Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
During the off season I am going to go back into the Rays Renegade annuals and pull out some of the stuff I treasured during the last two seasons. It could be a game moment, or one like tonight, a concert event held after a Saturday night Rays game. I am going to use every Sunday as a day to reflect and remember classic moments and events that I have posted blogs about during the last two seasons. This blog entry originally was posted on August 2,2009 and is being re-posted today as my weekly Rays memory selection.
This photo was actually given to me by a member of the Rays front office after the concert a few days later for some of the blogging and things I have done for the organization over the past few seasons. It was an unexpected surprise and one that is currently adorning the hallway along with the other 8×10 photos of Rays players and band I have met over the past 12 years. Aagin, I am so honored and proud to be a member of the Rays Republic and never expected such a great item to fall into my hands. To the person on the 3rd Floor who got me this gift, you know I am there for the team and your department if you ever need a volunteer… or anything else. Thank you again!
Okay, anyone who knows me in any personal way knows I have a soft spot for rockers. It might be the lifestyle I grew up with,or it might be the lifestyle I always wanted in life, but a good hard rocking song can get me fired up everytime. So last night in the latest edition of the Rays Concert Series they invited former America Idol fan favorite Chris Daughtry and his band, Daughtry to the Trop. for a FREE after the game concert. Also the idea that the two bars I go to after games always seems to drag me up to the Karaoke mic and for some reason they all want to hear me sing “Home” by Daughtry at some point in the night.
What was really special about this Rays show is that this post-game concert will be the first “official” concert stop on their 2009 concert tour. The group has been in Hamilton, Ontario for the last two days ironing out a few kinks and bugs in the set list and was still doing their final prep work right before they got on a tour bus and headed to St. Petersburg, Florida for this initial concert of their tour. This is the third time they have been on tour after their original tour made an appearance in the smaller venue of the State Theatre in St. Petersburg, just about a mile from Tropicana Field just down Central Avenue.
During their second tour in 2008, the group were truly blessed to be the opening act for Bon Jovi on their World-wide tour that happened to be held during the Boston Red Sox series. I had a centerstage club level seat for that concert and a backstage pass thanks to some old friends at Pepsi who got me to meet Chris after his set. I actually found out we used to hang out in some of the same places when I lived in North Carolina, but as fate always has it, I never heard his band or met him while in N.C.
The band spent the first part of the Rays game against the Kansas City Royals up in a suite just above the Maddon’s Maniac logo above Section 136 in the right field section of the Trop. Chris Daughtry and his bandmates would occasionally come out to the rail and smile and wave to the fans below. A young Rays fan even threw up a blue cowbell for the band drummer Joey at one point during the game.
They also took in some of the rituals of the Trop such as the blue cotton candy that Joey had purchased during the game. It was especially funny to see the Trop vendor trying to get the blue cotton candy up into the suite since it was a good 20 feet straight up shot. Finally the candy made it to Joey and he gave the thumbs up before going into the suite to get a quick sugar fix.
During last night’s set list the band did a mixture of their second album’s material and some of the great hits off their debut “Daughtry” album. The song “Crashed” had a different feel to it during last night performance, and wasa softer version of the previously recorded hit. The band did end the night with the song that has come to identify the band with its fans for the last two years. “Home” also had a great vibe to it and he did throw some extra octaves and vocal scales into it and it instantly thrilled the crowd both on the stadium floor and in the stands.
Some of the members of Daughtry did hang out after the concert and mingled with Rays fans before finally being whisked away to the Vinoy. The band will make their second appearance tonight at the House of Blues in Orlando. The only negative to the entire night, and I am going to give him a Mulligan on this is the fact he called St. Petersburg by the wrong name. He called out to the fans of the to the “city of Tampa” in his Twitter video last night.
