Results tagged ‘ Ben Zobrist ’
Boom goes the dynamite….and it couldn’t of happen to a better player. Tampa Bay Rays RF took a hanging pitch from Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter deep high and into the seats for the Rays first win of 2013 in the classic walk-off fashion.
What better way for the Rays faithful and the dugout to remember their first victory of the season than seeing @sweetswing20 (Joyce’s Twitter handle) doing the circle around the bases and jump into a impromptu team meeting at Home Plate. I know I’m not the only one who hopes a moment like this jump-starts a killer season for Joyce as he has been one of those guy I truly feel should have a chance to play every day…even against those nasty lefties.
As anyone who has followed the Rays for even the slightest amount of time, Joyce has somehow been put in bubble wrap and stuffed on the bench against most left-handers, but I think this season Rays Manager Joe Maddon needs to put Joyce in a few key slots in the lineup against capable southpaws and see if Joyce rises to the occasion or Maddon’s insight is warranted and Joyce platoon with Zobrist or any other guy Maddon feels has the advantage against lefties.
Maybe all Maddon needs or should do is take the blinders off and let Joyce either make his case to play against both right-handers and lefites, or be banished to platoon duty and be the key component against right-hander in left or right field. Joyce has shown before he can hit left-handers if given the chance, so maybe it is time to rely more on your capable young player than keep doing the lineup merry-go-round based on the side of the rubber a hurler uses.
Wednesday Joyce made a huge statement in not only securing the Rays first win, but also showing he can be the guy to get the Rays the needed offense if his name is called more often. Of course the season is young, and maybe Maddon will release the reins a bit this year and get Joyce some quality plate appearances against lefties, or he will be pigeon-holed for good not only with the Rays, but with any other team that might want to take a chance on him if the Rays ever decide they need a guy who can hit pitchers that hoist the rock from either side of the hill.
If I was Maddon, I think Joyce has proven he can get it done, but imagine what he could do if he played daily. I think a few pitching staffs would shudder at that thought.
Baseball defines itself by its unscripted single plays and moments that can easily decide victory or defeat. Where the crack of the bat meeting the ball can electrify a crowd, a defensive play that illustrates brilliance can boost your confidence for success, or a misplaced pitch left flat and lifeless can become a isolating factor in the contest.
These moments and more showed themselves vividly on Tuesday afternoon as the Tampa Bay Rays opened their 16th Major League baseball campaign against divisional rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays were riding a 2-game home opener winning streak and with a third win in a row could get Rays Manager Joe Maddon back to the .500 mark in his Rays tenure. Instead, the Rays showed us all the ways they have improved over the Winter, but also gave us a quick dose of reality that some things still need some fine tuning to succeed in 2013.
Rays ace David Price took the hill hoping to begin another trek towards a stellar season, but some crafty hitting and patience by the O’s hitters bore into the small holes of opportunity and had Price on the ropes early in this contest. Sure Oriole’s sluggers Adam Jones and Chris Davis had great starts to the 2013 season against Price, but C Matt Wieters seemed to be the biggest nemesis to Price on this day.
Not only did Wieters stake Baltimore to a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning, but his 13-pitch at bat in the top of the 3rd inning that ended up as a walk, which included 8 foul balls did load the bases for a potentially bad situation, but a Davis ground ball to Yunel Escobar began a nifty double play that ended the inning without any further incident. Wieters did have a secondary effect on Price that his long plate appearance did elevate Price’s pitch count and hastened his exit from the game after 6 innings.
Jake McGee then came on in the 7th inning and made a few pitch location mistakes. Jones made the first impression with a 2-RBI to deep left center to give the Orioles the lead again at 4-3. Misfortune again reared her ugly head for McGee in the inning after he intentionally walked Wieters and David blasted a 396-foot 3-run Home Run to right and posted the eventual runs needed to secure the O’s first win of the new season. McGee just never seemed comfortable out on the mound yesterday and might have thrown 18 strikes in his 25 pitch outing, but the Baltimore hitters made his exit swift after 2/3rds of an inning.
Mistakes happen in ballgames, that is par for the course. A pitch that stays flat or doesn’t break away from the plate is destined to be put into play and bad things can become the immediate result. Both Price and McGee had moments of flatness in this game and it cost both of them dearly with McGee getting the loss plus posting up a ballooned 67.50 early ERA. Both pitchers will find their grooves and make amends this season, but their small mistakes on this day definitely played into the Rays breaking their home opener streaks and taking Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s career home opening day mark to 3-5.
But there were also some moments in this contest that made you not only feel good inside, but built upon the confidence that a few pieces that falters at times in 2012 have been fixed and made great starts to building confidence on the field and in the stands. All around the field yesterday there were defensive plays and great moves on the base paths that showed this team again has that attitude that no game is decided until the 27th out. That kind of mentality will pay huge dividends down the road and even in this initial loss, we saw more than a few reasons to think our defensive debacle in 2012 has been rectified.
