Results tagged ‘ Carlos Pena ’

PENA = Present Explosive Nature Absent

 
RRCollection

I feel bad even writing anything without a positive spin about Tampa Bay Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. It is painful to think that the Rays Republic might be headed for uncharted waters with Pena in the coming weeks if his bat doesn’t respond in a surging manner. That we could even consider the collective thoughts of putting another body at his First Base position seems insane to me right now. Makes me almost sick to my stomach thinking that the charismatic Rays icon who had me all giddy with anticipation back in 2007 could possibly be spending his last season in a Rays uniform and surrounded in a cloak of offensive struggles.

Usually in a contract year you see the future Free Agent player hit for a higher average, or just blow you away with his overall abilities and you then do not even question not trying to sign the guy again. But right now, Pena is making a departure notice a bit easier with his slumping lumber and the Rays Front Office could be prudent in exploring unforeseen options for 2011. And that has me in a quandary trying to dissect and analyze his downward spiral this season. Pena’s first class defense is still churning and burning on all cylinders, but the Home Run torque he once had in his might ash bat is slowing becoming….well expendable and unfortunately predictable.

It is difficult to consider this Rays team, that Pena has taken firmly under his long wingspan as his own, without seeing him firmly in the line-up every night. How long do we take the inconsistencies with the skyrocketing strikeout amounts and the rally-killing hitting into the shift with more regularity and look into another direction. It is difficult for me to think of another person or player even manning the First Base bag for the Rays, even on a short-term assignment. But that is why the Rays have power guys like Dan Johnson, Chris Richards and Leslie Anderson in our farm system…They are available explosive ammunition for the Rays offensive weapon.

When is enough, enough? Could Rays Manager Joe Maddon pull the plug on Pena in the coming days, or will Maddon wait until Pena himself or someone from the Rays Fourth floor brings the option up? Maybe what makes this idea seen remotely unfathomable is the fact Pena is truly one of the nicest and fan friendly guys in Major League Baseball. Pena is a Rays poster boy for giving back not only in the Tampa Bay community, but also to Haiti and his home country of the Dominican Republic with an undying regularity and vengeance.

 
Raysbaseball.com/RaysontheRunway

Maybe it is the fact Pena is one of the best dressed MLB players who has an impeccable G Q mentality about himself and his wardrobe that I envy at times. Maybe it is the simple fact that his smile and his exploding dimples just makes the churning within me about his offensive frustrations all seem to melt away with a simple glance and head nod. Sometimes it just seems that you could pop Pena up at a podium during a National disaster and he could make it all seem a bit better with that great smile and those dimples doing that dance they do so well. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit far fetched, but you get my reasoning here. He is a likable guy who you want on your team.


The Rays currently have their former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner in a troubling slump where he is hitting at the sub basement level from the usually alarming Mendoza Line. Rays fans have not been as outwardly vocal towards calling out Pena for his recent unimpressive hitting level as they were with former Rays Vinny Castilla or Greg Vaughn. Some have mentioned it in passing, but no vocal storm warning or approaching turbulence has been sounded as of yet. But you can hear a few rumbles and grumbles in the background, and the storm clouds might be forming for Pena in the distance.

When is enough, enough? It is easy for Rays fans to Pena’s past as ammunition to keep him in the Rays lineup because of the rationalization of how can you bench a star like Pena who less than a year ago celebrated his first All-Star gig just because his bat has suddenly become frozen solid? Next thing you know dogs and cat will be living together….total World anarchy! It has been a while since we have seen some masterful shots by Pena, who is currently mired in a 1-20 skid right now.

I like Pena as a person, a player and as a symbol to our community. He has been tall shoulders above any of our past Rays clubhouse leaders as a upfront, vocal and consistent positive influence to all who step within the Rays confines, but something is flawed right now within his baseball persona. Something is eating Pena’s stroke away and his batting average is sinking quickly before our Rays eyes. His May monthly batting average was a paltry .120 ( 12 for100) with 3 Home Runs and 37 strikeouts and a sub par .250 Slugging Percentage. We have steadily watched his average hit a extreme landslide slope from a presentable .247 to a shocking .175 in the last 31 days.

 
Raysbaseball.com/MLB.com

With a decrease in your batting average has come other obstacles that block his forward progress. Pena currently leads the American League in strikeouts with 58, and his last homer against Boston starter Clay Bucholz on May 24, 2010 was his first within the home confines of Tropicana Field since April 28th. Last season, Pena was hitting Home Runs at a clip of one in every 12.08 at bats and became the first player in the live ball ear (since 1920) to lead his league in HR despite missing at least 25 games to end the season. The past accolades since Pena first put on a Rays uniform in 2007 are more than impressive. From his Roberto Clemente Award, to his first All-Star selection in 2009, Pena has always been a class act and a personable guy who always seemed to know what was right for this Rays squad.


It pains me to say it out loud, but maybe it is time for Pena to sit for a bit. Time for reflection, dissecting his hitting stroke and maybe re-adjusting this stance to hitting to the opposite field to take away this dang shift that is employed against him with regularity. Bunt the ball, half swing for a single through the hole at Third and Shortstop, anything to get the defense to play him honestly again. Maybe the Rays need to bring up Dan Johnson from the Durham Bulls to bring some extra power back into the fifth position in the Rays lineup. We are not giving up on Pena, just letting him reallocate his talents and focus full time on regaining his plate composure.

Great player know when enough is enough. And I truly think Pena knows he is struggling and not seeing the ball with extreme clarity right now. Pena is a fighter and might be trying to fight through this slump to keep his team in contention. But even with the most honest intentions here, something is lacking in the current Pena puzzle. Hopefully it is a phase that is nearing its conclusion because I would hate to see Pena go out like this because he has been a awesome class act for the Rays and deserves to go out with an loud explosive bang, not a single whimper.

Giving the Rays Some ZZ Top Lovin’

 

With Texas Rockers ZZ Top set to perform after the Tampa Bay Rays play the Kansas City Royals tonight, it only seemed appropriate that maybe I should try and pair up a few of the Rays players with some classic ZZ Top songs. Every once in a while it is fun to just take a moment out and sit back and relax and either poke fun or show the respect I have for this Rays team and their stable of workhorse style players.

I could have rambled towards a posting of Kentucky Derby hopeful candidates that currently play for the Rays, but we already know that coming in one-two in that race might be the sprinter Carl Crawford and the long strides of B J Upton neck and neck at the wire. Honestly might come down to if CC has a forward neck bob at the moment he hit’s the finish line. But it only seemed fitting that I take a few names and personalities off the Rays roster and give them a one-night only ZZ Top song. I can tell you that I-Tunes is going to love me today with this research.



Raysonthe Runway

Sharp Dressed Man:


Now this one might seem like a pretty self explanatory song choice for Rays fashion plate and G Q model in residence slugger Carlos Pena. But I actually have two Rays figures in this choice. The first is of course Pena who has been the fashion sensible member of the Rays since day one. But my other selection might fool a few people, but he is trying with what he’s got, and for that I got to give Rays Television announcer Brian Anderson an Honorable Mention in this song choice.

Anderson might not have the fashion runway swagger of Carlos Pena, or even the handsome looks that make more than a few women faint, but Anderson is a budding fashion police poster child who seems to get better with every road trip. Maybe Pena is secretly taking Anderson out on road trips and getting him a new tie or stylish sports coat or tie to go with his daily ensemble on the Rays broadcasts. No matter what the true story is, we all know Pena is the true fashionista on the Rays roster, but Anderson might be raiding his closet if Pena is not careful…maybe.


 
Raysbaseball.com/ MLB.com

Gimme All Your Lovin’:

I got to go classic tongue-in-cheek here and give this royally down to Rays All-Star and female heartthrob Evan Longoria. For during the last Rays road trip while the team was in Boston for a 4-game series, Longoria made the Boston papers with complaint letters that he was sending multiple texts to a unique collective group of women in the Beantown area. What was so amazing is that people somehow seemed a bit shocked about all of this.

I do not see how this could be a surprise to anyone. Major League Baseball players get handed cellphone numbers and even room keys all the time for prospective romantic interludes, but most disregard them as “groupies” or even trouble waiting to happen. But the fact that is totally humorous is that these same women had Longo’s digits in their cellphones, so they can not play as innocent either here as they might have had conversation with Longoria either before they met their current squeezes, or during their courtship.

Either way, it really has just up the ante and further advanced the mystic and allure of Longoria to women from coast-to-coast. So the next time your “significant other” gets a text message that she either smiles at or giggles like a schoolgirl, just ask her point blank is it from Longoria. It probably is not, but you never know, some guys might think it was an ultimate compliment if Longo was texting his girl….Not me, but there might be someone like that out there in the Rays Republic.


 
RRCollection

Legs:

This actually might have been the easiest song to place with a Rays player basically because I seem to smile and chuckle every time I see him attempt an extra base or turn the corner for a try at a triple during a Rays contest. Carl Crawford has streamlined his glide around the base paths over the last several years to provide more energy and push to accelerate his speed within a few strides. But still when he rounds the First Base bag and he seems to be leaning at a 45 degree angle and chugging those arms back and forth, his legs always seems to come out in my photos as magical blurs or looking like time lapse photography.

