Results tagged ‘ Damian Rolls ’

Digging the Rays Past (1996)

 


Raysbaseball.com/MLB.com

Every once in a while I get into one of these research kicks where I want to find out once and for all if something could of, did not, or should of happen concerning the Tampa Bay Rays or any other team. The object of my well, obsession last night was to see if any of the 30 Major League Baseball squads ever attempted to draft current NFL hero and New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees in 1996, when he lettered in baseball at Westlake High School in Dallas,Texas.

So I went on a long and detailed journey checking out every name for almost 100 rounds of the 1996 MLB First Year Draft online, and actually did not find a single mention of the Brees name. Some people might consider this then a waste of time and energy, but I did find a few very interesting secondary targets, and even a score of former Rays players I did not know were initially drafted in 1996.

 
 

The 1996 MLB First YearDraft was actually the starting point for first year player selections ever by the then Tampa Bay Devilrays and it set into motion the initial formation of their minor league ranks in their farm minor league system, which today is considered by many to be the best in baseball. And along the way, I found 24 names listed on that year’s draft board that one day would don the Rays emblem across their chests during a Rays game. 

Most of the Rays faithful know that the D-Rays picked Raleigh, North Carolina native Paul Wilder with the 29th pick in the First Round of that initial draft. But did you know that the last Rays selection in that year’s Draft was High School outfielder Michael Rose from Dayton, Ohio with the 1,736th pick?

 

It was a wild night remembering names and also associating them with past great Rays moments. Out of that first 1996 draft, the highest selected pick from 1996 to don a Rays jersey was outfielder Alex Sanchez from Miami-Dade CC, but most of us might remember him better for the April 3,2005  MLB press release that he would be the first MLB player ever suspended for violating the MLB’s newly instituted drug policy.

Not a great way to be remembered, but Sanchez did not last long with the Rays despite an early 2005 .346 batting average. His wishy-washy defensive play and the suspension might have hastened the Rays to designate him for assignment on June 13th 2005.

 
 

Besides Wilder, there was another name drafted in associated with the D-Rays during that first draft when they selected then, Florida Gators quarterback Doug Johnson in the second round. Even though Johnson did sign and report to a minor league team, he never seems to gather enough mustard to rise through the D-Rays farm system, and finally concentrated his efforts more on staying healthy behind the NFL’s Atlanta Falcon’s offensive line. It was a calculated gamble by the Rays Front Office to try and get Johnson to fit into their system, but the young player always seemed to be more comfortable with a football helmet on his head than the baseball batting helmet.

But what is even more surprising is the large number of other players selected in that season’s draft who would end up one day playing in Rays gear. During the 1996 MLB Draft, other teams ended up selecting a total of 17 players who ended up sporting Rays gear during their playing careers. The highest profile player might be 1B Travis Lee, who was the second pick of the First Round by the Twins that season. Also former Rays players LHP Bobby Seay(CWS), INF/OF Damian Rolls(LAD) and P Nick Bierbrodt(AZ) were all First Round selections that at one point wore Rays colors.

 


AP file Photo 

But down the draft line there were also players like P Chad Bradford(CWS), LP Mark Hendrickson(TEX), P Joe Biemel(TEX), INF Brent Abernathy(TOR),3B/C Eric Munson(ATL) P Joe Nelson(ATL) C Robert Fick(DET),LP Casey Fossum(AZ), DH/1B Josh Phelps(TOR),OF Jason Conti(AZ), P Brandon Backe(MIL), P Ryan Rupe(KC) and P Tim Corcoran(NYM). It is a bit unusual for so many budding players to find their way onto one team and prosper during their careers, but at that time, Tampa Bay was a good starting place to establish yourself within Major League Baseball by showing a good foundation, then moving onto another team with experience under your belt.

 
 

It is funny now to also gather the names of other great players who also debuted  as professionals from that 1996 draft.  Later Round selected Players like Astros P Roy Oswalt(23rd Rd), Cubs P Ted Lilly(23rd Rd),current Free Agent reliever Kiko Calero(27th Rd) just among the top 30 rounds of the draft. The you have guys like Yankee OF Marcus Thames(30th Rd), Indians DH Travis Hafner(31st Rd), Twins 2B Orlando Hudson(33rd Rd), rehabbing P Chris Capuano(45th Rd) and Nats INF Eric Bruntlett(72nd Rd).
 
