Results tagged ‘ B J Upton ’

10 Years Later, “Heart and Hustle, Redux”

2011 is the 10th anniversary of the Tampa Bay Rays up tempo slogan “Heart and Hustle” that signified and branded a Rays squad consisting of a hodge podge of vets and rookies who meshed together to play a energized style of Rays baseball. Sounds kind of familiar?

That same highly energized and enthusiastic slogan could easily be stamped upon this 2011 Rays squad. Truly it is the essence of this team’s “ fire in the belly “heart and “never say die” hustle that has lead this ball club from the April darkness of the American League East cellar to them gaining momentum, slowly escalating onward and upward towards a 6-game shootout with the slumping Boston Red Sox and surging Los Angeles Angels for the potential AL Wild Card post season prize.

Even 10 years later, heart and hustle still seem to be firmly within the foundation and backbone of the Rays team culture. From the extreme performance last night from their youngest player on their roster RP/SP Matt Moore to a their oldest “young at heart” performer OF/DH Johnny Damon who only has to look at his ring fingers to visually show he can help lead this young maturing band of baseball brothers to that last glorious plateau in late October.

 I mean how can you root against a team where Damon, who was born in 1973 is still grinding out extra base hits and stealing bases like rookie sensation Desmond Jennings. Just because Damon is adding nightly to his future Hall of Fame resume, the pure magic he sees within this team is not lost on him that the Rays have the drive and confidence to take this thing to its final destination, then party like rock stars.

Even the Rays usual whipping boy B J Upton has pushed his numbers high and higher as the number of games diminish, possibly knowing within his mind this might be his last chance at post season glory with this Rays club before the Winter could dish out a harsh reality to him and the Rays Republic. Right now Upton is playing like a man possessed, or who knows the window of opportunity is beginning to be shut.

Do not get me started on this Rays rotation where from top to bottom we have seen 10+ wins by each starter, and had glimpses of magic from often maligned SP Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann. We have seen Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson get a secondary nickname just for 2011, “HellROY” as he burns towards the finish line.

Even the Rays rookies are set to make a little history of their own as Jennings needs only 2 stolen bases over the next 6 games to become the first AL rookie with 10 HR and 20 SB since the Rays own Rocco Baldelli and Kansas City’s Angel Berroa set the mark in 2003. Hellickson has a .290 ERA and a .208 opponent average, the fifth best rookie performance…ever.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mantra of “pitching sets the tone” has definitely sparked some beautiful music from his hurlers as the Rays collectively have held the American League to a .236 average. The last AL team to post such numbers was the 2001 Mariners who had the same .236 average. Oh, and by the way, that Mariners club made the playoffs. Rays starters have gone 7+ innings 77 times, 21 times more than the second closest squad, their AL East rivals the New York Yankees.

Amazing enough, this Rays pitching staff has thrown 1,024.1 innings (most in AL) and leads the AL with a 3.51 ERA, 15 complete games and has allowed an AL-low 593 runs. All this by a staff that has seen all 156 prior 2011 Rays game started by pitchers drafted and developed by the Rays, the only team in the majors this season who can boast that claim. Plus, they are riding a 758 consecutive streak of starters under the age of 30…an MLB record.

Along with their upward trend in pitching, the Rays have solidified their overall defense to the tone that the Rays have committed the least errors in the Majors (69), and their combined .988 Fielding Percentage is tied with NL powerhouse Philadelphia for the top slot in the MLB. Talk about “hustle”, this Rays team has committed only 4 errors in their last 17 games, and only 17 in their past 53 contests.

If ever there was a Rays team that demonstrated that mantra of “Heart and Hustle”, it is this 2011 squad. This Rays squad was 9 games out of playoff contention on September 2, 2011. No other team in MLB history has overcome that many games in September to get into the post season. The closest comparison would be the St. Louis Cardinals (who trained in St. Petersburg, Fl) who were in 3rd place and trailed the Philadelphia Phillies by 8.5 games on September 3, 1964.

History is definitely on the Rays side right now as the Rays have already secured their 4th straight 10 win seasonal series against tonight’s foe, the Toronto Blue Jays, the most against any Rays opponent. The Rays are also a combined 25-8 against the pesky bird in Tropicana Field over that same time period. Also working into the Rays favor is their lifetime 6-4 record against the Yankees in the last series of the season, including a dismal 1-2 mark in 1999.

