Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’
I have decided that one Sundays I am going to pop back into the archives of the 625 blogs I have posted on MLBlogs.com and select a weekly “blast from the past” to let some of the people who did not read me before the 2009 season to get a glance at either how far the writing has progressed, or regressed depending on your views. So I hope you enjoy reading my little submission that I first posted back on November 23,2007 about a guy I really enjoyed talking with when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays
I had just gotten home from work and decided to go online and pop onto the Yahoo sports page to see what was has transpired while I was working Today. It being a day after the stuffed mushroom and pecan pie debauchery of the holiday, I was looking for the lighter side of sports for some comfort to my still overflowing belly of good food morsels and treats.
Maybe I was hoping to find out that my favorite target, A-Rod was crying poverty over the Yanks’ latest contract offer to Mario Riviera, but I had no such luck this day. Instead what I found made me sink into my chair and put a huge twisting knot in my already overfilled stomach.
It quickly made me rethink my personal life for the ump-teenth time this year and brought up a tragic event featuring another ex- Tampa Bay Rays player in Oct 2006. That first event took another of my favorite players in Devilrays history to an untimely death, but this one really brought me to my knees.
Some players hit that invisible wall of physical and mental points of no return and are not able to endure the rigors and challenges of baseball anymore. And sometimes their bodies just can’t take it anymore,even at such a young age.
Some have had past abuses either with steroids or muscle enhancements that have robbed them of moments in their current or post career lives. Some just hit a mental road block that can not be corrected by human means.The tragic tales that really hit home and destroy me inside is the way I found out about the untimely death of ex-Ray Joe Darley Kennedy. There has been a wide spread rumors and thoughts among the Media that Kennedy might have suffered a brain aneurysm or heart attack during the night. Kennedy and his family were in town to visit his wifes family and enjoy the holidays with them before this tragedy struck him down.
Kennedy was making strides to regain some of his old magic and had announced his free agency after the 2006 World Series. And all indications were that his 2006 squad, the Toronto Blue Jays’ and especially the Blue Jays Team President Paul Godfrey wanted Joe Kennedy back as a member of their 2008 staff.
As I mentioned before,Kennedy was in town for the holidays at his wife’s parents home in the Brandon, Florida area, and was to be the best man at a wedding sometime during his stay here in the area. But for some reason, Kennedy had gotten up in the middle of the night and was discovered collapsed on the floor of his in-laws home. Paramedics were summoned and an ambulance quickly rushed him to Brandon Medical Center,but it was too late, and Kennedy was pronounced dead when the ambulance reached the Emergency Room.
This is the second ex-Oakland Athletic to suffer a tragic ending and unexpected death since October 2006. Ex-Rays and A’s teammate, Cory Lidle tragically perished in a plane accident after the Yankees exit from the playoffs in 2006.
One of my first blogs on here was a tribute to Cory Lidle. He was another player who befriended me during his tenure with the Rays, and I looked for him every year when his team would make a visit to the Trop. I did the same for Joe Kennedy every time he came here for a series. You do not forget the “good guys”. They are those players who greet you with a smile and by your first name and make you feel like you are family, even if it is just to say “hello.”
Kennedy made his Major League debut on June 6th against the Blue Jays in Toronto and won 6-2 . He appeared in 20 games that season. During that Rookie season, Joe had 12 quality starts, only CC Sabathia of the Indians had a better stats( 13). Joe was also 3rd in among the American League Rookies with a 4.44 ERA.
Kennedy also established himself in the MLB’s record books as the first Major League player since Kip Wells of the Pirates to win both his first two career starts. Joe was also the first Devilrays in franchise history to perform this feat. He was on his way to producing an amazing season and establish himself among the left-handers in the American League.
In 2001, Kennedy pitched in 196 innings and struck out 109 hitters. These numbers would be his best as a member of the Devilrays, but only his second best career totals of his brief Major League career.
In 2003, Kennedy progressed to the point of being announced by Rays Manager Hal McRae as the Opening Day starter. I found Kennedy to be the kind of pitcher who would not be afraid to go inside on a batter or ” buzz the tower” if needed. Every good pro pitcher seems to have a mean streak in them.
I can attest to personally knowing that the guy was a true professional and enjoyed his time here with the Rays. I spoke to Kennedy on occasions during BP and always found him to be funny and very intelligent.
I guess I was one of those people who knew that the Devilrays would probably trade Kennedy at some point in his career, but I had hope it was after he had garnished that 10-win plateau with the Devilrays. And maybe after he had secured his play in Devilray lore.
Kennedy was very soft spoken and reserved when he was among the crowds at the Trop. But he was a fierce competitor and was always going to the mound with the belief he could to win every game. That was a quality that I greatly admired in him. Going out with the idea you are going to win every time you take the rubber.
I know you are going to say that every pitcher tries to keep that fire within them, but in truth, they might in their words, but in their minds there might not be that total commitment. Kennedy always felt he could win, no matter what the odds or the situation that that is the basic mindset of a great pitcher.
After Kennedy left the Rays and pitched for the Colorado Rockies, he got close to that 10-win plateau. Kennedy only got 9 wins in 2004, but produced an amazing 117 strikeouts that year. He was traded to the Oakland A’s during the All Star break where he was again considered a valuable member of the pitching rotation.
He garnered a 2.31 ERA in 2006, a career best for Kennedy. In 2006, he was rewarded with the number five slot in the Athletics starting rotation. It was a far cry from the number one slot with the Devilrays in 2004, but he was again pitching every five days.
In 2007, Kennedy found himself as number 5 man in the rotation, and fell upon bad times and was moved into the A’s bullpen and working only late inning and was used in “leftie” opportunities. He got another opportunity with the Arizona Diamondbacks (3 games), and the Toronto Blue Jays (9 games) during the past 2007 season.
Kennedy produced 43 victories in his short career, but his last one was fitting. He received his 43rd win versus his old Devilrays team on September 29, 2007. But it was the next performace that made Kennedy the proudest in his life.
Kennedy had the awesome pleasure of becoming a Father for the first time this past year and was looking forward to time with Kaige and his wife before the upcoming seasons Feb. mandatory reporting date for pitchers’ and catchers.
I will miss seeing Joe Kennedy pitch. More for the fact that he was a true professional and was always in the game both mentally and physically. I know he was just beginning to again hit his stride in his career, and could have produced some great numbers as a member of that Blue Jays staff in 2008.
Kennedy is survived by his wife and new son Kaige and currently lived in the Denver area.
I truly hope that there is an afterlife. Because then I can see players like Cory and Kennedy pitching and again see both of their ear to ear smiles or grins, knowing they are again doing something they truly loved to do.
I been hearing this slight buzz in the air all day, and it is not dimming in its intensity one bit. This mind numbing grumble that has started to fester after another game play situation in which some fans and media are now calling for a change in the protectors of the rules of the game we have all come to love in one way or another.
Hidden behind the premise that it would reverse the tyranny of the omnipotent ones who now make split second decisions and ill-advised judgment calls that tend to effect thousands of people immediately need a rules revival to “save the game.” That for some reason in the last 50 years of evolving technologies and the more the fan is interwoven into the fabric of the sport with more information and more knowledge on the sport that we are now short-changing ourselves with antiqued rules systems.
Even the slightest notion of play calling imperfection is now instantly blared far and wide for all to consider, and judged via instant replay or even slow-motion camera work that the human eye can not comprehend or even imagine before its invention. And not this behemoth of innovation might finally be beckoning at the clubhouse doors of this sport. Is the game that far removed from simple reality that we need to institute a check and balance system to challenge or even reverse a decision that has been made by someone within a few feet of the play in question, but not fashioned with this technology at their disposal?
Does the world really need to see this technology enter the game at a inhuman pace and embrace a new revolution of red flags or booth reviews that could damage the integrity of the game and men who officiate it forever. I am like everyone else and get frazzled and upset when a complete call is missed or even an angle unseen by an umpire leads to a bad decision. But will this really restore the game to its glory, or will the umpires always be peeking over their shoulders at the dugouts wondering if a challenge or even a heated discussion will be evoked by his decision.