 

But if you like to win odd baseball Trivia Questions, then I have one for you. You can win some major food or drink concessions (I have) by remembering that the D-Rays reliever Travis Phelps, who was drafted in the 89th Round , and the 1,720th player selected that season is the latest draft pick to ever don a Major League Baseball uniform. And because MLB restructured the Draft since his selection, he will be the answer to that Trivia Question forever. Easy pickings unless you are at a SABR Convention.

But he is not the only D-Rays player selected from that initial 1996 Draft to make it to the professional level and put on the jersey of the team that selected him. He shares that honor with current Rays reliever P Dan Wheeler( 34th Rd), P Mickey Callaway(7th Rd), P Delvin James(14th Rd), and last, but not least, 3B Jared Sandberg(16th Rd). Sandberg also went on to coach in the Rays farm system, and will be the head man with the Hudson Valley Renegades (oh yeah!). This will be Sandberg’s third season coaching in the Rays farm system.

 


 TBO.com file Photo

So last night’s scavenger search brought up some interesting surprises, and also a few great Rays moments for me to envision again within my imagination. It is kind of wild that Rays reliever Wheeler is the lone Rays representative from that initial farm system class of then D-Rays left within the Rays roster. And what it must feel like for him to be here during the lean times, then go away and experience a World Series berth(Astros), then come back and see this Rays organization that drafted him also feel that rush of emotions in securing their first Playoff berth and run towards the 2008 World Series with Wheeler in the Bullpen enjoying the view from field level.

 
 

And there was one more name that was hidden among the mass quantity of names in that 1996 Draft that totally shock and awed me. Hidden way back in the 59th Round, and selected by the Seattle Mariners was a young pitcher named Barry Zito. Some people say that if you fall under the 20th Round in any year’s MLB Draft, your odds greatly swing downward to ever see the light of day as an MLB player at a Major League ballpark. So many of the above mentioned MLB players fell below that invisible line and are living proof that will, determination and great talent can not always get you to the show. Sometimes you need a lucky rabbit’s foot too…….Right Barry?

Matt Joyce is joining a Special Rays Group

 


Steve Nesius / AP

After last night’s game, during the Florida Sports Network post-game interview newly anointed right fielder Matt Joyce acknowledged the fan base in rightfield that was so supportive of him after he hit his second homer in two games. The young right fielder has only been back in the Rays fold since coming back up to start in centerfield for B J Upton during the Sunday afternoon game. He is beginning to get the feeling that the rightfield crowd can make or break a player in Tampa Bay. During the interview he was quick to voice his appreciation for the show of support and loud applause for him so early in his Tampa Bay career.

Joyce is a local guy who dreamed back when he was in Tampa’s Armwood High School of someday patrolling the outfields at Tropicana Field. It is quickly becoming one of those great hometown stories that national and local papers like to use to show the local fan base is alive and well in Tampa Bay. And little by little he will get to know that sometimes this same fan base that is happily clapping cowbells louder and louder for him can be a fickle bunch at times.

From the first game ever for the Rays on March 31, 1998, when current Bench Coach Dave Martinez was the first guy to man the “9” spot for the Rays, the love-hate relationship with our rightfielders have been a very open subject. In that first contest, Martinez got the first hit by a Rays player in history and the crowd in right field was there to show their support for him loud and clear that night. From the days of Martinez to the fan adulation of another right fielder, Bubba Trammel, the position has had its share of positive and negative men man the spot under the Jumbotron. Martinez has since gone on to become another special piece of the Rays puzzle as he is the second eyes and ears of Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but you know he still has a special place in his heart for that rightfield corner.

Martinez played with Tampa Bay until they traded him to the Chicago Cubs in 2000 for pitcher Mark Guthrie.  Most of all, Martinez had played in over 1,799 games as a player and did not get to the post season one time. During his first stint as a coach for the Rays, he got his dream and more in 2008.  But it might have been the tough guy Bubba Trammell that so far has been the most revered of Tampa Bays rightfielders.

He was the chosen object of affection of the old 142 Crew, which sat out in Section 142 of the Trop and cheered for him nightly. And he was the kind of guy you wanted to see achieve great things. He was a hustler and a gambler on the field, and carried a big bat into the box with him nightly. Originator of the 142 Crew,Ted Fleming, who now is a member of the local media for The Examiner.com covering the Rays and hosts his own sports radio show on WSRQ-1220 AM in Sarasota, Florida was one of the first to loudly and proudly cheer for Trammell. 

