Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’

Rays Longoria is Simply……Golden Again

 
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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.
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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.

Pitching Strategy..The Rays Renegade Way

 

Kathy Willen/ AP

If you are anything like me at Tampa Bay Rays home games, I can sometimes described as a rabid fan who’s game knowledge sometimes rivals the thought processes of the professionals sitting in the dugout.  I have a tendency to think outside-the-box sometimes, then re-think the game from the comfort of my blue plastic chair out in the Baseline Box seats. Sometimes the fact that our Rays Pitching Coach is still sitting there contemplating a move with his backside firmly on the bench while letting our Rays pitcher get lit up  sometimes drives me beyond the realms of insanity. You want to see something positive happen at that moment, but usually you are rewarded with more questions than answers about a move.

And if you are at home watching in the confines of your own home, there is the added dimension of the broadcasters own opinions and hearing the amplified cheers and jeers in surround sound that can drive you simple batty. So today I decided to maybe just give you a few situational pitching ideals and beliefs I have gathered in my dust-covered memories since I first picked up a ball over 40-some years ago.

Now I am not professing to be a professional pitcher or expert. My ideas might be as ill concieved as some of the MLB Pitching Coaches currently employed around the league. As fans, we always seem to be open to second-guessing pitching decision with every game and every late game scenario, but hopefully some of these “life” accumulated facts and ideas might enlighten some of us with  an extra added supply of pitching information before we yell, scream for the Rays Bullpen to “get someone up” next time. The job is not as clear cut as we all might think it is at times.

I know it is an extremely hard position to be one of the 30 MLB Pitching Coaches. I know I could never do it for a living, but sometimes, even the best of them need to be questioned for their actions, or non-actions in a game. Most post-game interviews are with the team’s Manager, not the Pitching Coach who might have errored in leaving someone to bake on the mound, or pulled someone early. And Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey’s “pitch to contact” style is either viewed as a success or a failure depending on your pitching viewpoint, and if the team is on a winning streak.

But Hickey is actually a “no-win” situation when it comes to the Rays fans. If a Rays pitcher goes out there and performs fantastic, you never hear a question towards the Rays Pitching Coach, just the Rays Manager, Joe Maddon. But either way, as Rays fans, we always have a few unanswered questions in our minds concerning the parameters of why or how a certain pitch or situational pitching scenario unfolds within a Rays game.  Keep totally in mind here I am not trying to portray myself as a pitching guru or saint here,I am trying to give one Rays fan-based Pitching tutorial.

I  still have foggy recollections and vivid memories of situational strategies that I was taught when I was much younger, and could throw a lot harder. So lets begin my little  journey into the simple basics of some pitching strategies. Former Chicago Cubs closer Steven Ellis uses to say that the best way to pitch was to “keep the batter uncomfortable at the plate.” Sounds like a simple method, but isn’t pitching suppose to be more than just about throwing a baseball across a keystone-shaped plate?


Brian Blanco / AP

Well to most baseball fans, that is the basic aspects of the pitching game. It sometimes seems like the ultimate pitchers’ have a tendency to want to place their offerings all over parts the plate and not just biting the corners or high and tight on the hitters. Most fans want to see the power-versus-power battle at the plate like the Roman gladiators, with the player quessing right coming out on top. But that is not always the way  an at bat ends in the major leagues. Sometimes plain old luck can ruin the perfect pitch, or a shattered bat can deliver an infield hit that can easily be converted into an out.

We always wonder what game day thoughts or basic fundamentals might go through a pitcher’s mind when he is out there on the mound.  Some of the simple ideals of  finesse and power pitching can become complicated and diluted if mixed up and turned sideways by a Pitching Coach trying to impliment too much on a young player.

Baseball is a very simple game, but it is the so called ‘experts” in the stands that can make it more difficult. So here are a few of my personal pitching ideals on how to be effective on the pitching  mound. These ideas have come from  the Coaches and Instructors I have known since my first days of Little League at Northwest Youth Center in St. Petersburg, Florida to my college days basking in the sun.

Every baseball fan has a different spin on their own school of pitching philosophy. The below ideals are just a slight hodge podge of the pitching instructions that have stayed within my mind in regard to pitching over the years. Some are very simple, but just like KISS, keeping It Simple Stupid, I can not guarantee toyou that any of these thoughts will transform you into a 20-game winner on the mound. But they are simple ideas taught to me by legions of Coaches who experimented and analyzed their own players over the years. Hopefully some of these suggestions hit home and do not seem to trive and trivial in nature.
 

1) You always want to make the inside of the plate your own. You have to make the hitter at the plate anticipate a possible inside pitch, so you begin by attacking him inside and make him respect the speed on your fastball or the vertical drop on your breaking ball.

2)
Show some of your off-speed stuff early in the game to keep the hitter guessing throughout the contest. You do not get in there and throw a massive amount of breaking stuff because the hitters will quickly get an accurate gauge on your pitch’s timing. But your curveball, change-up, slider and cutter can help you dictate the pace of the game from the mound.

3) Be careful with your change-up. Just because you might think it is the right pitch, you have to mentally adjust to the fact the hitter might be guessing right too. Just because it has worked for you all day doesn’t mean he is not sitting there waiting for it again. The slower it comes in, the faster it will go out if he guesses right.
4)
I was personally partial when I was younger (over 14) to throw a nasty curve ball during 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts. The only reason I did this was that the hitter was usually waiting on a fastball to strike him out. Not that I did not mix it up at times, but it was just my own personal pattern. But it is important for you to develop your own pitching style that synchs with your team’s strong points.

5)
With runners in scoring position, I tried to not let the batter get a good read on my fast ball. A badly placed fastball can unload the bases just as quick as a well placed ball for a third strike for an out. You are not the only one playing this “guessing game”, the batter is also trying to get the right answers to get his guys’ home. Never think you are smarter than the hitter, you might have just been lucky to that point in the game.