But that might also be connected to the fact he was on the tour bus heading to O-town after the ahow and might have seen a “Tampa” sign along I-275 before he made the video. So let me end this short photo blog with the two Twitter videos sent out by the band before and after the concert last night. Hopefully the band will again hit Florida before they end this tour, and you know I will be there again. Hoping to maybe hear “Call My Name” done again in person. Rock on Chris, you guys did an awesome job and I wish you the best during your tour dates!
I was going to begin my end of the season series of blogs on my personal “Top 5 Moments in the 2009 Rays Season” until I looked at the calendar on the kitchen wall this morning. And there it stood. In huge bold RED letters October 27, 2009. To most people this date is only a reminder that in only 4 days, the hordes of sugar-seeking pint-sized ghouls and gobblins trick or treaters would invade the neighborhoods, and the air would be alive with the screams and laughter of children everywhere.
To the Rays faithful, this date is the One Year Anniversary of a baseball moment that will live in Rays lore as the “Big One that Got Away”. It was one year ago on this day that Game 5 of the 2008 World Series was to be played, and completed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
But it really does not feel like it has been an entire year since I was sitting in Section 101 in centerfield right by both teams Bullpen Areas at Citizen Bank Park watching some pieces of errant uneaten hot dogs, sandwich wrappers and soda cups raining down from the stands when the Major League Baseball head honcos and Home Plate Umpire Jeff Kellogg decided to suspend play during Game 5 of the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia to protect the players.
And about this moment the Philly weather was starting to pick up an extra special blast of chilling wind gust, and the present temperature in the stadium seemed to be dipping extremely fast towards a point of freezing. But still we sat there hoping we might be able to complete this game and get our toes and noses defrosted with a cup of steaming hot coffee in between innings.
It did not matter that the cold made our fingers a bit numb and ached when we clapped or even tried to loosen them up by flexing them during the game. For I was from Florida, and this bit of weather is not a usual element for us to endure during games, but my two batting gloves did help a little bit in the cold. Both teams tried to play this game, but were fighting increasingly slippery surfaces on the basepaths and at the home plate.
The game was beginning to resemble a old neighborhood kids baseball game where we played in the muck and mud and sloshed around as best you could because we loved to play the game. But the guys out on that field were professionals, and the elements were not giving them ample footing or even visibility to see the ball in the air. And it was a good call in hindsight to stop the game before some got hurt, or a play occurred that would change the course of the game.
I can still see the three Phillies fans who sat a few rows back who had traveled over one hundred miles to attend that night’s game, and would not be able to stay over for even one more night to see a possible ending to this game. The saddness on their faces as they rose after the announcement and almost tore their tickets up showed the common air of disappointment circling the stadium that night.
All I can easily recall sitting in my seat drinking a soda and watching the Rays players become more like human popsicles with every inning. The “Elmer Fudd” Rays hats with the ear flaps were in great demand down on the Rays dugout, and you could see the after glow of the bench heaters from my outfield seats. It is a wonder nothing caught fire that night as the flames seemed to kiss the back of the players heels and they relished the warmth and endured the slight discomfort of the heat.
And when the announcement officially came from the public address system that the game would not be continued, you understood the instant wrath and barrage of garbage being thrown in the air. We wanted to see the end of that classic game that would later be known as Game 5.0 and Game 5.5, but the safety and welfare of the member of both squads and the fan took center stage.
We all know how this game ended up two days later. And maybe if the game had been played to it conclusion a different result might have occurred. But it was the right call by MLB in an extreme situation that not only made history, but also showed some immense courage considering what town the game was being held in at the time.
I even made sure to try and spot my seat from that night and sure enough, he was sitting there with a beer in one hand, and a big Brat in the other cheering on his Phillies. Today is painful, but not as biting as a year ago as I wandered outside the stadium walking down Broad Street with the rest of the fans. There were shouts of disgust, shows of violent tendencies, but the crowd was pretty subdued compared to a few hours ago in the stadium during the game.
I ended up with a few friends of mine from my days in Philly back in the early 1990′s and went to one of the neighborhood bars for a few drinks to get my blood flowing again to my limbs. There I met a guy who was so upset he had to work that night, but was glad he might get a chance to see a World Series game now that the game was postponed a few days.