Here is where I might either fall into line with some people, or be called out for my innocence, but I actually like the way the game is slowly revolving and evolving right now. Surely the game on the field is not going slower than our instant replays show us. But what solutions can be developed that protect the simplicity of the game without damaging integrity in the end. I can envision a system that could be rationally fair to test the validity of bringing up a challenge in reference to a hard hit ball down the baselines, or a missed tag-up before advancing on the base paths.
But to think we can totally mesh and stitch the game into a few more camera angles and reference points and try and divulge the real truth on base stealing calls and other currently off limits nuances of the game is going totally ballistic toward over involving the game with technology. there has to be a limit. There has to be a subtle change to the rules or anarchy will reign down on the game. Sure I have seen the blown calls in two games this week, but the MLB Umpires still get the calls right more than any other organized sport in the world..period.
Because of our present technologies, we can cut down, isolate players, and even slow down the motion in a play to milliseconds and totally transform a reaction that takes a flash memory of instant recognition and human response to make a correct hand signal to conclude the play. I do foresee a system, like the current home run and fan interference review program might be able to be included to showcase calls down the line. Some say it will bring out a sense of distrust in the umpires if a call is mis-called, but in my opinion, I would have more respect for the men in blue to acknowledge a potential error and correct it.
But that takes the potential bang-bang out of the game, and also opens the door for more outlandish interpretations by the media and fans. Let’s take the play last night that was clearly a blown calls as an example in a new review situation. Twins catcher Joe Mauer hits a blistering ball down the leftfield line towards Yankee outfielder Melky Cabrera. The Umpire in his quest to get the call correct might have missed the ball smacking the glove and instead saw the ball bouncing on the line and called it a foul ball by the correct interpretation of the rules on the play ” he saw”.
Let’s move forward with a potential review system and that the leftfield line umpire would make a preliminary call, but immediately call time and consult with the Umpire Crew Chief and the other members of the crew and they can make a group decision to review the play to gather the correct information to make a conclusive call. At that point it can either be reviewed, or his call will stand as called on the field. And even if they do go to the review booth and see the same play from a few different angles and a slowed down video to get it correct the first time.
Even if they employ a system like this to get the call right the first time, they open another Pandora’s box that might not go over so well with the fans. Say Mauer’s play was considered a error on Cabrera and he was awarded the base. Who is to say it would not have been a double, or that he would have been out trying to stretch the play into a double. By getting the play correct by the visual evidence, you have taken away some of the special traits of the game by instant decision making by the players. Will we also have to induce a new set of rewards for the overturning or even correct interpretation of a call.
If base runners are involved, and might have scored on the play in question, doesn’t that bring about another set of questions and searches for solutions to make the first decision correspond correctly with the flow of the game. Would we award an additional base only, or will that also be reviewable to see if the runner had passed third before the fielder touched the ball, which would mean he could have scored without a throw to the plate. Pandora is giggling profusely somewhere in the notion of all the turmoil this could cause the game.
I would love to see something developed, but it will have to be done with a precision thought process and an astute sense of impending justice towards the protecting the integrity of the game. I know I am qualified to make opinions and rational suggestions, but that revising of the rules is not my thing. And no matter how it is corrected, or even developed, someone will find a fault line in it after time. And then we will have to deduce a process all over again to correct the new flaws and cracks in the rulebook. Or maybe we can just accept the fact that the game is flawed and has a huge hole within itself that might never be sealed to please all of us.
Maybe the best solution is to just love and view the game as we did in our younger days. That if you saw Johnny miss the hubcap that was second base, you tagged him out and you kept playing after a minute or two of arguing. The simplicity of this game is the main reason so many of us loved it in the first place. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Maybe the problem really is as we grow older and learn better ways to do even the simple things, we want to change things. Me, I still want to just pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball……..then go for a soda and pizza and talk about the game.
I have to admit, that I have been a bad, bad baseball fan the last couple of days. I have only seen a few innings of a few post season games and have not been as intensely into the playoffs the way I have been in the past. Some might consider since my team was eliminated early from any contention that I have lost the zeal to watch baseball, but that is not the issue. So what if the Tampa Bay Rays will not be making beautiful memories for my lifetime in 2009, I will survive.
And it is not matter that my second favorite team (Seattle) also did not make any head ways into the 2009 playoff picture after the Rays canceled their own ticket with a rough start in September. So with neither of my top two in the post season, it is time to adapt temporary arrangements to throw my support towards another team on their ride through the 2009 post season.
With that in mind, I might not make any new friends with my announcement that the teams, one in each league that I plan to follow in the 2009 playoffs, will consist of teams that are situated in the American League East. And the fact I am about to shun the Red Sox and Yankees is not due to any internal forces or even extreme pain against either of these teams that our season quickly dissolved in September. The Rays lost the chance to cash in their ticket to the postseason with their respective series against these two teams. the better teams won in 2009.
So I am going to have to develop a new set of criteria to decide who will get my cheers and jeers in 2009. Maybe I will use a formulated plan of attack based on offense, defense and pitching statistics. Or I could go the way of visiting a Psychic and see what team she sees in the aura around me, or what the Tarot cards have in store for any of the teams in the playoffs. Or maybe I can just go the simple route and decide the team by looking at the post season rosters and deciding it all based on the ex-Rays currently on their rosters.
And for some reason, I like the way that last suggestion looks on the computer, it just seems to jump out off the page and tells me to “pick me! pick me”. So I think that will be my measure of calculating and deciding the one AL and NL teams I will root for in this post season carnival. And as I take this road, there are two clear choices that I will lean towards and follow until the last out of their last game in this playoff season.
But my decision on the team I am going to follow in 2009 will be based on a few criteria that most people might not have considered before now. Way back in 1991, when the team was first awarded to the Denver area, I did not want to follow anyone else but the black and purple of the Rockies. But there was a solid reason behind this selection that still to this day makes me not want to root or even hope for any prosperity for the Florida (Miami) Marlins. And it was a simple case of money over community want that sealed the deal for my fish vendetta.
You see, the Tampa Bay community was in a fight with local cities Orlando and Miami for a chance to be the first expansion team in the state and might of had a better chance at securing that first Florida team if not for the deep, deep pockets of former Blockbuster Entertainment head honcho Wayne Huizenga. So my instant alliance went to the team that would play almost one mile above sea level and far from the sandy beaches of Tampa Bay.
But there is a secondary reason why this team is being considered as my “team ” for the 2009 playoffs. Since the Rockies sacked their old manager, they have played more inspired ball and have come a long way both in their record and in their team concept. For that reason, they give me a slight feel of the atmosphere and the thrill that I felt with the rays in 2008. But more of the reasoning might have come via ESPN’s talking heads. You see, when the Rays were making their run last season, the announcers kept reminding people they were that season’s ‘Rockies”.
As much as that was funny at the time, now I hope the Rays can be next season’s “Rockies” for the second time in a row and follow the same path (minus the manager firing) and get back on the playoff train in 2010. So I will be following the Phillies and Rockies series with extra motivation. But the fact that the Rockies have been there before, and have gotten as far as the Rays did in 2008 boast a weird similarity that entices my support. The Rockies fought back the doom and gloom disillusion of so many around the league this season to secure a playoff berth and then go on and challenge to overtake the mighty Dodgers in the last series of the season shows the heart of a champion again.
It brings up a lot of the same emotion I felt in 2008, and so this is the team I have decided to follow in this season’s playoffs. Granted, they have been labeled a long shot, but I remember so many who said that the Rays would not go far either in 2008. And the added bonus that former Rays Jason Hammel is on the post season roster gives me more of a reason to want to see “Hambone” take the mound and throws laser beams. And Hammel will get a chance to leave his impression on the NLDS when he gets the start Friday night because of the unexpected injury to Jorge De La Rosa late in the season.