6)
Changing the eye level or height of your pitches can be more effective than changing your overall pitch speed. A fastball low and inside followed by a curve up by the chest changes the batter’s depth perspective on your incoming pitches. It can also open up the outside corner for a nice breaking ball to get that hitter walking from the plate shaking his head. Always leave him guessing, Always leave him questioning himself on that long walk to the bench.

7)
I personally loved to throw a 2-seam fastball on either the first pitch, or during counts like 1-0,2-0,2-2, or 3-2. It might seem predictable, but if placed right, it should be an effective pitch. To me, a breaking ball on 3-2 is too risky unless you have no one on base at the time or someone prone to taking a wild swing at times. But it is better to go down in flames with your best stuff than gamble on a breaking ball hitting the plane outside on a full count.

8) One of the worst thing a pitcher can do on the mound is get predictable, even with his first pitch every at bat. By changing the eye height of the pitch and hitting the corners of the plate you can put doubt in the hitter’s mind, and that is your best weapon to defeat him. If you have him guessing or confused, you have already won half the battle.

9)
Everyone always hear the phrase “throw up a zero”, but it is important for team confidence to shut down an opponent after they either score, or you have scored in the game.  The confidence of the guys behind you will make them more relaxed and want to make plays for you. A confident defense is ready to make outs.

10)
This might be the most important one to me. Throughout the game, always remember to adjust, re-focus and make the hitter remember the pitches they saw in previous at bats. When you are facing them the second time, or even third time through the batting order, you still have to out-think them every time. Just because you threw a slider for a first strike last time up doesn’t mean you should do it again. Pitch the game wisely, make the hitter guess right to get anything off you. Do not reward his short-term memory by giving him the same pitch twice at the same part of the count in a game. Make him earn every swing, and every contact.


Chris O’Meara /AP

Those are just my own personal 10 simple ways to develop a simple pitching strategy for a game. I am not a Pitching Coach, or even a Little League Coach, just a fan who played baseball into his mid-20’s and still develops more knowledge about the game s I ge each year. I am simply a Rays fan who has loved the game since I unwrapped my first glove at athe gae of three during Christmas.
 
Even if I am not an amateur or professional Pitching Coach, I can visually focus on good and bad pitching patterns and fundemental delivery errors. With teams in the Major Leagues now actively downloading video and deeply analyzing opposing pitchers’ charts on every probale starter in an upcoming series, it is getting harder and harder to surprise MLB teams.

If your team does employ these basic and simple pitching ideals, it can make the rest of your day at the ballpark flow a bit better. Worst thing about pitching, you can hit all your spots during that day, could be hitting the glove perfectly every time and still lose the contest on one simple mistake or miscalculation. But that is why we play the game.

If it was so simple to play the game professionally, then we would have people like you and me out there hitting and playing the game until we were too old to pick up a bat or field a ball. Some of us evolve to become those “off-the-field” coaches who can ruin even the best games of some of our Rays players in our own minds. I enjoy reading blogs where people question a pitching situation, or even a pitch selection at a certain point in a game. I just hope this short list can give some people a hint of more insight into pitching.

Sometimes even a 10-year veteran pitcher can forget the basics and gets drilled in the process. I do not know who said it, but baseball is a game where we reward people for hitting a batted ball coming in at a high rate of speed a third of the time. And that is so true. Baseball is simple, but it is the fans and sometimes the coaches and players who can make it seem more difficult by muttling up the clear waters.

 
 
 
Post Note: This is my 850th post on MLBlogs.com today. Funny how a refreshing activity to remember why I love to write has transformed into such a great adeventure, and meeting such great baseball friends and fans. I feel blessed every day as I write these blogs.

Vote in Junior for the 2010 All-Star Game



Not sure how to really take the news yet. Might be a bit difficult for the next few days, but time and the countless video and tributes popping up on the Web from his countless legions of Nation-wide Baseball buddies and true fans of the game might ease the pain some what by the end of this weekend. For there is no more joy in SoDo, for the mighty enigma that was Junior has taken off his baseball uniform for the last time.

And as a Rays fan, I should hate Ken Griffey Junior and his Seattle Mariners, but they hold a special place in my heart. Seattle is not the city of my birth, but it was the city of my early youth, and a time when Tampa Bay was only a Spring baseball haven. I should hate Griffey Junior and what his Mariners’ team mate accomplished in the mid-1990’s , their insurmountable wins, the playoff fever, and even the final betray.

How many people outside of this two locales remember the bitter in-fighting for control for their lovable Mariners. How many remember the strife and quick search for a corporation to buy this cherished local icon and keep it in the Emerald City. And how incredible it was that a Japanese company that was based on the video game craze came to their rescue, along with emotional pleas from this great giant Junior who wanted the team to stay in this other “city by the bay”.

I could go on for pages and paragraphs for days on the heroics and the accomplishments of this icon of my generation. Be it his diplomatic mission for the United States, or maybe his ventures back to the city of his birth (Cincinnati) that formulated his middle years. It was this region of teal waters and blue skies that he made his mark. It was here in the Pacific Northwest that Griffey Junior moved out of his father’s giant shadow and brought his own flavor and panache to the game of baseball.


Always playing the game like he was still in his teens, even with countless injuries for reasons to slow down and take it easy. But he did not rest, he did not pout, he just threw out that million dollar smile and that splendid swing to take our breath away when we least expected it. Junior always seemed to keep that little boy in him, and that made him respect and honor the game.

I remember seeing him on the Visitor’s bench at Tropicana Field on May 14th and I called to him for an autograph. He looked tired, a bit drained but I told him it was my 50th birthday and the only thing I wanted was the signature of my generational hero. He chuckled and a friend who works in the Visitor’s clubhouse told him I was alright and he came over bouncing like a kid, smiling and happy at the praise that was raining down on him from the stands.