So it was a perfect choice to include Crawford’s name as the player associated with “Legs”. And even if this song ultimately illustrates a love for the female form, I hope Crawford can take that I am using a bit of literary license here to portray this song towards his burst of speed and not the way his lower lips seems to drag like a English Bulldog when he is pumping towards an extra base. And I want to apologize in print if you read the lyrics to the second verse and think I am referring to Crawford with hair down to his fanny….I am not….Seriously ( My Grey’s Anatomy voice)….Seriously!

 
RRCollection

Cheap Sunglasses:

You might think this would be a natural for Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but I have another victim, I mean choice for this classic ZZ Top tune. To me this song screams out Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. Maybe it is just me, but Garza sporting that James Shields T-shirt during his side Bullpen session yesterday showed me that he is ultimately the “Too hip for school” guy on this team. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Garza has always had that persona to me. The one where he seems to display and cool and clam demeanor under that bundle of emotions and inner frustration sometimes with himself on the mound. He usually can wear those cheap sunglasses as a outer shield to keep him from actually showing his highly charged confidence and emotions. But then again, Tom Cruise pulled it off with the same pair of cheap sunglasses in “Risky Business” and it turned him into a movie superstar. Maybe Garza can turn his cheap sunglasses into a Cy Young?

 
Rob Carr/ AP

Blue Jeans Blues:


I am not sure why this next one seems to fit just by the title of the song, but I see Rays fifth starter Wade Davis as the perfect poster child for this song. Maybe it is that outer shell he has that eludes most strife and controversy as he seems to glide through his starts even against some of the opposing teams top pitchers. Davis has provided some interesting performances already in 2010, and has been totally in control and often times kind of in his own personal zone of tranquility while attempting to provide pitching brilliance so early in 2010.

And I am not trying to play on his nickname “W D-40″ to provide some raw angle of southern gentleman meets ferocious beast, but the guy is from Lake Wales, Florida and is as calm as a cucumber and soft-spoken as they come. But then again, when things are clicking like they are right now for Davis, there is nothing to worry about anyways….really.

 
Steve Nesius/ AP

Got Me Under Pressure:

For some reason I think this song actually could apply for most of this Rays team this season. Sure I could of thrown this out as a Rafael Soriano selection based mostly on his new role as the Rays closer, but in actuality, I think this entire Rays roster is feeling the pressure this season. Most of them know that this might be the last season that this collective body of players get a chance to revisit or remove some of the pain and feeling of not completing the task at hand that still lurks within some of their minds from 2008.

It might be the last time Crawford, Pena and even Dioner Navarro and possibly Jason Bartlett all hit the field at the same time to try and right a situation that seemed to melt them apart like the cold weather on that unusual October night. Maybe it is the mantra adopted by Maddon for 2010 that no longer uses mathematical situations, but asks the simple question: ” WIN or What’s Important Now”. Maybe it is that urgency of completing the mission, of finally breathing a sigh of relief that will act as the whistle from this pressure cooker called the MLB season.

ZZ Top is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member. They got their start just like so many other musicians did struggling in the small bars and honky tonks in the Texas landscape. But their telling of the stories and the message in their lyrics, they got the rest of the country to not only experience a bit of Texas, but of their own personal cultures and rituals.

But hopefully in the next several months the Rays can duplicate the success and get the admiration of the rest of the Major League Baseball world to again see them for the hardworking and diligent team that they are….And maybe after it is all said and done, the Rays could actually shadow another ZZ Top song as a team.

 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

For if the Rays hit that desired pinnacle they seek so dearly in 2010. If this Rays team can climb that last rung of the ladder and stand proudly at the top with a golden trophy in their mitts, then maybe they can all collectively sing “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” on the pitching mound as they shower each other with praise, champagne and memories just like ZZ Top has given all of us over their long career.

Got to go people. Got a small errand to do since I am getting Photo Credentials to shoot the ZZ Top Concert tonight. And yes, tomorrow will be a ZZ Top post Concert Photo blog. See you later Gator…

James Shield’s Other Talent….Rays T-Shirt Designer

 
 
RRCollection
The evolution of the plain T-shirt has come a long way from its primary use as a undergarment. This button-less, collarless clothing item was originally just fashioned to cover the body’s torso with its generic rounded neck hole and short sleeves. Many fashion notables think the T-shirt craze exploded when the United States Navy adopted this outerwear as casual clothing following the Spanish American War. It made it possible for sailor to now “soil” their T-shirt instead of the uniform jacket while in warmer climates.

After World War II, the T-shirt was worn by returning soldiers as daily outerwear while performing duties around the house, or in farming communities. But most think the true origin and National preference came after actor Marlon Brando wore a T-shirt in the film “Streetcar Named Desire”. After that film it was considered by many to be a fashion statement and an accepted garment to wear out and about doing daily activities. The transformations of the T-shirt from there have been swift and very visual for all of us to see…daily.

From that moment on the T-shirt has transformed from a simple undergarment to prevent sweat stains on outerwear to the preferred clothing options within sports coats and on the film industries red carpet. From the tie-dye T-shirt to the invention of the silk screening process, this clothing item has been invented and reinvented several times until we finally get towards the most recent evolution of its creation, the designer T-shirt.

So maybe it is only right that the one member of the Tampa Bay Rays roster who has shown a knack and a passion for not only wearing classic designer T-shirts, but also classic Rock and Roll T-shirts would set his sights on taking on the task of designing a special Rays edition T-shirt to be given out to Rays Republic fans. And we have all seen him before after games or at Rays events like Rays Fan Fest or the Season Ticket Party at Gameworks in recent years sporting his black “Motorhead” T-shirt.

 
RRCollection

But then again, Rays pitcher James Shields was also the guest announcer during a segment of the Rays 2009 “Rays on the Runway” fashion show and showed his own sense of style and designer flair during that brief flash on your television screen. And with that passion now exposed, the Rays consulted with Shields about maybe designing a Rays custom collectible T-shirt to be given out during the Rays Friday night celebrations in 2010.


Since the 1980’s, this form of clothing has been known to sport expressionistic ideals and images and was the perfect opportunity for Shields to show his skill in this avenue of fashion. Now this is not to suggest or introduce Shields as a T-shirt designer to the World, but is a great and special way for him to show his expression and passion for the game of baseball upon a cotton canvas. And Shields immediately chose his most famous T-shirt color, black as the base for his artistic T-shirt expression.

 
RRCollection

When you first gaze upon the T-shirt you see instantly his style and his want to include baseball images and motifs intertwined in his design. From the lower cap lettering of “big game” under the front collarbone line to the induction of blue flames going outward from the center, you instantly got a Rock and Roll feel to the project. Then the central image of Shields in his on-the-mound pose right before he delivers a pitch, to the two flaming baseball skulls located around the bodies pectoral muscle region, the T-shirt instantly brings you into the design.


And the use of the white to accent both the outline of Shields and the baseball skulls brings you instantly into that region of the T-shirt as it pops off the black T-shirt. The front design of the Shields inspired T-shirt ends about midway down with a scroll piecing that is center under Shields outline on the mound and includes his uniform number “33” in a blue lettering. And around the centralized design is blue hued artistic designs that also seems to push your eyes towards the center of the design.

 
RRCollection

The back of the T-shirt also sports its own Shields inspired creation as his ever popular nickname set in uppercase lettering that is emblazed across the back upper shoulder region like his game day jersey. The moniker “Big Game” on the back of the T-shirt instantly pulls you into this region in silver ink and you also notice just below it the “TB” initials of the Tampa Bay Rays team. But the thing that might miss you eyes unless you turn the T-shirt upsides down might be the gigantic griffin, which has long been considered a symbol of power and strength.


The griffin is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle, which encompasses the king of beasts and birds into one animal entity. And the griffin illustrated on Shield’s T-shirt actually takes on the characteristics of a 15th Century alce or a keythong and the image is pronounced as if it was actually a coat of arms inspired design with a crown upon the griffin’s head.

 
RRCollection

I got to say it personally is a unique and well designed T-shirt that will become an instant Rays collectors item, and one I think we might possibly see again in the future from Shields. But again it shows that each of these members of the Rays 25-man roster have outside interests that some of us might never know, or hear about unless it is brought to our attention or provided for all of us to marvel and enjoy also in life. Shields has a knack for designing, and might have been one of those kids who doodled a lot in class as a kid upon his notebooks or on sheets o paper.


Talent can come in many forms. It can be a sports talent like Shields unique change-up that has buckled the knees of many Major League Baseball player, or it could be an artistic talent like his recent T-shirt design for the Rays fans. Who knows where this first inspiration by Shields will go from here. He could go on to producing a yearly special design or make it an off or in season project to help raise funds or involve the community to show support for a cause or an event.

Major League Baseball players like Shields are all over the place. Most of the guys on the Rays 25-man roster have additional talents most of us might never know about unless they are shown or expressed to us fans. Fernando Perez has a special gift for writing, Carlos Pena is the fashion staple on the team, and we all know Rays bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos is the team dance instructor.

 
RRCollection

Talents off the field help to endear us to our Rays players and it takes away that invisible barrier that makes them “off limits” or unapproachable to us. The Rays boast one of the most fan-friendly teams in Major League Baseball, but sometimes a little insight or exposure of the person within brings a new appreciation of that player to all of us.

