Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’
I remember when I was playing football some 25-odd years ago, I could definitely feel when my time was coming to a conclusion and the door to my career was closing swiftly upon me. It takes a lot for an athlete and writer to acknowledge their time is over and the end is not only in sight, but upon you. Competition has always been in my blood, fighting to be on the top, putting in the grunt work that I was proud of, because it showed my love for the game, and my passion for wanting to be one of the best.
As Major League Baseball rosters expand today with anxious and thrilled young prospects and wily veterans again breathe MLB air in clubhouses from sea to shining sea, I pack my laptop, Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide and head nonchalantly for the nearest exit. But I do not intent to go quietly as I need to voice a few things, spill a bit more of myself onto these pages for a final thrust. Some of these passages will be eagerly anticipated, and one will be a rant that has lived on inside for awhile, finally seeing the light of day.
I’m not sad my MLBlogs.com experience is over. Sure I wanted more, but more did not present itself to me in a timely fashion. I have taken that odd-shaped ball of clay known as Rays Renegade and molded it as much as possible into my own artistic interpretation, and some of you have marveled as others have scoffed at my mire existence within this blogging realm. I rose from the MLBlogs.com farm system to the top level with sweat, blood and maybe a little slight of hand at times, but I do not regret anything I have done since November 2007 when I first clicked to post my initial post about Kevin Costner and the Rays.
1,311 posts later, it is time to say farewell to my baseball blogging life as I expand towards other avenues and ventures both in writing and in life. I no longer feel compelled to eagerly posted daily with comments, opinions or my personal insight into my Rays world, or at least my corner of it. That was the first sign the end was approaching. It is not for lack of wanting to post, but time and life’s other surprises have presented limited moments to click the mouse or put words to laptop screen, so instead of converting to one of those who posts only marginally, I will cease to post entirely. Today is a day I always pushed away back into the recesses of my mind and soul because I wanted to write until my last dying breathe, and even then possibly have a few hidden gems upon my laptop files, but the time has come to walk away while I’m still on top level of the blogging community.
I have met and read so many fantastic blogs along the way, and I hope I have shown encouragement and drive for some to continue knowing I was once outside the Top 50 looking in and found my voice, reason and ability to walk up that steep climb to the top and was able to stay there for such a long tenure. There are too many blogging friends to list here, but you know who you are, and I thank you for your past support, your encouraging words and even your comments that meant the world to me. I will cruise back into this blogging community from time to time commenting and visiting you, but my days of writing as Rays Renegade will cease with this posting.
I was not alone as a few other Rays bloggers also shared the path with me, and for that I’m grateful. I have been able to express my love, passion and dreams for this game as a Rays blogger, and also shown you more of myself than anyone in my life has ever seen, or even will see. I felt this day coming as friends within the Rays organization (BK and Aaron) went into different sports adventures and my Rays connection felt severed and damaged forever. But I do owe a huge bit of gratitude to the Rays Department of Communication with a special head tilt to Andrew Heydt for letting me pass into and out of their sacred MLB world with media access from time to time that would make any true baseball fan giggle with joy. I hope my posts have repaid that generosity and brought the organization pride with my writing.
Now it is time for my to let go of the one dark cloud that has been haunting me even since Jane Heller left MLBlogs. I have kept this within me deep, but the pain can finally find another home and leave me forever. I was appalled when MLBlogs.com moved the “Baseball Collector” from their MLB Pro blog listing to the “Fan Blog” list. I am not going to sling mud or anything else here, it is just one of the biggest things that has been hidden from sight for so long, and I felt an instant betrayal by the website with this move. I am not going to dip vinegar into this wound, for it finally rising to the surface has made me feel great and relieved at the same time.
This was not an easy decision, or one that was conceived and devised in one swift motion like a meat clever to sever this connection. Since I sat in the stands after the Texas Rangers eliminated the Rays from the 2010 post season, my baseball journey has taken a different path. In 2010 I attended 81 Rays regular season games and 4 post season contests, but that streak ended the moment Texas began celebrating on our home turf. Not sure why, or the reasoning for my own Rays attendance decline, it just unfolded that way.
But I do know I owe a chunk of my life to this blog. For when I was unemployed for that long span, it kept me sane, alert and wanting to again find success outside if it’s realm. I do not walk away today now with any regrets. I have done my best, produced some funny, entertaining and even insightful looks into this game I adore with all my heart, with a emphasis on a team born upon my hometown soil. Thank you again for all who have passed by my oasis in the MLB desert.
This has been a labor of true passion and love that has met it final moments with no tears but a flood of great memories and thoughts of continued success for each and every one of you. I leave for this last time with my head held high, proud of the accomplishments and journey knowing there is another venture out there just beyond my dimming eyesight awaiting my arrival. I promised myself when I made my final post to include the symbol I learned so long ago as a staffer of the Rebel Rouser to signify the end, the conclusion of the thought process and writer’s final notation of completion:
People always say certain years pegged for them personally as the “best years of their lives”. For me, 1979 definitely was the first significant turning point and first journey to the top of the see-saw climb when thing began to change fast and furiously as I first embraced life’s challenges and adventures. I was fresh out of school (Class of 1979), had a great job (Evening Independent Sports Correspondent and DJ/Skate Guard at Southland Roller Palace) , the vast horizon in front of me of sports, academics and even a few moments left in the haze of a Fraternity (DTX) house were unfolding from the first celebrations at midnight on January 1st, to the last somber and emotional moments that December 31st as I welcomed not only a new decade, but the final unclothing of myself as a “teen”.
1979 was a virtual time stamp of great developmental and athletic upswing for myself personally filled with escalating life moments that will definitely come rushing back to me like a Tropical Storm Debbie flash flood the moment the Tampa Bay Rays hit the turf with those retro powder blue and royal blue uniforms. “Turn Back the Clock” Night will definitely be an emotional as well as proud moment for me not only because I get to hear a band I treasured and wore out more than a few 8-Track cartridges on my Dynomite 8-track player.
Even the yellow hued stirrups adorning the Rays calves tonight will evoke a bit of my 1979 Northwest LL Senior League baseball moments. It was the year I got to stand to the right of future San Francisco Giant and Los Angeles Dodger shortstop Dave Anderson, plus the highly bright and audacious yellow mustard color scheme of the Rays stirrups tonight also were reminiscent of my own Monahan’s Shell team issued leggings that always seemed to fall down to my ankles by the end of the game.
