Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’

Possible Rays Off-the-Turf New Years Resolutions

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man-made New Years resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on a strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards.” – G K Chesterton

As we venture towards the approaching cusp of the New Year, I am reminded why teams like the Tampa Bay Rays do not make their New Year’s resolutions known. Maybe it is that realistic fact that the tricky part of it all is sticking to the resolution once the Sun takes it apex on January 1st. Maybe it is hard for some within the franchise to admit that this franchise is another year “older or wiser”,that they are blinded by the shining  clarity that the loftier the resolution, the tougher it is to hang onto as the year unfolds. It takes steely nerves to live by what you divulge and resolve past the first day.

The resolutions I am noting today are just observations, translations or possible seasonal revelations that the Rays organization could encompass in their bag of New Years resolutions. Each of these 3 resolves have a different demographic target that currently lies within the existing Rays Republic community. One resolve would pay a visual homage to our ever-expanding Rays past while another bring into the light a culinary segment that is exploding around Tampa Bay. The third is a possible revisiting of a past “perk” by the Rays Front Office that might seem minimal to some, but has left a small segment of the Rays Republic wondering what their overall value is to this franchise.

Let Them Eat:

The first resolve is for the possibility of the Rays and their concessionary vendor Centerplate  to unify and take a bold step in the concession stand black hole and make one of their Trop locations ( Centerfield Street) become a “pop-up” stand. Using the current fad of “pop-up” restaurants, the Rays and Centerplate could have a different local eating establishment come in and provide a different food concept or gastronomical experience. Think Monstah Lobster during a Red Sox visit. Short-term catering options that could trend with visiting team’s locales or even bring a certain culinary air of the unknown Tampa Bay regional cultural nuances.

I am one of those people who miss the American Sunday Plate concession stand where Chef Enzo and his wife on Rightfield Street. I miss their signature homemade peach/apple cobbler, meatloaf, mac and cheese and that special finger-licking bucket of ribs. Why not see if some of the local Tampa Bay fringe eateries might want to venture into the Trop for a 10-game home stand catering venture with 4 signature dishes, a few sides and possibly even a devilish dessert. Centerplate do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the Everglades BBQ experience in 2011, but maybe I just hunger for more. This franchise has been very upfront in the past promoting their sponsor restaurants with vigor, but has it generated the capital for the sponsor that was envisioned? A short-term “pop-up” even for 10 games could get fans to sample the goods of a local eatery like the Z-Grille, and bring in fans post-game to again dine on those fares featured in the Trop  (Dr. Pepper ribs).

This could open up  a new customer base for these small restaurants, and maybe  the Rays can incorporate another growing food fad into the mix. Maybe an olive branch could be extended to the budding food truck community ( Fire Monkeys)  who are gaining a sizeable foothold in the Tampa Bay region and the food could be another way for the team to get those fringe Rays prospective fans into the stadium and let the way this team plays entice them to come back again and again. To me it sounds like a gastronomical “win-win”, but the potential fo even a slight attendance boost is a tasty side dish for me.

Perks Worth Revisiting:

My second resolve is for the Rays to take a firm stand and combat the mounting Season Ticket Holder apathy aliment that is gaining legs. It was not so long ago this segment of the Rays Republic had some special perks besides their seat discounts and gifts that made it worth the 81-game investment. Now it seem the  trinket cupboard is bare and some long time Rays Republic Season Ticket members have decided to explore game packages and small allotments of tickets as opposed to footing a huge upfront financial investment into the team. The foundation is not crumbling, but it does have a few cracks.

I have heard from some Rays Fan Wall of Fame members who wish for the golden days (pre-Stu) when we got all of the promotional items so we did not have to fight the 5:10 masses to get our Rays trinkets. We even got the under-15 selections which went great for giving gifts to younger friend’s kids, planting a seed to them becoming future Rays fans. I used to get my promotional item when the gates opened, hold onto it and see if a young fan was sitting in my section who did not get an item and I would give it to them knowing I had one coming to me later in the season via the yearly Season Ticket perk. There is still one mid-season event I wish the team would bring back again. I loved the All-Star Celebration parties held on the turf with food, games and the All-Star game telecast on the big screen as we all lounged on the field either on blankets or chairs eating take-out food. bought beverages or provided eats and just having that special Rays All-Star united experience.

