Results tagged ‘ David Price ’

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.

A “Must Do” Event to Circle on Your 2012 Spring Training “To Do” List

This Spring event always seemed to have that musty and stuff feel about it, a wedge of a baseball nobility or royal twist to it in the past. One of those pristine and ceremonial Spring events that precedes the influx of moving vans, travel trailers and those baseball fans needing a Spring subtle kiss from the Baseball Gods. In the past it’s air of an ancient closed door society vibe kept me away even with yearly invites. But time has a way of trimming off the excess and finally bringing about a redefined and refined way to celebrate the Spring return of baseball, with a distinctive Tampa Bay twist.

I am more excited about the events transformed name,  Dinner with David & Friends  which will be a great new Spring event co-sponsored by the Rays southpaw David Price and his One Four Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame which is located  on Centerfield Street inside Tropicana Field. The event will be held on Friday February 3, 2012 from 6:30 pm to ??? It is an early chance for the baseball community both within and outside the Tampa Bay region to help the children’s charities around Tampa Bay on the same night the Hitters Hall of Fame will induct their 16th class of splendid hitters (and a few crafty pitchers). All for the donation of $99 which will include more than just a meal on the AstroTurf of Tropicana Field.

Included with your donation is the chance to meet and talk with current and past baseball legends, the incoming class of 2012 Hitters Hall of Fame inductees like the Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson, former Rays Tino Martinez, Cecil Fielder, the late Mike Flanagan and the Rays Skipper, Joe Maddon and possibly a few special celebrity guests invited to the event. Every diner will also receive a commemorative autographed ticket signed by Price (worth the donation price by itself).

Also on the event agenda is a special autograph signing by present and past MLB stars, a silent auction and a dinner that will conclude with a special message from Price as we begin to embark on the MLB experience for the Spring of 2012.

Maybe it is the new title that embraces and beckons the average baseball fan like myself back into its ceremonial post-Winter arms. I feel more of a Spring warming effect and embrace from this yearly event now that has been vacant for so long. That finally the upper crust of the baseball community have extended a hand to us possibly bringing the event out of the darkness and hopefully can become a “must attend” seasonal event for everyone from the top tier players, movers and shakers plus an average fan like myself can daydream and visualize the upcoming season while sitting at a table remembering the past, present and future of baseball as we gaze upwards at the Trop’s Teflon roof.

I can easily see this event becoming a important piece of any true baseball fan’s annual “To Do” list during their seasonal pilgrimage from the North as they head into the region thawing out their baseball heart and reawakening their internal hunger for baseball. If this event is handled right, it could become a pre-Spring celebration party just a week before the first report dates of 2012 Spring camps. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of snow bound and the snow weary fans and disciples of the MLB community could descend upon this sun-kissed state and make this event and it charities a beginning point on their yearly journey as the “Boys of Summer” begin to develop their seasonal swagger.

My personal opinion might be a bit biased since I have always been a fan of Price and have given countless dollars to the Ted Williams Museum’s silent auctions over the years to support their causes. This is a great way to include the two together, spend some time remembering and enjoying the careers and unfolding careers of the inductees while also being in the company of the real baseball nation. The $99 cost is minimal when you consider the memories, photos and autographs obtained while visually being pulled in by the exploits and dramatic events of the inductees will will reach its climax with a oratory by Price. Only thing missing is a photo op with Price’s dog Astro.

For event information click on the Dinner with David & Friends link in the blog post.

Additional links for the Project One Four Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame websites.

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

Were You The One?

Recently columnist John Romano of the “St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times” wrote an editorial stating the Tampa Bay Rays possibly could be one bat away from reaching the last series again in late October. Some have chuckled at this notion while others have taken his conjecture with a grain of salt, possibly whisking the sodium chloride over their left shoulder for luck just in case he is right.

I know Romano’s main premise is encircling the Rays need for one consistent weapon that empowers this team and acts as their point man during struggles and setbacks. A player of stature and confidence that evokes fear in other team’s, possibly with good reason. Names like Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and even former Ray Carlos Pena quickly come into my mind, but will the price for their services be more than the Rays can muster? Will they quickly be termed “not the one’s”.