I wrote a post recently on the Rays retro gear they will adorn tonight and how I felt they kind of copied the 1979 styling s of the 1979 Brew Crew, but in reality maybe I wasn’t fully attached at the moment of that post with the actual realization that this region could of ever been considered “Major League” by the rest of the baseball world in 1979. St. Petersburg, then known for its green benches and FREE newspapers when the Sun did not shine was packed to the brim during the Spring months with loads of MLB potential, but as the calendar always turned from March to April, the caravans and planes took our MLB hopes and our baseball idols away for the seasonal ride.
Might be a great ironic twist to tonight’s events that Earth, Wind and Fire in January of 1979 entranced us all with their hits “September” and Thats the Way of the World” during an NBC Nationally televised a UNICEF Concert. This was also the year the hit that instantly goes into the minds of people “Boogie Wonderland” and “After the Love is Gone” hit the FM airwaves for the first time en route to Billboard Top 10 positions. Who doesn’t remember roller skating to both of these hit at the typical Friday or Saturday night round-de-rounds on the skating floor either as disco dynamos or couple skating with that special someone.
Definitely going to feel weird tonight seeing the Tampa Bay Rays wearing uniforms that pre-date the franchise’s First Pitch, and even their initial selection of their Expansion Draft. With the entire squad donning time inspired duds from 1979, it will evoke a bit of memories, especially of my Senior year at St. Petersburg’s own Dixie Hollins. It will remind me of the year I “fro’d” my hair to honor a fallen comrade Al Bolden who was paralyzed in a football game that season against Lakewood High. It will bring back the sounds of “Rowdie Raccoon” as my favorite High School teacher Mr P used to call me daily because of my constant wardrobe of Rowdies and rugby attire.
The whole night from the moment I hit the Tropicana Gate 4 media entrance to the moment I again wander into the post-concert humid air, tonight will be both a love fest and emotional roller coaster that I hope I can truly stomach. Every one has defining moments in their life, 1979 held more than fist full of them for me. It was the year I finally got recognition as a ballplayer, signing my letter of intent that January. It was the calendar year I got to have a heart-to-heart and 3 hour clinic with the MLB player I idolized for so many years, and my game exploded with confidence.
From the moment of that first handshake with the immortal “Hot Corner” icon Brooks Robinson to today, my love for baseball expanded from a sport to a lifetime obsession as I got dirty that day guarding the line and gaining insight from one of the game’s best defensive masters. 1979 was the year I proudly adorned my head with a cap featuring that pesky Orioles bird, and wore proudly until the first cap went on sale for our then D-Rays. Tonight is definitely going to be emotional, pulling at the old heartstrings with a vengeance.
This was also the year that writing and journalism took me by storm as I wrote for the High School paper (Rebel Rouser) along with Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano, all the while flirting innocently with Diane Spears as Mrs Tucker scolded me. It was the year of my first cover story, my first byline both professionally and academically, it was the birth year of the obsession I still possess with writing that is still prevalent and evolving. 1979 was that catalyst moment not only in my physical sports, but in my life development. I owe a huge debt to 1979 that I can never repay because 1979 for me personally was all about the skating, graduation into adult life, the music of bands like Earth Wind and Fire and the first evolutionary moment of my new found love…baseball.
Ohhhhh, I truly hate this date. Some have called me obsessed, pretty much bordering on insanity when it comes to the Tampa Bay Rays and their games on the date of May 14th. I have scheduled impromptu flights at midnight, fought with TSA and customs officials, and even caught a walk-off Home Run as the Rays Republic sat in awe at home in an extra inning contest. This date holds darkness for me, and I want the Rays star burst to finally shed to some victory light on this day.
It is one of those days I always wished the Tampa Bay Rays would win a game, but in 12 previous contests on this date in their existence, failure has greeted them in the end. I have Tweeted about it, screamed to the high heavens, wrote about each of these past contest in posts, but still the smell of victory has eluded the Rays on May 14th. I have have done all I can as a fan to wish, pray and make a win materialize, but it always has ended up the same…an “L” in the box score.
Even one of the Rays media hounds post about the Rays 0-12 mark on this date in the past, but did he actually know the Rays have been outscored 83-42 on this date? I think not. I wonder if this media guru did any additional background work and found out that in 1998 Russ Springer was the first Rays hurler to throw on this date, with Wade Davis, who is now in the Rays Bullpen, throwing the last 2 losses. Wonder if this same media figurehead knew that during the Rays 12-game losing streak on this date, 6 of those contests have been 1-run losses.
Some might say the Rays inaugural season (1998) 2-10 loss in Kansas City against the Royals or possibly their 2002 3-10 drumming in NYC by the Yankees might be their worst faring on this day, but I disagree totally. To me the worst showing on May 14th came just last season when the Rays got shut out at home by the Baltimore Orioles 6-0 and fell to 23-16 on the season.
How could you have imagined a loss on this date when we even had a pitcher who threw 2 No-Hitter’s throwing on this date (Hideo Nomo), plus a clutch hurler known for his Big Game prowess threw twice on this date(James Shields ) and a future Rays sweat-inducing closer (Esteban Yan) could not help this team muster a win. From Springer to Davis, the Rays have turned to 10 different pitchers and still we have been winless on this date.
I have attended all 12 of those losses, but I will not be in Toronto tonight for the lucky 13th try at victory on this date. I was in the stands in Kauffman Stadium for their first May 14th loss, and even caught the Casey Blake Home Run ball in their 10th inning Walk-Off loss back in 2004. It was a sick feeling watching former Rays closer Lance Carter peer up at me as I clutched that ball, but it was hit straight at me on a line…an unfortunate present for the day. Some say I should have dropped the ball, but it seemed like a destined shot, and fulfilled a nice deletion from my baseball Bucket List.
Even the promise of a former Rays First Round Draft pick named Dewon Brazleton could not muster a win on this date, but he did come close as the Rays only lost by a solo run to the Toronto Blue Jays (7-6). And it is a bit ironic the Rays take on these same Jays today. Especially since they hold a 3-0 record against the Rays on this date, it would be extra special for the team to finally put an end to this streak in Canada.