Since 2001, the Rays have beaten New York by a 5-2 mark during the last series of the season at Tropicana Field. This 2011 squad has a chance to possibly duplicate some more late season angst upon the 2011 AL East Champion Yankee just as they did back in 2001 when the Yankees won the AL East and the Rays beat them 3 out of 4 games heading into the post season

The Rays past “Heart and Hustle” campaign centered on their rising stars and a few veterans getting their last swings at glory. Maybe we should collectively called this Rays prospect of the Rays 2011 Renaissance and possibly Rays history repeating itself, “Heart and Hustle Redux”. I think it fits perfectly like a glove.

Rays Get Introduced to the “Wendelstedt Factor”


They were initially designed to be the “enforcers of the rules and regulations of baseball”. Be the facilitators of human error that was needed within the scope of the game to keep it from becoming inherently mechanical and stiff. The flaws and frailties of the human element have made baseball enjoyable to watch, banter about and discuss long before television made their mistakes more visual within seconds.

But in the end, you have to ask yourself why do some Major League Umpires find it necessary to “ jump the shark tank” at times to firmly cross that fine line and make the game their own? At what point do the Umpires have that right to step over that pre-conceived dividing chalk line of being “in the game or around it” that essence that sometimes separates fact from fiction, keeping the integrity of the game intact, or blowing it all out the window.

Most people in Boston today will say I have a case of extreme “sour grapes”, that the Tampa Bay Rays loss to the Red Sox last night was a well fought contest with hills and valleys that the team did not use to their advantage to post a win. I can agree with that, but there might have been another element that most Boston fans have thrown into the darkness of the closet, hoping someone like me will not bring it back out into the daylight. Something stunk in Boston last night, and it wasn’t low tide.

During the course of the game last night an old quote I read by former National League Umpire Bruce Froemming kept popping into my mind as a few questionable calls and strike signals were displayed on tele-illustrators and graphics pertaining to the exploits of last night’s Home Plate Umpire:

One of the really wrong theories about officiating is that a good official is one you never notice. The Umpire who made this statement was probably a poor official who tried to get his paycheck and hide behind his partners and stay out of trouble his whole life. Control of the ballgame is the difference between Umpires who show up for the players and Managers.

Usually when you think of the Rays and an Umpire controversy their top two past adversaries Umpires Joe West and Angel Hernandez come quickly to light. But last night the Rays dastardly duo were nowhere is sight with each hundreds of miles away calling other MLB games. With the above quote in mind, last night a new Rays villain in black emerged on Friday night, and his name is Hunter Wendelstedt. You would think a second generation MLB Umpire would have a more structured approach, a more defined strike zone, a definite want to be “in the game” but not an intricate part of it.

I actually enjoy an animated Home Plate Umpire who throws a little showmanship and bravado into the cool night’s air to provide a hint of excitement and twists to the game, but I have a firm distaste when I see a blatant disregard for a well defined parameter of the strike zone floating back and forth in the wind like a flag during the evening. The integrity of the strike zone is up to individual Umpire’s interpretation and will be compromised at times, but when it floats and is expanded like a balloon filling with hot Umpire air, that is where I draw the line.

I understand that sometimes Umpires make bad judgment calls in the spirit of the game that upon later review have merit for further discussions, but when their errors in judgment can be plastered upon a television matrix system and show an obvious disregard for the defined “box” of a preconceived strike zone that each hitter hopes an Umpire will structure and call with clarity, I have a problem with that.

A great example of this floating strike zone has to be Rays CF B J Upton’s 5th inning plate appearance. I agree that Upton does give a few extra words to Umpires during the game discounting their strike zones or even hoping for a reprieve on a later plate appearance, but when the zone expands to almost touching a player’s uniform and it is called a strike…..something is truly afoot.

In as much time as Upton instantly turned and began to disagree with Wendelstedt after his third strike, quick thinking members of the FSN/SunSports production crew were deciphering and dissecting the “called strike” to show that Wendelstedt did indeed put a lot of his own “English” on the strike zone and the pitch was actually way outside the usual strike zone.

Upton had a perfect right to become agitated and angry with Wendelstedt after it was shown that for that one pitch the strike zone had expanded from its usual 8.5 inches from the center of the plate to 14.5 inches. A called strike that was placed 6 inches outside the usual box led to Upton’s plate barrage. Some might say since Upton had a 3-2 count with Desmond Jennings attempting to steal second base he should have swung at anything within the zone, but 6 inches outside the zone would not have merited even such a thought, even by the usually swing aggressive Upton.