It was a great event held before the era of Stu back on July 12,2005 and July 11, 2006. This is one of the yearly Rays events I have missed the most, more for the chance to mingle with Rays fans than for the simple fact of sitting down in Centerfield and looking upwards to the Teflon roof of the Trop. I still have vivid images in my mind of the phrases on those Rays invites stating: “You are our Most Valuable Player” (2005) or “Season Ticket Holders will take over the Trop!” (2006) These events used to make me feel like a small important cog of the Rays machine. Now I feel more like replaceable oil that can be changed at a moment’s notice.

Shining  Examples of the “Rays Way”:

The third resolve could easily be done. It just takes a solid decision and possibly a can of paint and a brave maintenance man. I went to Dallas for the Super Bowl a few years ago and had my breath taken away when I witnessed the Cowboys Ring of Honor in person. Not only does it convey the importance of that player in the team history, but it symbolized a team and fan’s love and ultimate respect for their former heroes and role models from the gridiron. I think the Rays need just that same symbolic example of honoring their past now that we are entering our 15th season.

It could be included on the facade of the 200 or Club Level of seating starting outward on either side of the current Press Box locations. There is more than enough space for future additions as the list grows towards the corners, plus even if the Rays do finally commit to a new home, it can be incorporated into the plans and just be re-instituted in the new venue. Without a shadow of doubt the Rays “Yoda”, Don Zimmer has to be the first name etched in this collection of great Rays. Some might say it should be Wade Boggs or even Fred McGriff who grace the honorary ring first, but to me Zim has all the prototypical Rays qualities you want both from a on-the-field, and in-the-seats standpoint. Top to bottom he is a Tampa Bay resident, a role model and a wealth of baseball stories, knowledge and experience worth of such an honor.

Well, these are my 3 possible 2012 resolves for the Rays as the New Year beams brighter upon the horizon. Some will say I should have addressed the Rays impending on-the-field issues and left these sleeping dogs lie, but I take great pride in my past, present and future dealings with this great franchise and think that sometimes things need to be instituted, re-invented or brought back to life to make being a member of the Rays Republic special again. These 3 resolves can be achieved, they can be enacted and they can be turning point to regaining some of the lost beams of light that have escaped the brilliance of the Rays Republic.

In advance, I wish all my loyal readers and those who stumble upon my writs a grand celebration tonight on this New Year’s Eve. I also wish you safety and the courage of resolve in seeing your own personal resolutions blossom into beautiful bouquet of obtainable goals and life aspirations.

HAPPY NEW YEARS from Rays Renegade

Rays Season is Over for Sugar Bear


It just will not have the same vibe or be the same without him down in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Something just seems so wrong about Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos not sitting right in front of the Bullpen enforcer Scott Cursi telling tales to Cursi and Rays Security Guard Grady. The Bullpen has lost its special mojo, it’s worldly moving and grooving to it’s own invisible beat.

I am truly going to miss seeing my baseball buddy Ramos when the Rays come home for their last regular season home stand. It just seems like forever that Ramos again came back into the Rays fold and has stood and talked to me and other Rays fans, but Ramo’s health should be our first concern. For a healthy Ramos is a dancing Ramos, and the “Sugar Bear” has that special Salsa groove going on down there.

Some of the Rays Republic might not have been in tune with the upper respiratory infections and ailments Ramos has been battling for most of the 2011 season. The degree of their severity has made Ramos miss multiple games, and taken him away from the Rays sidelines a few times this season. His ailments have taken Ramos away from the guys he loves hanging around nightly down in the Bullpen, and away from adoring fans who shout out his name at all points in the game.

Gone will be that special impromptu dancing of “the Motorcycle”, vacant from our eyes will be the playful joy and excitement Ramos expelled nightly in his role as the Rays Bullpen Coach. When there was not a Rays reliever warming up on the mound, Ramos held court like no one else. His overly aggressive mannerisms huge laugh and spontaneous motions made every Rays game worth the price of admission for me. I enjoyed every moment of watching, listening and knowing another side of the Sugar Bear.

When the Rays held their recent “Tweet In”, Ramos had just come back off another bit of rest and relaxation for an upper respiratory situation and was feeling not 100%, but more than excited to again patrol the Bullpen Mound. He was anxious to again hold court with Rays fans who always make a pilgrimage to the Rays Bullpen to see him and just chat for a moment. I have come to realize over the last several seasons, Ramos has always been more than just a Coach in the Bullpen, Ramos is that glue that binded this motley crew together.

During the “Tweet In” I sat right between Ramos and Cursi and we talked a bit about the medication mix-up, the nasty bouts of coughing and how Ramos felt an absolute discomfort like one of his players was sitting upon his chest when he laying down at night. Every tales and story told made me want to just put my hand upon Ramo’s barrel chest and purge the demon seed out of him forever.