Springer, Kevin Witt, Yan, Travis Harper, Brazelton, Paul Abbott, Nomo, Casey Fossum, Shields and Davis have all gone to the hill wanting victory, but have seen the game’s gasp go to the opposition. I hope on this 13th try, when I will not be in attendance for the first time on this date….a win finally comes to this team. It would be a glorious present, and one I would cherish always. Who doesn’t want a win posted on their special day.
“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man-made New Years resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on a strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards.” – G K Chesterton
As we venture towards the approaching cusp of the New Year, I am reminded why teams like the Tampa Bay Rays do not make their New Year’s resolutions known. Maybe it is that realistic fact that the tricky part of it all is sticking to the resolution once the Sun takes it apex on January 1st. Maybe it is hard for some within the franchise to admit that this franchise is another year “older or wiser”,that they are blinded by the shining clarity that the loftier the resolution, the tougher it is to hang onto as the year unfolds. It takes steely nerves to live by what you divulge and resolve past the first day.
The resolutions I am noting today are just observations, translations or possible seasonal revelations that the Rays organization could encompass in their bag of New Years resolutions. Each of these 3 resolves have a different demographic target that currently lies within the existing Rays Republic community. One resolve would pay a visual homage to our ever-expanding Rays past while another bring into the light a culinary segment that is exploding around Tampa Bay. The third is a possible revisiting of a past “perk” by the Rays Front Office that might seem minimal to some, but has left a small segment of the Rays Republic wondering what their overall value is to this franchise.
Let Them Eat:
The first resolve is for the possibility of the Rays and their concessionary vendor Centerplate to unify and take a bold step in the concession stand black hole and make one of their Trop locations ( Centerfield Street) become a “pop-up” stand. Using the current fad of “pop-up” restaurants, the Rays and Centerplate could have a different local eating establishment come in and provide a different food concept or gastronomical experience. Think Monstah Lobster during a Red Sox visit. Short-term catering options that could trend with visiting team’s locales or even bring a certain culinary air of the unknown Tampa Bay regional cultural nuances.
I am one of those people who miss the American Sunday Plate concession stand where Chef Enzo and his wife on Rightfield Street. I miss their signature homemade peach/apple cobbler, meatloaf, mac and cheese and that special finger-licking bucket of ribs. Why not see if some of the local Tampa Bay fringe eateries might want to venture into the Trop for a 10-game home stand catering venture with 4 signature dishes, a few sides and possibly even a devilish dessert. Centerplate do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the Everglades BBQ experience in 2011, but maybe I just hunger for more. This franchise has been very upfront in the past promoting their sponsor restaurants with vigor, but has it generated the capital for the sponsor that was envisioned? A short-term “pop-up” even for 10 games could get fans to sample the goods of a local eatery like the Z-Grille, and bring in fans post-game to again dine on those fares featured in the Trop (Dr. Pepper ribs).
This could open up a new customer base for these small restaurants, and maybe the Rays can incorporate another growing food fad into the mix. Maybe an olive branch could be extended to the budding food truck community ( Fire Monkeys) who are gaining a sizeable foothold in the Tampa Bay region and the food could be another way for the team to get those fringe Rays prospective fans into the stadium and let the way this team plays entice them to come back again and again. To me it sounds like a gastronomical “win-win”, but the potential fo even a slight attendance boost is a tasty side dish for me.
Perks Worth Revisiting:
My second resolve is for the Rays to take a firm stand and combat the mounting Season Ticket Holder apathy aliment that is gaining legs. It was not so long ago this segment of the Rays Republic had some special perks besides their seat discounts and gifts that made it worth the 81-game investment. Now it seem the trinket cupboard is bare and some long time Rays Republic Season Ticket members have decided to explore game packages and small allotments of tickets as opposed to footing a huge upfront financial investment into the team. The foundation is not crumbling, but it does have a few cracks.
I have heard from some Rays Fan Wall of Fame members who wish for the golden days (pre-Stu) when we got all of the promotional items so we did not have to fight the 5:10 masses to get our Rays trinkets. We even got the under-15 selections which went great for giving gifts to younger friend’s kids, planting a seed to them becoming future Rays fans. I used to get my promotional item when the gates opened, hold onto it and see if a young fan was sitting in my section who did not get an item and I would give it to them knowing I had one coming to me later in the season via the yearly Season Ticket perk. There is still one mid-season event I wish the team would bring back again. I loved the All-Star Celebration parties held on the turf with food, games and the All-Star game telecast on the big screen as we all lounged on the field either on blankets or chairs eating take-out food. bought beverages or provided eats and just having that special Rays All-Star united experience.
It was a great event held before the era of Stu back on July 12,2005 and July 11, 2006. This is one of the yearly Rays events I have missed the most, more for the chance to mingle with Rays fans than for the simple fact of sitting down in Centerfield and looking upwards to the Teflon roof of the Trop. I still have vivid images in my mind of the phrases on those Rays invites stating: “You are our Most Valuable Player” (2005) or “Season Ticket Holders will take over the Trop!” (2006) These events used to make me feel like a small important cog of the Rays machine. Now I feel more like replaceable oil that can be changed at a moment’s notice.
Shining Examples of the “Rays Way”:
The third resolve could easily be done. It just takes a solid decision and possibly a can of paint and a brave maintenance man. I went to Dallas for the Super Bowl a few years ago and had my breath taken away when I witnessed the Cowboys Ring of Honor in person. Not only does it convey the importance of that player in the team history, but it symbolized a team and fan’s love and ultimate respect for their former heroes and role models from the gridiron. I think the Rays need just that same symbolic example of honoring their past now that we are entering our 15th season.
It could be included on the facade of the 200 or Club Level of seating starting outward on either side of the current Press Box locations. There is more than enough space for future additions as the list grows towards the corners, plus even if the Rays do finally commit to a new home, it can be incorporated into the plans and just be re-instituted in the new venue. Without a shadow of doubt the Rays “Yoda”, Don Zimmer has to be the first name etched in this collection of great Rays. Some might say it should be Wade Boggs or even Fred McGriff who grace the honorary ring first, but to me Zim has all the prototypical Rays qualities you want both from a on-the-field, and in-the-seats standpoint. Top to bottom he is a Tampa Bay resident, a role model and a wealth of baseball stories, knowledge and experience worth of such an honor.
