Results tagged ‘ Cliff ’

Balfour to Visit Homeland as an MLB Ambassador

 

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Say what you want about Tampa Bay Rays reliever Grant Balfour. Some comments center on his spiral anger issues, while other wonder why during years with even numbers his stats tend to go a bit south.

imagesPersonally, I think the guy is a great competitor and even with a few terse moments on the mound talking to baseballs and angering foes, the guy always enjoys and looks forward to giving back.

So it is no surprise to me that Balfour along with Chicago Cubs P Andre Rienzo and Milwaukee Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke will make up an extremely diverse Major League Baseball trio of Ambassadors during their trek to Balfour’s homeland of Australia from Dec 12-21st.

Some people say the “Angry Aussie” has easily compiled the best career mark ever in the M L B among those bearing Aussie roots, and so many around the baseball world and in his home country view him as a bit of a cult hero because of his tirades with those white Rawlings baseballs, and has ruffled quite a few feathers among M L N hitters.

downloadFew players display their passion on their sleeves like Balfour in the game today and his outward pouring of high energy emotions and a few choice words can polarize some baseball fans opinions of the pitcher.

But that persona of anger and disdain for baseballs of aspects of the game is not the true essence of Balfour, or the Balfour I have known during his times with the Rays. He has always been cordial to fans, stopping to talk with them, hold endearing conversations and offering friendship to many who sit around the area of the Rays Bullpen.

images (4)During my time in that same area of Tropicana Field, I have not seen Balfour refuse an autograph, not stop to at least acknowledge a fan calling out his name and for the most part being a great ambassador of the Rays.

So it must be thrilling for Balfour to get the chance to visit his homeland and I imagine a stop in his hometown of Kings Langley which is a suburb of Sydney.

But the fact is Balfour has done some amazing things over his 11 years playing professional baseball in the U.S. with visits to the World Series with the Rays, plus being selected to the American League All-Star squad during his tenure with the Oakland Athletics back in 2013.

images (6)Balfour has gotten a chance with 3 different teams to pitch in the M L B postseason and sports a career ERA of 3.46 over 528 appearances with 84 saves and 571 K’s in 535.1 innings.

Balfour and crew are expected to arrive in Sydney on Thursday, Dec 11th and enjoy a free day before commencing on the 8-day M L B Ambassador Tour.

Here is a tentative sampling of the events and activities that Balfour will attend and participate in during the 8-day MLB Ambassadors Tour:

On Friday, Dec 12th, Balfour will be present at a Welcome Home Press Conference in Sydney and then to Blue Sox Stadium and will meet fans before throwing out the First Pitch at the Sydney Blue Sox  and Adelaide Bite game.

On Saturday, Dec 13th , Balfour and his fellow Ambassadors will hold a MLB Training with the Pros session at Sydney’s Blue Sox’s stadium for local junior players.  If you have not heard about the Training with the Pros sessions, it is a long standing MLB program in partnership with Baseball Australia and the teams of the Australian Baseball League which provides hands on skill-training from Australian and foreign-born professional baseball players.

B4nUp52CIAExNEdDuring this visit, the Ambassadors will present the Ambassador’s Cup Trophy to the ACT Junior Club with the most new baseball recruits this season.

Balfour and the group will then travel to meet fans who attend the Canberra Cavalry and Melbourne Aces match later in the day.

On Sunday, Dec. 14th, Balfour will be in attendance in Sydney and also take part in what should be an emotionally-charged tribute to his father, David Balfour, acknowledging his contributions to Australian baseball. Balfour will also be on hand to meet fans pre-game who came to watch that days Sydney Blue Sox versus Adelaide Bite game.

The group will take Monday off as a travel day and land in Melbourne.

On Tuesday, Dec. 16th, Balfour and his fellow Ambassadors will hold a press conference at Melbourne Ballpark and meet with the Australian Baseball All-Stars team members.

On Weds., Dec 17th, Balfour will serve as an honorary Team Australian Captain during the Australian All-Baseball League All-Star game that pits the best home grown Aussie talents against the best of the imported players in the league.

On Thursday, Dec 18th, the group will travel to the Gold Coast and hold a special Training with the Pros session in Coomera with local junior players.

On Friday, Dec 19th the Ambassadors will travel to Brisbane and hold a MLB Training with the Pros session at AFA  Stadium at Holloway Field. The group will then meet fans and attend the Brisbane Bandits versus Canberra Cavalry game.

muu_jOoHIsQT1J7mB3P-5NAIt is great to see Balfour and his MLB  colleagues hit Australia this off season and give back. You have to believe it will be especially satisfying for Balfour to see how the game has grown in his home country and the heights it has reached in each of these vistas he and the MLB Ambassadors will visit during their trip.

I have no worries Balfour and his MLB crew will not only make a difference, but I know Balfour will bring back so many grand stories of how much the game has changed and how it has further impacted his life.

