make hitter get back off their heels waiting for his breaking ball. I am not going to call for a change just yet because it might be fixable, but it will have to be fixed at this level and he can not go down to the minors and work on it. It either has to be done up here, or he might just be on his way out the door in Tampa Bay. Coming into the 2009 season, you looked at Sonnanstine as a consistent pitcher, but so far in 2009, that consistency is based more in the negative than positive so far.

Last night, he lasted only two innings, or 69 pitches before getting the hook with the Rays behind 7-5. Every one of the Orioles runs were attributed to Sonny last night. That second inning only paled in comparison to Hendrickson’s by two great plays by the Rays outfield. If not for those plays, the Orioles might have tacked on two additional runs.  I know the minds in the Rays dugout are spinning right now trying to figure out what to do with this situation.

Like I mentioned before, it could be a simple mechanic adjustment like Scott Kazmir, or it just might be the end of Sonny’s run as a start with the Rays. Either way, the bleeding has to stop. The Rays had a killer inning in the top of the second and had no reason to have to stand out there and see all their hard work go bouncing by them in the bottom half of that inning. Change has to happen……….either good or bad, but it has to begin starting today for Sonny.


Nick Wass / AP

Wednesdays Wild Writs

****  The Rays got a huge boost from their outfielders’ in the bottom of the second inning.  After Designated hitter Lou Montanez hit an RBI-double to right-centerfield. Greg Zaun hit a single to rightfield that Gabe Kapler quickly got a hold of and sent a rocket to Dioner Navarro at home to easily get Montanez trying to score. The ball was a one-hopper that came up to Navarro perfectly to secure Kapler’s third outfield assist of the year. That ties the part-timer with Carl Crawford for the team lead.

The second outfield assist came from centerfield as B J Upton got Cesar Izturis and second base for his first outfield assist of the year. Upton, who was the Rays leader in outfield assists in 2008 with 12 assists. This play, along with Kapler’s earlier assist in the same inning, kept two more runs from scoring for the Orioles in the second inning.

**** Every one was curious what had happened to the missing left fielder for the Orioles in the top of the fourth inning. It seems that during the bottom of the third inning after Pie had struck out looking against Grant Balfour, he reportedly was sent to the University of Maryland Hospital complaining of stomach discomfort and after a CT scan, he will be in the Orioles dugout for tonight’s game.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley was not aware of the situation in the top of the fourth inning and went into the Oriole’s clubhouse looking for Pie, but had to send out Ty Wiggington to play left field for the inning. “We thought it was just a temporary thing, that he had a stomach ailment or virus, upset stomach,” Trembley said. “I went to the home plate umpire and told him and he said, ‘I’ll give you a couple minutes.’ And I told Wigginton to get ready and Pie couldn’t come back, so that’s why we had to make a change.”

Pie, who is hitting .180 right now  has essentially lost his starting left field position to Lou Montanez after being brought over from the Chicago Cubs in the off season to shore up that spot in the outfield. Ex-Ray Joey Gathright was recently traded also from the Cubs to the Orioles for infield/outfielder Ryan Freel. Gathright does have major league experience, and could be a nice speedy option in left field for the Orioles to consider for the position.

**** I give Sunsports some credit for at least giving us the audio feed from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as they were trying to fix their video problems last night. We got to hear the pre-game voices of Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats as they ran down the match-up and only missed Upton long drive to the 364 mark in centerfield, and Crawford’s ninth double of the season. We got back into the 20th Century right as Longoria began his first at bat of the night, which ended up being a liner to center field to move Crawford to third base.

**** After the game, Todd Kalas interviewed both Aubrey Huff and Kapler about their feelings on the recent demonstrations by players and pitchers in the league. Huff told Kalas that he had ” gotten several text messages”.  I still thin it is a bit humorous that Huffdaddy had to wait two years before he got a chance to rub that fist pump back at Joba Chamberlain before Sunday;s 3-run homer. But it was Kapler’s comments that showed the best representation of what most of the league might be thinking on this subject:
 

“Personally,my standpoint is is that if the fans enjoy it.  And it is good for all of us, and as long as it is not, you know, completely over the top and out of line, I think that anything that makes puts fans in the seats, ends up paying all of our salaries. media folks included, So I do not mind seeing a little bit of showboat or something good roots out there.”

I think Kapler has a great grasp of this whole situation having played with the Boston Red Sox for several seasons, then taking off for the Japanese League, which views cheering and also displays of showmanship completely different than in the United States. Then he comes back to the MLB and managed in the minor leagues for a year before deciding in 2008 he still had the desire and passion to play the game.

Once Upon an American Idol……………………Baseball Style

          

I tried to tell all of you I was bored today because the Tampa Bay Rays decided to take a day off. Well, I had this wild thought in my mind of what MLB players would make the finals of American Idol when I remembered that dusty CD on my bookshelf from 2005. Long time baseball fans know the one I am talking about here. It was entitled: “Oh Say Can You Sing.” Well, I put it into my CD player on my computer and again began to remember the warbling of such stars as Coco Crisp, Aubrey Huff and Jeff Conine on this one-disc album.



