Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’
I originally was going to write this post on April 1st, but in the past I’ve done posts on leaving the site, changing my team alliances and even a weird player trade that even had a few people call Tampa Bay Rays sources to see if it was official or just a bad rumor.
So I delayed this announcement for a day so that it would not be valued as an April Fool’s notation, but as a true to life change in my literary persona and a widen more broad approach to the game I love and cherish.
When I decided to some back and write again this past December, I knew I had to mix things up somehow since I felt I had become a bit predictable and downright focused only in one direction. Tunnel-vision can be a good thing and a bad thing for a writer. For me it seemed to be just like being caught flat-footed between the bases with a swift infielder trying to tag me out of the game.
So it was time for a thought process about a change. First I had to decide if my blog persona would stay intact or change with the rest of the black and white type renovation. I liked my handle “Rays Renegade”, and it has been whispered (at least a few times) within the tilted cap of the Trop or on various websites and I had to decide if I was going to start 100 percent fresh, or keep at least the persona I had built since September 2007.
The decision about the name was easy. I had built a literary personality and it for now will stay intact, but not written in stone.
So the next phase has been in the process for quite a while. I love the Rays and cherish every moment and victory the team has achieved since I first glanced towards the infield in 1998, but now my focus will be more resembling any team’s pre-game Batting Practice as balls will be going to all fields, high into the stands and well as screamers down the foul lines.
By opening my vision towards 29 other teams I can find more material, base opinions and provide a more compelling blog by using all fields instead of just trying to go to deep center with each and every pitch.
I truly cherish this game and the people who make it special, and that will not change in any fashion. I will hope to bring a broader voice and basis of opinions and facts as to the game from coast-to-coast. Be it good or bad, I hope to bring my realistic views and notions to things going on around the M L B , but there will be moments where the Rays will hold my glance a bit longer.
That being said, it is time to begin the renovation, the change and the revision I have envisioned for a while but procrastinated until now.
Change in life is a good thing. We all do it be it our clothes, jobs or even revising our personalities or character to bring about a positive change in our lives. This blog to me was a uniform I wore, a cap I pulled down tight upon my brow and stared in at a hitter who wanted to place my pitch into the Rays Tank.
So begins the change that will resemble my time in Row C of Section 138 of Tropicana Field. At the bottom of the section, the seat on the field side of the row within a shout or anguished scream at a player or reaction to the game events…….I always loved to Bellow from the Bleachers to the field heckling or even encouraging players during the course of a game throughout a season.
Hmmm, maybe that would be a great name…
Yep, “Bellows from the Bleachers” it is.
It gets me all giddy inside when the second week of February comes to a close every year. The anticipation, the excitement, the thrill of knowing one of the greatest loves in this World can again entrance my mind and soul with visions of rawhide, ash plus pine mixed with smell of popcorn and roasting peanuts. Baseball has always had a special part of my heart. Some might say to me it is my first and other would bold to venture my only true love who has stood besides me in days of woe and exhilaration and has truly triumphed the test of time. Others like the NFL, NHL and the revitalized version of NASL somehow lost their luster in my past and somehow became only just simple cherished memories tuck into darken alcoves within my mind and heart. But baseball has always been on the tip of any conversation and thought, even in the dead of Winter.
Someone asked me once why I have such a deep devotion and love for this simple children’s game. The same game that can have you on the edge of your seat one moment, then in an instant you can see it all come crashing down in disbelief as defeat rears its ugly snout.. Well, to be honest my long time love for this game started a long time ago in a bevy of batting cages that have long since been replaced by residential blight. My first loving memory of the game was going to the miniature golf course on S. Pasadena Ave across from my dad’s friend Jim Brook’s gas station at the northern end of the old Corey Bridge where I had to endure 18 holes of Putt-Putt before I could ramble into the chain-link fence batting cages and begin to fantasize Home Runs to win championships or secure a walk-off win.
The first real grass and clay field I ever got to play baseball on as a 8 year old was a back lot enclave at the now gone Little League Regional Headquarters just between Gulfport and St. Petersburg, Florida. It was here I first had a grounder come up and bite me in the nose (broke it), experienced the joy of hitting a ball as far as I could throw it, and made my first head-first slide into Second Base successfully. It was a couple years later when I played in the concrete arena (stadium) and against some poor kid I slugged one out of the park and onto the railroad tracks that ran just North of the stadium. I always wanted to hit one into the Royal Palms cemetery but never got that kind of power.
My love for the game started young. I did not know the true exploits of Don Zimmer, Mickey Mantleor Stan Musial who all used to come to my father gas station (Wittig’s Motor Pool/ Pasadena & Central Ave) and fill up their cars during the 70′s Gas Wars era. Sometimes if they needed additional work like a LOF or tires they would throw the ball with me a bit in the oil-soaked alley behind the station or we talked about baseball as I cleaned their windshields, checked their oil and air in their tires. I shudder now in disbelief I did not venture into my baseball books or research the Sunday paper’s stats sheet to know of their true greatness to the game. But maybe that was best as they showed themselves truly and did not throw up walls or images that was false to themselves off the field.
I still hold a piece of that same young kid within me every time I enter Tropicana Field, or venture out to Spring Training practices or games. I still carry my infielder’s glove more for sentimental reasons than to catch a BP or foul ball. Heck for years my glove sat on that green painted metal pipe that ran down the concrete wall in Section 138 it somehow became more of a fixture than me sitting in my old Season Ticket seat. I still thrill when a ball comes in hot with sound streaming off it and hear the “pop” of the glove as I grip it or feel a sting from its impact. Usually a kid near me is the final recipient of the ball as I have many now, and want to give other that same thrill and love of this grand game. Who knows that ball could awaken his own love for the game of baseball.