I know with Shields it showed a side of him you would not have imagined with the creation of this special James Shields inspired T-shirt. Hopefully this is not the first player that opens the door a bit to us in 2010 and shows us the level of talent this team has beyond the base paths and mound.

Crawford Celebrates his 1,000 Leftfield Start

 
 
RRCollection

I popped up a tweet on Twitter the other day asking if I might be the only member of the Rays Republic to know that Tampa Bay Rays Leftfielder Carl Crawford celebrated his 1,000th start in Leftfield as a member of the Rays on Saturday night. Coming into the Rays 2010 season, Crawford has started 983 times in LF for the Rays, and with him sitting out only one Rays contest prior to their 18th game of the season on Saturday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, Crawford has now become a member of the 4-digit career starts longevity club in the MLB.

And I suspect in the last 10 years, that club has not inducted a lot of this generations MLB stars. But there was not a single Raysvision scoreboard moment before, during or after the game. No special mention of this awesome feat during the Rays Radio broadcast, or a spoken word over the Public Address system to give all of the Rays fans in attendance a chance to get on their feet and give Crawford the Standing Ovation he deserves for his long tenure service to the Rays. Here is a guy who has been a constant face of the Rays franchise since Crawford took his first steps upon the Field Turf II in 2001, and I am the only one outside, or in the Rays Press Box who saw this stat printed in the Rays 2010 Media Guide.


Not to push that I have any literary tendencies here, but I have been known to grace and glance at the pages of this 448 page colossal Rays Media Guide before and during Rays games as an instant resource for little tidbits and snippets just like this one concerning CC. Maybe what is troubling me deep down inside is that it would only take 30 seconds of airtime, a minute of scoreboard recognition, and might show Crawford that his sweat and grime over these years has been valued beyond just the “W’s” , the base stealing, and his multiple All-Star nods. That the Tampa Bay region has truly taken him in as a member of their own Rays family.

After Saturday nights game I spoke with a member of the Rays media cliché` (who wants to remain nameless) about this and he told me it was maybe just an oversight, but that these kind of career stats do not come up or matter as much as the offensive gems Crawford could still obtain here in 2010. Plus since CC already owns most of the Rays offensive numbers not related to power hitting already, it might seem as repetitious to those outside the stadium.

That even thought the event should have at least gotten a chance for the fans to give a roaring sign of support for Crawford, there might have been more pressing issues and events that determined it to be a fact that slips by without notice….or should have if I had not brought it up.

 
RRCollection

And maybe this Rays Media member is right. Maybe it should not be something I am not so upset about, or frustrated about at all. Maybe I am turning into one of those emotional baseball historic factoid saps who actually think a moment of simple acknowledgment and crowd recognition can sometimes mend a fence better than a boatload of money. Maybe I have finally crossed that proverbial fence I have been riding for years and actually am outwardly giving a damn about these guys.

But, that is just the way I follow the game. I am the guy who envisions the little things snowballing into bigger situations. Maybe I finally grew up as a baseball fan and now see multiple sides of the game simultaneously instead of just the action on the field.

But it did bother me that a Rays player like Crawford, who takes up 9 pages in the Rays 2010 Media Guide did not get some sort of cap nod, or even vocal mention besides here in a Rays MLB-based blog that most member of the Rays Republic will never read on their way to the other Rays blogs. But then again, I am a fan-based blog and only get a mention if I show a photo or a snippet of information most people would not know unless I flushed it out of the system.

I am considered by some in the lefty Press Box as a bottom-feeder who finds the small morsels and turn them into a Goliath fish weighting 200 plus pounds (maybe like this post). There have been some recent other snippets or morsels just from the Rays career start page that within 2010 will see a total of four other Rays current players set their own career starts record for their respective positions. Some people might say that it just seemed like yesterday that B J Upton was beginning to learn the ropes at the team’s Centerfielder after his flurry of starts around the Rays infield.

But would it had made any difference to any of us that Upton also on Saturday night became the Rays career games leader in Centerfield passing Rays roving instructor Rocco Baldelli by staring his 375th career game in CF. Ironic that John Fogerty was here and started with “Centerfield” as his first song of the night.


And with the National Media attention on the Rays duo earlier in the season, don’t you think that Upton and Crawford both posting Rays career start marks on the same night might be a nice little factoid to toss to the Media fish? You would think at least the folks at Elias might catch onto this small morsel. But neither of them were mentioned at all, even in the Rays MLB Press Pass online publication for either Saturday or Sunday.

Or would it have mattered that with his 85th start of 2010 somewhere around the 2010 All Star break, Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena will pass former Rays First Baseman Fred McGriff and become the team’s career starts leader making his 483rd start at First Base for the Rays? Want to bet that makes the media handout!

Or maybe the fact that recently, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria, who is entering his third season with the Rays, in only his sixth start of the 2010 season at home set the Rays Third Base career starts record with his 273rd start passing former Ray Aubrey Huff for that honor.

And I have gazed twice and did not see that on Sunday’s MLB Press Pass either…Hmmm? But maybe it is just me that thinks it is impressive and show the solidarity of this Rays player foundation and the longevity of the strength of this team that these four will all have set career start records during this season.

 
RRCollection

And this is only talking about career starts, this is not digging into the team’s record books like a member of SABR even trying to find diamond hidden in the miles of words and facts. But the pure fact that these four instances just jumped out at me during this weekend truly speaks volumes to how if the general Rays media members do not have the space or the time to add such small bits of recognition, maybe that is a niche I should consider soon as my blog format.

Maybe there is a need to find the “small things” dangling off the line and take it like a Blue Marlin and run with it.


Maybe it is time to reconfigure and rethink. There is such a plethora of information out there in the Internet stratosphere just aching for some sunlight. Maybe I should take a few fellow Rays friends advice and seek one of those names upon the black tags around the Rays dugout and reestablish the Rays Renegade website. Maybe there is a place for both my long-winded blog posts, and smaller multiple paragraphs of photos or even great Rays information that could be beneficial to other Rays Republic followers.

But it does still bother me that Crawford, who started his 1,000th career game in LF for the Rays did not get an ounce of mention. Especially since the Rays player who holds second place in that LF category is former Ray Greg Vaughn who started only 159 Rays games, and who last manned that spot before Crawford became the heir apparent.

P.S. I know my photos are coming out a bit blurry, but I have an inferior camera. I at first thought it was my eyes going bad on me, but I had someone else also take a few and they came out the same way. As soon as I get some chicken feed, I will upgrade my camera and also get a wide angle/ telephoto lens that suits game day shots….Might take a while.

Rays Have No-Hitter Pitching Options

 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

With the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night finally being able to erase their name off the four-some of current Major League Baseball teams without a No-Hitter thrown by a pitcher on their staff, the list has now been funneled down to only a trio, with the Tampa Bay Rays being the only American League team still searching for a No-No. And sharing this distinction with National League squads the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres, it is actually only a matter of time before another name is dropped off this list.
 
Honestly with the Mets farm system not having a highly-touted prospect in the pipeline, and the Padres having some talent in the lower levels, but nothing on the immediate horizon, it seems logical that the Rays might have the best chance to be the next team to throw a huge “X” through their name and eliminate the American League from this special list. But this is not to say that a pitcher from either the Mets or Padres could not have a once-in-a-lifetime pitching performance and one-up the Rays with no notice.

In my honest baseball opinion, the Rays seem to have more viable options either close to the MLB level, or presently throwing some impressive ball for the team. So I am going to toss out three categories here today, showing who I think is the odds-on Rays pitching favorites to produce a pitching gem, and a few who might fly a bit under the radar, but with good command and some great defense behind them could shock the world.
 
The one obvious visual choice has to be Rays current uber-competitive demon Matt Garza. Everyone around baseball knows the maximum competitive fires that brew deep within him every time he hit’s the mound, and that a pitching gem is just within his reach with every start. And the reasoning for this is quite simple…. He has flirted with this gem before…twice and still is just as hungry to taste it again and again until he finally is granted within the special club just for hurlers who possess a “No-No” on their MLB pitching resume`. And with him showing these glimpses over the last two seasons, he is the odds-on favorite in deed to finally take the Rays name off that “Non No-No” list.
 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

We first got to see that future dominating pitching ability during the 2008 MLB season when Matt Garza took the mound against the Florida Marlins in an Inter-League contest. In the contest, Garza completed his first career complete game, but more importantly, he threw a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts against the Marlins giving up one hit on the day via a solo Hanley Ramirez Home Run to lead off the seventh inning for Florida. On the day, Garza only faced 28 batters on the day tying the Rays club record for fewest batters faced in a nine inning complete game setting also held by James Shields. But this was only our first glimpse into his possible future chance to throw a no-hitter.

 
Garza also gave us a second glance early on in 2009 when on April 30th against the Boston Red Sox in Tropicana Field when Garza went 6 innings of perfect baseball before Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury infield single to lead-off the seventh inning ruined the longest bid for a perfect game in Rays history. And in that contest Garza retired 18-straight Red Sox hitters before Ellsbury’s single. But Garza tied for the third longest no-hit bid in club history while striking out 10 batters and walking one. He combined with Rays reliever Grant Balfour for a one-hit 13-0 victory for the Rays.
 
