Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’

Thank You David…..Simply THANK YOU!

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I have to admit, when I first heard some of the Spring comment from then Tampa Bay Rays prospect David Price’s mouth back in 2008 I wonder if he arrogant or just knew something we all somehow could not see at that moment in time.

1379997_10151724907248429_463699542_nHow wrong was my thought process on that day because Price did not only deliver on his statement way back in 2008, he has backed it up every contest since up until his eventual trade today not a half hour short of the Trade Deadline finish line.

Going to be weird thinking of Price as a Detroit Tiger. He always seemed at ease in the Rays Carolina Blue unis, never seeming to delight in donning the darker Rays home or away jerseys, just bathing as much as possible in the team’s blues and whites.

Price was even on the turf of the old Tilted Cap that is Tropicana Field today throwing on his off-day with fellow Rays hurler Jeremy Hellickson just 200 yards away from the Rays War Room that eventually cast a different end of his 2014 tale.

But so not fret Rays Republic for Price will be back sooner than you think.

thCAZZG668Because the Rays and Tigers still have to play a mid-week, 3-game series under the Teflon dome from Tuesday, August 19 to Thursday, August 21.  It could be the last chance for any of us in 2014 to see see Price on the AstroTurf, and I think we can almost guarantee Price will be out working the sidelines chatting with old and new friends.

But there could be an additional huge cherry on the top of this series if the Tigers arrange their pitching matchups in a way that Price could take the hill during that 3-game stint and get a righteous standing ovation from the fans he has thrilled ever since his promotion to the “Show” back in September 2008.

From Astro to Zorilla  Price has truly been a class act showing leadership, relieved team stress through humor and has ( to myself personally) exceeded every expectation, every social engagement, and certainly been a prime example of the true essence that makes up the “Rays Way” of baseball.

thCAQO9RE7I was lucky enough to be in the stands at old Yankee Stadium back on September 14, 2008 when Price took the hill against the Yankees in his MLB debut.

I even shagged a baseball during that day with the old Yankee Stadium logo attached and Price signed it for me without pausing for a second. I still cherish that ball sandwiched between the signed MLB debut balls of Evan Longoria and James Shields

I was also lucky enough to see his hands go skyward after finishing off the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and sip some of that sweet nectar as he and the team paraded down the First Base line post game.

Was even lucky enough in 2011 as Price wearing that Carolina Blue tartan-themed post season shirt took a swig of bubbly supplied by one of my Bullpen friends.

 

I was also lucky enough to get to know Price on many occasions on and off the turf at charity events, Season Ticket holder events and just chilling by the Bullpen seats after a bullpen session.  Taken numerous images and videos of the daily defacing of his bobble head cartoon image on the Right field wall, and seen him become a well respected and admired figure among his adopted community.

thCA8ZX2R3I know there is a lot of “I’s” here, but truly what Price brought to not only me, but the entire Rays Republic is knowing hard work, believing in yourself and your teammates brought historic memories to this franchise and their fan base.

Was simply a pleasure knowing this guy who might have irked me for a moment, but rose to the occasion so many times I lost count. Even though he only pitched once every 5 days, he always took this team on his back doing whatever needed to be done.

He was the Rays biggest cheerleader, their clubhouse voice of reason and a guy who grew into a leadership role for the pitching staff and accepted it with grace, confidence and a hint of calculated indifference.

If there was an All-Star designation for value to his team, Price would have been a 7 time All-Star.

I’m personally looking forward to that mid-August mid-week series with the Tigers. Because I want to find Price on the sidelines, catch his eye and shake his hand and truly thank him for not only the memories, but the role model and man he became while a Ray.

Thank you David…..Truly THANK YOU.

 

 

 

Glad I Never Have to Make Trade Deadline Decisions

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How would you decide if it was your task to determine if your Major League Baseball squad was in “Buyer” or a “Seller” mode?

Would you compile a list of Pros and Cons onto an over-sized white board constantly striking out the illogical and mundane ideas while encircling the plausible and rational and in the end combining them neatly into a realistic orderly outline hoping they have the explosive measures to strike down any additional counterpoints.

images (2)Would you air on the surreal side of whimsy and instead flips a coin hoping that this twirling silver-plated marvel can secure you a viable answer, or take you down a long road of regretful actions. Taking the gamblers’ way and letting the bone decide you, your team and your continued careers path.

