Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’

World Series Game 5.0 One Year Anniversary

 


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I was going to begin my end of the season series of blogs on my  personal “Top 5 Moments in the 2009 Rays Season” until I looked at the calendar on the kitchen wall this morning. And there it stood. In huge bold RED letters October 27, 2009. To most people this date is only a reminder that in only 4 days, the hordes of sugar-seeking pint-sized ghouls and gobblins trick or treaters would invade the neighborhoods, and the air would be alive with the screams and laughter of children everywhere.

To the Rays faithful, this date is the One Year Anniversary of a baseball moment that will live in Rays lore as the “Big One that Got Away”.  It was one year ago on this day that Game 5 of the 2008 World Series was to be played, and completed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

But it really does not feel like it has been an entire year since I was sitting in Section 101 in centerfield right by both teams Bullpen Areas at Citizen Bank Park watching some pieces of errant uneaten hot dogs, sandwich wrappers and soda cups raining down from the stands when the Major League Baseball head honcos and Home Plate Umpire Jeff Kellogg decided to suspend play during Game 5 of the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia to protect the players.

And about this moment the Philly weather was starting to pick up an extra special blast of chilling wind gust, and the  present temperature in the stadium seemed to be dipping extremely fast towards a point of freezing. But still we sat there hoping we might be able to complete this game and get our toes and noses defrosted with a cup of steaming hot coffee in between innings.

It did not matter that the cold made our fingers a bit numb and ached when we clapped or even tried to loosen them up by flexing them during the game.  For I was from Florida, and this bit of weather is not a usual element for us to endure during games, but my two batting gloves did help a little bit in the cold. Both teams tried to play this game, but were fighting increasingly slippery surfaces on the basepaths and at the home plate.


AP Photo

The game was beginning to resemble a old neighborhood kids baseball game where we played in the muck and mud and sloshed around as best you could because we loved to play the game. But the guys out on that field were professionals, and the elements were not giving them ample footing or even visibility to see the ball in the air. And it was a good call in hindsight to stop the game before some got hurt, or a play occurred that would change the course of the game.

I can still see the three Phillies fans who sat a few rows back who had traveled over one hundred miles to attend that night’s game, and would not be able to stay over for even one more night to see a possible ending to this game. The saddness on their faces as they rose after the announcement and almost tore their tickets up showed the common air of disappointment circling the stadium that night.

All I can easily recall sitting in my seat drinking a soda and watching the Rays players become more like human popsicles with every inning. The “Elmer Fudd”  Rays hats with the ear flaps were in great demand down on the Rays dugout, and you could see the after glow of the bench heaters from my outfield seats. It is a wonder nothing caught fire that night as the flames seemed to kiss the back of the players heels and they relished the warmth and endured the slight discomfort of the heat.

And when the announcement officially came from the public address system that the game would not be continued, you understood the instant wrath and barrage of garbage being thrown in the air. We wanted to see the end of that classic game that would later be known as Game 5.0 and Game 5.5, but the safety and welfare of the member of both squads and the fan took center stage.


AP Photo/unknown

We all know how this game ended up two days later. And maybe if the game had been played to it conclusion a different result might have occurred. But it was the right call by MLB in an extreme situation that not only made history, but also showed some immense courage considering what town the game was being held in at the time.

I even made sure to try and spot my seat from that night and sure enough, he was sitting there with a beer in one hand, and a big Brat in the other cheering on his Phillies. Today is painful, but not as biting as a year ago as I wandered outside the stadium walking down Broad Street with the rest of the fans. There were shouts of disgust, shows of violent tendencies, but the crowd was pretty subdued compared to a few hours ago in the stadium during the game.

I ended up with a few friends of mine from my days in Philly back in the early 1990′s and went to one of the neighborhood bars for a few drinks to get my blood flowing again to my limbs. There I met a guy who was so upset he had to work that night, but was glad he might get a chance to see a World Series game now that the game was postponed a few days.

I sat there listening to his stories for a bit, and he heard a few of my Rays tales before I offered my ticket to him. I had a flight out of Philly the next evening and could not stay an additional night to see the conclusion of the game. I took no money from him, but told him to get down to Clearwater, Florida during Spring Training and we will settle the score. He did make it down and invited me to a game.  With him he brought a Game Program from the game, a Beep Cup signifying the World Series, and the ticket stub.