So that is it, that is my team for the playoffs. No wishy washy wavering between teams, this is my solid choice and one that I will live by even if they do not get out of the first round of the playoffs. I am not a bandwagon fan. If I make you a pick of mine, I stick by you even in defeat. but that is not the case in so many sports fans in this country. So no matter what happens from today on, the Rockies will have my attention, and my support to try and again get back to the World Series this season. And it would again be a great surprise, or even a great honor in 2010 to have the Rays be considered “this seasons Rockies”…..again.
2009 will go down as one of those seasons that a few of the members of the Tampa Bay Rays might want to forget as fast as possible. But there also have been some amazing funny and totally memorable photos taken during the past season that might be needed right now for a few who can’t seem to turn their frowns upside down. How could the photo above of a dog lover even turning his canine best friend into a Rays fan not get you to at least start the curving of your mouth into a smile or a deep belly chuckle.
So today I decided to entertain and hopefully lighten up the stress and the angst of the playoff series an hopefully put a few chuckles and smiles on everyones faces as their favorite teams continue to battle it out between the chalk lines. And you know that the best way to relieve stress has always been laughter, or an occasional funny moment. So with that in mind, it is time to begin the 2009 search for the funny bone, and hopefully we all still have one.
I am always amazed at some of the new gadgets, puns and practical joke items on www.ArchieMcPhee.com . I originally used this photo not so long ago on August 7,2009 when I wrote on a visit to Seattle……the Renegade’s way. The place is virtual comics dream with some of the wildest items ever offered online, or in their unique store in Seattle. I mean, look at the photo above of the handerpants, which are billed as “underwear for your hands”. Just the idea of such a thing is beyond words to me at times. But at least you never have to worry about a skid marks, but you might have to worry about hairy palms.
I mean if you get a chance and want to have a really hard belly laugh, you got to go to the website and check out some of the wild and amazing things that you can buy for yourself or to amuse your friends. You can buy bacon soap, Absinthe floss for your teeth or maybe a Monkey portrait oil painting for the upcoming office Christmas party anonymous gift. Whatever your likes, this is the website for the simply insane and the mostly gag gift for people of any ages.
This one actually is not a funny photo, sorry, but it is a great reminder that we lose so many great baseball fans every season to the dangers of smoking. I know it might seem like I am jumping on a soapbox here, but I really feel that it is a habit that has robbed us of a lot of great people even during my lifetime. I have never smoked, chewed or used any tobacco products, but with my luck I will die trying to shove in that last hot dog during the $1 Dog Nights at the Trop.
What is also amazing about this photo is the fact that the skeleton has two handlers right behind them in case they have to run and retrieve a foul ball and the leg-bone becomes disconnected from the hip-bone, and the hip-bone loses its tail-bone somewhere on the stairs. Or maybe that is just my own sick sense of weird humor?
This extremely hungry Toronto Blue Jays reliever about to eat Rays fan Christin Manfredo’s head during a photo opportunity in Dunedin, Florida during Spring Training is Dirk Hayhurst. Most people might remember him as the original storyteller of the Legend of the Garfoose, which is a tremendously funny and totally obscure baseball story that gets me giggling every time I read it. The guy has a wild sense of humor, and seems to like to bite the heads of live Rays fans.
I always wondered what a 6 foot parrot ate when he came to Florida for Spring Training. I guess he has an appetite for foul ball catching kids. Seriously, when I first saw this photo in April I was wondering if t was one of those caption photos where you decide what he is doing, and what you want to have printed under the photo. If it was just that sort of opportunity, I guess my entry would say something like: Penalty in Pittsburgh for reaching over the wall for a ball, you get pecked to death by the Parrot.
Another website that has gotten me to give up more than a few chuckles this season is www.brainshousefanclub.com. On this website dedicated to the Rays “leftie” specialist, you can see him immortalized as Neo from “The Matrix“, the Terminator, Santa Claus, and also Ghandi. The site was developed when Shouse was with the Milwaukee Brewers and was used in the 8th inning of Brewers games.
When he came to the Rays, I was told about this website, and tried to immortalize it a few times during the season for the Rays faithful to check out and hopefully use as their desktop photo. No one has ever emailed me back with any information as to if they have selected any of the photos, and in turn added them to their desktops, even for one day. But it is still great to see fans of other teams have a great sense of humor about their favorite players, and want to immortalize them like this. Could a Jason Bay website be in the making?
Still not sure what these guys were trying to convey when they showed up at Tropicana Field one night during a Scott Kazmir start. Were they lost on their way to the Middle Ages revival somewhere downtown, or could they actually be showing some level of solidarity for the Rays Republic. I came up with the notion that they were the Knights Tampa, who were sent here by a Coucil of an European hierarchy to protect the American League Championship trophy as our own Holy Grail….or I could be wrong?
o this day, I wish I had known that the Rays and the GEICO Caveman were going to do a parody commercial where he runs out on the field and attacks the GEICO signage put up on the right-centerfield outfield wall. It was a trip talking with him in the interview I did a few minutes before he decided to run onto the field after being selected as the “GEICO Fan of the Game”. Such and honor, and yet he got to spend a night in the Pinellas County Jail making new friends and maybe getting a “Born to HATE GEICO” prison tattoo.
Earlier in the season I wrote about an old tradition that was resurfacing again in the land of the Oriole. It seemed that some years ago they used to do a cartoon after every game, and after a bit of time, the cartoon fell by the wayside until they decided to return the tradition again in 2009. After every one of the 162 Oriole games there was a cartoon the next morning right there for everyone to see both online and in the morning paper delivered to the doorsteps of thousands in the Baltimore area. Great to see such a humorous tradition again take root in the town that gave us the “Ace of Cakes“.
I still want to know how much each of those seagulls makes that have a habit of coming into Progressive Field and making a nuisance of themselves. I know that on at least one occasion, the winged ones have knocked down a potential game winning single then let out that all telling gull laugh as the Indians celebrated at Home Plate with a walk-off win. Make you want to again read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and see if there was any real truth to that book. In Cleveland, the proof is sitting right there among the green grass on most nights when the Indians play baseball.
I have to admit, I always wondered why B J Upton never stole any bases against the New York Yankees earlier in the season. I guess during this game in July I got my answer. Seems that Robinson Cano likes to come up behind Upton and clutch him like a long lost buddy until the ball gets to the plate. Seriously tho, it is great to see the guy have a common respect and love for each other, but can we save the “Man Crush” for after the game and let B J run next time?
I am not sure why Scott Kazmir first off decided to give his rightfielder, Gabe Gross a nice little extra pat on the back pocket, but the look on Kazmir’s face is simply priceless. I miss Scott, he was always up for some sort of humor within the confines of the game, and usually it somehow did get caught by the camera. Not sure the reasoning behind the low pat, but you can bet he got more a few ribbing from his team mate when this one hit the wire services. But the sign held up in the background by Rays fan George Stone that stated simply “awesome” gives this picture a purely comical edge, and almost turns it a bit cartoonish, but it is a classic moment now.
All during the Rays season there has been at least one culprit during the Rays home games that has been delivering shaving cream pies to unsuspecting victims during television or stadium Jumbotron interviews. And the wild part it is someone who you would never associate such speed and stealth moves to for the most part. Dioner Navarro has been the shaving cream pie stealth bandit all season long, and you never know when he might sprint out of the dugout tunnel holding a towel filled with the creamy substance.
Such was the case when he got Rays Manager Joe Maddon during a FSN Florida interview near the end of the season. But Navarro was not as stealth as usual, as Maddon heard the catcher coming, and turned his head at the right moment to only get a right earful of the cool lime smelling concoction. Maddon, always the cool cucumber basically added during the interview that “Now I feel like one of the boys, and have been accepted into the club”. Classic line by a classic guy who also leads by example for his team to witness nightly. Even wilder, for the next two nights after the shaving cream pie, Navarro started behind the plate for the Rays.
