Results tagged ‘ Cliff Wittig ’

One Man’s Treasure is another Man’s Trash

 


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You know I was looking around my little shanty shack today and it dawned upon me that I have acquired, obtained and down right bargained for so much baseball related stuff, it might need its own room or banquet hall soon. I know I am not the usual person to have that pack-rat mentality, but when it comes to the items related to the game of baseball, I have a very big problem. I mean I have at least 8-10 large plastic storage bins just filled with Rays team related bobbleheads. And do not get me started on game-used jerseys and other Rays items.

But is that the real destiny of people like me, a team collector, that my home will have to mysteriously have to expand to include a separate room for the team posters, bobbleheads and pictures and assorted knick knacks?  I am beginning to think this is how my life is going to unfold from now until my last breath. And I know it would of been a whole lot harder to even move in here if an old ex-girlfriend in North Carolina had not used my memories as firewood and burned my college and professional collectibles and jerseys back in 2000.

I went from a small U-haul pulling all my stuff up to Charlotte, NC, to filling my old full size Ford Bronco’s back section of the cab in a puff of smoke and smoldering ashes. Sure I was upset, but I also had those event moments stuck within the confines between my ears, plus the fact I did not want to upset her enough that I would have to drive home to Florida naked if she also burned my clothes.

It was a huge loss in the aspect of my past  sports exploits, but it might have saved me money not to drag them around for the umpteenth time. But why do we, as fans put such value and importance on the things that our favorite teams or events give to us at the gates? Why is it that we keep all of this special cargo if we do not even think we are going to sell it? And think of the hours of grueling agony our families will have deciding what to do with it all after we are gone from this world?


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It is not like if I perished tomorrow anyone besides me will know that the Rays On-Deck circle from 2000-2002 that is sitting on my floor with the old MLB slogan “I Live For This” logo still blazing from it. Or that the rosin bag on top of the lower baseball shelf is from the third World Series game in Philly last season.

 I might have to conduct a master collectible file on my laptop for my Last Wills Executors so that they know what this junk acutally consists of, and it is not to be set out with the trash cans to be lost for all generations. Or am I putting too much importance on these bric-a-brac and obtained treasures?

But isn’t that the price we pay for stacking the In-Game magazines and the player pictures and the multiple pieces of team mail we received over the last 12 seasons. I have saved every Rays correspondence they have every sent to me, including the “Under Construction” stickers and little lunchbox with the assorted  street work items in it. That item was sent out when the Stuart Sternberg regime began its rein in Tampa Bay, and it is a prized possession.

Maybe someday some one ( besides me) will erect a Rays museum somewhere in town, and I could donate some items no one has thought about for years. You remember those items, they are the ones you scratched your head about years ago, but now wish you had kept. Like the team undistributed Jason Tyner bobblehead that never got into most Rays fans hands, but some of us got them for a price.

Or maybe it is the final  Ad Agency proof of a poster done years ago to promote fans bringing in used sports equipment to a Rays game that pictured the local sports icons Brad Richards (TB Lightning) Brent Abernathy (Rays) and Derrick Brooks ( TB Bucs). Oh, and did I mentioned the original was signed by all three guys !

And what would my Executors even think to do with the over 275 signed balls that seem to increase daily. Would they decide to donate them to the Rays Foundation charity, or give them to kids in the neighborhood who might just use them for BP? Or would they just get tired of dealing with all this stuff and fire up the fireplace and burn the over 75 signed bats lining the bedroom wall right now? Thank goodness Florida stays warm for 9 months a year.


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And you might ask yourself why I have even thought about an episode like this right now? And during the Rays season? Well, the honest fact is that we have only 14 games left in the 2009 season makes me think more now. The finality of it all is beginning to thrust itself upon me, and I am daily getting more and more nervous for the future. I have not celebrated a birthday in 12 years, but I have celebrated 12 seasons? And maybe that is where my problem lies?

Maybe this game has now consuming so much of my life and breathing moments that I now only refer to days during the season as home or away days.  Why is it that something that feels so good to me might be as bad as a 3,000 calorie multi-leveled hamburger with extra cheese? But isn’t that also the essence of the passion and the undying loyalty you want from a real fan? You would want to feel that the guy who is collecting all of this stuff is doing it out of a love for the game, not the profit he can get some day selling it on Ebay.

But that is the crutch  we sometimes bear as collectors. Some see us for the love of the game, while others think we might be planning a retirement fund based on the items we had them sign for in the past. And that can ruin it for some of us.  And at tonight game, the first 10,000 fans will get the “Fan’s Choice” bobblehead featuring Rays rightie Matt Garza. And before you ask, the goatee is done nicely, but there are no sunflower seeds spread around the base.


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But it is another item that will go unwillingly into the ever growing pile of Rays related things in my cubbyhole. It will be another piece of the 2009 season that will be stored away for storytelling in 2020 to the great grand kids, or maybe exchanged on holidays if any of my kid’s children get the Rays fever. I have never been a pack rat before, and it is really not in my nature to store or keep stuff like this for so long.

But the truth is the fact that I see bits of Rays history in each of these items. I see player performance and commitment in the bats and jerseys. I can see game contributions in the bobbleheads and rattle drums given out as toys to some, but are a valuable memory collectible to me.

So as I sit here looking at all the stored items from First Game programs to every cap this franchise has ever worn, even the “Throwback Day” caps, I wonder where and what they will be like in 5 years after I am gone from this world.

Hopefully they will either be in the hands of baseball loving relatives or a museum, or even a family heirloom for a collector like me. Because these items go in circles. they are either acquired for history, discarded as useless junk or given away without any knowledge of their treasured importance.


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If you are not a baseball fan, then this stuff is just junk to you. Like the time I went to a local store and bought a soda with a American Eagle silver dollar as a kid.  The clerk immediately took it from me and reached into his wallet and took out a paper dollar bill. He then put the coin in his pocket. I asked the guy why he did that, and he told me that silver coin was worth so much more than a simple dollar, and was priceless to him since he was a coin collector.

So you can see, an item to most of us that might seem like trash can be a treasure beyond comparison to another person. Value can be placed on anything according to our own likes and dislikes of things from the past. I just hope that someday someone looks at the Mumm’s champagne bottle signed by the entire 2008 Rays Bullpen after clinching the AL Pennant and see history, and not just an empty champagne bottle taking up valuable space from their treasured Pokemon card collection.

 

Rain Delay Moments

I have to be honest here. I am very uneducated on the actions and reactions of true rain delays in a baseball game. I do have experience on the field as a player with them, but I have a very limited set of mental resources to remind me of what happens during rain delays with my own team. I mean, we play in an enclosed dome that leaks, but only in centerfield right in front of B J Upton’s position. And even then, the Tampa Bay Rays fans have no real idea of the time involved, or the actions that need to be made for a rain delay.

We do not know about the hustle and bustle of the grounds crew to position and then unroll a massive plastic tarp to cover the infield and keep it from furhter water damage. We do not have a clue on the elements of dictating a rain delay, or even the planning and the execises in boredom that can overtake the moments waiting for a team to “call a game” and send us all home.
Maybe I should consider myself lucky that the three times in my baseball travels that had rain delays, we ended up playing within a few hours and concluded all three games.

But the thing that humors me about rain delays is the simple act it throws the in-stadium video and game crews into an instant panic for a few moments before chaos becomes order. I mean I have been to Progressive Field/Jacobs Field twice for 3-game series in the past, and always the Sat afternoon games have been delayed by liquid sunshine. One game was in the middle of May (5/14/2004) and the other was at the end of the regular season in September (9/30/2006), so the time of the year might not have had a huge impact in the droplets of water. 