Well, these are my 3 possible 2012 resolves for the Rays as the New Year beams brighter upon the horizon. Some will say I should have addressed the Rays impending on-the-field issues and left these sleeping dogs lie, but I take great pride in my past, present and future dealings with this great franchise and think that sometimes things need to be instituted, re-invented or brought back to life to make being a member of the Rays Republic special again. These 3 resolves can be achieved, they can be enacted and they can be turning point to regaining some of the lost beams of light that have escaped the brilliance of the Rays Republic.
In advance, I wish all my loyal readers and those who stumble upon my writs a grand celebration tonight on this New Year’s Eve. I also wish you safety and the courage of resolve in seeing your own personal resolutions blossom into beautiful bouquet of obtainable goals and life aspirations.
HAPPY NEW YEARS from Rays Renegade
It just will not have the same vibe or be the same without him down in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Something just seems so wrong about Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos not sitting right in front of the Bullpen enforcer Scott Cursi telling tales to Cursi and Rays Security Guard Grady. The Bullpen has lost its special mojo, it’s worldly moving and grooving to it’s own invisible beat.
I am truly going to miss seeing my baseball buddy Ramos when the Rays come home for their last regular season home stand. It just seems like forever that Ramos again came back into the Rays fold and has stood and talked to me and other Rays fans, but Ramo’s health should be our first concern. For a healthy Ramos is a dancing Ramos, and the “Sugar Bear” has that special Salsa groove going on down there.
Some of the Rays Republic might not have been in tune with the upper respiratory infections and ailments Ramos has been battling for most of the 2011 season. The degree of their severity has made Ramos miss multiple games, and taken him away from the Rays sidelines a few times this season. His ailments have taken Ramos away from the guys he loves hanging around nightly down in the Bullpen, and away from adoring fans who shout out his name at all points in the game.
Gone will be that special impromptu dancing of “the Motorcycle”, vacant from our eyes will be the playful joy and excitement Ramos expelled nightly in his role as the Rays Bullpen Coach. When there was not a Rays reliever warming up on the mound, Ramos held court like no one else. His overly aggressive mannerisms huge laugh and spontaneous motions made every Rays game worth the price of admission for me. I enjoyed every moment of watching, listening and knowing another side of the Sugar Bear.
When the Rays held their recent “Tweet In”, Ramos had just come back off another bit of rest and relaxation for an upper respiratory situation and was feeling not 100%, but more than excited to again patrol the Bullpen Mound. He was anxious to again hold court with Rays fans who always make a pilgrimage to the Rays Bullpen to see him and just chat for a moment. I have come to realize over the last several seasons, Ramos has always been more than just a Coach in the Bullpen, Ramos is that glue that binded this motley crew together.
During the “Tweet In” I sat right between Ramos and Cursi and we talked a bit about the medication mix-up, the nasty bouts of coughing and how Ramos felt an absolute discomfort like one of his players was sitting upon his chest when he laying down at night. Every tales and story told made me want to just put my hand upon Ramo’s barrel chest and purge the demon seed out of him forever.
Over the last few seasons my baseball friends list has dwindled down to a handful, with Ramos and Cursi on the top tier of that list. To me Ramos is the Rays Bullpen. His comedic routines and even his playful catcher’s stances made me smile and chuckle even in the most intense Rays game moments. When the Rays clinched their 2010 American League East title, Ramo came down to the corner with champagne in hand to celebrate with his “other” baseball family. That to me left an impression that will never fade
In the end my baseball friend is one of a small handful of people I have the utmost respect for within this Rays organization. Bright side is that Ramos is getting healthier. I have heard more than once over the past few years that Ramos will be calling it a day and hang up his uniform for good possibly within the next couple of years. I truly hope and pray to every deity in this universe that Ramos come back again, for at least a “Sugar Bear Farewell Tour” in 2012.
Heck, some of the short discussions I had with Ramos down by my seat before games were some of the best in my professional and personal life. So hearing that he is not going to be at the Trop for the season finale, but lounging back in Miami with his family relaxing and resting getting fit and healthy again. I am glad Ramos is recovering. So happy someone finally has pinpointed that dastardly bug or virus that has plagued Ramos for many a Rays road trip, especially when they ventured into cooler climates.
I am saddened that Ramos is miss all this great drama and watching this post season magic unfold from usual Bullpen throne. That text messages, phone calls and a big television screen will be as close as he can get to watching this magical run come to fruition. If the Rays do make the post season it will still hold untold magic for me, but I will miss enjoying it with a friend who has always made sure I was doing fine, and life was treating me right.
I know right now you are probably relaxing down in Miami, talking with old friends, surrounded by loved ones and just feeling groovy. You know I wish you the best old friend, but the games do not seem the same without your special touches. Get well my baseball friend, the Rays Republic seems smaller without you.
I remember reading Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” as a teenager and was totally fascinated with the simple idea of a group of people possibly starting at a point in this country and tracing their steps back to their own senses of reality in their current hometowns. So when I got the opportunity for a job where I would fly to another location and possibly do a trans-continental trip….with pay, you know I took it without regret.
So last Sunday I got on a silver bird and flew to that city that the rock ballad group Journey calls home, and set my adventure into motion. But before I could get to that “city by the bayyyyy“, I had to make a drop into Dallas/Fort Worth to change birds. I guess the seagull that got om Tampa to Dallas had other plans on this Sabbath Day.
In this city that boasts how big things are, the strangest thing happened. I found the most adventurous ride of my life outside of the premise of an amusement park, or Disney’s Space Mountain. Who knew besides the thousands of Super Bowl fans who flocked in on birds of their own that this airports tram system was such an E-ticket ride.
Seriously, it bucked, chucked and possibly threw me off all in the span of a few air side terminals. It was the most fun I have ever had outside the amusement arena, and I truly loved it. After that even the Shuttle driver with the hot brake foot and the bad rear shocks on his van seemed like a petty imitation, or worse, a disappointment. But I finally arrived in the 1970′s era looking SFO airport and was onto my first adventure.
Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio Network Pre-game host read a Facebook plant by me and exploded with places and things I had to do while camped out in the “other” bay area. From going to the old haunts of the San Francisco Seals, to standing outside AT&T Park banging to be let in,I was in a city that showed me respect, manners and even a bit of oddity.
I even hit a few establishments mentioned by Herrera and hoisted a few to the loss of Jayne Russell and Duck Snider last night. I even think I saw celebrity chef Chris Constantine slurping a back bacon ice cream cone, but San Fran is full of those chef types. So this morning as the rest of the city was just waking from a long night’s catnap, I ventured in my mobile of choice back to my Florida nirvana hoping for the Kerouac moment.
The day started with me missing my cut-off towards the South and I accidentally went approximately 9 miles die North of intended turn target and got to learn the great freeway entrance stop light adventure. Let me just cut to the chase and tell you there is a guy in a maroon Kia Soul who is still cursing my existence.. Seems in California, this light is for EACH auto, not the whole line…..I wish I had a Oregon tag on the car, then he could blame Portland.
Finally I got my bearing straight and began to head towards the smog-congested mountain tops that had kissed my morning “hello” over the last few days. I was excited for a closer look to see if this region actually had snow, or some one had spray-paint tagged the summits. But before I reached those ice cream shaped domes of snow, I went past the most beautiful sight so far on this trip.
No, it was not Sandra Bullock or Anne Hathaway, it was a water-filled retention lake that was being kissed by a line of clouds, simple breathtaking. I of course could not get a photo of this since the road had no shoulder, and my trusty camera was still in the trunk.
But soon I was in a valley where the air had the pleasant aroma of almonds, with trees a bloom with buds of pinks and off-white. It was at this time I made my first encounter with two Indian ( not Native American) gentleman in a Shell station perched high upon a hill over looking a possible 100 mile stretch of budding plants and bee boxes.
They then told me about the region and its “exports”, which also included a grand one pound bag of Habenero-dusted pistachios that they presented to me as a gift. I decided to also splurge on a pound of glorious almonds with the chances of having an accident with a chocolate bar sometime in the evening ( has not happened yet). But I left that Shell station in the heavens and continued on my odyssey.
I must had traveled 2 hundred miles before a crop duster seemed to want to “buzz my tower” as the vibrations of the small one-seat plane shook the car as he leveled to deliver a crushing blow of chemicals to the unfortunate pests invading this field. But it was cool to see that the grand old art of applying pesticides from the air was still vogue.
But I had a mountain to climb. And even as my new car ( which had 31 miles on it that a.m. tried to make it up the massive mount, I could see trucks and auto pulling trailers engine’s begin to wheeze, cough and sputter as they tackled this grand rocky monument. I was amazed at the snow still kissing the top tier of the mountain, but also mesmerized by the sheer size of the cutting into the mountain needed to bring such a highway to life.
I finally got to the top and took my exit towards the city of Lancaster and again gazed in wonder as the field at Clear channel Stadium, where the Lancaster Jethawks play was so green, while the rest of the city had that rustic clay look and feel to its turf. Was great to view that ballpark in all its green glory before setting out into the semi-desert ringed by more majestic snow-capped mountains.
Slowly I made my way past the odd blue-hued sage brush and dust that seemed to rise into the air and form a wall around the car towards the town of Victorville, California. But first I had to traverse a road that was plagued by “flooded” signs with massive puddles of rain runoff still sticking to the sides of the road just out of the reach of the tall cactus trees wanting a tasty aqua break.
As I got near my hotel, a High School came into view and there on the side of the corner was the biggest Ray-hawk motif I had ever seen. The kid had to have pounds of product in that Mohawk to even get it to not sway in the slight cross breeze. Again, the dastardly camera had been left out of reach and when the light turned green, a car behind me impatiently wanted me to move or die….not sure which?
I checked into my room, popped onto the Internet, took care of some mail, giggled a bit at a television show I missed, but recorded and set about downloading the days actions into my mind again. The Indian’s generosity, the purely nirvana scene of water and clouds meeting, then the oddity of snow and desert in the same photo. But I got one last surprise as I ventured into a store called Vallarta and found a Hispanic paradise that Florida really needs to invest in.
I got some awesome spicy Menudo and a few other Mexican-based dishes for dinner and set about on the quest for a food comma to put me to bed for another grand journey in the morning. With a belly full of hotel furnished waffles and great California OJ, I will leave this town that reminds me of Mexico City ( but without the crime) and head into the reaches of Arizona.
Tomorrow night it will be Tucson, and I can’t wait to see what the karma Gods have in store for me tomorrow……I hope Kerouac is jealous up there about this trip, because I am fulfilling my own “journey to enlightenment” here. But with gas in the boondocks of Cali topping the $ 4 mark. this m ight be the only time in my life to take such a trip…..unless you have 6 Lotto number for me?
I once heard famous comedian and philanthropist Bob Hope speak this line at a USO Show so many moons ago, “If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
Charity and giving back to my community whether I was living in the Tampa Bay community or in Seattle has always been at the core of my personality. I am that guy who actually rolls down the window and gives my last dollar out of my wallet to someone in need. You want to say it was the way you were brought up, or those Sunday School verses and stories finally clicked within your subconscious.
The reality is that all my life I have been extremely lucky and not had to worry for much. Even as I am now entering my third year of full-time unemployment, with my retire fund raided and bare like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, I still give of myself whenever possible. Some call it “paying it forward”, other just know it as treating my fellow man as I want to be treated.
I have decided that over the course of the next week, I am going to try and relay a few stories of inspiration and charity between the Tampa Bay community and people who hail from this region. Some are great stories that you might never hear if not for this small voice of mine. While others have been broadcasted in their regions and might have slipped your ears.
Charity to me is not a “hand out” or even a “hand up”, it is the sign that we respect humanity and want to show our compassion or unity for a cause or ideal. In a span of 14 days I will have volunteered for two different Major League Baseball player’s charity golf tournaments, plus another local human interest fundraiser.
Maybe a bit of my parents did rub off on me to want to give of myself like this, but the reality is that I am only a sliver away from some of this same charity being thrust upon me. Possibly it is that stark reality that I have been to the top of the mountain in my field and also been tossed into the pits of despair that the sheer act of charity resonates with me so loud and clear.