I sat there listening to his stories for a bit, and he heard a few of my Rays tales before I offered my ticket to him. I had a flight out of Philly the next evening and could not stay an additional night to see the conclusion of the game. I took no money from him, but told him to get down to Clearwater, Florida during Spring Training and we will settle the score. He did make it down and invited me to a game. With him he brought a Game Program from the game, a Beep Cup signifying the World Series, and the ticket stub.
I told him he could have the ticket stub since his team won the World Series at the conclusion to that game. He told me he took it to a Kinko’s store and had it enlarged to a huge size, and it is now hanging in his game room. So this day has some mixed emotions to me. I got to see history a year ago today, and also got to provide a lifetime moment to someone who would have missed it if the game did not get postponed. So even with all the pain of this date, some good did come of it all.
I went and visited an old friend today for lunch who runs a small take-out joint called the “A Taste of Philly” in Largo, Florida. He has the reputation of some of the finest selections of tasty morsels south of Broad Street in Philadelphia. The guy imports all of his bakery goods straight from the City of Brotherly Love daily, and you can’t fight the quality of his fare. They are all three napkins worthy!
So I came upon the idea that maybe we need to vent the Philly fans attention another direction for a few days and give them something to debate before the beginning of the World Series on Wednesday night. I decided maybe we need to try the virtues of two of Philly’s biggest sandwich icons and decide once and for all………
Who is KING of the Cheesesteaks according to people around the country and not just from Philly. So I decided to just throw my personal opinions and comments out here along with a little history about each place and let the ball fall and see who picks it up and runs with it. Seriously, everyone knows that people in the town have an opinion on their particular favorite cheesesteak hangout. So without further ado, Let’s Get it on!
In the Orange corner wearing multi-colored neon boxing shorts and fighting for his creation firmly mounted on the corner of 9th and Passyunk, we have Joey Vento’s and his monster creation….GENO’s. There is a really funny story on how Vento came up with the name for his place back in 1966. With a Joe’s Steak Place already situated within the city limits of South Philly, Vento was perplexed on a name for his new place.
Well, some local kid named Gino had spray painted his name on the back door of the new place and Vento saw it and knowing that there was a local well-to-do chain store with the same name, just put a couple lines on the “GINO” painted on his back door and “GENO’s was born. the biggest thing you need to get used to if you ever order at Geno’s is to have your order ready at the first window before you even utter a word. There is actually an art to ordering what kind of cheese,or onions you want on your thin-cut steaming ribeye cheesesteak.
If you fail to order within a certain time limit, you can be sure the people in line behind you will give you a shout or two to let you know what they think. And that is something this town was built on Freedom of speech. And let me tell you, this is one of the places in town you will talk about for years just for the ordering experience. And considering all of this was started back in 1966 with only two boxes of ribeyes, some hot dogs, and a total of $6 in Vento’s pockets. Simply fantastic.
And the fact the counter is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and fills the air with the awesome aromas of onions,and sizzling steak just makes you wander towards the counter. I am not going to give a review of Geno’s right now before I introduce our second challenger to the fray. And he is another heavyweight in the fight to fill Philly fans bellies late into the night, and early mornings.
In the Blue corner fighting from the opposite corner of the intersection is Pat’s, King of Steaks, which is not as brightly set in neon lights as Geno’s, but still is the rave for cheesesteaks in the city. Between the two establishments there is always a line at certain times of the day. Pat’s actually was founded about 36 years before Geno’s back in 1930. Back then it was a modest hot dog emporium at the base of the famous Italian Market in South Philly.
One day Pat decided to try something different for that days lunch crowd. So he had some one go get some chopped meat at the local butcher shop and grilled it up on his flat top where he usually cooked his hot dogs. He went next door to the Italian Market and got some fresh sandwich rolls and placed the steamed meat on the bun along with some onions.