Could it be possible my own ideals are more far-fetched than Romano’s? Maybe I am insane to think the entire 25-man roster can transform into one cohesive and consistent unit that nightly can get the job done. For 2 MLB seasons we have seen this Rays club get battered and beaten early in contests and somehow get back off the turf and watch as a Rays du Jour hits the plate or mound and deliver the final death-blow to an opponent. Maybe it is time for this team collectively to take a giant leap of faith in regard to reaching the individual zenith.

Maybe it is as simple as each member of the Rays 25-man roster to take their own game to their next level, to bring about a rude awakening of the slumbering weapons already harnessed within the Rays arsenal. Maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon should adopt a “Were You the ONE Today?” mantra for his 2012 squad. Possibly that is why this mantra speaks to me in such a way. A total unit is only as strong as its pieces, and this Rays squad has shown in the past it can play with anyone on any given night and post a “L” up on their side of the scoreboard. Did you forget, the Rays did beat the eventual World Series winners in their InterLeague series at the Trop, and outscored them 16-9

Because the Rays payroll is already hovering over $50 million mark for 2012, is there realistically room enough under their ceiling for another impact bat? Considering the potential power and hitting on this team, when all their cow-nosed Rays line up in a row and consistency rules the day, this team is a run scoring machine. The current 2012 roster has the talent, the potential and the ability to combine and prove sometimes the unit as a whole is better than the “one”.

Over the past few seasons we have seen players like Cliff Floyd who showed so many on this team how to be clubhouse leaders and professionals but did not translate that on the field with authority. We saw the Trop termites seemingly destroy “Pat the Bat”, and saw pieces of the puzzles like Brad Hawpe, and Hank Blalock post high hopes, but quickly that balloon burst and again this team was as square one. The “one” big bat concept has not evolved here, possibly doomed to fail from its onset.

But over that same period of time, the Rays Top 5 have produced some impressive numbers and have grown on and off the field. Young players like Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson have shown the 5 can expand into even larger omnipresent spectacle possibly becoming a shimmering 25-point star. We have seen shining bursts of the talent and power from players like Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, B J Upton plus pitchers David Price and James Shields as they have all shed brilliant light upon the Trop.

Maybe this is insanity speaking, but these five points of the Rays star need to shine brighter in 2012. The great thing about elevating your game is it becomes infectious to your team. Each player on the Rays roster wants to be the “one” on a daily basis. Could it really be as simple as combined pitching energies and offensive forces combining to add up to one win, one defining moment, one potentially moment of clarity for this team?  If this 2012 Rays team can harness that and mold it into a consistent vessel of power, then the sky is the limit for this team in 2012.

Pondering the Rays Pending Tender Decisions

This is one of those times that Major League Baseball players who are within the salary arbitration process either dread or look forward to with glee. It is the time that their clubs either shower them with confidence and acknowledgment Spring. The Tampa Bay Rays are no different, they will have to decide within the next 24 hour period who is worthy, and who has put on a Rays jersey for the last time.

You might think the process is easy, but with 6 players et to enter the arbitration pressure cooker in this 2011 off-season, I truly think only half of this group which includes LHP David Price, CF B J Upton, RP Joel Peralta, RP/SP Andy Sonnanstine, SP Jeff Niemann and former closer J P Howell can rest easy.

Two of this group could be non-tendered on Monday, while a third could possibly be tendered with a quick resolve to trade them before the arbitration process unfolds this Spring. Only Peralta seems on completely sturdy ground with an impressive 2011 campaign, and an estimated $ 2 million arbitration salary. A great set-up man like Peralta would easily set the Rays back possibly double what Peralta could get in arbitration, and that makes him a safe bet to be with the team this Spring.