He did me a square solid, and now it is my turn to return the favor of him taking his time out for me. I propose that we, as a MLBlogs.com community unite and cast numerous ballots between now and the end of the voting period for Ken Griffey Junior for the 2010 All-Star game in Anaheim, California. What better way to show the National respect and honor he has shown us than to get him elected to the 2010 American League All-Star game squad.

And this action might not take much more than being a bit more consistent with our voting power between now and the end of the voting period. Junior is already in second place in the American League Designated Hitters spot for the All-Star game, and our critical votes might just boost him into that coveted slot. Some people say that since he has “retired” he cannot be considered for the position, but I have it on great authority that he can still be selected, and accepted onto the squad.

Can you think of another player in the last 10 years who at the end of his career was still not a pleasure to see on a baseball field than Griffey Junior. The guy is a classic example oft he word “sports icon”. He has been graceful, spirited and totally a true ambassador of the game from Day One to the End. I should have a level of hatred or solid reasoning for not liking Junior because of what he did to ruin a chance for us to field a baseball team before 1998.


But I can’t hate a single bone in his body. Can’t find the reasoning or the seasoning to push him into the dark without wanting to see him again on top and get to say a formal goodbye to 30,000+ of my friends in Anaheim during All-Star week. In an era where cheating took a chemical advantage, his name was never mentioned or spoken about. In a time when distrust and hurt feeling centered all out hearts after the baseball strike, he just stepped to the plate and hit.

Junior is my Michael Jordan, he is my Tim Tebow, he has been that force in the game of baseball that seemed to remain pure and rightious for the sake of the game. Griffey Junior to me for so many years was the game of baseball, but the games will still go on without him.

And the American League pitchers’ no longer have to fear him standing in the On-Deck circle. But I think he needs to put that baseball uniform on one more time, just to see how it feels….during the 2010 All-Star game….Batter up!
 

Mantra of the Game..Renegade style

 

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I am beginning to see what fans from cities like New York, St. Louis and Boston have been talking about now. When your team is sitting on the top of the heap in Major League Baseball, everyone and anyone will take any swipe or swing at your team, especially when you are winning. I am beginning to understand the premise that following one of the top teams in baseball can become a unforeseen double-edged sword.

Members of the Baseball community finally seem to be throwing some deserved praise and admiration towards the Tampa Bay Rays, but you wonder what ulterior motives lies just beneath the surface of their accolades. Are they hoping or praying for a collapse and fall from grace so that they can rake your squad over the hot coals with delight.


In 2008, when the Tampa Bay Rays were making their first venture into the National baseball spotlight after years of suffering in the basement of the American League East, I saw most of this action through a set of horse blinders that kept me focused on the long-term goal. I really did not venture into the side views of scuttlebutt going on just outside the realms of the team’s success. It was a new found Tampa Bay air of success that we had not thought in regards to the Rays before that “Magical Summer of Baseball”.

We had finally seen our Rays climb out of their MLB infancy cocoon and were trying to thrust out their outstretched wings and fly high towards the daylight.


And because of that, I might have kept my unusual sense of naivety, an unknown optimism towards the ultimate possibilities of the Rays squad. But during the 2009 MLB season, the horse blinders came off and opened the scopes of reality to show me that sweat, dirty uniforms and even a “Rays-hawk” might not be enough to post up wins against the monsters in the MLB. Maybe I was being a bit naïve even now to think a Rays team that sports a record like 30-12 could finally get a little slack after just coming out of the Bronx with a few “W’s” to their credit.

And here is where my undying sense of optimism can be tricky, and even prove a bit cumbersome at times.


I can admit that I am riding this recent crest of the Rays wave like a body surfer right now, but then something unexpected comes in and sends you crashing into the depths of the surf. You find yourself fighting the impeding forces against you as endlessly tumble and struggle to get to the surface to catch your breath. Something invisible to your eyes can hit you broadside and force you downward towards the jagged rocks below the waves……

Maybe sometimes I need to remove my Southern sensibilities that taught me to respect and use manners even in difficult circumstances because it defuses the angry and hostility quicker. I was brought up with the old saying that “you get more bees with honey than vinegar”, and to poke a sleeping bobcat is a bad thing.

Maybe not becoming a violent or obscene combatant in a battle of words by not getting right back into someone’s face, or tossing venomous comments at my opponent like a spiting Cobra makes me a weaker adversary.

I do not try to be a stealthy ninja who will sneak in my words or opinions quietly and take out my enemy with a well constructed attack in prose, or a violent commotion with a phrase or passage. It is not in my personality to character assassinate someone, but more in my spirit to dismantle and reassemble some sense of logic ultimately to the conversation. But then again, if you raise your hands to me and never take my kindness for weakness for I am more than capable to go from 0-60 in a nanosecond and thrust you back into your bounds of darkness.

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I am happy being a carefree Southerner, who has an undying intensive love for the greatest game on dirt. I am not happy about team’s losses, but I will not let my subconscious fall unbounded within the unseen darkness to dwell and possibly obsess about an early Fall collapse, or a Rays internal combustion situation in mid-May. Like the surfing analogy, I am riding the Rays wave right now eagerly taking in the positive vibes and energy for as long as this wave takes me. Hoping to somehow provide some solace and sage advice along the way, and not get bashed in the head too many times by pessimistic parasites for being an optimistic old fool.


But that is the thing about this great game of baseball. It can go on for hours and hours forever instantly changing your game day prospective several times during the course of a contest before ultimately handing you either failure or success in the end. But like the proverbial Gulf of Mexico surfer, I do not stress the bad moments, or hinge my ultimate life existence on the extreme possibility of the Rays crashing on the waves, or the jagged rock beneath.

This great game of baseball has ever changing moments that keep your mind and heart coming and going with a continuous ebb and flow experiencing both the Ying and Yang while watching the games, taking black and white images and colorizing themselves in front of our eyes. I will not be that silent samurai who attempts to slays or tries to change public opinion.