And I had a ball during both of those delays. During the first one,I learned a new drinking game a few bartenders who were attending the games as a group, and during the second delay I learned a lot about the Indians teams history while also sitting in the sprinkles just beyond the stadium overhang.  And I relished sitting there during the last half hour of the delay loving the rain and missing it sometimes on my skin during games in Tampa Bay. For it is a special part of the game where the fans can commune and talk about the team, life or just the weather.

 And the only other rain situation I have ever been involved in was on June 3,2005 when I was in Seattle for the Rays 3-game series. During the Sat. night game the rain began to lightly fall, and they began to close that massive steel roof while the game was still in progress below. What truly amazed me was the fact that no one besides me even acknowledged the fact the roof was closing during the inning. It was such a common thing to them only slight glances went skyward during its closure. I was mesmerized watching the huges pieces of metal above me moving with those giant wheels churning towards a closed point. It seemed to only take a few minutes, but for that entire time I was just in total awe of the spectacle.

But what do “normal” fans do during rain delays? For this I have no real information or even knowledge. For I live in a baseball region that employs a domed stadium where the only delays we have is for the electircal situation that come with mega thunderstorms or the odd lightning strike on a nearby substation that flips the breakers and turns off the large lights. Bu that is rare, and only takes 15-20 minutes before the stadium is again aglow with luminated lighting. So what experience do I have in the rain? Well, not much, but I am also someone who could have fun all by himself, and I did have fun.

While in Cleveland, with the rain lightly falling, I went down on the rail by the field taking pictures of the ground crew putting the tarp out on the field. I tried to get the attention of one of the ground crew members to ask about their job, but no one seemed to want to bother with the “Away team” guy. But I stayed down there in that section of seats and let the raindrops hit me again and again. And I decided to sit down by the Visitor’s dugout during the delay and one of my favorite guys on the Rays in 2005, Damian Rolls was out watching the rain fall.

We chatted for a few minutes on why I was there ( personal B-day present to myself), and about the great game of baseball. It was a great moment for me to get to know another one of the Rays, and I did not even notice it was raining harder at the time. As I was getting soaked in my Rays white jersey, Rolls slipped me a Rays green warm up jacket and told me to try and stay warm for they needed to hear my screams during the game. I told him I was seated actually right next to the roof area of the Rays Bullpen in rightfield, and it might take a bit to hear my voice that day.

Rays Manager Lou Pinella then strolled out and predicted it would be two hours before they took the tarp off. I chuckled and he looked my way and acknowledged the Pepsi man. Rolls and I talked for a few more minutes before he said he wanted to go hit in the under stands batting cages and stretch out again for the game. After Rolls left, I wandered around the stadium taking in the sights before meeting a few older gentleman who gave me a short but entertaining history of the Indians franchise.

And at about the 2 hour and 3 minute mark into the rain delay, the grounds crew came out and started to throw down kitty litter or field dry to prepare the field. I laughed that Pinella was only off by a few minutes, but we were again going to see baseball that day in Cleveland. And that is my total, but short history of rain-related adventures. But I know there are scores of other people who read this blog, and who also have had entertaining adventures during rain delays.

Rain is an element some find disturbing, while others love the simple feel of it on their skin. Rain can be romantic or ruin your simple plans. But the rain can also open opportunities for you to explore and even meet new and exciting people while attending a baseball game. I hate to admit it, but every game I go to outside of Tropicana Field I hope for rain. Not to be difficult, but so I can walk around the stadium complex and see things I would not notice if I sat in my seat. Maybe even meet some new friends who will tell me the “hot spot” to hit in the Warehouse District in Cleveland, or a small food vendor I have to see in Seattle before I leave town.

Baseball might be about the game, but for me baseball is also about the experience. And the games that have given me the total experience have been the one that developed into rain delayed contests. I do not get this luxury that much at home. the stadium is not know for their electircal backouts or long delays. So when I travel to other stadiums, I hope and pray that these delays do happen so I can partake in all the oddities and great features of each stadium I visit. And if a little rain must fall……..so be it!

I should be Quarantined right Now!


I was sitting there at Tropicana Field last night right after the Tampa Bay Rays victory over the Boston Red Sox and a friend of mine, who is an ex-corpsman in the military and a current St. Pete Fire Department EMT told me I looked like liquid garbage. Always nice to hear such sweet nothings like that from a cute brunette. But she was right. I was suffering from something that has been growing and growing for the last few weeks. It really has been overtaking a huge chunk of my life inside and outside of this same building.

So she sat there a minute hearing me chatter about the weird things that have been happening to my body in the last several weeks. Of the wild bouts of insomnia that have me watching replays of the game until almost 5 am in the morning every day, or the night sweats after a bad loss, or even a close ballgame that could have gone either way at any time. I told her how my reaction time to foul balls was getting uncommonly sloth-like, and if it was not hit To Me anymore, I just watch it sail even a foot over my head.

And she just sat there and nodded her head. I went on about the slowness of thoughts that did not revolve around baseball, and the difficulty I was having prioritizing even simple events like laundry and lunch at the same time. That I turned my cellphone to silent to keep my little world secure from friends in Boston and New York from ruining my little Utopia right now.  And I complained that for some reason only three things seemed to matter to me right now, because my basic system of doing even routine task seems to be centered around what time the gates open at the Trop.

And still she just sat there listening like a $200/hour shrink with a spoiled rich kid on the leather couch. I even went on to tell her about my new found preoccupation with minimal issues like my special free parking place near the stadium, or my routine of walking to and from the stadium  a certain way, and not deviating from that path a single step, even if there was a taxi or car in the way. 

And that I was battling a huge bout of indecision on simple decisions like if I was going to have the Cuban sandwich, or got “hog-wild” and stack the loaded nachos with a bevy of jalapenos and hot sauce. That that my basic decision making process was being bogged down by  a fatigue that made me not even consider anything out of the ordinary or new right now in my routines or my patterns.  And that in the bitter end, even after a huge win lately, I was battling a huge mountain of fatigue and restlessness that had never entered my life before.



Well, through all of this she just sat there listening and mentally jotting down the symptoms and the causes and doing that quick analogy that people who work at Emergency Medical Techs do on their daily jobs. You could almost see the wheels turning as she was eliminating mental illnesses and adding psychological responses and cause and effects that could be the source of this ailment that was bogging down my physical being right now. Then she cleared her throat and made the announcement of what I needed to do now.

“First thing “ she stated boldly, “You have to understand that this aliment has been around for a very long, long time. That the cause of your problem is not physical in nature, but can be processed through your body at a rate that will boggle its usual senses and abilities. That your  internal clock right now is being sped up to an alarming rate by your visual stimulation brought on by your emotional pull towards the subject matter at hand.” 

She then began to laugh and smack me in the noggin a few times. But she still had not revealed what the prognosis was about all of this. But was she just teasing with me, knowing that I might not be able to handle the truth, or was she waiting for the nerves and the mind games I was already playing in my own head to swirl a  bit longer and throw me into a mental bowl of mush right now. No, she was sitting there trying to see if my orbiting electrodes could pick out the aliment by itself before revealing the cosmic truth.


“Dude, You really can not figure this out by yourself?”
She said while still chuckling and devouring the last sips of her cold, icy beverage. I nodded a very confirming negative and she again began to even chuckle louder. “Darling, you my dear friend are suffering from a odd-cultural ailment that has plagued man every since the cavemen picked up two sticks and began fighting and a crowd began to watch them. You are suffering a  urbanite based type of battle fatigue that effects people who follow a particular sports team and live and breath on their outcomes.  You are beginning to show extreme signs of Post-Part um Playoff Disorder”

And the news shocked me. Here I was a strong-willed guy who had never fallen into that trap for years and years following my sports teams, but for some reason this season I fell face-first into the abyss. She saw my face go blood-less and white for a moment until I had the look of a man saved by the grace of god, or maybe by a errant throw by the shortstop to first. I finally got it. I finally understood what was going on., and it all made sense to me now.