Once I was in the same position as so many MLB players that I was able to give generously and without regard, but now my services are all that I have to volunteer. Heck, I know a few people with the Tampa Bay Rays who I have pestered and annoyed over the years letting them know I am available 24/7/365 right now to help in any venture, event or even just lend a hand when needed.
Some of those responses have been “Thank you, but we have it handled“, while others have opened their arms and let me do what I do best…work up a sweat and give until I am tired. But like I said in a Tweet this week, “I am tired, but it is a good tired”.
The reason for this post today is that the NFL’s championship game, the Super Bowl, is always a visually reminder that Spring and baseball are just beyond the horizon. Pitchers and Catchers will take the field in less than 10 days and our thoughts will pull towards the game and not those less fortunate. That is why I hope and wish that all of us can take a moment out in the next 10 days to provide an inspiration, a great smile or even some hard work towards helping someone else.
As I have grown older the art of charity and giving has become more focused in my life. Called it the wisdom and sage advice of an advancing human, or simple just the ramblings of a closet hopeless romantic, but I do not have to “go Green” to give back to this Earth. I just have to cherish those who also walk along with us on this journey. So let me get back off this soapbox, park myself back in front of this laptop and begin to think of ways to make all of you want to travel the path I will over the next 10 days.
Bob Hope was wise man. There has to be a balance within ourselves of charity and humility for us to grow, mature and even have the respect and admiration of the masses MLB players can give a percentage of their yearly salaries, but those who are not working, or even homeless can only give of themselves. Since I began with a quote, maybe I should end with another quote that resonates through me daily:
“The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. ” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Every Christmas Eve it has become customary over the last several years for me to wander through the pages of MLBlogs and take a journey into the Christmas minds of some of our great bloggers. This year my adventures turned up several great redux renditions of the Christmas classic poem “T’was The Night Before Christmas“, and I even found a few Holiday “Wish Lists” searching for wins, the postseason and an eventual ring for 2011.
As I was traveling through MLBlogs, I thought to myself, “Self, what would be the ultimate Christmas All Holiday baseball squad?”
I somehow answered my own question immediately in my mind and began to seek the right combination of Christmas-based characters both human and cartoon to field such a Holiday squad. I ventured back into the cobwebbed recesses of my past favorite memories on film and television.
Let me tell you that sometimes even Wikipedia can’t help as I entered into a vision quest to determine the right pairing of 10 players and coaches for the Polar Express. Being that we will be playing in the North American Winter League, I have instituted the Designated Santa on my team. I think this squad has the right hint of animation and human elements to make this team a winner.
I decided that the only person who could be the starting pitcher for the Polar Express had to be Charlie Brown. His classic Christmas TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first hit the CBS airwaves way back in 1965 and was an instant hit with kids of all ages. I thought Brown was my perfect holiday pitcher because of his vast past experiences pitching.
Of course I did balk at the chance that Brown could somehow be suddenly de-clothed by a sharp liner up the middle after he hangs one of his patented mid-80′s curve balls. Brown has the uncanny fortitude to throw hard and long into games for the Express.
I did not have to think long and hard about the right guy to catch for this team. I did however need someone who had some brawn and might be dumb enough to sit back there and be ready for anything coming off the fingertips of Charlie Brown. I considering all the positive and negative variables and kept with my first impression that Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” was the man for the job. “Christmas Vacation” first hit movie houses back in 1989 and became an instant classic for it’s off beat humor and odd but familiar family gathering situations. Eddie is a pretty big guy, and he looks like he could block the plate like an ice sheet.
Now that you have seen my pitcher/catcher battery, I decided that this team will not need any relief pitchers since it might have the 10-run rule in effect going into the 5th inning knowing the way Charlie Brown pitches to batters’. So let’s get you now acquainted with the 5 infielder I selected for my All Holiday team.
I wanted to get a guy who has some solid baseball experience to man the First Base bag. We needed a solid guy to protect the line and can post up correctly on the bag if the ball gets hit into the infield. I chose a guy who owns a few minor league ball clubs in real life as my first bagger. I think he can do the job with a flair, and if not, provide a comedic relief maneuver or two while out hugging the bag.
I decided to with Francis Xavier Cross from the film “Scrooged“. I have always thought this was a awesome Nuevo take on the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The film originally hit theatres back in 1988, and is still one of my favorite comedy movies for the holidays. I think that Bill Murray captured the perfect sarcastic essence of a socially detached Scrooge, and his comic genius shows brilliantly through in this adaptation.
I wanted a Second Baseman who could be as quick as a rabbit (or bunny). He needed to have that rifle arm and accuracy to get the double play, or to cover the bag when Cousin Eddie launches a rocket to tag out a rambling polar bear trying to steal a base to get into scoring position. I with smart Ralphie Parker from “A Christmas Story” to play second base for me. The movie has been another holiday appetizer since its original screening date in 1983. Wonder if I can talk Ralphie into asking his Dad if he wants to sell that lamp yet?
In the film, Ralphie showed the type of moxie I want on Second Base who is smart enough to think on the fly to either talk about the notorious leg lamp, or just be quiet as a mouse. He also has the determination and spunk to keep pestering his parents for that Red Ryder BB gun. Hopefully the ball coming in hard and fast from Cousin Eddie from behind the plate will not put his eye out.
My Shortstop has to be extra agile and have smarts to think on his feet at the same time. He has to be able to use his internally cold instincts to decide if the throw should be made, or possibly cover second as the pivot man on a ball hit to the first base side of the bag.
I think, that Hermie, the dentist elf from “Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer” would be the perfect guy to man the hole position for the Express. He showed remarkable smart judgment during the TV special, which first hit the networks in 1964. And with over 46 years of intelligent moves, Hermie should be a valuable addition to the squad.
Playing third, I had to find a big guy who could move laterally and go blindly into foul territory for pop-ups. He also had to have some horizontal versatility towards the chalk on the left-field line. He had to be a power hitter to help produce runs and add some protection for our little squad. It had to be a movie character from the couple of years to add some youthful vitality and vigor.
My Third Baseman had to have the energy and the motivation to add to this teams awesome charismatic chemistry. The personality that fit like a glove perfectly to me was Buddy from the movie “Elf.” He has the comedic chops to take one for the team and would sacrifice his body. His quick wit and glove along with his power stroke should provide more than a few Kodak moments as his long high drives make it over the high walled snow fences.