Over the last few seasons my baseball friends list has dwindled down to a handful, with Ramos and Cursi on the top tier of that list. To me Ramos is the Rays Bullpen. His comedic routines and even his playful catcher’s stances made me smile and chuckle even in the most intense Rays game moments. When the Rays clinched their 2010 American League East title, Ramo came down to the corner with champagne in hand to celebrate with his “other” baseball family. That to me left an impression that will never fade

In the end my baseball friend is one of a small handful of people I have the utmost respect for within this Rays organization. Bright side is that Ramos is getting healthier. I have heard more than once over the past few years that Ramos will be calling it a day and hang up his uniform for good possibly within the next couple of years. I truly hope and pray to every deity in this universe that Ramos come back again, for at least a “Sugar Bear Farewell Tour” in 2012.

Heck, some of the short discussions I had with Ramos down by my seat before games were some of the best in my professional and personal life. So hearing that he is not going to be at the Trop for the season finale, but lounging back in Miami with his family relaxing and resting getting fit and healthy again. I am glad Ramos is recovering. So happy someone finally has pinpointed that dastardly bug or virus that has plagued Ramos for many a Rays road trip, especially when they ventured into cooler climates.

I am saddened that Ramos is miss all this great drama and watching this post season magic unfold from usual Bullpen throne. That text messages, phone calls and a big television screen will be as close as he can get to watching this magical run come to fruition. If the Rays do make the post season it will still hold untold magic for me, but I will miss enjoying it with a friend who has always made sure I was doing fine, and life was treating me right.

I know  right now you are probably relaxing down in Miami, talking with old friends, surrounded by loved ones and just feeling groovy. You know I wish you the best old friend, but the games do not seem the same without your special touches. Get well my baseball friend, the Rays Republic seems smaller without you.

Let’s Begin My Wacky Kerouac-ian Odyssey

 


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I remember reading Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” as a teenager and was totally fascinated with the simple idea of a group of people possibly starting at a point in this country and tracing their steps back to their own senses of reality in their current hometowns. So when I got the opportunity for a job where I would fly to another location and possibly do a trans-continental trip….with pay, you know I took it without regret.


So last Sunday I got on a silver bird and flew to that city that the rock ballad group Journey calls home, and set my adventure into motion. But before I could get to that “city by the bayyyyy“, I had to make a drop into Dallas/Fort Worth to change birds. I guess the seagull that got om Tampa to Dallas had other plans on this Sabbath Day.



dfw-skylink.jpgIn this city that boasts how big things are, the strangest thing happened. I found the most adventurous ride of my life outside of the premise of an amusement park, or Disney’s Space Mountain. Who knew besides the thousands of Super Bowl fans who flocked in on birds of their own that this airports tram system was such an E-ticket ride.


Seriously, it bucked, chucked and possibly threw me off all in the span of a few air side terminals. It was the most fun I have ever had outside the amusement arena, and I truly loved it. After that even the Shuttle driver with the hot brake foot and the bad rear shocks on his van seemed like a petty imitation, or worse, a disappointment. But I finally arrived in the 1970’s era looking SFO airport and was onto my first adventure.



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dp2624x494.jpgRich Herrera, the Rays Radio Network Pre-game host read a Facebook plant by me and exploded with places and things I had to do while camped out in the “other” bay area. From going to the old haunts of the San Francisco Seals, to standing outside AT&T Park banging to be let in,I was in a city that showed me respect, manners and even a bit of oddity.


I even hit a few establishments mentioned by Herrera and hoisted a few to the loss of Jayne Russell and Duck Snider last night. I even think I saw celebrity chef Chris Constantine slurping a back bacon ice cream cone, but San Fran is full of those chef types. So this morning as the rest of the city was just waking from a long night’s catnap, I ventured in my mobile of choice back to my Florida nirvana hoping for the Kerouac moment.


The day started with me missing my cut-off towards the South and I accidentally went approximately 9 miles die North of intended turn target and got to learn the great freeway entrance stop light adventure. Let me just cut to the chase and tell you there is a guy in a maroon Kia Soul who is still cursing my existence.. Seems in California, this light is for EACH auto, not the whole line…..I wish I had a Oregon tag on the car, then he could blame Portland.



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Trip 032.JPGFinally I got my bearing straight and began to head towards the smog-congested mountain tops that had kissed my morning “hello” over the last few days. I was excited for a closer look to see if this region actually had snow, or some one had spray-paint tagged the summits. But before I reached those ice cream shaped domes of snow, I went past the most beautiful sight so far on this trip.