But still there was the method of prognosis that was missing there. There was a final sense of  aliment conclusion that was mildly empty here. what was the cure, or was there a cure? Could this be treated with kindness, or did I have to go through a rapid decompression of emotions and thought to again function like a normal human being? Or did I just have a fever for some Cowbell? She sat there with a sly smile and a simple look on her face that told me I already knew the answer.

“Think about it this way. Last season the tide and the final result of a playoff push was decided early on in the season. The stress and the emotional attachment could be stretched out over the course of the season with no sudden pushes and floods of emotional attachment until October, but in a month’s time the symptoms could be masked with ease. What you need to do now is get up out of your seat, turn around three times and do the “Chicken Dance” for me.” I sat there for a moment before rising from my seat and slowly remembering the moves of that classic dance did it for a few moments.

And you want to know something, it felt better. “For the last few months you have been sitting more in your seat, not celebrating like the rest of the people in the stadium. You have internalize the stress, struggle and the fight for some reason. You have taken your outer fandom and turned it within yourself forgetting your love for celebrating outwards and showing your pride with this team. But last, but not least, you have got to again not hinge every emotion and thought on the outcome of these next few home games. Like goes on without the Rays sweetie, and so do you!”

And with that we both began to have one of those belly-busting laughs that you can have with great friends. She saw that the color was coming back into my skin and the flush look on my face was draining back into the normal peach-color that formed by face. Maybe I needed to hear it from someone else. Maybe I needed a reassurance that others were going through this same mode of illness that was effecting them to, maybe I did just need more cowbell in a sense.

I then asked he what we should call this odd aliment that had taken over my life and my entire thought process for so long. I wanted to attach some kind of name or even an effect to this illness that was causing so much sleep-less nights and sloth-like days. I needed to somehow throw a verbiage up in my mind to finally get a label on it all and move forward. The words out of her mouth seemed to come out in slow motion and my eyes and ear hung on every syllable and vowel until it finally wrestled in my eardrums. “It’s very simple what you got………..You got Playoff Fever and you will not be the first to show these symptoms…or the last.

Something Special seems to be Missing?



Mark O’Meara / AP

Even before the Tampa Bay Rays started their 2007 season I had a gut level reaction that we were within a few years of breaking the “losers” curse and begin a winning tradition. That season I left my job at Pepsi and was anxiously seeking a position somewhere in the Rays organization. Something within me had me thinking that this franchise was about to turn a corner, and I really wanted a front row seat to the show.
 

Maybe the final piece was put into place during Spring Training in 2008, when Rays starter Scott Kazmir spoke of a playoff dream for the Rays that season, and the media snickered to themselves. But what they might not have known was the level of ease and comfort this team had with each other coming into this final season of Spring Training at Rays Namoli complex in St. Petersburg. 

That this team liked spending time with each other both away and at the ballpark. That veterans in the Bullpen wanted to have dinners accompanied by the entire Bullpen, not just small groups filing in when they felt like it. Small groups of leader began to emerge in the clubhouse, each with their own special flair in support of the team. Carlos Pena was the fashion plate who dressed like a million dollars and had a boat load of confidence and inner strength. Cliff Floyd was the new guy who had been to multiple playoff runs and knew what it would take to funnel this team into winners.

And then you had the odd broad-shoulder pairing of Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes who could reduce the clubhouse into tears of laughter and  showed extreme amount of emotion and passion for the game. Then  you had the Rays rotation, all under 26 years of age who acted 5 years older than their birth certificates listed on any given day. From top to bottom, this team enjoyed each other not only as teammates, but as a sense of brotherhood.  And that can be a powerful tool when you are molding yourself to do something you team has never done before………..Win, and win now!


Steve Nesius/ AP

And we all know how far that confidence and that slight air of arrogance got this team. How dare they trample to pecking order of the American League East and sit on top of the division for most of the season. How dare they take the mighty Red Sox Nation to 7 games, then disregard them like rag dolls on their way to the team’s first World Series appearance. And all throughout this adventure was door and door being broken down by this bunch of Rays. They had changed their logos and uniforms in November 2007, and with that stripped the losing mentality along with the loss of the forest green caps.

The 2008 Rays even on the plane ride home after World Series game 5.5 were not looking forward to leaving each other yet. the bond of this squad was tight, and the general feeling was that to separate would be the end of that karma train. So as the team packed up after the trip home and had their baseball belongings sent from sea-to-shining sea, they hoped that vibe would continue for a a second shot at the title. They wanted that feeling amongst each of them to hibernate and spring to life in late February 2009, but it was never the same.

People have been trying to find multiple reasons for the wild mood swings and the odd chemistry this team seems to have in 2009. Some might say it is a little bit of the leftover World Series experience mixed with a new found respect for how hard it is to repeat in this game. But the meshing of this team out of Spring Training in 2009 did not have the same feeling to it. You could see it on the field. The powerful defense became average for some reason. The power stroke of B J Upton seemed to be stalled by surgery and unforeseen situations.

The all-mighty pitching staff, the saviors in 2008 seemed to be subdued this season. Almost in a calm serenity than in a mix of attitude and daring antics. Gone was  the fire you could see in their eyes and feel in their voices. Not extinguished, but down to embers. The offense still churned to its own beat just like in 2008 finding new heroes every night or so to prop up as examples that 2009 is better than 2008. But other key components of the hitting seemed to be lagging behind and could not adjoin with the rest. This team did not have that fundamental same feeling to it. Something critical was missing.


www.FSNFlorida.com

And some would say it was a few of the fire-breathers that were no longer here like Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd who inspired by example, and shined through by pure energy and power. You knew that Floyd would take the “father” role and try and nurture some of the guys into becoming better more productive members of the team. Hinske you knew would be fired-up and ready for battle at any time, and he carried that same energy out on the field with him. And Gomes was the ultimate confidence guy.

If someone did something amazing, he was one of the first to see you as you came on the bench. Each of the three had a key role in the bench players, the same way Trever Miller and Dan Wheeler did with the Bullpen guys. They always discussed things, always compared notes, and dined together out on the road. You knew that even young ace Scott Kazmir and the other rotation members keyed off each other to try and post a quality start every time out. People on this team genuinely rooted for each other day in, and day out to succeed. 

 

And this season there has seemed to be something missing from the beginning. Even when I went down to Spring Training for the first time in Port Charlotte, you felt a different vibe. Not a negative energy, just something different. Gomes, Hinske, Miller and Floyd, all left for other teams, and the incoming guys did not replace that lost energy or that instant energy levels. There was leadership in this clubhouse, and there was a sign of wanting to again reach the top of the hill, but it did not have any urgency or finality to it.

For some reason this 2009 edition of the Rays had the talents, abilities and the heart to produce a winner, but some of the classic energy and chemistry seemed to be lacking at moments. And those gaps in the system showed up from time to time. Lackluster performances without someone coming over and encouraging you. A more quiet bench than in 2008 when you never knew what would be said or visualized f
rom a distance. Plenty of times in 2008 the bench seemed alive and the 26th player on the team.

But this season that player is missing in action. Maybe he was lost in the charts and the schemes and the general “cool” vibe of the clubhouse. There is still a huge amount of fire in this team, but they have to spread the embers out again and add wood to that fire. As the losses total up the members grow darker and darker this year, with pillows of hot spots peaking out, and the general feeling of extended dread hanging over the game. And the Rays coaches might have sensed this too.