Just as Pat was about to sample his new invention, a Philly cabbie on his usual lunch break asked what Pat was eating. After a short bit of chatter, Pat decided to make one of the new creations for his cabbie friend. Pat cooked him up one of the sandwiches and after the first bite the cabbie proclaimed to Pat, “Hey, forget ’bout those hot dogs, you should sell these.” And a momentary change in his lunch option, and the World Famous South Philly steak sandwich was born.
Over the years, people wanted a bit of change, hence the addition of cheese to the sandwich. At both locations there is a huge amount of history and celebrity that focus attention to both eateries, but one of the great adventures of ordering your sandwich at Pat’s can be the highlight of your pre-sandwich meal.
It is not uncommon for the counter person to ask someone to go to the end of the line if they stutter or can not get the order done in a timely fashion. Returning patrons can be picked out of the crowd easy by their ease at throwing out what they want on their cheesesteaks in a micro of seconds. There is even a sign posted before the counter window to help ease you into the “Pat’s Way” of ordering and getting you food as quick as possible.
I have to say, the first time I went there I did not have to go to the back of the line, but they knew I was from the South. Maybe my Tampa Bay cap gave me away. Anyways I have to give a slight nod even before tasting either sandwich to Pat’s because they serve Pepsi products. See even in my time away from the job I still value my sodas. But both places did serve Dr. Pepper, so the scale went even again.
Another tipping point that might have pushed me in a certain direction might be the fact that at Pat’s you can eat on premises. But this was not a deciding factor if you like people watching and also enjoy the crisp, chill in the October air in Philly. Eating al fresco at Geno’s is not like sitting at a street side Cafe’ in Paris, but you can see and hear everything that is happening around you at both steak institutions.
No matter which of the two competing places you savor when you come to Philly, the leading factor to coming down to Passyunk has to be to eat one of the creations that has be associated with this city for so long. Doesn’t matter if you like your cheesesteak loaded with Cheez Wiz like at Pat’s or can choose your artery clogging cheese selection like Geno’s. The basic fact that you enjoy a well made sandwich should be enough right?
Okay. I get it, you want a winner. That is so American of you (lol). I am actually going to break this down into points of yummy to consider a winner here.
***** Geno’s might be the only restaurant in South Philly you can see from Space. Pat’s is sometimes blurred by the amount of people standing outside still at 2 am.
]***** Pat’s counter people make even ordering a sandwich an experience. With the helpful signage and some of the crowd helping you so you can also have a fast experience without going to the back of the line. Geno’s can be testy too, but part of the Pat’s experience is just their ordering process.
***** Because of their extra selections of types of cheese (Cheez Wiz,American, Provolone Cheese) plus the condiments like ketchup,mustard,relish and Geno’s own hot sauce, it give you extra options for your food.
Pat’s offers the same outside condiments, but for some reason, the cheese selection just let everyone have it their way.
***** And last, but not least is the atmosphere around both places. I have to say I have been to both at different times of the season, and this one might come down to what makes you personally comfortable at the time. Geno’s does have that neighborhood joint feel to the place and with everyone outside eating and talking it creates a buzz in the air. Pat’s was my haven last October when the chilling rain and the wild breezes swept through the Philly streets and eating facing the wind was not a pleasant option. Thank you south side tables.
ADVANTAGE: Geno’s & Pat’s
So, based on the about yummy points you might think it is solely Geno’s to lose for my ultimate winner. Well, if you think that, then you do not know me very well. I actually found both places to have their own signature differences that could have taken me towards either side of the street for a winner.
But in the end, it is ultimately a personal decision, and one I can not make for you. But I do have to add that both places have a huge bit of history and personality to them from ordering to sampling either of their fares. The true winner of this is the citizens of Philadelphia. Not just do they have multiple choices around the city, but every large city in the US has a Philly-branded eatery in which they offer their own take on the classic steak sandwich.