Maybe that is why this game has never soured for me, even during those first 9 awkward years of the Rays existence when victories were slim and frustrations mounted within my belly wanting something special to happen like stealing a win on a walk-off or seeing one of our hurlers shut down a high power offense or seeing that ultimate display of last chance power pitching as our closer strikes out the side for the save. The crack of the ball off the bat still sends my heart a-flutter, watching a player run towards a ball at the wall and leaping either to crash on the wall or come down with that white sphere within his grasp. The whole essence of it can still send chills down my spine and excites me to no end.
My favorite baseball movie is still “For the Love of the Game”. Not for the aspect of a pitcher throwing the game of his life on his last outing, but the flooding of baseball memories that will be fodder for conversations and trips down memory lane for the rest of his life. The recent upturn of the Rays fortunes since 2008 have kept me wishing and wanting for more, hopefully seeing a ticker tape parade and being able to kiss or take a memory photo with that glorious golden trophy myself as so many other have in the past.
I am about to hit the big 5..4, and now I am starting to get into a baseball frame of mind and physical state to tryout and play some form of this grand game with the legendary group the Kids and Cubs down near Vinoy Park. Sure at that stage in my advanced level of baseball skills I will not be the speed demon I was in college, or even hit one 347 feet down the line, but the chance to play baseball with people like myself who’s kinship with this game has not waned or been shackled would be not only a tremendous thrill, but another thing to take off my lifetime Bucket List. Plus I hear chicks still dig the long ball.
The game of baseball will always hold a huge part of me firmly within its grasp, and on a day like today when loves rules the air, ground and seas I consider myself blessed to have discovered this game, cherished its traditions and idiosyncrasies to a T, not blinking an eye in the process.
On this constructed day of affection and bliss it is time for me to again profess my undying devotion and honest commitment to always be there for the game, take the good with the bad and cherish the moments as if they were my last.
So for me the symbol of a valentine is shaped more like a diamond because its shape encompasses the four essential 90 foot sections of the field infield dimensions. It brings with it a stupendous harmony of sounds and actions played out upon its lush foliage and grit that brings about an odd state of perfection played out in unison upon the field by both those who seem ageless and those who are eternally young at heart.
It is upon that field the we again can imagine our first hit, throw and cherish it for its complexity and simplicity intertwined in our love for the game. The elements of my valentine fits in my fist, with 9 inches of circumference covered with white cowhide and red stitching. I swear when I leave this Earth they will open me up and find a pearly white baseball where my heart should be…..Or at least I hope they do. So I have to ask……Baseball, Will you be my everlasting Valentine?
Happy Valentines Day
Every year about this time I can be found heading to a local big box store eager to buy a dozen Major League Baseball from Rawlings for the upcoming Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training schedule and Fan Fest. I always love how each baseball comes in it’s own precious cardboard container with tissue paper protecting its pearly white exterior in anticipation of me plucking it out of my bag for a player to sign and then add to my always expanding M L B autograph collection wall. Every year at this time I try and formulate a sketch of a battle plan to get the signatures I need to fulfill that season’s rostered player, or get a player I have wanted in my collection for some time. Instantly there are additional thoughts banding through my brain of who should sign these new pearls, where events I will ask these players, or should I just tuck them away for later use at another juncture in the season.
The moment I do take these white spheres out of their first “home”, the smell of the ball with it’s pleasant leather aroma can send me into a avalanche of embracing baseball memories and fills me with a flood of emotions. Recently I was floored and shocked to discover this icon of America’s favorite pastime has not been manufactured within our countries borders for some time.
That’s right, the baseball we all chase and want to feel in the pit of our gloves or hands is no longer produced in the United State, or even in North America for that matter. Since Rawlings became the official provider of baseball to Major League Baseball back in 1977, not one of the 108 stitches into that old cowhide has been sewn on U S soil.
It shocked me that a company that is located within the baseball-frenzied mid-West region of St. Louis, Missouri would outsource such an American icon, plus not even produce it within our own hemisphere.
Then again, Rawlings has been doing a bit of country-jumping since its inception in 1887. Most of us would not seemed shocked or amazed to find out Rawlings moved its baseball operations outside the continental United State back in 1969 to Puerto Rico. Even though Puerto Rico is a American unincorporated territory, most imagine it as our future 51st state. But how the baseball manufacturing exodus is only in its beginning phases of its journey.
Finally the company decide to move their total baseball manufacturing machinery to cost-efficient nation of Costa Rica after the Haitian political climate became increasingly volatile and the company feared its operations could be compromised by the unrest. Rawlings set up their production facility in the small town of Turrialba in which the baseball manufacturer built a 80,000 square foot facility that employs over 700 local workers in the early years of production.
This factory initially produced a staggering total of 50,000 baseballs a week, with each employee producing up to 30 balls a day with the balls’ journey from raw cowhide material to being shipped to a M L B ballpark in as little as 21 days. All told, the production of Rawlings baseballs brought a $21 million dollar windfall for the Costa Rican economy.
This developing country nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea is the locale Rawlings has been sending their cowhide, twine and hard cores to be made into the American icon. It is still shocking to me that the one item we all want to possess in our gloves, or have our favorite player sign for display on our shelves and mantels in manufactured so far away from the sounds and actions of the game.
Suddenly that smell mesmerizing my senses from my new pearly white baseballs is taking on a distinctively different scent. At least the baseballs we see being used during the M L B season does come from an “America”,………. Central America.
Just got a Twitter direct message from someone (they know who they are) asking if I ever thought of writing a book.
Honest answer, more than a dozen times in my life since I was about 18. The logical choice might seem to be a baseball book or possibly ghostwriting one for someone else of great prominence, but we all know I try and not burden the friends I have made in sports. Ever since I left my Sports Correspondent gig with the “Evening Independent”, I wanted to write a great sport related book either fiction or non-fiction. I took every Journalism and Comp Honors class they would let me attend driving my want skyward to write something special.
