Results tagged ‘ Cliff Floyd ’

Something Special seems to be Missing?



Mark O’Meara / AP

Even before the Tampa Bay Rays started their 2007 season I had a gut level reaction that we were within a few years of breaking the “losers” curse and begin a winning tradition. That season I left my job at Pepsi and was anxiously seeking a position somewhere in the Rays organization. Something within me had me thinking that this franchise was about to turn a corner, and I really wanted a front row seat to the show.
 

Maybe the final piece was put into place during Spring Training in 2008, when Rays starter Scott Kazmir spoke of a playoff dream for the Rays that season, and the media snickered to themselves. But what they might not have known was the level of ease and comfort this team had with each other coming into this final season of Spring Training at Rays Namoli complex in St. Petersburg. 

That this team liked spending time with each other both away and at the ballpark. That veterans in the Bullpen wanted to have dinners accompanied by the entire Bullpen, not just small groups filing in when they felt like it. Small groups of leader began to emerge in the clubhouse, each with their own special flair in support of the team. Carlos Pena was the fashion plate who dressed like a million dollars and had a boat load of confidence and inner strength. Cliff Floyd was the new guy who had been to multiple playoff runs and knew what it would take to funnel this team into winners.

And then you had the odd broad-shoulder pairing of Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes who could reduce the clubhouse into tears of laughter and  showed extreme amount of emotion and passion for the game. Then  you had the Rays rotation, all under 26 years of age who acted 5 years older than their birth certificates listed on any given day. From top to bottom, this team enjoyed each other not only as teammates, but as a sense of brotherhood.  And that can be a powerful tool when you are molding yourself to do something you team has never done before………..Win, and win now!


Steve Nesius/ AP

And we all know how far that confidence and that slight air of arrogance got this team. How dare they trample to pecking order of the American League East and sit on top of the division for most of the season. How dare they take the mighty Red Sox Nation to 7 games, then disregard them like rag dolls on their way to the team’s first World Series appearance. And all throughout this adventure was door and door being broken down by this bunch of Rays. They had changed their logos and uniforms in November 2007, and with that stripped the losing mentality along with the loss of the forest green caps.

The 2008 Rays even on the plane ride home after World Series game 5.5 were not looking forward to leaving each other yet. the bond of this squad was tight, and the general feeling was that to separate would be the end of that karma train. So as the team packed up after the trip home and had their baseball belongings sent from sea-to-shining sea, they hoped that vibe would continue for a a second shot at the title. They wanted that feeling amongst each of them to hibernate and spring to life in late February 2009, but it was never the same.

People have been trying to find multiple reasons for the wild mood swings and the odd chemistry this team seems to have in 2009. Some might say it is a little bit of the leftover World Series experience mixed with a new found respect for how hard it is to repeat in this game. But the meshing of this team out of Spring Training in 2009 did not have the same feeling to it. You could see it on the field. The powerful defense became average for some reason. The power stroke of B J Upton seemed to be stalled by surgery and unforeseen situations.

The all-mighty pitching staff, the saviors in 2008 seemed to be subdued this season. Almost in a calm serenity than in a mix of attitude and daring antics. Gone was  the fire you could see in their eyes and feel in their voices. Not extinguished, but down to embers. The offense still churned to its own beat just like in 2008 finding new heroes every night or so to prop up as examples that 2009 is better than 2008. But other key components of the hitting seemed to be lagging behind and could not adjoin with the rest. This team did not have that fundamental same feeling to it. Something critical was missing.


www.FSNFlorida.com

And some would say it was a few of the fire-breathers that were no longer here like Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd who inspired by example, and shined through by pure energy and power. You knew that Floyd would take the “father” role and try and nurture some of the guys into becoming better more productive members of the team. Hinske you knew would be fired-up and ready for battle at any time, and he carried that same energy out on the field with him. And Gomes was the ultimate confidence guy.

If someone did something amazing, he was one of the first to see you as you came on the bench. Each of the three had a key role in the bench players, the same way Trever Miller and Dan Wheeler did with the Bullpen guys. They always discussed things, always compared notes, and dined together out on the road. You knew that even young ace Scott Kazmir and the other rotation members keyed off each other to try and post a quality start every time out. People on this team genuinely rooted for each other day in, and day out to succeed. 

 

And this season there has seemed to be something missing from the beginning. Even when I went down to Spring Training for the first time in Port Charlotte, you felt a different vibe. Not a negative energy, just something different. Gomes, Hinske, Miller and Floyd, all left for other teams, and the incoming guys did not replace that lost energy or that instant energy levels. There was leadership in this clubhouse, and there was a sign of wanting to again reach the top of the hill, but it did not have any urgency or finality to it.

For some reason this 2009 edition of the Rays had the talents, abilities and the heart to produce a winner, but some of the classic energy and chemistry seemed to be lacking at moments. And those gaps in the system showed up from time to time. Lackluster performances without someone coming over and encouraging you. A more quiet bench than in 2008 when you never knew what would be said or visualized f
rom a distance. Plenty of times in 2008 the bench seemed alive and the 26th player on the team.

But this season that player is missing in action. Maybe he was lost in the charts and the schemes and the general “cool” vibe of the clubhouse. There is still a huge amount of fire in this team, but they have to spread the embers out again and add wood to that fire. As the losses total up the members grow darker and darker this year, with pillows of hot spots peaking out, and the general feeling of extended dread hanging over the game. And the Rays coaches might have sensed this too.


www.FSNFlorida.com

With traveling parties all dressed in black, dressed in all white and also cowboy wear it is a basic team building exercise to promote from within a pride and a energy among the team. And it has worked at times and had extended into the road trip and on into the next home stand, but the energy seems to dip down again and another action/reaction has to be pulled out of this team. Props and events like this can mold a team, but only if all of them want to mesh as one.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon, knowing the recent stress and daily barrage of expectations went with a “Ring of Fire” Johnny Cash tribute road trip. With this road trip now history and the team heading back to Tampa Bay with a 4-3 record on this trip, was it a success? Or is it going to be an ongoing theme for the rest of the season. Last year the rally cry fell under the guise of a “Rayhawk” with several players even going above and beyond the usual mode of hair. 

But for some reason the black hair sported now by Maddon has been christened the 2009 version of the “Rayhawk”, and again there have been a great response to the visual bonding agent, but it doesn’t feel the same. This team is a little more laid-back than the 2008 version, both in personalities and in outward bursts of energy. Maybe it is time for each of these guys to dig deep and know that for the Rays to again taste that Mumm’s champagne, they all have to crank it up a few notches and leave it all on the field.

I know I do not have a solid answer for this decline in energy and outward excitement. I wish I had the perfect solution, because I would march into the Rays offices with the answer. I would proudly ask to speak with Maddon and present this gift with nothing in return. Some times it is the simple things that get us the most confused. Maybe all the expectations and promises have clouded the goal. Something missing this year has been a long winning streak, a true defining moment that separates this club from all the others in the MLB.


Steve Nesius / AP

We have all seem the signs at different times this season. Players have shown us that even the “Team Meetings” at home plate after Walk-off wins seem more subdued compared to 2008. I know it is not a case of “Been there, done that!”, but it could be a symptom of the problem.  Maybe something as simple as playing like you are 10-years old again and remembering the fun will shakes the cobwebs and give the Rays back their mojo.

Like I said, if I had the right answer, I would bottle it and sell it to everyone else, but the Rays could have it for FREE. For I want to again see the smiles nightly on their faces for no reasons. See the bubble gum bubbles on top of players caps. I want to see the sunflower seed competitions between the Bullpen guys again. Maybe it is just wishing for the past, maybe it is hoping for the future, maybe it is just about something as simple as having fun playing a kids game again.

Burrell is beginning to Heat Up!


Charles Riedel / AP

Sometimes the National and local media can do some of the weirdest and funniest things in print without them even realizing it at the moment.  We all know about the typos that can make someone else’s life a living hell for a while until they issue a retraction/correction to hopefully make the issue go away, or at least lessing the glares and stares. But then there are times like after Friday nights Rays come from behind win over the Kansas City Royals that might just set the tone for the squad during the second half of the Rays 2009 season.

About 2 am this morning I wandered online to check out to see how my MLBloggers Fantasy team did during the first full night of games since the All Star break (I am leading division 1). I then decided to go to www.raysbaseball.com and check out the game’s headlines. I am not sure what I was expecting, maybe some journalistic man crush love towards Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell, who went 2 for 5 with 3 RBI and a run scored in the Rays victory. Maybe I was hoping for a glint of respect thrown Burrell’s way because his home run started the run back towards the victory.

But instead I was greeted with a headline that read, “Longoria’s homer caps Rays’ comeback”. Maybe I was hoping that the webheads were about to do what I was considering in my own mind, that Burrell needed a media “hug”. I must have been dreaming to think that Burrell might get some much needed attention after his early season struggles with his neck injury and some very weak hitting in the first half. Maybe I was hoping they might show some props towards the guy. We, the fans always knew his bat would go on a streak at some moment this season.