I am a baseball fan who keeps my own prospective, understands the limitations of negativity, but ultimately understands the game doesn’t expose its plans to us mortals. My life maybe very intertwined into the expanding fabric of the game of baseball, but ultimately I will dip, slide, glide and do everything possible to stay on top of that surfboard and continue to keep the faith……Hang Loose Dudes!

Rays Photo Homage to Past Celebrity and Musical Guests

 
 
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It is one of those photo collages that takes your breathe away when you first see it. Basically the magnitude of the talent and faces that have crossed within the confines of Tropicana Field is amazing. Sure we might not have Kate Hudson in our stands every night, but she was here when the New York Yankees touched down within Tampa Bay for a few games. And people like John Cusack and author Stephen King have also been known to try and sneak in a Rays game without a lot of attention.

 
But the photo collage on the concourse wall right behind the Home Plate 102-104 sections of seating in Tropicana Field shows just how much music, motion picture stars and great moments we have endured over the last few seasons. From the moment the Rays concluded their November 2007 unveiling of their new logo and uniforms, to the upcoming Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series featuring John Fogerty, the team has shown both talent on the field, as well as on the Concert stage. And the list of artists featured on the wall collage is impressive indeed.

 
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There are currently 28 photo cut and pasted upon this collage section featuring the artists and actors who have made the Rays part of their baseball family. And it all began in November 2007 with the free concert to Rays fans who attended the Rays logo and uniform fashion extravaganza as actor/musician Kevin Costner and his band Modern West brought their own special spin to the festivities. But he was only the beginning. Since that time fellow actors/comedian Paul Rieser ( Mad About You), Chris Rock, Former SNL star/ Impressionist Darrell Hammond, Barry Williams (Greg Brady) last but definitely not least, Bill Murray who we all loved as Carl the Groundskeeper in “Caddyshack” and is a minor league baseball part owner.
 

 
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But there are also local Florida athletes or players who have trained in St. Petersburg in the past who are immortalized on the concourse wall such as former Tampa Bay Buc running back Mike Alstott, Baseball Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie “The Wizard of Oz” Smith and another Oriole great Jim Palmer. The collage also includes NFL Hall of Famer and Tampa Bay Buc legend Lee Roy Selmon , WWE past Champion John Cena and Orlando Magic Center/Power Forward Dwight Howard. Broadcasting and announcing legends both National and Internationally also grace the collage with the addition of ESPN Basketball Guru and 2004 Inductee to the Pepsi Rays Fan Wall of Fame Dick Vitale and the immortal Boxing/Wrestling announcer Michael ” Let’s get ready to Rumble” Buffer.


But also several members of this new display in Tropicana Field either performed the National Anthem or “God Bless America” such as former American Idol David Archuletta, the Backstreet Boys, and Green Day. But most of the rest of the artists posted upon the wall have performed in the Rays popular Saturday Night Concert Series over the last few seasons. Groups such as 3-Doors Down, Pat Benatar, Daughtry, L L Cool J, Flo Rida, Ludacris, and legendary groups the B-52’s and M C Hammer. Who reminded us “When the Devil went out ( of the team name), the Wins came in!”.


 
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Country artists Big & Rich with Cowboy Troy and Trace Adkins also have provided hours of great entertainment to the crowds of Rays fans attending the game, plus who danced in the aisles and landing around Tropicana Field during their music sets. And do not forget there is still some space upon that wall collage that might include this year’s artists, John Fogerty (April 24th), ZZ Top (May 1st), Nelly (May 15th), Hall & Oates (May 29th), the Go-Go’s /Farewell Tour (July 10th), Train (August 14th), Adam Lambert and Orianthi (Sept. 18th), Country Star Dierks Bentley (Sept. 25th) and two other concerts artists not yet announced on June 12th and June 26th.

 
Talent galore has graced both the field and the stages of Tropicana Field in the past, and the future looks even brighter as the Rays thrust again towards the top of the American League East. This photo collage is just a small sampling of the stars and the people within the entertainment field who have either sat within the main bowl of Tropicana Field, or in the Suites and attended Rays games in the past.

 
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The collage is just a great way for the Rays fans to gather and remember and relive these great acts and people as they became members of the Rays lore. So sometimes in the future be sure to wander up the main concourse just to the east of the Rays main elevator system and have your own great flashbacks into these performances or sightings of the great people who also have adorn Rays jerseys and attended games. Some times it is great to look at the past so that we can see just how far we really have traveled since the ultimate changes made in 2007 to the Rays legend, and the way we will remember our moments within Tropicana Field.

 
 
 

Right Game…Wrong Spelling, Wrong Player..Sigh!

 

 
ScottAudette/Reuters

Some people have said that sometimes I can be a bit hard on the National Media. That I am trying to find the problems and the blemishes in their stories and then ripe them wide open from stem to stern by exposing their “problems” throughout the Internet. And to this I respond, “You bet I do!” But I am not trying to be a watchdog or even and advocate for the old school of journalistic integrity I studied in High School and College. I guess it is simple what I desire from the National and local media…..Just a little legwork into your facts, figures and even facial recognition on Tampa Bay Rays players would be greatly appreciated.
 
Take the initial photo description (see below) I found recently on Yahoo.com following last Sunday’s game against the New York Yankees. The first thing that stood out to me honestly is that there are two consecutive spelling errors in the photo explanation, and each concerns the same English word…”pitcher”. I know the agency providing the photographer might be Reuters, which has a more English-based as in the actual country, but here or there I suspect the word is actually spelled the same. I have no idea what a “pticher” is, and according to my handy little Merriam-Webster Dictionary there is no such word presently within the scope of the English language.

And some people will adamantly say I am being a bit overly picky since grammatical and spelling errors happen all the time, even in our own posts. And with that I will agree, but isn’t it a bit odd that it happened twice within the same paragraph and nobody noticed it….maybe until I posted this right now. So here it is for the entire world to chuckle and turn their heads side-to-side that a large Media agency like Reuters, and even Yahoo did not catch this spelling blemish before a little Rays blogger who seems to find these things online.