Evan Longoria definitely showed he is psyched for 2013 with 2-straight impressive defensive plays in the top of the 5th inning with the second play coming with a throw on his backside at third against the speedster Jones with his throw bouncing across the turf until James Loney secured it to end the inning. Sam Fuld who replaced Matt Joyce in left also made his presence known as well as Ryan Roberts who replaced Ben Zobrist at 2B when Zorilla went to RF and SS Yunel Escobar showed brilliance on the pivot providing a crucial 6-3 double play in the top of the 3rd to stop the O’s scoring chances.
From the Rays first hit of the season, a solo Home Run by Zobrist to RF, to Desmond Jennings RBI double in the 6th inning then scoring on a Sac Fly by Zorilla. Jennings again provided some needed magic beating out an infield single to the shortstop, then stealing his first base of the season in the bottom of the 7th inning putting him in great scoring position to secure the Rays 4th run of the game on a ground ball to 2B by Fuld in the bottom of the 8th inning. These plays show great glimmers of hope the Rays offensive woes from 2012 might have also vanished over the Winter as the Rays employed both long and short ball concepts during this first contest.
All in all it might have been a mixed bag of results for the Rays, but the team showed the type of hustle and strive for victory you need when in the course of a season a single win or loss could decide not only your fate. I know that might seem a bit fatal thinking a single loss can be so detrimental to a team, but in this high contested AL East, especially against a division rival who wants to improve on their 90+ win totals from 2012, a single loss can put you behind the 8-ball early on in the season.
Tuesday the Rays might have come out on the losing end of it all, but there were multiple bright spots to show this team’s improvement and 161 more chances to grab back this loss and get on with the grand scheme of things this season…which is securing another ticket to play deep into October.
Do not forget, this season is the 5th anniversary of the “Miracle of Baseball”, and that 2008 Rays campaign also started off with a opening day home loss to these same Orioles ( 9-6). And we all know how that season ended up…….Coincidence, I think not.
If you are an avid Twitter fan and also have a passion for the Tampa Bay Rays, then you will be more than glad that the Rays have decided to resurrect a special night again at Tropicana Field just for the Rays Republic’s Twitter branch, or just those souls who love using their finger dexterity as well as enjoy a great baseball game. I hope the rest of the Rays Republic are as excited as I am that the Rays again embraced the social media segment of their fan base and again brought a LIVE Tweet in to Tropicana Field.
I’m personally as excited as watching a walk-off victory ( which happened during the Rays 1st tweet Up), complete game shutout or possibly seeing another Rays player hit for the cycle. Who wouldn’t be excited about sitting just above the Rays Bullpen area tweeting our fingers to the bone while cheering on our Rays both on the web, and in person.
Coming up on Tuesday, May 7th as the Rays take on their divisional rivals the Toronto Blue Jays, the Twitterverse will be completely congested again with Tweets and Photos from the Trop. It is truly fantastic that the Rays front office and their marketing department have again embraced the Rays huge social media presence and again provide a chance for the Rays Republic to take another stab at possibly trending not only in Tampa Bay, but possibly Worldwide.
That is what I’m hoping happens that the Rays Republic’s own Tweet Nation comes alive and provides a trending experience we can all be proud of. Even if we just hold that sacred spot for a minute, the work, hustle and bustle would be a complete success. So that is a goal within our reach, one we can touch or type, to provide a Rays moment Worldwide. I love the sound of that personally.
It is actually kind of ironic the Rays announced this recently as I was about to compose a blog posting asking them to again have just such an event during the upcoming season. I felt the first one back in 2011 went off without a hitch and the speech by guest speaker Emmy award winning CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) was entertaining and informative.
hiUnlike the 2011 Tweet Up, the May 7th contest will take place with a First Pitch at 7:10 pm and not in the afternoon. The early evening and night scheduling of this Tweet Up should help to boost the Rays chances of getting that trending acknowledgment as well as show the true size of the Rays Republic’s social media segment. There will be a future announcement possibly via Twitter about a Guest Speaker that will also be on-hand with us Tweeting the night away.
Just as the Rays did back in 2011, the team will furnish all participants who purchase tickets in the Rays Tweet Up special section a blue T-shirt sporting the event logo and your Twitter handle/name. On the evening of the event the Rays will distribute these shirts to the assembled masses, but you have to purchase your ticket by April 21, 2013 for you to have your shirt silk-screened and ready for the event. If you miss the deadline, you can still get a T-shirt, but it will have the @RaysBaseball handle on it instead of your own personal Twitter handle.
Also during this grand night of digital dexterity there will be drawings for autographed baseballs, game tickets and even a chance to possibly throw out the First Pitch that evening. I was a participant during the Rays first event that was held during an afternoon game and there was a great response and constant Tweets before, during and even after the game. I can attest to the fact that the Rays offer a great quality T-shirt, and you do have a chance to win prizes ( I won a Matt Joyce autographed baseball). I truly expect this second edition of the event to have even more rabid Rays fans using their fingers all game long, possibly even taking photos of other participants and driving up their follower base during this event.
