Results tagged ‘ David Price ’

Niemann Should Claim the Rays Fifth Slot

So the Tampa Bay Rays are going to draw this drama out for one more day. Seems kind of silly since we basically know that barring a possible trade, the team will probably hoist the “Tall Texan” Jeff Niemann as their fifth starter for the regular season. His main opponent, Wade Davis has basically conceded the decision after a bad outing in his last Spring start. With Davis’s comments after his start on Sunday, you would have thought the decision was already made and he was eager to hit the Bullpen and come out swinging this season in the latter innings.

But do not think a little competitive edge did not favor Niemann since he has clearly been in this position before and has played his part staying consistent on the mound this Spring, trying to provide ammunition for name being selected for the last rotation spot. It was only a few seasons ago Niemann and Jason Hammel were in different minor league games that were to decide the fifth spot, but Hammel ended up being traded to the Colorado Rockies at the conclusion of that day’s activities, which made that Springs decision moot.

In all honesty, Niemann has done nothing this Spring to fall from grace with the Rays staff. Even his refusal of a small raise and going to salary arbitration over a measly $500,000 ( he lost) was viewed as a “business decision” and the Rays front office holds no animosity towards his Winter decision. In hindsight, the fact Niemann had the confidence and internal constitution to stand up to the Rays in arbitration. Some say arrogance can be the best gift for a pitcher.

In Niemann’s corner is the fact he has posted 3 straight 10+ wins seasons as a starter. Only former Ray Scott Kazmir can say the same. How soon we all forget Niemann started 2011 0-3 in 4 starts before he went 11-4 in 19 starts the rest of the season.  Add onto this the fact Niemann has been an amazing “road warrior” for the Rays holding a .700 winning percentage (21-9) over the last 3 years, which is second best in the majors. Suddenly you see a big hidden part of Niemann’s success for the Rays.

But could Niemann or Davis be headed elsewhere, and the current decision is being withheld as the Rays take a last chance last-minute offering for someone currently “out of country”. It is pretty common knowledge by now that the Rays covet Oakland A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki as a great addition to their backstop corp and want to bring him into their fold. Problem is, neither Niemann nor Davis really whets A’s GM Billy Beane’s whistle, but with a delayed announcement and the Athletics playing over the International Dateline in Japan, maybe the time difference is Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman’s last grasp to try to land Suzuki.

Add into the equation that fact that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has set a few parameters as to who would get the “ 5th gig”, and with Davis’s ERA sitting at an uncomfortable 4.91, barring a trade or possibly Niemann getting knocked out by a crossbeam in the Rays Clubhouse, the decision seems a bit moot.

One of Maddon’s prerequisites was “ who can help us win game early on in the season”. Not sure if either of the two pitchers have distanced themselves in this category, but if you take into consideration Maddon second criteria of “ who can be effective in the Bullpen”, then Niemann is the guy who will inherit the 5th slot. If Niemann had great reliever qualities, he would have at least had a reserved seat in the Bullpen in October, but he was not even on the Rays post season roster.

Not knocking Niemann as a reliever, but the guy tends to need more time to warm-up, and as a reliever, your time is extremely limited. Add onto that the fact Davis has already commented he would go to the Bullpen and “kick butt”. Even based on that kind of comment by Davis, you get the honest feeling that the decision has already been made in at least one player’s mind.

Maybe this is a blessing in disguise for Davis who sometimes tends to hide some of his velocity on the hill, keeping it in reserve if needed. In the Bullpen, he can let it rain strikes and bring it full-bore and I bet Niemann will be the first guy to greet him on the dugout steps.

Some will say Niemann is the more polished of the two, but he has also shown a quality of getting fatigued and injured at the most important moments over the last few seasons. Still, Niemann boasts a .639 winning percentage over the last 3 MLB seasons (min 75 starts), and that is currently 8th best in the majors and  is 27 points above Rays southpaw David Price (.612 percent). That is a considerably nice “stat” egg to have in your basket when consistency and winning are huge factors in this decision.

It was really Niemann’s position to lose this Spring. Barring an injury over the last few games or a trade out of leftfield, he owns the 5th slot in the Rays rotation. The deeper you look into consecutive good outings and subsequential winning streaks, Niemann stands head and shoulders above Davis for that last rotation spot. But then again, there are not many who stand taller on the hill than the Texan.

GTL Rays Style

I know almost everyone has heard of the phrase GTL made famous now by the MTV series “Jersey Shore”. Well considering they did a stint in South Florida a few years ago, I am thinking we should do a small homage to the GTL events that members of the Tampa Bay Rays could have done for today’s “off day”. The original meaning of course was Gym, Tan and Laundry for the Seaside Heights, New Jersey crew, but I’m thinking the Port Charlotte, Florida regiment has their own versions of this classic phrasing.