No, it was not Sandra Bullock or Anne Hathaway, it was a water-filled retention lake that was being kissed by a line of clouds, simple breathtaking. I of course could not get a photo of this since the road had no shoulder, and my trusty camera was still in the trunk.

 

But soon I was in a valley where the air had the pleasant aroma of almonds, with trees a bloom with buds of pinks and off-white. It was at this time I made my first encounter with two Indian ( not Native American) gentleman in a Shell station perched high upon a hill over looking a possible 100 mile stretch of budding plants and bee boxes.



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Trip 002.JPGThey then told me about the region and its “exports”, which also included a grand one pound bag of Habenero-dusted pistachios that they presented to me as a gift. I decided to also splurge on a pound of glorious almonds with the chances of having an accident with a chocolate bar sometime in the evening ( has not happened yet). But I left that Shell station in the heavens and continued on my odyssey.


I must had traveled 2 hundred miles before a crop duster seemed to want to “buzz my tower” as the vibrations of the small one-seat plane shook the car as he leveled to deliver a crushing blow of chemicals to the unfortunate pests invading this field. But it was cool to see that the grand old art of applying pesticides from the air was still vogue.



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Trip 018.JPGBut I had a mountain to climb. And even as my new car ( which had 31 miles on it that a.m. tried to make it up the massive mount, I could see trucks and auto pulling trailers engine’s begin to wheeze, cough and sputter as they tackled this grand rocky monument. I was amazed at the snow still kissing the top tier of the mountain, but also mesmerized by the sheer size of the cutting into the mountain needed to bring such a highway to life.



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1-clearchannelstadium01-052208.jpgI finally got to the top and took my exit towards the city of Lancaster and again gazed in wonder as the field at Clear channel Stadium, where the Lancaster Jethawks play was so green, while the rest of the city had that rustic clay look and feel to its turf. Was great to view that ballpark in all its green glory before setting out into the semi-desert ringed by more majestic snow-capped mountains.


Slowly I made my way past the odd blue-hued sage brush and dust that seemed to rise into the air and form a wall around the car towards the town of Victorville, California. But first I had to traverse a road that was plagued by “flooded” signs with massive puddles of rain runoff still sticking to the sides of the road just out of the reach of the tall cactus trees wanting a tasty aqua break.



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Trip 039.JPGAs I got near my hotel, a High School came into view and there on the side of the corner was the biggest Ray-hawk motif I had ever seen. The kid had to have pounds of product in that Mohawk to even get it to not sway in the slight cross breeze. Again, the dastardly camera had been left out of reach and when the light turned green, a car behind me impatiently wanted me to move or die….not sure which?



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Trip 049.JPGI checked into my room, popped onto the Internet, took care of some mail, giggled a bit at a television show I missed, but recorded and set about downloading the days actions into my mind again. The Indian’s generosity, the purely nirvana scene of water and clouds meeting, then the oddity of snow and desert in the same photo. But I got one last surprise as I ventured into a store called Vallarta and found a Hispanic paradise that Florida really needs to invest in.

I got some awesome spicy Menudo and a few other Mexican-based dishes for dinner and set about on the quest for a food comma to put me to bed for another grand journey in the morning. With a belly full of hotel furnished waffles and great California OJ, I will leave this town that reminds me of Mexico City ( but without the crime) and head into the reaches of Arizona.

 

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Trip 009.JPGTomorrow night it will be Tucson, and I can’t wait to see what the karma Gods have in store for me tomorrow……I hope Kerouac is jealous up there about this trip, because I am fulfilling my own “journey to enlightenment” here. But with gas in the boondocks of Cali topping the $ 4 mark. this m ight be the only time in my life to take such a trip…..unless you have 6 Lotto number for me?

 

 

 

“If You Don’t Have Charity in Your Heart…”

 

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I once heard famous comedian and philanthropist Bob Hope speak this line at a USO Show so many moons ago, “If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”

Charity and giving back to my community whether I was living in the Tampa Bay community or in Seattle has always been at the core of my personality. I am that guy who actually rolls down the window and gives my last dollar out of my wallet to someone in need. You want to say it was the way you were brought up, or those Sunday School verses and stories finally clicked within your subconscious.

The reality is that all my life I have been extremely lucky and not had to worry for much. Even as I am now entering my third year of full-time unemployment, with my retire fund raided and bare like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, I still give of myself whenever possible. Some call it “paying it forward”, other just know it as treating my fellow man as I want to be treated.