My first inclination towards possibly publishing something was while I was in college, basically a “Freshman Year Survival Guide” with topics from class loads, getting the basic classes out of the way and how to not look overanxious to Fraternity Pledge Masters. I had a foolproof guide to getting freebies from the Student Services programs already enacted Nationwide as well as how to successfully study in a budding computer era (late 1970’s). Of course as sports and life intervened that project went into the cobwebbed spaces between my ears.
Then after I transferred from one college to another and then successfully pledged a more prominent Fraternity, I wanted to do a “Cliff Notes-Fraternity Pledge” edition with bullet points and situational guidelines on how to handle amassing Pledge points, getting on the Brothers’ good sides without being a total suck-up, and how to use the pledge status as impressionable date bait. Again I popped the idea into a deep recess in my mind to be covered with more dust than you can ever imagine.
Third time was as recently as November 2008 when I wanted to do a 110 page Tampa Bay Rays e-book scrapbook “Raysin’ the Roof” with 100 player and fan antidote’s, essays, assorted team and my personal photos and Rays Republic reflections on the Rays drive towards their destiny during the 2008 season that ended at the World Series.
I wanted to chronicle the journey from Spring Training to that wild celebration after the team’s clinching post season win at home against the Minnesota Twins to the stress and stories of their triumphant Game 7 ALCS against the Red Sox at home.
Felt it was only right to include player nuances, Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s insights and stories as well as include game day stories from the dugout to the bullpen encircling this grand charge of the 2008 Rays squad. Want to do interviews with people like former RP J P Howell who was so distraught on the team plane coming home, but was consoled and spoke to by everyone. Wanted to explore the chemistry and the players in the Clubhouse who were the glue to holding this team in the right frame of mind.
Needed to show the on-the-field as well as off-the-field emotional pull of this community for the Rays from fans that traveled great distances from both sides of the bay to take in that incredible “magical season of baseball”. I had huge wants for this book and some of the inside people within the Rays organization who might have gotten me the access, the viable voices and key people who made this event happen from reporting date to the final packing of equipment before heading home.
Great ideas, possible intriguing words and maybe even a few tear-jerking moments were on my mind, but life signaled in her own set of parameters and this idea as so many other laid its head down never to awaken again. I did think about it in the spring of 2009, but Rays MLB Writer Bill Chastain and James Shields were doing a collaboration called “September Nights” and making a book in the same vein felt to me more like overkill than a necessary at the time.
So the honest answer, I have always wanted to pen a book. I know it will never be a hardcopy novel like my idol F Scott or have the powerful imagery of Hemmingway, but it is something that still churned deep in me that possibly might see the light of day before I leave this life.
Even thought of doing a “fan’s guide” e book with stories, adventures or even a few special moment I have seen while sitting in the stands, being a vendor for the Rays or as a hometown guy who embraced the idea of baseball in St. Petersburg, Florida way before we had a name or franchise attached to our locale.
I went to college to be a writer but somehow ended up on a Pepsi truck and I have a few hundred great stories and thought of the title “Survivor of the Cola Wars”.
Then again everyone has a story, events that changed or fulfilled their lives. Heartaches and triumphs that bring about their special place in the human experience and makes their heart beat faster. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get beyond those first typed words on a web document possibly finally starting something….or I hope I can.
I once heard famous comedian and philanthropist Bob Hope speak this line at a USO Show so many moons ago, “If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
Charity and giving back to my present community no matter if I’m in the Tampa Bay, Seattle or wandering somewhere else has always been a firm cornerstone of my personality. I am that random guy who rolls down his window and gives my last few dollars to someone in need. I know for myself, it was just the way I was brought up to give of myself in sweat, money or even time for others. Some might say it might have been those many hours of Sunday School or Church services with endless verses and stories that finally clicked the humanity button within your subconscious.
I personally want to think it was working with my Father at a young age putting on J-hooks and pulling cars out of the sand during storms, changing tires in rain storms or connecting cable to jump-start someone stranded. My Dad was one of the earliest AAA contractors and served the Beaches and West St. Petersburg since the mid-40′s until the mid-70′s. His work ethic along with his relentless humanitarian ways like giving lodging to vacationing people in our home while he repaired their cars, or inviting them to dinner went beyond the AAA service codes, and I valued those times and firmly entrenched that ethical treatment into my being.
The reality is that all my life I have been extremely lucky and not had to worry for much. I have never been without a place to lay my head,had food to eat or been too hot or cold in the elements. Even when I was on the edge of such actions in my life, I would still give of myself whenever possible. Some call it “paying it forward”, other just know it as treating my fellow man as I want to be treated if the roles were reversed.
Charity to me is not a “hand out” or even a “hand up”, it is the sign that we respect humanity and want to show our compassion or unity for a cause or ideal. In a span of 8 days in February I will again do my yearly pilgrimage to volunteer for two different Major League Baseball player’s (Toby Hall & Jesse Litsch) charity golf tournaments, plus another local human interest fundraiser. If you want information on either golf tourney, click on their names in the parenthesis to go to their website for more information or to contribute to their worthy causes.
Maybe a bit of my parents did rub off on me to want to give of myself like this. Possibly it is that stark reality that I have been to the top of the mountain in my field and also been tossed into the pits of despair that the sheer act of charity resonates with me so loud and clear. Sure I enjoy the warm feeling volunteering gives me, but seeing a smile on a child’s face or giving someone a glimmer of shining hope where there is darkness makes me want to do more each year.
Once I was in the same position as so many MLB players that I was able to give generously and without regard both during my college and professional career. Now physically providing my services are all that I have to volunteer. Heck, I know a few people with the Tampa Bay Rays who I have pestered and annoyed over the years letting them know I am available 24/7/365 to help in any venture, event or even just lend a hand when it is needed.