Or would you rely on the perception of scientific reasoning and radical decision management by resigning to the feasible factions of conducive tinkering of statistics and numerical normality’s to hedge the risks and rewards of anyone or everyone on your roster, including some of your previously off-limits top tier prospects.

Could you conclude without a shadow of a doubt orchestrate the perfect transaction scenario, isolate a primary trade package down to the last detail and complete the action before the last tick of the Trade Deadline clock without regret or second-guessing?

But that is the reality of the next couple of days until the sounding of that last tick of the clock on Thursday, August 31, 2014.

images (1)All 30 G.M.’s, Vice-Presidents and even Team ownership groups will have to make public via their voices or their players’ their final decree of being “Buyers” or “Sellers” as we approach the last few months of the season.

This is a time when a team can possibly regain their winning ways, forge into uncharted playoff glory or resort to the reality they do not have the horses to realistically make a final charge for any of the Wild Card or Division title slots.

For this brief moment in time so many will evoke the ever-changing thought processes of a Vegas gambler who decide within moments with instinct, a brush of Lady Luck or blind odds that the direction their team, and quite possibly their selected careers paths will be deemed failure or success by a unhuman 6-sided entity.

images (5)Every year some team rolls them bones and gets pieces that accumulate into a winning moments of glory accented by a joyous parade, while others over-pay, over-evaluate and commit career Hari-Kari as their selected seasonal saviors, needed for that last push towards a postseason dream come crumbling down upon themselves when an injury or unprovoked slump finally derails the most honest of intentions.

Some of these soles will have to decide the personnel value of a player or what number of bodies or wealth will be needed to secure their services, even if only for the short-term. The same players these franchise leaders shake hands with, joke with and see on a daily basis will be assigned a monetary stamp that other suitors will see affixed to them as that team’s negotiable first bartering price.

In that instant contact moment each M L B G.M. will have visions of future yearly salaries, arbitration raises and years of control numbers dancing in their heads.

images (7)Medical charts will be viewed with fine toothed combs, decision made on-the-fly concerning their compatibility to their present team’s chemistry and if the move has merits beyond just the 2014 final postseason push.

Yep, this is the time of year I’m glad I do not work in one of the 30 M L B offices as daily the pendulum can swing from “buyer” to “seller” with each sway of the arm over the final push of the Trade Deadline.

But then again, there is ample time between now and this Thursday for mistakes to be made, triumphs to be planned and careers to see set aflame.

Who knows what disasters and blockbusters await us over the next few days. How many bottle of the pink stuff and Tum’s will be consumed, and if someone’s cell phone provider’s minutes will be exceeded for the common good of their team.

images (8)At this moment each team has questions and await the conclusions that may provide finite and fulfilling answers for every team.

Only on Friday morning after the final smoke clears will there be  prognosticator assessments as to if there are clear winners or losers and if the “Buyers” this year should have really been aware.

Tick…Tock…..Tick…Tock….

Dance Willis, Cause the World is Watching

 

Somewhere in the Far East there is a Tampa Bay Rays fan, or at least he is a super fan of the funky and classic dances moves of Rays Mascot coordinator Willis Harris.

images (6)Most Rays fans have seen Harris performing during the break when the Rays Grounds crew drag the clay surface and replace the orange-spotted bases during the bottom of the 4th inning during Rays home contests.

You knew the Rays dancing and highly flexible moving and grooving crew member  had a following because of the many videos posted to Youtube or mentions in new articles or blog posts over his tenure with the team. But now his side-splits and gyrations have taken to the International stage as his persona has been jacked and become an instant hit or miss depending on your political views or geographic locale.

images (5)It seems someone has positioned the mighty mug of North Korean leader Kim Jong- Un upon the shoulder of Harris who dominates the first 38 seconds of the newly released dance track featuring the North Korean leader.  

If you were wondering, the musical soundtrack is set to a Chinese pop hit by the Chopstick Brothers, which is pretty toe-tapping. The Korean online new source Chosun Ilbo says the video was the brainchild of a Chinese man surnamed Zhang from Suzhou who reportedly studied at Kyonggi University in South Korea.”