It doesn’t matter if you like it with Whiz, onions or just with cooked peppers, the choice is all yours. Even take it Italian and add a bit of marinara sauce to explode the taste buds another direction. We are all thankful to the City of Brotherly Love, and especially to two well-known and loved steak emporiums within cheesesteak tossing distance of each other.
Another experience you must have in Philly is just to walk down the street towards these two stands and smell the heavy air full of steak, onions and peppers that wander through the neighborhood. As I sit here eating the rest of my cheesesteak from “A Taste of Philly” I am reminded to save space for another great city creation, a big hot soft pretzel to take home and enjoy. Oh, and another cheesesteak for later!
I can still remember back when I was oh so young, getting my weekly allowance then racing full bore on my bike with my friends in tow down to the local 7-11 to throw my weeks earnings of two dollars on the store counter and ask for packs of those foil wrapped baseball cards. I am not sure even now why those cards seemed to instantly transform my little world into a state if euphoria and let my imagination run totally rampant while glancing at that Cincinnati Reds Ken Griffey high color and foil card.
And after a quick evaluation of the cards in the deck, the losing players card from that bunch always ended up between a clothespin in the spokes of my bike for the trek home to produce a mimic motorcycle sound that let the neighborhood know the “Baseball Gang” was roaring down the alleyways. Then when we finally hit my garage, we would all circle and argue for hours trading our new cards with ones in our back pockets and never agreeing totally on their worth or importance, but remembering their stats and their teams.
And even while we sat there boasting about our treasured bounty from the store, we made sure to chew that starchy piece of bubble gum until it could not longer handle a single bubble or our jaws ached from the constant state of chewing. But to us, the cards were as close as we could get to our sports heroes. For the smiling faces of the professional ballplayers looking back either posed at the plate or on the mound sent us into hours to recalling their heroic moments. It sent us into a realm of fantasy where we would duplicate or even top their previous years statistics if we got the chance on the field.
So it was sad moment for me when I read in August 2009 that Major League Baseball was ending their 30-year relationship with the Upper Deck Company LLC and signed an exclusive multi-year trading card pact with The Topps Company Inc. It always seemed like there had been more than a dozen companies springing up and then dissolving into thin air selling and marketing baseball cards to the masses. But on January 1, 2010, the Topps Company will have exclusive use of any of the MLB’s 30 team logos and trademarks.
And this is a huge blow to the small cottage industry that first thrust itself upon my generation with their multi-card sets and that historic piece of rectangular hard bubble gum. Upper Deck, which still has an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, might have something to say about all of this before the beginning of 2010. This season, Upper Deck produced over 16 different sets of cards just for 2009 alone. But will the streamlining of this iconic piece of cardboard be easy, or will it be pushed back into the darkness by the isolation of its true player and game images only being available by one lone manufacturer?
In 1991, the sale of these little cardboard masterpieces reached over $ 1.2 billion in sales. Which at that time, was a huge chunk of change for the industry. I know that about that time I was pumping in a huge amount of excess cash to get some of the collectible cards and “game-used” cards that were beginning to float around the country. Who would not want a small piece of a Roger Maris bat, or even a small swatch of a Sandy Koufax jersey.
Most of these cards consisted of a small patch of a MLB sanctioned baseball, or a sliver of a players personal bat that was then dissected into a million pieces and sandwiched onto a card. And we were all eager to find those cards and put them into our collections at that time as an investment into our futures. Every season, the trading card companies made sure to advertise that there were “special cards” hidden within the hundreds and hundreds of decks for us to find. But after the trading card industry hit its top spot in 1991, it then began a slow decent towards the bottom.
By 2000, the industry was seeing only $400 million in sales annually and was seeking other avenues to promote and increase the sales of their products. Trading card companies used this down period to began its inversion into other sports besides baseball and football for their new revenues sources. And in 2008, the sale of these once wanted cards fell to an all time low in sales of just over $200 million, including the new card sources like NASCAR and NHL editions.
My romance with these special cards started about 2001 when I got my first “Game-Used” card from a pack I purchased in a 5-pack set in a small hobby store in St. Petersburg,Florida. The card was a 2001 Ken Griffey Junior “Game-Used” jersey card from his first stint with the Seattle Mariners.