Well, honestly, I am not the biggest Burrell fan, but I loved his initial signing by the team. It was a positive upgrade to the position, and the sky was the limit on that day.  I enjoyed the fact we were getting someone who had more speed than  ex-Ray Cliff Floyd on the bases. And I was enjoying the fact we got someone who did not need to swing for the fences like  current M’s HR stud Russell Branyan, who had only a few more hits than homers when he was the Rays DH. I guess what I was expecting was a Rays rendition of former M’s great Edgar Martinez.
 

But I think after the way 2008 went for us, someone like Burrell coming to the Rays was a blessing, not a curse. If I had faith in former Rays players Randal Simon and Vinnie Castilla as hitters, Burrell could rest comfortably I was not going to jeer him either. I understand that coming from playing every day in leftfield to just sitting on the bench and hitting 4 times a day is an huge mental and physical adjustment in your mind as well as your body. I get that part, and maybe that is why some great hitter make lousy DH’s.

I get the fact he was coming to the American League and would need a bit of time to adjust and scout some of the league’s best before he hit his stride again. But his injury time could have been spent studying  pitcher’s video provided by Rays video honcho Chris “Chico” Fernandez.  And he might have done just that, but are not privy to that information. Heck, he could have bought a subscription to MLB.TV and watch any game in the AL or NL this season at any time. He could have done home study on his big screen of any AL pitcher while he was rehabbing his neck situation. It was time for him to begin to piece it all together.


Brian Blanco / AP

And finally the moment came during the Rays last home stand . It began to seem like he was transforming himself at the plate. It seemed that all  of the sweaty work in the cages and behind the scenes were about to come to maturity and we could again cheer Burrell without any doubts. Hey, the guy was beginning to hit solid long ball out and  you could hear the different sound in the bat when he struck the ball now with renewed authority. He was beginning to look like that same guy that played in leftfield in Philly for so long.

He looked at home in the batter’s box again. During the Rays last home stand, Burrell went a combined 7 for 23 with a homer and  5 RBI. But  what came to prove he was waking up at the plate was the fact he added 5 doubles during those six games to showcase that the power was coming back in his swing. Pat Burrell was beginning to fulfill the DH role with attitude and power, just like the Rays envisioned when they signed him during the offseason.

Burrell might not have shown great numbers over the span of the 27 games since his return to the Rays line-up. And he might only be hitting .207 since his return, but  his bat has been on fire lately. During this 27-game stint he has hit 3 HR, 11 RBI  and walked 15 times before Friday night’s game. He is seeing the ball better, and his rising batting average is showing it. But the real sure fire statistic that his hitting is starting to bubble is the pure fact he hit two doubles in two of the three games against Oakland right before the All Star break.

What was so remarkable about that feat is it was his first multi-hit games since the April 13th Home Opener against the New York Yankees. Add that to the fact he hit only his fourth career walk-off homer against Toronto’s Brandon League on July 7th, which also was his first Rays walk-off hit this season, and you see a hitter finally hitting his groove. The power is coming back into his game. Last night’s home run got overshadowed by the late inning 2-run blast by Longoria, but it was Burrell’s shot that made the run for the victory possible.


Brian Blanco / AP

Without his homer, the Rays were not within striking distance of the Royals in that contest, but that was mentioned a few paragraphs down in the story online. You see, Longoria and Burrell each went 2-5 last night with a key HR in the win. Who do you think the media thinks he more of an attention draw right now….Burrell or Longoria? Maybe it is good that he is giving him the low profile treatment. Maybe this is just the thing to force him out of his hitting comfort zone and make him take some chances at the plate that will propel his  bat, his batting average and the Rays skywards.

For the team to have a solid c
hance at defending their title, Burrell has to stay hot and produce like he has for the last two weeks. We all know about his past exploits. How Burrell has averaged 31 HR, 99 RBI and 105 walks in the last four seasons. We get the idea that great things can come from his bat.  But this is the time for him to show the Rays fans why he was brought here.  I am again happy to add the middle name “the Bat” to Burrell’s name. He is getting hot at the right time to not only salvage his season, but to be a key component to the Rays charge to the postseason. 

Pat “the Bat”. That has a nice ring to it. I know we have to thank the Phillies fans for that moniker, but it is fitting right now for him. He might have only gone 2 for 5 last night, but in retrospect, that makes him hitting .400 since the All Star break. And those kind of numbers will not only help the Rays fans breathe easier, but also give Burrell some room to feel comfortable at the plate.
 

Rays Fall to King Felix via Rare Feat

 

  
      Mariners 1,        Rays 0


Elaine Thompson / AP

Still the Royalty of King County


Most of us Floridians do not know that Seattle is located in King County, and if yesterday afternoon is any indication, we know who rules with a multi-directional fastball and a beautiful change-up. But the young King is  truly going to be one of the leagues premier superstars once the east coast of the country get a good scouting report on the guy. Felix Hernandez is hyped to the roof top by the Mariners, and for good reason. He has only been on their major league roster since 2005, when he appeared in only 12 games and furnished a 4-4 record.

But the sea-faring fans of the Mariner’s have been waiting for the day that the rest of the league catches on to this hard-throwing Venezuelan product.  Funny, but in that short period of time he has stacked up 42 wins and over  620 strikeouts and still is mostly an unknown outside of the shadow of Mt. Rainer and the west coast. People have said that the Mariners lucked out by having another Venezuelan product on their roster back in 2002. Freddie Garcia was  a childhood idol of  Hernandez, and  it was the fact he trusted and loved the Seattle area and team that finally convinced the young Hernandez to sign with the Emerald City team. In 2002, he then went to play for Aquirre in the Venezuelan Summer League.

From that point on up through the Minor League rosters he has done nothing but impress and persuade the team that he is their next home grown star. Very rarely do pitchers seem to grow up in a team’s minor league system anymore. Most are packaged or brought in via trades  to compete in the minors for a shot in the majors. But Hernandez did his time working up from Class-A Everett to Triple-A Tacoma, then finally to the clay of Safeco Field.  But what is more amazing is the future that this series will hold for him and the budding Rays stars. We all know that Carl Crawford and B J Upton have dealt with him for years, but Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell got their first official look at the man locals have dubbed the “King”.

And of this series is any indication of their fights and battles, we are going to have a fun time watching  the Seattle ace take on the Rays for the next 10 years. Henandez might have won battle number one with a clear margin, but the game seemed like a different story after he left the mound yesterday. Before that, the Rays did manage to claw and fight to get  4 hits off of him in the game. Crawford had the most impact gaining two hits off of him, including  a ball hit to shortstop in the thrid inning that handcuffed him severely into committing a throwing error on the play. Burrell made his presence know early in the second inning by popping the first hit of the night off Hernandez to right field.

Then  in an error-filled play ( 2 errors, one by first baseman Jaimie Burke and the second on catcher Rob Johnson) by the Mariner’s team on Ben Zobrist’s fielders choice, it put a tying score less than 60 feet from Mariner’s catcher Rob Johnson. But the Seattle defense and Hernandez stiffened and  Hernandez got the next two batter retired to save his shutout.  In the fourth inning, after two walks to Burrell and Zobrist, the Rays again eventually had men at first and thrid with two-outs, but the Rays again failed to convert anything to get the run home to tie the contest.

Then in the fifth inning, with Crawford up for the third time tonight, he hit a screamer back towards the mound that Hernandez tried to bare-hand with his pitching hand and throw to first base. He ended up doing a spin and dump to the turf instead of getting balance and throwing the ball towards first base. But with Crawford’s speed, it might have been a blessing that he did not wing the ball towards Burke at first base. Burke was only playing the position for the first time in his career because of injuries to Mike Sweeney ( back) and Russell Branyan ( back ). Plus usual fill-in Jose Lopez could not switch over to first base since his sub, Ronny Cedeno had a bad hamstring from the previous night’s game. Dioner Navarro did get a worm killer single to left field in the seventh inning, but a rally-killing double play by Jason Bartlett ended the Rays chances.

The Rays did fight and claw back all night long with Burrell making the most trouble for the Mariners and Hernandez. For the afternoon, he went 1 for 1 with three walks and always seemed to get into scoring position for the Rays. But the Rays usual lack of hitting with men in scoring position doomed their day. The Rays ended up leaving 15 men on base, and also struck out 7 times against Hernandez. They had their chances against the Mariners, but let every one of them slip away. The Rays did not lose this game for lack of effort to get on base, but lost it for lack to the killer instinct needed at key time in this contest.  But the Rays came into this series wanting to set the tone, they did in the middle game of the series, but got out-played, and out-hit in both their losses in Seattle.

           
           
Elaine Thompson / AP

Shields Make only One Mistake

The  oddity of throwing your second pitch of a baseball game and it landing into the right field stands and becoming the winning margin in a game is rare, but not unknown in baseball annuals.  Ichiro usually gets his two hits a game no matter who is pitching, but those who have seen the Japanese product take Batting Practice know he has the power and the ability to take a bad pitch and deposit it into the stands at any point in the game. Ichiro’s lead-off home run accounted for the game’s only run. He’s the second player in Mariners history to hit a lead-off homer in a 1-0 game. Greg Briley did it in 1992 with a home run off the Twins’ Kevin Tapani.