Here’s to hoping that Jung-Un has some sort of comedic bone in his body and can appreciate for a second that someone gave him righteous dance moves and even a great finishing move….but I have a feeling Jung Un is out for almighty revenge against anyone featured in the video, even if they did not send it or let their image be used in such a fashion.

download (1)Hopefully Harris will not come back to his Rays 4th floor office any time soon and find a ton of well fermented Kimchi stacked from the carpet to the ceiling tiles and a terse letter from the depot leader stuck to his door with a ceremonial Liaoning bronze dagger.

Whoever did post the video most certainly will be popped into the crosshairs of the infamous North Korean State Security Department in the near future.  We know by the translated message on the video it was not sent or made within Tropicana Field, or by any member current or past within the Rays, but Harris will probably be guilty by association since someone brandished his trademark dance moves for all the World to enjoy.

images (4)Surely the video will play on every television news program for at least the next 24 hours…or more and Harris will get a bit more great free publicity on his antics during Rays games and hopefully will return to an office free of fermented veggies, Korean symbols and a bronze dagger.

Still, you got to love that the Rays also got some free publicity, few bytes of video antics as to the fun and entertainment you can be assured of at a Rays game.

So for now….Dance Willis, dance like the World is watching, because it is.

 

A Rays Groundskeeper video Encore featuring Korea’s Psy  “Gangnam Style” :

 

 

Final Vote, Sminal Vote….McGee Deserved an All-Star Cap

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I want to vote for one of the American League All-Star Final Vote candidates, but I’m not.

Some might say my reasoning is selfish as baseball is viewed as a team sport played by individuals and we should vote and select the finest talents in the land to represent our AL squad.

 But this season, I disagree with that train of thought.

400-thumb-450x337-2628681Call me a horse’s caboose if you want, but I’m boycotting this year’s selection because I can, as my vote matters (Or that is what every politician says). The main reason I’m not voting for any of the 5 qualified candidates is that I believe there should have been another Rays horse in the running for an A L All-Star slot.

I firmly would have voted as many times as possible on my many email addresses (work and personal) for Tampa Bay Rays RP Jake McGee to be added to the A L squad.

Most will bring me the argument that the A L already have enough talent on the left side of the rubber with the likes of A’s RP Sean Doolittle, Twins Glenn Perkins and 2008 All-Star game late inning reliever and game winner Scott Kazmir (who will represent the A’s) on their roster.

images (2)Add the additional lefty names of Boston’s Jon Lester and the Jays Mark Buehrle , plus the Rays lone selection David Price, and the A L team currently has 6 left-handed selections and the Final Vote could bring another.

I had a feeling Farrell was going to call the name of a southpaw from the Rays, but I did not think it would have been Price even though he has also put up some stellar stats considering his team’s hot and cold running offense at times this season. Maybe it was wishful thinking that Farrell might call on the soft-spoken McGee instead of Price, but I had hopes.

downloadBut it seems the All-Star game anymore is about the “hero factor”, or the guy who has that role model persona loud and proud and not the guy who has honed his craft and finally has all the pieces gathered to complete his M L B puzzle.

I truly thought this All-Star game would be McGee’s “coming out” party to show why the Rays have let him go from a great minor league starter to pulling the final strings at times in the Rays current closer-by-committee framework.

But as they say, let’s let the numbers (as of 7/9/14) speak for themselves.

*** McGee sports a 3-0 record with 6 saves this season, including a nail-biting, 4-out save last night.

*** Sports a 1.58 ERA in 42 appearances this season and surrendered a 14 straight scoreless appearance streak in last nights (7/8) Rays win over the Kansas City Royals.

***He allowed a run for only the 2nd time in his last 31 appearances, plus 39 of his 43 trips to the hill in 2014 have been scoreless appearances.

*** His fastball velocity, which averages 96.5 mph is the highest among leftie AL relievers.

*** His total appearances (42) ranks 2nd in the A L, and his stingy Opponents Slugging Percentage of .214 has him ranked 3rd in the AL.

*** He has pitched 49 consecutive homerless inning, the 3rd longest streak in the entire M L B. His last HR was on Sept 4, 2013 to LA Angel C Chris Iannetta.

***20 of his total 25 hits this season have been singles, and the other 5 have been doubles.

***McGee has stranded 24 of his 27 inherited base runners (88.9 %) this season and if his current formula runs true, should eclipse the Rays record of 88.6% set by former Rays Southpaw J P Howell in 2008.