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With traveling parties all dressed in black, dressed in all white and also cowboy wear it is a basic team building exercise to promote from within a pride and a energy among the team. And it has worked at times and had extended into the road trip and on into the next home stand, but the energy seems to dip down again and another action/reaction has to be pulled out of this team. Props and events like this can mold a team, but only if all of them want to mesh as one.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon, knowing the recent stress and daily barrage of expectations went with a “Ring of Fire” Johnny Cash tribute road trip. With this road trip now history and the team heading back to Tampa Bay with a 4-3 record on this trip, was it a success? Or is it going to be an ongoing theme for the rest of the season. Last year the rally cry fell under the guise of a “Rayhawk” with several players even going above and beyond the usual mode of hair. 

But for some reason the black hair sported now by Maddon has been christened the 2009 version of the “Rayhawk”, and again there have been a great response to the visual bonding agent, but it doesn’t feel the same. This team is a little more laid-back than the 2008 version, both in personalities and in outward bursts of energy. Maybe it is time for each of these guys to dig deep and know that for the Rays to again taste that Mumm’s champagne, they all have to crank it up a few notches and leave it all on the field.

I know I do not have a solid answer for this decline in energy and outward excitement. I wish I had the perfect solution, because I would march into the Rays offices with the answer. I would proudly ask to speak with Maddon and present this gift with nothing in return. Some times it is the simple things that get us the most confused. Maybe all the expectations and promises have clouded the goal. Something missing this year has been a long winning streak, a true defining moment that separates this club from all the others in the MLB.


Steve Nesius / AP

We have all seem the signs at different times this season. Players have shown us that even the “Team Meetings” at home plate after Walk-off wins seem more subdued compared to 2008. I know it is not a case of “Been there, done that!”, but it could be a symptom of the problem.  Maybe something as simple as playing like you are 10-years old again and remembering the fun will shakes the cobwebs and give the Rays back their mojo.

Like I said, if I had the right answer, I would bottle it and sell it to everyone else, but the Rays could have it for FREE. For I want to again see the smiles nightly on their faces for no reasons. See the bubble gum bubbles on top of players caps. I want to see the sunflower seed competitions between the Bullpen guys again. Maybe it is just wishing for the past, maybe it is hoping for the future, maybe it is just about something as simple as having fun playing a kids game again.

Daughtry Short Photo Blog


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Okay, anyone who knows that I have a soft spot for rockers. It might be the lifestyle I drew up with, or it might be the lifestyle I always wanted in life, but a good hard rocking song can get me fired up everytime. So last night in the latest edition of the Rays Concert Series they invited former America Idol fan favorite Chris Daughtry and his band, Daughtry to the Trop. for  a FREE after the game concert.


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What was really exiciting is this was the first stop on their concert tour for 2009. They had been in Hamilton, Ontario only two days earlier still doing their final prep work before they got on a tour bus and headed to St. Petersburg, Florida for the beginning of their tour. This is the third time they have been on tour after their original tour made an appearance in the smaller venue of the State Theatre in St. Petersburg. During their second tour they were truly blessed to be the opening act for Bon Jovi.


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The band spent the first part of the Rays game against the Kansas City Royals up in a suite just above the Maddon’s Maniac logo just above Section 136 ion the right field section of the Trop. The band and Daughtry would occasionally come out to the rail and smile and wave to the fans below. A young Rays fan even threw up a blue cowbell for the band drummer Joey at one point in the game. They also took in some of the rituals of the Trop such as the blue cotton candy that Joey had purchased during the game.


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During last night’s the band did a mixture of their second album material and some of the great hits off their first album. The song “Crashed” had a different feel in last night performance, and wasa softer version of the previously recorded hit.  The band did end the night with the song that has come to identify the band in the last two years. “Home” also had a great feel to it and he did throw some extra octaves into it and it thrilled the crowd both on the stadium floor and in the stands.


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Some of the band did hang out after the concert and mingled with Rays fans before finally being whisked away to the Vinoy. The band will make their second appearance tonight at the House of Blues in Orlando. The only negative to the enitre night, but I can give him a flyer because the show was so good was the fact he reffered to the city as “Tampa” in his Twitter video last night. But that might also be connected to the fact he was on the tour bus heading to O-town and might have seen a “Tampa” sign along I-275 before he made the video. So let me end this short photo blog with the two Twitter videos sent out by the band before and after the concert last night.

http://www.twitvid.com/player/16FD1

http://www.twitvid.com/player/ABD70

Cursi gets ready for All Star game action

 

                   
                     RHaggerty@Flickr.com

Those people who know me in the Trop know I have a good baseball relationship with one of the members of the Rays staff. I would like to think I have a good rapport with several people, but you never really know what is said off the field. Anyways, I have had a post-game gesture with this person since 2001, and I have never tried to revert or change that routine for the fear of breaking a superstition. It is more me than him, but I truly look forward to it right after each third out in victory or in defeat. It is a simple gesture, but it is a bond I have with him  in my baseball world.

It is a simple hand salute off the baseball cap, but it has symbolism beyond just the motion to me. I met this guy back in 2001 when I was sitting the the Bullpen Cafe ( before Checkers bought the rights) and he used to always come over before the games to chat with myself and a good friend. I got to know this guy pretty well beyond the foul lines on the diamond, and also had on a few occasions had the chance to meet him over at Ferg’s with others for a post-game brew and some chatter. It was a special time for me because he was living the dream. He was on the field. It did not matter to me that ex-Ray Toby Hall or Greg Vaughn was standing right next to me up in the upstairs bar at Ferg’s run by former Rays Tony Saunders. Those were the simple times with Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi  and they have been amazing.

I have gone on road trips following the teams in recent years and Cursi and Chico Fernandez, the Rays Video Coordinator have always welcomed me into their post-game events and we have spent some good times in other cities. Places like Cleveland where we went after a game into the Warehouse District and did the usual pub crawls checking out the nightlife and the local club scene. Or maybe it was a great atmosphere of Swannee’s in Seattle when I went a few years ago and he told me of prior years when Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff were in this same small bar drinking  a few beverages and there with the fans.  I just wanted to give you guys another side of the guy former Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane called “The Enforcer.”


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So when Cursi came over the other day before the game and we chatted for a bit I told him I was upset for finding out that he was getting married in December by seeing it in the Rays 2009 Media Guide. But what he told me next was exciting, even bigger to me than the fact he and Stephanie were going to tie the knot on the beach. Cursi sat there and told me he was going to get a chance to maybe catch during the 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby. I was not totally surprised since I knew he was going to be at the All-Star game in the Bullpen anyways as a member of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s staff. But the added thrill of seeing Scott catch with the world watching him was simply amazing.

But in the last week there might be a small problem here with Cursi even catching in the Home Run Derby. You see, Evan Longoria can bring along his own pitcher for the event, and Cursi is one of the staff who almost daily throws Batting Practice to the Rays players. In such, you would think he would want a Rays staffer, since they are already there for the All Star game to throw to him. But there is a simple answer.

He could ask Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to throw to him with Cursi catching and all will be great in Happy Valley. But I am not sure if Hickey will want to do that on such a large stage. Not that he doesn’t have the chops or the pitching ability ( he does), but the fact si he might be concentrating on the All Star pitching staff during that first day. But it would be a simple resolution to the problem, and would bring about a unique angle to the game.

But to even throw more cold water on either idea is the fact that Longoria, who was imformed by MLB he was the highest vote getter in the American League to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, might bow out of the competition to save his ailing hamstring. With the health concern, that is a good idea for Longo, but hopefully he is not pulling out after a poor showing
in the 2008 Home Run Derby. Maybe teammate Ben Zobrist could take his spot?  I wonder, have there ever been any switch-hitting home runs hit during the Home Run Derby? I will check on it and let you know the answer…..