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I told him he could have the ticket stub since his team won the World Series at the conclusion to that game. He told me he took it to a Kinko’s store and had it enlarged to a huge size, and it is now hanging in his game room. So this day has some mixed emotions to me. I got to see history a year ago today, and also got to provide a lifetime moment to someone who would have missed it if the game did not get postponed. So even with all the pain of this date, some good did come of it all.

   

Cheesesteak Controversy…..Geno’s or Pat’s?

 

I went and visited an old friend today for lunch who runs a small take-out joint called the “A Taste of Philly” in Largo, Florida. He has the reputation of some of the finest selections of tasty morsels south of Broad Street in Philadelphia. The guy imports  all of his bakery goods straight from the City of Brotherly Love daily, and you can’t fight the quality of his fare. They are all three napkins worthy!

So I came upon the idea that maybe we need to vent the Philly fans attention another direction for a few days and give them something to debate before the beginning of the World Series on Wednesday night. I decided maybe we need to try the virtues of two of Philly’s biggest sandwich icons and decide once and for all………

Who is KING of the Cheesesteaks according to people around the country and not just from Philly. So I decided to just throw my personal opinions and comments out here along with a little history about each place and let the ball fall and see who picks it up and runs with it. Seriously, everyone knows that people in the town have an opinion on their particular favorite cheesesteak hangout. So without further ado, Let’s Get it on!

In the Orange corner wearing multi-colored neon boxing shorts and fighting for his creation firmly mounted on the corner of 9th and Passyunk, we have Joey Vento’s and his monster creation….GENO’s. There is a really funny story on how Vento came up with the name for his place back in 1966.  With a Joe’s Steak Place already situated within the city limits of South Philly, Vento was perplexed on a name for his new place.

Well, some local kid named Gino had spray painted his name on the back door of the new place and Vento saw it and knowing that there was a local well-to-do chain store with the same name, just put a couple lines on the “GINO” painted on his back door and “GENO’s was born.  the biggest thing you need to get used to if you ever order at Geno’s is to have your order ready at the first window before you even utter a word. There is actually an art to ordering what kind of cheese,or onions you want on your thin-cut steaming ribeye cheesesteak. 

If you fail to order within a certain time limit, you can be sure the people in line behind you will give you a shout or two to let you know what they think. And that is something this town was built on Freedom of speech. And let me tell you, this is one of the places in town you will talk about for years just for the ordering experience.  And considering all of this was started back in 1966 with only two boxes of ribeyes, some hot dogs, and a total of $6 in Vento’s pockets. Simply fantastic. 

And the fact the counter is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and fills the air with the awesome aromas of onions,and sizzling steak just makes you wander towards the counter. I am not going to give a review of Geno’s right now before I introduce our second challenger to the fray. And he is another heavyweight in the fight to fill Philly fans bellies late into the night, and early mornings.

In the Blue corner fighting from the opposite corner of the intersection is Pat’s, King of Steaks, which is not as brightly set in neon lights as Geno’s, but still is the rave for cheesesteaks in the city. Between the two establishments there is always a line at certain times of the day. Pat’s actually was founded about 36 years before Geno’s back in 1930. Back then it was a modest hot dog emporium at the base of the famous Italian Market in South Philly.

One day Pat decided to try something different for that days lunch crowd.  So he had some one go get some chopped meat at the local butcher shop and grilled it up on his flat top where he usually cooked his hot dogs.  He went next door to the Italian Market and got some fresh sandwich rolls and placed the steamed meat on the bun along with some onions.

Just as Pat was about to sample his new invention, a Philly cabbie on his usual lunch break asked what Pat was eating. After a short bit of chatter, Pat decided to make one of the new creations for his cabbie friend. Pat cooked him up one of the sandwiches and after the first bite the cabbie proclaimed to Pat, “Hey, forget ’bout those hot dogs, you should sell these.”   And a momentary change in his lunch option, and the World Famous South Philly steak sandwich was born.

Over the years, people wanted a bit of change, hence the addition of cheese to the sandwich. At both locations there is a huge amount of history and celebrity that focus attention to both eateries, but one of the great adventures of ordering your sandwich at Pat’s can be the highlight of your pre-sandwich meal.

It is not uncommon for the counter person to ask someone to go to the end of the line if they stutter or can not get the order done in a timely fashion. Returning patrons can be picked out of the crowd easy by their ease at throwing out what they want on their cheesesteaks in a micro of seconds. There is even a sign posted before the counter window to help ease you into the “Pat’s Way” of ordering and getting you food as quick as possible. 