As you can see by the above situations, Garza is my favorite to be the first Rays pitcher to ever post a No-Hit or even Perfect Game performance for the team. This is not to discount the rest of the Rays starters in the least as I truly think there are a few others who might conjure up the chance to also venture into this hallowed pitching grounds if the right situation came their way. Rays left-hander David Price has the pitching pedigree that he could also be on the mound with a chance to produce his own pitching gem, but I think he might need a bit of defensive help behind him, but with the likes of Carl Crawford, B J Upton and Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena on the corner infield spots, Price could also produce a stellar pitching performance….but not within the next several MLB seasons.

 
Duane Burleson/AP

This takes me to the guy who I truly think might be the one Rays pitcher you might not think of throwing a no-hitter, but pitchers who have the same abilities as this Rays right-hander have produced gems of their own. Some times it has noting to do with killer speeds on your fastball, or even the ability to read and adjust during the game. Some times it is just something as simple as a game rhythm you get into early as a pitcher that can set the tone and get you amazing results. That is why the one pitcher who might beat Garza to the punch and produce a no-hitter before him, or be the second Rays to perform the task might be Jeff Niemann.

 
The Rays former First Round pick has had a pretty mild-mannered career so far with the Rays, but we have all see just what kind of dominating performances he can throw out there when his breaking ball and his fastball placement both sync up and his 12-6 curveball buckles players knees at the plate. The first time I got the realization that Niemann could possibly be a hidden gem to throw a no-hitter might have been during the 2009 season when he lead the Rays in ERA and wins, becoming the first rookie to lead a team in those two categories since New York Yankees pitcher Bob Grim in 1954.

What is simply amazing was the true fact Niemann has shown an increased dominance in several areas that could help him reel in a no-hitter bid. In 2009, Neimann allowed only 0.85 Home Runs per nine innings, which was the sixth best in the American League. But he also held lead-off batter to an astonishing .240 batting average in 2009, which was the lowest in the Major Leagues, and walked only six batters in 192 opportunities, which lead the American Leagues. And all of this was only during his Rookie campaign against aggressive American League East hitting teams.

 
Brian Blanco/AP

What really pushed the thought in my mind that Niemann might be a dark horse, but a distinct no-hitter possibility might be in the fact he did not lose a home start at Tropicana Field after May 2,2009. Niemann was an impressive 6-0 in 10 starts after that date and his 3.05 ERA tied him with Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez for 1oth best in the American League….as a rookie. But what ultimately put the exclamation point on the whole debate for me was the fact he was the only rookie to EVER bet Toronto’s Roy Halladay twice in one season, and was joined later in that exclusive club by teammate David Price later in the 2009 season.


As you can see, the Rays do have the pitching firepower to be excluded from that list within a short period of time. But as we have seen as recently as the Mark Buehrle no-hit game against the Rays last season on July 23rd. You can have the ultimate command of the strike zone and get the seams of the balls itching on the black corners of the plate for strikes, but the final test might just be a single defensive play by your teammates behind you.


 
Elaine Thompson/AP

All three of the Rays trio mentioned, Garza, Price and Niemann have the tolls and the skills to post this gem any time they step on the rubber for a game. But it might take a leaping catch by Upton, Crawford, or maybe a diving play down the line by Longoria or Pena to produce the Rays first shinning pitching gem amongst the dust of the baseball diamond.

Isn’t it great to know that the Rays can effectively produce those sparkling moments on the mound and might someday soon also be celebrating late into the night a performance worthy of not just a no-hitter, but eliminating their name from that lonely list.

 
 
 

Catwalks are the Rays “Home Field Advantage”

 

 
MikeCarlson/AP

Every Major League Baseball team has their own unique home stadium idiosyncrasy or irregular dimensions or “quirks” that are particular to their own home stadium and creates an air of advantage that their player can play towards or focus their attentions on during their home games. It could be something as simple as a short Rightfield in Yankee Stadium, or the imposing “Green Monster”, or odd field placing of the “Pesky Pole” in Boston’s Fenway Park.

Or it could be something as simple as a huge foul ball area on both sides of the playing surface like in Toronto’s Rogers Centre to help induce a few extra outs or some additional exciting fielding moments during a typical baseball game in that retractable domed stadium.

So why is it that one of the “essentially needed” construction devices of having an enclosed tilted-roof domed stadium has so many uninformed people around the country ranting and raving like it is the only place on the face of the earth to have its own brand of “home field advantage”. Would these same National baseball commenters be rambling about the possible 32 rain outs or Rays rain delays just during 2009 that would have easily occurred if Tropicana Field was an outdoor stadium without those same  troublesome roof wires, lights and catwalks? 

Would this same community of crybabies be at home watching these Rays games on television or anywhere near this stadium if it faced the true elements in the late Summer when sideways rainstorms plague this region, bugs like human blood and temperatures rise faster and hotter than their own foreheads during Sunday’s game.

Before Rays Third Baseball Evan Longoria put a batted ball into the pinball maze above Tropicana Field known as the catwalks, only 102 other white MLB spheres had ventured into that science fiction realm of bouncing to and fro high above the fans and players within the Trop. And some people have mentioned to me how the out-of-town TBS Broadcasting crew did not know what to make of the whole adventure, but then again….if they had prepared themselves, they would understand this intrusion into their intellectual subconscious as a necessary evil to having all 81 games played in the splendor of 72 degree weather and completely dry seats.

 
RRCollections

And even after the previously 12 concluded Major League Baseball seasons under this same Teflon-coated roof you would think the media members outside of this region would have seen the ball hit up into those rafters before and possibly prepared themselves to know the stadiums “Ground Rules” for answers instead of throwing out generalizations and miscommunications like they were empty Kasem hot dog wrappers.

So let me give you a bit of a rundown on these infamous catwalks that have doomed the Rays from ever being able to host an All-Star Game because of the circus atmosphere it would surely create during the State Farm Home Run Derby, which would make MLB Commissioner Bud Selig blush with embarrassment even more than his 2008 World Series Game 5 postponement. I actually think it would be impressive and a truly exciting moment to see a ball bouncing off a catwalk…but then again, I am used to it.

So when originally Tropicana Field, which was then known as the Florida Suncoast Dome was constructed almost 20 years ago, this “state-of-the-art” cable-supported design produced a stadium with 1.1 million square feet of internal space and subdued cost of $ 135 million to complete initial construction. The reason the Trop’s roof is tilted 6.5 degrees towards the Centerfield back end of the playing surface is to reduce almost 16.8 cubic feet of air volume. Combined with its 180 miles of support cables combined with the struts surrounding the internal skeleton of the catwalks, it produces a unique situation regarding the actual playing of a baseball game. 

With the four prominent circular catwalks known as A-D, located above sections of the playing surface of Tropicana field, they meander from a overhead distance of the A-ring from 184 feet in Centerfield to 194 feet above Home Plate, to the D-ring which rises from 59 feet above the Centerfield playing surface to over 121 feet behind Home Plate.  What is extremely confusing at times is that the D-ring, which hangs lower among the four rings has not been hit the most during the previous 12+ years of Rays baseball. The C-ring has actually been hit a record 60 times in the past, and the D-ring is actually third on the total list with only 18 balls striking that portion of the roof system. 

 
RRCollections

But before I get into the balls that have hit our visual attraction or distraction depending on your team, let me provide you with the “official” Ground Rules of these special pieces of the Rays stadium: 

* Batted ball striking either of the lower two catwalks (C & D), lights or guide wires over fair territory is a Home Run.

* Batted ball that is not judged a Home Run and remains on the catwalks, light or other structure above the stadium floor within fair territory is a Ground Rule Double.

* Batted ball that is not judged a Home Run and strikes a catwalks, lights or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged either fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground, or is touched by a fielder. If caught by a fielder, the batter is out and runners can advance at their own risk.

* Batted ball strikes the catwalks,light or objects above the playing surface in foul territory is a dead ball (Ball to be judged foul, regardless of where it strikes or falls).

With that said and done, there have been balls caught off the catwalks for outs. I still remember years ago when Cleveland Shortstop Omar Vasquel sat under the C-ring waiting for a batted ball to come back down to earth, and his presistance paid off when a minute later the ball fell right down into his glove for an out.  But there have also been times when the ball did not come back down within a certain frame of time.

Only four times in Tropicana Field has a batted ball gone up into the catwalk cosmos and not re-entered the playing field. Three of these events happened in 2008 when Boston slugger David Ortiz hit a ball up there on September 17th two days after Red Sox Leftfielder Jason Bay duplicated the same feat on September 15,2008. The Ray
s own Carlos Pena was the first to push a ball into the unknown in 2008 when on May 26 against the Texas Rangers he hide a batted ball into the B-ring. What is amazing before these three astronomical adventures into the catwalk cosmos, only former Rays slugger Jose Canseco had put a ball into the catwalk (B-ring) back on May 2,199 against the Detroit tigers.

But even with this Rays home field advantage, some of the most memorable moments of “catwalk-inspired” hitting actually came during the Rays “magical” 2008 season when two balls made it up into the catwalks for dramatic moments during the 2008 Postseason. Rays All Star Third Baseman Evan Longoria was the first to hit a C-ring shot off of Chicago White Sox starter Javier Vasquez in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series. Then a few weeks later Rays Centerfielder B J Upton put a ball off the C-ring against Boston starter Josh Beckett during Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

So few moments have been decided by those overhanging obstructions within the white dome of Tropicana Field. Currently Pena leads the Rays in catwalk hits with six, but New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez leads all Rays opponents in catwalks strikes with 5 lifetime.  Some might consider it a extreme Rays advantage, but the reality is that anyone with a powerful upswing in their bat stroke could also add to the legacy of the catwalks within the Trop. This will not be the last time we speak about this infamous portion of playing at Tropicana Field against the Rays.