Sure, being unemployed has given me a plethora of available time to watch out and read numerous postings about the Rays from all over this big blue marble, and even more than enough time to gaze upon endless episodes of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” or catch up on every episode ever of “Scrubs” or “Grey’s Anatomy“. But the pure fact that these agencies pay their people good money and someone who is economically poor, but has some form of education gets to be greeted with obvious 3rd Grade spelling mishaps. And I do take pride in throwing these little tidbits out to everyone to see because it is an industry I consider my “Great White Buffalo”.

And if you are unaware of that phrase, it is basically saying it is the “one (job profession) I let get away”. It is the one regret I have found in my life career-wise that I would jump into a Hot Tub Time Machine and go back to the early 1980’s in less than a heartbeat to change and stay with it, sweat it out, and maybe had actually found a niche before my return in early 2008 to writing again on this Rays Renegade blog. But you know what really got me the most on this Yahoo posting by Reuters? Here is the actual photo description listed on Yahoo.com as of 12:15 today:
 
 

Tampa Bay Rays pticher Randy Choate wipes his …

 
Tampa Bay Rays pticher Randy Choate wipes his head after giving up a run to the New York Yankees during the sixth inning of their MLB American League baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida April 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Scott Audette (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The main thing that is eating at me was not the initial spelling error, or even the fact it happened a second time only four words into the photo explanation ….The thing that is eating me inside to a point of decay is the plain fact they did not get even the correct Rays player in the photo. The fact that the photo is suppose to have left-hander Randy Choate in the picture “wiping his head after giving up a run to the New York Yankees” is actually Rays right-hand reliever Lance Cormier.


Not only is their hair color and thickness a big error, which to me is a great big tell-tale sign, but Cormier is a right-handed pitcher, while Choate is a Left-handed reliever. Accuracy has always been one of my pet peeves in life. I understand making mistakes, omitting facts and even misquoting someone is one of the perils of reporting sports. But the actual photos of Major League Baseball players should at least get their rightful namesakes. Now I am not going to blame Scott Audette who supplied Reuters with the photo because he might have made a note of the correct pitcher and the brief description was added by a Copy Clerk or even a post photo Editor somewhere along the lines before it was posted to Yahoo.com here.
 
But in the instant oatmeal environment of the Internet with lightning fast speeds and accessibility, double-checks of even the simple things have to be done to keep from people like me posting your embarrassing mistakes. Maybe it is still that respect and drive I still have for Sports and writing that gets me to expose these hash marks against the National Media giants. I respect and admire so much of the job people do online, but I also hold these same people to a higher standard to get our players names right, their images correct, and most of all…..Show these professional  Rays athletes a level of respect they have earned with sweat, blood and determination..They deserve that…Boy, do they deserve that! 
 
 

Riding the Rays Rollercoast with no Seat Belts

 
 
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Man, we are only two whole games into the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays 13th Major League Baseball season and I am already extremely tired from the massive rollercoaster journey we have taken just in the last two days. And believe me, I do not mind the twists, drops and even the unsuspecting high steeping emotional climbs, but I am still a bit wary of that stomach shifting towards the Adam’s Apple intense drop that takes not only your breathe away, but does something to your overall mode of team confidence and inner soul that can not be repaired by just a few spotty wins.

 
And already there are those dark D-Rays souls who have warned the “pumped-up” people like me about the possible side effects of believing in the hype before there is a foundation to support it. And believe me here, there is no “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey in my I-Pod music mix. But then again I am reminded in the back of my mind that these same dark dwelling remnants of D-Rays people have not attended a single Rays Spring Training game since the Rays left St. Petersburg for Port Charlotte, Florida in March 2008, and they are still stuck in the muck and mire of their season-ending Rays emotions pertaining to the 2009 season.
 

Maybe I am getting myself in a serious state of heart break and toeing the edge of the jagged path on the high cliff to a possible let down of massive enthusiasm proportions, but then again, maybe I am going to do what I feel is the right thing for myself and this team and throw my caution to the wind and hope the monkey on the loose doesn’t throw a steaming pile of poo at me from the Rightfield foul pole during the game.
 

But if you have been amongst the tidal waves of emotions surrounding Tropicana Field the last two night and really felt that pulse of energy cascading throughout the stadium with even the 15,000+ on Wednesday night, then you know that something special is happening in front of us again. And maybe since St. Petersburg is the “Lightning Capital of the World”, it is about to strike hard for a second time in 2010. And maybe Rays fans like me are all riding that huge wave of off season pent-up emotions right now, but that is what fans do, they act and react and counter move to the ebb and flow of the rhythm of the game hoping that the last big wave of the night will produce that moment you remember for a long, long time and provide you with that rush of adrenaline we all seek as we drive home with smiles from ear-to-ear .
 

And that is what is happening right now. From Tuesday nights bottom of the ninth inning extravaganza when the longest tenured Ray, Carl Crawford provided the 90th Walk-off moment in Rays history, to the thunderous crack from the bat of Rays legend-in-the-making Evan Longoria, the last two nights have been sprinkled with classic Rays moments where a huge cloud of magical pixie dust has fallen from the rafters of Tropicana Field and coated all of us with amazement and wonder.
 

 
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If you would have told me the Rays would win a game in Walk-off fashion in either of these nights, I could have believed you. But if you would have told me Longoria would make his first two blasts of the year pale in epic proportions by going into the TBT Deck/Beach/ way-the-heck-up-there, I might have taken that bet and thought it was a sucker bet by you. But more amazing was the shot last night into Section 149, which had a plastic poster hanging at the top of that same section of Tropicana field asking Longoria to hit it here with a massive Bulls-Eye of red and white.

 

Two games into the 2010 season and we already have a few moments that will be talked about even after the All-Star break, and maybe in the 2010 off season. Seriously here, I could imagine Carl Crawford lacing a ball for a 2-run double to produce a Walk-off win way before a blast 473 feet that just missing the Second slot on the Rays All-Time Home Run Distance list by a tiny foot compared to the Centerfield blast of Jonny Gomes that bounced like a golf ball on the roof of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. But the amazing fact might still be that Longoria has 4 RBI on his only 3 hits this season, and all three of them have been for extra bases.
 