I have already bought my seat (Sect 128), and hope to see a huge turnout from the Tweeter branch of the Rays Republic. I’m looking forward to see so many of the Twitter followers that gaze at the Tweets from @RaysRenegade or @TheRaysRenegade during the season and 365 days a year. I fully expect the event to sell-out as the Rays Twitterverse has expanded so much since our first event back in 2011. If you still need to purchase a ticket and get into this grand night of Tweeting and supporting the Rays, here is the Tweet Up At The Trop page on RaysBaseball.com ro secure your T-shirt and spot within the Rats Tweeters area for the contest.
Just as last time, any Tweet using the special event hashtag will have a chance to be displayed on the Rays Jumbotron during the Game and the entire group will be recognized by the Public Address announcer probably more than once that evening. This is one of those events where you can not only meet some of the people who pop up those funny and great Tweets during the year, but also a chance for you to bring in new followers, find possibly a few new friends to attend games with, and promote yourself and the Rays while watching a fantastic baseball game.
I got to warn you, I’ve gotten better since the last time at doing my Tweet in 140-characters or less…….See you there Rays Twitter Nation!
I guess the secret is finally out on a global scale. Everyone who watched last night’s Team USA victory over our friends from the Great White North truly saw what everyone in Tampa Bay has known for a long time. Ben Zobrist is a heck of a ball player both at the dish and in the field and provides an unseen element to the game I have come to know as the “Z-Factor”.
Maybe it is a slice of karma that Joe Torre is the Manager of the Team USA World Baseball classic squad because he got to see firsthand that MLB maturation process of a young Tampa Bay Ray named Ben Zobrist as he cut his teeth on the most competitive division in Major League Baseball. And we all know the respect and admiration Rays Manager Joe Maddon has for the player he affectionately calls “Zorilla” for his monster plays in the field and at the plate for the Rays. Zobrist firmly is a player who has embraced Maddon’s “Rays Way” and is a firm Rays and MLB symbol of a player playing his life right on and off the field.
We all know Torre got a front row seat as the Manager of one of the Rays biggest rivals, the New York Yankees just as Zorilla was beginning to show his potential to everyone in baseball. Maybe a few of those vibes and moments stuck in Torre’s mind and he knew possibly tossing Zobrist’s name on the lineup could muster a few more special moments and possibly turn the Team USA tide onto the Second Round of the World Baseball Classic.
You got to think there are many reasons Zobrist got a spot on the Team USA roster, not only because of his versatility to play anywhere at anytime, but also the fact his offensive game is also filled with that same unbridled versatility and variables. From Zobrist’s fine display and precision in the use of small ball tactics to move runners over or score runs to his potential to produce power from either side of the plate making him one of Team USA’s most versatile secret weapons, and one any Manager would drool over to have hidden on his roster.
It did bother me a bit that Zobrist did not get a chance until the third game in the Team USA World Baseball Classic, but if you really wanted to see Zorilla come alive and show his potential to everyone throughout the World, Sunday night’s contest showed why he is one of Team USA’s secret weapons and why Zobrist is a true asset no matter what game plan you envision for your squad. It was evidently apparent to Torre that Zobrist, who sometimes has as many as 5 gloves in his bag, was ready willing and able to do whatever it took to help Team USA fight off elimination last night.
Zobrist responded by showing the rest of the baseball World last night both at the plate and in the field why he is a vital cog in the Rays machine and could translate that same magic for Team USA in their “must have” contest. Zorilla showed his small ball proficiency with his bunting early on in the game and ended up gathering 3 hits in 5 trips to the plate including scoring a run for the victorious Team USA squad that sealed their trip into the Second Round meeting with Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening in the big MIA.
Zobrist could have possibly had a 4th hit last night if not for his bat being a bit under an attempted bunt and watching as the Canadian backstop clutched the ball in his glove for an out. But last night the rest of the baseball world got to see the type of player we have enjoyed here in Tampa Bay ever since he came here along with former P Mitch Talbot from Houston in exchange for Aubrey Huff.
Not only was it a great night for Zorilla at the dish, but he also gunned down Canada First Baseman Joey Votto at Second Base with a precision throw that nailed him, but also prevented a Canadian rally with his outfield assist. Most people in the American League do not run on Zobrist when he is stationed out in the Rays RF, but Votto took a chance and Zobrist made him pay. I have a link on my blog of just how determined Zobrist is when tracking a fly ball as he hit the low retaining wall in RF just to the left of my usual seat and tumbled into the area after a huge thud. That is the kind of play and player that can act as a vat of emotional glue that can help tie together wins and brings the confidence of a team to a zenith.
Hopefully Torre has seen enough of Zobrist in this critical game to warrant another shot in the lineup as Zobrist responded to the Team USA challenge with flying colors and hopefully he did enough against Canada to warrant another right field start, or at least a late inning appearance against Puerto Rico.