So the numbers show McGee has the talents and the numbers to be considered a 2014 All-Star.

images (5)Some have said that since Price makes his last start before the break this Saturday that 3-days rest might not make him a viable pitching option for All-Star game.

Others have commented that Price could attend the All-Star game festivities in Minnesota and consult with Farrell possibly Sunday morning to recommend McGee as a viable option since Price would have a little more than 2-2 1/2 days rest before the contest. Some say Price passing the Rays All-Star game cap to McGee would be one of the most unselfish and deserving moves Price would ever do as a Ray. uniform

The move also could be viewed as a team-first move as not pitching in the All-Star game would put Price in line to pitch in the Rays first post All-Star game contest against the Twins on Friday, July 18th.

images (4)So you can snide me all you want that I’m not voting for another player not sporting a Rays uniform in the All-Star game final vote.

The players selected by M L B are deserving and merit consideration, but I got to stick with my gut on this and keep the home fires burning that McGee gets a call from Farrell before Tuesday’s All-Star game.

Sometimes you got to stick to your hometown convictions even if it doesn’t always jive with the majority.

Are You Ready for Some BaseBolly!

 

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It is going to be one colorful, extravagant and interesting game tonight under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. For tonight the Tampa Bay Rays not only play host to the Minnesota Twins, but they also invite Bollywood as a salute to their own neighbor Tampa being selected as the sight for this year’s International India Film Academy (IIFA), which some affectionately anoint the “Bollywood Oscars”.

It will be a night of choreographed flamboyant dances, or as the television show “The Neighbors” call it, “screw in the light bulb, pet the dog” large scale ballpark participation sequences. Who knows, all game long during the mid-innings we could see sporadic mob style dancing segments pop up all over the ballpark from the Porch, to the TBT Deck, or maybe even the Papa John’s Bullpen Café.

SKI mean we have the dancing segment filled, and also have a real Bollywood leading man (Shahid Kapoor) throwing out the First Pitch and if my friend’s daughter is any judge, hearts will swoon.

I am sure we will witness Rays game day host Rusty Kath dressed festively possibly in a Gandi cap or ornate and fashionable Sherwani. Who knows maybe he will put his Gandi cap into the ring and do some impromptu dance moves (we know Raymond will try).

Hopefully Rusty will not chose to wear a Panache or Lungi because that would make hopping a wall a bit….exposing even for the unflappable Rays game host. Now Raymond could pull off the traditional men’s sarong with grace and ease (I hope).

bolly_300x169I know with the upcoming IIFA awards beginning today and running through April 26th in our neighboring city on the east side of Tampa Bay, it is a perfect time to bring Bollywood into a baseball stadium and the Rays Promo team jumped right into the fray with a ticket offer with a ceremonial one-of-a-kind T-shirt offer just for the special night with seating starting at $25 in the Press Level (maybe Marc Topkin will pass you a hot dog).

Million_Dollar_Arm_posterI am also hoping the Rays, who seem closely aligned with Florida neighbor Walt Disney Productions will also have a few trailer or spot videos of the upcoming Disney baseball film “The Million Dollar Arm” which opens May 16th Nationwide. The biological sports drama is a true story of the Indian pitching prospects Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel who began their M L B dream in another neighboring city, Bradenton, Fl. back in 2008.

Tonight should be a great festive night with colors splashes all over the Trop., great dancing and who knows maybe even a post-game dance on the field via walk-off (it’s been a while). No matter how you slice it, tonight will be a collision of the senses as colors, sounds fill the Trop celebrating Bollywood and who knows, maybe even Todd Kalas or Rays Manager Joe Maddon  will get into the moment do their own little post-game shimmy….I can’t wait to take it all in tonight.

ਪਲੇ ball!

 

I also included a trailer for “The Million Dollar Arm” for those interested in the film:

Re-dressing the Proverbial Pig that is Rays Renegade

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I originally was going to write this post on April 1st, but in the past I’ve done posts on leaving the site, changing my team alliances and even a weird player trade that even had a few people call Tampa Bay Rays sources to see if it was official or just a bad rumor.

So I delayed this announcement for a day so that it would not be valued as an April Fool’s notation, but as a true to life change in my literary persona and a widen more broad approach to the game I love and cherish.