So I decided to look into seeing if there was any information online about the CD, and lo and behold, our very own professor of J-Blog school did and article on the CD back on May 23, 2005. There was that name “Mark Newman”, who we all know is our overseer and guide dog through the blackness of the bloggers world. So I sat there and read his musings on MLB.com about the CD and loved this line in the article: ” Here’s the news flash: This isn’t your average karaoke bar.”  That is why we love the professor. He is always willing to educate us on words, vocals and the soft sounds of Coco Crisp with his original tune,” We Got That Thing.”



The CD featured 11 players in various types of music types, but one of my favorite was still Matt Ginter’s bluegrass rendition of “Dooley.”  Let me give you the 11 artists/players who have volunteered their golden pipes for charity and clubhouse amusement for the entire year.  You have Ben Broussard, Sean Casey, Crisp, Huff, Ginter, Conine, Scott Linebrink, Jimmy Rollins ( Doing his own tune),Omar Vizquel and Kelly Wunsch. The 11th singer might not be a surprise. Ozzie Smith also put his voice to a track, and we know his son can sing from his own American Idol auditions. I had forgotten how good some of these guys sing.



I know it was a running joke during Huff’s day with the Rays that he was the team karaoke god and used to go on stage a few times a year to belt out a country song or two on the road. I have even been told he has done a rock ballad that actually sounded better than the original. So I guess my thought at having some type of originality with a Top 12 American Idol/Baseball style might have already been played out.  I even still have the prank poster put up in the Rays clubhouse of a “Huffapalooza” event in Tampa a few years ago. I was told two former Rays players were the originators of that poster, but neither would confess up to it when I asked them about it.



 

 
 

But with the Wild Card round going on tonight on American Idol, I have decided to add a 12th player to this list.  I mean we all know that Conway Twitty was offered a chance to play with the Philadelphia Phillies after he finished high school, but he went into the U S Army instead and his baseball dream ended. But are their any former singers who did play baseball besides this group of 11 on the CD?



 
I mean who can forget the “Ed Sullivan Show” where the ’69 New York Mets featuring Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan sang ” You Got to Have Heart”. But who else came from the dugout and sang for their supper. Well, most people know that we used to have a singing owner on the west coast of the United States. I mean who really did not know that the singing cowboy, Gene Autry used to be the majority owner of the California/Aneheim/Los Angeles Angels. What is even more fitting was that his widow was the person who presented Rays Manager Joe Maddon, a former Angels employee when Autry was alive, with the American League Championship trophy at Tropicana Field in 2008.




There is that mix of baseball players who are also in bands like Brandon Arroyo, but a majority of them might just keep that passion to their home showers or away from the ridicule of team mates.  I mean is there a karaoke machine in any of the major league clubhouses? Not to my knowledge, but that doesn’t mean it has not been discussed before by members of teams. One guy who has made his musical passion as bright away from the diamond is former New York Yankee Bernie Williams. His classical guitar arrangements are excellent, and his concerts are amazing. I have to admit I do own one of his two CD’s, and they do a great job of relaxing me on long trips through the hectic NASCAR-like Atlanta highways.


 

               
 

I mean  we even have a singing umpire in the major leagues. Joe West, who has been in his blues since about 1979 when he began umpiring in the National League.  “Cowboy Joe” as some of his colleagues know him is known for his singing and his songwriting.  In 2008, his umpiring crew was known as Crew J and included C B Bucknor, Ed Hickox , West as the Crew Chief and Ed Rapuano. There have been no talk of a barber shop quartet from the crew, but you can be sure that West keeps his crew loose and ready with his singing.
 



                                   
 

West has sung with Merle Haggard,Mickey Gilley, T G Sheppard and both Mel Tillis and George Jone’s bands.  West released a country album called ” Blue Cowboy “and just finished his second CD called “Diamond Dreams”. In his second CD, West sings about things that have happened in baseball and has an up-tempo song about going to a baseball game. It’s distributed on Good and Western Records and this second CD was  released near the end of Spring Training in 2008.



 
I mean why wouldn’t music and baseball make a good marriage. Every player in the major leagues has a walk-up song or two pre programmed to play as they stroll to the plate. Baseball and music are interwoven by songs about teams, players, and memorable events in the sport. I mean, Paul Simon asked “Where did you go Joe Dimaggio?” So  maybe tonight as I am watching the Wild Card round I will think about Conine, Huff or maybe even Rollins up there getting critiqued by Simon Cowell. As long as Huff doesn’t wear that outfit he bought in Texas a few years ago, he might get props on his chops.




Photo Credits for today’s blog go to: http://www.target.com, http://www.goodandwesternrecords.com, RRCollections.


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