 
But what might be more amazing about the last few nights is the show of support this crowd has shown this Rays team especially after a bad invisible swinging strike call by Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley, who never even asked Third Base Umpire Dana DeMuth for a ruling on the invisible phantom swing by Crawford that brought out the Trop. boo-bird for the rest of the game. I have always thought that when the true meaning of baseball and the intelligence level of our area fans ever matured, this Rays “Pit” environment would be a huge vocal point towards pushing the momentum into the Rays favor in extreme moments.
 

 
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I was extremely proud of the 15,000+ who were screaming and yelling for an appeal to the Third Base Umpire, and their fats reaction to booing and questioning the call immediately instead of looking around for an exclamation from someone wearing headphone listening to the game on the Rays Radio network in the stands. I actually had a nice photo of Crawford at that moment and he was hunched down in his stance and could not have even thrown out a half-hazard swing to fend off the ball if it was a true strike. But the pure fact this crowd has matured as a whole and gathered the mustard to question and show immediate recourse towards Danley reminds me a lot of the baseball savvy crowds you see in other MLB stadiums that have been around for over 100 years.

 

But I am also aware and poised to remember that these same Orioles have beaten us into the ground before when our guard has been down a bit, or the confidence level made a few Rays fan’s heads rise an inch or two and not remember that a streaky Baltimore Second Baseman Brian Roberts can change the entire game all by himself with his legs and bat. But maybe his bad start to the season is our reward right now. To be 2-0, and maybe blossom to 3-0 before the Evil Empire valet parks their Deathstar at the Vinoy for the upcoming weekend series, it might be a nice emotional and confident momentary foundation before we partake in the renewed rivalry for the first time in 2010.
 

And some people have already brought out that attendance trump card after just two Rays games, but they also forget that these mid-week games have always been the Achilles’ Heel of this Rays clubs attendance marks as far back as 1998. They are a work-in-progress, and with 15,000+ in the stands last night, that is a nice bump up from the last time the Orioles were in the Trop from September 29-October 1,2009 when an average of just over 10,492 fans packed the Trop for the season ending series of these same two teams.
 

 
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5,000 extra bodies in the seats might not seem like much to those viewing the empty blue seats in other locales. But those same 5,000+ extra Rays bodies have also been sporting more of the home team’s Columbia Blue or Rays Blue this season and that in its own small way might show the Tampa Bay community trickling in little by little to see if the Rays can renew that spirit and drive that possessed this region in 2008. And I guess I can revel in the fact that the “greatest game played on dirt” is living up to that moniker in the first two fun-filled energy-draining contests of 2010.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet as the New York Yankees will be unpacking their equipment in the Rays Visitor’s Clubhouse soon enough, then the first true test of 2010 is full on………Game on people….Game On!

 

 

Talbot was the Perfect Choice for Cleveland


AWinner@Flickr.com

Every once in a while a trade is consummated that  instantly makes you see that it might be the best thing to happen to that minor leaguer. You do not want to see him leave your system, but you know that he might be legitimately stalled within your farm system by a logjam within your system. And it is a shame to see a player stand still instead of moving forward in their  maturation process to becoming a Major Leaguer.
 

So when the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they had made a trade with the Cleveland Indians for catcher Kelly Shoppach in early December, you had the immediate feeling that the “Player To Be Named Later” would be plucked from the Rays 25-man roster, or be a top prospect from a Rays farm squad. So it was no real shock to me that the Rays took their time finalizing and whittling down the choices with the Indians and finally deciding “officially” late Monday night to send pitcher Mitch Talbot to the Indians.

And the final decision on Talbot was a very intelligent and completely necessary move for the Rays. But it was also a great pitching pick-up for the rebuilding Indians who  will be using young pitching talent in 2010 to build a strong foundation for the Indians future. And this decision actually saved the Rays from having to make a difficult decision this Spring for the second season in a row.
 

Talbot, who was out of minor league options, might not have even been considered for a 25-man roster spot for the Rays and in all likelihood would of had to change the mindset of the Rays Coaching staff  to make the team reconsider a spot for fellow pitchers like Andy Sonnanstine or Wade Davis in 2010.  And it is not unheard of in recent Rays Spring Training history for a pitcher to  come into Spring Training Camp in mid-February and sweat and battle his way the entire Spring, and the team ends up not having him on their final 25-man roster.


CBC-Raleigh.com

But with Talbot going down in 2009 with injuries while with Triple-A Durham Bulls, he ended up throwing only 54.1 innings, which could of had the Rays losing a bit of confidence in one of their top pitcher prospects. How soon it slipped the minds of the Rays to forget that in 2008 Talbot posted his second consecutive 13-9 record for the Bulls. 

Talbot even had to endure a brief 24-hour call-up with the Rays on July 2,2008.  All this from a guy that Baseball America  selected in 2008 as having the best change-up in the International League. How soon  a player could fall from grace with an organization, and they forget you were their selection as Triple-A Pitcher of the Year in 2008, and had the best change-up in the Rays system for the fourth year in a row. Throw on top of that being a member of the Bull 2009 Triple-A Championship team, and you get a pitching prospect who’s future should be bright in the eyes of his organization, and not  shaded by clouds of doubt.


Rob Carr / AP

But with the Indians selecting Talbot as the final piece in this deal, it actually opens up a different career path to the Majors for Talbot. He will report  with the other Indians pitchers’ to Arizona this Spring, and could be firmly in the mix to secure a spot in their 2010 rotation. This should give Talbot a early dose of confidence that he can get his name muttered by the Cleveland Coaching staff this Spring. And because the Rays included his name for consideration in this trade,Talbot will be given a fair chance to make his first Opening Day roster in the Major Leagues.