Zobrist also has that special gift off the field and in the Clubhouse that inspires and gets people motivated not only by his style of play, but by his exuberance for the game and his passion to succeed.
Zorilla is that type of guy you must have on your team, that motivator through his style of play that brings everyone’s level of play to the top, and boosts not only morale but the belief the game and a victory is firmly within their grasp. The Z-Factor has been rampant in Tampa Bay for years, maybe it was just time for the rest of the planet to also admire this truly gifted ballplayer as we do.
I think Tampa Bay Rays INF Tim Beckham is at a tipping point in his quest for a long-term fit with the team. After his 2012 MiLB Substance Abuse suspension (50 games) and with fellow Rays infield prospects knocking at both the MLB and Triple-A Durham doors, it might be the Spring where the Rays finally decide Beckham’s role in their franchise’s immediate future. Beckham has been extremely open to change this Spring in regards to his future positional spot on the Rays. Proving his worth to the club this Spring beyond and on the field might go a long way to him securing a longer visionary path for his escalation with the Rays.
I will be honest, before the Rays sent INF Elliot Johnson to the Royals as the final piece of the Rays and Royals trade puzzle, I truly thought Beckham was the potential PTBNL. This was not because I felt internally Beckham was not a fit for the Rays, but with numerous players below him at the Rays farm system franchises, it might have been an ample chance and time for the Rays to possibly cut him loose from their farm system so he could grow roots somewhere else and get ample time to play.
With his name still firmly attached to the Rays 40-man roster, this Spring might be that long awaited chance for Beckham to make that big push either at the plate or in the field that proves he has evolved and his talents and flexibility can play a unique role with the Rays.
With the Rays current Utility guru Ben Zobrist not in Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s direct eyesight while off playing with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, Beckham has to firmly utilize his chances in the lineup to make a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays Front Office. This Spring Beckham has to push up stats and situations that show he is a valuable asset to this squad for the long term, or he might find himself elsewhere quickly.
Beckham doesn’t only have to embrace the Rays proven “Zorilla” utility model for his possible existence as a MLB player, he might have to mold himself into another segment of that proven utility style player. Beckham can also look to another former Rays transformation as a symbol it can be done and provide another chapter in his career.
With Beckham being more open to a possible shuffling of position like Upton and Zobrist early on in their own MLB careers, Beckham not only makes himself more of a insertable pawn anywhere in the field as a piece of Maddon’s maddening game of Cerebral Baseball Chess, but opens the possibilities of a longer Spring look. With Beckham having 3 more minor league options, there is a long shot he would break camp and move up to St. Petersburg, Florida with the parent club, but if he evolves significantly, the door could be open to almost any scenario.
But if Beckham shows his willingness to expand his glove towards maybe even an outfield situation, he could easily be the prototypical player the Rays will need as Zorilla ages and flexibility will become a trademark of the Rays future roster.
Beckham is a smart guy who knows learning from the past can be as beneficial to his MLB survival as it can be his downfall. But if he shows the heart and hustle, willingness to try new things, Maddon might just try and find a way to keep someone with the talents of Beckham for the long haul. Tipping the scale into his favor has to be the number 1 priority of Beckham this Spring. Showing Maddon his expanded flexibility can provide diverse ways for the Rays to utilize Beckham and make him more of a Rays fixture than a expendable piece of their franchise.
Am I the only one who felt the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday contests which composed of two split squad contests was out of the MLB ordinary? I mean the team doesn’t set their Grapefruit League schedule, that comes out of the hallowed halls of Major League Baseball in New York City.
Doesn’t it seem beyond just plain odd that MLB would not only split the Rays squad on the opening series of games, but also might have scattered a bit of their diverse Rays Republic fan base with some of the Rays usual fans motoring possibly 40-odd miles to see the traveling portion of the Rays roster as they took on AL East rival, the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers.
I hate to put it out there, but I feel a bit of the MLB grip here in reference to this odd and peculiar set of Spring opening contests. I glanced over the rest of the MLB Spring opening slate both in Arizona and Florida and did not notice another team having a split squad set of contests this weekend.
That leads me to ponder the question if MLB in their scheduling genius had done this to make it possible for the Rays to not sell out their 2013 Spring Opener in Charlotte Sports Park. I know the Rays would have not only enjoyed but anticipated a better turnout on such a fantastic day, but with the split squads with main players in both locales, it might have split the Rays Spring fan base a bit with people from the Tampa Bay area hitting the home opener, and locales from South West Florida possibly hitting the Red Sox contest some 40 miles away.
Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but this bizarre Spring opening slate also brought to the front a interesting possible Spring attendance transference situation with the Rays having only 4,436 souls in Port Charlotte witnessing a awesome 3- innings of shutout baseball before the wheels began to come off and the team losing their home opener 3-2 to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.