I have decided that over the course of the next week, I am going to try and relay a few stories of inspiration and charity between the Tampa Bay community and people who hail from this region. Some are great stories that you might never hear if not for this small voice of mine. While others have been broadcasted in their regions and might have slipped your ears.

Charity to me is not a “hand out” or even a “hand up”, it is the sign that we respect humanity and want to show our compassion or unity for a cause or ideal. In a span of 14 days I will have volunteered for two different Major League Baseball player’s charity golf tournaments, plus another local human interest fundraiser.

Maybe a bit of my parents did rub off on me to want to give of myself like this, but the reality is that I am only a sliver away from some of this same charity being thrust upon me. Possibly it is that stark reality that I have been to the top of the mountain in my field and also been tossed into the pits of despair that the sheer act of charity resonates with me so loud and clear.

Once I was in the same position as so many MLB players that I was able to give generously and without regard, but now my services are all that I have to volunteer. Heck, I know a few people with the Tampa Bay Rays who I have pestered and annoyed over the years letting them know I am available 24/7/365 right now to help in any venture, event or even just lend a hand when needed.

Some of those responses have been “Thank you, but we have it handled“, while others have opened their arms and let me do what I do best…work up a sweat and give until I am tired. But like I said in a Tweet this week, “I am tired, but it is a good tired”.

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The reason for this post today is that the NFL’s championship game, the Super Bowl, is always a visually reminder that Spring and baseball are just beyond the horizon. Pitchers and Catchers will take the field in less than 10 days and our thoughts will pull towards the game and not those less fortunate. That is why I hope and wish that all of us can take a moment out in the next 10 days to provide an inspiration, a great smile or even some hard work towards helping someone else.

As I have grown older the art of charity and giving has become more focused in my life. Called it the wisdom and sage advice of an advancing human, or simple just the ramblings of a closet hopeless romantic, but I do not have to “go Green” to give back to this Earth. I just have to cherish those who also walk along with us on this journey. So let me get back off this soapbox, park myself back in front of this laptop and begin to think of ways to make all of you want to travel the path I will over the next 10 days.

Bob Hope was wise man. There has to be a balance within ourselves of charity and humility for us to grow, mature and even have the respect and admiration of the masses MLB players can give a percentage of their yearly salaries, but those who are not working, or even homeless can only give of themselves. Since I began with a quote, maybe I should end with another quote that resonates through me daily:

The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. ” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

2010 All Holiday Squad

 

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Every Christmas Eve it has become customary over the last several years for me to wander through the pages of MLBlogs and take a journey into the Christmas minds of some of our great bloggers. This year my adventures turned up several great redux renditions of the Christmas classic poem “T’was The Night Before Christmas“, and I even found a few Holiday “Wish Lists” searching for wins, the postseason and an eventual ring for 2011.

As I was traveling through MLBlogs, I thought to myself, “Self, what would be the ultimate Christmas All Holiday baseball squad?”

I somehow answered my own question immediately in my mind and began to seek the right combination of Christmas-based characters both human and cartoon to field such a Holiday squad. I ventured back into the cobwebbed recesses of my past favorite memories on film and television.

Let me tell you that sometimes even Wikipedia can’t help as I entered into a vision quest to determine the right pairing of 10 players and coaches for the Polar Express. Being that we will be playing in the North American Winter League, I have instituted the Designated Santa on my team. I think this squad has the right hint of animation and human elements to make this team a winner.

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Starting Pitcher:

I decided that the only person who could be the starting pitcher for the Polar Express had to be Charlie Brown. His classic Christmas TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first hit the CBS airwaves way back in 1965 and was an instant hit with kids of all ages. I thought Brown was my perfect holiday pitcher because of his vast past experiences pitching.

Of course I did balk at the chance that Brown could somehow be suddenly de-clothed by a sharp liner up the middle after he hangs one of his patented mid-80’s curve balls. Brown has the uncanny fortitude to throw hard and long into games for the Express.


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Catcher:

I did not have to think long and hard about the right guy to catch for this team. I did however need someone who had some brawn and might be dumb enough to sit back there and be ready for anything coming off the fingertips of Charlie Brown. I considering all the positive and negative variables and kept with my first impression that Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” was the man for the job. “Christmas Vacation” first hit movie houses back in 1989 and became an instant classic for it’s off beat humor and odd but familiar family gathering situations. Eddie is a pretty big guy, and he looks like he could block the plate like an ice sheet.

Now that you have seen my pitcher/catcher battery, I decided that this team will not need any relief pitchers since it might have the 10-run rule in effect going into the 5th inning knowing the way Charlie Brown pitches to batters’. So let’s get you now acquainted with the 5 infielder I selected for my All Holiday team.