If the contest had been 6-3 or even a blow-out, there would not be this kind of banter by me to the integrity of the moving strike zone. But because it was a tightly constrictive 4-3 contest, a simple walk or even base hit could have made this game’s momentum and conclusion quickly change. Even more upsetting is the simple fact that even with an expanded and bloated strike zone, Rays starter James Shields did not seem to get the same lofty calls.

Gone will be the “Wendelstedt factor” behind the plate as he will be stationed behind Third Base this afternoon. Hopefully Wendelstedt doesn’t have an additional chance or moment to expand the chalk line down that Leftfield line in Fenway Park. I hope Wendelstedt’s father, former Umpire Harry Wendelstedt who patrolled the National Leagues from 1966-1998 has some great “fatherly advice for Hunter. Possibly  something like my own opinion that the MLB strike zone is there as a key, but to abuse it loses not only the key to the lock, but you lose yourself and your own integrity.

Rays Wives to Host Mystery Ball Event on Saturday


I am a sucker for wrapped mystery gifts.  I love them because you never have a clear indication or ryhyme or reason of its enclosed contents but just pure imagination sprinkled with unadulterated speculation and kid-like wonder. Well this Saturday before the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox take the field, the Rays Wives will try and emulate that sense of joyous euphoria again on Saturday.

The Rays Wive’s “Mystery Ball” event will give Rays fan a chance at that rush of wonder and amazement as they offer $ 30 mystery bags filled with an autographed baseball. Who knows if it is a team signed ball, one with the awesome “Garfoose” illustration by former Ray Dirk Hayhurst, or a cherished David Price or Johnny Damon autograph. It will be just like opening your presents on Christmas morning, but in 72 degree comfort.

The event is being held to benefit St. Petersburg’s All Children’s Hospital. The plucking of your bag will be similar to the bag selection process the Rays have held during previous Fan Fest events as fans who pluck down $ 30 could receive a cherished new baseball heirloom signed by one or several Rays players.

As an added bonus, Allison Shelton, wife of Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton have worked diligently this season getting autographs not only from the Rays players, but also secured the penmanship markings from players who have visited Tropicana Field this season. A grand total of 600 signed balls will be available on Saturday, including autographs by the entire 2008 Rays team that went to the World Series.

Number 1 with our guys, they’re always willing to get behind a charity,” Derek said. “But particularly this one since it’s All Children’s Hospital, a place many of us have taken our kids, and a place so close to where we work. They made getting the items easy. And all the players were gracious while doing so.”

The Rays Wives will be stationed at Gate 1 and Gate 5 starting when the doors open at 5:10 pm. A silent auction will also be held just outside the Whitney Bank Club where many unique treasures like a Johnny Damon signed bat, a glove signed by the “Legend” Sam Fuld and a authentic MLB base signed by B J Upton.

This event is another great opportunity for not only the Rays Republic to commandeer some authentic autograph and share in that gift of giving, it can be a nice and exciting way to help support one of the near and dear charities that is close to the Rays hearts. Who knows, you might be the lucky one to pick the mystery bag that contains an entire rawhide ball encrusted with the signature of every member of the Rays 2008 World Series team…….I know I am raiding the ATM tonight.

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.

The August “Whack-A-Mole” Experience

I love the smell in the morning of the August Trade Waiver drama. It is simply surprising to see who get through this seasonal “Whack-A -Mole” fandango without a single waiver claim, and those who find themselves popped on the noggin being smacked back to the reality of possibly leaving their present squad.

It sometimes seem to work exactly like that classic kid’s arcade game. Every MLB team has their own mallet that they can either whack or smack their collective desired player (mole) square on the head and try and claim them. But the wild part is their present team can pull them back down into the safety of their own 25-man roster and back off the waiver wire with not a hint of their real intentions.

It is clear arcade gamesmanship at it best. The first action of a team posting it player upon the waiver wire is exactly like the mole poking his head out of the hole. Up for all 29 other MLB head honchos to see and possibly mangle for their own team. But here is where it gets really interesting, the team that posts the player has all the advantages, not the person manning the heavy mallet.

You would think it would be the opposite, but then you would be sorely wrong. Even thought it might be a nice therapeutic action to pop a veteran or budding MLB player on the head, he could without warning be pulled back, offered safety again without his claiming club getting a viable chance to claim their prize. Not even a slew of tickets would emerge from the machine, sometimes this game is all or nothing.