I have to say, the first time I went there I did not have to go to the back of the line, but they knew I was from the South. Maybe my Tampa Bay cap gave me away. Anyways I have to give a slight nod even before tasting either sandwich to Pat’s because they serve Pepsi products. See even in my time away from the job I still value my sodas. But both places did serve Dr. Pepper, so the scale went even again.

Another tipping point that might have pushed me in a certain direction might be the fact that at Pat’s you can eat on premises. But this was not a deciding factor if you like people watching and also enjoy the crisp, chill in the October air in Philly. Eating al fresco  at Geno’s is not like sitting at a street side Cafe’ in Paris, but you can see and hear everything that is happening around you at both steak institutions.  

No matter which of the two competing places you savor when you come to Philly, the leading factor to coming down to Passyunk has to be to eat one of the creations that has be associated with this city for so long. Doesn’t matter if you like your cheesesteak loaded with Cheez Wiz like at Pat’s or can choose your artery clogging cheese selection like Geno’s. The basic fact that you enjoy a well made sandwich should be enough right?

Okay. I get it, you want a winner. That is so American of you (lol). I am actually going to break this down into points of yummy to consider a winner here.


*****
Geno’s might be the only restaurant in South Philly you can see from Space. Pat’s is sometimes blurred by the amount of people standing outside still at 2 am.
ADVANTAGE: Geno’s.


]*****
 Pat’s counter people make even ordering a sandwich an experience. With the helpful signage and some of the crowd helping you so you can also have a fast experience without going to the back of the line. Geno’s can be testy too, but part of the Pat’s experience is just their ordering process.
ADVANTAGE:
Pat’s.


*****
Because of their extra selections of types of cheese (Cheez Wiz,American, Provolone Cheese) plus the condiments like ketchup,mustard,relish and Geno’s own hot sauce, it give you extra options for your food.
Pat’s offers the same outside condiments, but for some reason, the cheese selection just let everyone have it their way.
ADVANTAGE:
Geno’s


***** And last, but not least is the atmosphere around both places. I have to say I have been to both at different times of the season, and this one might come down to what makes you personally comfortable at the time. Geno’s does have that neighborhood joint feel to the place and with everyone outside eating and talking it creates a buzz in the air. Pat’s was my haven last October when the chilling rain and the wild breezes swept through the Philly streets and eating facing the wind was not a pleasant option. Thank you south side tables.
ADVANTAGE: Geno’s & Pat’s

So, based on the about yummy points you might think it is solely Geno’s  to lose for my ultimate winner. Well, if you think that, then you do not know me very well. I actually found both places to have their own signature differences that could have taken me towards either side of the street for a winner.

But in the end, it is ultimately a personal decision, and one I can not make for you. But I do have to add that both places have a huge bit of history and personality to them from ordering to sampling either of their fares.  The true winner of this is the citizens of Philadelphia. Not just do they have multiple choices around the city, but every large city in the US has a Philly-branded eatery in which they offer their own take on the classic steak sandwich.
 

It doesn’t matter if you like it with Whiz, onions or just  with cooked peppers, the choice is all yours. Even take it Italian and add a bit of marinara sauce to explode the taste buds another direction.  We are all thankful to the City of Brotherly Love, and especially to two well-known and loved steak emporiums within cheesesteak tossing distance of each other.

Another experience you must have in Philly is just to walk down the street towards these two stands and smell the heavy air full of steak, onions and peppers that wander through the neighborhood. As I sit here eating the rest of my cheesesteak from “A Taste of Philly” I am reminded to save space for another great city creation, a big hot soft pretzel to take home and enjoy. Oh, and another cheesesteak for later!

Baseball Cards go “Exclusive” in 2010

 


Comic illustration by Rick Enright
 

I can still remember  back when I was oh so young, getting my weekly allowance then racing full bore on my bike with my friends in tow down to the local 7-11 to throw my  weeks earnings of two dollars on the store counter and ask for packs of those foil wrapped baseball cards. I am not sure even now why those cards seemed to instantly transform my little world into a state if euphoria and let my imagination run totally rampant while glancing at that Cincinnati Reds Ken Griffey  high color and foil card.