RR2Change is inedible in life. We see our surroundings, friends and even lives change within a wisp of wind. Such is about to happen here on my little slice of baseball heaven.

When I decided to some back and write again this past December, I knew I had to mix things up somehow since I felt I had become a bit predictable and downright focused only in one direction. Tunnel-vision can be a good thing and a bad thing for a writer. For me it seemed to be just like being caught flat-footed between the bases with a swift infielder trying to tag me out of the game.

So it was time for a thought process about a change. First I had to decide if my blog persona would stay intact or change with the rest of the black and white type renovation. I liked my handle “Rays Renegade”, and it has been whispered (at least a few times) within the tilted cap of the Trop or on various websites and I had to decide if I was going to start 100 percent fresh, or keep at least the persona I had built since September 2007.

The decision about the name was easy. I had built a literary personality and it for now will stay intact, but not written in stone.

So the next phase has been in the process for quite a while. I love the Rays and cherish every moment and victory the team has achieved since I first glanced towards the infield in 1998, but now my focus will be more resembling any team’s pre-game Batting Practice as balls will be going to all fields, high into the stands and well as screamers down the foul lines.

By opening my vision towards 29 other teams I can find more material, base opinions and provide a more compelling blog by using all fields instead of just trying to go to deep center with each and every pitch.

RR3I truly cherish this game and the people who make it special, and that will not change in any fashion. I will hope to bring a broader voice and basis of opinions and facts as to the game from coast-to-coast. Be it good or bad, I hope to bring my realistic views and notions to things going on around the M L B , but there will be moments where the Rays will hold my glance a bit longer.

That being said, it is time to begin the renovation, the change and the revision I have envisioned for a while but procrastinated until now.

Change in life is a good thing. We all do it be it our clothes, jobs or even revising our personalities or character to bring about a positive change in our lives. This blog to me was a uniform I wore, a cap I pulled down tight upon my brow and stared in at a hitter who wanted to place my pitch into the Rays Tank.

So begins the change that will resemble my time in Row C of Section 138 of Tropicana Field. At the bottom of the section, the seat on the field side of the row within a shout or anguished scream at a player or reaction to the game events…….I always loved to Bellow from the Bleachers to the field heckling or even encouraging players during the course of a game throughout a season.

Hmmm, maybe that would be a great name…

Yep, “Bellows from the Bleachers” it is. 

Baseball, Will You Be My Valentine?

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It gets me all giddy inside when the second week of February comes to a close every year. The anticipation, the excitement, the thrill of knowing one of the greatest loves in this World can again entrance my mind and soul with visions of rawhide, ash plus pine mixed with smell of popcorn and roasting peanuts. Baseball has always had a special part of my heart. Some might say to me it is my first and other would bold to venture my only true love who has stood besides me in days of woe and exhilaration and has truly triumphed the test of time. Others like the NFL, NHL and the revitalized version of NASL somehow lost their luster  in my past and somehow became only just simple cherished  memories tuck into darken alcoves within my mind and heart. But baseball has always been on the tip of any conversation and thought, even in the dead of Winter. 

hgfSomeone asked me once why I have such a deep devotion and love for this simple children’s game. The same game that can have you on the edge of your seat one moment, then in an instant you can see it all come crashing down in disbelief as defeat rears its ugly snout.. Well, to be honest my long time love for this game started a long time ago in a bevy of batting cages that have long since been replaced by residential blight. My first loving memory of the game was going to the miniature golf course on S. Pasadena Ave across from my dad’s friend Jim Brook’s gas station at the northern end of the old Corey Bridge where I had to endure 18 holes of Putt-Putt before I could ramble into the chain-link fence batting cages and begin to fantasize Home Runs to win championships or secure a walk-off win.

The first real grass and clay field I ever got to play baseball on as a 8 year old was a back lot enclave at the now gone Little League Regional Headquarters just between Gulfport and St. Petersburg, Florida. It was here I first had a grounder come up and bite me in the nose (broke it), experienced the joy of hitting a ball as far as I could throw it, and made my first head-first slide into Second Base successfully. It was a couple years later when I played in the concrete arena (stadium) and against some poor kid I slugged one out of the park and onto the railroad tracks that ran just North of the stadium. I always wanted to hit one into the Royal Palms cemetery but never got that kind of power.

dfghMy love for the game started young. I did not know the true exploits of Don Zimmer, Mickey Mantleor Stan Musial who all used to come to my father gas station (Wittig’s Motor Pool/ Pasadena & Central Ave) and fill up their cars during the 70’s Gas Wars era.  Sometimes if they needed additional work like a LOF or tires they would throw the ball with me a bit  in the oil-soaked alley behind the station or we talked about baseball as I cleaned their windshields, checked their oil and air in their tires. I shudder now in disbelief I did not venture into my baseball books or research the Sunday paper’s stats sheet to know of their true greatness to the game. But maybe that was best as they showed themselves truly and did not throw up walls or images that was false to themselves off the field.