Some of those responses have been “Thank you, but we have it handled“, while others have opened their arms and let me do what I do best…work up a sweat and give until I am tired. But like I said in a Tweet once after working an event, “I am tired, but it is a good tired”.
The reason for this post today is that the NFL’s championship game, the Super Bowl, is always a visually reminder that Spring and baseball are just beyond the horizon. Rays Pitchers and Catchers will take the field in less than 17 days and our thoughts will pull towards the game and not those less fortunate. That is why I hope and wish that all of us can take a moment out in the next 10 days to provide an inspiration, a great smile or even some hard work towards helping someone else.
As I have grown older the art of charity and giving has become more focused in my life. Called it the wisdom and sage advice of an advancing human, or simple just the ramblings of a closet hopeless romantic, but I do not have to “go Green” to give back to this Earth. I just have to cherish those who also walk along with us on this journey. So let me get back off this soapbox, park myself back in front of this laptop and begin to think of ways to make all of you want to travel the path I will over the next 17 days.
Bob Hope was wise man. There has to be a balance within ourselves of charity and humility for us to grow, mature and even have the respect and admiration of the masses. MLB players can give a percentage of their yearly salaries, but those who are not working, or even homeless can only give of themselves. Since I began with a quote, maybe I should end with another quote that resonates through me daily:
“The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. ” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
This is not the way I ever envisioned it. I thought it would never end even into my old and lean years. Had visions of setting up a yearly trust to keep my seats in Tropicana Field or another vista secured and emblazoned with my moniker way past my final breath, but things changed in the flash of a few words and I am one of those who found his Tampa Bay Rays dream interrupted over the past few seasons by our local economic downward spiral.
Compound that with the true fact I siphoned every dollar I had in my old 401-K, any cent I had for incidentals at games until after the final post-season contest in 2010 I knew the end of my consecutive Rays venture was rounding its final bend and I ended up falling off my own fiscal cliff. From our inaugural minor league game way back at high non on June 19,1996 as the GCL Devil Rays took on the GCL Yankees at Al Lang Stadium I was committed to hitting games at any cost, any time and with vigor.
I was also one of those sleepy but excited Rays fans who walked into the Rotunda of the Trop even before the Sun rose into the Florida sky to watch our team play in Japan against the same Yankee squad and it was as much about support for my hometown team as it was my show of civic pride. I never expected my financial reservoir t run dry, even after my 2 ½ years of unemployment when I sat in my old seat for 161 of the possible 162 contests from 2009-2010.
Tampa Bay Times Rays beat writer Marc Topkins recently divulged information in his Heater blog that the citizens of St. Petersburg, Florida only number just above 300 Rays Season Ticket holders. That number represents only about a third of the Rays secured Season Ticket fan base in their home camp and this somehow translates to Major League Baseball that this region can not support a team. St. Pete is just a small finger on the hand of Tampa Bay but right now MLB is making me want to use a certain finger with vigor. Lost somehow in the MLB disapproval for the Rays fan base that this Tampa Bay hamlet as the rest of the region suffered greatly in the recession of funds with some once proud and supportive fans having no extra funds or like myself exhausting my resources to the penny until I had to walk away from my Seasonal bliss with the team not by choice, but because 1 and 1 did not make 2 anymore.
I know of more than 60 former Rays Season ticket holders who have either moved to less expensive seats or taken to their television sets or small Seasonal packages to suffice over the last few years. This was not done to punish the Rays because believe me, it is us, the fans who had to eliminate this luxury from our grasps who take full responsibility for this action. Some left after the Rays lifted their Season tickets to heights they could not swing a full season package without taking from their essential funds to live their lives away from Tropicana Field. And some walked away from their vested seats in tears knowing that once they made this move, they might never again get their seats back even after the economy rebounded and they had money in hand to again regain their past blue seat.
So MLB is upset the St. Petersburg fan base has evaporated into a thin rail of its former glory, but it did not happen overnight, and was not done in malice or for the wrong reasons. Even now as the economic picture is being painted brighter this season I know I might not be able to purchase or sit again in my old seat I treasured along the Bullpen Cafe back wall just a out-stretched hand away from touching players and old friends who ventured past my seat as I open and closed the iron gate. The wall damage inflicted by a Ben Zobrist crash so many years ago is still evident along with the signature I got affixed to the spot.
So many positive memories with caught baseball during games, chats with players both on the Rays and other teams during Batting Practice along with a nightly “hello” to the strapping young lad, Todd Kalas. Giving up that treasured seat was not centered on the yearly number during the 2011 season of $ 2,000 for those 81 contests, but the pure fact I was still not working and funds were on empty and I was forced to make my treks to the Trop in sporadic splashes instead of my daily or nightly stroll down the stairs of Section 138.
I have noticed over my last 2 absent seasons my old seat at the bottom of that section is not filled as much with a warm fan. It is a pity since I consider it one of the best values in the Trop and has a interesting sight-lines that gives you a unique angle down into the strike zone and perfect view to pitchers warming up so you can watch their mechanics and break to see if they are “ on their game” that game. Believe me, when I come to the Trop I still try and sit in my old location as much as possible and the two screw holes that once held my nameplate that I now have in my house saddens me when I sit there, but I also know hopefully one day I might again call it my second home.
I hit the Rays website today to see how high the asking price is now for my old seat that has been over the last few seasons reclassified from an Outfield seat to a Baseline Box seat has risen way past the 2011 cost of $2,000 for my blue seat to a wild $3,527.00 price listed. In 2 years my one seat has risen over $1,500. and people wonder why some have relinquished their once highly guarded secret seats. So it hit me today that I may have sat my last Rays game from my old cherished perch because the current amount is over my luxury spending limit.