But how rare is it really in baseball? Does an early mistake happen as much as we think, or is it just a twist of fate that doomed the Rays early in this contest? Well, according to Stats Inc.,it was just the third time since 1994 – most recently by the Cubs on May 9, 2007, against the Pirates ( Alfonso Soriano homered ) and before that by the Mets on
May 12, 2004, over Arizona ( on Kaz Matsui’s homer ).  A rare feat, but also a rare omen for the Rays. It had been 12 days since they suffered their last shutout, and the team had ample time to get back that elusive run because of the pitching of James Shields. His one mistake should not have been the margin of victory today.

Shields did everything in his power to keep the score close and also crush any potential Seattle rallies throughout the game. After Ichiro’s blast, Shields and the Rays defense  sat down the next 7 hitters until Endy Chavez hit a single to center field to lead-off the fourth inning. But the Rays quickly erased that threat by getting Lopez to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to again empty the bases. Even in the fifth inning, after Shields walked Johnson, a hard hit ball to Longoria by  Yuniesky Bentancourt provided the 5-3 putout to end the inning.  But in the sixth inning, the Rays defense reared its ugly head and put its mark on the game. The only blemish was a bloop single over Bartlett by Ichiro, who now had two of Seattle’s 4 hits in the game.

Shields did  pitch deep into the game finally giving up the ball after throwing 102 pitches in 7.1 innings of work. His lines score would usually show a victory, but in tonight’s wild and unusual battle he was given the loss after only surrendering 4 hits himself and giving up the lone run. Tho his efforts were valiant, he did give up only one walk to Johnson in the fifth inning and posted 4 strike outs on the day. His pitching matched Hernandez’s pitch-for-pitch. And except for that lone one pitch that he might have known would spell doom the minute it left his hand, he was to suffer his second loss of the year to even his record to 2-2 on the season.

Twice this year Shields has been opposite a “hot” pitcher when he took the mound. Even if Shields was as effective in this contest as he was for the Opening Day game in which Red Sox starter Josh Beckett pitched a masterpiece, it is the underlying problem of pitching in the number one slot. You always face the premier pitcher of the opposing staff, and even if you are on your game, situation can take it from you. But Shields has the inner confidence and the stamina to know that karma and things can change in an instant and go for the Rays. Tonight it was just one swing of the bat that took the wind out of the Rays sails. Just less than 16 hours from one of their best road wins of the young season. Games can shift one one pitch or moment, and unfortunately Shields know that all too well tonight.


Elaine Thompson / AP

Pat Burrell is Heating Up

Burrell is in a weird situation for the first time in his career. He is having to take a crash course in the American League hitters and also the tedencies of the leagues infields to get a firm grounding in the batter’s box this season. Consider how hard it is to not only adjust to the fact you are no longer in the flow of the game by being out in the field, but now you have to sit a majority of the time on the bench and observe your team taking their defensive licks, and you can do nothing but cheer and clap for them. I think that would be the biggest adjustment he has to make since signing with the Rays this off season. Jonny Gomes found it difficult  the last few seasons, and it might have cost him his spot. Cliff Floyd was a great addition to the clubhouse in leadership and mentoring young players, but his bat did not surface to save him either.

It is as if the Rays Designated Hitter spot is the place where hitters have gone to die or retire for a long time. I am not even going to get into the Greg Vaughn or even the Jose Canceso days as a DH, because the formula has changed since their times. Now the DH has to be a run producer and a cheerleader second. Burrell also had the second horrific duty of having to digest and memorize the pitch selections and tendencies of every pitcher in the AL in a compressed manner. No longer can he just go up there and take his swings like in the Spring, but now he has to adjust and compensate for tailing breaking pitches on the fly, and catching up to fireballs coming in at his hands. 

It has been a tough first few weeks for Burrell evident by his average, but the last week of game have also given a sign he might be  gaining on the AL pitching staffs and being more selective at the plate. In yesterday’s game he was only 1-1, but his 3 walks showed he is seeing the ball and making great judgments at the plate for the Rays. In the entire three-game series, he went 4 for 9 , with 4 walks and 2 RBI’s to raise his average to .265 this year. He is beginning to come to terms with the American League. Some hitters who have spent their entire careers in the National League do not adjust fast, but Burrell  is hitting even better on the road ( .276 ) than at home  ( .250 ) this season and he knows that for the Rays to be successful again in 2009, he has to be on his game. It might have taken a bit longer than either he or we wanted for him to adjust and come to terms with the different hitting in the AL, but in the next few months, it is the Rays that will benefit from it all.


Elaine Thompson/ AP

Navi needs to Trust Hitting on the Ground

Dioner Navarro is beginning to heat up a bit at the plate. In the last three games he has gone 2-13, but the true fact is that in the last two series he has garnered only two hits a series. I am not about to cast him under the  ships rudder, because his two hits recently have been down a bit and not the usual rocket fly balls that have plagued his average this season. the last few days, Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been stressing the fact of ground hit balls might be the ticket for this team to survive right now. And for Navarro, that might be the right ticket. He is not going to beat a ball hit in the infield 9 out of 10 times, but the lone time could make for a scoring opportunity.

Not since the Baltimore and Yankees home series has Navarro had two hits in a single game.  Navarro hit 6 fly ball outs in this series and 3 ground outs in addition to his two singles to right field. But in yesterdays game, he  hit two long fly balls out to center field with men in scoring position. He did get Burrell to tag up and go to third base on his fly out in the fourth inning, but his fly out with Gabe Kapler on second in the ninth inning finished the Rays in that contest. Navarro seems to be the lone holdout still hitting the ball primarily into the sky for outs for the team. Because of his defensive abilities, it would be a down grade to sit him right now. He is calling a great game behind the plate, and is getting into a groove with his throws to second base on steal attempts. His peg of Ichiro in this series will be a the highlight of the year for him.


Cursi Magic Runs Out

My buddy Scott Cursi
is one of the best people you will ever meet in the Rays organization.  It has been a thrill for me to see him get some extra recognition that last few days in taking out the line-up card and also doing double duty as the “Jobu” of the Rays. Cursi has been the Bullpen Coach pro tempre before, and also been know to celebrate with the best of them during the Rays run in 2008. By Maddon picking Scott to have the honor again last night of handing out the line-up cards shows that Maddon respect streaks and anything that can make them roll on for another game. I hope he again get a chance to redeem his karma tonight when the team hits the field  in Oakland at 10:07 pm.

During last night game, the line-up card that Cursi presented to Home Plate Umpire Sam Holbrook had a Chinese Proverb written on it by Maddon. I am unclear if this is the exact verse, but this is the only one I could find with that phrasing in an old Chinese Proverb quotation book at the library. It might have said, ” Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.”   The saying has been found in two references, one in Chinese lore and the other in Native American. Which ever is the true origin of the proverb, it might be a unique key to the Rays success this season.

  

Checking in on some Ex-Rays this Spring

 

 

 
 
 
I mentioned in a blog a few months ago that they Tampa Bay Rays had changed a bit when 10 members of the 2008 American League Pennant winning team either left via trade or were not resigned by the team. Well, I was sitting here today and was wondering what might have happened with those guys after they left the team in the off season. Well after doing a bit of research, I can tell you pretty much what they have been up to with their posted statistics as of last night ( March 20th). 
 
 
 
Some of the guys have fallen off the total Major League Baseball radar, but a few are having the type of spring that the Rays envisioned them having when they were with the club.  I guess the best one to start with is the one player who left via a trade this off season that was greeted by some with cheers and other with the true ability of filling one of the team’s biggest holes with a future budding star. When the trade first went down, I was not totally with it, because I envision a breakout year for this pitcher once he gains some control and confidence on the mound. But with his team tying 14 wins in 2008, I was expecting a little more out of him this spring.

 


 

 
Edwin Jackson is currently in the hunt for a spot on the Detroit Tigers starting rotation. I think he has a good shot to make the final 25-man roster even if he is not a starter this year. His ability to start and relieve make him an enticing pitching piece to the Tiger puzzle. If the Tigers can not agree upon a closer, you might even see him taking a few turns late in the game on the mound to further make the Tiger’s mouths water. But this spring, he has posted a 0-2 record in his 3 starts. He has thrown for 9 innings and given up 4 hits and 7 runs. The worst part is he has surrendered 3 home runs this spring, which was his downfall last season.  He has not gained total control in his pitch command yet evident by his 6 walks and 8 strikeouts. 



 
 
Cliff Floyd was again as free agent after the Rays declined his option on November 3, 2008. At the time, Floyd was considering the same surgery as  B J Upton, but decided to rehab his injury instead. That might have been a great idea as the former Rays Designated Hitter is hitting a robust .381 this spring with a .667 Slugging percentage. He is also still seeing the ball well at the plate getting 4 walks this spring. The only downfall is that he has been mostly DHing with the San Diego Padres, and during the regular season he will either have to play in the field, or be just a bench player for the team most of the year. His 2 doubles show he still has some ability left in his old legs, but it is his power ( 1 HR, 5 RBI’s) that will get him a chance with the Padres. 
 