Gas, Tan, Lotion: You know a few of the younger and single members of the Rays hit the area beaches since it is Spring Break for college students around the country. Since this region of SW Florida tends to have some of the best beaches in the country, it is only natural students would hit this region not only for the emerald waters and picture-perfect sunsets, but the allure of professional athletes possibly throwing a football or getting some extra tannage on the newly minted white domes.

Grate, Trowel, Luck: Just a few miles up the coast from Port Charlotte is Venice Beach. The reason I mention this is it has an activity at this peaceful beach that is special to this part of Florida, and it can be a great adventure for families or just a group of friends. It is shark tooth hunting, and it is as simple as it sounds. All you do is wade out into the estuary waterways scoop up a shovel load of bottom soil and sift it through a grate/filter system with the remnants and fine-toothed enamel teeth of long gone sharks materialize in the trays. Sure most can be of the small or even tiny variety, but every once in a while you can see a huge tooth of a species that used to not only swam this region, but possibly perished somewhere in land up the Peace or Alafia rivers.

Photo @HallerDave

Gig,Troll,Land ‘em: Several members of the Rays PR Department today hit the Boca Grande flats and open waters to fish, relax and sue it as their own bonding moment themselves. Just like the Rays squad, these guys will be together over that 180 day stretch and finding common ground, landing a few tasty lunch morsels and getting some Sun on their own newly mowed heads will do wonders come April.

Grip, Tee, Links: Considering so many of the Rays also are pretty good on the golf links, you could easily see the likes of B J Upton, David Price, James Shield, Matt Joyce and even Evan Longoria tee up a few at one of the local golf courses. With a day off, the links can be a great way to just have fun at a leisurely pace, kick back and clown a bit with friends and just enjoy a hot and humid Florida Spring day. Problem is, will these crews allow mulligans?

Grease, Tighten, Loosen: Who knows, maybe Rays skipper Joe Maddon could have gotten a few of his squad to help him do a bit of fix-up on his new ’55 Chevy. I remember someone telling me earlier the new ride had some spongy brakes, and this could be an additional bonding moment as Maddon, maybe a few of his staff and a player or two tinkering under the hood of a car most people can fix without a CPU system. I know I would have volunteered for that duty.

I know a majority of the team possibly just slept in later, did errands and adventures with their family, possibly doing some breakfast in one of the quaint and great restaurants in the region before embarking on day trips or even just lounging out enjoying the sights and sounds of their families. This was a needed moment for this team as a day like this can do so much to recharge and energize a team as they begin to enter the stretch run of the Grapefruit League season or as I like to call it Grapefruit, Tangerine and Lemon league. That’s my version of Spring GTL.

 

Rays + Laughter = Pure Magic

Coming into Spring Training, the Tampa Bay Rays have 20 of the 25 members of the 2011 squad back for another chance at the brass ring. That fact by itself is amazing, but considering the youth and talent of this group, that could also be a seasonal occurance for a while. And with that familiarity of the personnel comes a consistency, a confidence and most of all a bond that almost nothing can break.

Humor seems to be the bond of this young squad. From veteran 1B Carlos Pena producing a small masterpiece with resident comedian C Steven Vogt impersonating Rays skipper Joe Maddon to a nationwide acknowledgment of this talented group off the turf by INF Eliot Johnson as he nails ESPN’s resident leprechaun Tim Krukjian, humor rules the Rays roost.

From their great road trip ensembles of years past, to their annual Spring talent reveal, this Rays team knows the value of a giggle, belly laugh or even a practical joke. That lends a lot to a young team fighting for an identity. It bonds each member a bit tighter together and with that comes a more refined unity needed over the grueling 162 game schedule.

No matter if it is a joke, a story or even a off-the-cuff impression, the antics this young team does in the dugout, clubhouse or even in public shows they do not take themselves too seriously and know their day job comes with stress, but comic relief is only a conversation away.

Some might not guess, but this humor also keeps peop-le in check. How can we all forget the sunflower seed shower given to Rays P David Price during a live interview in 2011 when fellow hurler James Shields decided Price needed a bit of props/sunflower seeds for the interview process. I still chuckle at the mention of this event because it firmly illustrates the loose vibe in this clubhouse and the players ability to not take themselves so seriously.

Laughter by itself is also a great indicator of the closeness and unity of this Rays squad. For to laugh at yourself or others and take it with a grain of salt is the measure of this team grasping the reality that every win is critical, but sometimes steams has to be let off, and laughing is better than a more votatile alternative.

Joking around both before, during and after the game has been around for as long as players have taken to the diamond. It is a productive way to let off steam, do karma patrol action to players who’s follies might be known or personal as well as keep themselves loose and ready for anything. As long as this team stays in this humerous state, I think this team can go as far as their on the field talents take them. But if the laughter tends to cease in the clubhouse and on the field, then it is time to worry about these guys.

E-10, Photographer Throw High and Wide on Rays Spring Photos

If the recent Tampa Bay Rays Team Spring photos is any indication, I am starting to think the Tampa Bay Rays 2012 season is going to be more back to the basic, nothing flashy or disrupting to the status quo of the “Rays Way”. Maybe I was anticipating a re-visit or renewal of the grandeur and glamor of the Rays 2010 Spring Team photos that took my breath away, and made you wanted to see more of them.