The card was issued by Upper Deck, and it was a piece of his home blue jersey sandwiched between two pieces of plastic. Along with the holograms on the item and the photo of him on both sides of the card, it became a cherished piece of my card collection. More for the way he played the game then for the piece of fabric inside the plastic.
But it should come as no surprise that MLB decided to side with Topps in the exclusive rights for the trading cards marketing. Because the head honcho at Topps now had a visual presence with MLB in the form of ex-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Most people might remember he was also at the helm after Disney purchased the then Anaheim Angels back in the 1980′s, and he was front and center on the podium to thrust skyward the first World Series trophy won by the team in 2002.
I am not calling foul here in any way, but it just goes to show you that sometimes it really is “who you know” and not “what you know” that can get you that one special meeting with MLB to even propose such an arrangement. Since Topps now has the exclusive rights to the teams logos and images, does this mean that the other companies will have to cease any contact with MLB players who might already be under contract for companies other than Topps? And can these companies, who have an exclusive signing contract with certain players block their signatures on cards in the future?
You would think that both of these questions will be percolating in more than a few boardrooms around the country in response to the announcement of a single entity taking over the MLB’s marketing of the trading cards. I have heard whispers that Upper Deck might consider litigation or a simple injunction, but at this time nothing has been submitted to the courts. And you can imagine that individual players will be reviewing their current contracts with the trading card companies and align themse
lves to be in compliance with the MLB new agreement.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig told MLB.com in August that the deal is suppose to “restore baseball cards as the games premier collectible.” The multi-year deal will give Topps exclusive use of MLB,Jewel Events and club trademarks, logos, and other intellectual properties for use on baseball cards, stickers and other product categories featuring MLB players. Such a monopoly in properties surrounding baseball is a huge kudos for Topps.
It is funny how these little pieces of cardboard have produced and induced millions of people over the years to buy, sell and trade these cards both on avenues like E Bay or at your local Flea Markets. Just for giggles, I popped my hand into a box of older cards in my closet that I have not split up and alphabetized. So picked out a total of 10 cards to see which company dominated the cards in my box.
Well, Topps did end up coming out on top with 4 cards in that pile,with Bowman having three cards. Also within the pile were companies like Fleer, Score and Donruss90, which had the final 3 cards in the deck. And you could see quickly which company had the money and power to get major MLB players to sign deals with them, even back in the 1990 season. The bottom three companies did not have a superstar or starter on any of the MLB roster at that time. Bowman did get the likes of the Phillies Dave Hollins and Athletic pitcher Mike Gallego in my small selection.
But even back 20 years ago, Topps got the premier players for their set of cards. In those 4 Topps cards were players like Oakland’s Shortstop Walt Weiss, Royal Second baseman Frank White, Tiger Shortstop Alan Trammel and Orioles starting pitcher Ben McDonald. But what was really wild during that brief time I put my hand back into that box was the nostalgia and the blast from the past seeing some of those names pop into my eyes again after so long. Some might go to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but all of them held different memories to me both as players and as cards in my collection.
I remember almost coming to blows with my friend Steve Haas back in 5th grade over my Cincinnati Reds Cesar Geronimo card, or how I felt like I was a really shrewd dealer to trade three non-marque players cards for a hologram 1989 Cleveland Indians card. Now all my trading cards are sectioned out by alphabetical order into small plastic containers, each with rubber banded players duplicate cards all together. To think of all the time and money I invested into these cards now seems so funny that someone like Cardinal Andy Van Slykes 1985 card could have graced the spokes of my motocross bike for weeks and I was not the wiser.
But as the baseball card market has gone into the shallows, so has the Sports Card shops that used to number over 5,000 strong all over the country but has now dwindled down to under 500 shops specializing in these pieces of our baseball youth. But people have always told me that “all good things have to come to an end.”