My choice for Left Field could not have two-left feet. He has to have the agility and the coordination of an athlete, plus run like a deer. He had to be sure footed and be able to dance in the outfield while chasing down flares and dying quails. The guy who I think would be a model Left-Fielder for this squad was George Bailey of “It’s A Wonderful Life“. I just hope George remembers to put some extra Zuzu petals in his uniform pants pockets before he takes the field. We know they are magical.
I needed to find a shrewd and sometimes calculating Center fielder. Someone who could snipe a base runner who made a mistake, or tried to score on his arm. I needed someone with a huge heart who would run and run all over the field and get the ball where ever it was on the field.
I needed someone who could exhibit some sense of emotion even if he is a problem-child at times, but plays the game on the team’s level too. For that reason, I picked Grinch from the movie “The Grinch“. I wanted someone who could go from bad to good in a heartbeat. If he did make a bad play, or a questionable action on or off the field, I could just say it was the “Grinch just being the Grinch”.
I wanted to find a Right-Fielder who was not be afraid of the snow wall, or of sprinting towards a pop-up down the icy foul line. I wanted to see a nice combination of horizontal or vertical movement towards the failing sphere. He needed to have a rifle arm and a uncanny wit about him to keep base runners honest on the base paths.
I chose Ernest from “Ernest Saves Christmas“. This 1988 sequel, to a sequel, to a sequel kept a long line of profitable movies going for over a decade. We needed that kind of staying power in our Right Field. A streak like that can be contagious on a team. If the team has that kind of confidence, they will go above expectations and strive to be the best in the Winter League.
I needed a huge lovable character who could also slam the tar out of the ball for this spot in the lineup. Someone who evokes the bit of charm and the joy of the big guy himself. He had to be able to belly up to the plate and hit it a mile, or at least to the South Pole with his swing.
The guy I picked for this position has been cranking out several installments of his own movie franchise. I picked Scott Calvin as my Designated Santa from the movie, “The Santa Clause“. That kind of confidence and staying power will be needed in the clutch for this team. It also helps protect the younger hitters on the team by showing the power and the possible results of pitching to this Christmas giant.
First and Third Base Coaches’
Now that we have finished with the fielding and Designated Santa position, let’s meet the two extraordinary base coaches’ selected for the Polar Express. Both come with their own sets of particular unique in-game behaviors, and both can help base runners and hitters alike in the game situations.
First Base Coach:
Over in the First Base box we have a guy who can make the ball seem to “freeze” in mid-air. He was instrumental in teaching players how to hit frozen ropes down the line for extra bases hit for the 2010 Express. This Coach has been described as a cold hearted soul, who can always melt you with just his smile.
His cunning direction and cool nature makes him the perfect First Base Coach for this team. I am talking about the always cool cat known as the Snow Miser. He was in the 1974 classic movie ” A Year Without Santa Claus“, and has been giving icy banter to opposing players for years. His cold demeanor is legendary. He uses his cold hard facts to make the opposition freeze in their tracks while trying to diving for low balls or foul pop-ups hit by the Polar Express. He is the kind of guy you do not want nipping at your nose, and the perfect Coach for this team.
Third Base Coach:
Our Third Base Coach is a Christmas Hall of Fame legend. He had been blazing the trail like a beacon in the night for years pioneering the use of unique signals and well placed lighting to facilitate the proper transfer of anticipated moves and pre-arranged actions to Polar Express base runners’ and batters’.
His expert knowledge of reindeer games and his leadership expertise is unparallel in the Winter League. I am talking about the brilliant Rudolf. Since his first sighting on televisions in 1964, he has been leading a lighted path for children and players alike to the real spirit of Christmas.
His classic “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special is a holiday necessity that is even today without an equal. It is for that reason that he should be the perfect choice as the Third Base Coach for this high-powered squad of Christmas icons. Without Rudolf showing us the way on Christmas, we would be blinded by the darkness and might end up losing our way around the base paths.
It has been a great pleasure today giving you some of my All Time Christmas iconic players that had to take the field for this special squad.
There certainly will be your own thoughts and rationale for extra additions and subtractions of certain characters to this team, but unless these selected All Holiday baseball players moving on, or are retiring to the celluloid and video vaults, the true essence and the spirit of this team will live on forever in our hearts and minds……………………..
Merry Christmas to everyone in the MLBlogs.com community and beyond!!
Last night I decided to do some channel surfing and came upon a movie on TNT making it’s network debut. The movie was “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as two aging gentlemen who were given only months to live. As I watched this film, it got me eagerly thinking about my own Tampa Bay Rays “Bucket List” and some still unsatisfied opportunistic goals I still want to achieve before I wander away from the Rays community for the last time.
Freeman then told Nicholson the second part of the Egyptian equation, “Did you give JOY in your life? ” Now I am going to answer those two questions in relationship with my Rays lifetime experiences, and hopefully I can some day be admitted past the turnstiles some day in a celestial Rays game. In returning to these events, even within my mind I am hoping the emotions and excitement of those activities do not get the better of me and I begin to wax to poetic like a babbling moron.
Did you have JOY in your (Rays) life?
But the true joy I have had in the last 13 years following this team has come from the people I have gotten to know over that period. From the Rays Fan Host who took my ticket on the first day, and who still works with the Rays, to a duo of Rays facility employees who stopped on Roosevelt Blvd and picked me up, then gave me a ride home after the Rays airport experience in October, it has been one glorious rollercoaster ride.
I gotten the chance to watch a single player (Carl Crawford) develop as a Rays prospect, then be promoted to the Major League level and achieve All Star status, before sadly also witnessing his last at bat and time pulling on his Rays uniform during Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series. Been privy to amazing stories and discussion with a host of Rays players past and present who I consider baseball friends. Once even asked Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to be my best man, but then found out my fiancée was a closet pinstripe fan.
Have experienced the joy of catching foul balls during the game. Be granted the opportunity to share precious moments on and off the field with players, coaches and other Rays fans that will always be high on my list of accomplishments of my Rays life. Always been blessed to be around the great Rays fans and friends who made the time and games more memorable and special. Have gained friendships within the Rays front office and with former Rays staffers that will last a lifetime, even if the Rays dreams ends.