And after a quick evaluation of the cards in the deck, the losing players card from that bunch always ended up between a clothespin in the spokes of my bike for the trek home to produce a  mimic motorcycle sound that let the neighborhood know the “Baseball Gang” was roaring down the alleyways. Then when we finally hit my garage, we would all circle and argue for hours trading our new cards with ones in our back pockets and never agreeing totally on their worth or importance, but remembering their stats and their teams.

And even while we sat there boasting about our treasured bounty from the store, we made sure to chew that starchy piece of bubble gum until it could not longer handle a single bubble or our jaws ached from the constant state of chewing. But to us, the cards were as close as we could get to our sports heroes. For the smiling faces of the professional ballplayers looking back either posed at the plate or on the mound sent us into hours to recalling their heroic moments. It sent us into a realm of fantasy where we would duplicate or even top their previous years statistics if we got the chance on the field.

So it was sad moment for me when I read in August 2009 that Major League Baseball was ending their 30-year relationship with the Upper Deck Company LLC and signed an exclusive multi-year trading card pact with The Topps Company Inc. It always seemed like there had been more than a dozen companies springing up and then dissolving into thin air selling and marketing baseball cards to the masses. But on January 1, 2010, the Topps Company will have exclusive use of any of the MLB’s 30 team logos and trademarks.

And this is a huge blow to the small cottage industry that first thrust itself upon my generation with their multi-card sets and that historic piece of rectangular hard bubble gum. Upper Deck, which still has an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, might have something to say about all of this before  the beginning of 2010. This season, Upper Deck produced over 16 different sets of cards just for 2009 alone. But will the streamlining of this iconic piece of cardboard be easy, or will it be pushed back into the darkness by the isolation of its true  player and game images only being available by one lone manufacturer?


Comic Illustration by Rick Enright

In 1991, the sale of these little cardboard masterpieces reached over $ 1.2 billion in sales. Which at that time, was a huge chunk of change for the industry. I know that about that time I was pumping in a huge amount of excess cash to get some of the collectible cards and “game-used” cards that were beginning to float around the country. Who would not want a small piece of  a Roger Maris bat, or even a small swatch of a Sandy Koufax jersey.

Most  of these cards consisted of a small patch of a  MLB sanctioned baseball, or a sliver of a players personal bat that was then dissected into a million pieces and sandwiched onto a card. And we were all eager to find those cards and put them into our collections at that time as an investment into our futures. Every season, the trading card companies made sure to advertise that there were “special cards” hidden within the hundreds and hundreds of decks for us to find. But after the trading card industry hit its top spot in 1991, it then began a slow decent towards the bottom.

By 2000, the industry was seeing only $400 million in sales annually and was seeking other avenues to promote and increase the sales of their products. Trading card companies used this down period to began its inversion into other sports besides baseball and football for their new revenues sources. And in 2008, the sale of these once wanted cards fell to an all time low in sales of just over $200 million, including the new card sources like NASCAR and NHL editions. 

My romance with these special cards started about 2001 when I got my first “Game-Used” card from a pack I purchased in a 5-pack set in a small hobby store in St. Petersburg,Florida. The card was a 2001 Ken Griffey Junior “Game-Used” jersey card from his first stint with the Seattle Mariners.

The card was issued by Upper Deck, and it was a piece of his home blue jersey sandwiched between two pieces of plastic. Along with the holograms on the item and the photo of him on both sides of the card, it became a cherished piece of my card collection. More for the way he played the game then for the piece of fabric inside the plastic.

But it should come as no surprise that MLB decided to side with Topps in the exclusive rights for the trading cards marketing. Because the head honcho at Topps now had a visual presence with MLB in the form of ex-Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Most people might remember he was also at the helm after Disney purchased the then Anaheim Angels back in the 1980′s, and he was front and center on the podium to  thrust skyward the first World Series trophy won by the team in 2002.

I am not calling foul here in any way, but it just goes to show you that sometimes it really is “who you know” and not “what you know” that can get you that one  special meeting with MLB to even propose such an arrangement. Since Topps now has the exclusive rights to the teams logos and images, does this mean that the other companies will have to cease any contact with MLB players who might already be under contract for companies other than Topps? And can these companies, who have an exclusive signing contract with certain players block their signatures on cards in the future?


www.sportscardfun.com

You would think that both of these questions will be percolating in more than a few boardrooms around the country in response to the announcement of a single entity taking over the MLB’s marketing of the trading cards. I have heard whispers that Upper Deck might consider litigation or a simple injunction, but at this time nothing has been submitted to the courts.  And you can imagine that individual players will be reviewing their current contracts with the trading card companies and align themse
lves to be in compliance with the MLB new agreement.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig told MLB.com in August that the deal is suppose to “restore baseball cards as the games premier collectible.” The multi-year deal will give Topps exclusive use of MLB,Jewel Events and club trademarks, logos, and other intellectual properties for use on baseball cards, stickers and other product categories featuring MLB players. Such a monopoly in properties surrounding baseball is a huge kudos for Topps.