2010 Evan Longoria Photo

If the 2012 Team Spring photos are any indication, this season is going to be a bare bones, nose to the grindstone, no huge frills and spills kind of season…not that this is a bad thing, maybe I set my expectations too high this season. But then again, it is Spring and hope has to grow eternal and unbridled.

Sure the 41 photos recently uploaded to the Zimbio webpage by photographer Jonathan Ferrey had some unusual and classic poses within their compositions, but somehow a large glove-full of the Rays possible 2012 roster personnel missed their camera time with the Zimbio photog. At least we know Rays 3B Evan Longoria got a few extra shots. Maybe dating a Playmate does have some photo advantages, but a total of 13 individual photos? Longo is one of the cornerstones of this team’s offensive and defensive foundations, but so many other cogs of the machine are missing, lost their possible chance in this annual Rays ritual of Spring.

Jeff Salazar

Sure C Mark Thomas and OF Jeff Salazar who are both Rays Spring Training invitees got their respective mugs/poses on a photo, but missing were a huge slice of the Rays other core players like starter Wade Davis, Rays Bullpen members JP Howell, Brandon Gomes, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and newcomers Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke.  Is it even imaginable that each and every one of these players somehow missed the vocal call for photos? Am I the only one who feels it is purely insane that 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson would have, could have somehow missed his 2012 photo chance, or was it a captive selection of players designated by the Zimbio photographer?

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the possible MLB bolo report put out since the “Legend” Sam Fuld, infielders Jeff Keppinger, Ben Zobrist, and Eliot Johnson must have mis-placed their “memos” possibly on their photo chance. Even more disappointing is that Carlos Pena somehow missed the photo cut…Really?

Want another firm kick in the proverbial teeth, the only catcher featured in the photo shoot was Jose Molina, and that was only for 1 photo. Heck even Reid Brignac got more photos than Molina, and he is not guaranteed a starting slot. I know there is a growing army of female Rays followers who would love to see a recent photo of Robinson “Honey Nut” Chirinos or even Jose Lobaton, but they will have to drive to the Charlotte Sports Park and take their own this Spring.

Maybe I got used to the flash and glamor set forth by those 2010 photos that had every single member of the Rays squad, including the Coaching staff in some sort of pose or hitting posture with the added sun flare somewhere within the photo framing. Maybe I was expecting something grand, a statement by the Rays this season as they start their 15th season.

But there were some positives in this set of photos of the 2012 Rays. We got to actually see what top Rays prospect Hak-Ju Lee will look like in a Rays uniform. We already know Lee can dance, and his bat has some magic in it, but seeing him in the Rays whites definitely makes you eager and hoping for the Rays future shortstop to make some additional magic happen during his minor league season so we can see him in that uniform possibly in September.

Maybe I am nitpicking here a bit, but I have come to expect more, especially after that grand and fabulous 2009 Spring photo package. Heck, even Rays skipper Joe Maddon had a possible glamor shot in 2009 that to this day might be one of the best photos of the Rays newly extended Manager.

I possibly wanted something again to “pop” off the screen of my computer, wished for another set of dynamic photos taken that would get my blood pumping, the sweat beading around my cap and the Rays Republic making photo copies of the team photos for signatures in the future. Not sure if any of these Rays Spring photos will be seen on the sidelines before games in 2012. Certainly doubt it (shudder).

Rays Fan Fest 2012 was a Walk-Off Grand Slam

Pulling off an event the size of Rays Fan Fest must keep some within the confines of the Tampa Bay Rays 4th floor sleepless, anxious and maybe a bit stir-crazy at times. Hundreds of emails, untold hours of planning, confirmations and re-confirmation must make it a logistical nightmare that rivals a major NCAA bowl game. All this energy, physical exertion and mental numbness accumulating with a huge bang over a 7 hour period.

If the crowd was any indication, then this year’s Fan Fest might be a precursor to another extraordinary Rays MLB run to who knows what new plateau. The building felt different when I entered on Saturday. Maybe it was the simple fact I was not in the first wave of fans for a change, or maybe it is the electricity and anticipation that was heavy in the air as I strutted into the tilted roof home of the Rays. Everything seemed bolder, more vibrant, more animated this year.

From the MLB Alumni wiffle ball contest that featured a Grand Salami by the Big O, former Marlin Orestes Destrade or the presence of former HR slugger Roger Maris’s son and grandson, the Trop just seemed more colorful and ready for exploration. With the added Internet celebrity factor and exclamation point in the wiffle ball contest of Sean Steffy (@Wiffleball28) who is better known as the world’s greatest wiffle ball pitcher. I was transfixed on the game even as Travis Phelps had an HR dashed by the big hands of Eric Knott. It was great to see kids running the bases, all smiling, giggling and giving up high-fives to the former MLB players.