 
Eric Hinske was one of the Rays major finds in 2008. He was signed for a simple $ 1 million dollar contract and only hit like he was making over 3.5 million. Even in his limited at bats, he made them count for the Rays and was always a constant positive influence in the clubhouse.  But the Rays did not try and resign him and he moved onto the Pittsburgh Pirates who were seeking outfielders. This spring, on Feb 26th, Hinske suffered a left ribcage contusion after smacking into the wall at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. Until recently he has been held out by the Pirates as a precaution, but is now starting to get at bats and time in the outfield. His average is not “Hinske-like”, as he is only 1-7 right now, but his .400 On-Base Percentage shows that he still has a great eye at the plate and will be an asset to the Pirates in 2009.
 
 

 
Gary Glover was the kind of reliever that you either loved or hated with the Rays. He had an up and down love affair with the fans, and his pitching with the team never hit a consistent point. But after being released by the Rays, he cleared waivers, but refused a assignment to Triple-A and became a free agent on August 2, 2008. He signed this off season with the Washington Nationals and is currently throwing some great ball for the squad.  Glover is currently holding a 0-1 record with a 1.80 ERA in his 4 appearances for the Nationals this spring. In his 5 innings he has only given up 4 hits and a solo run. He has seemed to gain a bit more control as he has only 2 walks and 5 strikeouts in those 5 innings. 
 
 

 
Al Reyes and Kurt Birkins are two relievers for the Rays that currently do not have any ties with a single Major League Team. Reyes was designated for assignment by the Rays and was not claimed, but he refused an assignment to Triple-A and was released as a free agent on August 18, 2008.  He did sign with the New York Mets organization and did have a small part in the New York Mets minor league system before he was released on September 18, 2008 by the parent club. He has not been invited or appeared for any club so far this spring. Birkins was released by the Rays on August 29, 2008. He did not get picked up by another club that season and is currently not on a Major League Baseball roster.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli
 
did not have his 2009 option picked up by the Rays on April 1, 2008. The Ray decided to not exercise the option because of his growing health concerns with his fatigue syndrome illness. But Baldelli made huge physical and medical advancements and finally joined the Rays roster in September in Seattle. He performed amazingly for the team in the final month of the season and was a pivotal player during thei
r first playoff run. But the team decided to not pursue Baldelli and he signed with his hometown Boston Red Sox instead. Baldelli is being viewed as a fourth outfielder and occasional DH for the Red Sox. He has been used in 8 games this spring, and had gotten 24 at bats, which produced 5 hits, and 2 doubles and 4 RBI’s for his new Red Sox team. It is still a bit unnerving to see him in the Boston red jersey after his entire career as a Ray.
 
 

Trever Miller was another player who had his option declined by the Rays on November 3, 2008. But Miller, being a lefty specialist did not hang out long on the unemployed list as the St Louis Cardinals came fast to sign him to a two-year contract. But with their hunt for a closer for 2009, he might be a few reps trying to close out games in the late innings this spring and during the beginning of the year for the Cardinals. So far this spring he has appeared in 8 games and has an 0-1 record. He has posted a 3.86 ERA and given up 8 hits and 3 runs in 7 innings of work. He has hit 2 batters and also gotten 6 strikeouts in his limited pitching performances this spring. He will be a valued member of the Cardinal Bullpen when they leave Florida and head north this April.
 

 
                         

 

Jonny Gomes
has been called many thing when he was with the Rays. He has been an inspirational figure, a feared man at the plate, and a great guy to have in your clubhouse. but the Rays decided to non-tender Gomes on December 12, 2008. Gomes is now fighting for a outfield position with the Cincinnati Reds, and is making quite an impression on Reds Manager Dusty Baker. He is considered to be fighting with Chris Dickerson for the left field spot in the regular lineup. Gomes had made quite a case for himself this spring hitting  for a .286 average, with a .679 Slugging Percentage.  He has appeared in 17 games and gotten only 28 at bats, but has produced 8 hits, 2 doubles to go along with 3 homers and 10 RBI’s for the Reds. I can not see the Reds going north without Gomes this April. He has the ability and the confidence to again be a daily member of a MLB squad.
 
 

 
Scott Dohmann was the last pick for the Rays Bullpen out of the mix in 2008. He beat out Grant Balfour, who was none to happy to begin the year in Triple-A. But Dohmann did not keep his consistent pitching and was finally jettisoned as the Rays put him on waivers on May 14, 2008. He did clear waivers and was sent to Durham, where he stayed the entire season throwing great ball for the Durham Bulls. But this past off season, he became one of four pitchers to sign contracts with the Japanese Baseball League. He ended up singing a one-year $ 650,000 guaranteed contract with the Hiroshima Carp.
 
 

Tim Boggart, who was the Rays Quality Assurance Coach also left the team this off season. In that post he sat basically in the Press Box and overlooked the Rays during the game and watched for subtle gestures or even player movements that might tip off the opposition to what the Rays had planned on the field or mound. This was the first time the Rays had instituted this type of position, basically acting as a internal scout during every game. In the off season he accepted a contract to take over the Third Base Coaching position with the divisional rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
 
 

So the Rays have changed a bit between the last game of the World Series in Philadelphia and today. But the spirit and the confidence in this team have grown from the signings of relief pitchers Jason Isringhausen and Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse. The Bullpen, which was one of the true Rays strengths in 2008 has been fortified with a bevy of better situational and late inning guys. The Rays took care of their right field needs by signing Gabe Gross and acquiring Matt Joyce from Detroit for Jackson. But the signing of Pat Burrell to replace Cliff Floyd might have been the biggest indicator of the Rays commitment to getting back and finishing the job in 2009. It is going to be a rough and tumble year, but the team seems set to again strive for excellence, even with a few pieces swapped out from their 2008 model.
 
 
 
 
 
Photo credits:   1) RRCollections
                            2) Associated Press ( S. Rakocic )
                            3) www.tbo.com.sports
                            4) www.sarasota.com
 
 

MLB Network Shows 2008 World Series Game 2 Classic

 

 


Okay, I promise to really abandon and resign to the fact that 2009 is right around the corner here, and 2008 is just a past memory. But here we go on a crisp, cool night in January sitting there watching the second game of the World Series on the newly launched  MLB Network. I almost for got how huge the crowd was in the stands, and could still smell my loaded nachos and the sugary goodness of my cinnamon almonds.

 


It seemed like so long ago now that this game even was played. But then again, if you are a Rays fan, you have waited for this moment for 11 years. The aspect that this team could get to the playoffs was a distant memory until maybe July after the second half of the season started with a Rays victory via a Ben Zobrist home run. Not until the last out in a game on September 24th, did the team realize a long time dream by both those in the stands and in the dugout.

 


There were a handful of Rays employees who have been here the entire time. People from Bill Wiener and Mike Yodis, who have been driving forces in the procurement department of the team.  Executive Assistant Diane Villanova, who was once Vince Namoli’s executive secretary and has seen the entire evolution of this franchise. Then you have someone like Barry Jones or Kristy Capone, who sat in the sales department cubicles and might have wondered at time how long it would take to finally get here.

 

 


The re-broadcast of that game brought about a lot of emotion. A lot of sweat equity that so many have given for the Rays cause. But it did not match the joy and the total abandonment of logic as we celebrated the teams first win in a World Series contest. To say it was a typical Rays win would be pretty accurate. It showed the heart and the character of this team to the nation. Before that first win, people knew we had won over 97 games during the season, but had not seen the formula used to win a majority of those games.

 


Tonight the nation got to see how “Raysball” was played, and also saw the emotional and physical toll it had on fans and players. Baseball is truly a fickle game. A short blast that fall in between two out fielders can make or break a game. A single throw into the plate can make or break a game. And a single pitch, left over the plate can be rocketed to the outfield walls and beyond.

 


Watching this game can also make you yearn for more……….More Wins, more times like these again in 2009. To even imagine another run into the World Series right now would be  a little premature and crazy. But the pieces are in place to make a run  at it all. Several pieces will be replaced in 2009 from the 2008 crew, but these will be upgrades and not just fill in the blanks players as in the years past. The new winning tradition is now set in stone, and the clay and mortar are still wet on the basis of the 2009 roster.

 

 


In the next few weeks there will be optimism and renewed vigor about the 2009 season, but this small look into the past was just what I needed last night. I needed to remember the feelings and the emotions that gripped me on that night.  I as a fan, needed to remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I first slapped high fives to after the win.

 


It is a emotional and physical high I would hope on all the fans of baseball at least once in your life.  To say that night changed my life would be an understatement. I have attended 3 World Series games before this season, and got into the mood with the crowd, but did not have a center to grab a hold of and attack the event with gusto. This series had all my past feelings and tears in ti’s framework from the first pitch.

 


So it was pretty emotional to sit there and see again the high  sacrifice bunt by Jason Bartlett that scored Cliff Floyd from third base and Rays starter James ” Big Game” Shields reminded people that he strives under pressure shutting out the Phillies for 5 2/3rds innings, scattering 7 hits on the night. That was a lot of excitement for a Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

 

 


But from the beginning of this contest, you could tell it was all Rays tonight. Akinora Iwamura got on with a lead off walk, and moved to third on B J Upton’s drive to right field that was misplayed by Jason Werth to put both guys into scoring position with no outs in the game.  Then two straight ground outs by Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria put the Rays up first 2-0.