Instantly members of the Rays Republic will be scratching their heads wondering if I had taken a hallucinogenic or have lost my friggin’ mind because I did not include the Rays ace, Price in this category. I would think the team is already in closed-door discussions with Price and his agent possibly trying ti iron out an extension, or possibly a viable financial situation that would keep both Price and the Rays smiling beyond his arbitration years.

Price has always been a “team-oriented” player, and if he and the Rays can come together on an extension, then we could see Price blossom in a Rays jersey for a long time. If not, some team would unload their farm system for a guy who is still evolving and is a left-hander. With an estimated $ 7.8 million salary for casted via arbitration for Price, without some sort of unilateral agreement between himself and the Rays, his future will become cloudy within the next 2 seasons, which would be a shame for both sides.

B J Upton is another guy who could easily vault past the $ 7.5 million hurdle with estimates ranging from $7.4-7.6 million for the Rays versatile CF. Upton is one of two players currently in the Rays arbitration process who could see himself being offered arbitration, and possibly be dealt before the team reports to Spring Training in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February. Still, Upton has the unique distinction of being “affordable” by Center fielder’s price points, but with several emerging candidates, including Sam Fuld or Desmond Jennings already bursting through on the MLB level, Upton has to feel he is not on stable footing.

The other player who could have pulled on a Rays uniform for the last time is RHP Jeff Niemann. Even though Niemann could only cost an affordable $ 3.1 million through arbitration, the Rays have a budding stable of pitching ponies behind the Tall Texan, and his health concerns and in juries over the past two seasons could make him an instant trade candidate and the least likely player to still be with the team this Spring.

Even though the other “silent assassin”, Wade David is also being mentioned in trades chatter, Davis has an extended contract with the Rays already in hand and that makes his situation more stable compared to Niemann. The Rays could still offer arbitration to Niemann knowing they will also explore trade situations and possibly use his salary arbitration as a key point in their trade talks, maybe even including a minor league prospect or money to another team to take Niemann.

So far on the arbitration forefront we have seen a “sure thing” and another arbitration eligible player who can be included in that category, but who might become expensive in the next 2 years. Also we have explored 2 players who might be on the top shelf of trade chatter, and who could even with salary arbitration attached to them be dealt even before their Spring hearings. Also to consider either of these 2 players could also be involved in a sign and trade situation giving their new squad a bit of financial relief, Niemann seems to be the one definite player on the cusp, but he has value on the trade front, so arbitration might be in the cards on Monday for Niemann.

There are still two player who might have pulled on their Rays uniforms for the last time, and it hurts me that both are baseball friends of mine. Both of these guys have sweat bullets for the team and been “company men” for the Rays enduring heartaches, surgeries and even unexpected trips away from the Rays that might have secured their destiny.

Andy Sonnanstine has done everything ever asked of him by the Rays, but with most of the 2011 season in “arbitration purgatory” with the Triple-A Durham Bulls, Sonny might be an easy candidate for the Rays to non-tender. This is a guy who has been comical, serious and multi-dimensional his entire Rays career, but with the current young guns pushing the ceiling for a shot in the majors, Sonny might be expendable. Even his affordable $1.1 million arbitration estimate might be more than the Rays would be willing to fork over for middle-of-the-road starter/reliever with the huge surplus of young talent on the cusp of being MLB ready.

This pains me, but LHP J P Howell took a huge step backwards in 2011, and that could cost him more than money. Sure he was trying to get back into the seasonal flow coming back into the Rays Bullpen towards the middle of the season, but his numbers and velocity took a tumble even with his mechanics at times plaguing his performance. His favor is an affordable $ 1.4 million estimate for his arbitration, and that could possibly push him over the hump and get an arbitration offer from the team.

But you have to consider Howell has stiff competition this Spring with fellow southpaws’ Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos again manning the hill for the Rays. It might come down to the intangibles like leadership, potential and if Howell can regain his velocity and trickery in 2012. You have to think an entire off-season to prep and regain his command and composure would benefit Howell, but could it be too late to impress the Rays brass that he will come back stronger in 2012.