As some people mumbled and grumbled about the $50 autograph wristband, it was not lost to me that the event helped build a nest egg of over $100,000 for the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Association Florida Chapter. From Rays skipper Joe Maddon and his new dark brown locks to even hearing Kyle Farnsworth reading to children without any intimidation, the event truly was one for the record books. And the crowd expanded to bulging capacity more than once as travel around the Trop during this Fan Fest was very packed in, but respectful.

The event even had more than a hint of animal presence as the Rays new mascot DJ Kitty got his first moment on the AstroTurf, and Rays SP David Price brought his canine wing-man Astro to the event, which sparked photos, conversations and general smiles from people of all ages. DJ Kitty sporting his trademark huge Rays 2008 AL Championship ring has evolved a lot since his first appearance on the Rays Jumbotron. Now he will be another added fan experience at Rays game along with Raymond.

The kid’s Interactive zone was packed with excited kids, parents and Rays staff member as pint-sized future Rays dashed through obstacle courses, threw pitches or try to hit one into the LF seats in the wiffle ball field. During all of this Rays players made spot appearances at the basketball game, the High-Five Station at the end of the Run the Bases event, plus talked to friends, family or just anyone you chose at the Metro PCS Call-A-Friend table.

I still marvel at how much the Pepsi displayed have also become a spectacle ever since I erected the first one back in 2004 on the field. It has become a feature backdrop not only for the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame inductions, but for panel discussions and fan interaction with Rays players and personnel. From my first mild-mannered 1,000 case display to the present monstrosity on caffeine, it was again a constant background for photos and memorable pictures with kids and fans. Everywhere you looked on this day you saw smiles, people exchanging greetings and awaiting the new 2012 season with enthusiasm and glee.

This event for so many signals the end of Winter and the insurgence of not only Spring, but the renewal of our favorite game. Fan Fest means so many things to so many. Some came for the great deals on collectibles and autographed items in the two selected areas of sales merchandise. From team authenticated items near the old stick ball court beyond the left field seats to the huge outlying of items in the usual Corona Beach section, there was something for every Rays fan, even an old cap commemorating the Rays 2004 trip to the Far East (I bought one).

I secluded myself in my usual post 1 pm section near the entrance point for the Rays players in Section 134 not only to say hello and greet some of the Rays long and new faithful back to the Trop, but to also see their faces as they came up the tunnel and saw that huge amassed crowd. To a t, the players all seemed to take an extra second at the top of the stairs to take in the whole spectacle and immerse themselves in this great Rays Fan Fest vibe.

I even got a chance to see the first meeting of Rays new DH Luke Scott and owner Stuart Sternberg just beyond the Rays autograph area. Sternberg who few down from New York especially for the event must have a sore face today from all of the smiling and love shown by the fans at this year’s event. Some say this season is critical to the Rays future success in the region, and if the crowd is any indication, baseball is alive and well in Tampa Bay.

I could also see from my vantage point the smiles on Rays staffers from Fan Hosts to the Rays Promotions Department as the hum of voices and energy in the Trop inhaled and exhaled throughout the day. I gazed down the Rays promotional schedule and saw more than a few “must-have” items that not only peaked my interest, but had some sentimental appeal. Who would not want a Evan Longoria mini drum set, or hold onto a Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore or DJ Kitty figurine. From the Rays Opening Day schedule magnet to their last promotion of the season, the Rays fan favorite bobblehead, this is definite another Walk-off win ( do not forget the Longo Walk-off figurine on 4/21) for this Rays Department.

This season’s Fan Fest was a monster. Both in attendance, the level of excitement and even the plucking of Rays host Rusty Kath with a wiffle ball that is sure to be a Youtube sensation (currently only 74 views, but climbing). From Sternberg down to the Rays interns, there has to be an added level of excitement and confidence heading into Tuesday’s report date for Pitchers and Catchers in Port Charlotte, Florida. If this Fan Fest is any indication, it could be a great season both on and off the field for the Rays organization. And it all started with this annual rite of Spring by the Rays. I am giddy to see what unfolds next.

 

Random Rays Fan Fest photos on my Flickr photostream

Rays Fan Fest Autograph Times

I promised a few of you I would post the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest autograph participants and their relative time online as soon as humanly possibly. Well, they came out earlier today and of course I was in the middle of working for a living. So without further ado, here is the tentative autograph time for the Rays players to sign at this years Fan Fest.

Do not forget, if you want to participate in the Exclusive Signing Opportunity ($200-500), you have until midnight tonight to make your purchase for this special event away from the usual hustle and bustle of Fan Fest.