Meanwhile some 50 miles away, the Red Sox shoved a sell-out 9,680 fans into their ballpark, but even the capacity crowd could not help the Boston squad to victory as they came up on the short end losing 4-3 to the traveling Rays caravan. Sure the Red Sox faithful make their pilgrimage to Fort Myers each Spring in huge numbers, but doesn’t the difference of ballpark attendance figures of 5,422 souls make for more then me to wonder if this was on purpose instead of built around schedules and the Spring feasibility concerns.
Adding to the mystic here is the fact the Rays sent possibly their starting outfield of Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings to Fort Myers while the Port Charlotte crowd got to see a younger and possibly a roster battle with a Rays outfield consisting of Rays top prospect Wil Myers, minor leaguers Kevin Kiermaier,Tyler Motter and a pair battling for the Rays 4th outfield slot, Sam Fuld and Rich Thompson. It might seem by that teeter-todder of talent the Rays sent their veterans to face their seasonal rivals.
Sure I know split squads try and divide the talent up to an even keel, but it seemed the traveling Dave Martinez-led Rays contingency had the offensive advantage going into their away contest and ended up producing the first “W” of the Spring with mostly a Triple-A laden pitching selection.
I know the Rays would have much rather had a full Rays contingency at Charlotte Sports Park for their Spring home opener, but I have a deep feeling MLB might have inserted a split squad arrangement to test the Rays Spring fan base commitment too. If MLB was hoping to see such an attendance disparity between Port Charlotte and Fort Myers, then they got their wishes.
As I stated before, I’m not a huge conspiracy theory guy, not even deep down inside, but I do feel some of MLB’s fingers were at play when this schedule was formalized. Who knows if the Rays would have sold out their Spring opener if they did not have to send a second squad traveling on Saturday. I want to think the Rays Republic would have come out in droves and gotten the stadium at or near its 6,823 capacity with the berms and stands full of Rays fans.
But I guess we will never know thanks to this bizarre Grapefruit League opening slate of games.
This is the day a lot of us wait for wondering who will smile, who will not, and who just might have the most character in front of the photo lens. When the Tampa Bay Rays take their Team Photos, you never know what will transpire and make itself to the Web. So I hit up a familiar website that usually posts these photos in nano-seconds and took 21 of the photos uploaded and presented them here for you to get a first glance/peek at before the final set is divulge.
As always most of the main characters within the Rays roster got their time in front of the lens, but a few of the Rays team photos did not make it into this first batch and probably will make their way onto the blogosphere some time soon, but I’m hoping they might show a bit more character and possibly a splash of that classic Rays humor we all know and love.
Of course Evan Longoria is not in this first set as he was motoring towards the St. Petersburg area to attend to a bit of baby business, but we know when his photo does surface, he will definitely have a grin from ear-to-ear as Papa Longo heads into the 2013 MLB season. But the 2013 edition of the Team Photos does look a bit tame compared to some of their previous Team Photos since the Rays moved their Spring Training complex 79 miles to the South in the hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida
Out of this first batch of photos there are the usual pairings like Ben Zobrist, David Price and Rays Manager Joe Maddon that look more like a Glamor Shots shooting than a Team Photo. But the camera again this season seems to love some people while also doing a 180 shift on others to kind of dull their enthusiasm and excitement and make fun of others.Some times the worst thing to do in front of a camera lens is try and look too professional be too serious as the camera doesn’t have a brain and can then tend to make them look more demented or possibly deranged even before the first Grapefruit League contest.
This season the “Grumpy” awards might go to Rays SP Alex Cobb who looks serious, but also has that serial bean ball artist look much like Kyle Farnsworth’s every year photo.Interesting enough, minor league prospect SP Alex Colome might actually get the old moniker I stuck on his Uncle, ex-Rays RP Jesus “Smiley” since his photo looks more like a mug shot than a happy occasion. But that is what sets Team Photos apart.
Not all of them will be masterpieces or utter clusters, but it is the time of the season when you can definitely tell who is relaxed, who might need a long hug, or who should be tackled by Raymond and tickled to the point of a huge smile and giggle.
Still, I think Luke Scott might actually have a twin in the Rays Spring Clubhouse mounted right alongside his locker. Now if he dyed his mutton chops white they might actually look like the tusks of that wild boar currently residing with a Rays Spring starburst cap in the Clubhouse.
But it is still great to see most of the photos are relaxed, tranquil photos that definitely shows who is eager, who is relaxed and who the camera seems to love.
Rays newcomer James Loney seemed to have brought a bit of that old LA vibe with him into the photo day as he looks perfectly calm, cool and collected as the Rays head into their 2013 slate of Grapefruit contests in less than a few days.
Also within the first 21 photos released were SP Jeremy Hellickson, INF Sean Rodriguez, SS Hak-Ju Lee, Desmond Jennings and someone who might just make a player for a rotation slot this Spring, Roberto Hernandez. There will be more photos in the future, but this first crop of Rays Team Photos for 2013 definitely shows the vast polar realms of personalities on this Rays squad this Spring. Not matter what transpires, I can definitely see this team this Spring not being a bore…or is that boar?