It almost makes me want to find some way financially to make it to the game and see it in person. I do not want an outfield seat, but just something near the field so I could yell out to Cursi before he squatted behind the dish and watch dinger after dinger disappear into the St. Louis night. Think of how amazing that is going to be for the guy who has put in countless hours and time warming-up pitchers and coming in and catching pitching prospects and potential free agents over the years for the Rays. I thought 2008 might be the top of the  proverbial mountain for some people in the Rays organization, but the hits just keep on rolling here for Cursi.

I am truly so excited that my baseball buddy get to live the All-Star dream on the field this season and also get to attend some of those exclusive and sought after events during the All-Star experience. I can not think of anyone else in baseball that I think deserves that honor than Cursi. Seriously here, the guy has bled Rays green, blue and even yellow for this franchise and this is another great life experience for him in his position with the Rays. But I think I need to let you know a little bit about Scott Cursi before I go today. He is in his 11th season with the Rays organization, and his 13th in professional baseball.  He spent three seasons as the Bullpen Catcher for the Double-A Orlando Cubs and the Orlando Rays of the Southern League from 1996-1998. 

               
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And sometimes you will also see him late in the Rays Batting Practice throwing balls to the hitters on the mound.  Cursi played college baseball at Seminole Community College in Orlando and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Physical Education.  Before he made his trek to Florida, Cursi spent four seasons coaching for Bishop Waterson High School in Columbus, Ohio under Ohio baseball legend Scott Manahan. The guy knows baseball inside and out, and that has only endeared him more to the Rays. 

So Congrats Scott. You deserve a spot in the television of the world, and you can be sure all of Tampa Bay will be watching for you to put your mask on and squat behind the plate during the State Farm Home Run Derby. I know you will have some great memorable chats with some of the hitters that night, and I hope I can hear some of those stories some night after a game over some cool, refreshing beverages with great company. But until then I will just give to the hand salute to the cap back every night and wish you a safe road trip, and tons of great baseball memories.

Hodge Podge of Saturday Samplings

 


Steve Nesius / AP

Today I am thinking a million things and my mind is running a mile a minute. Every once in a while it seems like there is so much going on that I can not even think of getting even 50 percent of it out to people since my little Acer net book went down in a pile of flaming programming errors. That is right, my new little toy decided it did not want to be in the media world and committed cyber-suicide by shutting down the operating system and playing dead for me.

I was lucky enough to have this happen within the 90-day warranty time and they are in the waiting process of sending me a spanking new unit that they have check out prior to them sending it to me. Put that little adventure along with my room mate now getting into blog talk radio and I have limited time on my own home computer. Imagine that, I have to schedule time on my own computer now. Guess living in the laundry room no longer has its perks. lol

Seriously, I get most of the day and some night time hours that I squeeze in by force, not by kindness. But it could be worse, could still have that refrigerator box on the three skateboards moving the box to different locales every third night for ambiance. So let’s get to some Tampa Bay Rays news that the local media might not know, or want to tell you right now.


Fly Like an Eagle

I have to admit, the idea was amazing the pageantry of the event was spectacular and even the first glimpse of that majestic bird leaving the arm of the cute handler was a sight to be seen. It brought a great wave of positive emotions while I stood there during the National Anthem and watched that beautiful creature do several laps around the Rays outfield before finally deciding to rest.

The birds motions while flying around the outfield were so fluid and amazing to me. I have seen eagles fly in the wild while staying in Washington state with relative for the summers, but watching one in your favorite ballpark was truly a memory for the ages.

 

But the place this majestic bird decided to roost for about an inning was not the planned ending spot for the event. The bird, maybe by divine intervention, or maybe just for a bird’s eye view decided to finally come to rest on the letter “S” in Rays that is painted on the slanted roof of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in Tropicana Field. We know it was not a planned event because of the sheer facial expression on the trainers face as she stood in the middle of the Rays outfield looking up that the bald eagle sitting boldly and triumphantly on the roof.

Of course they did finally get him to move towards the trainer up on the roof, but not after a good 10 minutes of him just sitting there checking out the crowd like the proud symbol he represents. It was only by accident that he picked that spot on the roof, but it made for a classic Rays moment, and hopefully an good luck omen for the team the rest of the season. I hope we can again see this awesome bird fly at Tropicana Field and you too can see the effortless flight and beauty up close of this great bird.


Mike Carlson / AP


C C Does it Again

The have been tons of amazing feats and plays by Carl Crawford in his Rays career. The guy has been a huge part of this franchise since he first came up from the minors in 2002. It is hard to imagine this Rays team without him on their roster. But among all the spectacular events and game play during Saturday nights game was lost some huge moments for Carl Crawford as a Rays player. 

Crawford on Saturday night played in his 1,000th Rays game, and according to the Elias Bureau, the Rays are the last of the 30 current MLB clubs to reach that 1,000 game plateau in their careers.  During that time, Crawford has amassed 87 triples and 341 stolen bases for the Rays.

What is more amazing is that he is the only player aside from Ty Cobb who has amassed as many triples and stolen bases through his first 1,000 games. Crawford is already the Rays All-Time leader in a multitude of categories like triples, stolen bases, hits, RBI, runs and at-bats. With his next double, he will also take over the current doubles title currently held by former Ray Aubrey Huff at 172 doubles.

Crawford is also one stolen base shy of his 6th season of 40+ steals in a year.  What is truly amazing is that his 39 current steals are the most by Crawford before the All-Star break. And right now he is ahead of his career high when he stole 59 bases in 2004.


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Home Sweet Home

Every team in the major league baseball knows of the traditions of the noise that can rock Tropicana Field during Rays home games. The traditions of the cowbells and that the Trop’s roof become a orange beacon that can be seen from the Howard Franklin bridge in the horizon as you come back into Pinellas county from Tampa on winning nights. But how many fans have noticed that the team since May 15th have gone 19-5 for a .792 winning percentage.
 

And we have only had two concert series where we are currently 11-0 when the crowd swells to over 30,000. So it was no surprise to most of the Rays faithful when we set down the Florida Marlins on Sat. night before the Lady of Rock and Roll, Pat Benatar took the stage to celebrate the win with us.


So here we are with a current 4-1 record during the home stand with one game to play against the Marlins in the Citrus Series. With the yearly bragging rights already secured by the Rays in the Citrus series, it is the Rays fifth Citrus series win in the last eight seasons, including back-to-back series triumphs since last season. 

Also included in all this great karma is the  fact the Rays have won seven out of the last nine at home against the Marlins.  They will look to Sunday’s game for a chance to take three of the last four series at home against the South Florida based Marlins. But what is even more amazing is the fact that during the 2009 InterLeague schedule, the Rays are currently 12-5 in mixed league play and will go for their 13th win tomorrow.

Their 12-5 record is currently tied for the third best record in the MLB this season.  The best InterLeague win total for the Rays was 15 victories set in 2004.  They are currently averaging 6.4 runs per game, and are hitting over .300 as a team, both marks are the best in the MLB this season. Also based on winning percentages, Rays Manager Joe Maddon has the third best winning percentage in InterLeague play right now with a 42-29 record for a .592 winning percentage.

 

Can Cheating be Acceptable?

 

        


When we were younger most of us knew kids who used to sneak a glance or look  directly at classmates tests for a quick word recognition for a test question. We did expose them as “cheating” but  we did remain silent and for some reason accepted their actions. It did not dawn on us the moral consequences of getting caught because in our minds we just thought it was a one time thing by them. But how can we not have the same mindset when it comes to cheating in baseball. Some people see it for what it really is, a well rehearsed and orchestrated event that goes on nightly in our ballparks, while other cry out at the first sign of an improper move.