It is funny how these little pieces of cardboard have produced and induced millions of people over the years to buy, sell and trade these cards both on avenues like E Bay or at your local Flea Markets. Just for giggles, I popped my hand into a box of older cards in my closet that I have not split up and alphabetized. So picked out a total of 10 cards to see which company dominated the cards in my box. 

Well, Topps did end up coming out on top with 4 cards in that pile,with Bowman having three cards.  Also within the pile were companies like Fleer, Score and Donruss90, which had the final 3 cards in the deck.  And you could see quickly which company had the money and power to get major MLB players to sign deals with them, even back in the 1990 season. The bottom three companies did not have a superstar or starter on any of the MLB roster at that time. Bowman did get the likes of the Phillies Dave Hollins and Athletic pitcher Mike Gallego in my small selection.
 

But even back 20 years ago, Topps got the premier players for their set of cards. In those 4 Topps cards were players like Oakland’s Shortstop Walt Weiss, Royal Second baseman Frank White, Tiger Shortstop Alan Trammel and Orioles starting pitcher Ben McDonald. But what was really wild during that brief time I put my hand back into that box was the nostalgia and the blast from the past seeing some of those names pop into my eyes again after so long. Some might go to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but all of them held different memories to me both as players and as cards in my collection.

I remember almost coming to blows with my friend Steve Haas back in 5th grade over my Cincinnati Reds Cesar Geronimo card, or how I felt like I was a really shrewd dealer to trade three  non-marque players cards for a hologram 1989 Cleveland Indians card. Now all my trading cards are sectioned out by alphabetical order into small plastic containers, each with rubber banded players duplicate cards all together. To think of all the time and money I invested into these cards now seems so funny that someone like Cardinal Andy Van Slykes 1985 card could have graced the spokes of my motocross bike for weeks and I was not the wiser. 


Comic Illustration by Rick Enright

But as the baseball card market has gone into  the shallows, so has the Sports Card shops that used to number over 5,000 strong all over the country but has now dwindled down to under 500 shops specializing in these pieces of our baseball youth. But people have always told me that “all good things have to come to an end.”

Maybe that is true even with those little cards we used to buy for the glory and charm of trading with our friends for hours at a time. That some cards were valued so high by us back then to be placed in our school books as bookmarks to show our exclusive pride towards our baseball heroes.  And maybe, just maybe a few of us, like me…looked forward to that starchy piece of thin bubble gum when I opened the package…even today. 

(Pop!)

Rays Should give Crawford an Extension

 


Mark Carlson / AP

On September 30,2009 Carl Crawford, the veteran player of the Tampa Bay Rays made it be known through the Tampa Tribune in an interview with writer Marc Lancaster that he would be open to discussions of an contract extension past the 2010 season. The news was viewed with excitement in the stands of Tropicana Field as it was made known by one of the Rays most popular players that he basically sees an upward change in the franchise and would love to further explore where this team is heading in the coming years.

We are very pleased to hear C.C.’s comments,” Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman told the St. Petersburg Times  on September 30th when Crawford announced he would be willing to discuss a possible extension to stay with the Rays. “Consistent with our policy, we do not speak publicly about contract negotiations but obviously we have a tremendous amount of respect for Carl both on and off the field.  He has been a big part of our past success and I expect he will be a big part of our future success as well.”

Andrew, you bet your sweet booty you want to keep one of the most exciting players in baseball right  where he is right now. Considering the Rays have a $10-11.5 million club option to consider before the beginning of the 2010 season, you can bet they will exercise that option and possibly make amends to keep C C well beyond the 2010 season. And if for some reason the deal does go sour in any way, you can expect an endless bulk of boos and article written until the cows come home about the Rays biggest PR blunder of your administration.

But first off, most Rays fans have to heed a bit from getting overexcited by the comments knowing that the pace at which Crawford performed in 2009 hitting both personal and club record in several categories during the season, he might have to give the Rays a bit of a ” local discount” to have the Rays retain him past the 2010 season. And right now, without knowing the expected payroll amount set by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Crawford might be the biggest question mark right now.