I saw a member of the Tampa Bay Rays front office while doing my usual trading card route a few days before that Saturday’s Rays Fan Fest. He seemed really excited about the anticipated fan to player ratio at the multiple events held throughout the day, and believe me, the Rays not only delivered, but a few of their players such as INF Sean Rodriguez and P Chris Archer seemed to be everywhere.
All day long I heard stories of players going above and beyond. We all have heard of Archer inviting a young fan up to the Autograph tales and behind the Rays blue curtain to meet a few of his Rays friends in the “Blue Room”. It was stuff like this, plus the added touch of players reading to young fans, being open to fan’s questions and requests all day long that made a deep and lasting impression as to their investment in this region and this special fan base.
I did not hear a single story of a player turning down a fan, or refusing any request during this special Rays day that is a huge celebration of the season that is now upon us. Heck I think we all might even have gotten a glimpse at a possible Rays future draft pick as Toby Hall’s son stroked a HR out of the curtained off ballfield a few times from the left side of the plate.
I mean I even saw Rays P Jeff Niemann at one point basically depositing basketball over by the hoop carnival games like he was dropping a wad of paper into a wastebasket. And during all of this were a gaggle of screaming and excited kids, adults and a combination of the two relishing in this increased presence of the player this year. Over the past few years as the team has grown increasingly competitive some of the fold reverted a bit back into old habits of selective signings and photos with fans. On this day if they were able, photos were snapped and memories were imprinted forever thanks to their increased visibility.
Combine this breathe of fresh air from the Rays themselves with the over 25,000 fans who walked into the Rays Rotunda on Saturday, this region still craves baseball and made sure other in and around the MLB World knew there was a fan base in this community. Even with the huge turnout of fans to Tropicana Field for Fan Fest, it was overshadowed by the fact the team only drew over that 25,000 visitor threshold 17 times during the 2012 season.
Hopefully the recent blast in the media of supposed apathy and nonchalant attitudes towards the game have been erased at least until the regular season when the proof will be in the proverbial pudding if the fans will again flock to the Trop.
But this day was about the 2 lucky fans enshrined into the Rays/Pepsi Wall of Fame, the hundreds of scavenger hunters snapping pictures around the Trop in hopes of grabbing an Even Longoria signed bat for their collections. Everywhere you looked there were kids, parents and even long time fans walking, talking and making mostly positive comments about the days events. Baseball Hall of Fame member Peter Gammons visited Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “Thanks-Mas” event prior to his own panel discussion making a few of those fans not only full of Maddon-induced food goodness, but also got to hear a baseball analyst’s take on the Rays and baseball.
Sure there were moments that made you scratch your noggin for a second like Rays INF/OF Shelley Duncan and Rodriguez as a pairing for the “Family Feud event. There were a few scattered “boo-birds” when Duncan was announced, but most have let the Spring incident of 2008 be finally put to rest. Still, it would have been interesting if Elliot Johnson was still here…pairing him with Duncan would have caught everyone’s ear. Still this season’s Fan Fest was amazing in the items up for sale in the Rays Garage Sale to the amount of MLBPA Alumni players participating in the Home Run Derby (won by O’s OF Mike Deveraux), to the huge table of past stars both of the Rays and other MLB vistas.
All in all the event might have been a bit reduced in total time we all spent within the confines of the tilted cap, but it was a day spent watching kids frolic in the batting cages, running the bases and getting a high-5 from Archer as they hit Home Plate. Matt Joyce also made a few more Rays fans as he stayed after his signing time was over and came to the side of the autograph stage and signed for a bit longer for fans who did not get a chance to get to him before his time was over.
Rays new Stud-du-Jour Wil Myers even made extra time for Rays fans who did not know him before his recent trade to the Rays and with Myers taking that extra moment, he sparked a few comments from people hoping he makes it to the MLB level some time in 2013. So now that the Rays Republic got a chance to see and meet a few of our new players to the Rays fold, and a few of the hungry and eager ones wanting a taste of the MLB life, it is now our time to show support for this team not only this Spring, but all the way until Game 162.
The Rays invest a lot of time and money in an event like this, and with 16 of them now in the books I can definitely say without any remorse that the 2013 edition definitely has set a new standard for future Rays Fan Fest’s. I made a tongue-in-cheek Tweet the other day about the whole Rays front office forming a Congo line today and each of them pat each other on the back for pulling off this grand event in style. I think it was Pepsi who sealed the emotions of the day as the Rays staff and players definitely “Rocked the Trop” on Saturday and I do not think anyone did not leave with a bit of Rays swag, autographs or maybe even a former players jersey tucked under their arm. The Trop definitely rocked a bit on Saturday, but I think we were all having too much fun to notice, which is a good thing.