 


The Rays again got to business fast in the second inning as Upton drove in Dioner Navarro and Baldelli was thrown out in the most photographed picture of the World Series at that point. His slide into Phillies’ catcher Carlos Ruiz would be plastered all over the Internet and the newspapers and finally made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated . It was one of those World Series moments etched in stone that will be remembered for decades. It might have been an out, but it showed the determination and the spirit of this franchise.

 

 


Then came the moment of truth with Floyd and third when Bartlett put down that safety squeeze and the Rays went up 4-0. Baldelli also helped out in the field on that night going a long way for a Chase Utley drive that looked more destined for the hole than into Baldelli’s glove. The action produced a double play as Baldelli was able to fire the ball to first base and he doubled up Jayson Werth on one of the best defensive plays of the entire World Series.

 


But what was remarkable about the night was the cool and calm demeanor of Rays rookie David Price when he came in to pitch in this contest. He came out there with 2 outs in the 7th inning and he walked Utley before going after Ryan Howard and striking him out to end the inning. In the 8th,  Price got started quickly getting two quick outs before leaving up a slider and watching Eric Bruntlett stroll around the bases for a solo shot and take away the shutout from the Rays.


 

 


But even after all of that, Price looked determined and strong on the mound and got Pedro Feliz to ground out to only surrender 1 run to the Phillies. In the 9th inning,  Carlos Ruiz got a quick double and scored on an error to put the Phillies within 2 runs of the lead.  That brought up Utley and Howard for a second time in his brief relief appearance for Price. He got Utley to strikeout, and induced a ground out from Howard.

 


It was a night of lost chances for both teams, but after the last out in the game, you could see the excitement and the emotion in Price’s face as he was leaving the mound. This put the series back at 1  win each and put the pressure on the Phillies gong back home for the next 3 games. We all know how it turned out by now, but at that moment you had to believe if you were a Rays fan.


 

 


The energy and the excitement in the stadium could not be bottled up and released again in Citizen Bank Ballpark, but you wish it could. It was a night when you saw the Rays mature right in front of you. No longer did you see a team that could blow a 5 run lead, or even strike out three times in the bottom of the 9th to preserve another team’s win. You saw a squad that was on a mission and a fan base that believed in them more than any other time in their short existence. It was a great time to be a Ray.

 

 

Possible Rays 2009 Resolutions

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions can be the best or worst thing in your life for that short period of time where you are truly planning to follow them like a life changing moment.  They can either benefit you in the long run, or might be a  short term fix to a enduring problem. But whatever the reason, or the matter, a resolution can find a solution to a nagging situation or problem.

 


But when you resolution pertains to 25-guys sitting on a major league roster, it might take on a whole different set of rules and expectations. So here we are on the first day of the new year, and I am thinking about a few simple resolution for my hometown Tampa Bay Rays. They are simple resolutions that will help the ball club and also maybe send them back into the playoffs in 2009.

 


Now I know some of these might not have a chance to happen at all, but that is the beauty of a resolution. Sometimes we pick things so wild and out there that they have a marginal chance at best to even succeed.  These resolutions will give the team a better sense of what is needed to now compete in the competitive American League East. The division has gotten a lot more pitcher friendly in the last few weeks, and the Rays have stayed a bit pat on the past roster and need to make a few moves to combat the increase in pitching prowess in the division.



 

Resolution 1:

Find a right-handed bat that can help the offense take it to the next level.


There are a few bats still out there in the Free Agent pile that could come in here and help the team right from the “get go”, but they might want a small fortune in cash and a contract that might last a few seasons.  With the Rays, A’s and Jays pretty much going to be fighting over the last few big bats in the marketplace, the Rays need to step up and take the first one off the board.

 


Now if he is a big bat that can also play right field, that would be a plus- plus for the squad. With that in mind, I am thinking that former Angel Garrett Anderson might be perfect for the spot. He has a consistent bat, and also a fantastic work ethic, that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has seen from his past years as the Angel’s bench coach. He is also a pretty slick outfielder, who has a above average arm, and can still run the outfield real well.

 


Sure there are still guys like Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu out there who could also get the job done for the Rays, but they will come with multi-year contracts and a huge amount of baggage. Burrell had been considered to be heading into a slow downward spiral in his career. The last two seasons have shown modest offensive outputs compared to early 2000-2005 seasons for the big right-hander. 

 


Bobby Abreu would come to this squad over 12 years after we selected him as our first field player back in the Expansion Draft. I would love to see the prodigal son play for the Rays, but watching him the last few seasons in right field just a few steps from my seat, I have seen that his speed and also his quickness to the ball in the outfield have suffered. His bat is still mighty, but  a multiple year contract might include a year of decline at the plate and in the field for him.

 

 

 

Resolution 2:

Find a southpaw reliever to compliment the Bullpen:

 

Ever since Trever Miller left for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rays have been down to only J P Howell in the relieving corp as a southpaw. The team might be able to get away with only one leftie in the Bullpen, but I think it is an oversight if they try this out in 2009. Balance on a squad is essential to its survival. And having a second southpaw might be enough to sway a contest in their favor in 2009 either by situational pitching, or even my middle relief to give Howell some breathing room.



The number of left-handed relievers still sitting out there on the Free Agent shelf is getting smaller ever day. I know the Rays have the mentality that the longer they wait, the more value they will get for a player in 2009. But isn’t it about time we think of quality and not quantity in 2009. For years the team has gotten low priced players who are just that..below the market  on both value in talent and they are expected to extend themselves to greatness.

 


Even with the numbers of lefties dropping like flies, there are still guys like  former Atlanta Brave, Will Ohman. Now during the 2008 trade deadline, the Rays were very interested in Ohman as a left-handed addition to their staff late in the season to help them through the playoffs. I can see no reason to just let someone else come on out and take him off the pile now that he is free and clear and will not cost a single player or multiple players to acquire for the Rays.

 


There are still guys out there like Joe Biemel, but he has been here with the Rays before, just like Trever Miller, and he will have to want to come back.which I do not think he wants at this point in his career. Then you have guys like former Rays Casey Fossum, who played for the Detroit Tigers in 2008. I like Fossum, but not for this squad, they have evolved way past his pitching style and we would not mesh well into this mix of guys. Then you have guys like former Cub Scott Elarton and former Cardinal Ron Villone. Both who are in their declining velocity years and might just be an older version of J P Howell circa 2007.

 

 

 


Resolution 3:

Get 1 of the 2 best young players on your team a contract extension:

 


This one might be tricky for the Rays, but something they truly must do if they are wanting to be as successful in 2012 as they are today. Now in the past few seasons they have locked up pitchers’ James Shields and Scott Kazmir for multi-year deals, and are about to hit the big money plateau with former All Star Carl Crawford. But is it in the team’s best interest to maybe lock down a young star with a multiple year deal when they are just budding in their craft?

 


Heck yes, you can seek and get that security from players like B J Upton and maybe even Matt Garza. Upton might be the easier of the two because the Rays have dealt with trying to get him an extension a few years ago, and might already know the parameters of the discussions. I also think that to get him under a long term deal this off season might be a shrewd deal considering he is about to have a breakout season in 2009, and it would be cheaper to get him now, while he is recovering from shoulder surgery than after he explodes at the plate.

 

 


Upton played most of the season with his banged up shoulder suffered in an early season series against the Baltimore Orioles. Almost everyone in the stadium saw a change in his batting style, but we had no reason to believe anything was wrong at the time. When it finally came out about the injury, it made a huge amount of sense considering his front shoulder was not striding into the ball, so his power was decreased considerably in 2008. When his shoulder felt better towards the end of 2008, you saw the result as the ball was flying off his bat, and his swing looked more fluid and compact again.

 


Matt Garza, now here is a guy who did a complete 180 degree turn into possible stardom in 2008. He had an early wrist nerve situation that could have hampered him all season, but it subdued and he went on to have a great season for the Rays. The young star had a highly publicized meltdown in the Texas heat, and came out the next time and showed no ill effects from the fallout, and a renewed vigor on the mound.


 

 


Towards the end of 2008, he was consistent as any pitcher in the A L and the team’s confidence was high in him as he took the mound twice in the ALCS and won both games to garner to MVP trophy for the series. His transformation was huge, and if he even steps up gradually in his career, his ceiling has now been set high and he should achieve that plateau in the next 2 seasons.

 

 


Resolution 4:

Sign Jason Giambi already:


Now I am one of the people who do not like old serial killer eyes a lot. I think that Giambi might come with some baggage, but we are not getting him to play first base for the Rays. As long as we hide his fielding glove after Batting Practice, he will be a solid choice for the Designated Hitter position. The guy is a true hitting machine when he is motivated. And how could you not be motivated when you get to play 17 games each against your two worst enemies, the Yankees and the Red Sox. Not only that, but with 3 squads currently seeking his services, it might be prudent that the Rays be a the aggressor here before Giambi feels neglected and signs with another team.

 


I think that it might take a 2 year deal, but it will be well worth the money and the pain to have this guy on your roster. He is a huge community service guy, which the Rays value a lot in their players the last few years. He is also a great clubhouse guy and can just build on the work that Cliff Floyd did for the Rays last year.  The deal might bog down the Rays for about $ 20-25 million dollars, but Giambi also is worth ever cent if he strokes the ball the way he did at Tropicana Field last  few seasons.