A Major League dugout can be a wild place during a games. You never know just what kind of high jinks or pratfalls might be coming, and you never know who the true culprit is at the moment. Take this photo for example, it is the shoe of Rays Rookie Wade Davis after Rays pitcher Matt Garza gave him a hot foot during a game against the New York Yankees during the last home stand. But Davis was not the only victim of that series.
Earlier in the game, Rays reliever J P Howell, who was shut down in the last weeks before the end of the season got the classic treatment himself when he stayed in the dugout instead of strolling out to the Bullpen like he usually did on game days. He was situated on the dugout rail watching another Rays rookie, David Price pitch during a game and someone, who will remain nameless, got him with the classic bubble gum bubble on top of his Rays cap.
So these are a few of the moments in 2009 that got me to chuckle, laugh and maybe sip a few sips of soda all over the floor of the Trop. The season is long over, and the fans have gone from the stadium, but it is memories like these that will live on within our hearts and minds for a long time.
In the next few days, most of the media members who cover the Rays for the local news media and the occasional magazine will make their yearly reviews and comments regarding the re-defining or re-tooling of the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays. Well, I am going to do the same, but I think my version is going to take a bit of a different direction than most of the media groups. My review is going to be a list of some of the thing I have seen changed in the past season………….either for the good, or for the bad. The list will include special events that Season Ticket holders have grown accustom to, and some new policies that changed the system a bit for some of us.
First and foremost on my list is to compliment the Rays Group Sales department on the annual event held at the Ybor City Gameworks earlier this season. This is the second edition of the event, and it was an event that I actually looked forward to after it great success last season. And when I saw it again on the agenda, it made my eyes sparkle and I think I might have heard a little giggle. Again this season, the event was attended by many of the Rays players and Rays Manager Joe Maddon, and some of them even took the time to play games and chat with the fans while also giving the attendees’ an occasional photo opportunity.
It was a great time to get a photo with one of the players outside of the game element and see how they are in “real life”. As an ex-player, it was always important to me personally to keep that balance between the two groups close, because without it, the fans can put you high up on that golden pedestal, and when you fall, it is a long way down to the bottom. By being open to autographs and photos, it gives a bonding moment between fans and the players that can not be duplicated by the Rays PR staff.
Plus,after seeing some of the players this season, a few of them need to hone their Dance, Dance Revolution skills for the 2010 version……..Maybe that could be one of their off-season workout routines (lol) Seriously, the food, the cartoon artists and the giveaways during the night only added extra spice to the already awesome event.
So let’s now take a journey down the wrong side of the street for a change. This season for the first time, the Rays Season Ticket holder had to choose which “bag” or selection of giveaway items as if they were viewing a Chinese restaurant menu. You could select Column “A” or Column “B”, but no substitution and no sharing of plates. This is the first time we did not get the “kids items” that are usually included in our yearly bags. I know for myself, it was a bit of a bummer since I have used those items in the past to entice kids to want to see the Rays.
I understand the main reason for the cut-backs was that the giveaways promotional sponsors might have cut back their financial contributions on the total amount of items this season, which is understandable considering the recent economy concerns. But it was a bit of a bummer to see any of these “kids” items this season since I also know of a lot of grand parents who use them as stocking stuffing items at Christmas time for friends who kids love the Rays, but can not attend games. Hopefully within the next season or two we can get back to the old way, or maybe have a Column “C” selection of “kids” items so we can again get some of this awesome stuff to kids who love the Rays.
So lets hit back onto another plus thing this season, which is the increased numbers of Rays Watch Parties and events where the Rays Radio network did on-location appearances and also giveaways during the television broadcast during the season. As usual, Rich Herrera did a fantastic job out and about, and should be commended on enduring sand, chicken wings and bright sunshine during the remote locations this season. But no matter where they were, it seemed everyone had a fantastic time, and hopefully we can see even more expansion in the future.
Guess it is time to again hit the low side of the totem pole. I was a bit upset that the Rays could not secure a time and a sponsor for the annual Team Photo Day in 2009. The event has always been the one time of the season that I bothered players and coaches for photos so as to give the non-Season Ticket folks a chance at autographs and pictures with them during the other 80 games of the season. But when the event was not announced this week, it set me back a bit.
I was all ready for the yearly event with a 3 GB media card and a fresh set of batteries in the camera just waiting for the event. But when I did not get an Email or any confirmation of the event,I asked a member of the Fan Experience department with the Rays and found out that the event was not committed to be held this season. That is truly a bummer since the 2008 event was such a fiasco, and I hoped it would be a great time for the team to redeem themselves with the Season Ticket folks.
Just a small bit of history for everyone, last season the Team Photo Day with the fans was held the day after the team celebrated stadium-wide with the fans following their win against the Minnesota Twins, securing the Rays first postseason berth. So as you might have gathered, the team’s excitement and celebrations went beyond the walls of Tropicana Field, and a few of them were not in ” photo” shape the next morning. It upset me and a lot of other fans that day big time, but some of the guys still took time out to take photos with some of us, while others were ushered around with escorts to make a haste escape from the photo hungry crowd.
Some of the team’s major contributors to the playoff berth did not make even a dugout appearance to the event, while others felt compelled to come out and circulate and take pictures with the fans. I do not hold the players accountable for any of this since the event did come the day after the team’s biggest moment, and they had every right to be proud of accomplishing their playoff berth. Hopefully in the future the Rays can again schedule this great event where the fans again can spend a few moments with their heroes.
I am going to throw this next item out as a neutral point because I can see both sides of the coin here, but for myself, I am still searching for another option to get this activity done without rocking the boat. But the reality of it all is that the new policy of Sunday autographs for only people under 14 bites it big time to me. I guess I got spoiled by the first 11 years of having the Autograph Saturday event and having two Rays players sign for any fans regardless of age.
I have come to not love this new policy for the simple fact that I hate to bother the Rays players throughout the seas
on when I know they might be signing by the baselines sometimes during the season. I am now finding myself perched above the Rays dugout and bothering them during their paths to the dugout during Batting Practice. Again I have had wait in the shadows for people like Pat Burrell, Greg Zaun and Jason Bartlett to come by and see if they could sign a ball for me. I know this change in policy might have been done because of the increased postings on sites like E Bay of autographs and collectibles for sale and not for your own personal collections.
I enjoy collecting autographs on MLB baseballs, more for the fact we did not have a team here when I was a kid except for the Florida State League squads, and in Progress Energy Park/Al Lang you could not get a ball over the outfield wall unless it went over the extreme right or leftfield fences. I guess it is my way of having my childhood back in small doses via the game of baseball by collecting balls and equipment and displaying them in my home, and not for commercial profit.
So because of this increased traffic of items hitting the web, and some of the counterfeit items that might have been bought by people online, I can empathize with the players that someone of my age could be a ball hawker and not a fan wanting a true autograph for his personal use. And that is one of the reasons I have not written a blog or a posting about this event before today. But with the year-end autograph signing events that are no longer held during the last home stand, I guess I will have to redefine my sights to again perch myself during the season for the desired autographs.
In the wide scope of it all, the Rays have been considered one of the best values in sports by ESPN, the Magazine, and it truly is affordable and entertaining for all ages. Tampa Bay Rays baseball might have taken a hit on the field, but in the surrounding halls and cubbyholes around the stadium, the Fan Experience has increased this season and the fans have been the true winners. the increase in In-Game contests and events from the Pepsi bottles Race to the Bloopers in the eighth inning have made the game enjoyable for everyone.
But even if going to a Rays game is considered one of the best values in sports, wandering around the stadium or even strolling through the Ted Willams Museum is a “must see” for fans of any team. Changes can always be made even to a perfect event or activity. The above mentioned items have not been singled out to embarrass or even stay away from future Rays games or events. But the tweaking and maybe even the revising of some things can only help further the Rays goals of giving fantastic guest experiences and also promote from within the confines of the stadium to the “Rays Way” of thinking off the field as well as on the field in 2010.