I wish I could of kept that seat with its unpublished and unknown extras, but even as I’m now working I can not afford a hit like that without losing a necessity or two. And it saddens me that my old spot is out of my reach now. And I know mine is only one example of why a former Rays Season Ticket holder with a St. Petersburg address is now a yearly nomad coming to handfuls of games instead of venturing through the Rays rotunda with regularity.
It is nothing personal to the Rays or MLB, but sometimes you have to make the hard choice and when that happens, sometimes a thing you love takes the hit. So I will find Topkin this Spring and tell him “I’m guilty as charged.”
I am proud of my town, my team and will support it through another series of half season packages that do not seem to include my old seat as the Rays have deemed it either a Season Ticket or Game Day selection with no chance of ever regaining it even unless I hit those 6 lovely Lotto numbers. And it is a pity because I want to be number 301 or more I be a positive force and figure to the Rays and MLB that this town loves this game and wants to support it in any way imaginable just now from another seat somewhere under the tilted cap of the Trop. And without a 81 game commitment.
Every Christmas Eve it has become customary over the last several years for me to wander through the pages of MLBlogs and take a journey into the Christmas minds of some of our great bloggers. This year my adventures turned up several great redux renditions of the Christmas classic poem “T’was The Night Before Christmas“, and I even found a few Holiday “Wish Lists” searching for wins, the postseason and an eventual ring for 2011.
As I was traveling through MLBlogs, I thought to myself, “Self, what would be the ultimate Christmas All Holiday baseball squad?”
I somehow answered my own question immediately in my mind and began to seek the right combination of Christmas-based characters both human and cartoon to field such a Holiday squad. I ventured back into the cobwebbed recesses of my past favorite memories on film and television.
Let me tell you that sometimes even Wikipedia can’t help as I entered into a vision quest to determine the right pairing of 10 players and coaches for the Polar Express. Being that we will be playing in the North American Winter League, I have instituted the Designated Santa on my team. I think this squad has the right hint of animation and human elements to make this team a winner.
I decided that the only person who could be the starting pitcher for the Polar Express had to be Charlie Brown. His classic Christmas TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first hit the CBS airwaves way back in 1965 and was an instant hit with kids of all ages. I thought Brown was my perfect holiday pitcher because of his vast past experiences pitching.
Of course I did balk at the chance that Brown could somehow be suddenly de-clothed by a sharp liner up the middle after he hangs one of his patented mid-80′s curve balls. Brown has the uncanny fortitude to throw hard and long into games for the Express.
I did not have to think long and hard about the right guy to catch for this team. I did however need someone who had some brawn and might be dumb enough to sit back there and be ready for anything coming off the fingertips of Charlie Brown. I considering all the positive and negative variables and kept with my first impression that Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” was the man for the job. “Christmas Vacation” first hit movie houses back in 1989 and became an instant classic for it’s off beat humor and odd but familiar family gathering situations. Eddie is a pretty big guy, and he looks like he could block the plate like an ice sheet.
Now that you have seen my pitcher/catcher battery, I decided that this team will not need any relief pitchers since it might have the 10-run rule in effect going into the 5th inning knowing the way Charlie Brown pitches to batters’. So let’s get you now acquainted with the 5 infielder I selected for my All Holiday team.
I wanted to get a guy who has some solid baseball experience to man the First Base bag. We needed a solid guy to protect the line and can post up correctly on the bag if the ball gets hit into the infield. I chose a guy who owns a few minor league ball clubs in real life as my first bagger. I think he can do the job with a flair, and if not, provide a comedic relief maneuver or two while out hugging the bag.
I decided to with Francis Xavier Cross from the film “Scrooged“. I have always thought this was a awesome Nuevo take on the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The film originally hit theatres back in 1988, and is still one of my favorite comedy movies for the holidays. I think that Bill Murray captured the perfect sarcastic essence of a socially detached Scrooge, and his comic genius shows brilliantly through in this adaptation.
I wanted a Second Baseman who could be as quick as a rabbit (or bunny). He needed to have that rifle arm and accuracy to get the double play, or to cover the bag when Cousin Eddie launches a rocket to tag out a rambling polar bear trying to steal a base to get into scoring position. I with smart Ralphie Parker from “A Christmas Story” to play second base for me. The movie has been another holiday appetizer since its original screening date in 1983. Wonder if I can talk Ralphie into asking his Dad if he wants to sell that lamp yet?
In the film, Ralphie showed the type of moxie I want on Second Base who is smart enough to think on the fly to either talk about the notorious leg lamp, or just be quiet as a mouse. He also has the determination and spunk to keep pestering his parents for that Red Ryder BB gun. Hopefully the ball coming in hard and fast from Cousin Eddie from behind the plate will not put his eye out.
My Shortstop has to be extra agile and have smarts to think on his feet at the same time. He has to be able to use his internally cold instincts to decide if the throw should be made, or possibly cover second as the pivot man on a ball hit to the first base side of the bag.
I think, that Hermie, the dentist elf from “Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer” would be the perfect guy to man the hole position for the Express. He showed remarkable smart judgment during the TV special, which first hit the networks in 1964. And with over 46 years of intelligent moves, Hermie should be a valuable addition to the squad.
Playing third, I had to find a big guy who could move laterally and go blindly into foul territory for pop-ups. He also had to have some horizontal versatility towards the chalk on the left-field line. He had to be a power hitter to help produce runs and add some protection for our little squad. It had to be a movie character from the couple of years to add some youthful vitality and vigor.
My Third Baseman had to have the energy and the motivation to add to this teams awesome charismatic chemistry. The personality that fit like a glove perfectly to me was Buddy from the movie “Elf.” He has the comedic chops to take one for the team and would sacrifice his body. His quick wit and glove along with his power stroke should provide more than a few Kodak moments as his long high drives make it over the high walled snow fences.