That is where the real gamesmanship comes into play. Sure you could smack the daylights out of a player like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields when his head pops out of the machine, but the Rays front office could be also baiting you for a Winter discussion and pull Shields back into the comfort of the Rays fold. Suddenly you are left holding the bloody mallet with all to see you covet Shields.

Most of the time this scenario is the end result. Teams place the heads of their viable commodities firmly in the game to see who wants to take a whack at acquiring them, or has more than a passing interest. Some like Rays OF/DH Johnny Damon got completely through the game without a single thump upon the noggin, but still there might be a hidden want for his services.

It is almost like a visual game where others see what you are craving, wanting to thump into submission and take back to your roster as a prize. Interesting enough, even if you land one hard and heavy upon the exposed head of Shield’s, the Rays can pull him back to safety and he is no longer an exposed asset for the rest of the MLB to smash and dash.

Shields is not the only Rays player to be pulled back into his team’s safe haven with at least one square hit to his cap region. The Rays Republic have even seen their closer Kyle Farnsworth get a firm planting upon his frontal lobe, but the Rays pulled him back to the comfort of the Bullpen. B J Upton has been the latest Ray to receive a compound headache and a possible plane ticket out of Tampa Bay.

The Rays can either discuss a trade possibility, or pull Upton back into the Rays confines safe until at least the Winter Hot Stove season. The Upton talks or balks will be interesting. It will showcase either that Upton is a viable part of the Rays current post season march, or Desmond Jennings or Sam Fuld have started to erase the “Upton factor” from the Rays game plan.

More intriguing is the firm possibility that Upton was claimed by an American League team that has a good relationship via the trade with Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and could facilitate an Upton move with a few healthy and young and budding MLB relief options in their present fold. Should be a few interesting days until either the Rays pull Upton back to the safe confines, or send him to possibly play with the seagulls nightly up at a vista on the Great Lakes.

During this waiver period the Rays will pop out many of the Rays rostered minions hoping to find the right suitor, trade situation and possibly a future piece of the Rays always unfolding puzzle. This is not a game about “likes” or “dislikes”, it is still about a game where the person with the most toys win. And to win in this business, some times you got to whack a few moles. 

As Upton Crumbles, Opinions Rumble as to his Loss

He is one of those player who has been the hero and the scapegoat, sometimes within the same game. No matter what your opinion of Tampa Bay Rays Centerfielder B J Upton, this injury hurts to the core of the Rays Republic.

Upton has been a Rays barometer over his last few seasons. As B J climbs, so has his Rays team. As B J matured and evolved in his MLB skin both in the field and at the plate, his Rays young teammates have also grown to become a competitive force and have firmly rallied around the one Rays player people love to point fingers towards.

Be it a mental lapse on the base paths, or a argument with the Home Plate Umpire, Upton has always always landed straight into the cross-hairs of critics and haters. Some consider it arrogance, most know it is a high degree of competitiveness that Upton only sweats between the lines.

No matter what is being vocalized, even shouted from the stands, Upton has done his thing, moved at his own pace and provided moments we will never forget. Every team has a guy fans and observers like to focus upon as a linchpin of how a team will perform, of who is critical to a win or loss, possibly rattling them would secure a victory. Upton has been the guy teams have tried to take apart, sometimes succeeding with vengeance.

Upton seemed to be in the perfect position to take in the apparent double hit deeply into the CF/RF corner by former Ray/Twin, newly minted Tiger OF Delmon Young, then suddenly a padded wall had a different agenda. The way Upton glided over from his Centerfield spot last night, I had the impulse to want to scream, warn him the orange tinted warning track coming up faster than he realized, but like viewing a play via a slow-motion camera, quickly I saw Upton realize too late his speed versus wall was a recipe for disaster.

The sound might not have been deafening, but within a second, you could of heard a pin drop around Tropicana Field. Upton laid like a rag doll on the AstroTurf surface, immediately Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield sprinted to his side with Rightfielder Matt Joyce trying to comfort Upton. As Porterfield attended to Upton I heard a wild range of comments in the stands.


 Some were glad for the injury so future Rays outfielders like Sam Fuld and Desmond Jennings will get a chance to strut their stuff in Centerfield. Others worried that a Ray who has been so instrumental in this odd season competitive rebirth might be sidelined until September, effectively hurting the Rays machine. Polarizing opposite statements and opinions rained down in the stands like the showers upon the Trop’s Teflon.