Gail Burton / AP

Granted he has made comment showing an olive branch out to the Rays organization, and wants to stay here and hopefully be a part of another winning team that thrust hard into the playoffs, but can the Rays retain him without damaging their payroll expectations and  fit him perfectly into the team plans all the way through to maybe 2014?

Because of his upward mobility daily in the Major League Baseball All-Time charts, he is quickly establishing himself as a potential Hall of Fame caliber player, with a long career still in front of him. And if you were to compare him with the best active players at his position, he would surely command a $15 million plus a year salary in the big cities like Chicago or New York. So would Crawford be willing to give the team that deep of a discount to play for a potential winner, while also adding to his own reputation in the American League.

Crawford finally got to experience that winning feeling with the Rays in 2008, and it just might be in the Rays best interest to surround him with the  best talent they can afford to again hit that plateau before the team hits a wall and might have to cut back, maybe as soon as 2014. I know that is a long time away, but it is micro-seconds in baseball years. The career of a Major League player is long in comparison to some sports, but the risk factors are extremely higher considering the daily grind of 162 games a season.

But would the Rays use his “leg fatigue” as a bargaining tool, when in reality he has appeared in 150+ game for his fifth season of his career.  And if you consider what he can do once he hits the base paths, well Crawford might leave this game as one of the best who ever laced up a pair of Nike’s by the time he calls it a career.

Crawford is only the third American League player in this decade to reach the 60+ steals mark joining Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury ( 69/2009) and the Angels Chone Figgins (62/2005).  To further illustrate what he can do on the base paths, you only have to look at the May 3,2009 game against the Boston Red Sox to see how he can command a game all by himself. His 81.9 percent stolen base attempts rank first among active MLB players. He also became one of only 25 players since 1900 to steal 60 bases and get 60 RBI in the same season. And he is 1 of 6 to accomplish that in the last 20 years.

Crawford currently has the 6 highest stolen base totals in Rays history, and has hit the 50+ steals mark a record 5 times, which is the best among active players.  And he is only the 16th player since 1900 with 5-50+ steal seasons. And he has been clocked going from first to second in 3.1 seconds, which is a bit faster than recent Hall of Fame member Rickey Henderson in his prime.


Jeff Roberson / AP

But Crawford is not a one-dimensional player. He has also made some incredible plays on defense and might be one of the most under rated outfielder in the game since the Golden Glove are not awarded by  just his field position( leftfield) but by the outfield in general. The best example of how Crawford can turn a game around might be in the May 6th contest against the Boston Red sox where he stole  a total of 6 bases, and became only the fourth player to ever accomplish that feat. He was even the first to do it since June 30, 1996, when Eric Young of the Colorado Rockies was the last to hit that plateau.

These statistics might even make the Rays job harder to consider that he has just turned 28 this August 5th, and his 353 stolen bases rank 7th best since 1900. His 92 triples ranks him 12th since 1900, and the most since Cardinal Stan Musial. His 1,244 hits rank him 8th best since 1900. Such feats have seemed to come easy to the young outfielder who played in his 1,000 Major League game on June 27, 2009 against the Florida Marlins.

Hard to believe that the Rays All Time leader in runs, runs scored, hits, at bats, stolen bases, doubles and triples, games played and RBI has only played in 1,000 contests.  And let’s take a look at his triples for a moment, he is currently third among active players with only Yankee outfielder Johnny Damon (95) and Philly shortstop Jimmy Rollins (94) having more than Crawford’s 92 triples. But he was also 4th in the American League with 41 infield hits in 2009.

And if all of the above information was not mind boggling enough for Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations and Silverman to consider, here  are another few facts that point to the special place Crawford is heading in the coming years. He has now hit above .300 for the fourth time in the last five seasons for the Rays. This season he had a career high 51 walks and his 2009 On-Base Percentage of .364 is 34 points high than any other time in his career.

Add onto that package the fact he hit his 500th RBI on September 20th against Toronto’s Roy Halladay with a 2-run homer.  At the end of the 20
09 season, Crawford was 10ht in hits (185), 9th in multi-hit games with 54 this season, and 5th in triples with 8 in 2009.  Crawford has become the quintessential Rays player, and a good foundation for the club both in character and in his on-field behavior.