 
Steve Nesius/AP
 
But to throw the entire stadium under the bus for a design that was considered “revolutionary” 20 years ago and state-of-the-art is insane. And it is also fair game among the players visiting Tropicana Field to sometimes make wagers and small meal bets with teammates as they try and hit balls off the famous catwalks during Batting Practice, or simply gaze upon the sight when teammates hit one of the white-painted rings before the ball either keeps going towards the outfield seats or tumbled towards the Field Turf.

Every stadium has their “quirks”. It is the one thing that makes those stadium memorable or remarkable. For us here in Tampa Bay no one remembers the Ted Williams Museum which is house in Centerfield Street of the Trop. Or maybe they remember the cow-nosed Ray exhibit above Right-Centerfield. But few people either Rays or visiting fans can look away when they hear the clang off the metal surface of the catwalks. Why is it Right Said Fred’s song “I’m So Sexy” is stuck in my brain right now….Oh Yeah!………” On the catwalk…”

 

Rays Possible 2010 Batting Order

 

 
Getty Images

With the regular season just a stones throw away now, I thought it might be time to explore the possible Tampa Bay Rays 25-man roster that should be standing on the chalk lines during the Rays Opening Day on April 6th 2010 against the Baltimore Orioles. And of course, the first thing that has come out of many people’s mouths is what the possible Rays line-up card might look at on that Opening Day. 

And sure there are still a few battles to be won or lost before the team finalizes their 25-man roster, but this is just one Rays fan’s educated guess, a “guestimation” if you will, in what might actually mirror the line-up cars presented to the Umpires prior to the beginning fo the Rays 2010 Major League Baseball season.

Accompanied with my personal thoughts on the Rays 2010 starting Batting order will be some great Rays player photos that were taken after the day’s workouts on February 28,2010 by photography image giant, Getty Images. I really like the sequences photographer’s use of the Florida late afternoon sunshine to  peek and poke between spot surrounding the poses and stances of the Rays player’s to put an exclamation point on the Rays ever evolving “rays of light” concept .
 
 
And the final images of the 2010 Rays squad really drives this Rays persona home.  Got to admit, it was a great feature to use the natural elements of the Florida sun, then combine them with the white Rays jersey clad team. But that is enough about the photos. Let’s get this party started off right today and begin with the one player I truly think derserves to be the Rays lead-off hitter in 2010.
 

 
Getty Images
 
 
Jason Bartlett has been thrown under the bus a few times over the last few years as having the defensive chops, but not the offensive firepower that sometimes is needed from the Shortstop position. In 2009, Bartlett rose high above those comments and showed why he should be considered in conversation when you discuss the top tier of American League shortstops. And some have whispered that he might go into a short offensive funk during 2010, not unlike the downward spiral in statistics that Rays Catcher Dioner Navarro had in 2009. But the MLB.com Fantasy projections have Bartlett hitting in the Rays lead-off spot, where he seems extremely comfortable.
 

The MLB.com Fantasy projections have Bartlett going to the plate over 500 times this season, and sporting a .320 Batting Average with 14 HR, 66 RBI and 30 stolen bases. But the one figure that jumps out at me is not the Batting Average, but the fact he could plate 90+ runs in this high-powered Rays offense hitting in front of Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. If Bartlett does get on base, even via the walk (54), Bartlett could be a thorn in the side of opposing pitchers’ in 2010. And with Bartlett showing early power this season in Spring Training, these stats might just be a launching pad for him this season.
 
 

 
Getty Images

What can you say about the Rays second hitter that has not already been said either in Baseball Fantasy passages or prose. Carl Crawford might just be one of the most exciting players to simply watch during a plate appearance based solely on his unpredictable nature of mixing the infield hit with his power stroke. And the added ammunition of possibly adding a drag bunt to his arsenal in 2010, You could see him get his highest seasonal Batting Average as a Ray in 2010.

 
Crawford is one of the Rays players that is feared if he is on the base paths, by both infielders and outfielders. And throw in the another “tweak” to his base-running stride that he picked up this off-season, Crawford might go “lights out” again early in 2010 with stolen bases. MLB Fantasy projections have Crawford posting a .305 Batting Average with 15 HR, 68 RBI and another 60+ stolen bases season. But like Bartlett, if Crawford is on first base with a ball down the line, you could see some great coast-to-coast running by Crawford to produce some extra critical Rays runs in 2010.
 

 
 
Getty Images
 

Some people are calling Ben Zobrist a ” man without a position”, and also downplaying his 2009 slugging campaign to the pure fact American League pitchers’ were conned early by his extra power and base running abilities. But 2009 was the first full season Zobrist actually has been healthy in his short career with the Rays. A small list of nagging injuries kept him bouncing in and out of the line-up before 2009 when Zobrist finally got a chance to show his abilities after an May knee injury to ex-Rays Second Baseman Akinori Iwamura. And maybe all Zorilla ever needed was a chance to shine after showing rays of brilliance during pinch-hit and spot duty during games in 2007-2008.
 

And we know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon will do everything to get Zobrist’s bat into the Rays line-up, even considering batting Zobrist in the 3-slot to begin the 2010 season. This is Spring Training swap in line-up spots for Zobrist has shown great results, and might be the answer to provide RBI-opportunities with three straight Rays hitters who can get on base and mix power and speed effectively to get rival pitching staff into early inning troubles. MLB.com Fantasy Projections have Zobrist hitting .297 with 27 HR , 97 RBI and 17 stolen bases. But his key moves in 2010 might be his position flexibility to give the Rays options at Second Base and Rightfield throughout 2010 based on game day match-ups and possible late inning position shifts.
 

 
Getty Images
 
 
What can you say about Evan Longoria. He has shown in his two season up with the Rays that he is not a fluke and can match-up power and plate discipline. And with the possibility of Maddon moving Longo into the “Clean-up” spot in 2010, the young stars legend might just grow a few more paragraphs before the end of 2010. Longoria won the 2009 Silver Slugger Award for Third Base in the American League, and barring an injury, should be able to reserve a spot on his fireplace mantel for another nice piece of hardware this Fall.
 

This might be the next step in the evolution of Longoria as Maddon will push more offensive pressure on the young player’s shoulders. But I have a feeling Longo will actually welcome the chance to produce and also be a key leadership component of this 2010 Rays squad. MLB.com Fantasy projections have Longoria posting a .281 Batting Average with 33 HR, 113 RBI and getting 72 walks during the season. If Longoria gets off to a solid and hot start, this might be the season he sees more walks, and could easily pass that 72 walk mark easily.
 

 

 
Getty Images 

 

Early this Spring I was worried about Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. After he had two of his fingers broken by a fastball pitch by New York Yankees starter C C Sabathia, there were early Spring concerns that Pena, who went over 21 plate appearances before finally getting back into the groove with a Home Run to start his 2010 Spring hitting regiment. But lost in the confusion was the fact he was hitting the ball solid during that time, but the new heavily padded batting gloves might have been more of a mental change and adjustment for Pena than a physical one.
 

With his fingers healed and ready to go, Pena has recently begun to show more selective plate selection and getting his average moving towards the Mendoza Line this Spring. But you can not discount the sheer power and ability of Pena in this line-up, and he has been working hard this Spring on pulling the ball more towards the Third Base-Shortstop hole to fight off the game day shift that some American League teams employ against him. But the MLB.com Fantasy projections have Pena hitting .227 with 39 HR ,100 RBI and 87 walks. But a key for Pena might be to show an avid decrease in strikeouts since he will be hitting in the 5-spot and might see more different pitch selections in 2010.
 
 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

I am actually thinking this sixth slot might be a possible second lead-off position for the Rays in 2010.
And who better than speedster B J Upton to be at the plate in this situation. In Spring Training 2010, Upton is showing he has fully recovered from his off season 2009 shoulder surgery, and his bat stroke has looked real clean at the plate. But some of that credit might also rub off on new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton who spent more than a few moments with Upton in the off season working on his front foot placement and swing follow through. The results are early success this Spring for Upton.

 

Upton might finally have that breakout season Rays fans have been waiting for in 2010. Upton has the ability to be one of the best Centerfielders in baseball, and with some additional pop in his bat, he could possibly meet his brother Justin in Anaheim for the 2010 All Star game. MLB.com projections have Upton hitting .241 with 11 HR and 55 RBI to go along with 42 stolen bases. Upton’s presence on base will also give pitching staff fits in 2010, and I actually see him hitting more like a .265 Batting Average with 16 HR and 70 RBI and posting 50 stolen bases. As you can see, I am expecting Upton to have a nice ” coming out” party in 2010.

 
Getty Images

This is the one huge question mark to me right now. I want to believe in Pat Burrell’s just having an “off year” in 2010. I really do, but Burrell has to show more than just neck pain and inconsistent plate appearances, because “The Bat” has to perform this season, or be instantly labeled a flop with the Rays. Hopefully in 2010 Burrell can again live up to his moniker and provide some needed hitting from the 7th position in the Rays line-up. This season definitely needs to be a good season for Burrell to help provide some protection for Longoria and Pena, or pitchers will not fret knowing an anemic Burrell is in the On-Deck Circle.