I still hold a piece of that same young kid within me every time I enter Tropicana Field, or venture out to Spring Training practices or games. I still carry my infielder’s glove more for sentimental reasons than to catch a BP or foul ball. Heck for years my glove sat on that green painted metal pipe that ran down the concrete wall in Section 138  it somehow became more of a fixture than me sitting in my old Season Ticket seat. I still thrill when a ball comes in hot with sound streaming off it and hear the “pop” of the glove as I grip it or feel a sting from its impact. Usually a kid near me is the final recipient of the ball as I have many now, and want to give other that same thrill and love of this grand game. Who knows that ball could awaken his own love for the game of baseball.

DSC02299Maybe that is why this game has never soured for me, even during those first 9 awkward years of the Rays existence when victories were slim and frustrations mounted within my belly wanting something special to happen like stealing a win on a walk-off or seeing one of our hurlers shut down a high power offense or seeing that ultimate display of last chance power pitching as our closer strikes out the side for the save. The crack of the ball off the bat still sends my heart a-flutter, watching a player run towards a ball at the wall and leaping either to crash on the wall or come down with that white sphere within his grasp. The whole essence of it can still send chills down my spine and excites me to no end.

My favorite baseball movie is still “For the Love of the Game”. Not for the aspect of a pitcher throwing the game of his life on his last outing, but the flooding of baseball memories that will be fodder for conversations and trips down memory lane for the rest of his life. The recent upturn of the Rays fortunes since 2008 have kept me wishing and wanting for more, hopefully seeing a ticker tape parade and being able to kiss or take a memory photo with that glorious golden trophy myself as so many other have in the past.

valentine - baseballI am about to hit the big 5..4, and now I am starting to get into a baseball frame of mind and physical state to tryout and play some form of this grand game with the legendary group the Kids and Cubs down near Vinoy Park. Sure at that stage in my advanced level of baseball skills I will not be the speed demon I was in college, or even hit one 347 feet down the line, but the chance to play baseball with people like myself who’s kinship with this game has not waned or been shackled would be not only a tremendous thrill, but another thing to take off my lifetime Bucket List. Plus I hear chicks still dig the long ball. 

The game of baseball will always hold a huge part of me firmly within its grasp, and on a day like today when loves rules the air, ground and seas I consider myself blessed to have discovered this game, cherished its traditions and idiosyncrasies to a T, not blinking an eye in the process.

On this constructed day of affection and bliss it is time for me to again profess my undying devotion and honest commitment to always be there for the game, take the good with the bad and cherish the moments as if they were my last.

So for me the symbol of a valentine is shaped more like a diamond because its shape encompasses the four essential 90 foot sections of the field infield dimensions. It brings with it a stupendous harmony of sounds and actions played out upon its lush foliage and grit that brings about an odd state of perfection played out in unison upon the field by both those who seem ageless and those who are eternally young at heart.  

lIt is upon that field the we again  can imagine our first hit, throw and cherish it for its complexity and simplicity intertwined in our love for the game. The elements of my valentine fits in my fist, with 9 inches of circumference covered with white cowhide and red stitching. I swear when I leave this Earth they will open me up and find a pearly white baseball where my heart should be…..Or at least I hope they do. So I have to ask……Baseball, Will you be my everlasting Valentine?

Happy Valentines Day

Major League Baseballs are Manufactured in America……….Central America.

Every year about this time I can be found heading to a local big box store eager to buy a dozen Major League Baseball from Rawlings for the upcoming Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training schedule and Fan Fest. I always love how each baseball comes in it’s own precious cardboard container with tissue paper protecting its pearly white exterior in anticipation of me plucking it out of my bag for a player to sign and then add to my always expanding M L B  autograph collection wall. Every year at this time I try and formulate a sketch of a battle plan to get the signatures I need to fulfill that season’s rostered player, or get a player I have wanted in my collection for some time. Instantly there are additional thoughts banding through my brain of who should sign these new pearls, where events I will ask these players, or should I just tuck them away for later use at another juncture in the season.