Sometimes things happen in the off-season that just boggles your mind. Players are picked up for their subtle and special nuances that can be used by a statistical savant like Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon to intricately change the delicate nature of a game in progress, possibly for his advantage based on match-up potential situations or maybe even a simple hunch.
I know there is a logical explanation and suitable conclusion to why the Rays are currently carrying 7 out of a possible 9 infield players on their 40-man roster, 1 signed player but not added to the 40-man roster yet, plus 2 additional players who are non-roster invites who can man the middle infield. Considering the Rays traded for their potential starting shortstop in Yunel Escobar, you have to logically conclude that 8 of the other 9 might have to fight tooth and nail to get selected for that revolving door slot known as Second Base.
I think with the large amount of veteran bodies vying for a job at 2B, you can easily see the current Triple-A duo of Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee getting their fair share of starts and possibilities this Spring, but the reality is they are the Rays future for right now and with minor league control on both players, their rise to the MLB level might not come until possibly September barring an unforeseen Rays injury situation.
So that immediately shuffled the field down by a third and with the Rays facing 3 different player signing going “official” this week, maybe a few old Rays household names will be bidding the team farewell even before the positional players make their way to Port Charlotte, Florida. 3 other Rays middle infielders who might be on the invisible bubble might be the enigmas known as Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could all get an unexpected call or pulled in from the Rays Spring Clubhouse soon possibly severing their Rays tenure.
All 3 did not have the kind of 2012 campaigns the Rays envisioned when they popped their name on the 25-man roster last Spring, and any or all of the 3 could be subject to waivers or possibly traded before the Rays officially add DH Luke Scott, 2B Kelly Johnson or RP Kyle Farnsworth to the Rays 40-man roster. You would think Johnson and Rodriguez might have the leg up on Brignac because of their utility play everywhere around the Rays infield, but even then, their lackluster numbers from last year could get them penciled in as potential casualties when the Rays add their 3 signed, sealed but not roster delivered players.
There are mumblings in the Rays Republic that “Briggy Baseball” might be the most expendable of the this enigmatic duo, possibly the first name to be announced and waived this week by the Rays. Brignac has had multiple chances to secure and hold onto his shortstop slot, but for some reason his bat did not follow him into either of the past 2 Rays seasons with any regularity. Johnson might get an initial pass because he is a switch-hitter just like tag-team 2B Ben Zobrist who will get to camp late this Spring as he is playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Even with a slight edge over S-Rod, Johnson could find himself again straddling the bubble if he gets off to a weak Spring or doesn’t get into the game flow with consistency. You have to like Rodriguez’s chance since Spring seems to be the time he rises to the occasion and shines bright, but he could also see his star darkened if he gets off to a bad slump or has some defensive irregularities early on in camp. Another small sliver of hope for Rodriguez is the fact he still has 1 minor league option while Brignac and Johnson have exhausted their minor league options.
That takes care of 6 of the 7 players that currently are designated as “infielders” for the Rays. Zobrist is categorized as an “outfielder” on the Rays 40-man roster, but should see substantial playing time at Second Base along with the only other player listed, Ryan Roberts. “Tat Man” should have an advantage heading into Spring Training to secure a utility and tag-team situation with Zorilla at Second Base. Roberts did not have a huge year at the plate in 2012 either in Arizona or St. Petersburg, but should come into the Spring as a penciled in player in the mix for that part-time 2B gig. But there are other who might also have a say in it all before the roster is set into stone when the calendar changes to April.
Spring Training non-roster invites to the Major League camp have also been extended to MLB veteran Mike Fontenot and former Rays invitee Shawn O’Malley. Even with these 2 additional names to be put into the middle infield pot, Fontenot might have to stage a spectacular Spring to unseat any of the potential Rays utility players, but I also think O’Malley who made a great impression last Spring with the Rays might have a more viable chance to hang on late into the Spring Training schedule with Zobrist out and possibly be offered a Triple-A slot.
The Wild Card in this suspected scenario might just be newly signed, but not added to the roster Kelly Johnson who can basically play any of the fielding positions, including possibly being the guy who could give James Loney a rest. In Johnson’s favor to possibly get a long look and possible spot on the Rays 25-man roster is his ability to hit right-handed which could make him a valuable asset at First. And with KJ’s birthday coming in late February (22nd), he could possibly have an inside chance of securing a spot even before the Rays play the Red Sox in their first Grapefruit Series game.
2B or not 2B…….That is surely the question here as the Rays have a huge pool of player talent and potential to pick from the get their final selection before their first seasonal contest on April 2,2013 in Tropicana Field. This might be the strongest the middle infield as been in quite a few years in Tampa Bay, and with some of the names and potential, the players inked on the Rays final 25-man roster could provide that spark of offense the team needs along with some stellar defensive work.