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Ryan Reid Tim Beckham Jeff Keppinger Ricky Orta Kyle Farnsworth
11:30 – 12:30 p.m. Brandon Guyer Burke Badenhop Robinson Chirinos Brandon Gomes Matt Mangini
12:30 – 1:15 p.m. J.P. Howell Matt Joyce Wade Davis Sean Rodriguez Jose Molina
1:15 – 1:45 p.m. Evan Longoria Don Zimmer Jeremy Hellickson (open) (open)
1:45 – 2:30 p.m. Chris Archer Carlos Peña Desmond Jennings Alex Cobb Matt Moore
2:30 – 3 p.m. B.J. Upton (open) (open) James Shields David Price
3. – 4 p.m. Luke Scott Fernando Rodney Cesar Ramos Jose Lobaton Josh Lueke
4. – 4:45 p.m. (open) Nevin Ashley Romulo Sanchez Stephen Vogt Craig Albernaz
** Schedule subject to change

2012 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic

Professional athletes have a special format and platform to help educate and introduce us to charities and organization that are among us that without their support or enlightenment might go unnoticed or suffer financial downfalls and possible extinction. This is one of the many reasons I have chosen to be a part of the annual Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. Well, that and helping out one of my true baseball friends.

His 2012 event again was overflowing with support from the baseball and sports community of Tampa Bay. From the Tampa Bay Lightning to former and current athletes coming together to help support Hall and The Miracle League, the event was a winner from the arrival of the first golfer. This year the event took on a different feel for me. Hall had announced his official retirement as a player earlier in the year, and now his focus and determination was focused and pin-pointed towards helping those organizations that touched at his heart strings.

I also took on a different face within the classic this year as I was on the opposite end of the camera lens taking photos of some of the golfing pairings, and getting some unseen shots while accompanying Hall and his entourage around the course during the days events. It was great to see former Tampa Bay sports icons like Tampa Bay Bucs RB Mike Alstott, T E Dave Moore, K Martin Gramatica. and the Bucs mega fan Big Nasty made the region’s football presence known at the event. Other NFL participants were Kansas City Chiefs TE Anthony Becht and former Jets, Bengals and Bucs OL Matt O’Dwyer.

As usual, the Major League Baseball community both in Tampa Bay and with a bevy of former Rays made the bulk of the events celebrity attendees, each bringing their own spin and special moments to the event. Current members of the Rays showing their support for the former Rays backstop included SP David Price who formed Team Price along with teammates SS Reid Brignac and CF B J Upton. Also attending the event was SP James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and RF Matt Joyce who all acted as celebrity golfers in the classic’s pairings.

But Rays players were not the only one having fun on the links this day, Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley, former Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez, Bench coach Bill Evers, former Rays Hitting Coach Steve Henderson and former Rays OF and current Montgomery Biscuits Coach Ozzie Timmons made their rounds Thursday. Former Rays bat boy and current Toronto Blue Jays P Jesse Litsch was also on hand as well as FSN Sports and Rays Television broadcast man-on-the-move Todd Kalas who came out to support the event plus performed some spontaneous Awards Dinner MC work that inspired the evenings auctions.

Several other former Rays and long time supporters of the classic which included a pair of new Chicago Cubs, LHP Trever Miller and RP Andy Sonnanstine, plus new Indians RP Dan Wheeler who made their annual show of support for their former teammate. Former Rays backstop Gregg Zaun again brought his humor and great vibe to the event along with Washington Nationals OF Jason Michaels who again brought his unique putter and local radio “babe” and original Hooters icon Lynne Austin who I still owe a Bloody Mary. Local NBA icon and restaurant owner Matt Geiger also showed his tall and big presence on the links.

It was a great day on the greens and fairways and I had a great time talking and shooting the breeze with many of the celebrities and amateurs who took to the links. With great weather and great bonding on the golf course, the night’s final event brought the whole day to an eventual climax. Along with the raffles and awards presentation, Hall then introduced a group that had touched more than his heart strings to the assembled crowd.

Hall spoke of his recent introduction to another great baseball related group called Buddy Baseball that pairs a volunteer with a special needs player and they bond both on and off the field. His emotional moment touched so many in the crowd, and showed us another great organization to not only keep an eye on, but help develop into the successful model The Miracle League has become around the Tampa Bay area. Hall presented the group with a $ 4,000 check on this night, and with it came a rush of emotions all over the room and with the players and staff.

So many of the works and events that athletes do both in Tampa Bay or around the country do not get their “just desserts” within the local media. I volunteer for these events every Spring not to glamorize the athletes involved, but hope to inspire and promote others within the region to also join the path to helping these organizations have continued success and expansion into other Tampa Bay regions. Knowing that Hall has included the Baseball Buddies group now with The Miracle League charity it is a great moment for special needs kids and adults around the Tampa Bay area to have that unique baseball experience and enjoy the game.

Post Script:

I will be posting all my additional photos of the 2012 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic on my Flickr page (Rays Renegade) if you might desire to re-post or download a photo for your own.

Toby Hall’s (Surprise) Retirement Party

It was suppose to be a pairing party in advance of the 2012 Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. It was suppose to be one of those meet and greet opportunities for the duffers to meet other members of their foursome, and also celebrate another awesome tournament. That was the plan Toby Hall had in his mind before he entered the Courtside Grille last night.