No matter if you love, like or even despise Upton, this injury is going to hurt deeply. Upton has transformed himself out of the view of the fans in the Rays Clubhouse as a true leader, has done some foolish things to promote energy and confidence and has been met by spite and misguided comments. Upton has been the one constant in an ever changing Rays format for a long time.

Knowing the caution Maddon takes with his players in the later stages of the season, Upton may sit a few days, possibly even a week to make sure the shoulder that has been held high and helped carry this Rays team is healed and 100 percent. Sure Fuld and Jennings will get multiple chances to place their names in the Centerfield mix for Spring 2012, but as long as Upton is a Ray, it is his territory.

The injury might actually pay dividends for the Rays not in Upton’s absence, but to give the Rays Centerfielder a chance to relax, refocus and re-energize going down the stretch. Upton held a horrific .181 batting average at home coming into last night’s game. His injury might give him ample time to heal more than just his shoulder. Upton will be a key ingredient if the Rays are to again stir the pot and get a chance to play into October. A healthy Upton both physically and mentally could be just the trick to again being bathe in champagne.

You either love him, or hate him, but you got to respect that Upton doesn’t disrespect the game or its nuances. Some find him cocky arrogant, even to the point of nausea, but want him on the base paths or in Centerfield if the game is on the line.

Hopefully before Upton leaves, possibly through free agency after the 2012 season, everyone in the Rays Republic will see just how much sweat, blood and emotion this guy has spilled on the Trop’s turf. As Upton laid on the turf last night I thought instantly of what this team loses by his absence, I know others around me were thinking just the opposite. Guess that is B J ‘s Rays legacy in a nutshell.

Does the “Legend” Have a Rays Future?

I swear if I dig enough into his genealogy somewhere I will find a past circus performer hidden in the gene pool of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld. There has to be a secondary reason for him flinging himself without regard to life and limb around the Major League Baseball outfield. Some call these people “kamikazes”, I just call them “one with the ball”.

Some have anointed Fuld a true life “legend”, some have seen him as a breath of fresh air in the 2011 M L B season, but no one anywhere has doubted his talent or ability to make us all wonder if he is blessed with an ALPHA ability. Some of us television zombies have possibly seen the new show “Alphas” on the SyFy Channel that deals directly with people who inhibit that extra special ability to perform a simple normal human task to the 10th degree, or pulls off something insanely difficult with ease and grace. But ultimately being an “Alpha” has its own drawbacks.

Such may be the case in the Spring of 2012 as whispers are beginning to ring louder that the Rays could keep centerfielder B J Upton through to his impending free agency date after the 2012 season.

Fuld has hit the optimal media spotlight point of his career, even before he has a daily spot to call his own. Indirectly the focus around his vertical talent and his sporadic appearances in the Rays line-up as of late could end up being his Rays downfall.

You see, the Rays already have a budding outfield prodigy named Desmond Jennings who has come out of the rookie gate like his nightly numbers at the plate will decide more than his future. Jennings may have seen the ESPN web gems and National media cooing about Fuld and felt anxious that his future spot might be gone if he did not produce now.

On the opposite side of the outfield from Jennings is rightfielder Matt Joyce who has also risen high above the early seasonal goals set by his Rays Manager Joe Maddon and is only being saddled now by Maddon’s inability to let go of his reins and let Joyce pounce and show his worth against left-handed pitching.

This squad does need a lead-off hitter and basestealer, but Jennings fills that bill right now. It needs a special player that pulls you out of your seat as you watch him hit, but Joyce fills that bill too. It might come down to one of those “mixed blessings” scenarios. Would the Rays trade Upton and his track record to go with the skill set of what Fuld could do for this team?

With these two bookends to Upton, plus the addition of Ben Zobrist as an ample and reliable 4th outfielder, Fuld’s best chance to rise again in the MLB might be to leave the Rays coop.

I really did not think the versatile 5′ 8” outfielder had a chance this Spring to compete and win a chance to play in the April 1st home opener at Tropicana Field. Then again, I did not know he secretly injected the blood of Rocky the Flying Squirrel into his body to produce so many early season defensive highlights, almost on a nightly scale. It was as if the “legend” was channeling “the little engine that could” by astounding us and making all of us believers in his abilities.

Fuld is super. Fuld is an aspiring “legend”, and Fuld might be a guy who will be constantly fighting for a job for the rest of his Rays days. Not a bad thing, but something that could ultimately drain the “Legend” of some of his magical powers and make him more of a Rays folk hero than a budding M L B career mainstay. I would hate for Fuld to go the way of former Rays OF Jason Tyner, from bobble head to oblivion in the blink of an eye.