His 142 Crew used to be so vocal during Trammell’s at bats that the Rays stopped the music early so that the “Bubba” chant could be heard throughout the stadium. 
Trammel was one of those guys you wanted to see do good and excel in the game.  After his short time in Rays-land, current Kansas City Royal Jose Guillen enjoyed moments among the Rays rightfield crazies. But who knows, maybe the 142 Crew can reunite and find a second life now in Section 142 again with the likes of Matt Joyce patrolling the outfield fences.

But there have been a host of great outfielder to gain fans vocal support in the past in right field. Current Royals rightfielder Jose Guillen spent a few seasons listening to the cheers and jeers in the Trop. Guillen was known mostly for his rifle arm that just seemed to be able to pinpoint and throw out anyone on the base paths.  The you had the always smiling Damian Rolls, who was more of a Ben Zobrist clone in the early 2000-2002 seasons.

He used to play wherever and when ever the Rays needed him, but he liked playing rightfield for the fans yelling where the base runner was right before he turned around to throw. Jonny Gomes, another fan favorite for his playing style that seemed more “Pete Rose”-style than anyone else to ever put on a Rays jersey used to love jogging out to right field because of the cheers he got every night from the fans. He also made sure to reward them with balls ever so often to show his appreciation for the fans support.

Jose Cruz Jr. also made a stop with the Rays after playing for the rival Toronto Blue Jays and saw a quick difference in the jeers to cheers he got for finally playing for the Rays. Cruz used to batter Rays pitching in Tropicana Field, and he continued to hit well in the Trop while he was with the Rays. Even when Gabe Gross first took his right field spot in 2008 after being traded to the Rays, the crowd made sure to welcome him on his first night with a thunderous applause.

But not everyone who played rightfield was met with cheers every night. Some players who played out there actually dreaded some of the nights they had to go out and play in right field. To say the rightfield crews were not well versed in baseball would be a crime. But some of the guys who have also manned the spot forgot how to play the game sometimes. Ben Grieve came to the Rays after a great beginning to his career in Oakland.

He never seemed to be at home here and quickly he seemed to garner the vocal backlash from the fans. His playing style was not accepted by the Rays faithful because he seemed to be so lackadaisical about the simple things of the sports. Add that to some hitting woes and it was a recipe for insults and catcalls for the young player.

But the fans seemed to be just getting started because after Grieve left the Rays, another player came out to play in rightfield who always seemed to get a mixed bag of reactions from the fans. Aubrey Huff did not come out and vocally state he did not like playing in right field, but sometimes it did give that impression to the fans out there.

Even though he was still a monster at the plate, his defense in right was questioned a few times during his brief time out there. Huff played his last baseball in Tampa Bay in rightfield, and even to that last day the fans always held him in a love-hate relationship.

But the guy who seemed to be the most hated rightfielder was not a member of the New York Yankees, or even the Boston Red Sox. He was a guy who was quiet on the field and might have even been hated or despised even before his first game in a Rays uniform. Delmon Young never seemed to have gotten a fair break from the rightfield fans, but then again, he never reached out to them either.

The young star held an air of entitlement and fut
ure glory from the moment he first stepped towards the slanted rightfield corner. Most of that was played out in comments and actions by him while he was coming up through the Rays minor league system.

But his lack of general respect for the game was not lost on the rightfield faithful, and they rained down on him whenever he made a goof or a mistake, even a unintentional blunders on the base paths. I can not say he never got a fair shot, but he also never seemed to care, so the rightfield fans fed on that and rain down catcalls more than cheers for him while he was here. 

So the Rays fans have embraced the young Joyce and have seen greatness in him. The best part is that he has been here before in his career. Unfortunately he was in leftfield, but he has heard the roars from the right field stands before and might have been more aware of the fans because of his 2008 time with the Detroit Tigers.

Most might remember that he went  2-8 during the Tigers only visit to Tropicana Field from August 1-3, 2008. In that game he played two contests in leftfield, but made impressions for his hustle and defensive skills. He also played in all four of the Tigers home game against the Rays from September 25-28, 2008, but only managed to secure one hit in that series. He is off to a great start in his career with the Rays.

He has made a great impression in the spring when he came back from his ankle and calf situations to pound the ball late in Spring Training.  So far with the Rays he is 6 for 17 for a nice .363 average to start the fans in his favor. His 6 RBI, with 4 just last night will also go a long way in securing the fan’s early support for the young star.