Instead it became an impromptu Retirement Party complete with the obligatory pine wooden rocking chair that party invitees were asked to sign and give their well wishes to Hall as he embarks on other adventures in his post MLB life like watching his kids grow up, and devote more time to his charity and other worthwhile endeavors. It was an event I did not want to miss.

There were people coming out of the proverbial woodwork for this honor like former Rays owner Vince Namoli who looked very relaxed and had even lost a few pounds. Former Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez came to the event as well as former Rays Bullpen Coach Glenn Ezell and current Bullpen Catcher/Enforcer Scott Cursi. The showing of support from former players on a night usually reserved for the menial task of assigning pairings was a complete success.

 In the crowd was also former Rays OF Randy Winn, Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher/ Rays Bat boy Jesse Litsch, hurler Boof Bonser and Tampa Bay Bucs Defensive Back Ronde Barber. On the screens around the bar played a photo montage of Hall’s days both at Triple-A Durham, Tampa Bay and his stint with the White Sox. Food was plentiful, drinks were flowing and the room held a great vibe of well wishes and a few well placed cards and present for Hall and his family.

As the pairing were being announced, it was immediately noticeable that this season’s tournament had a few extra Rays names being bellowed out like P David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, SS Reid Brignac, CF B J Upton, RF Matt Joyce along with Rays farm Coach Ozzie Timmons, Jason Michaels and the always entertaining Gregg Zaun. Former Rays RP Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler Andy Sonnanstine, Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks plus that strapping young lad, FSN Florida/Rays traveling ambassador of good times Todd Kalas. The event seems to have exploded this season with the addition of several Rays player who will be first time attendees this year. The show of great support for Hall and his main charity, the Miracle League should make this the best tournament turnout and fundraising in the Toby Hall Foundation’s history.

It was a great time to show our admiration and respect for a player who gave his all for the Rays, and is still considered the best to ever squat behind the plate. Hall may be leaving the game a bit earlier than he expected, or wanted, but his foundation, his children and his wife will be more devoted attention. If Hall takes to his retirement that way he called games and hit at the plate, then he will again be hitting for the fences. Go get ‘em Toby!

Anxiously Awaiting the Rays Report Date

I do not know about you, but the next 14 days will surely seem like trying to get that last drop of molasses out of that stupid bottle. For as the climax and celebration of Super Bowl is finally beginning to get out of our ears and thoughts, now the baseball world begins to get their Spring priorities right and think of the American Pastime. With the last bit of cool crispness in the air, it will be time to pound a few dozen balls into newly oiled mitts and try out a few new pitch variations, and hopeful improvements.

14 days until the Tampa Bay Rays again try to mess up the status quo among the American League East. 14 days until we see what Rays starter Jeff Niemann has up his sleeve to make this team fall in love with him again and possibly jettison another piece of the Rays rotation puzzle to a destination unknown. Or will the magic that Rays rookie Matt Moore displayed in late September and October translate into a slot on the MLB roster, or a few months vacation in Durham until Niemann’s first anticipated soreness issue. This could only start a countdown for Rays SP Wade Davis too as teams are watching his every move as the Rays are surely going to have to make at least 1 painful starting pitching decision before the Rays Opening Day on April 6th.

14 days until we find out if new Rays RP Fernando Rodney will take a moment with Rays starter James Shields and try to get a fresh prospective and grip on his Change-Up. Shields would seem to be the perfect candidate for Rodney to chum up to considering his variable speed pitch is considered one of the best in the majors.

14 days until we see if the off-season was the time needed for Rays leftie J P Howell to again become “the Dude” providing long curves and a renewed vigor and vitality to his fastball, possibly topping 89 MPH by the season’s start. I truly hope and want Howell to have a revitalized Spring, or he might be re-named “ The Dud”. Along with Howell, there is considerable chatter on if the Rays will again hold onto 3 southpaws which could mean a trip to the minors or elsewhere for fellow left-handers Cesar Ramos ( no options) and Jake McGee (1 option).

14 days until we see who out of the Rays young backstop stable of Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos want the Rays back-up gig and produce defensive gems and offensive dreams from a position with loads of talent, but lacking in MLB catching experience. That will also be the moment we see just how much in the gas tank for “the other Molina” Jose. Will he excel at the Rays weak spot in the batting order, or become another Rays casualty destined to watch the young bucks get the starts while he mends.

14 days until we see the sophomore effort of Hellboy take place. Will he again find his demonic rhythm that had everyone in baseball envying the upstart Rays? Can Hellboy improve on his walk to strikeout ratio, and more importantly improve on his ground ball ratio to let his great defense behind him help him gain victories and accolades. Will the young right-hander finally become comfortable in his 3-slot knowing he can be a series exclamation point behind the two top aces, Shields and David Price.

14 days until we see if Price can gain some consistency by not trying to change grips during a game and totally trusting the grips that got him to points in games without diverting from the game plan by toying with his art. 2012 will also be the season where Price can either gain a foothold on immortality by posting numbers worth of his new salary and being that stop gap starter that should be the Opening Day starter and player who can get that needed win.