Way to go guys!
Way to prove myself and a few other voices around the Rays Republic that some of this team might have already packed their bags after Saturday night debacle and headed home, at least in their minds for the season. Way to reclaim your manhood and show some fire and gumption after a game like that…….purly inspiring to me right now. Seriously, the way some of you came off the field after that game on Sat night, your faces gave a bad impression that some of you might be shutting your game down and waiting until Spring to show us more awesome hit and scoring chances.
But as always, you guys had the last laugh. And I am totally okay with being wrong or even apologizing for doubting you for a second. I have to admit, I am a bit proud of all of you for coming out and taking that Sunday “getaway” game like that. For too long this season those series ending game or ”getaway” games have been one of the perils of 2009. And because of that plight, the plane ride home after some of these road trips have not been a happy time together for the Rays. But to put a big black ”W” stamp on the last game of the last road trip in that fashion is only a motivator towards bigger and better results in 2010.
And that is one of the area that the Rays will have to focus on to again re-assemble and re-group for next season. Getting this team back towards a road .500 mark will be one of the biggest rebuilding porjects in the offseason for the Rays. Those road wins translate quickly into a realistic chance at a division or even a playoff berth for the team again next season. One of the deciding factor in the Rays fall from grace in 2009 has been their road record, which pales in comparison to 2008.
But in hindsight, yesterday when this team took the game to the Texas Rangers in the last two innings and played inspired Rays baseball, it was a sign to all of us that the pride and the power is still very much a part of this Rays ballclub. Standing up and taking on the tasks at hand is a positive step for this team towards regaining their stride for the top echelon of this league.
But above all, when you took the final innings of that game to the Rangers, you won on your collective sweat and heart alone. You not only avoided a series sweep, but a seasonal sweep of all the Rays game splayed at the Ballpark at Arlington this year. And that was huge! For some reason this hot and humid stadium has been an albatross to your Rays team in 2009. But you not only exorcised that dang demon, but you put a stake right through its heart by taking down this team late in the game and then taking down their confident closer in the end.
And you got to love that beautiful bunt down the First Base line by speedy Fernando Perez when they even knew it was coming. And Perez put the ball in a perfect spot to get the RBI and extend the inning. Not only did that one play help score a winning run, but to keep the inning going with a possibilities for more runs was tremendous. Sure there were a few negatives attached to this game as it unfolded, but they were quickly forgotten like piece of paper in a windy day. The win is the thing. To take that last road game of the season , then get back on the plane and take it with you is huge. Now you just have to use it as an example that this team can grow and get better on the road in 2010.
Who knows why the road became such a odd stranger to the Rays in 2009. It could be something as simple as the opposition just getting better and the Rays staying with their happy medium for some reaon on the road this year. But in essence, it just could be a simple fix by translating another mindset for the team in 2010. We saw Rays road trip Traveling Parties dressed in wild Cowboy gear, finely pressed all-white outfits, and the “Johnny Cash” inspired all-black ensembles get on their bus at Tropicana Field with high spirits and great team building moments this season.
But for this 2009 season, the trips on the road have all ended. No more Westin-type hotels, the bevy of room service plates and foods, or even the assembling of teammate eager to get a shot at playing on any of the portable Playstation 3′s set up in their rooms for a simple distraction during the long night away from St. Petersburg and your homes. Maybe the team needs to do the “Stadium Tours” in2010 of each stadium the visit. Get into a different frame of mind on the road, to relax, be together and get out and about and put a different feel to the road routine.
So when you finally disembarked from your charter flight last night at the St. Pete/Clearwater airport, it might not have felt like a winning road trip, but you did leave the state of Texas with a winning attitude on the plane. And even though some of you have memories of coming home last year at this time to a bevy of screaming maniacs and fans within the concourse of the airport, it is mostly silent last night. But that easily could happen again in 2010 with a little tweaking. That moment doesn’t have to feel like a mirage,it was a special moment held in time by so many of us in the Rays Republic that we truly want to see it again……..and the sooner the better (lol).
But this season we have to leave the road trip memories alone for now. Forget the Rookie hazing during the last road trip, or even the silence of the trip back from Boston not so long ago. For their is hope that the plane was a bit rowdy last night, and all of you were celebrating the moment, knowing that for the last 7 games you will not only be sleeping in your own beds, but also hearing the cheering and noisy fans of Tropicana Field. So rejoice in the fact you came off the road as winners, and take that momentum and thrust it into these last 7 games to bring another special moment for all of us in 2009.
I know the season is beginning to run together for some of you, and the pains and aches are barking like guard dogs, but hopefully the cheers and the emotions within this dome for the next 7 nights will thrust you again into feeling like it is April again for a few games. To end this season on a glorious note would not only be great for each of you individually, but as a team, the bonding agent by winning can be so invigorating it can become even more addictive in 2010. You know we will be there 100 percent for you for the next 7 games, so why not come out as strong as you did against those pesky Rangers in those late innings last night and take the next 7 games to not only post a plus .500 season, but to set a standard for the 2010 Rays to follow.
Before the first pitch last night, a few of you looked like you were waiting for October 4th to come so you could dismiss this season and prepare for the next one. But do not discount the fact that to stop playing “Rays Ball” now would damage this team and their fan base further than you can ever imagine. To simply want to be “shut down” even within your own mind could
ruin some of the fragile fabric set out in front of you with this fan base. This area has seen teams quit on itself before in a multitude of sports, but this years Rays team should never be a part of that sorted history.
The excitement of Rays baseball over the next 7 games can be the best advertising for the team over the Winter months. To go out fighting in every game, taking defeat and turning it into victory, and smiling all the way is a beauty way to celebrate this season.
You know where I am going to be for all 7 games.
You know how I am going to act for those 7 games.
I only ask that you too take that Rays pride and the strong character you have displayed for the last 155 games and throw it out loud and proud now. Then we all can celebrate as you take off those game-worn jerseys and put them on the backs of fans’ following that Sunday matinee.
From there it is off to where ever you call home for the Winter. To go home to family, friends and routines that you follow in the offseason. I know for some of you it has been a long, hard road, and it might be your last season in this team’s uniform, but wouldn’t it feel a bit more special, a rays of light on a darkened sky if we can take this thing to the house the next 7 games and thrust onward and upward?
I know when I went home after a victory in a game when I was playing ball, it always made the drive feel better if we won.
It always made me see things in a positive light, and it always made me proud to be playing the game.
Simple things can propel this team again back into the spotlight.
Rays Baseball circa 2009 still has a few special moments hidden within itself. Still has some thrills and exciting baseball crammed into the cubbyholes and the halls of the Trop. This season is growing to a close fast, but the next 7 games are also the last things we will remember of this season. To go out with a huge bang would be tremendous not only for the team, but could also boost the excitement and the anticipation of the Spring for the rest of us. See you guys in a few hours when we can begin the road to the end…………..with a victory.
You know I was looking around my little shanty shack today and it dawned upon me that I have acquired, obtained and down right bargained for so much baseball related stuff, it might need its own room or banquet hall soon. I know I am not the usual person to have that pack-rat mentality, but when it comes to the items related to the game of baseball, I have a very big problem. I mean I have at least 8-10 large plastic storage bins just filled with Rays team related bobbleheads. And do not get me started on game-used jerseys and other Rays items.
But is that the real destiny of people like me, a team collector, that my home will have to mysteriously have to expand to include a separate room for the team posters, bobbleheads and pictures and assorted knick knacks? I am beginning to think this is how my life is going to unfold from now until my last breath. And I know it would of been a whole lot harder to even move in here if an old ex-girlfriend in North Carolina had not used my memories as firewood and burned my college and professional collectibles and jerseys back in 2000.
I went from a small U-haul pulling all my stuff up to Charlotte, NC, to filling my old full size Ford Bronco’s back section of the cab in a puff of smoke and smoldering ashes. Sure I was upset, but I also had those event moments stuck within the confines between my ears, plus the fact I did not want to upset her enough that I would have to drive home to Florida naked if she also burned my clothes.