The moment I do take these white spheres out of their first “home”, the smell of the ball with it’s pleasant leather aroma can send me into a avalanche of embracing baseball memories and fills me with a flood of emotions. Recently I was floored and shocked to discover this icon of America’s favorite pastime has not been manufactured within our countries borders for some time.

That’s right, the baseball we all chase and want to feel in the pit of our gloves or hands is no longer produced in the United State, or even in North America for that matter. Since Rawlings became the official provider of baseball to Major League Baseball back in 1977, not one of the 108 stitches into that old cowhide has been sewn on U S soil.

It shocked me that a company that is located within the baseball-frenzied mid-West region of St. Louis, Missouri would outsource such an American icon, plus not even produce it within our own hemisphere.

Then again, Rawlings has been doing a bit of country-jumping since its inception in 1887. Most of us would not seemed shocked or amazed to find out Rawlings moved its baseball operations outside the continental United State back in 1969 to Puerto Rico. Even though Puerto Rico is a American unincorporated territory, most imagine it as our future 51st state. But how the baseball manufacturing exodus is only in its beginning phases of its journey.

Rawlings then decided to move a bit more to the South with labor and supplies costing less in the then impoverished nation of Haiti in 1987. But the story doesn’t end here either.

Finally the company decide to move their total baseball manufacturing machinery to cost-efficient nation of Costa Rica after the Haitian political climate became increasingly volatile and the company feared its operations could be compromised by the unrest. Rawlings set up their production facility in the small town of Turrialba in which the baseball manufacturer built a 80,000 square foot facility that employs over 700 local workers in the early years of production.

This factory initially produced a staggering total of 50,000 baseballs a week, with each employee producing up to 30 balls a day with the balls’ journey from raw cowhide material to being shipped to a M L B ballpark in as little as 21 days. All told, the production of Rawlings baseballs brought a $21 million dollar windfall for the Costa Rican economy.

This developing country nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea is the locale Rawlings has been sending their cowhide, twine and hard cores to be made into the American icon. It is still shocking to me that the one item we all want to possess in our gloves, or have our favorite player sign for display on our shelves and mantels in manufactured so far away from the sounds and actions of the game. 

Suddenly that smell mesmerizing my senses from my new pearly white baseballs is taking on a distinctively different scent. At least the baseballs we see being used during the M L B season does come from an “America”,………. Central America.

I Definitely have Publishing Procrastination Syndrome

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Just got a Twitter direct message from someone (they know who they are) asking if I ever thought of writing a book.

Honest answer, more than a dozen times in my life since I was about 18. The logical choice might seem to be a baseball book or possibly ghostwriting one for someone else of great prominence, but we all know I try and not burden the friends I have made in sports. Ever since I left my Sports Correspondent gig with the “Evening Independent”, I wanted to write a great sport related book either fiction or non-fiction. I took every Journalism and Comp Honors class they would let me attend driving my want skyward to write something special.

vbnmMy first inclination towards possibly publishing something was while I was in college, basically a “Freshman Year Survival Guide” with topics from class loads, getting the basic classes out of the way and how to not look overanxious to Fraternity Pledge Masters. I had a foolproof guide to getting freebies from the Student Services programs already enacted Nationwide as well as how to successfully study in a budding computer era (late 1970’s). Of course as sports and life intervened that project went into the cobwebbed spaces between my ears.

Then after I transferred from one college to another and then successfully pledged a more prominent Fraternity, I wanted to do a “Cliff Notes-Fraternity Pledge” edition with bullet points and situational guidelines on how to handle amassing Pledge points, getting on the Brothers’ good sides without being a total suck-up, and how to use the pledge status as impressionable date bait. Again I popped the idea into a deep recess in my mind to be covered with more dust than you can ever imagine.

Third time was as recently as November 2008 when I wanted to do a 110 page Tampa Bay Rays e-book scrapbook “Raysin’ the Roof” with 100 player and fan antidote’s, essays, assorted team and my personal photos and Rays Republic reflections on the Rays drive towards their destiny during the 2008 season that ended at the World Series.