 

 

 


Resolution 5: 

Keep the team chemistry up high and the success will come again:


You have to admit that Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s slogan for 2008, “9=8″ went a long long way into pulling the team towards their playoff goal. The mental workup of the Rays was high from day one, and the team continued to compete and succeed towards that goal in 2008. Because of this, I ma actually looking forward to the new motto or credo that Maddon brings out in 2009.

 


Maddon is an avid reader, and you know that during his travels to Europe in the off season, might have picked up a few new quotes and stories to translate and morph into baseball related folly for the team. He is one of the best motivators I have seen in baseball due to his low key approach to players and the media. But if you have seen him behind the scenes, you know he has true intensity and the drive to excellence in everything he does in life.

 

 


By keeping up that same credo and positive energy in 2009, he will again give the team a support to lean on when they get down or begin to doubt themselves or the system. With his coaching staff, Maddon can affirm and display this mantra for everyone to see, and to believe in again in 2009.

 


So here we go with 5 simple resolutions for the Rays in 2009. Some of them might involve a little money, but then again with the increased Season Ticket holders, and the new interest in our team, the Rays will have a new revenue stream that had been nothing more than a trickle from the facet in 2008. Hard work and also strict contractual situations are ahead for the team in the next 40-some days.

 


With Arbitration hearing coming soon, and the young stars getting healthy raises in their salaries only a few years away for the team. The future is bright for the Rays, but only if they also secure the past with success and the formulation of a winning attitude and tradition. And it all begins on this first day in January, 2009.

Top Rays Memory of 2008………………..Playoffs Baby!!!

 

 

 

Everyone remembers the magic of your first time. The first time you had a bubbly ice cold soda, or maybe even tried that ride at the fair that scared you to death a year earlier. But the fascination and the excitement of trying something, or achieving something for the first time can be a rush that can not be beat.

 

 

It is for that reason that my Top Moment for 2008 for the Tampa Bay Rays includes a new “first” for the franchise. As I said before, we always remember our first time entering the ballpark, checking out the sounds, smells and the atmosphere of this new electric-charged dome. You still think about the first Batting  Practice or your first foul ball catch, or even the first autograph you ever got at the game. And who could ever forget the taste of that first stadium hot dog. I know all of these are still fresh in my mind, and it has been over 40 years since my first game at Al Lang Field watching the St. Petersburg Cardinals.

 

 

So it is with great pleasure that I introduce my number one memory of 2008. It occurred on September 20, 2008 with 36,048 other believers in the stands and jumping up and down like madmen. It was a time for rejoicing and for remembering all the things we loved about the Rays. Not only did the team play a hard fought 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins, but the team secured its first EVER playoff berth.

 

Considering this team had never won more than 71 games a year, and for most of the year fought hard to keep its top spot in the American League East race, this was the moment for the home fans and the players to salute a great season, and the celebrate together. I know a lot of people might consider one of the many I picked as a number 2 moment for this top spot. This was personal to me. I got to celebrate with a few friends as they wandered and cheered around the stadium,

 

I got to remind a few of them that the journey has just began and they made sure I knew that it was us, the fans that drove this bus to the playoffs as much as the players. And I got to drink from the champagne bottles and taste that sweet nectar that went down like cool rainwater and tasted like spun honey. It was one of the biggest moments for me as a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays…………….and hopefully you got to enjoy it too that day…………….

 

Basking in the Moment………..1st Playoff Berth 

 

 


It might have looked like a mob scene out of your favorite sports movie, but believe me, the energy in that place yesterday was so severe that it sometimes seemed to choke you from the intensity in the air. From the energy and the explosion of emotion in the stadium atmosphere yesterday, this game was won by the time they  even first stepped  on the turf.

 


Seriously folks, I have never felt so drained emotionally and mentally in my life. I was literally crawling out of the Trop at 9 P.M. after celebrating in the stands, near the clubhouse with a few friends, and in the Budweiser Brew house having a few brews with the old crew from the last 10 years. This was a night were everyone in Tampa Bay would have a peaceful nights sleep.

 

 


This is a day/night/weekend that will sit up there with the best memories I have involving sports in my life. I have been to a few wild celebrations, like the Baltimore Ravens victory party in Ybor City after they won the Super Bowl in Tampa, or even a late night cocktail party at Reign after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with a few ex-Rays players.  I am so spent right now and I have not come down from this yet. And I have a  Season Ticket holder Picture Day in 6 hours with the players. Well, the ones who are awake at 10 am.

 

 

All I can say is this is going down in my memory banks as one of the greatest day in my fan life. How can it get any better………….oh, wait WE could have THREE more of these great celebrations before the playoffs are all over with this year!  And then the real party will begin!  But let’s not get too far in front of ourselves here, there is a long road to go to even think of that situation right now.

 

 


THREE more chances where these guys pay as much attention to their team partying as they do out with us, the fans.  From interview to interview last night, the guys to a “T”, talked about the Tampa Bay Rays fans. They included the fans in their celebrations. Getting up on the dugout and spraying the masses with champagne and beer. Throwing 9=8 playoff hats and T-shirts to them all, and relishing a moment that will live in this franchises history books  and memory forever.

 

 

 


You always remember your first time. You remember where you were, Who you were standing with, and what you were doing at that exact moment. When the guys came running down into the Bull Pen Cafe area and I was standing on the railing, I can not remember how many of those guys came up there and slapped my hand and gave me a fist bump. But the ones that were special were the Hugs from J P Howell, Jonny Gomes, Chad Orvella and Scott Kazmir.  I have chatted almost daily with  a lot of these guys on their way to the Bullpen, or back in the right field area, and they are some of the best guys you will ever want to meet.

 


Howell for instance used to be one of the quietest guys on this team when he was a starter. He was moody and never seemed to want to talk. Now since he has found his calling in the bullpen,  he is one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on the Rays. Dan Wheeler is not known to smile a lot, but he does when we chat back and forth during the games. There is a unique bond there between the Bullpen and the fan here that I have never seen before in my life. But then again, they are living the dream this year.

 

 

From the first champagne bottle out of the clubhouse, to the two bottles that Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos had ordered for himself and the close fans down there, it was a magical night. The parade around the Trop outer perimeter was a show of the love and respect these guys have for the fan base. I have been lucky enough to know a few of these guys off the turf in private. And I have to tell you this in total confidence, not one time this year did any of these guys take this responsibility to the fans or to the community as a  job or work.


 

                        

 

This group actually enjoys interacting with the fans. From the time they walked out at the Spring Training complex in mid-Feb. to now has been a long and rewarding journey. There have been player injuries and players have come and gone from the roster, but the core of this team have been strong, mentally tough and been an inspiration to the fans. Not many groups have a tie to the fans that these guys have. The Rays community can honestly say the have the team’s back at any moment.

 

 

The funny thing about this celebration is that about 25 percent of it was outside the locker room in the field where these guys have toiled and struggled and left themselves bleeding and wounded some nights. To say this battle did not end with a fairy tale ending is totally accurate. This season has now almost come to a close at home, but in the next wek they might have a Divisional Crown celebration either in Detroit or Baltimore, then sprint home and get ready for the First of many October games in the Trop.

 

 

I really need to hit the sack for a few hours before I fall down, but the adrenaline is still pumping hard in me right now and I have tossed and turned for about 5 hours since I got home. I am a emotional wreck right now, but I would do it again in a New York moment. If you have never been to one of these defining moments, you know how the Rays Republic is now feeling. If you have not, I truly wish it upon yourself and your team sometime in the future. It is a roller coaster ride fitted with some great ups and downs that is not even over yet.

 

                                

 

 

I just want to repurchase my “E” ticket so I can climb aboard the coaster again and roll through another three of these celebrations with the Rays and this truly spectacular group of guys.  I actually now know what other team’s fans have talked about when the y remark about the feelings and the intensity of the moment. I can see why New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox fan yearn and seek thin moment in their lives yearly. But I have to almost admit, I do not want to share it with them anytime soon.

 

 

So As I finally slink out of the stadium, and check out that bright orange roof, I am reminded of all the glory and the sweat and tears that have blanketed this great dome in the past 10 years. But tonight they all seem like a distant memory as we have a new found tradition of winning and are celebrating the success of our boys’ tonight. I can’t wait to get back into my seat tomorrow and see how much of the energy is still trapped in this building…………….9 am is coming fast to me tonight.

 

A Hodge Podge of Number 2 Ray’s Moments in 2008

 

Coverrays

 


I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.

 

If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season.  There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.

 

 


I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.


So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.

 

 

The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.

 


Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.

 

 


Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.



Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats.  Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.

 

 


Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940′s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.

 

Eric Hinske hits a one-out double during the Rays' two-run second inning. He tripled in the fourth and homered in the sixth.

 


Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single.  Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.

 


Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The  first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.

 

Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.

 

 


On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot.  The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when  pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted  home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.

 

 


Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.


But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.


 

 


On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.

 


According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.

 


On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.

 

Rocco Baldelli gets the shaving cream pie treatment after driving in the winning run in the ninth.  (AP)

 


While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season.  It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.

 

The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox.  It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.  