Maybe that is true even with those little cards we used to buy for the glory and charm of trading with our friends for hours at a time. That some cards were valued so high by us back then to be placed in our school books as bookmarks to show our exclusive pride towards our baseball heroes. And maybe, just maybe a few of us, like me…looked forward to that starchy piece of thin bubble gum when I opened the package…even today.
Mark Carlson / AP
On September 30,2009 Carl Crawford, the veteran player of the Tampa Bay Rays made it be known through the Tampa Tribune in an interview with writer Marc Lancaster that he would be open to discussions of an contract extension past the 2010 season. The news was viewed with excitement in the stands of Tropicana Field as it was made known by one of the Rays most popular players that he basically sees an upward change in the franchise and would love to further explore where this team is heading in the coming years.
“We are very pleased to hear C.C.’s comments,” Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman told the St. Petersburg Times on September 30th when Crawford announced he would be willing to discuss a possible extension to stay with the Rays. “Consistent with our policy, we do not speak publicly about contract negotiations but obviously we have a tremendous amount of respect for Carl both on and off the field. He has been a big part of our past success and I expect he will be a big part of our future success as well.”
Andrew, you bet your sweet booty you want to keep one of the most exciting players in baseball right where he is right now. Considering the Rays have a $10-11.5 million club option to consider before the beginning of the 2010 season, you can bet they will exercise that option and possibly make amends to keep C C well beyond the 2010 season. And if for some reason the deal does go sour in any way, you can expect an endless bulk of boos and article written until the cows come home about the Rays biggest PR blunder of your administration.
But first off, most Rays fans have to heed a bit from getting overexcited by the comments knowing that the pace at which Crawford performed in 2009 hitting both personal and club record in several categories during the season, he might have to give the Rays a bit of a ” local discount” to have the Rays retain him past the 2010 season. And right now, without knowing the expected payroll amount set by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Crawford might be the biggest question mark right now.
Granted he has made comment showing an olive branch out to the Rays organization, and wants to stay here and hopefully be a part of another winning team that thrust hard into the playoffs, but can the Rays retain him without damaging their payroll expectations and fit him perfectly into the team plans all the way through to maybe 2014?
Because of his upward mobility daily in the Major League Baseball All-Time charts, he is quickly establishing himself as a potential Hall of Fame caliber player, with a long career still in front of him. And if you were to compare him with the best active players at his position, he would surely command a $15 million plus a year salary in the big cities like Chicago or New York. So would Crawford be willing to give the team that deep of a discount to play for a potential winner, while also adding to his own reputation in the American League.
Crawford finally got to experience that winning feeling with the Rays in 2008, and it just might be in the Rays best interest to surround him with the best talent they can afford to again hit that plateau before the team hits a wall and might have to cut back, maybe as soon as 2014. I know that is a long time away, but it is micro-seconds in baseball years. The career of a Major League player is long in comparison to some sports, but the risk factors are extremely higher considering the daily grind of 162 games a season.
But would the Rays use his “leg fatigue” as a bargaining tool, when in reality he has appeared in 150+ game for his fifth season of his career. And if you consider what he can do once he hits the base paths, well Crawford might leave this game as one of the best who ever laced up a pair of Nike’s by the time he calls it a career.
Crawford is only the third American League player in this decade to reach the 60+ steals mark joining Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury ( 69/2009) and the Angels Chone Figgins (62/2005). To further illustrate what he can do on the base paths, you only have to look at the May 3,2009 game against the Boston Red Sox to see how he can command a game all by himself. His 81.9 percent stolen base attempts rank first among active MLB players. He also became one of only 25 players since 1900 to steal 60 bases and get 60 RBI in the same season. And he is 1 of 6 to accomplish that in the last 20 years.
Crawford currently has the 6 highest stolen base totals in Rays history, and has hit the 50+ steals mark a record 5 times, which is the best among active players. And he is only the 16th player since 1900 with 5-50+ steal seasons. And he has been clocked going from first to second in 3.1 seconds, which is a bit faster than recent Hall of Fame member Rickey Henderson in his prime.