I find myself yo-yo back and forth between the positive and the negative on the Tampa Bay Rays recent signings to bolster their roster coming into Spring Training. I mean the team picked up a 17-year pitching journeyman, a guy who falsified his identity, and a guy who I still consider a scumbag, but maybe he can become a viable power option and addition and slowly that title will be erased.
I know I was one of those guys toying with Shelley Duncan way before his blatant attempt to shift ex-Rays 2B Akinori Iwamura cup towards the far right in a Spring game back in 2008, and since that time I have watched his name in multiple team’s stats pages never showing what I thought was his potential. I am also one of the guys who heckled him in RF when he was with the Yankees when his throws were less than stellar making sure to remark he threw like his girls’ name.
But this is a different Rays team than the one who came off the bench and basically surrounded Duncan that faithful Spring afternoon with all of us remembering the “bear hug” Jonny Gomes applied to Duncan among other things. Sure it will take some time for me to forget all of that past experiences with Duncan at the center, but it can happen faster if he gets a few solid hits, drives in a few runs and make an attempt to be a member of this team. I am all about forgiveness if the potential and the fortitude both up skywards, and right now for me, Duncan better set his sights on the Stratosphere.
Then we got the former reliever/closer Leo Nunez, or should I say the present day RP now officially known as Juan Carlos Oviedo who was one of those caught in the age and identity net back when he was a Bullpen fixture for the then Florida Marlins. Some might have thought it was “just desserts” that Nunez/Oviedo sustained an elbow injury during his minor league tune-up in 2012 after serving his 8-week MLB suspension for his part in the identity cover-up.
Even though Oviedo might not have any real impact on the Rays 2013 Bullpen since he is still in the recovery phase from his Tommy John’s surgery, he could be a key piece of the Rays bullpen puzzle come 2014 when he would be 100% healthy, experienced as a closer, plus the Rays hold a 2014 club option on his services. Ovideo might actually be one of those pieces that Rays can fit into their back pocket knowing he could be a bargaining chip come Winter 2013 for any member of the Rays Bullpen who wants to play hard ball for an extension or hefty raise.
That brings me to the long-term MLB journeyman Jamey Wright who began his new relief profession back in 2008 and has averaged about 60 appearances a season since that first try at the Bullpen adventure. Last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers Wright held a 5-3 record with a respectable 3.72 ERA in 66 relief appearances with 6 holds.
Off the top of my noggin, it seems Wright might be a nice veteran cog to use in situational appearances, but should not see many high leverage situations or possibly be a 6th or 7th inning stepping stone to the shut-down duo of RHP Joel Peralta and closer Fernando Rodney. But Wright would fit in perfectly with the multi-sport Rays who have been known to run football pass drills, play soccer in pre-game time and just be an all-around athletic team. Since Wright is of an advanced age, maybe he can play right fullback or midfield..or not.
Then there was a fourth player brought in basically as question mark, but who showed potential in his prior minor league career that could pose a bit of a threat to someone on the Rays Bullpen bubble if he shows his stuff and makes a play for a 25-man slot. RP Juan Sandoval has been a frequent Triple-A guy in his past before his recent success in his tenures with Diablo Rojos de Mexico and Oaxaca in the in the Mexican League.
Back in 2008 it seemed Sandoval might be a closer option since he posted 20 saves while in Huntsville in the Southern League (AA), but from there his star seemed to fizzle out a bit after a total of 9 innings at Triple-A Nashville that saw him take a journey back into the fold of the High-A Clearwater Threshers in 2010 before making his exodus to the Mexican League with Quintanna Roo, Diablos Rojos de Mexico in 2011 and foster a combined 6-14 record with those two club.
But in 2012 while still in the Mexican North division he posted a respectable 7-3 record with the Diablos Rojo de Mexico and Oaxaca. It doesn’t take a genius to see Sandoval might be more of a Double or Triple-A player come April, but sometimes it just takes a chance again for a guy to rise to the occasion and with Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos the only Rays RP at this moment with a slight finger hold on a chance for a 25-man spot, a great Spring by Sandoval could make noise and possibly change the Rays focus to give the guy a chance to finally throw a pitch at the MLB level. Crazier things have happened…even in St. Petersburg. I mean the guy at least understands intimidating eyeear like Kyle Farnsworth.
So the Rays decided to go the Good, the Bad, the Unknown and the Wounded angle with their recent signings. With the exception of Ovideo who is still recovering from his Tommy John’s surgery, the other 3 players who garnered a MLB camp Spring invite with their deals could see some significant time since Peralta and Rodney could miss some early time playing for the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic.
With Ben Zobrist also playing for Team USA in the WBC, Duncan could see his name either in a corner outfield slot or as a DH since at this moment the Rays have not signed a viable power option to fill one of their biggest offensive holes at this time. With time and with Duncan getting his bat on the ball this Spring, little bits of that 2008 episode will be erased and maybe if he brought his offense with him to the Rays this Spring I might even nod my head in approval of his name when it is announced. I mean the guy’s real first name is David, Shelley is his middle name.