 

But I see a vigor in Burrell this Spring. But he has still heard more than a few “Boo-birds” chirping this Spring, but his bat is showing more speed through the hitting zone, which hopefully projects into more hits or scoring chances for the Rays. MLB.com Fantasy projections have Burrell hitting only  for a .221 Batting Average with 14 HR, 66 RBI with a p[ossible “healthy” 412 plate appearances. But the key to 2o1o might be that Burrell excedds these conservative expectations and shows us his old 30-HR, 100RBI form we saw in Philadelphia for all those years with the Phillies. The Rays do not have much wiggle room to go out and seek a big bat if Burrell should falter at all, or if his neck injury come back to bite him again in 2010.


The eight spot in the Batting Order definitely be an “insert here” platoon situation depending on where Zobrist is situated on the field. Both Gabe Kapler and Matt Joyce have the offensive abilities to play every day in Rightfield, but they will be in a platoon situation with Zobrist depending on where skipper Maddon positions Zobrist that night.

 
 

 
Getty Images
 

And then again, this spot could go to Rays newcomer Sean Rodriguez who was a main piece of the Scott Kazmir trade last July and has been on fire at the plate this Spring and might actually see extended time at Second Base if he gets off to a hot start at the plate in 2010. So with that possibly in the cards, let’s check out all three players projections for 2010. Kapler will definitely get spot starts against left-handers and also time as a late inning defensive replacement in 2010. Kapler no longer seems to have the power potential he had earlier in his MLB career, but MLB.com Fantasy projections have him getting at least 205 plate appearances while hitting .239 with 8 HR and 32 RBIs. Not a big power threat anymore, but a solid hitter who can also still run effectively on the base paths.
 

Matt Joyce might not even make the Rays roster straight out of Spring Training due to some extra time working on his conditioning because of a early Spring elbow ailment. But Maddon has shown extreme confidence in Joyce’s abilities, and he might be realistically destined for an early rehab or DL visit to begin the season. But projections have Joyce seeing limited duty in 2010 possibly as a fifth outfielder and his ability to rebound might take his stats off the charts in regards to early 2010 season projections.
 
 
Sean Rodriguez might make it difficult for Maddon to not use him as an every day Second Baseman or spot utility guy. He has come on like gangbusters this Spring and might have a solid chance to break camp as the penciled-in everyday Second Baseman. And even if Rays fans do not know his name, Rodriguez has built a solid MLB experience base over spot duties over the past two MLB seasons, and could propel his MLB.com Fantasy projections past the presets that show him hitting only .200 with a total of 25 plate appearances. It seems that most projection sites do not portray him as a starter right now, but Rodriguez is making people redefine their position with every Spring game.
 
 
 
And lastly, we have the two guys who will battle with each other in the Rays Catching corps, which is solid in experience, but definitely lacking in power and hitting consistency. And even though it was not so long ago (2008) that catcher Dioner Navarro was an AL All Star for the American League, it seems like so long ago after he fell from grace in 2009 with sub-par hitting and questionable moves behind the plate. So it was little wonder that the Rays traded minor league pitcher Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians this off season for veteran Catcher Kelly Shoppach.
 

 
Getty Images

On paper it seems that Shoppach might have a slight advantage on game day preparations and ability to block balls in the dirt with more regularity than Navarro, but the starting job is not going to be easy as both have been told it might end with both being measured up for possible match-ups based on certain Rays rotation members in 2010. We might definitely see Shoppach being Matt Garza’s battery mate in 2010. But in MLB.com Fantasy projections, Shoppach get the early edge based on power showing a possible .214 Batting average with 12 HR , 40 RBI and you can bet a boatload of Hit By Pitches again in 2010.

 

But the same MLB.com Fantasy projections show Navarro having a slight edge in average( .218), but lacking the power element that Shoppach will bring to the Rays. And Navarro was given the early edge in plate appearances, where projections have him coming to the plate 376 times compared to Shoppach’s 271 appearances. But the main contribution factor might be who will get an early hot hand and show a firm foundation with the Rays pitching staff. Both players come with their own sidelines of good and bad abilities, but both can throw out runners and have a good knowledge of American League hitters.
 

 
Getty Images

But do not be surprised if one of the Rays catchers is injured that the Rays do not quickly pull up minor league catcher Nevin Ashley from the system over minor league veteran John Jaso. Ashley has shown the abilities and stamina that Maddon likes to see in his catchers’ and could be in line to fight for a back-up catching slot in 2011.

 

The potential is there for this 2010 Rays team to produce and score runs again at another record pace, but the key will be the health of the Rays. Even one key member out of the top of the Rays line-up for an extended time might throw some of these MLB.com Fantasy projections right out the window.
 

But the stark reality is that this is the most talented and athletic Rays team to ever step onto Tropicana Field. And with that comes inherent dangers of severe injuries, and the possibilities of extended hitting slumps or offensive lapses. Most Rays Republic remember the awful start the Rays got off to during April 2009 (9-14), and the Rays were constantly playing “catch-up” while the rest of the American League East played out their season. But the unsuspecting hand injury to Pena in September took the Rays down a dark path and they quickly fell out of contention for the AL Wild Card. Each piece in this Rays line-up carries a extremely important piece to the entire Playoff puzzle in 2010. One piece missing could cost them dearly in 2010.
 

With New York and Boston not “reloading” as extensive this off season as they did in 2009, this division instead went ” defensive” and because of that, it might be closely contested into the final weeks of the season. For the Rays to uncork a bottle of bubbly again in 2010, the Rays will have to see a few of these projections shoot skyward and maybe even see Burrell or one of the Rays catchers’ catch fire early and spring the team onto some early success. Only a handful of days and nights before our MLB dreams become a new season of realities. Maddon key phrase for the year is “W.I.N.” which stands for “What’s Important Now”. For the 2010 Rays, it will be getting out of the gate fast and furious and taking no prisoners in their first month battling mostly divisional foes

 
 

Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

RRCollections

 

With Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon seeming to go (on the surface) from genius to deflated mathematical slogans over the last two Rays seasons, it will not be the last time Rays fans see Maddon hits upon a numerical formula for the formulation of his young Rays squad. Just on the horizon, there will be another call for a numerical sequence to shape and ultimately sort out his final 2010 Rays 25-man roster.

And the final direction this 2010 Rays team takes in 2010 will be heavily based on this mathematical breakdown, even before their Home Opener on April 6,2010. And this simple math problem might say a lot about how solid and confident this Rays Coaching staff, and Maddon feel about the key elements of their 2010 squad before firmly heading into the Rays 13th Major League Baseball season.

 
 

One statistical breakdown remains unsolved, and it will definitely define the early roster of this team. This one still undecided simple mathematical conclusion could become the balancing fulcrum towards the realizations of multiple scenarios for possible failure, or ultimate success going into the 2010 season. For these two sets of simultaneous and sequenced numbers will decide the final set-up of the Rays roster. How the Rays split their 2010 roster into their “13 & 12″ segments will be a huge indicator of how the Rays perceive their team’s strengths coming out of Spring Training, and into the early divisional firestorm with American League East ramifications starting with Game 1.

How Maddon and his staff decide if they want to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 bench players or vice versa will be an early tell tale sign to the confidence level this Coaching staff has with its roster, and its solution towards early challenges.

 
 

For the Rays can not have a downward spiral in the month of April, like in 2009, when the Rays went quickly towards an unpredictable 9-14 early record, and put themselves in “catch-up” mode for the rest of the season. How this Rays squad separates their personnel into those “13-12″ splits might be a instant indication if the Rays organization believes their pitching will need to get the “upper hand”, or if the hitting/fielding players will get the chance to man that “13th seat” at the table.

But you can count on more than a few players trying to force the Rays hands and have their names put in ink onto that “13th” numbered roster spot this Spring. These young and hungry players will do everything humanly possible to make the Rays staff’s decision tougher, and hope to make it lean towards their names with an impressive performance during Spring Training. And the ultimate reward just might make their first Opening Day MLB roster.

 

If the Bullpen pulls it together and borderline relievers like Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer make the roster, it could tilt that invisible line towards the team ultimately carrying 13 pitchers. And even the addition of former Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine thrown into the pitching mix, either in the Bullpen, or as a possible fifth starter. This could throw the whole equation quickly into the pitching sides favor early on this Spring. But that in itself presents an interesting and complex decision all by itself.

GailBurton/AP

 
With returning fifth starter Wade Davis and Sonnanstine squaring off in the only battle this Spring for a starting job, could the eventual loser of that battle just be sent packing to another team like Jason Hammel in 2009, or could they just be sent down to Triple-A Durham knowing they might be the first call-up of the season?

 
 

I have a feeling right now Maddon and his Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be leaning towards extending that “13th slot” towards a pitcher, but there are also going to be some tough and interesting decisions to be made in the Rays infield and outfield mix that might make that entire pitching situation moot.

We already know that outfielder Matt Joyce is going to try to prove once and for all to the Rays Coaching Staff and Maddon that he deserves that Rightfield slot going into the season, and maybe for the next several years. And even if Joyce wins that spot (which I think he does), it is small factoring process compared to the highly competitive dogfight that will ultimately decide the fate of the Rays second utility guy between Reid Brignac and newcomer Sean Rodriguez.