I wanted to chronicle the journey from Spring Training to that wild celebration after the team’s clinching post season win at home against the Minnesota Twins to the stress and stories of their triumphant Game 7 ALCS against the Red Sox at home.

fghFelt it was only right to include player nuances, Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s insights and stories as well as include game day stories from the dugout to the bullpen encircling this grand charge of the 2008 Rays squad. Want to do interviews with people like former RP J P Howell who was so distraught on the team plane coming home, but was consoled and spoke to by everyone. Wanted to explore the chemistry and the players in the Clubhouse who were the glue to holding this team in the right frame of mind.

Needed to show the on-the-field as well as off-the-field emotional pull of this community for the Rays from fans that traveled great distances from both sides of the bay to take in that incredible “magical season of baseball”. I had huge wants for this book and some of the inside people within the Rays organization who might have gotten me the access, the viable voices and key people who made this event happen from reporting date to the final packing of equipment before heading home.

Great ideas, possible intriguing words and maybe even a few tear-jerking moments were on my mind, but life signaled in her own set of parameters and this idea as so many other laid its head down never to awaken again. I did think about it in the spring of 2009, but Rays MLB Writer Bill Chastain and James Shields were doing a collaboration called “September Nights” and making a book in the same vein felt to me more like overkill than a necessary at the time.

So the honest answer, I have always wanted to pen a book. I know it will never be a hardcopy novel like my idol F Scott or have the powerful imagery of Hemmingway, but it is something that still churned deep in me that possibly might see the light of day before I leave this life.

tyuEven thought of doing a “fan’s guide” e book with stories, adventures or even a few special moment I have seen while sitting in the stands, being a vendor for the Rays or as a hometown guy who embraced the idea of baseball in St. Petersburg, Florida way before we had a name or franchise attached to our locale.

I went to college to be a writer but somehow ended up on a Pepsi truck and I have a few hundred great stories and thought of the title “Survivor of the Cola Wars”.

Then again everyone has a story, events that changed or fulfilled their lives. Heartaches and triumphs that bring about their special place in the human experience and makes their heart beat faster. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get beyond those first typed words on a web document possibly finally starting something….or I hope I can.

 

“If You Haven’t Got 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.” 

jgcvCharity and giving back to my present community no matter if I’m in the Tampa Bay, Seattle or wandering somewhere else has always been a firm cornerstone of my personality. I am that random guy who rolls down his window and gives my last few dollars to someone in need. I know for myself, it was just the way I was brought up to give of myself in sweat, money or even time for others. Some might say it might have been those many hours of Sunday School or Church services with endless verses and stories that finally clicked the humanity button within your subconscious.

I personally want to think it was working with my Father at a young age putting on J-hooks and pulling cars out of the sand during storms, changing tires in rain storms or connecting cable to jump-start someone stranded. My Dad was one of the earliest AAA contractors and served the Beaches and West St. Petersburg since the mid-40’s until the mid-70’s. His work ethic along with his relentless humanitarian ways like giving lodging to vacationing people in our home while he repaired their cars, or inviting them to dinner went beyond the AAA service codes, and I valued those times and firmly entrenched that ethical treatment into my being. 

ghjklThe reality is that all my life I have been extremely lucky and not had to worry for much. I have never been without a place to lay my head,had food to eat or been too hot or cold in the elements. Even when I was on the edge of such actions in my life, I would 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 if the roles were reversed.

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  8 days in February I will again do my yearly pilgrimage to volunteer for two different Major League Baseball player’s (Toby Hall & Jesse Litsch) charity golf tournaments, plus another local human interest fundraiser. If you want information on either golf tourney, click on their names in the parenthesis to go to their website for more information or to contribute to their worthy causes.

hgfdsMaybe a bit of my parents did rub off on me to want to give of myself like this. 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. Sure I enjoy the warm feeling volunteering gives me, but seeing a smile on a child’s face or giving someone a glimmer of shining hope where there is darkness makes me want to do more each year.

Once I was in the same position as so many MLB players that I was able to give generously and without regard both during my college and professional career. Now physically providing 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  to help in any venture, event or even just lend a hand when it is 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 once after working an event, “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. Rays Pitchers and Catchers will take the field in less than 17 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 17 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.

 

 

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