I am not condoning cheating here, but it is a bit more widespread than we give it credit for most days. Some people believe in he old saying, “If you are not cheating, you are not trying.” But then again, it is not cheating unless you get caught.  So why is it that we show such huge amount of emotion and outcry when one of our athletes gets caught in a sport that wants you to steal, and sometimes you even get caught in the act. I know the general belief is that cheaters never prosper, but in reality they do get away with it more than you will ever imagine in baseball.

I mean is the sport of baseball actually harboring a belief that the act f cheating is somehow part of the under fiber of the game and is accepted as a mode of behavior by its players and teams. You only have to look at some of the rituals and action within the game itself to see that cheating, in some form is right in front of your eyes all the time.  I mean if a player does a slide outside the base path to break up a double play and either rolls into a infielder or brings his spikes up, is that an accepted form of cheating? Or maybe the simple act of leaving some saliva on your finger or even putting a small slip of sandpaper attached to the back of your belt giving you a huge advantage in the game.

Steroids have become a huge polarizing point in the sport in recent years, and while I do not condone them because of the lasting  side effects they will have on the human body, I can understand the need and want to be the best in the sport. And is that really some of the reason most people do get caught using an illegal substance. They are trying to find the top of the limit they can use something to give them an edge without it becoming an obvious part of their game. Trying to be the best at what they do can sometime make a aging veteran make a bad decision, or a rookie fighting for survival above the minor leagues.

People forget that even in the cool and groovy 1970′s teams used to have amphetamines as general drugs in the MLB clubhouses before they were finally outlawed by the league for their damaging effects on the body.  People have used everything in the pharmacy to find an edge or an advantage in this game, so why is today’s generation any different. Mostly they are different because they are getting caught and maybe going above and beyond the accepted levels and usage of any drugs or cheating device.

I would love to be able to have a packet of those red dots people use on files to walk through the Baseball Hall of Fame to just put on the plagues and the displays of people enshrined or even their gear in the walls and galleries of the famed building of people who have either cheated, or have a huge public perception of some kind of non-conducive act in the game. I think that most of the early day pitchers had their moments. We know of plenty who have been known to doctor the ball, or even outright do it in front of the crowds without their knowledge.

         

The biggest pitching name to admit to some sort of doctoring is Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry.  I mean a simple wipe of the brow of his cap, or even adjusting his pants by grabbing the belt could produce a small quantity of vasoline that could be used to send the ball in a different flight pattern to the plate.  We all know he has been suspended in his career for his antics on the mound, but one of his best might be the act of seeming to doctor the ball and it be as clean as a whistle. Then we have Phil Niekro, the knuckleballer who was caught once and suspended for 10 games for his acts of cheating.

Niekro’s weapon of choice was an emery board which could be used to put a indentation in the ball to get a better flight pattern for his butterfly ball. Considering he already threw a pitch that had its own mind, the added aerodynamic of the scuffed ball just gave him an additional edge in the game. Even greats like Whitey Ford and Don Sutton have come under the microscope, but still enjoy huge fan support. Most pitchers of that era had their own ways of adding some sort of substance to the ball to get some more action on it, but was it considered a part of the game, or was it a rationalization on cheating by saying “everybody does it”‘

The biggest form of cheating is the action done by Coaching staff and players in the dugout during games by watching the Third Base Coach and the opposing dugout especially during the games. Act of stealing signs is an accepted form of cheating in the rules of the game. It is hard to prove that another team is doing it, but it is also an accepted norm of the game at the same time. Former major leaguer Eduardo Perez was one of the best at doing recon work on stealing sign from the opposing team.

When he was with the Tampa Bay Rays he used to sit in the dugout and call out a play or pitch right before the play happened. Of course he might be wrong more time than right, the action of even trying to interpret the signals could be viewed as a form of cheating.  But what about if a team is doing it with audio signals to their bench in hopes to get an advantage to the game. This happened during the 1951 baseball season when the New York Giants were able to get some revenge against the Brooklyn Dodgers.


Wallyg@Flickr.com

Recent discoveries and accounts have linked the actions to be true, but Bobby Thompson, who hit the “Shot Heard Around the World” has never admitted he got a tip-off on the pitch he hit for immortality. It is said that
Giants coach Herman Franks would sit in the dugout, just out of view of the Polo Grounds in the centerfield clubhouse and relay the catcher’s signals and send via a bell/buzzer signal to the dugout, then the dugout would relay the signal to the hitter at the plate.

And baseball accepted this practice at the time because if one team went down for the action, all of them would have to cease their own forms of cheating to get pitching signs and signals from the base Coaches. But there is another form of this signal cheating that is more out in the open for everyone to see. It is when your teams has a man on second base. They are direct contact with the catcher’s signals to the pitcher and can relay the pitch with a body signal or gesture during the game. But a new form of cheating I am beginning to pick up on is the altering of the radar guns in the stadiums.

Do you really think some of these guys are throwing 98 mph, or maybe the slight alteration to the gun prior to a certain reliever coming into the game could change a hitter outlook on them after seeing multiple 90+ reading most of the year, then an 89 mph heater take them out for a critical out.  I could go on for days on the other types of accepted cheating and alterations and redefinition of the rules of the game. I have not even gotten into the groundskeepers role in all of this magic yet. We all know that the home field advantage is significant to the team getting some runs ans hits on their own turf during games.

I also stayed away from the topic of corked bats and illegal dimensions like shaved handles to add a slight hint of bat speed to the hitters.  But now we have a new foe hitting the cheating format of the game and it is a silent weapon until drug testing or even a eye contact with the product can make a player’s life miserable, and a team searching for answers. The new addition of the anabolic steroid to the annuals of cheating in baseball is accepted by some as the evolution of the game. But then others see it for what it really is, personal cheating done on an individual basis to get an edge in the game.

For some reason you want to admit you like that a player wants to be the best they can be in their sport, but you also find it disturbing they will put a chemical in their own bodies that might hurt themselves in the long run for short term gain.  I think that is one of the reason some guys do it, not for greed or for money, but for the adulation of the fans and to get that extra step up on the competition.  But for all the good it does to that player and his team, the long range effects on the young fans and the essence of the game take a huge hit on the purity and quality of some of the game’s best and greatest.

Everyday players find a new way to cheat the edges of the game with new found techniques and actions that stay within the rules of the game, but flirt with the gray areas of rules and regulations.  And most of these actions are accepted by fans and player alike as individual adjustments or improvements to their game. One issue I have skirted today is the action of using illegal substances in the body as a form of accepted cheating. You could do a 5-part series on the chemical uses and advantages of players actions both today and in the past and still not get down to the root of it all.

Cheating within the game is an accepted mode of playing it to the fullest. Finding advantages and sidesteps to the rules and bending them to the point of breaking them is an accepted action by every team.  Teams do seek out advantages against their opposition for every game. If we did not want to get the upper hand on our opponent there would not be a need for advanced scouting or even a scouting report on the opposing pitcher. Knowledge can be the best form of delving into the truth and falsehood of the game. But do we also reward the act of cheating in baseball?

Let’s say tomorrow we find out a MLB team has doctored their “mudd” application to game balls with a new dry chemical that when mixed with a special resin mixture used on the mound  would produce a slippery substance on the ball that will aid the pitching staff and will be entirely absorbed and all traces removed from the surface of the ball in its flight to the plate. Would we be amazed at the development, or ashamed that our team got the edge on the competition?

That is a personal decision for each of us to consider the next time a infraction to the code of the game is revealed. Is it a competitive edge or an act of cheating if a team gets the upperhand on another team? I guess that depends on who is winning the game at the time!

Who will get the Rays first Cycle?