 
 
And right now, I am basing this opinion solely on drills and exercises I have seen at the Rays complex, it seems at this moment that the Rays staff’s eyes are focusing tightly on Rodriguez’s defensive abilities more and more every day. But real soon we will see just how slick Rodriguez is at second base when Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday with the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Florida.

And maybe Brignac’s roster “pop-ups” to the majors in 2009 might have given the Rays staff more of an comprehensive book on Brignac’s abilities coming into this Spring, and possibly Brignac’s scorecard already has a few penciled-in notes and scratches from the Rays Coaching staff, while Rodriguez is a blank slate with everything to gain heading into the Spring Training games.

Sure Rodriguez was a key trade component of the Rays trading left-handed starter Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late July 2009, but this will be the first time most Rays fans and the Tampa Bay media will get an extended chance to see what the kid can do……now or in the near future for the Rays.

 
 
And if you realistically count the Rays bench players right now, with players like Carlos Pena, Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, B J Upton, Gabe Kapler, Pat Burrell and the injured Willy Aybar, you already have 11 Rays players penciled into that first 11 possible bench slots ob the 25-man roster.

If more than one of these young players like Joyce, Rodriguez, Brignac or even Elliot Johnson makes a lasting impression that they “have to be” on this roster, this could ultimately shake up the preconceived notion of 13 pitchers and twist the equation quickly towards 13 bench players. And that scenario has a very distinctive possibility of happening this Spring. These numbers games for the first time in Rays short history, might effectively come down to total game day performances and not the foresight predictions on their talents, or a daily growing maturity in their abilities to play at the Major League level.

 
 

But, the wrist injury to Aybar might be one of the biggest question mark still unanswered totally into this first set of Grapefruit League games. If he is down and out for an extended time, or even gets put on the 15-day Disabled List to start the regular MLB season, the Rays could keep an extra bench player down with the Rays instead of sending them to the minor league camp or even up to Durham.

So there might be a lot of day-to-day evaluations and recommendations discussed with Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield in the next week or so to see if there is a viable option of Aybar playing before the Major League season begins, or they shut Aybar down from hitting drills and let him effectively rehab back into game shape before pressing this same numbers issue again during the Rays season.

 
 

And if Aybar does go on the D L, it could also be a bit of a last gasp of making this roster for one of the reliever fighting it out to become a Rays Bullpen member, or could evolve into a chance for the loser of the Sonnanstine/Davis battle to be kept on the Major League roster as a possible long reliever like Lance Cormier.

My personal gut reaction is that the Rays seem to want to do everything in their power to try and keep Sonnanstine up at this level, but if he falls into that 13th slot and Aybar comes back, he would be the first to fall from the 25-man roster. You already know that Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (leftie specialist), J P Howell along with Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann take up 11 pitching spots before even considering Abreu, Thayer or Joaquin Benoit as a Bullpen option.

 
 

 
RRCollections

That would leave a possible one viable slots, with a second up in the air right now if the Rays want to carry 13 pitchers. You could pencil in Sonnanstine into one of those two spaces, but with him and Davis both having minor league options, they could always be sent down with the adage that it came down to that “13th ” spot. And even with Thayer and Abreu showing mixed results at this level, you have to think of the two, Abreu would get a longer look based on his 2009 MiLB.com designation as the Triple-A Reliever of the Year.

But not going in Abreu’s favor is his short stint with Cleveland in 2009, when he seemed to imploded a bit on the mound and almost started an all out brawl in a game versus Seattle. But both relievers have paid their minor league dues and could force the Rays hand and send Sonnanstine to Durham, even with great outings this Spring.

 
 

This is only my scenario of the whole situation and is only my personal glance into the Rays possible decision on this issue. I see the loser of the Davis and Sonnanstine battle to be immediate trade bait offered before MLB rosters finalize and if a good trade option can not be found, the loser of the fifth rotation battle will be sent back to Durham knowing they are the first starting pitcher recalled by the Rays.

I think there are a few NL teams that would jump on Sonnanstine if he has a great Spring, but there is still time to see about his 2010 situation. I truly feel that Joyce will win his battle for Rightfield, and will platoon with Ben Zobrist to begin the season until Joyce shows he can hit left-handers with consistency, then it open another can of worms for the Rays as to a final playing position for Zobrist.

 

Out of the infield battle, I see Sean Rodriguez maybe having a slight edge right now, but I feel it is Brignac’s job to lose since he has the confidence and skill level to play at the Major League level. And if Aybar does go on the D L , they both could get a realistic shot to make the initial Rays 25-man Opening Day roster. But I also think in the end, the Rays will shop Brignac and he could be somewhere else either before the 2010 season, or within the first few months of the season.

It is funny how two of the Rays past “utility” guys, Aybar and Zobrist based on their great seasons in 2008 and 2009 will play a part so deep into the Rays decisions in 2010. But that just goes to show you the improved depth and wealth of talent sitting in Port Charlotte right now, just at the Major League camp level.

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

Some people consider the number “13” to be mostly evil with no redemption for any good. But that same number “13” for one Rays player this Spring Training season will be a blessing, and a chance to show they have what it takes to survive and play daily at this level of the game. Whoever gets that coveted “13th” spot in 2010, no matter if they are a Rays pitcher, or field player, they will know internally that they survived one of the most competitive Rays Spring Training camps.

It might not seem so tough to some of the Rays fans watching the workouts and drills, but this Spring’s competition level has been raised very, very high, and the final Rays player to grace that “13th” spot decision has to consider himself lucky indeed, for they get a chance to grow with this Rays team as they again set their sights on games in October.
 

Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2

 

 


One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.

And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.

 

But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.

And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.

And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.  

 


And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.

And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and  small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day. 


 

 

Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign.  Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.
 


 

 

People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.

And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.

 

 

Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.

 

Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship.  Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.
 

 

One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.

Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007.  About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.

Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually. 

I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).

But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2’s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods. 
 

 

 

There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.

 

 

And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.

 

Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join MLBlogs.com and submit some stuff….You can count on that!
 

 

 

But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.
 

 


And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1″ line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.

  

 

 

 

As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.

Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the “Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.

2010 Rays Fan Fest Photo Blog 1 of 2


I decided to break the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest into a 2-part blog post since I had reduced my photos down into 60-odd photos. I thought it might be best to start off with the first segment basically focused on the events of the day that were swirling all around Tropicana Field. from the moment the doors opened at 10:05 am (late) and ran until basically 5:30 as Rays Manager Joe Maddon wanted to give every fan in line a chance to get his autograph before they finally turned the lights out and we all went home tired and drain by all the sights and sounds of the day.  

 


As usual, I saw Rays Senior Director of Promotions Brian Killingsworth mad on his walkie talkie trying to get the day events started out with a flurry of excitement and give everyone in attendance a bit of refreshment. And the Rays did that as we strolled into the Rotunda at Gate 1, and were presented with a Rays Sky Blue inspired Fan Fest daily schedule offering the players and times for the days autograph sessions, and included a map of all the planned activities for the day.


We quickly got a burst of sugar presented at a sampling table by Pepsi Bottling Group which furnished everyone with a sampling of the “Throwback” soft drinks made with pure cane sugar and not the corn syrup we have gotten used to in our sodas. And the crowd was eager to get into the stadium and rushed the table like a group of marathoners trying to rehydrate ” on-the-run” as we briskly walked through Centerfield Street towards the Centerfield gates and into Fan Fest. 

But most did not want to stop by the Budweiser Brewhouse for a free sample (while supplies lasted) of the Rays new signature adult beverage or even the Ted Williams Museum to see the multiple displays, or check out classic baseball artifacts today, they had Rays players autographs on their collective minds.
 

But the line quickly formed just below the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in Centerfield where the Rays established a long line of twisting white chains to wind people to the tables to buy a silver wristband that would let you get your autographs for a $ 20 donation to the American Red Cross and the Save the Children Foundations. It quickly became the center of most of the activities for the first 15 minutes as fans then proceeded to do a quick tour of the outer displays and booths set-up before getting in line almost two hours early for autographs.



Some people did not even notice the always popular “Rays Rookie table as they first walked into Fan Fest nestled right next to the wristband area that highlighted exclusive benefits for Rays fans 14 and under.  And most people did not even see the American Red Cross table to the right of the wristband section that was offering a special edition Carlos Pena T-shirt produced by the Rays to celebrate Pena’s accomplishments on and off the field for the Rays since he came here in 2007. I almost missed the table as it was hidden against the centerfield wall where B J Upton usually goes to bring in long fly balls with his cleats on the wall. With only 500 of these shirts produced, you know it will be a classic Rays collector’s item in the coming years.
   

But if you decided to not get into line quickly and walked around clock-wise around the field you would also encounter Season Ticket sales and Fan Fest Ticket packages table that was eagerly waiting to show you the multiple advantages of Season Ticket ownership. Just beyond them was a four car set-up by Chevrolet that featured a simply beautiful orange and black 2010 Chevy Camaro that would have looked great in my driveway if I had not looked at the sticker price.  Just past that was the Ruth Eckerd Hall table where Rays fans could try and win a chance to get free tickets to events at the Clearwater venue.
 