Believe me, I am one of those who wish only the best for the often vertically prone magician, but with the prospect of Upton staying until 2012, and the double J’s, Jennings and Joyce manning the corners, Fuld may be a man without a position. And that sucks big time.

Fuld has the ability to play daily along with the support and admiration of people from 5-65. He makes each and every one of us wonder if we would do the same….defy gravity, bring in the ball and then pop back up off the ground like it was a dive into the swimming pool. That kind of play excited the crowd, makes people buy shirts and jerseys, even wear giveaway capes to bed with their name on them.

We have seen others here in Tampa Bay get the fan support, the admiration of all of us then find their place on the bench instead of the field. I felt this same way about Jonny Gomes. Here was a guy who would do anything short of a crime to get a win, an magical moment or produce a bit of history all for his team. Fuld might be smaller than Jonny, but he fits that mold to a “T”.

Fuld may never get a chance here in Tampa Bay to become a bona fide M L B or All-Star. He does however possesses that special ingredient we all find appealing and wonderful to watch. Fuld truly does channel the energy and spirit of a child when he plays.


Not worrying about the impending damage or possible injuries, but producing the out. Not trying to be a showboat, but a motivational punch in the gut to the other team’s offense. Fuld is someone every team needs, but the Rays already have an over abundance of this same type of talented individuals.

Maybe I am saying my piece now because I have grown to like the guy from speaking to him, to getting his S P P D cap at the Spring Opener in Port Charlotte and wearing it on my head in my car when coming back from San Francisco to Tampa Bay. Fuld reminds me of me as an athlete just as he reminds all of us of our youth and own bouts with vertical mortality.

Be given another chance to take that next step, to spread his wings farther and stronger with another club. It is a thought I really do not want to have in my head, but one I know is the right thing for him professionally. I truly hope the Rays find a way to bring Fuld more into the Rays future game, letting his special light shine bright.

Maybe that is why I am writing this today. In a hope that if the Rays do not see a future place for Fuld. Possibly this off season we might see the “flighted one” leave Tampa Bay for a greener pasture. 

Stay Classy Tampa Bay

Tell me another Major League Baseball team that embraces their community with such abandon and vigor that the Tampa Bay Rays do on a daily basis. It seems like almost every day now a player, Coach or even members of the Rays front office are out and about trying to make a difference in our Tampa Bay community.

From building playgrounds, to charity events, this team has always had a solid focal point towards giving back, giving of themselves, and this community has taken them also into their own arms. Other communities around MLB also get a glowing show the faith, love and respect from their athletes Tampa Bay does, I personally think it is just glowing brighter right now in Tampa Bay.

The Rays have been blessed as a franchise to have a minimum of off-the-field” distractions and behavioral problem players in their brief existence. I want to attribute it to the low key and socially class-less South code of life, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon is from blue-collar Pennsylvania and VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is from Texas.

Still, it has been remarkable how this community embraces and give the up most levels of respect when they venture beyond the gates of Tropicana Field and head out into the Tampa Bay community. From the ever increasing band of “BJ’s Bunch” or the newly formed “Joyce’s Juniors”, young and old have embraced these players and come emblazoned with their Rays gear as a show of community solidarity.

I kind of like how the Rays players have been able to live in a bit of seclusion and security instead of the bustle and fast pace of those other regions. This is not a condemnation of large city fans like Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, it is just a different vibe down here.

It simply amazes me how the general public around Tampa Bay has not smothered or scared our Rays into hiding with idiotic banter or heckling as they serve our communities and visit with fans. I guess the fans in this region understand that these players are performing a job, and we give them space to do their work, even out in the community.

Think about it for a moment, where else in this country do you think a professional baseball player can go out with such abandon to local phone stores, supermarkets or even banks and fans do not get out of sorts, rowdy or even testy at the mire mention of someone running late, or having to leave. This region seems to get it. But then again, Tampa Bay is a mostly service-oriented community.

From Rays outfielder Sam Fuld visiting USF Diabetic Center this week visiting with kids and their families who go through the same daily struggles from type 1 Diabetics just like Fuld daily. Or seeing Matt Joyce returning to a local supermarket chain where he once bagged groceries to help the Tampa Bay chapter of Feeding America by tossing in throw after throw of food and goods into a cart like he was picking off runners at second base.