My choice for Left Field could not have two-left feet. He has to have the agility and the coordination of an athlete, plus run like a deer. He had to be sure footed and be able to dance in the outfield while chasing down flares and dying quails. The guy who I think would be a model Left-Fielder for this squad was George Bailey of “It’s A Wonderful Life“. I just hope George remembers to put some extra Zuzu petals in his uniform pants pockets before he takes the field. We know they are magical.
I needed to find a shrewd and sometimes calculating Center fielder. Someone who could snipe a base runner who made a mistake, or tried to score on his arm. I needed someone with a huge heart who would run and run all over the field and get the ball where ever it was on the field.
I needed someone who could exhibit some sense of emotion even if he is a problem-child at times, but plays the game on the team’s level too. For that reason, I picked Grinch from the movie “The Grinch“. I wanted someone who could go from bad to good in a heartbeat. If he did make a bad play, or a questionable action on or off the field, I could just say it was the “Grinch just being the Grinch”.
I wanted to find a Right-Fielder who was not be afraid of the snow wall, or of sprinting towards a pop-up down the icy foul line. I wanted to see a nice combination of horizontal or vertical movement towards the failing sphere. He needed to have a rifle arm and a uncanny wit about him to keep base runners honest on the base paths.
I chose Ernest from “Ernest Saves Christmas“. This 1988 sequel, to a sequel, to a sequel kept a long line of profitable movies going for over a decade. We needed that kind of staying power in our Right Field. A streak like that can be contagious on a team. If the team has that kind of confidence, they will go above expectations and strive to be the best in the Winter League.
I needed a huge lovable character who could also slam the tar out of the ball for this spot in the lineup. Someone who evokes the bit of charm and the joy of the big guy himself. He had to be able to belly up to the plate and hit it a mile, or at least to the South Pole with his swing.
The guy I picked for this position has been cranking out several installments of his own movie franchise. I picked Scott Calvin as my Designated Santa from the movie, “The Santa Clause“. That kind of confidence and staying power will be needed in the clutch for this team. It also helps protect the younger hitters on the team by showing the power and the possible results of pitching to this Christmas giant.
First and Third Base Coaches’
Now that we have finished with the fielding and Designated Santa position, let’s meet the two extraordinary base coaches’ selected for the Polar Express. Both come with their own sets of particular unique in-game behaviors, and both can help base runners and hitters alike in the game situations.
First Base Coach:
Over in the First Base box we have a guy who can make the ball seem to “freeze” in mid-air. He was instrumental in teaching players how to hit frozen ropes down the line for extra bases hit for the 2010 Express. This Coach has been described as a cold hearted soul, who can always melt you with just his smile.
His cunning direction and cool nature makes him the perfect First Base Coach for this team. I am talking about the always cool cat known as the Snow Miser. He was in the 1974 classic movie ” A Year Without Santa Claus“, and has been giving icy banter to opposing players for years. His cold demeanor is legendary. He uses his cold hard facts to make the opposition freeze in their tracks while trying to diving for low balls or foul pop-ups hit by the Polar Express. He is the kind of guy you do not want nipping at your nose, and the perfect Coach for this team.
Third Base Coach:
Our Third Base Coach is a Christmas Hall of Fame legend. He had been blazing the trail like a beacon in the night for years pioneering the use of unique signals and well placed lighting to facilitate the proper transfer of anticipated moves and pre-arranged actions to Polar Express base runners’ and batters’.
His expert knowledge of reindeer games and his leadership expertise is unparallel in the Winter League. I am talking about the brilliant Rudolf. Since his first sighting on televisions in 1964, he has been leading a lighted path for children and players alike to the real spirit of Christmas.
His classic “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special is a holiday necessity that is even today without an equal. It is for that reason that he should be the perfect choice as the Third Base Coach for this high-powered squad of Christmas icons. Without Rudolf showing us the way on Christmas, we would be blinded by the darkness and might end up losing our way around the base paths.
It has been a great pleasure today giving you some of my All Time Christmas iconic players that had to take the field for this special squad.
There certainly will be your own thoughts and rationale for extra additions and subtractions of certain characters to this team, but unless these selected All Holiday baseball players moving on, or are retiring to the celluloid and video vaults, the true essence and the spirit of this team will live on forever in our hearts and minds……………………..
Merry Christmas to everyone in the MLBlogs.com community and beyond!!
I remember when I was playing football some 25-odd years ago, I could definitely feel when my time was coming to a conclusion and the door to my career was closing swiftly upon me. It takes a lot for an athlete and writer to acknowledge their time is over and the end is not only in sight, but upon you. Competition has always been in my blood, fighting to be on the top, putting in the grunt work that I was proud of, because it showed my love for the game, and my passion for wanting to be one of the best.
As Major League Baseball rosters expand today with anxious and thrilled young prospects and wily veterans again breathe MLB air in clubhouses from sea to shining sea, I pack my laptop, Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide and head nonchalantly for the nearest exit. But I do not intent to go quietly as I need to voice a few things, spill a bit more of myself onto these pages for a final thrust. Some of these passages will be eagerly anticipated, and one will be a rant that has lived on inside for awhile, finally seeing the light of day.
I’m not sad my MLBlogs.com experience is over. Sure I wanted more, but more did not present itself to me in a timely fashion. I have taken that odd-shaped ball of clay known as Rays Renegade and molded it as much as possible into my own artistic interpretation, and some of you have marveled as others have scoffed at my mire existence within this blogging realm. I rose from the MLBlogs.com farm system to the top level with sweat, blood and maybe a little slight of hand at times, but I do not regret anything I have done since November 2007 when I first clicked to post my initial post about Kevin Costner and the Rays.