It was a huge loss in the aspect of my past sports exploits, but it might have saved me money not to drag them around for the umpteenth time. But why do we, as fans put such value and importance on the things that our favorite teams or events give to us at the gates? Why is it that we keep all of this special cargo if we do not even think we are going to sell it? And think of the hours of grueling agony our families will have deciding what to do with it all after we are gone from this world?
It is not like if I perished tomorrow anyone besides me will know that the Rays On-Deck circle from 2000-2002 that is sitting on my floor with the old MLB slogan “I Live For This” logo still blazing from it. Or that the rosin bag on top of the lower baseball shelf is from the third World Series game in Philly last season.
I might have to conduct a master collectible file on my laptop for my Last Wills Executors so that they know what this junk acutally consists of, and it is not to be set out with the trash cans to be lost for all generations. Or am I putting too much importance on these bric-a-brac and obtained treasures?
But isn’t that the price we pay for stacking the In-Game magazines and the player pictures and the multiple pieces of team mail we received over the last 12 seasons. I have saved every Rays correspondence they have every sent to me, including the “Under Construction” stickers and little lunchbox with the assorted street work items in it. That item was sent out when the Stuart Sternberg regime began its rein in Tampa Bay, and it is a prized possession.
Maybe someday some one ( besides me) will erect a Rays museum somewhere in town, and I could donate some items no one has thought about for years. You remember those items, they are the ones you scratched your head about years ago, but now wish you had kept. Like the team undistributed Jason Tyner bobblehead that never got into most Rays fans hands, but some of us got them for a price.
Or maybe it is the final Ad Agency proof of a poster done years ago to promote fans bringing in used sports equipment to a Rays game that pictured the local sports icons Brad Richards (TB Lightning) Brent Abernathy (Rays) and Derrick Brooks ( TB Bucs). Oh, and did I mentioned the original was signed by all three guys !
And what would my Executors even think to do with the over 275 signed balls that seem to increase daily. Would they decide to donate them to the Rays Foundation charity, or give them to kids in the neighborhood who might just use them for BP? Or would they just get tired of dealing with all this stuff and fire up the fireplace and burn the over 75 signed bats lining the bedroom wall right now? Thank goodness Florida stays warm for 9 months a year.
And you might ask yourself why I have even thought about an episode like this right now? And during the Rays season? Well, the honest fact is that we have only 14 games left in the 2009 season makes me think more now. The finality of it all is beginning to thrust itself upon me, and I am daily getting more and more nervous for the future. I have not celebrated a birthday in 12 years, but I have celebrated 12 seasons? And maybe that is where my problem lies?
Maybe this game has now consuming so much of my life and breathing moments that I now only refer to days during the season as home or away days. Why is it that something that feels so good to me might be as bad as a 3,000 calorie multi-leveled hamburger with extra cheese? But isn’t that also the essence of the passion and the undying loyalty you want from a real fan? You would want to feel that the guy who is collecting all of this stuff is doing it out of a love for the game, not the profit he can get some day selling it on Ebay.
But that is the crutch we sometimes bear as collectors. Some see us for the love of the game, while others think we might be planning a retirement fund based on the items we had them sign for in the past. And that can ruin it for some of us. And at tonight game, the first 10,000 fans will get the “Fan’s Choice” bobblehead featuring Rays rightie Matt Garza. And before you ask, the goatee is done nicely, but there are no sunflower seeds spread around the base.
But it is another item that will go unwillingly into the ever growing pile of Rays related things in my cubbyhole. It will be another piece of the 2009 season that will be stored away for storytelling in 2020 to the great grand kids, or maybe exchanged on holidays if any of my kid’s children get the Rays fever. I have never been a pack rat before, and it is really not in my nature to store or keep stuff like this for so long.
But the truth is the fact that I see bits of Rays history in each of these items. I see player performance and commitment in the bats and jerseys. I can see game contributions in the bobbleheads and rattle drums given out as toys to some, but are a valuable memory collectible to me.
So as I sit here looking at all the stored items from First Game programs to every cap this franchise has ever worn, even the “Throwback Day” caps, I wonder where and what they will be like in 5 years after I am gone from this world.
Hopefully they will either be in the hands of baseball loving relatives or a museum, or even a family heirloom for a collector like me. Because these items go in circles. they are either acquired for history, discarded as useless junk or given away without any knowledge of their treasured importance.
If you are not a baseball fan, then this stuff is just junk to you. Like the time I went to a local store and bought a soda with a American Eagle silver dollar as a kid. The clerk immediately took it from me and reached into his wallet and took out a paper dollar bill. He then put the coin in his pocket. I asked the guy why he did that, and he told me that silver coin was worth so much more than a simple dollar, and was priceless to him since he was a coin collector.
So you can see, an item to most of us that might seem like trash can be a treasure beyond comparison to another person. Value can be placed on anything according to our own likes and dislikes of things from the past. I just hope that someday someone looks at the Mumm’s champagne bottle signed by the entire 2008 Rays Bullpen after clinching the AL Pennant and see history, and not just an empty champagne bottle taking up valuable space from their treasured Pokemon card collection.
I have to be honest here. I am very uneducated on the actions and reactions of true rain delays in a baseball game. I do have experience on the field as a player with them, but I have a very limited set of mental resources to remind me of what happens during rain delays with my own team. I mean, we play in an enclosed dome that leaks, but only in centerfield right in front of B J Upton’s position. And even then, the Tampa Bay Rays fans have no real idea of the time involved, or the actions that need to be made for a rain delay.
We do not know about the hustle and bustle of the grounds crew to position and then unroll a massive plastic tarp to cover the infield and keep it from furhter water damage. We do not have a clue on the elements of dictating a rain delay, or even the planning and the execises in boredom that can overtake the moments waiting for a team to “call a game” and send us all home.
Maybe I should consider myself lucky that the three times in my baseball travels that had rain delays, we ended up playing within a few hours and concluded all three games.
But the thing that humors me about rain delays is the simple act it throws the in-stadium video and game crews into an instant panic for a few moments before chaos becomes order. I mean I have been to Progressive Field/Jacobs Field twice for 3-game series in the past, and always the Sat afternoon games have been delayed by liquid sunshine. One game was in the middle of May (5/14/2004) and the other was at the end of the regular season in September (9/30/2006), so the time of the year might not have had a huge impact in the droplets of water.
And I had a ball during both of those delays. During the first one,I learned a new drinking game a few bartenders who were attending the games as a group, and during the second delay I learned a lot about the Indians teams history while also sitting in the sprinkles just beyond the stadium overhang. And I relished sitting there during the last half hour of the delay loving the rain and missing it sometimes on my skin during games in Tampa Bay. For it is a special part of the game where the fans can commune and talk about the team, life or just the weather.
And the only other rain situation I have ever been involved in was on June 3,2005 when I was in Seattle for the Rays 3-game series. During the Sat. night game the rain began to lightly fall, and they began to close that massive steel roof while the game was still in progress below. What truly amazed me was the fact that no one besides me even acknowledged the fact the roof was closing during the inning. It was such a common thing to them only slight glances went skyward during its closure. I was mesmerized watching the huges pieces of metal above me moving with those giant wheels churning towards a closed point. It seemed to only take a few minutes, but for that entire time I was just in total awe of the spectacle.
But what do “normal” fans do during rain delays? For this I have no real information or even knowledge. For I live in a baseball region that employs a domed stadium where the only delays we have is for the electircal situation that come with mega thunderstorms or the odd lightning strike on a nearby substation that flips the breakers and turns off the large lights. Bu that is rare, and only takes 15-20 minutes before the stadium is again aglow with luminated lighting. So what experience do I have in the rain? Well, not much, but I am also someone who could have fun all by himself, and I did have fun.