 


David Zalubowski / AP

I remember back on March 31, 1998 a friend of mine and I were chatting up in the Beach area about our new Rays team and he asked me  who I thought would be the first Rays player to ever hit for a “cycle” for the team. I had to really think about that one for a few minutes since this first Rays squad had a few burners on the base paths and they could make the difference quickly in a game.

I thought for about three innings and came up with a list of three guys I truly thought had a chance to hit that magical segment of a single, double, triple and then a homer.  I came up with the trio of Dave Martinez (who got the Rays first hit ever), Quentin McCracken and Miguel Cairo.

But what is so amazing is that we have played 1,845 games as a franchise and we still have not had any player hit for that elusive prize. I mean we have had plenty come close, including 5 in 2008, but no one has gotten to that golden moment yet for the Rays. So it kind of caught me by surprise last night after the game checking out the box score and seeing that both Ben Zobrist and Gabe Kapler only missed the magical moment by not getting a double in last night’s 12-4 Rays victory.

What was truly amazing to me is that both guys had the worst part of the cycle out of the way by the start of the 7th inning with Kapler getting the early nod by getting both his triple and home run by the end of the third inning.  Another outstanding statistic is that Zobrist and Kapler each got hit in the same inning three times in that contest. 

They started their scoring in the top of the second inning when Zobrist got on with a infield single to third, then Kapler scored Zobrist on his triple to deep left-centerfield. The in the top of the third inning, Zobrist hit the first pitch he sees for a triple to deep centerfield to lead-off the inning. Kapler then comes up and homers to leftfield to again score Zobrist in the game. 

Then again in the seventh inning, Zobrist comes up with two outs and hits a 2-1 pitch out of the ballpark in leftfield. Kapler then comes up and get a single to rightfield.  Zobrist had another chance to get his cycle, but he hit a ball back to Rockies reliever Matt Daley that he easy converted for the third out of the inning. The night was a huge explosion for the entire Rays offense as they won their sixth game in a row and ended the Rockies own 11-game winning streak.

But was last night’s attempt by two Rays players a good indicator of the type of offense this team can post at anytime in 2009. Gabe Kapler is currently on a 4-game home run  and RBI streak, plus he has gone 7 for 11, with 10 RBI in his last four games. Could we finally be seeing the hitter the Rays envisioned when they signed Kapler on January 12, 2009. Then you have Zobrist, who has emerged as the Rays secret weapon after injuries have made the club utilize him everyday instead of as a platoon or late inning replacement/pinch-hitter. 


David Zalubowski / AP

Zobrist has also been on quite a tear recently going hitless in only two of his last ten games. He has gone 14 for 35 (.400) with 4 homers and 7 RBI, but it is his 14 runs scored that have been the biggest indicator of his surge for the Rays.  He has also walked 7 times in those 10 games and stolen 2 bases to become an all-around player for the team. And this is not the first time in 2009 that Zobrist has gotten near the cycle.

And to just show how explosive the entire team can be this year, including last night, the Rays have had 11 players just this season who have had chances to get the cycle for the Rays. Starting with Evan Longoria on April 9th needing just a triple to complete his during the Rays 4-3 win in Fenway Park. Longoria again almost got the cycle in another game against the Red Sox on April 30th at Tropicana Field during a 13-0 win over the Red Sox. He missed with only a triple again. But he was not the only Rays to have a shot at the cycle that day. Back-up catcher Miguel Hernandez had a career day going 4 for 5 and also missed the cycle with a triple that day. 

In a 7-3 loss to the Red Sox in their second trip to Fenway on May 8th, the usual suspect for the cycle, Carl Crawford only missed with a home run from getting the feat. He did have a ball bounce into the stands in deep centerfield that could have been a close inside-the-park home run if it had not gone into the stands.  Then on May 15th with the Cleveland Indians at home, B J Upton had a chance to put his mark on Rays history, but also missed out with a triple. Two days later Jason Bartlett got a chance at the mark, but he too came up short needing a home run to complete the feat.

Then someone you would not expect, Gabe Gross who has seen limited duty this year as a platoon member in rightfield got a chance to set the mark on May 22nd in the Rays 15-2 win over the Florida Marlins. Gross also missed the mark with only getting a single, double and a homer in the game.  And so far in June, the Rays have had four players now who have attempted to get a cycle for the squad. Before last night’s heroics, Matt Joyce, who was only up for a limited time also had a chance for a cycle on June 2nd in a 6-2 win over the Kansas City Royals. Joyce also came up a triple short of getting the first cycle in Rays history.


Jeff Zelevansky / AP


But the wildest part of it all is that Zobrist now has had two chances, just in June 2009 to get a cycle. Besides last night’s attempt, he had another on June 7th in Yankee Stadium against the New York Yankees, but he again fell just a double short of the cycle.  What is even more amazing is that he has now had three chances since September 27, 2008 to get the Rays cycle record. On the September 27th game against the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park, Zobrist again came up short, but this time he could not get a triple to complete the cycle.

The Rays have had a chance 11 times in 2009. For the entire 2008 season they only had 5 players even get close to trying for  a shot at Rays history. It began with the Disney World series when the Rays took on the Toronto Blue Jays on April 22nd. Ex-Rays bat boy Jesse Litsch was on the mound and Eric Hinske hit three extra-base hits to fall only a single short of the cycle for the Rays. In that contest, in the only other at bat for Hinske in the game, he struck out swinging to end his quest in the eighth inning. One of the guys you might least expect to have a shot at a cycle actually got pretty close in 2008. Dioner Navarro was having a great first half to the season and picked a May 8th game against the Toronto Blue Jays to try and make a claim for the cycle record. 

In that game, Navarro hit a Grand Slam to win the game for the Rays in the 13th inning, but he missed the cycle by a triple that night. But the event was considered a turning point for the young Rays team, so missing the re
cord might not have been a bad thing that night. It was three months before anyone else had a shot at a cycle for the Rays when on August 2nd, Evan Longoria tried to make his mark, but he also came up a triple short in the Rays 9-3 win over the Tigers at Tropicana Field.

A wild statistic is that in the last three attempts by Rays players to hit for the cycle in 2008, they all came against the same team, the Detroit Tigers. First we had Longoria on August 2nd come up short. The next player to have a chance at Rays immortality was Upton on the same night( September 26, 2008) that the Rays clinched their first American League East title. Upton’s chance at the cycle was overshadowed by the big event as he only fell a triple short of the cycle after beating out a throw for an infield single to even have a shot at the historic mark. And of course, the next day, Zobrist had his chance to also add his name to Rays history. 

All in all since the beginning of the 2998 season, 16 Rays players have had a chance to finally put their name on the Rays history book as completing a cycle during a game. The Rays might have gone 0-16 in that time, but in 2008, they went 4-1 when a player was attempting to go for the record. And so far in 2009, the team has gone 8-1 when a Rays batter has been attempting to go for the cycle. And also of note, for the first time in two seasons, two player have been just short of cycles in two different games only 46 days apart.

With the Rays offense cranking on all 8 cylinders right now there will be more chances for the team to flex its muscle and give more guys chances to finally put their name into the Rays record books as the first player to hit a cycle for the Rays. I can not even guess who the first one will be anymore. Almost everyone in the lineup can have an outstanding game and transform a simple game into a historic event.

But I would not bet against Crawford and Zobrist right now, both players have the ability and the speed to finally give us an answer to that question asked back in 1998. Who do you think will get the first Rays cycle?

Fridays Fabulous Fragmented Thoughts

 



Steve Nesius / AP

No Re-joycing in Rightfield


With the activation of Tamp Bay Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell right after the game last night, the team made the corresponding roster move of sending young rightfielder Matt Joyce back down to the Triple-A Durham Bulls. The press release was still hot and wet when the Rays Radio Network broke the news right after the game in their post-game segment. At first this news hit me kind of like a ton of bricks because I truly thought the kid was going to make the transition up here the rest of the season.