Can definitely say I have had more than a bucketful of joy in my life when it comes to following, covering and enjoying the Rays. And it might seem funny to write this right now with so much other adventures and events still to unfold that I have not seen, but one moment the 2010 Rays season is definitely shining brighter than the rest right now. It was right after the Rays clinched their 2010 postseason berth that the players began to walk down the First Base line thanking the fans that the moment presented itself.
Again, it was my longest tenured baseball friend with the Rays who again brought an untold amount of joy to me as Cursi appeared between the handshakes with a few Rays players to present me with a full bottle of Domaine ste Michelle champagne for me to enjoy the moment. It is not that Cursi brought me a bottle of adult beverage, but the pure fact that he remembered me with all of this celebration and joyous occasions going on all around us that he thought of me. I then spread the joy of the moment by letting a few of my surrounding Rays friends also taste the nectar of the Gods and also become a part of this joyous moment.
Did you give JOY in your (Rays) life?
I truly hope I did. This is one aspect of that total ancient Egyptian formula that could be more subject to my own stern interpretations of my actions . Hopefully the moments I have taken to field Batting Practice balls and hide them in my backpack to give to kids attending their first baseball game adheres to this provision. That by my relationship with a few of the Rays players, I have given some young Rays fan joy when I stopped them and asked them to either ay “hello” or sign for them as their eye grew bigger.
That the way I have produced facts, figures and vocalized untold stories about this team or even a singled out player has provided an ounce of joy for another fan or even a opponent’s fan who became delighted by the fight and desire of this Rays squad. Sure I have seen the bright smiles and awestruck looks of children when I present them with a ball. Have also seen the same facial expression of people my own age who were attending their first baseball game and I somehow magically procured a game used baseball for them to clutch and remember in the privacy of their own homes and joyous lives.
Or maybe it was the moment I gave a young Rays fan who’s family was moving to Alabama a special going away gift that she would not forget. She was an avid B J Upton fan, so I gave her a game used Rays road jersey autographed by Upton which featured the old “Tampa Bay” emblazoned on the front of the jersey. That way she can never forget where her baseball heart lies… in Tampa Bay.
Hopefully there has been people who have read my passages since September 2007 that has awaken their baseball love, or provided them with a way to relive a moment in words and paragraphs when they could not attend or see the events themselves. And I really hope that a few of the photos taken over the last few years of Rays concerts and game day photos has provided some extra spots of joy or appreciation to someone online who lives far away, or wishes they could have attended the events themselves.
Do I truly think I have achieved the two aspects of the Egyptian equation to be considered for entry into the afterlife based on my Rays life? I honestly do not see it as my place to set that bar or even approach that level right now in my Rays life. There is still so much to see and do that could have the scales weighing to and from for a long time until I have to consider this in person before those gates.
They say that karma always is a never ending circle fo events and moments that enter and exit each of our lives. Forver we are in an endless game of flux with the scles always rising or lowering with our actions and reactions. The aspect of having or even giving joy has always had a centerline somewhere within my life, but never as tranfixedand focused as in my Rays life. I guess the Rays knew what they were doing when they named my persona for the Wall of Fame plague. Because even before that Wall of Fame induction moment I always imagined myself as “Mr. Lucky” when it comes to this Rays team.
His defensive instincts and cat-like reflexes have more than a few folks around the game of baseball comparing him to the first “human vacuum” and Baseball Hall of Fame member Brooks Robinson. Even more remark how his bat is still young and could develop into am modern day Mike Schmidt at the plate in less than a few years. With such high praise as this surrounding his name, it is no wonder we are celebrating him this afternoon.
For about two minutes ago the official announcement came forth that Tampa Bay Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria has won his second Rawlings Gold Glove Award in two seasons….and rightfully so. The young Rays corner infielder might just be starting a trend of dominating at the “Hot Corner” for a long, long time.
Amazing how three years ago this same former “Dirtbag” came up after an injury to Willy Aybar and since that moment has been the most solid member of the Rays revamped defensive core. All that while still learning his craft at the plate and beginning to show a level of play much needed within the confines of his small marketplace. Today Longoria doesn’t have to worry anymore about who stole his cap, a fans will rightfully take his own off his head and offer it to the Rays slugger.
It really doesn’t seem like only three years when Longoria posted up just in front of the Field Turf of Tropicana Field for his first professional start against on Saturday, April 12,2008 against the Baltimore Orioles. Ironically Longoria went 1 for 3 during his Major League debut with a RBI. That was the start of the long awaited Longo phenomenon in Tampa Bay. He did not win a Gold Glove in his rookie season, but he did show the signs of brilliance and agility needed that has blossomed over his past two Rays season at the corner.
In his second season with the Rays in 2009, Longoria only committed 13 errors in 427 total chances and contributed in 43 double play opportunities for the Rays. Remarkably, Longoria has fewer errors in his rookie season (12) but only helped produce 26 double play chances in his 119 games at Third base and one lone start at shortstop for the team. But the firm foundation established by Longoria during his rookie season only helped ferment and illustrate his value to the Rays overall cloak of defense in 2009.
Amazingly in 2010, Longoria hit a career high in errors with 13, but also provided more than a few web gem defensive moment on attempted bunts down the Third Baseline. It became almost trademark in 2010 for Longoria to take a ball barehanded and get the runner with a step or two to spare. His defensive game had elevated itself, and the rest of the baseball world noticed.
In 2010 Longoria set personal highs in innings played (1330.2), putouts (127) and watched his double play number soar even higher (46). I see no stopping or diminishing of Longoria’s defensive abilities for a long time. Longoria might even have a legitimate chance to one day try and match the totals number of Rawlings Gold Gloves by Schmidt (10 ) and Robinson (16)
As the musical group Timbuktu once said in a song lyric “Futures so bright I have to wear shades”. Only problem with that is the image of Longoria behind a pair of mirror shades just hoping you hit it down the line at him so he can rob you of that extra base hit and just give you a smile as you jog back to the bench. I got Longoria to sign a ball for me the day of his MLB debut, and ever since then not only has the ball gained in value, but Longoria’s defensive game has just been…well, Golden.