While in Cleveland, with the rain lightly falling, I went down on the rail by the field taking pictures of the ground crew putting the tarp out on the field. I tried to get the attention of one of the ground crew members to ask about their job, but no one seemed to want to bother with the “Away team” guy. But I stayed down there in that section of seats and let the raindrops hit me again and again. And I decided to sit down by the Visitor’s dugout during the delay and one of my favorite guys on the Rays in 2005, Damian Rolls was out watching the rain fall.
We chatted for a few minutes on why I was there ( personal B-day present to myself), and about the great game of baseball. It was a great moment for me to get to know another one of the Rays, and I did not even notice it was raining harder at the time. As I was getting soaked in my Rays white jersey, Rolls slipped me a Rays green warm up jacket and told me to try and stay warm for they needed to hear my screams during the game. I told him I was seated actually right next to the roof area of the Rays Bullpen in rightfield, and it might take a bit to hear my voice that day.
Rays Manager Lou Pinella then strolled out and predicted it would be two hours before they took the tarp off. I chuckled and he looked my way and acknowledged the Pepsi man. Rolls and I talked for a few more minutes before he said he wanted to go hit in the under stands batting cages and stretch out again for the game. After Rolls left, I wandered around the stadium taking in the sights before meeting a few older gentleman who gave me a short but entertaining history of the Indians franchise.
And at about the 2 hour and 3 minute mark into the rain delay, the grounds crew came out and started to throw down kitty litter or field dry to prepare the field. I laughed that Pinella was only off by a few minutes, but we were again going to see baseball that day in Cleveland. And that is my total, but short history of rain-related adventures. But I know there are scores of other people who read this blog, and who also have had entertaining adventures during rain delays.
Rain is an element some find disturbing, while others love the simple feel of it on their skin. Rain can be romantic or ruin your simple plans. But the rain can also open opportunities for you to explore and even meet new and exciting people while attending a baseball game. I hate to admit it, but every game I go to outside of Tropicana Field I hope for rain. Not to be difficult, but so I can walk around the stadium complex and see things I would not notice if I sat in my seat. Maybe even meet some new friends who will tell me the “hot spot” to hit in the Warehouse District in Cleveland, or a small food vendor I have to see in Seattle before I leave town.
Baseball might be about the game, but for me baseball is also about the experience. And the games that have given me the total experience have been the one that developed into rain delayed contests. I do not get this luxury that much at home. the stadium is not know for their electircal backouts or long delays. So when I travel to other stadiums, I hope and pray that these delays do happen so I can partake in all the oddities and great features of each stadium I visit. And if a little rain must fall……..so be it!
I was sitting there at Tropicana Field last night right after the Tampa Bay Rays victory over the Boston Red Sox and a friend of mine, who is an ex-corpsman in the military and a current St. Pete Fire Department EMT told me I looked like liquid garbage. Always nice to hear such sweet nothings like that from a cute brunette. But she was right. I was suffering from something that has been growing and growing for the last few weeks. It really has been overtaking a huge chunk of my life inside and outside of this same building.
So she sat there a minute hearing me chatter about the weird things that have been happening to my body in the last several weeks. Of the wild bouts of insomnia that have me watching replays of the game until almost 5 am in the morning every day, or the night sweats after a bad loss, or even a close ballgame that could have gone either way at any time. I told her how my reaction time to foul balls was getting uncommonly sloth-like, and if it was not hit To Me anymore, I just watch it sail even a foot over my head.
And she just sat there and nodded her head. I went on about the slowness of thoughts that did not revolve around baseball, and the difficulty I was having prioritizing even simple events like laundry and lunch at the same time. That I turned my cellphone to silent to keep my little world secure from friends in Boston and New York from ruining my little Utopia right now. And I complained that for some reason only three things seemed to matter to me right now, because my basic system of doing even routine task seems to be centered around what time the gates open at the Trop.
And still she just sat there listening like a $200/hour shrink with a spoiled rich kid on the leather couch. I even went on to tell her about my new found preoccupation with minimal issues like my special free parking place near the stadium, or my routine of walking to and from the stadium a certain way, and not deviating from that path a single step, even if there was a taxi or car in the way.
And that I was battling a huge bout of indecision on simple decisions like if I was going to have the Cuban sandwich, or got “hog-wild” and stack the loaded nachos with a bevy of jalapenos and hot sauce. That that my basic decision making process was being bogged down by a fatigue that made me not even consider anything out of the ordinary or new right now in my routines or my patterns. And that in the bitter end, even after a huge win lately, I was battling a huge mountain of fatigue and restlessness that had never entered my life before.
Well, through all of this she just sat there listening and mentally jotting down the symptoms and the causes and doing that quick analogy that people who work at Emergency Medical Techs do on their daily jobs. You could almost see the wheels turning as she was eliminating mental illnesses and adding psychological responses and cause and effects that could be the source of this ailment that was bogging down my physical being right now. Then she cleared her throat and made the announcement of what I needed to do now.
“First thing “ she stated boldly, “You have to understand that this aliment has been around for a very long, long time. That the cause of your problem is not physical in nature, but can be processed through your body at a rate that will boggle its usual senses and abilities. That your internal clock right now is being sped up to an alarming rate by your visual stimulation brought on by your emotional pull towards the subject matter at hand.”
She then began to laugh and smack me in the noggin a few times. But she still had not revealed what the prognosis was about all of this. But was she just teasing with me, knowing that I might not be able to handle the truth, or was she waiting for the nerves and the mind games I was already playing in my own head to swirl a bit longer and throw me into a mental bowl of mush right now. No, she was sitting there trying to see if my orbiting electrodes could pick out the aliment by itself before revealing the cosmic truth.
“Dude, You really can not figure this out by yourself?” She said while still chuckling and devouring the last sips of her cold, icy beverage. I nodded a very confirming negative and she again began to even chuckle louder. “Darling, you my dear friend are suffering from a odd-cultural ailment that has plagued man every since the cavemen picked up two sticks and began fighting and a crowd began to watch them. You are suffering a urbanite based type of battle fatigue that effects people who follow a particular sports team and live and breath on their outcomes. You are beginning to show extreme signs of Post-Part um Playoff Disorder”
And the news shocked me. Here I was a strong-willed guy who had never fallen into that trap for years and years following my sports teams, but for some reason this season I fell face-first into the abyss. She saw my face go blood-less and white for a moment until I had the look of a man saved by the grace of god, or maybe by a errant throw by the shortstop to first. I finally got it. I finally understood what was going on., and it all made sense to me now.
But still there was the method of prognosis that was missing there. There was a final sense of aliment conclusion that was mildly empty here. what was the cure, or was there a cure? Could this be treated with kindness, or did I have to go through a rapid decompression of emotions and thought to again function like a normal human being? Or did I just have a fever for some Cowbell? She sat there with a sly smile and a simple look on her face that told me I already knew the answer.
“Think about it this way. Last season the tide and the final result of a playoff push was decided early on in the season. The stress and the emotional attachment could be stretched out over the course of the season with no sudden pushes and floods of emotional attachment until October, but in a month’s time the symptoms could be masked with ease. What you need to do now is get up out of your seat, turn around three times and do the “Chicken Dance” for me.” I sat there for a moment before rising from my seat and slowly remembering the moves of that classic dance did it for a few moments.
And you want to know something, it felt better. “For the last few months you have been sitting more in your seat, not celebrating like the rest of the people in the stadium. You have internalize the stress, struggle and the fight for some reason. You have taken your outer fandom and turned it within yourself forgetting your love for celebrating outwards and showing your pride with this team. But last, but not least, you have got to again not hinge every emotion and thought on the outcome of these next few home games. Like goes on without the Rays sweetie, and so do you!”
And with that we both began to have one of those belly-busting laughs that you can have with great friends. She saw that the color was coming back into my skin and the flush look on my face was draining back into the normal peach-color that formed by face. Maybe I needed to hear it from someone else. Maybe I needed a reassurance that others were going through this same mode of illness that was effecting them to, maybe I did just need more cowbell in a sense.