This community is lucky to have such great and budding Tampa Bay community leaders. In a time when so many people speak of and yearn for role models for our youth, this Rays team from top to bottom spawns so many choices. From James Shields and his work with foster children centers, to even the Rays wives teaming up recently for a backpack and school supplies drive to support the PACE Center for Girls.

From stem to stern, there are plenty of heroes and inspirations to go around both on this Rays roster and within their own front offices. It is one of the reasons I always open my hands to help at any Rays event possible to volunteer or support this team and their many causes. This is truly a team that “ gets it” as is open to embracing their seasonal community with open arms.

If you have ever attended an outside Rays event whether it is a autograph signing or a appearance at a hospital or McDill Air Force Base, this team is greeted with smiles, cheers and loads of positive vibes. To this day I have never heard of a Rays heckler, arrogant fan or disturbance at any of their outside charity or community events.

As a former athlete, giving back was always something I wanted to do, felt I needed to do for my community. With this Tampa Bay community embracing the players as they perform these duties and tasks, and also respecting their place in this community, the sky is the limit to the further outpouring of the Rays involvement and outside endeavors to helping those in need in our community.

Next time you go to a Rays community event, look them in the eyes and tell them “thank you”, it is that type of comment that fuels many more community efforts and events for these players. Events where we can also walk in the footsteps of role models for our own growing sons and daughters. 

Let Them Eat (Bundt) Cake

Not much of a dessert guy myself, but tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays got their just desserts. Funny how it was not a shaving cream pie, or even a Carvel sundae, but it was a special Tampa Bay bundt/bunt cake that did the trick.

Who would have thought the recipe for again awakening the Rays offense would be to start off in the bottom of the 2nd inning playing “ small ball”. That’s right, not aiming for the fences, but putting the bat on the ball and squirming it along the AstroTurf woke up not only the Rays bat, but reminded the Jays defense this team doesn’t quit.

Sure Ben Zobrist did his best “2008 Zorilla “ impression crushing a ball into the Rightfield bleachers for a short-lived 1-0 lead. Then after a Casey Kotchman fly out, B J Upton showed why the Rays gambled and kept him here instead of sending him away. A well crafted single to Leftfield, then well placed 9 iron shot by Matt Joyce into shallow Center put the Rays in a position to make some early noise.

With Joyce and Upton in scoring position, Sean Rodriguez dropped a beauty of a bunt just in front of Jays starter Carlos Villanueva who then proceeded to commit a costly error as Upton stamped on Home Plate. That was the first sliver of the bunt/bundt cake.

Then Rays rookie catcher Robinson Chirinos put down his own little bounding ball of short happiness for a infield single to First. Joyce came in to score, and all of a sudden it was 3-0 Rays on top. Second helping of bundt/bunt cake with a little extra dab of frosting.

All of a sudden last night’s lone Rays run scorer decided to get into the action himself as rookie speedster Desmond Jennings wanted to deliver his own bit of sugary goodness by placing a perfect bunt in front of Jays Third Baseman Edwin Encarnacion who was playing back hoping for a double play ball.

Suddenly bases were loaded with Rays, another slice of bundt/bunt cake delivered. Finally Johnny Damon ended the sugar rush by delivering a long and deep sacrifice fly to Centerfield that easily scored Rodriguez to make it 4-0 Tampa Bay. All of a sudden a little bit of pre-game prep work by the Rays in bunting drills snapped their offense out of its funk.

When the Rays came up in the bottom of the 3rd inning, it seemed the Jays were still infused and decimated by the Rays bunt barrage, and possibly a little sugar shock. Villanueva, a former Jays reliever, couldn’t seem to get out of his 2nd inning stride and quickly the Rays added some more morsels to their run/ sugar intake.

Of the 8 Rays hitters to go to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning, 4 produced extra base hits, and the Jays saw 4 more runs cross the plate. Suddenly after solo homer by Kotchman, a double by Joyce, Rodriguez getting pelted with a pitch, Chirinos decided it was time to put the cherry firmly upon the cake and delivered a 3-run shot to Leftfield that left more of a bitter taste in Villaneuva’s mouth than sweet.

Ex-Rays bat boy and Jays starter Jesse Litsch came in and stopped the flow of Rays runs getting Damon to strike out swinging.

Finally the Rays had figured out a way to get out of that 1-2 run lead routine with the Jays and tack on some needed runs with the small ball, then using the long ball to seal the win. This is the type of offensive show that we have seen so often in road games, but has been few and far between at Tropicana Field.