The 3-time American League All Star even took fans and players breath away in this season’s All Star game in St. Louis with his catch high above the AL Bullpen fence to rob the National League’s Brad Hawpe of a potential go-ahead home run in the 7th inning of that game. As Crawford stood there with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig that night, you  saw the boyish charm of Crawford, and so did the rest of the MLB community.


Jeff  /  Tom Gannam /AP

I guess the best thing right now is to let Crawford’s comments to Lancaster om September 30th  begin to close out this blog:
I don’t like worrying about it,” Crawford said to the Tampa Tribune, “
and you can sit there and say you’re not worried about it, but to not know what your future’s going to be in the next five or six years or so is definitely … it makes you scared at times.”

“I just hope we can do something. It’s uncomfortable worrying about it. I don’t like playing cautious. You’d be a liar if you say you didn’t play cautious when you have to go through contracts and stuff like that. I want to just be able to play baseball, don’t worry about nothing else.”


So it is your court now Rays front office. This is your time to shine and to make this contract extension a show of good faith and prosperity you hope this team embodies for the next 5 or 6 years. Crawford should be the backbone of  the Rays squads in that time period, and if he is not, it might be a clear indication of the team desire to scale back and let the next generation of Rays players get their shots. 

It is so hard to  for someone like me to adequately decipher and assess a monetary value to Crawford since his stock has risen every season since 2003, and he just might be hitting his prime right now in his career. But if you look at the numbers he has obtained in a period of 5 full seasons now, the numbers are staggering, even without the addition of dollar signs to his name. And if the Rays can get his at a reduced price and regain that winning feeling, it is a huge plus for the Rays franchise to have a player like Crawford at the forefront leading these Rays onto the field.


Rays Players Off Season Plans

 

Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.

And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.

So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.

It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.

A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009.  It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.

I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to  have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we  also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay. 

Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.

Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally  just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful  European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.

I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!).  Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.

But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some  of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.

Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist.  This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet. 

But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just  wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves.. 

While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life. 

Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there  to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go  duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.

You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.

There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time  during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.  

But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a  hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.

Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.

But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.

And  a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.

So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!

 

Sunday Rewind: Joe Kennedy…We were Lucky to have known You…. Truly Lucky!

 



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Intro:

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 w
hat 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.

 
 
I truly hate it when a young ball player dies when he is about to fulfill his potential, or even rediscover the magic that first got him to the Major Leagues. No matter if they have hit their prime, or had to reinvent themselves to further their careers, it was a special moment.

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. 

 

 
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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.”

 

Joe was only 28 years young, but had already established himself as a front end starting pitcher with our Rays.  He had  thrown for over 908 innings in the Majors, and had 558  career K’s.

 
Kennedy was selected in the 1998 Amateur player draft in the 8th round, out of Grossmont (Calif.) J C by the Rays and went immediately into the minor leagues organization. He quickly rose through the Rays’ farm system organization. Kennedy had made quick work of moving up the ladder in the farm system, and was a combined 6-0, with a .099 ERA with Orlando and Durham before getting called up to the big club ( Devilrays ) on June 2, 2001.
 

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.

 
                      

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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.

 


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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.

 


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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.

 

God Bless you Joe Kennedy, ………………I hope to someday be in that heavenly Right Field watching you play in that league up there someday myself….. And I will always cheer for you as a truly great person and pitcher, and as someone who left the game before he was ready to go.
 

Play Ball!
 
 
 

Would Review Ruin the Game?

 


Chris Carlson / AP

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.


Kathy Willens / AP

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.


Jae C Hong / AP

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.


Jae C Hong

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.

Who I am following in the Playoffs

         NL Division Series Logo                                           AL Division Series Logo

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.


Rob Carr / AP

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.


Mel Evans / AP



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.


Mel Evans / AP

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.

  

Favorite Funny Photos from 2009…….Rays Style

 


www.Cowbelltime.com

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.


www.archiemcphee.com

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.


http://www.raysbaseball.com

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? 


Pat Manfredo

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. 


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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.


http://www.brianshousefanclub.com

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?



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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?


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T
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.

   
          http://www.BaltimoreSun.com

 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“.

  

Mark Duncan / AP

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.


Steve Nesius / AP

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?


Steve Nesius / AP

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.


Chris O’Meara / AP

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.


Chris O’Meara / AP

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.

Rays Review…….Fan Experience Edition


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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.


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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.


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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.


Unknown Photographer

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.

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