I then asked he what we should call this odd aliment that had taken over my life and my entire thought process for so long. I wanted to attach some kind of name or even an effect to this illness that was causing so much sleep-less nights and sloth-like days. I needed to somehow throw a verbiage up in my mind to finally get a label on it all and move forward. The words out of her mouth seemed to come out in slow motion and my eyes and ear hung on every syllable and vowel until it finally wrestled in my eardrums. “It’s very simple what you got………..You got Playoff Fever and you will not be the first to show these symptoms…or the last.“
Mark O’Meara / AP
Even before the Tampa Bay Rays started their 2007 season I had a gut level reaction that we were within a few years of breaking the “losers” curse and begin a winning tradition. That season I left my job at Pepsi and was anxiously seeking a position somewhere in the Rays organization. Something within me had me thinking that this franchise was about to turn a corner, and I really wanted a front row seat to the show.
Maybe the final piece was put into place during Spring Training in 2008, when Rays starter Scott Kazmir spoke of a playoff dream for the Rays that season, and the media snickered to themselves. But what they might not have known was the level of ease and comfort this team had with each other coming into this final season of Spring Training at Rays Namoli complex in St. Petersburg.
That this team liked spending time with each other both away and at the ballpark. That veterans in the Bullpen wanted to have dinners accompanied by the entire Bullpen, not just small groups filing in when they felt like it. Small groups of leader began to emerge in the clubhouse, each with their own special flair in support of the team. Carlos Pena was the fashion plate who dressed like a million dollars and had a boat load of confidence and inner strength. Cliff Floyd was the new guy who had been to multiple playoff runs and knew what it would take to funnel this team into winners.
And then you had the odd broad-shoulder pairing of Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes who could reduce the clubhouse into tears of laughter and showed extreme amount of emotion and passion for the game. Then you had the Rays rotation, all under 26 years of age who acted 5 years older than their birth certificates listed on any given day. From top to bottom, this team enjoyed each other not only as teammates, but as a sense of brotherhood. And that can be a powerful tool when you are molding yourself to do something you team has never done before………..Win, and win now!
And we all know how far that confidence and that slight air of arrogance got this team. How dare they trample to pecking order of the American League East and sit on top of the division for most of the season. How dare they take the mighty Red Sox Nation to 7 games, then disregard them like rag dolls on their way to the team’s first World Series appearance. And all throughout this adventure was door and door being broken down by this bunch of Rays. They had changed their logos and uniforms in November 2007, and with that stripped the losing mentality along with the loss of the forest green caps.
The 2008 Rays even on the plane ride home after World Series game 5.5 were not looking forward to leaving each other yet. the bond of this squad was tight, and the general feeling was that to separate would be the end of that karma train. So as the team packed up after the trip home and had their baseball belongings sent from sea-to-shining sea, they hoped that vibe would continue for a a second shot at the title. They wanted that feeling amongst each of them to hibernate and spring to life in late February 2009, but it was never the same.
People have been trying to find multiple reasons for the wild mood swings and the odd chemistry this team seems to have in 2009. Some might say it is a little bit of the leftover World Series experience mixed with a new found respect for how hard it is to repeat in this game. But the meshing of this team out of Spring Training in 2009 did not have the same feeling to it. You could see it on the field. The powerful defense became average for some reason. The power stroke of B J Upton seemed to be stalled by surgery and unforeseen situations.
The all-mighty pitching staff, the saviors in 2008 seemed to be subdued this season. Almost in a calm serenity than in a mix of attitude and daring antics. Gone was the fire you could see in their eyes and feel in their voices. Not extinguished, but down to embers. The offense still churned to its own beat just like in 2008 finding new heroes every night or so to prop up as examples that 2009 is better than 2008. But other key components of the hitting seemed to be lagging behind and could not adjoin with the rest. This team did not have that fundamental same feeling to it. Something critical was missing.
And some would say it was a few of the fire-breathers that were no longer here like Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd who inspired by example, and shined through by pure energy and power. You knew that Floyd would take the “father” role and try and nurture some of the guys into becoming better more productive members of the team. Hinske you knew would be fired-up and ready for battle at any time, and he carried that same energy out on the field with him. And Gomes was the ultimate confidence guy.
If someone did something amazing, he was one of the first to see you as you came on the bench. Each of the three had a key role in the bench players, the same way Trever Miller and Dan Wheeler did with the Bullpen guys. They always discussed things, always compared notes, and dined together out on the road. You knew that even young ace Scott Kazmir and the other rotation members keyed off each other to try and post a quality start every time out. People on this team genuinely rooted for each other day in, and day out to succeed.
And this season there has seemed to be something missing from the beginning. Even when I went down to Spring Training for the first time in Port Charlotte, you felt a different vibe. Not a negative energy, just something different. Gomes, Hinske, Miller and Floyd, all left for other teams, and the incoming guys did not replace that lost energy or that instant energy levels. There was leadership in this clubhouse, and there was a sign of wanting to again reach the top of the hill, but it did not have any urgency or finality to it.
For some reason this 2009 edition of the Rays had the talents, abilities and the heart to produce a winner, but some of the classic energy and chemistry seemed to be lacking at moments. And those gaps in the system showed up from time to time. Lackluster performances without someone coming over and encouraging you. A more quiet bench than in 2008 when you never knew what would be said or visualized f
rom a distance. Plenty of times in 2008 the bench seemed alive and the 26th player on the team.
But this season that player is missing in action. Maybe he was lost in the charts and the schemes and the general “cool” vibe of the clubhouse. There is still a huge amount of fire in this team, but they have to spread the embers out again and add wood to that fire. As the losses total up the members grow darker and darker this year, with pillows of hot spots peaking out, and the general feeling of extended dread hanging over the game. And the Rays coaches might have sensed this too.
With traveling parties all dressed in black, dressed in all white and also cowboy wear it is a basic team building exercise to promote from within a pride and a energy among the team. And it has worked at times and had extended into the road trip and on into the next home stand, but the energy seems to dip down again and another action/reaction has to be pulled out of this team. Props and events like this can mold a team, but only if all of them want to mesh as one.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon, knowing the recent stress and daily barrage of expectations went with a “Ring of Fire” Johnny Cash tribute road trip. With this road trip now history and the team heading back to Tampa Bay with a 4-3 record on this trip, was it a success? Or is it going to be an ongoing theme for the rest of the season. Last year the rally cry fell under the guise of a “Rayhawk” with several players even going above and beyond the usual mode of hair.
But for some reason the black hair sported now by Maddon has been christened the 2009 version of the “Rayhawk”, and again there have been a great response to the visual bonding agent, but it doesn’t feel the same. This team is a little more laid-back than the 2008 version, both in personalities and in outward bursts of energy. Maybe it is time for each of these guys to dig deep and know that for the Rays to again taste that Mumm’s champagne, they all have to crank it up a few notches and leave it all on the field.
I know I do not have a solid answer for this decline in energy and outward excitement. I wish I had the perfect solution, because I would march into the Rays offices with the answer. I would proudly ask to speak with Maddon and present this gift with nothing in return. Some times it is the simple things that get us the most confused. Maybe all the expectations and promises have clouded the goal. Something missing this year has been a long winning streak, a true defining moment that separates this club from all the others in the MLB.
We have all seem the signs at different times this season. Players have shown us that even the “Team Meetings” at home plate after Walk-off wins seem more subdued compared to 2008. I know it is not a case of “Been there, done that!”, but it could be a symptom of the problem. Maybe something as simple as playing like you are 10-years old again and remembering the fun will shakes the cobwebs and give the Rays back their mojo.
Like I said, if I had the right answer, I would bottle it and sell it to everyone else, but the Rays could have it for FREE. For I want to again see the smiles nightly on their faces for no reasons. See the bubble gum bubbles on top of players caps. I want to see the sunflower seed competitions between the Bullpen guys again. Maybe it is just wishing for the past, maybe it is hoping for the future, maybe it is just about something as simple as having fun playing a kids game again.