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First Baseman:

I wanted to get a guy who has some solid baseball experience to man the First Base bag. We needed a solid guy to protect the line and can post up correctly on the bag if the ball gets hit into the infield. I chose a guy who owns a few minor league ball clubs in real life as my first bagger. I think he can do the job with a flair, and if not, provide a comedic relief maneuver or two while out hugging the bag.

I decided to with Francis Xavier Cross from the film “Scrooged“. I have always thought this was a awesome Nuevo take on the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The film originally hit theatres back in 1988, and is still one of my favorite comedy movies for the holidays. I think that Bill Murray captured the perfect sarcastic essence of a socially detached Scrooge, and his comic genius shows brilliantly through in this adaptation.

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Second Baseman:

I wanted a Second Baseman who could be as quick as a rabbit (or bunny). He needed to have that rifle arm and accuracy to get the double play, or to cover the bag when Cousin Eddie launches a rocket to tag out a rambling polar bear trying to steal a base to get into scoring position. I with smart Ralphie Parker from “A Christmas Story” to play second base for me. The movie has been another holiday appetizer since its original screening date in 1983. Wonder if I can talk Ralphie into asking his Dad if he wants to sell that lamp yet?

In the film, Ralphie showed the type of moxie I want on Second Base who is smart enough to think on the fly to either talk about the notorious leg lamp, or just be quiet as a mouse. He also has the determination and spunk to keep pestering his parents for that Red Ryder BB gun. Hopefully the ball coming in hard and fast from Cousin Eddie from behind the plate will not put his eye out.

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Shortstop:

My Shortstop has to be extra agile and have smarts to think on his feet at the same time. He has to be able to use his internally cold instincts to decide if the throw should be made, or possibly cover second as the pivot man on a ball hit to the first base side of the bag.

I think, that Hermie, the dentist elf from “Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer” would be the perfect guy to man the hole position for the Express. He showed remarkable smart judgment during the TV special, which first hit the networks in 1964. And with over 46 years of intelligent moves, Hermie should be a valuable addition to the squad.

Third Baseman:

Playing third, I had to find a big guy who could move laterally and go blindly into foul territory for pop-ups. He also had to have some horizontal versatility towards the chalk on the left-field line. He had to be a power hitter to help produce runs and add some protection for our little squad. It had to be a movie character from the couple of years to add some youthful vitality and vigor.

My Third Baseman had to have the energy and the motivation to add to this teams awesome charismatic chemistry. The personality that fit like a glove perfectly to me was Buddy from the movie “Elf.” He has the comedic chops to take one for the team and would sacrifice his body. His quick wit and glove along with his power stroke should provide more than a few Kodak moments as his long high drives make it over the high walled snow fences.

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Left Fielder:

My choice for Left Field could not have two-left feet. He has to have the agility and the coordination of an athlete, plus run like a deer. He had to be sure footed and be able to dance in the outfield while chasing down flares and dying quails. The guy who I think would be a model Left-Fielder for this squad was George Bailey of “It’s A Wonderful Life“. I just hope George remembers to put some extra Zuzu petals in his uniform pants pockets before he takes the field. We know they are magical.

 

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Center fielder:

I needed to find a shrewd and sometimes calculating Center fielder. Someone who could snipe a base runner who made a mistake, or tried to score on his arm. I needed someone with a huge heart who would run and run all over the field and get the ball where ever it was on the field.

I needed someone who could exhibit some sense of emotion even if he is a problem-child at times, but plays the game on the team’s level too. For that reason, I picked Grinch from the movie “The Grinch“. I wanted someone who could go from bad to good in a heartbeat. If he did make a bad play, or a questionable action on or off the field, I could just say it was the “Grinch just being the Grinch”.

 

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Right-Fielder:

I wanted to find a Right-Fielder who was not be afraid of the snow wall, or of sprinting towards a pop-up down the icy foul line. I wanted to see a nice combination of horizontal or vertical movement towards the failing sphere. He needed to have a rifle arm and a uncanny wit about him to keep base runners honest on the base paths.

I chose Ernest from “Ernest Saves Christmas“. This 1988 sequel, to a sequel, to a sequel kept a long line of profitable movies going for over a decade. We needed that kind of staying power in our Right Field. A streak like that can be contagious on a team. If the team has that kind of confidence, they will go above expectations and strive to be the best in the Winter League.