After that on the infield side of First Base was Radio row which held the tents of most of the radio partners of the Clear Channel empire here in Tampa Bay. Also in this area was the “Maddon’s Maniacs” table where you could join or renew your membership for $ 25 and get your yearly swag and card that could get you discounts during the year within Tropicana Field.  Right next to them was the Rays Flagship station and radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis were on hand for autographs and photos with Rays fans.  WDAE “The Sports Animal” also did a “Live” broadcast from the Trop. from 9 am to 3 pm during the Fan Fest. 


As you went around towards Home Plate, you saw the table set up by the Rays Wheelchair Baseball team that just celebrated their 7th season and won the 2009 Division II Championship and are currently ranked number 1 in the nation.  Then right after Home Plate you noticed the large crowd checking out the Rays Silent Auction and the Rays mystery “grab bag” promotion where you purchase a brown bag for $ 20 and could possibly win a Rays game line-up card ( I got Rays @ Minn), an autographed baseball (I got a Shawn Riggans baseball), or a Rays Batting Practice jersey.   

 

Right next to the Rays Foundation table was the Rays Team Spirit Squad, which set up a table to give autographs to Rays fans and also promote the Rays Team 2010 Calendar ($ 15) and was more than eager to personally autograph your copy of the calendar. The girls were all eager and ready to chat with fans and even talk about their MLBlog that was set-up in late 2009.

Stuck right behind Home Plate and located in the usual food room for the Home Plate Club was the Raysvision crew on their “Casting Call” promotions for the upcoming season. You could sing Karaoke, ask a Rays player a question, or show your best dance moves for the camera. I actually got wrangled into singing Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” by a few of the Rays staffers who knew I sometimes sing in a cover band in Pinellas Park. It was fun, and I stayed there for a bit and saw some great fan questions and a few wild renditions of songs, even a Lady Gaga song. It was the perfect place to let out your inner “Rock Star” without anyone else catching onto your actions.
 

 

One of the most popular tables early was to go up and meet Country Rap Star Cowboy Troy before he went up on the Pepsi stage and did a few numbers before coming back over and doing autographs and photos with the Rays fans. He was also selling coins and CD’s to benefit his foundation which helps support the military troops overseas throughout the world. I enjoyed talking to Cowboy Troy, and he was excited to come back to Tampa Bay today and celebrate the event because of his love for baseball.


 


But as always, the Rays Fan Fest also wanted to put a smile on our youngest fans and again Bright House Networks helped the Rays in setting up multiple areas like the “running of the Bases” race section in the Rays infield, and the multiple gaming centers along the leftfield fence region. The first section was a chance to experience just what a MLB player saw as the ball came down from the roof of the Trop. I got to tell you, it seemed like if you took your eye off the ball for a moment, you lost it and it fell to the ground. Also a popular event was the Speed Pitch challenge where you could see if you had the right stuff to hopefully become a Rays pitching ace in the future. 
 

 

Right next to this section was the two Batting Cages  one set up  as a Little Hitters Zone so young Rays sluggers could get their timing down on balls thrown by pitching machines. This always has one of the longest lines and showcases some of the great raw talent in the Tampa Bay area. And even adults had a chance this season to get in there and try and hit that white dot in the regular Big League Batting Cages exhibit. It is always a blast to see a young kid around 10 years old beat up on his dad who is also hitting in the neighboring cage, but his young son is constantly hitting balls that dad seems to swing and miss on.


And as always, the Rays again had Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby set up where oversize wiffle balls and bats were used by really young fans to try and blast one out of the make-shift rendition of classic Ebbets Field. Also along the outside ring of the stadium, the usual gameday activities sections like along rightfield where you could enjoy the  T B Rays Carnival games, Raymond’s Art Studio, the Science of Baseball, Raymond’s Room and the St. Petersburg Times Press Box where you could get your own personalized  St. Petersburg Times front page.


 

Then if you strolled towards leftfield you could enjoy maybe making a replica Rays jersey, the Louisville Slugger Wood Shop, or even Make Your Own Baseball card for your personal collection. And if you were in an extreme mood, you could hit the Mountain Dew Extreme Zone stick ball diamond, or even the MLB 2K10 sports lounge where you could play MLB2K10 for free  on gaming consoles during Fan Fest. No matter where you went inside Tropicana Field, you could find an activity to make anyone in your family smile.
 
  


But also local theme parks like Busch Gardens was at Tropicana Field introducing Rays fans to their upcoming new park promotion “Sesame Safari of Fun”. Rays fans were also able to enter for a chance to win free tickets as well as try their luck at games on sight and also take photos with the Busch Gardens performers
There were even multiple baseball collections including some artifacts from the Ted Williams Museum and also the “Little Cooperstown” baseball display which has over 3,500 signed baseball currently in their collection. 
 
 

 

And if your are a “lover of the statistical”, or even just a lover of the game of baseball, you had to go by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) table and try your hand at their trivia crossword test to win prizes or even sign up for the national baseball research group. One of the members at the table, Rays Season Ticket holder Bill Dunstone will be celebrating his 1,000 Rays game during the 2010 season. If you like odd trivia or reading interesting facts and figures about the game of baseball both present and past, this is the group for you. 

 

As in the last few Rays Fan Fest’s, Rays Radio Network Pre and Post Game Show Host Rich Herrera did the Master of Ceremonies duties and did his usual strolling around the ballpark letting the Rays fans in attendance know about some of the odd events and happenings during Fan Fest. One of my favorite is when he goes up to the signing tables and interviews some of the players about their off
the field contributions, or even their activities during the off season. I still can not believe Rich struck a “Vegas Elvis” pose here on the Pepsi stage before he introduced Cowboy Troy for his musical performance.

 

One of the events that has become more and more popular every season is the Major League Baseball Players Association Alumni table that is set up near Section 142 to provide autographs and photos with some of the legends of the game that live around the Tampa Bay area. Players like former Ray Doug Creek former Rays Hitting Coach Milt May, Phillie Robin Roberts, and other veterans like Ron LeFlore, Bill Demars, Darold Knowles, Mark Whiten, Wayne Garrett and Scott Winchester. Dave LaPoint was also in attendance today in the MLBPA Alumni 12-1 pm veteran group and he told me he was managing the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with MLB currently. 


Also during Fan Fest, there were two Town Meetings being held in the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. The first was a meeting with Rays Television broadcaster Dewayne Staats with Robin Roberts. The second Town Meeting was the first chance for Rays fans to meet new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton along with radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis. Both events went along fantastic with each explaining their part in baseball and also telling great tales and stories concerning their time within the baseball ranks. Each session also included a Question and Answer section so the fans could get some additional insight into the inner workings of baseball.

  

But the main draw for most of the Rays fans in attendance was the autograph session from 12-5 pm featuring most of the Rays players and Coaches. Unfortunately prior to the event Carl Crawford, Pat Burrell, Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist had previous engagements and would not be able to attend. I will get into this deeper in the next section of my blog posting on Monday. There were a few surprises and a few late arrivals, which I will get into more tomorrow after I check to see if traffic situations did not compound the problems with some of the player’s signings.
 

Rayvision and Centerplate concessionaires  also had a promotion going on during Fan Fest for Rays guests to sample some of the new foods that will be introduced around Tropicana Field in 2010. In this sampling, the chef was trying to get a Rays fan to talk about the new Cuban sandwich selection that will be unveiled during the Rays home opener in April. The sandwich has a crisp breading and a highly spicy mustard that provided a great kick to the cooked pork and meat highlighted also by a sharp Swiss cheese. I think it will be an instant hit around the stadium.

 

Even “Star Wars” youngster Boba Fett had a great time at the Rays Fan Fest. What I always find exciting is the people who travel from great distances to come to this once a year event. Not only do they come from South Florida and beyond, but some people came here from South America and as far north as Ontario to partake in the Rays celebration with the fans to the beginning of Spring Training. I always thought the Rays should do a contest during Fan Fest to celebrate the fan who traveled the longest distance to attend the Rays Fan Fest. Maybe in 2011 they could award a Rays Fan pack to the long distance champion for their show of support for the team (HINT, HINT Promotions Department).
  

 

But I could not end this first blog posting without telling you about the GTE Federal Credit Union and their money machine. Got to admit, I was tempted, but with my luck I would drop all the money with one second left on the clock. I watched a few people use some very interesting cash collecting methods before positioning them for a chance at great prizes from their time in the U-22 Money Booth.  What could be better than coming to Fan Fest and getting a chance to win some additional money to spend at future Rays games.

And last, but not least, I wanted to say that Cowboy Troy did a great job of doing his songs on a make-shift sound system that did not rival the last one he sang on during the 2009 Big & Rich Saturday Night Concert Series during Country night at Tropicana Field. He had both young and old fans dancing near the Pepsi stage while he performed three songs and did some great dance moves and interaction with the crowd.

So here we are at the end of the first segment out of three of my postings about the Rays 2010 Fan Fest. Tomorrow I will give you some interesting facts and stories about the autograph session and a few behind-the-scene photos involving the Rays players. So I am already excited to get tomorrow’s blog posting up for you, but I want people to also check out this first segment before it gets lost in the shuffle. If you have read my Twitter account the past two days, I have been giving you small doses of some of the information I got while sitting in my Season Ticket seat most of the day and talking with Rays players, Rays Security and front office staffers. There is some really interesting stories to let you know about on Monday.  

  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 279 other followers