1,311 posts later, it is time to say farewell to my baseball blogging life as I expand towards other avenues and ventures both in writing and in life. I no longer feel compelled to eagerly posted daily with comments, opinions or my personal insight into my Rays world, or at least my corner of it. That was the first sign the end was approaching. It is not for lack of wanting to post, but time and life’s other surprises have presented limited moments to click the mouse or put words to laptop screen, so instead of converting to one of those who posts only marginally, I will cease to post entirely. Today is a day I always pushed away back into the recesses of my mind and soul because I wanted to write until my last dying breathe, and even then possibly have a few hidden gems upon my laptop files, but the time has come to walk away while I’m still on top level of the blogging community.
I have met and read so many fantastic blogs along the way, and I hope I have shown encouragement and drive for some to continue knowing I was once outside the Top 50 looking in and found my voice, reason and ability to walk up that steep climb to the top and was able to stay there for such a long tenure. There are too many blogging friends to list here, but you know who you are, and I thank you for your past support, your encouraging words and even your comments that meant the world to me. I will cruise back into this blogging community from time to time commenting and visiting you, but my days of writing as Rays Renegade will cease with this posting.
I was not alone as a few other Rays bloggers also shared the path with me, and for that I’m grateful. I have been able to express my love, passion and dreams for this game as a Rays blogger, and also shown you more of myself than anyone in my life has ever seen, or even will see. I felt this day coming as friends within the Rays organization (BK and Aaron) went into different sports adventures and my Rays connection felt severed and damaged forever. But I do owe a huge bit of gratitude to the Rays Department of Communication with a special head tilt to Andrew Heydt for letting me pass into and out of their sacred MLB world with media access from time to time that would make any true baseball fan giggle with joy. I hope my posts have repaid that generosity and brought the organization pride with my writing.
Now it is time for my to let go of the one dark cloud that has been haunting me even since Jane Heller left MLBlogs. I have kept this within me deep, but the pain can finally find another home and leave me forever. I was appalled when MLBlogs.com moved the “Baseball Collector” from their MLB Pro blog listing to the “Fan Blog” list. I am not going to sling mud or anything else here, it is just one of the biggest things that has been hidden from sight for so long, and I felt an instant betrayal by the website with this move. I am not going to dip vinegar into this wound, for it finally rising to the surface has made me feel great and relieved at the same time.
This was not an easy decision, or one that was conceived and devised in one swift motion like a meat clever to sever this connection. Since I sat in the stands after the Texas Rangers eliminated the Rays from the 2010 post season, my baseball journey has taken a different path. In 2010 I attended 81 Rays regular season games and 4 post season contests, but that streak ended the moment Texas began celebrating on our home turf. Not sure why, or the reasoning for my own Rays attendance decline, it just unfolded that way.
But I do know I owe a chunk of my life to this blog. For when I was unemployed for that long span, it kept me sane, alert and wanting to again find success outside if it’s realm. I do not walk away today now with any regrets. I have done my best, produced some funny, entertaining and even insightful looks into this game I adore with all my heart, with a emphasis on a team born upon my hometown soil. Thank you again for all who have passed by my oasis in the MLB desert.
This has been a labor of true passion and love that has met it final moments with no tears but a flood of great memories and thoughts of continued success for each and every one of you. I leave for this last time with my head held high, proud of the accomplishments and journey knowing there is another venture out there just beyond my dimming eyesight awaiting my arrival. I promised myself when I made my final post to include the symbol I learned so long ago as a staffer of the Rebel Rouser to signify the end, the conclusion of the thought process and writer’s final notation of completion:
People always say certain years pegged for them personally as the “best years of their lives”. For me, 1979 definitely was the first significant turning point and first journey to the top of the see-saw climb when thing began to change fast and furiously as I first embraced life’s challenges and adventures. I was fresh out of school (Class of 1979), had a great job (Evening Independent Sports Correspondent and DJ/Skate Guard at Southland Roller Palace) , the vast horizon in front of me of sports, academics and even a few moments left in the haze of a Fraternity (DTX) house were unfolding from the first celebrations at midnight on January 1st, to the last somber and emotional moments that December 31st as I welcomed not only a new decade, but the final unclothing of myself as a “teen”.
1979 was a virtual time stamp of great developmental and athletic upswing for myself personally filled with escalating life moments that will definitely come rushing back to me like a Tropical Storm Debbie flash flood the moment the Tampa Bay Rays hit the turf with those retro powder blue and royal blue uniforms. “Turn Back the Clock” Night will definitely be an emotional as well as proud moment for me not only because I get to hear a band I treasured and wore out more than a few 8-Track cartridges on my Dynomite 8-track player.
Even the yellow hued stirrups adorning the Rays calves tonight will evoke a bit of my 1979 Northwest LL Senior League baseball moments. It was the year I got to stand to the right of future San Francisco Giant and Los Angeles Dodger shortstop Dave Anderson, plus the highly bright and audacious yellow mustard color scheme of the Rays stirrups tonight also were reminiscent of my own Monahan’s Shell team issued leggings that always seemed to fall down to my ankles by the end of the game.
I wrote a post recently on the Rays retro gear they will adorn tonight and how I felt they kind of copied the 1979 styling s of the 1979 Brew Crew, but in reality maybe I wasn’t fully attached at the moment of that post with the actual realization that this region could of ever been considered “Major League” by the rest of the baseball world in 1979. St. Petersburg, then known for its green benches and FREE newspapers when the Sun did not shine was packed to the brim during the Spring months with loads of MLB potential, but as the calendar always turned from March to April, the caravans and planes took our MLB hopes and our baseball idols away for the seasonal ride.