Can’t wait to hear a few of them while leaning on the Right Field rail this spring.

 

 

Hits and Errors of a “Thankful” Man

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GrillCheese49@Twitter.com

On a day when we all sit down with our families and gather to feast, reflect and also reminisce on the past year since our last Turkey Day the one word synonymous with today is Thanks. It is also a day I am going to tell you about something I have hidden away from most people who know me, and finally feel needs to be addressed now.

Since I hit my ceremonial birthday back on May 14th, my world has been quickly crumbling beneath me, and no one else has been the wiser. On that same day I became another one of the legion known as the “99er’s”, or people who had exhausted all unemployment and benefits fitting to someone actively trying to secure even a part-time gig at a neighborhood fast-food joint of 7-11. But that is only a cloud on the horizon of the other falsehood that surrounds my life.

No, I am not sick or getting worse with a terrible illness, but there is a ailment that has attached itself to me. Since about June of this year I have been foreclosed, repossessed and bitterly had to face the reality that my life choices, no matter how much I have enjoyed them, were wrong turns at best. I guess you can see a positive that when they came and picked-up my new old car I went immediately to a pawn shop and purchased a 21-speed bike so I could attend all 81 Tampa Bay Rays games this season.

And there lies the one positive that has kept me plugging away and not giving up. Even as I sit with my little laptop on my lap right now stealing/borrowing/sharing a WiFi connection through a local coffee shop, the reality is that I have never given up. Even in the rain and slick roads I tumbled my way to the Trop to get satisfaction and pleasure from the sport that has never abandoned me, or made me feel worthless. And for that I owe a lifetime of gratitude and admiration to the Rays.

When I finally slip my head down onto a pillow while doing a real life 24/7 backyard camping trip in a friend’s backyard because I am penniless, but not within the limits of emotional bankruptcy, I and wealthy thanks to the baseball friends and colleagues I know surrounding my Rays lifestyle. Some might say I have finally scrapped the bottom of my collective barrel, but I see it more as a way to finally treasure what I had, what I lost, and hopefully in the future, what is ahead for me.

This is the first time I have admitted publicly and to more than a few people the plight I have thrust myself into since I first started to pull my retirement savings a little at a time since April 2008 to secure my time with my Rays family at Tropicana Field. So on a day like today I give a huge bushel and gaggle of thanks to the many and the few who have passed paths with me in my Rays adventure.

This is not a solemn time, or one made to make people think they need to help. This is just me, an overly proud and optimistic person finally coming clean on the true extent of the damages. But please, do not despair, I cooked myself an amazing steak today with green beans and corn on the cob and reflected on the past year with great baseball joy and a personal admiration that I am stronger than I realize at times.

I am stuffed with the optimism of the coming months leading up to the Rays Fan Fest and again seeing members of my extended family again. Full to the gills of determination and persistence that by April things can be better. I am never homeless as long as I see Tropicana Field. I am not jobless for the work of following this team and writing about it fills me with the joy and reasoning to travel on. The ultimate “Thank You” is to the people who grace and read my passages day in and day out. For if it wasn’t for you…


To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven. ~Johannes A. Gaertner

Recent Seattle-Cleveland-Tampa Bay Trade Rumors

 


Steve Nesius / AP

Usually when I get a call at 5 am EST in involves the following items: money, a bail bondsman, or a ride somewhere. But this ring tone told me it was from a far away source, a pretty good drive and leap away. It came from the west coast, and in Seattle it was only 1 am PST in the morning. So with a million things racing through my mind that could be wrong for this person to be calling me at this time, baseball was not very high on the list at that hour.

So I answered the phone to a loud scream of : “Tell me it is true, Frickin (I cleaned the language up) tell me this is a true rumor. you see, while most of us were sleeping on the east coast, the websites and the bloggers on the other side of the country were just getting settled into their homes after a blowout by the Cleveland Indians over the Mariners. So as they were driving home or even listening online to the M’s flagship radio station KIRO 710 AM was spilling out some fodder that the Rays, Tribe and M’s had something cooking on the back burner.

So I decided to check my first reliable source by popping onto the website www.seattlepi.com/mariners and seeing if the bloggers had gotten a hold of such a rumor. Now I was not even aware of the players involved yet, but I did have reason to believe the two coming to the Rays would be the hot and much wanted starter Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.

And so I hit the M’s blog section and was greeted by the following headline: “Potential huuuge deal w/M’s, Tribe and Rays”. What was so amazing is that at this time two of the team involved in this trade were currently in a 3-game series in Seattle. What was even more amazing was the 4 other players linked to this rumor. The Seattle side of the equation had former starter/reliever/closer and current Triple-A player Brandon Morrow and back-up catcher Jeff Clement going to the Indians.