They say that sometimes things happen for reason. Well, this trade actually might be just the extra push forward Talbot needs to secure a spot on a Major League bench. He is a hard worker and deserves this chance, and hopefully we will see his name listed on the roster on 2010’s Opening Day. And  with the added experience of serving in the Rays Bullpen in the past, Talbot could also bring a nice secondary piece of the puzzle for the Indians. Talbot  in his personal life enjoys flying during his off times from baseball. Hopefully his  renewed chance in Cleveland will finally give him a chance to fly high and secure a spot in the Major Leagues. And I am think he is the right guy to have at the controls.

Puerto Rico and Winter Baseball

I was sitting here at the computer on Sunday morning after the  late night news that the Tampa Bay Rays decided to non-tender former catcher Shawn Riggans, who was at that moment was playing Winter Baseball in Puerto Rico. And now that Riggans was a MLB Free Agent and still playing in the Puerto Rico Winter League, who else from among the other MLB squads could be playing or even rehabbing amongst the  League’s five rosters.

Could there be some of the well known players from around Major League Baseball using this Winter League as an extra workout primer to get into early game shape, or is this the “in” spot for MLB Free Agents  to using the league as a visual point for scouts and MLB teams interested in their services for the 2010 season.

I have to be totally honest here, before this season I really did not even think twice about the Liga de Beisbol Professional de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League) when it came to the yearly Winter Leagues around the Carribean. 

I guess I have been a bit shortsighted and naive to think that great players are not playing on teams in these Winter months. I mean, the PRPBL does have a great history and respectability around Major League circles. And their League Champion does get a berth in the Carribean World Series. But why is it that as soon as the World Series is over most of us who follow baseball just seem to forget about the game until the pitchers and catchers report in the middle of February?

I mean as of December 14th, there are currently around 37 members of an MLB clubs 40-man roster playing in the League. And some of those players are household names around baseball like catcher Ivan Rodriguez (Wash), and outfielders Lou Montanez (Balt) and Alex Rios (CWS) who play for Crillios (Creoles) de Cagua. Or maybe you are looking for pitchers like Ian Snell (Sea), Javier Vasquez (ATL) or Jake Westbrook(Clev) who are currently on the Leones (Lions) de Ponce squad.

And they are just a small smattering of the current members of MLB team’s 40-man rosters that are participating in this Winter’s season. Other squads include pitcher Rick VandenHurk (FL) or outfielder Nate Schierholtz (SF) and infielder Ivan DeJesus (LAD) who play on the same Gigantes de Carolina team with Riggans. 

Or maybe you are more interested in the Indios (Indians) de Mayaguez roster that boasts players like pitcher Johnathan Albaladego (NYY) or Carlos Beltran (NYM) who is getting extra work in before Spring Training, or Randy Ruiz (Tor) who is using the league to get more time at first base so he can secure a 25-man roster spot.

But the League is not only full of current guys on a teams 40-man roster, but you have a bevy of Free Agents down here playing right now in front of scouts and teams looking for a contract and a possible Spring Training Invite. Players such as Joel Pinero (P), outfielder Reggie Abercrombie (OF),Luis Mateo (OF),Jose Molina (C), Jose Vidro (INF) and Alex Cora (INF) are all down here basically playing for exposure and a possible 2010 MLB contract.

And there are other names of MLB prospects and guys needing some extra fine tuning before reporting in a few months to Spring Training. But it is kind of weird that MLB and the PRPBL suspended play for one season back in 2007-2008 to reorganize and institute a marketing plan, but none of us everyday MLB fans really knew anything about this league.

Maybe MLB needs to better educate the public as to the time tables for these Winter League’s so that we can also follow some of our hometown MLB and farm system players as they playing in these leagues. This season is the first time I have been remotely interested in checking up on Rays farm system players in the league. At first it was to see how Riggans was doing in his rehab. But now it is to see the performance of reliever Eduardo Morlan or even to check on how former Rays player Eduardo Perez is doing as the Manager of Leones de Ponce.

And I think other people will also be excited to check up on their players and their progress in the future. This League never crossed my mind before this season, but now I am coming back every few days to see the progress and check to see if Lobos de Arecibo is still in front in the League, and if their winning streak is over. I have discovered Winter League baseball in Puerto Rico, and have also discovered that well known players and MLB prospects are both playing great ball late into December.

 

Renegade Turkey Day Memories

 

I have to admit something to all of you. I really hate this time of the year, and not for the weather. And it is also not because of the family gatherings or social interacting amongst the family members who have traveled to enjoy this meal with us. I have developed a mild distaste for the “redefined” Thanksgiving meal.

It is not the fault of the holiday itself, but the constant commercial pushing of “new” twists on holiday foods,and the subtle interjection of “bold” ideas from high profile cable channels like the Food Network has transformed this traditional family meal into a eating event I would rather skip than be a test dummy to new ideas and unique tastes.

 These networks have taken some of the simple pleasures of my childhood Thanksgivings and made them almost unrecognizable today. Some of the changes are welcome. But honestly, just how many different ways can you really spice up sweet potatoes or yams without going overboard? Some of these tantalizing twists have made me take test bites and  develop weird smelling rituals for almost every single morsel of food instead of just enjoying the meal.

And who in their right mind would even consider a Brussels sprout cole slaw with basalmic dressing as a condiment to their dinners if not for the pushing of such items by these networks. I guess there are millions of Brussels sprouts all over the world sitting idle on the shelf just rotting way, and someone at a place like the International Brussels Sprouts Board decided that they had to come up with a recipe for them and increase sale two-fold.

My simple holiday meal with extended family has evolved into a culinary tasting menu that might rival a four star restaurant. Because of my significant others wanting to put some “spice” into holiday meals with more unique spices and sassy sauces to produce a visual as well as tasty meal experience that hopefully have even Chef Bobby Flay green with envy. 