 

 

Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.

 

 


With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of  scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.

 

 


After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.


 

 


On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.

 

 

When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game  showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.

 

 


The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays.  In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly  in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.


 

 


Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.

 


The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.

 

 


All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow.  Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.

 

Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.

ALCS Celebration…………My Third Choice of Rays Memories in 2008

   



I was sitting here today trying to figure out which one of the over 320 blogs that I have done in 2008 might even be in the top 3 when it finally occurred to me that it is rather simple. I guess i am going to use the next three days to select  a few of the blogs that meant the world to me in 2008.  From the moment I saw the guys come out of the Spring Training complex field house for the last time, to the meeting of the buses’ at Tropicana Field after the last game in Philadelphia, it has been a wild and truly unforgettable ride for the Rays in 2008.



For me to even try and fathom 3 moments that could be included in a listing is beyond my comprehension for a bit here. But I have decided that the third one has to be the wild and crazy celebration right after the Tampa Bay Rays clinched their first ever American League East title. It was one of two picture blog entries I popped online that night, but it was the one I also felt a part of while the rest of the team celebrate a few feet away from me. It was a night of believing in yourself and your team. Of realizing that miracles and faith can have a huge push towards achieving and obtaining your goals.


It was also a night for the long time fans of the Rays to point to as the reason we sat in those stands for the past 11 seasons and took the abuse and the catcalls from Boston and Yankees fans. It showed why we cheered and clanged those pesky cowbells to show the team we were behind them late in the game, or even when those other team’s chants began to ring through the stands. It was a night where the past and the future meshed so well. Gone was the loser moniker that the Rays had fought so hard to overcome. In front of them was a frontier of new beginnings and unlimited potential to strive for the best and the highest goals obtainable in the sport.


It was a night of redemption. A moment of clarity in a sea of doubt for a lot of people in the Tampa Bay area. It showed that even a small market team like the Rays could upend the status quo of the league and strive to be great for that one moment. So I hope you enjoy this first look back into what I think was a huge point in the Tampa Bay Rays 2008 historical run and clinch of  current dreams and future aspirations.

A fan-tastic day

                                      

I swear this is the last Photo
blog of the American League Championship Series I am doing this year. I
had too much fun last night and still can not find my car keys. But
anyhow, here are the last few photos that I have gotten since I got
home from a vastly unprepared road trip to Tampa with some people who
felt like it was 1999.

 


I am glad there is not a Game 8,
because I know a few people who will not be awake until almost 6 p.m.
tonight. This is something that will change this town forever. Some
people have called my hometown a “Sleepy little hamlet”, “God’s waiting
room”, and my new personal favorite, “Where Bums and Benches meet in
perfect harmony”.

 


But to be a part of a World Series
against a fellow Spring Training site-mate is spectacular and  will
make the area more energized than usual. So enjoy my little photo fest
and I will see you all on Wed. night when the champagne stains should
be out of my new ALCS Champs cap, and my brain is ready for another
exciting series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

 


Akinora Iwamura and “Big” Cliff
Floyd. Cliff has been here before, but you can tell it never gets old
for the veterans either. I saw people like Dan Wheeler and Floyd, and
even Trever Miller acting like kids in the candy store
tonight……………and I like it. It was the leadership of such players like Floyd and Carlos Pena that the Rays clubhouse began to gel early in the season and reached its boiling point tonight on the turf at Tropicana Field.

 

 


I am starting to believe that Rays
Rookie David Price is starting to like all the celebrating in the
clubhouse this postseason. He deserves the save tonight, and he will
surely be on the World Series roster when it comes out in a few days.
Price became the first rookie pitcher in MLB history to get a win and a save in his first post season action. Amazing how far this guy has risen in one season. He began the season down in low Class-A ball, and rose through the system to get to the major league level at the September mark in the season.

 

 


I can tell by the broad shoulders
that this is Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi getting the crowd into
the celebration tonight at the Trop. Scott is a huge reason these guys
are psyched and ready to go every night coming out of the Bullpen.  He
is the Enforcer. Cursi surely got either a share or a monetary bonus from the Rays for his work this season, and he rightly deserves it and more from the team.

 

 


James “Big Game” Shields is also
known as the true master of champagne bursts and celebrations. Shields
is one of the big 4 starters that will try and bring home the Rays
first World Series title. Sheilds will end the season ranked as one of the top 20 pitchers in baseball. He made great strides in 2008, and further cemented his cahnge up as one of the best in the league
.

 

 


Scott Kazmir is becoming an old
professional at this celebration stuff. He is now known as one of
the true cork popping experts in the Rays clubhouse. Kazmir is also one the
premier lefties in the game today. Kazmir might have had a down season of you lokk at his statistics, but he was there when the team needed him and was always up for the challenge for the team. Even at his young age, Kazmir showed why he is the most experienced on this staff, and the “go-to” guy in the future for the team.

 

 


Edwin Jackson is cooling down the
“Old Man” on the Rays, Carl Crawford. He was here during the lean years
in Tampa Bay, and to see a winning team and a playoff berth was a dream
to Carl before this season. Now the Rays can go beyond any of their
wildest dreams and contend for a World Series title starting on Wed.
night.
Edwin Jackson has been maligned and beaten up in the press this year as not being the great pitcher for the Rays. But in the end result, he tied for the team lead in victories, and inproved throughout the entire season. He still hit rough patches, but he fought through them and became a extremely aggressive pitcher in 2008.

 

 


One last photo of Rookie David
Price getting a cold shower to go with his first professional save
tonight in the game against the Boston Red Sox. Price has a huge future in front of him in baseball. The guy was one of the final picks in the “Next competition for ESPN in 2008. No matter what the magazine decides, you can truly see that he is one of the bright spots for baseball, and not just the Rays in 2009. We saw just a small bit of the talent and the ability of this young pitcher late in the season ans during the playoffs.  In 2009, he will get a change to claim a spot on the Rays rotation as a starter, and from there…..the sky is truly the limit for him.

 


Okay, that is the end of all three
blogs, I swear.  But I truly hoped you enjoyed going into the picture
world of the Rays celebrating their first American League Championship
tonight.  Be sure to tune into FOX starting this Wed night at 8 p.m.
when the Rays take on the National League Champs, the Philadelphia
Phillies in the best-of-seven series for the World Championship.

 


Also, if either team steals a base
during a World Series game, Taco Bell will be rewarding every American
a spicy beef crunchy taco for FREE the next day. Considering that the
Rays stole 10 bases in the ALCS, we all might be eating tacos for a few
days.  Go to www.stealabasestealataco.com for more information.

 

 

How cool is that, a rookie like
David Price comes in and set down one of the best lineups in the
American League and now he gets to hold the AL Championship Trophy.

 

Sp_296220_shad_rays_7c

 


Aki again among the Rays faithful
who stayed beyond 1 a.m. to help celebrate another Tampa Bay Rays
victory and their first run at the World Series. Something I found truly remarkable about this guy in 2008, is his interaction with the fans and his love for both this area and our style of baseball. I do not even remember what time I got home that night because I did not sleep a wink as I got into traveling mode after Game 2 of the World Series.


 

                  Sp_296217_cass_rays_17c

 


I had to add one more photo of
that world class dog pile that David Price and Dioner Navarro are on
the bottom of here. I know it hurts, but it also feels so good guys. 
Congrats again to a great team, and a great set of human beings. You
are our heroes and our inspirations guys. By the time that the Rays had won the ALCS, they had celebrating on the field down to an artform. So many times this year the team had late innings rallies and walk-off victories that just added up to the final prize of winning the American League Pennant tonight.



 

Shop Now!



I have not even left the ballpark
yet and they are almost out of the Rays American League merchandise
sent in the first wave by MLB. How crazy is that.  I am so glad the
fans are excited about the World Series. I hope at least 25 percent of
them come back to the ballpark in 2009 and fill the stadium.  Oh, news
flash here people………..We play the Phillies in Philly next season
as part of the Inter-League schedule.  How cool is that!!!!!  


Road
Trip.


 

 


The entire team getting some personal personal time with
the AL Championship trophy. Do they pass it around and can keep it for
one day like the Stanley Cup? I hope at some point either in the off season or during 2009, the Rays Season Ticket holders and Maddon’s Maniacs can pose for photos with our first real trophy in franchise history.  It was all a total effort of the Rays Republic and the team and staff to secure our place in history tonight.


 

                   

 



This Photo is going to be firmly
planted in my mind for a long, long time. This is the final out of the
game…………a force out of Jason Bay by Akinora Iwamura to seal the
deal for the Rays. If there was one photo to show the joy and the celebration of winning the pennant, it has got to be this picture right here.


 

 


Carlos Pena getting ready to do
that dance he loves to do at celebration.  Maybe Carlos can teach the
entire Tampa Bay area that dance some time.

 

 


Tell me that is not one proud
owner. He promised us a winner and he delivered ahead of
schedule…………he could run for President right now and get
elected on the Rays ticket.

 

            

 


Carlos and Ben Zobrist a few
minutes after the final out of the game. This team is more like a
family than the Pittsburgh Pirates teams in the
1970′s……………..We Are One Team!!!!!   Tell me the marketing
department is not proud of that slogan now!