Ted S. Warren / AP

On the Seattle side of the trade aspect they were getting rid of a pitcher who needed a change of scenery and who could re-invent himself correctly with his next team. The M’s had used Morrow in every pitching situation and never let him get totally settled into one segment of their pitching staff.  Clements was another guy who was stuck behind two starters and was learning to play first base to get his bat into the line-up down in Triple-A. He had played for the M’s in both 2007 and 2008, but lost out this season to back-up Rob Johnson because of his MLB experience.

Both guys needed a break from the M’s way of doing business, and the trade route seemed like the perfect answer. But because the Rays needed a third party to get some of the needed pieces to Cleveland like a catcher and a quality pitcher who could assume any spot, both Clements and Morrow were perfect candidates for the possible trade. But what had the M’s bloggers all giddy and excited. What member of the Rays might have fallen into their laps and gotten such a great response.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Well, the Rays were willing to send left-handed starter Scott Kazmir and shortstop prospect Reid Brignac to the Emerald City. But early on in this trade situation, some wires did get crossed, and some mixed signals did get thrown out over the web. At one point this afternoon, Tampa Tribune sportswriter Marc Lancaster had to get some needed information to calm the Rays faithful. Here are a few of his Tweets from Sat to explain the Brignac episode:

@TBORays “Reid Brignac pulled from Durham game before top of third inning. Definitely a potential trade chip, so something might be up”


@TBORays From what I can gather, doesn’t sound like a trade is imminent with Brignac. Still not sure why he’s out, though.

@TBORays Word from Durham is Reid Brignac was pulled from the game for not hustling to first base.

@TBORays Per Durham manager, Reid Brignac will play 2nd game today. Right leg was bothering him.


So after that I decided to do some detective work and see if
www.cleveland.com was sporting any interesting gossip. But all was silent on the Indians local papers website and in the blog regions. Hopefully by morning we will know more about what might be going on with this entire situation. But before I go, let me also let you in on some of the speculation coming from another source in the Seattle area.


Brian Blanco / AP

It seems that Geoff Baker, who writes for the Seattle Times also had gotten wind of this potential trade. So I wandered over to wwwseattletimes.nwsource/marinersblog and took a look at what he was saying about the potential trade. Here is a small sampling of his take on the whole trade situation concerning all three teams:

“Here’s something to think about, completely my speculation right now, but showing you how this stuff works. Let’s say there really was a three-way deal in the works between Tampa Bay, Cleveland and the Mariners and that Zduriencik was going to acquire Brignac and Scott Kazmir in a deal that would send Brandon Morrow, Jeff Clement and pocket change to the Indians. Maybe the M’s were all set to pull the trigger and that’s why Brignac was pulled.”

That does make sense, but also what make more sense to me is that Scott Kazmir needs a fresh start somewhere. I can see him having a 2010 that would rival Edwin Jackson’s current season up in Detroit. Sometimes you just need to get away and let the stress flow to begin again. And that is what both Kazmir and Brignac need right now. Solid foundation and a chance to play again at their top levels. For Kazmir to be away from Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be the best medicine for him right now.

He has not gotten the program fully that Hickey is trying to teach in Tampa Bay. Kazmir was a success here  ion Tampa Bay before Hickey was hired in November 2006. His style is more centered on “contact” or spot pitching sytle to minimize offensive damage. It is not a system Kazmir can not learn, it just takes away from his power pitching side and makes him rely on location and change of speed on his pitches. 

Brignac is stuck behind a log-jam that is only going to get more crowded at Triple-A, and this opportunity would give him more of a chance to show his stuff at the major league level. With current shortstop Jason Bartlett hitting over .350, and back-up Ben Zobrist becoming the super uber sub of the American League, Brignac is stuck waiting for a chance because of injuries and not abilities. In Seattle he would have a chance to show his stuff and even get noticed by other teams the rest of the season.

And last, but not least is the upgrade the Rays would get with a quality catcher who can also hit for average and power that is currently lacking in Tampa Bay. Sure there might have to be some attitude adjustments before Martinez comes to show he is here for the team and that his “Old Man” comment to Rays Manager Joe Maddon was just in the heat of battle. But the pitching upgrade of Lee could easily be the difference in getting a chance at a playoff spot in 2009.


Duane Burleson / AP

And if all else fails and it is not a success, you know teams will be eager to entertain a trade with the Rays for Lee in the offseason if they feel he is not a solid fit to the rotation for the team. But I still do not see this happening without a single Rays farm system player going to Cleveland. The guy that has been mentioned most in trade chatter has been pitcher Wade Davis. But like Kazmir and Brignac, he has been  a bit stymied the last season waiing for his shot at the MLB level.

No matter what happens between now and the end of the trade deadline, you can be sure you will hear more of these names flashed around on the bottom of your television screens. The tell-tale sign of something brewing behind the scenes in Seattle might be if Cliff Lee doesn’t start on Sunday against the Mariners. If this happens, it is a fair indicator that someone might be making a huge push at getting the former Cy Young leftie for their own……..hopefully in Tampa Bay.

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