 

 

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Designated Santa:

I needed a huge lovable character who could also slam the tar out of the ball for this spot in the lineup. Someone who evokes the bit of charm and the joy of the big guy himself. He had to be able to belly up to the plate and hit it a mile, or at least to the South Pole with his swing.

The guy I picked for this position has been cranking out several installments of his own movie franchise. I picked Scott Calvin as my Designated Santa from the movie, “The Santa Clause“. That kind of confidence and staying power will be needed in the clutch for this team. It also helps protect the younger hitters on the team by showing the power and the possible results of pitching to this Christmas giant.

First and Third Base Coaches’

Now that we have finished with the fielding and Designated Santa position, let’s meet the two extraordinary base coaches’ selected for the Polar Express. Both come with their own sets of particular unique in-game behaviors, and both can help base runners and hitters alike in the game situations.

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First Base Coach:

Over in the First Base box we have a guy who can make the ball seem to “freeze” in mid-air. He was instrumental in teaching players how to hit frozen ropes down the line for extra bases hit for the 2010 Express. This Coach has been described as a cold hearted soul, who can always melt you with just his smile.

His cunning direction and cool nature makes him the perfect First Base Coach for this team. I am talking about the always cool cat known as the Snow Miser. He was in the 1974 classic movie ” A Year Without Santa Claus“, and has been giving icy banter to opposing players for years. His cold demeanor is legendary. He uses his cold hard facts to make the opposition freeze in their tracks while trying to diving for low balls or foul pop-ups hit by the Polar Express. He is the kind of guy you do not want nipping at your nose, and the perfect Coach for this team.

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Third Base Coach:

Our Third Base Coach is a Christmas Hall of Fame legend. He had been blazing the trail like a beacon in the night for years pioneering the use of unique signals and well placed lighting to facilitate the proper transfer of anticipated moves and pre-arranged actions to Polar Express base runners’ and batters’.

His expert knowledge of reindeer games and his leadership expertise is unparallel in the Winter League. I am talking about the brilliant Rudolf. Since his first sighting on televisions in 1964, he has been leading a lighted path for children and players alike to the real spirit of Christmas.

His classic “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special is a holiday necessity that is even today without an equal. It is for that reason that he should be the perfect choice as the Third Base Coach for this high-powered squad of Christmas icons. Without Rudolf showing us the way on Christmas, we would be blinded by the darkness and might end up losing our way around the base paths.

It has been a great pleasure today giving you some of my All Time Christmas iconic players that had to take the field for this special squad.

There certainly will be your own thoughts and rationale for extra additions and subtractions of certain characters to this team, but unless these selected All Holiday baseball players moving on, or are retiring to the celluloid and video vaults, the true essence and the spirit of this team will live on forever in our hearts and minds……………………..

Merry Christmas to everyone in the MLBlogs.com community and beyond!!

 

            

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Sliders of Joy

 

 

Last night I decided to do some channel surfing and came upon a movie on TNT making it’s network debut. The movie was “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as two aging gentlemen who were given only months to live. As I watched this film, it got me eagerly thinking about my own Tampa Bay Rays “Bucket List” and some still unsatisfied opportunistic goals I still want to achieve before I wander away from the Rays community for the last time.

I found one moment in the film kind of poetic in nature when Freeman told the tale of the two questions that what ancient Egyptians were said to encounter upon their deaths as they got closer to the gates of the great beyond. Freeman stated that the first question was, ” Have you had JOY in your life? “. Let’s all Ponder that question in regards to our own baseball lives for a few moments before I continue with the story.

Freeman then told Nicholson the second part of the Egyptian equation, “Did you give JOY in your life? ” Now I am going to answer those two questions in relationship with my Rays lifetime experiences, and hopefully I can some day be admitted past the turnstiles some day in a celestial Rays game. In returning to these events, even within my mind I am hoping the emotions and excitement of those activities do not get the better of me and I begin to wax to poetic like a babbling moron.

 

 
 Did you have JOY in your (Rays) life?
I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single game I have attended since the Rays first pitch on March, 31,1998 to this moment in November , 2010 have brought me a mountain of emotional responses and joy. But there have been a few moments that have definitely been highlighted, or even shine brightly through out that journey. From watching a former Rays baseball friend (Edwin Jackson) throw a No-Hitter against the Rays at home, to seeing a Rays starter (Matt Garza) also enter the No-Hitter club this season with both games viewed from my seat in Tropicana Field is a sparkling moment.

But the true joy I have had in the last 13 years following this team has come from the people I have gotten to know over that period. From the Rays Fan Host who took my ticket on the first day, and who still works with the Rays, to a duo of Rays facility employees who stopped on Roosevelt Blvd and picked me up, then gave me a ride home after the Rays airport experience in October, it has been one glorious rollercoaster ride.