With a win tomorrow during the Parks and Recreation Day, plus the Rays Tweet Up, the team could head into their 3-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who the Rays hope they can extract some more sweet revenge on this weekend. This is the home offense we have been anxiously awaiting. Pining to see finally break through and produce at home.

What happens during the Thursday matinée will go a long way in providing comfort and stability that this team has finally broken out of the home rut and will again dominate. A win tomorrow will put then back at square one with a 26-26 mark at home.

Tonight the Rays delivered a beauty of a game hitting on all cylinders, providing not only a huge run support cushion for Rays starter James Shields, but a solid effort with this team finally figuring out their home crux. Tonight the Rays did deliver a sliver of just desserts to the Jays, but hopefully it is only an appetizer of what is to come in the next 4 contests.

Bon Appetit Rays Republic, for tonight, let the Jays eat some humble pie.

Rays Need to Plot a Victorious Course in Seattle

I swear some times the Tampa Bay Rays use my heart like a toy yo-yo. They seem to tear it out of my chest, fling it down and then slowly up until it is again within my chest. I do not take any heart medications, but after a few of the recent games, including today’s back and forth battle…I might consult a doctor.

Is this going to be the hidden mantra of this team to push the limits of faith and trust, or will they again have a solidified basis for all of us to believe and rejoice in nightly. When this team goes on losing streaks, even the rare ones on the road, they do it with a loud bang.

How else can you describe the man-handling of the Rays top tier pitchers David Price and James Shields in this series. Even rookie Jeremy Hellickson was left pondering the “what if’s” during his lackluster performance to start this 4-game whirlpool of emotion.

Can we blame the chatter and talk among the players and fans regarding the Trade Deadline, or is it the curse of this ballpark where Rays wins always seem to come at a premium, even with the great California mountain range in the background.

Starting this contest this Rays squad was a season high 11 ½ games behind American League East front runner Boston with 58 games left, another AL East title may be beyond reach. Even though the /Rays are a considered the third best team in the American League, they are also the third best currently in their division. And their 7 ½ game deficit to the New York Yankees is bringing more than a few of us mild to severe heart palpitations.

This season is again starting to mirror image a bit of the 2009 Rays season where no matter what they did, it was one hit, one win, one pitch away from securing something magical. But the good news is the Rays head to Seattle next, where wins have been extremely rare lately. The reality of the Rays losing 5 out of the 7 games currently on this road trip tends to sho maybe this team peaked too early.

Again, after the first week this team had, any push upward, even towards a .500 mark seemed like a gift from the Baseball Gods. Mixed into this losing streak was the questions about this teams offense, their run support for their starters, and why certain teams just seem to choke the Rays into submission.

It was only three weeks ago this same Rays team was 49-39 matching their high-water mark of 10 games over .500 and were sitting in the catbird seat just 3 ½ games behind the Red Sox. In these 21 days, the Rays have gone 4-11 and have tumbled 8 games farther behind their divisional foes farther into the dismal abyss.

Again a dark cloud looms for the Rays as they jet northward to Seattle. Mariner’s starter Erik Bedard, who might be making his last M’s start will get the call. When healthy, Bedard has been a Rays killer. Post that with the stat that the Rays are a MLB worst 7-12 against the AL West, and we might hear a few late night screams.

But there is a shining light on the horizon, or at least for tonight in that the Rays showed pride, confidence and a renewed vigor at the plate in the final innings to hand the Athletics at least one loss in this series. Now it is off to the town of coffee and seafood to battle a Seattle club that until recently had been in their own cauldron of disappointment.

This series might decide more than who stays and who goes as the Trade Deadline approaches, it could prove to be the final resting place of the Rays 2011 post season dreams. Sweeping Seattle would not push the Rays into playoff consideration, but the confidence and stride as they headed back home could help them face their home field demons with more vitality.

A lot os going to be riding on this 3-game series. A chance for redemption in this un-Rays like road trip. A sweep would push their present 10-game road trip record towards an even 5-5 mark. Not the expected Rays road results, but would be a 4-game winning streak heading into a 10-game home stand with revenge games against Oakland and Kansas City on the horizon.

Watching this Rays team over the past few nights have been an adventure with emotions running rampant from pride and hope to despair and frustrations. This 2011 Rays squad might not have the depth and stability of the 2010 squad, but they have more than enough in heart, courage and determination. Let’s hope those latter emotions lead the Rays to victories and not another sequence of heartaches and turning the channel. 

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