But Crawford is not a one-dimensional player. He has also made some incredible plays on defense and might be one of the most under rated outfielder in the game since the Golden Glove are not awarded by just his field position( leftfield) but by the outfield in general. The best example of how Crawford can turn a game around might be in the May 6th contest against the Boston Red sox where he stole a total of 6 bases, and became only the fourth player to ever accomplish that feat. He was even the first to do it since June 30, 1996, when Eric Young of the Colorado Rockies was the last to hit that plateau.
These statistics might even make the Rays job harder to consider that he has just turned 28 this August 5th, and his 353 stolen bases rank 7th best since 1900. His 92 triples ranks him 12th since 1900, and the most since Cardinal Stan Musial. His 1,244 hits rank him 8th best since 1900. Such feats have seemed to come easy to the young outfielder who played in his 1,000 Major League game on June 27, 2009 against the Florida Marlins.
Hard to believe that the Rays All Time leader in runs, runs scored, hits, at bats, stolen bases, doubles and triples, games played and RBI has only played in 1,000 contests. And let’s take a look at his triples for a moment, he is currently third among active players with only Yankee outfielder Johnny Damon (95) and Philly shortstop Jimmy Rollins (94) having more than Crawford’s 92 triples. But he was also 4th in the American League with 41 infield hits in 2009.
And if all of the above information was not mind boggling enough for Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations and Silverman to consider, here are another few facts that point to the special place Crawford is heading in the coming years. He has now hit above .300 for the fourth time in the last five seasons for the Rays. This season he had a career high 51 walks and his 2009 On-Base Percentage of .364 is 34 points high than any other time in his career.
Add onto that package the fact he hit his 500th RBI on September 20th against Toronto’s Roy Halladay with a 2-run homer. At the end of the 20
09 season, Crawford was 10ht in hits (185), 9th in multi-hit games with 54 this season, and 5th in triples with 8 in 2009. Crawford has become the quintessential Rays player, and a good foundation for the club both in character and in his on-field behavior.
The 3-time American League All Star even took fans and players breath away in this season’s All Star game in St. Louis with his catch high above the AL Bullpen fence to rob the National League’s Brad Hawpe of a potential go-ahead home run in the 7th inning of that game. As Crawford stood there with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig that night, you saw the boyish charm of Crawford, and so did the rest of the MLB community.
I guess the best thing right now is to let Crawford’s comments to Lancaster om September 30th begin to close out this blog:
“I don’t like worrying about it,” Crawford said to the Tampa Tribune, “and you can sit there and say you’re not worried about it, but to not know what your future’s going to be in the next five or six years or so is definitely … it makes you scared at times.”
“I just hope we can do something. It’s uncomfortable worrying about it. I don’t like playing cautious. You’d be a liar if you say you didn’t play cautious when you have to go through contracts and stuff like that. I want to just be able to play baseball, don’t worry about nothing else.”
So it is your court now Rays front office. This is your time to shine and to make this contract extension a show of good faith and prosperity you hope this team embodies for the next 5 or 6 years. Crawford should be the backbone of the Rays squads in that time period, and if he is not, it might be a clear indication of the team desire to scale back and let the next generation of Rays players get their shots.
It is so hard to for someone like me to adequately decipher and assess a monetary value to Crawford since his stock has risen every season since 2003, and he just might be hitting his prime right now in his career. But if you look at the numbers he has obtained in a period of 5 full seasons now, the numbers are staggering, even without the addition of dollar signs to his name. And if the Rays can get his at a reduced price and regain that winning feeling, it is a huge plus for the Rays franchise to have a player like Crawford at the forefront leading these Rays onto the field.
Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.
And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.
So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.
It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.
A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009. It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.
I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay.
Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.
Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.
I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!). Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.
But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.
Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist. This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet.
But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves..
While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life.
Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.
You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.
There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.
But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.
Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.
But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.
And a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.
So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!