14 days until we can see if the “B-brothers”, RP Brandon Gomes and ex-Fish Burke Bradenhop can secure roster spots with an impressive Spring. Also on our minds firmly in 14 days will be the talent escalation of the 2 “Alexs”, Cobb and Torres. Each throwing from a different side, but each wanting a roster slot and a chance to show their worth to the Rays this Spring. Coming into the Spring it seems Gomes has a clear shot, but as we all know, things can change before the calendar changes to April. All 4 players mentioned in this paragraph have minor league options, and the Rays could play a game of “mix-and-match” early on during the season with any of the 4 spending time both in St. Petersburg and Durham.

Also firm in the Rays Republic’s mind is the elbow health of Kyle Farnsworth who put up career numbers in 2012, but had a few episodes with soreness that some thought was a pre-cursor to possible Tommy Johns. 14 days the Rays will see if his off-season rehabilitation and strengthening program brought results or more of the same.

I truly think the Rays have aligned themselves with 3 closers now, who could all be used in certain situations and firmly close the door on the opposition. Farnsworth and Rodney might have the early nods, but I truly think Joel Peralta is going to be the thunder under the dome this season. I saw a spark of it late in 2012 when Farnsworth sat due to his soreness, Peralta showed beyond a shadow of a doubt he could inherit or be destined as the Rays closer. I thought he might ascend to that spot in 2011, but in-synch with Farnsy, the two became a consistent 1-2 late inning punch for the Rays.

14 days when I will be personally sad not to see former Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos giving off a loud belly laugh as he heads to the practice fields. It will seem odd, but new Bullpen Savant Stan Boroski not only has the credentials, but the familiarity with this Rays staff moving from his Assistant Pitching Coach role to an on-the-field mentor to the Rays staff.

14 days until we see if young catching prospects Nevin Ashley and Stephen Vogt can turn a few Rays heads, possibly moving their own name up the Rays depth chart with impressive Springs, maybe even outing one of the present favorites for a back-up role. Ashley and Vogt have the offensive chops to be with the Rays, but with the catching corps becoming clouded in 2011 with extra pieces and rehabbing players, they might have slipped out of the Rays minds as future weapons.

14 days until at 10 am the gates open and we embrace “officially the Rays 15th season in the Bigs. 15 years where coming into this point in the season there were tons of questions with few answers. This season there are tons of answers with clarifying questions dotting the landscape…for now. Port Charlotte comes alive when the team get back into town. The sky seems bluer, the air has a nice crispness to it and the grass awaits their footprints. 14 days until we can again firmly boast, and await our 2012 Rays. Look, already 15 minutes closer as you finish reading this post.

Next Step for Pena……the Twitterverse?

Since Carlos Pena left the Tampa Bay Rays, a lot has changed both within the Rays clubhouse and with their team personality. Some might not even remember anymore the 2008 MLB blog penned by Pena as the Rays embraced and embarked on their maiden voyage into the Major League Baseball post-season. It showed a well-educated and articulate side of Pena most never knew until he spoke in videos, or in public to groups.

Under the roof of Tropicana Field Pena again blossomed, became a MLB icon whether he was arching his back connecting with a pitch down the center of the plate, or showing his cat-like reflexes that have earned him the status of one of the better defensive First Baseman in the MLB. Some say Pena found his second chance in Tampa Bay and became an instant fan favorite as much for his on-field efforts as for his oratory and charity works off the turf.

In less than a season, the Rays have also evolved without the leadership of Pena as another level of leaders emerged as Pena patrolled the First Baseline on the Northsde of Chi-town in 2011. The Rays collectively have become a team that is not obsessed but social media savvy, almost to the point of TMI at times.

And this is a fan interactive realm that Pena might not have encountered in his short Cubs tenure, but one he will quickly find encircles the personality of his old squad. Still, I wonder how long it will take before his teammates, or even Pena’s ex-Cape Cod teammate on the Rays 4th floor get him thrust into the social media frenzy.

From Rays farm hands Mikie Mathook ( @MikieMahtook8 ) or Stephen Vogt ( @SVogt1229 ) to the ever popular Rays feeds of David Price ( @DAVIDprice14 ) and Evan Longoria ( @Evan3Longoria ), the Rays have become socially savvy and frequent participant in the Twitterverse. I know the college educated and articulate Pena would be another great component of the online media feast for the Rays Republic, but finding the right handle or screen name might be a bit more difficult than we all imagine for the stylish Pena.

Just for giggles, I am going to take a gander at some of the more universally related “Pena persona’s” and see if those name or alias are currently available on the Twitterverse, or taken way before Pena’s first venture into its social realms. I will first post the more common screen names that could be associated with Pena, then move onto possible more obscure possibilities. 