The advent of these holiday food shows have turned this holiday into a personal eating nightmare for me. It has not been ruined by the foods per se, but by the addition of some of these spices and novel ideas. There is a reason every one of these food networks has a test kitchen. And for some reason, every woman I have been involved with has not made the “new” dish in advance to see if there are possible pratfalls or newbie mistakes that can ruin the dish, or make me sick as a dog. Instead I am left to smile and make nice sounding noises before spitting it into my napkin or hoping the dog will like it and not also get sick and die on me.

And there is not one of you reading this who has not done that before. Be it the new yams or sweet potato recipe or the whole wheat muffins or rolls that could kill someone if you hit them even from 100 yards away. We have all been there, and we have stories. Oh, how we have stories.

Now I do not have food allergies or even a hint of distaste for most foods, but some dishes are better left with the sauces and the methods we grew up with, and throwing a new twist on a dish is a plus, but sometimes even the most subtle change can become a train wreck. Let’s take the turkey last year at my friend’s house.

She has alway envisioned cooking a turkey outside in a scalding vat of peanut oil because it is said it produces one of the most moist bird you have ever had in your entire life. But what the chefs’ on these shows forget to tell you is that you have to fully thaw out the bird and wipe them down like a newborn before you dunk them in that hot oil. That was strike number one last year.

I was not there yet, so I could not interject my opinion into the mess before I pulled up and saw her 10-year old spraying down the side of the house that had caught fire after the still mildly frozen turkey spurting hot oil onto her clinging green vines on the garage wall. The fire did not harm anything but vegetation, but the smell of that burnt peanut oil was worse than any motor oil or gasoline smell I ever encountered at my father’s gas station.

My friend is one of those chefs loves to bark orders to her four kitchen staffers (kids), who do some of the stirring and watching of the pots on the stove. It is her way of getting everyone involved and make them a intricate part of the holiday. She even has the youngest performing the vital job of watching the timer to let her know when the turkey is done.

Might be a meaningless job to us, but he stares at that timer like his life depended on it. Only problem with this is that he tends to lose interest fast and can soon be seen wandering around the yard a bit,or getting involved with the neighborhood kids playing football and will forget the turkey. Hence the fire. But with that minor glitch in the system taken care of, he is again sitting there watching the turkey bubble and spit grease all over the sloped driveway.

What he doesn’t notice is that ever so often this molten pot is taking a small movement down the driveway to make its exit from the party. So when the turkey finally decides to makes its exit by the boiling pot tipping over and tumbling down the driveway with the hot oil, spices and a slightly tanned bird in the lead heading for the curb and its supposed freedom.

The young child is smart enough to not try and stop the bird, but yells for mom, who instinctively comes running, but with no handy utensils in her vicinity to stops its flight towards the gutter. So she watches as the bird begins its trip to the curb picking up grass clippings, the odd soda bottle plastic top and finally resting in a puddle of burnt oil and dirt at the bottom of the driveway. The pot is halfway up the driveway with the propane burner still churning out flames and leaving saturated oil and burn marks on the white concrete driveway. 

She scoops up the bird and then take him inside for a quick sink rubdown and a quick glance into his middle cavity to see just how cooked the bird might be at this moment. With the inside of the bird still pink like a baby’s bottom, she knows it is still going to be hours before dinner. So she hits every knob on the stove and reduces the heat on everything to try and bring the days food prep to a standstill while she reviews what needs to be done.

She decides to call in a favor with a nearby neighbor, who has also drowned his turkey into a vat of oil today, and has already converted his bird from a pale flesh mess to a golden brown herb encrusted masterpiece. He is more than willing to help her out, and with the bird at least started, it will take almost no time to finish the bird to also resemble a Florida native out on the beach in August.

 

But her third strike of the day is a simple mistake in simple culinary judgment. But one that almost produced a small army mutiny at the celebrated meal. She is that consummate cook who idolizes people like Rachel Ray and Paula Deen. And her leadership abilities rival any dictator or despot because she likes to have her fingers in every dish even before it hits the table for consumption.  But unlike a real chef, she doe
sn’t taste her dishes as she is making them, and tonight that will be her downfall.

She knows I like Cajun spices and extreme hot sauces, so she found a Jalapeno and Habanero pickling spice mixture for the inside of the turkey mixed within the stuffing to compliment the sausage and rye breading she added to produce a different tasting stuffing this year. Well, I have to admit it did not look too inedible when it hit the table, but she had forgotten to take the veins and some of the seeds out of the chopped up spicy peppers, and once the dish was upon my plate, my eyes instantly began to water.

Of course her 10-year old, who is a bit hefty and the food hoarder of the family began to shovel it into his mouth even as I warned him to taste a spoonful first.  The next reaction was instant projectile vomiting into his sister’s lap.  Made me almost glad I did not take the first bite, but I felt bad for the kid. I quickly got some milk for him along with some white bread and told him to dunk the bread in the milk and eat in immediately.

Well, after the turkey attempted escape, the oil fire upon her well-greened garage wall, and the pepper stuffing fiasco, the rest of the meal was perfect and only had a few hints of change. Sometimes it is great to establish new ideas and traditions during the holidays, but it should be done with prior experiences and also tried recipes and handed down instructions to make the dishes their best from the first bite.

I actually am looking forward to today’s meal. We have a years experience dunking the turkey, and she has experimented with the stuffing to a point she is confident we will not have the events of last year. But the highlight of the event is always seeing the friends and family sitting there eating, laughing and telling the stories of the past year. Foods can be changed, menus can evolve, but the best thing about the holiday is that the people are the reason for the season.

So with that, I want to wish and pray that everyone of you reading this today gets to have a fully belly and a great Thanksgiving with the people who make up your circle in life. So as I close this blog today, I want to raise a glass to the people busy in our kitchens,  to our the kids and relatives in the yard playing football or other games, and the men and woman serving. throughout this big ball of blue. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And with that, it is time for to go steal my first stuffed mushroom caps from the serving dish and get this holiday officially underway. 

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