Mike Carlson / AP

Rightfield in Tropicana Field has seen its good and bad times. But the players who have manned that position have made not only a impression into Rays history, but some of them still are considered a part of the Rays family. Joyce is just the latest in the line of great players to man the “9” spot, but with his future bright and the crowd behind him.

He could easily move into cult status like Jonny Gomes or Bubba Trammell with a great season for the Rays.  And wouldn’t it be great to see more signs like the one last night that said, “The Right Choice…. Matt Joyce” ever night in rightfield.

D No Longer Stands for DevilRays

I know by now, most of the Tampa bay area has seen the leaked view of the 2008 uniforms for the Devilrays.

For years, the team has been trying to use the term “Devilrays” only in formal setting and in MLB business. For the past few years, the Home jerseys have read “Rays” and showed the slight feel of the franchise in letting the devil flow back into the murky waters off Tampa Bay.

I personally think that the name is not as important to me. But, in reality, I like the phrase “Rays” better than “Devilrays” for the fact of I hate to hear the church loving faction keep harping on that name  for the simple fact of  their personal agendas of political correctness.

That phrase is not evil or demonic. If it was, Vince Namoli would have sold his collective soul for a World Series ring or two.

The new 2008 unveiled design features a longer “barbed” tail on the letter “R” in Rays. and a more pronounced blue hue in the designs. I was seriously hoping that the team would just use the green hued “Rays” that currently adorn the jerseys.

 I am  aware of the teams announced “wants”  of a more traditional colors and look for the uniforms. I loved the idea that the old Road shirts had “Tampa Bay” on them and the Home shirts were simply “Rays.”

 The look of the new “R” seems more futuristic than retro. I really loved the old logo for its lettering and thought they would just dress it up a bit, not put a tail in the “R”.

 People forget that were almost formally bought and moved a few franchises in the past here before getting our team. The Giants, Mariners,Twins, A’s and another Florida expansion team missed our field before getting our  existing team.  I understand the need to appeal to the MLB upper echelon. Remember, they do make the rules.

 I am  wondering if the images were an attempt to sell out the teams coffers with the old style uniforms during the last home stand of the year. They will become instant collector’s items come Thursday morning and you might see a few Sox and Yanks take some home as items for the closet as an investment. I also think that a savvy marketing person can see the dollar signs and the upcoming “Fandemodium” celebration to end with the game worn shirts being given to loyal fans on the field after next Thursday nights game.

 The following two items also make that night a piece of history:

1) It is the end of the 10th Anniversary of our existance,

2) the uniform changes make this the last set of jerseys of this type to be seen on the field, even in Spring Training.

 I have been lucky enough to have received 9 of the jerseys from the “Shirts Off Their Backs” promo event. The event this year will again feature the option of buying scratch off tickets to reveal wining selections for a number of prizes. The jerseys are thought to be a top prize. I personally like the “suite for a night” item.

Last year, I also got 2 nights at the Seminole Hard Rock hotel. I can tell you that those rooms were the cream of the crop. My room had a balcony and a view of the pool area. My girlfriend looked like an angel staring into the December night with the window open and the  rock music blaring from the rooms CD player. Oh, my room key had a custom made CD of music to enjoy after the stay in the hotel.

Talk about a cool night with a hot babe………oops, forgot what I was writing about here.

I have been lucky and blessed to have received the following jerseys on that faithful night/day following the last game:  Jared Sandberg, Damian Rolls, Jorge Sosa, Jesus Colume, BJ Upton, Jose Guillen, Rocco Baldelli, Randy Winn, and last year, Edwin Jackson.

 It is the ultimate fan experience to step out on the field after the game and have a player peel that jersey off his back and give it to you. They have always signed the jersey and taken a photo with me to show the actual presentation of the shirt.

 It is also my last chance to say goodbye and wish a few select players that have befriended me during my time as a Season ticket holder for the team. I look forward to it with a lot of pleasure and hope for the well being of all the players during the off season. The night usually concluded with a group photo that you can always find me in the picture. Every year I do something different to stand out in the pic.  Maybe this year I will wear one of the old black light inspired caps that seemed to even glow in the dark in my closet.

 I guess the best way to sum up this blog is in the hope that with the new Uni’s, they Rays’ now develop and mature that great winning attitude to produce a pennant for the rafters.

Let’s Go Joe………………

 

 

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