@CarlosPena23 Unfortunately the most universal name that Pena could use is already associated with “Maximilian”, but this name might just be a shell since the author of this screen name has never issued a single Tweet, and is only following 1 person at this time. Sad, this could have been a perfect format for Pena’s Rays splash into the social media pool.

@TheCarlosPena It is unfortunate that Pena also shares the same complete celebrity name with another well-loved and respected Latin personality who won the second season of Latin American Idol. Just like his baseball counterpart, the singing Pena is known for his modesty and charisma. Who knows, maybe the singer will someday grace the Trop’s stage as a Rays/Hess Express Concert Series as we all will bask in double the Pena charm that evening.

@Car_Los23 At least we have an athletic-minded “Carlos” on this screen name. He is (Juan) Carlos Zaragoza (Murillo) who is a Mexican footballer currently playing for Club Leon in the Liga de Asenso. It might be a dummy Twitter site for this “Carlos” since it has only 3 followers and 3 Tweets since it’s inception. Pity, this name could have gone well with Pena, but such is media life.

@ILoveCarlosPena Heck, this screen name would have been perfect for Pena’s adorable other half, his wife Pamela. Unfortunately it is also the “love-fest homage” screen name for the band Big Time Rush fan Ashley.

Maybe I should venture more towards screen names that might be associated with Pena’s old nicknames, possibly bringing up some name attached to him during his Rays tenure that could evolve into a possible Rays Twitter home for Pena. Then again, we might encounter the same obstacles and detours previously seen when trying to get Pena just the right persona for his Twitter and Rays Republic social media moment.

@ElPresidente I had hopes this name would be unused and available, but it is another name that somehow is being underused and not developed to its full potential. Not sure who or what UAT is, but it has the regal “El Presidente” within its kingdom. This account is currently Following 37 Twitter accounts and has a robust 66 Followers even though it’s author has never submitted a single Tweets since its inception.

@ElPresidente23 I decided to try to see since El Presidente was taken if possibly just attaching Pena’s past Rays jersey number would get me a positive result. Unfortunately, this name too already has been taken and is active in the Twitterverse. It is attached to Peter Nixon, who is an active Twitter disciple who has thrust out over 3,127 Tweets and is following 645 other account and has 328 Followers of his own.

@Los23 This is another nickname that has evolved to a point where Rays fans automatically think “Pena” when it is voiced, written or otherwise communicated. As is our luck today, this screen name is also attached to 2 people with a bit of difference in their “Los” persona’s. One is Carlos Vargas (@Los23), who if you read his Tweets has a mellow kind of homey vibe, much like Carlos. The other does not have a human named attached to it, but @342Krazy who follows only 1 other Twitter persona much be a Rays front office covert ops….It makes sense (just kidding).

@ElGato Most people associate this MLB nickname with Andres Galarraga who was known as the “Big Cat” also during his MLB career from 1985-2004. An interesting side note is that Galarraga, like Pena also calls Orlando, Florida his home. But this account is actually the Twitter presence for Eye TV which is the world’s leading TV recording software and TV tuner solutions for the Mac computer.

As we can see, the usual names that Pena could incorporate his online social persona have either been taken, or are active accounts with some sort of back history that might be dangerous for Pena to cross paths with followers of the present account holders. That would only lead to possibly there being a new Pena persona hatched, or another nickname used to possible develop Pena’s Rays social presence. I have a few suggestions, with one being the best of both worlds for Pena, currently open for his use on Twitter, possibly as soon as he starts his account.

@ElGatodelCrimen This Twitter name might be more tongue-in-cheek than Pena would want for himself, but it is a nickname some put upon him during his Rays days as a bit of an homage to former Rays 1B Fred McGriff who was known as the “Crime Dog”. The name translates into “The Crime Cat”, possibly playing on McGriff’s persona, but with the added flair of Pena’s feline movements while covering the bag. This is not my favorite option, but it could be a nice way for Pena to remain secluded but also relevant among the unique Twitterverse.

@23CarlosPena This is my favorite Twitter name for Pena. I hope he wants to retain the jersey number 23, and if he did, this name would work to not only separate himself from the “other Carlos Pena’s”, it would make his name synonymous with his Rays persona as well as being his personal account to update us on great things in his of-the-field life. Truly this screen name could embrace and include everything we all have love, respected and admired of Pena since he first stepped outside the Rays Spring clubhouse wearing that symbolic number.

I truly hope Pena does take to the social media format just like so many of his team mates did in 2011. It is another way for both the MLB fans and the Rays Republic to see these guys more as humans than just as physical cogs in the Rays baseball machine. Pena has great passion and respect for the game and this community, his Rays presence speaking to that point and showing us another side of himself will make even his harshest critic embrace his Tweets and await anxiously for his next writ of wit.

PS My own Twitter name has been changed to @TheRaysRenegade after Twitter would not give me access to my original screen name after someone hacked into my account. I would appreciate and consider if it privilege if you “follow” me on my new name.  I also have the @TheRaysRenegade account scrolling on the sidebar of my blog again.

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