Sure he started out like he was going to take names and change minds after hitting two quick hoe runs to make people, think it was “Re-Joyce Time” in rightfield. Even the fact he got two hits off a left-handed pitcher spoke volumes that he had done a bit of the work the Rays asked him to do when he went down first to Durham after spending the first five game up with the Rays while B J Upton was rehabbing after his off-season shoulder surgery. Upon the start of the Sunday game in Baltimore on April 12th he was on his way back to the Triple-A squad ready to work on things and make his way back to Tampa Bay in 2009.  Joyce was upset but understood the situation perfectly and vowed to again be patrolling the outfield in the Trop sometime in 2009.

So when the Rays went to Durham and again brought up Joyce on May 30th, it was a sign to the fans that maybe the team was finally considering giving the kid a fair shake in winning the rightfield job during the season. And he did come on like gangbusters hitting the ball his first few games before finally going through a 0 for 15 slide before he was sent out to the Bulls. He was upset about the news, but took it in stride as he told the St. Petersburg Times last night.””Any time you get sent down, it’s not a good feeling. So you just go back to the drawing board, go back down and scratch and claw your way back up.” Coming into the Angels series, Joyce was 0 for 20 lifetime against the team.

Joyce is heading back to the Durham squad with the intention of “tear it up again” in Durham, and “force them to bring you back up.”  And that is the kind of reaction you really want to hear from a young star who knows he will again shine bright among the lights of Tropicana field. This is not the last time we will see him in 2009, and you can bet the next time he is up here he will try and make it an extremely difficult decision to send him back down again.  Joyce was given some advice and things to work on by Rays Manager Joe Maddon before he left the Rays Clubhouse following their series win against the Los Angels Angels last night.

Joyce will go down to the minors and work a bit on his overall game, including his defense and hopes to again get a chance to make a huge impression this season.  During a few games in the Trop., he seemed to have a problem identifying the ball off the roof in the dome and that might have led to a few defensive problems during his time up here. He did not read the ball well off the bat a few times and the ball made it into the Right-Centerfield gap for extra bases.

That is a simple adjustment and recognition program that can be completed easily in the minors.  But Joyce has been totally supportive of the decision and is looking forward to more playing time and to prove he belongs here with the Rays. Before he was promoted at the end of May, he was hitting .315 with 5 HR and 27 RBI for the Bulls.  He had compiled a 1.000 OPS against right-handed pitching, and a .727 against left-handers. 


AP File Photo

Pedro  Martinez as a Ray?

Oh how Gerald Williams must be all tied up in knots knowing that the Rays might be watching former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez throwing in the Dominican Republic yesterday. How it must be burning in his stomach that the guy who caused such a ruckus with the Rays back in 200 might even be considered for a pitching option. There are numerous reports that not only have the Rays checked out the aging pitcher, but some monetary figures have been exchanged between the two parties. 

According to Nick Carfardo of The Boston Globe, Martinez had both the Chicago Cubs and the Rays both exploring what it might take to sign the aging pitcher to their rosters. During his workout the former fireballer was throwing about 94 MPH, which is a nice increase in velocity compared to his pre-surgery speed.  Mark Lancaster of the Tampa Tribune said,”I’ve heard that one of the Rays’ officials in the Dominican who has known Pedro for a while just watched him work out, but it doesn’t sound like the team expects anything to come of it.” 

A local Tampa Bay television station even commented on their Twitter page that someone was checking out Martinez. And a pretty credible Rays blog, www.RaysIndex.com was reporting that the team did schedule a second workout for Martinez, which is usually a sign of interest.  When the World Baseball classic tenure of the Dominican Republic team was over during MLB’s Spring Training, it was reported that Martinez was basically seeking a single year deal in the $5 million range. With the MLB season  nearing the 62nd game, that request might have been cut in half to about the $ 2.5 million dollar figure. 

Some might say that the aging pitcher would be a great fit in the Rays Bullpen in some capacity. But considering he would supplant someone currently in that unit, it might be a difficult sell to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey right now. But even if the Rays have always kept things like this close to their vest pocket, the history with Martinez might not sit well with long standing Rays fans.  For the same reason most fans were skeptical of Curt Shilling basically saying he would play for the Rays years ago, Martinez might not be a great fit here. Martinez and Don Zimmer also have their own history, but Zim contends that it is ” by the wayside and ancient history.”

The guys still has the desire and the spunk to pitch in the majors, which is great for him. But the guy might not be a great fit into the Rays bullpen, and definitely can not be seen as a starter right now. Things could happen fast and he will be out of the Rays sights and this all will be dust in the wind. But the idea of adding him to our team kind of upsets my stomach. I admire the girt and the determination, but seeing him brawl on our home field, and throw Zim to the ground is enough for me to  print a “VOTE NO FOR PEDRO” t-shirt. Somethings even time can not heal.

             
              smh.com au

Boot Scootin’ Nelson

***  With the Rays getting ready soon to head on out for another road trip, Maddon has picked a “western theme” for the trip out to Colorado to begin their 6-game Inter-League road trip. I am not sure what most of the guys are going to be outfitted in before they board the plane, but hopefully they know that six shooters are not allowed on the plane.

Seriously though, I spoke with Rays reliever Joe Nelson yesterday on what style he was going to pull off for the western theme. He said he was going with the “Yul Brenner circa The Magnificent Seven look”.  Nelson already has the hairstyle, and I can see him in the black shirt and maybe even black leather pants, but I am really going to be surprised if he can find a great back cowboy hat to pull it all together. Maybe he can call Keith Millar, who is with the Toronto Blue Jays for a primer on how to “Cowboy Up” before the trip. I personally thought Nelson might go for the Yul Brenner look from Westworld where he played a gunslinging robot, but after the picture, I can see him in a black hat for some reason.

Season Ticket Gate Upgrade


The Rays instituted a new Season Ticket holder entrance near Gate 3 earlier this season. There is great news that an awning has been purchased that will expand out from the current gate to shelter fans waiting in that line for enter the stadium hopefully around the All-Star break. This new entrance brings you in right at the service desk at Gate 3 for easy access for signing up for the many contests, or getting with a Season Ticket Representative within a few feet of the doors. 

I have used the entrance a few times in the past few months and it is quicker and faster than the present system at Gate 1 where most of the current Season Ticket holders enter the Trop. This also might be a great alternative during the Boston or Yankee series later this year when the general standing area outside Gate 1 gets so crowded and heated at times. It is also a great alternative for the “giveaway” days as the lines will be smaller and less confusion.
 


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Familiar Faces in the Videos

If you are in Tropicana Field before the game and look up at the Jumbotron before the game and think you might have seen me on the big screen during the opening minute of the “Ground Rules”, you are correct. As a member of the “Maddon’s Maniacs”, I was invited for a taping before opening day this year to complete a fan version of the typical baseball rules explanation played 81 times a year in Tropicana Field. I got lucky enough to be in the first segments of the new video both in the first clip where you see me banging my over sized black cowbell ( which is now broken almost in half) and during the first two rules of the video.

I have to give props to the Rays vision crew who did most of the stand-in spots in the video and also had the changes and segmented video shoots done fast and professional at all times. Also have to give some acknowledgments to Eric Weisberg, Darcy Raymond and Sean Liston from the Rays Fan Experience department for their ideas to include the Maniacs in this years action. It was a great time, and I did get in a bit of a pickle about two pictures, but all is good in Rays-land. I hope you see a few of your friends in the video and be sure to stop us and say hello. We will be more than happy to chat with you about the “Maddon’s Maniacs” club or just about our hometown Rays.

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