Might be a great ironic twist to tonight’s events that Earth, Wind and Fire in January of 1979 entranced us all with their hits “September” and Thats the Way of the World” during an NBC Nationally televised a UNICEF Concert. This was also the year the hit that instantly goes into the minds of people “Boogie Wonderland” and “After the Love is Gone” hit the FM airwaves for the first time en route to Billboard Top 10 positions. Who doesn’t remember roller skating to both of these hit at the typical Friday or Saturday night round-de-rounds on the skating floor either as disco dynamos or couple skating with that special someone.
Definitely going to feel weird tonight seeing the Tampa Bay Rays wearing uniforms that pre-date the franchise’s First Pitch, and even their initial selection of their Expansion Draft. With the entire squad donning time inspired duds from 1979, it will evoke a bit of memories, especially of my Senior year at St. Petersburg’s own Dixie Hollins. It will remind me of the year I “fro’d” my hair to honor a fallen comrade Al Bolden who was paralyzed in a football game that season against Lakewood High. It will bring back the sounds of “Rowdie Raccoon” as my favorite High School teacher Mr P used to call me daily because of my constant wardrobe of Rowdies and rugby attire.
The whole night from the moment I hit the Tropicana Gate 4 media entrance to the moment I again wander into the post-concert humid air, tonight will be both a love fest and emotional roller coaster that I hope I can truly stomach. Every one has defining moments in their life, 1979 held more than fist full of them for me. It was the year I finally got recognition as a ballplayer, signing my letter of intent that January. It was the calendar year I got to have a heart-to-heart and 3 hour clinic with the MLB player I idolized for so many years, and my game exploded with confidence.
From the moment of that first handshake with the immortal “Hot Corner” icon Brooks Robinson to today, my love for baseball expanded from a sport to a lifetime obsession as I got dirty that day guarding the line and gaining insight from one of the game’s best defensive masters. 1979 was the year I proudly adorned my head with a cap featuring that pesky Orioles bird, and wore proudly until the first cap went on sale for our then D-Rays. Tonight is definitely going to be emotional, pulling at the old heartstrings with a vengeance.
This was also the year that writing and journalism took me by storm as I wrote for the High School paper (Rebel Rouser) along with Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano, all the while flirting innocently with Diane Spears as Mrs Tucker scolded me. It was the year of my first cover story, my first byline both professionally and academically, it was the birth year of the obsession I still possess with writing that is still prevalent and evolving. 1979 was that catalyst moment not only in my physical sports, but in my life development. I owe a huge debt to 1979 that I can never repay because 1979 for me personally was all about the skating, graduation into adult life, the music of bands like Earth Wind and Fire and the first evolutionary moment of my new found love…baseball.
Ohhhhh, I truly hate this date. Some have called me obsessed, pretty much bordering on insanity when it comes to the Tampa Bay Rays and their games on the date of May 14th. I have scheduled impromptu flights at midnight, fought with TSA and customs officials, and even caught a walk-off Home Run as the Rays Republic sat in awe at home in an extra inning contest. This date holds darkness for me, and I want the Rays star burst to finally shed to some victory light on this day.
It is one of those days I always wished the Tampa Bay Rays would win a game, but in 12 previous contests on this date in their existence, failure has greeted them in the end. I have Tweeted about it, screamed to the high heavens, wrote about each of these past contest in posts, but still the smell of victory has eluded the Rays on May 14th. I have have done all I can as a fan to wish, pray and make a win materialize, but it always has ended up the same…an “L” in the box score.
Even one of the Rays media hounds post about the Rays 0-12 mark on this date in the past, but did he actually know the Rays have been outscored 83-42 on this date? I think not. I wonder if this media guru did any additional background work and found out that in 1998 Russ Springer was the first Rays hurler to throw on this date, with Wade Davis, who is now in the Rays Bullpen, throwing the last 2 losses. Wonder if this same media figurehead knew that during the Rays 12-game losing streak on this date, 6 of those contests have been 1-run losses.
Some might say the Rays inaugural season (1998) 2-10 loss in Kansas City against the Royals or possibly their 2002 3-10 drumming in NYC by the Yankees might be their worst faring on this day, but I disagree totally. To me the worst showing on May 14th came just last season when the Rays got shut out at home by the Baltimore Orioles 6-0 and fell to 23-16 on the season.
How could you have imagined a loss on this date when we even had a pitcher who threw 2 No-Hitter’s throwing on this date (Hideo Nomo), plus a clutch hurler known for his Big Game prowess threw twice on this date(James Shields ) and a future Rays sweat-inducing closer (Esteban Yan) could not help this team muster a win. From Springer to Davis, the Rays have turned to 10 different pitchers and still we have been winless on this date.
I have attended all 12 of those losses, but I will not be in Toronto tonight for the lucky 13th try at victory on this date. I was in the stands in Kauffman Stadium for their first May 14th loss, and even caught the Casey Blake Home Run ball in their 10th inning Walk-Off loss back in 2004. It was a sick feeling watching former Rays closer Lance Carter peer up at me as I clutched that ball, but it was hit straight at me on a line…an unfortunate present for the day. Some say I should have dropped the ball, but it seemed like a destined shot, and fulfilled a nice deletion from my baseball Bucket List.
Even the promise of a former Rays First Round Draft pick named Dewon Brazleton could not muster a win on this date, but he did come close as the Rays only lost by a solo run to the Toronto Blue Jays (7-6). And it is a bit ironic the Rays take on these same Jays today. Especially since they hold a 3-0 record against the Rays on this date, it would be extra special for the team to finally put an end to this streak in Canada.
Springer, Kevin Witt, Yan, Travis Harper, Brazelton, Paul Abbott, Nomo, Casey Fossum, Shields and Davis have all gone to the hill wanting victory, but have seen the game’s gasp go to the opposition. I hope on this 13th try, when I will not be in attendance for the first time on this date….a win finally comes to this team. It would be a glorious present, and one I would cherish always. Who doesn’t want a win posted on their special day.