I gotten the chance to watch a single player (Carl Crawford) develop as a Rays prospect, then be promoted to the Major League level and achieve All Star status, before sadly also witnessing his last at bat and time pulling on his Rays uniform during Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series. Been privy to amazing stories and discussion with a host of Rays players past and present who I consider baseball friends. Once even asked Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to be my best man, but then found out my fiancée was a closet pinstripe fan.

Have experienced the joy of catching foul balls during the game. Be granted the opportunity to share precious moments on and off the field with players, coaches and other Rays fans that will always be high on my list of accomplishments of my Rays life. Always been blessed to be around the great Rays fans and friends who made the time and games more memorable and special. Have gained friendships within the Rays front office and with former Rays staffers that will last a lifetime, even if the Rays dreams ends.


 

Can definitely say I have had more than a bucketful of joy in my life when it comes to following, covering and enjoying the Rays. And it might seem funny to write this right now with so much other adventures and events still to unfold that I have not seen, but one moment the 2010 Rays season is definitely shining brighter than the rest right now. It was right after the Rays clinched their 2010 postseason berth that the players began to walk down the First Base line thanking the fans that the moment presented itself.

Again, it was my longest tenured baseball friend with the Rays who again brought an untold amount of joy to me as Cursi appeared between the handshakes with a few Rays players to present me with a full bottle of Domaine ste Michelle champagne for me to enjoy the moment. It is not that Cursi brought me a bottle of adult beverage, but the pure fact that he remembered me with all of this celebration and joyous occasions going on all around us that he thought of me. I then spread the joy of the moment by letting a few of my surrounding Rays friends also taste the nectar of the Gods and also become a part of this joyous moment.


Did you give JOY in your (Rays) life?

I truly hope I did. This is one aspect of that total ancient Egyptian formula that could be more subject to my own stern interpretations of my actions . Hopefully the moments I have taken to field Batting Practice balls and hide them in my backpack to give to kids attending their first baseball game adheres to this provision. That by my relationship with a few of the Rays players, I have given some young Rays fan joy when I stopped them and asked them to either ay “hello” or sign for them as their eye grew bigger.

That the way I have produced facts, figures and vocalized untold stories about this team or even a singled out player has provided an ounce of joy for another fan or even a opponent’s fan who became delighted by the fight and desire of this Rays squad. Sure I have seen the bright smiles and awestruck looks of children when I present them with a ball. Have also seen the same facial expression of people my own age who were attending their first baseball game and I somehow magically procured a game used baseball for them to clutch and remember in the privacy of their own homes and joyous lives.

Or maybe it was the moment I gave a young Rays fan who’s family was moving to Alabama a special going away gift that she would not forget. She was an avid B J Upton fan, so I gave her a game used Rays road jersey autographed by Upton which featured the old “Tampa Bay” emblazoned on the front of the jersey. That way she can never forget where her baseball heart lies… in Tampa Bay.

Hopefully there has been people who have read my passages since September 2007 that has awaken their baseball love, or provided them with a way to relive a moment in words and paragraphs when they could not attend or see the events themselves. And I really hope that a few of the photos taken over the last few years of Rays concerts and game day photos has provided some extra spots of joy or appreciation to someone online who lives far away, or wishes they could have attended the events themselves.

 

Do I truly think I have achieved the two aspects of the Egyptian equation to be considered for entry into the afterlife based on my Rays life? I honestly do not see it as my place to set that bar or even approach that level right now in my Rays life. There is still so much to see and do that could have the scales weighing to and from for a long time until I have to consider this in person before those gates.

 

During a mid-February day back in 2004 I sat nervous and anxious before the voice of the Rays, Dick Crippen announced my name as a inductee to the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame during the Rays Fan Fest. Crippen called out my name and I walked over to be presented my Wall of Fame jersey and trophy and instantly Rays moments began flashing through my head at lightning speed almost making me too dizzy.

They say that karma always is a never ending circle fo events and moments that enter and exit each of our lives. Forver we are in an endless game of flux with the scles always rising or lowering with our actions and reactions. The aspect of having or even giving joy has always had a centerline somewhere within my life, but never as tranfixedand focused as in my Rays life. I guess the Rays knew what they were doing when they named my persona for the Wall of Fame plague. Because even before that Wall of Fame induction moment I always imagined myself as “Mr. Lucky” when it comes to this Rays team.  

 
 

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

 

RRCollection 


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.

RRCollection 

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!

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