 

 


This is what the Trop. looked like
2 minutes after the last out. Rays players running everywhere looking
for a teammates to hug and slap some fist bumps on them.

Rays General Manager for a Day

 

 

 

One of the hardest jobs in all of  baseball is not the Managers’ position, but the title of  General Manager. I think that more GM’s have taken a bullet for the failures of their teams than any of baseball field mangers. It is said that the stream of blood runs downhill after a slaughter and usually that blood starts at the scalp of the GM, who is the first sacrificial lamb for the public and the media. 

 

The position has a bit of give and take from the bottom to the top, but for all intentions, can be the lonliest post when things are going bad for your team . You have to dictate and slice through all of the BS coming out of the clubhouse and the publics mouths, plus select the  most rightious information and  sage advice from scouting to make a calculated and educated gamble on a player or a team situation.

 

For Rays General Manager aka Boy Wonder of 1 Tropicana Drive, Andrew Friedman, so far in his tenure in the position, the scale has been weighed heavily in his favor. Considering that less than 3 years ago he was not even involved with the Tampa Bay Rays, and his name was no more known in public circles than my name. But in three years  with help from  wily old veteran G.M. Gary “Obi Wan” Hunsicker he has built upon a solid core of players and  eager staff members to reign  alone on top of the G.M. mountaintop. 

 

Decision after decision went wrong for him in the beginning. He stayed silent and towed the line on trade talks that could have meant the world to the team, and moved on ones that might have dealt them a death blow in the past.pile  But with a few years of plus and minues calculations, the Rays G.M. has eliminated the risk management portion of his position and is seeing only sunny skies and rainbows right now.

 

 Well, on today’s front page, MLBlogs asked a simple question that will either rock the nether worlds or simply go down as more Internet babble and ramblings by people who love to play God behind a keyboard. I am one of those ramblers, but I can atest to countless hours of thinking about this ( 2 hours) and entered debate after debate during the morning to strengthen my fortitude and latitude to accept this challenge. I am to become the G.M. of the American League champions for a short time and plot the course for the Rays cruiseliner. Hopefully I will not need a toll for the river Styx after I am done with my opinions and raw mental brainfarts. But in the office of the G.M., even ordering coffee can be met with critcism and  second-guessing.

 

 

                    

 

 

I am not sure if I want to play a higher power, but I would like a crack at a few             situations I would consider if I was the Rays GM for the next few days in Las Vegas. With that in mind, I am going to put myself in WWAD ( What Would Andrew Do ) mode and trya and make a few educated guesses as to the betterment of the Rays  roster and their minor league system. I even have a play that should be added to their 40-man roster before Friday, or lose him to another team is a sure bet.

 

 

 

So, here we go, I am acting GM of the Tampa Bay Rays for about an hour. My  first round of business will be to get minor leaguer Rhyne Hughes on the 40-man             roster. Hughes had a monster Arizona Fall League and might be going the route that current Rays pitcher James Shields took a few years back. Hughes made                       the All- AFL selection squad and hit the cover off the ball in Arizona.

 

He has been at the Double-A level in 2008, but might start there then move up to Triple-A depending on the Bulls need for a power first baseman. But getting  this kid hidden on the 40-man roster is a vital cog that has to be done ASAP. The Rays took care of a roster spot on Monday evening by assigning pitcher Chad Orvella, who is coming off of shoulder surgery outright to the Durham Bulls.

 

 

The Rays might not have as many holes as usual this coming year, which actually plays well into their hands during negotiations with players. There are several key             guys up for arbitration like Dioner Navarro, Jason Bartlett, Edwin Jackson and Jonny Gomes. In the next several weeks a few of those guys might not be here by trade or being released by the team. I would put more money on the trade situation than losing all value for the players. Even a guy like Gomes, who had a miserible 2008, has value to a team looking for a 4th outfielder or even a DH for hire.

 

I am going to cut to the chase in this blog and attack the two main needs for the team in 2009.  The right-field slot and the DH position are highly publicized and ‘must need’ positions on the team. I have a few ideas about each and will explore them in two ways. First to list the free agent solutions, and then by trade.

 

 

               

 

 

First off, let’s tackle the need for a DH or bench player for the Rays via the free agent market. With the recent lunch date with Milton Bradley going so well for  the Rays, the only thing standing in the way besides a contract is if the guy is worth losing your first round pick for him.  With Bradley being considered a top tier free agent, the team would have to forfeit a draft pick to secure his signing.

 

 

                            

 

 

Another plus about Bradley that the Rays can build on is his ability to protect hitters in front of him bcause of his .324 average last season. To add onto that is the fact he also hit 22 home runs and struck out only 112 times last season. He is also an on-base guy, posting .439 On-Base Percentage, largely because of  his 80 walks. His sttitude and personality quirks have also mellowed with age and he has become a calm force in the locker room. He might not be Cliff Floyd, but  the guy commands respect and leads by example.

 

 

                  

 

 

The second alternative to a DH via the free agent wire is also a very  attractive one for the Rays.  Mostly  because this player can still contribute in the field at some lengths and could be a valuable asset to the club. Also considering some of the milestones he is approaching, he could be a great PR tool for the team to attract fans. If you have no figured it out yet, it is Ken Griffey Junior. I have been  a huge Griffey fans since his Mariner days and would consider him in a second  for the DH position.

 

Junior might have slipped a bit in production in the last few seasons, but he also has been playing the field almost every day while in the National League, and took over center for the Chicago White Sox after being traded at the trading deadline in 2008. If he was to be a DH, with an occasional stroll into the outfield, he could protect his knees and still hit daily for the team.  Griffey hit only a combined .248 between both leagues in 2008, but his low amount of strikeouts ( 25 ) shows that the plate discipline is still there and he can rebound off a bad 2008.

 

The Rays might be able to get Griffey at a Florida discount becuase of his home being in Orlando, but still might command about $ 4-6 million a year. Griffeys’ 2008 salary was set at about $ 8.2 million, which would put him out of Tampa Bay puse strings if he commands the same salary in 2009. 

 

Bradley made about $ 5.25 million last season. If Bradley wants to play on a competitive team for 2009, he also might be into giving the Rays a discount on base salary with some incentive bonuses tied to production. I would think a $ 4 million dollar salary with up to 2 million in incentives might do the trick for Bradley.

 

 

           

 

Let’s now consider the right-field  slot. I honestly feel that the team can  find a suitable player who is right-handed without breaking the bank in 2009. Alot of names have been tossed around lately, but there is aslo one that has not come to the surface yet in refference to the Rays. Brad Wilkerson has been playing right-field in the majors for a long time. He started 2008 with the Seattle Mariners, then moved onto the Toronto Blue Jays and provided great relief and power from the right-side of the plate.

 

Most of baseball has not even considered him after a sub-par 2008 while both rehabbing and trying to fit into a tight outfield situation in Toronto. But he might be a low cost alternative to the high priced guys seeking positions through the MLB. His sub .250 average for 2008 was mostly covered by his injury that he tried to play through before going down and finally getting healthy.

 

 

                              

 

 

This is the one position on the Rays that I think they can make a great trade that can help both ballclubs. In the past, the Rays have been linked as the third team with the Chicago Cubs for Jake Peavy. But the real factor is that they do not need the Cubs to make a trade with San Diego. The Padres are seeking a shortstopn and a pitcher to replace two players currently either treaded or deep into discussion to part the Padres.

 

Tampa Bay was eager to pout in a claim for Brian Giles on the waiver wire in 2008, but got one-upped by the Boston Red Sox. The Sox blocked the attempt to claim Giles to keep him off the Rays roster and maybe get him for themselves. Giles did not want to go to the Red Sox, but might be open to a Rays attempt at a trade because they have a true opening for him in right-field.

 

 

 

 

One problem with this trade off the bat is the amount of salary owed to Giles in 2009. The Rays might not be willing to take on the entire amount of the 2009 salary and would want to offset some of it by having the Padres eat a bit of the contract. The players’ that the Padres could get for Giles could be a nice smorgasboard of up-and-coming pitchers and a infielder.

 

The Rays have a abundance of pitchers who are log-jammed at the minor league level and might be willing to part with a MLB level pitcher and a Triple-A starter. The pitchers in question could range from Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel to Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot. All have been at the major league level and have proven to be quality pitchers.

 

 

The Rays also have a few infielders who could be packaged in the deal, which includes Reid Brignac, Elliott Johnson, who have limited major league experience to Ben Zobrist or even Jason Bartlett who have MLB experience. Zobrist is actually a player who could play any role for the Padres and is still under contract for 2009. Bartlett is arbitration-eligible, but might only cost about $ 2 million a year fater the hearing.

 

Giles is my trade target for the team in 2009. I think if the team packaged Jeff Neimann, Jason Bartlett and maybe another reliever, Dale Thayer or a Double-A player, plus take on  $ 2 million dollars of Giles salary, we could have a great deal for both teams. But that is just my opinion here.

 

 

So here we go, I have taken on two trouble spots for the Rays in 2009 and tackled them my way. How do I think I did as GM for the Day for the Rays?  That depends on if I can get these guys signed sealed and delivered for Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the boys by Febuary 2009.

 

 

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