I would love to see all 6 eligible players get a chance to go through the arbitration process for the Rays this Spring, but the numbers might not support such a move. With an early estimated $ 52.1 million payroll for 2012 with arbitration eligible figures included, that poses a 27 percent raise in the Rays payroll projections, and possibly 11 players topping the $1 million salary mark for 2012, any of these 6 arbitration eligible players could be gone to further lower the projected payroll before a single free agent to signed.

This is a critical year for the Rays with the Boston Red Sox’s recent contemplation of staying under the luxury tax threshold in 2012, and the possible addition of a second American League Wild Card spot anticipated, and all financial decisions on Monday could play into the Rays final position come the end of September. The arbitration process has a way of being cruel or kind depending on your position at the end of the day, but it is a viable way for teams to keep themselves solvent and reduce personnel during the off-season.

Peralta, Price and Upton should be on terra firma on Monday while Sonnanstine and Howell might be chin-deep in a puddle of quicksand without any rope or long branches to save them. Still, the one player who might be in the most vicarious position might be the 6′ 9” Niemann. He has the ability but not the sustained health for the Rays to confidently say without a hint of remorse he should get an arbitration hearing. Niemann will certainly get a hearing, but it might be a precursor to his eventual trade from the Rays.

No matter what happens on Monday, these 6 players have brought instances of joy and memorable events to all of us in the Rays Republic and I hope not matter what the outcome they know they will always be Rays in our eyes. Thank goodness the Rays do not have upwards of 10+ arbitration decisions that teams like the San Francisco Giants (13), Oakland Athletics (10),  San Diego Padres (11) and Red Sox (10) on Monday. Those arbitration decisions could dissect half of their roster in one day. Talk about a stressful day.

Rays Own Rennaissance Man……James Shields

When I try and visualize a bit of the essence of the phrase “Renaissance man”, I do not immediately bring up images from the 1994 Penny Marshall flick starring Danny DeVito and Gregory Hines. Nor do I rank my brain to remember the spontaneous moments of an episode by that same name on the of Sci-Fi classic Star Trek:Voyager”.

Instead my mind comp templates a man or woman who shows a resounding expertise in multiple areas. From fashion acting, or possibly even the written word. I also see visions of a culinary artist in motion whipping up a delightful creme brulle or possibly a Basalmic Vinaigrette without a care or whim. I am beginning to think the Tampa Bay Rays might have own in-house version of a “Renaissance man”, and it’s not pitchers David Price or Andy Sonnanstine.

James Shields- Fashion Plate:

For me, Rays greybeard and man-of-the-moment James Shields fits this image perfectly. We all ready know of his fashion exploits designing two Friday Fest T-shirts given away to fans in the past two seasons, and you know there are more inspirations ans designs dancing around Shield’s cerebral cortex just waiting for their big entrance.

I remember when Shields unveiled his first T-shirt I did an in-depth blog post on the design and elements that caught the eye of a local fishwrap. But that is just one layer of the constantly unfolding pieces of work devised by Shields, and only a scratching of the surface of his potential. Shields has also been a model and seasonal participant of the Rays Wive’s “Rays on the Runway” show held every season in a local Tampa Bay venue to benefit the Children’s Dream Fund.

James Shields- Author

Recently Shields and MLBlogs.com’s own Bill Chastain, who also doubles as the Rays MLB.com writer unveiled their collaborated work “September Night’s” during a book signing at a South Tampa sports bar this past week. The book follows the wild month of September 2010 as the Rays fought for their second American League East title. It is an insightful account from a pitcher who hit the mound 5 times during that historic stretch.

Shields was approached by Chastain during a 2010 road trip to Detroit to write the tale, and Shields hovered over Chastain’s microphone telling the untold stories and events that were behind the usual Blue curtain of the Rays. Shields wanted to deliver the passing of that eventful months with anecdotes and inside muses that only Shields could deliver. Shields even delivered a few spot-on caricatures of his teammates that showed both their serious and spontaneous side as the Rays concluded their 2010 regular season campaign.

In the book Shields reveals a few unknown events, and bring a human side and clarity to some of the things we was fans never have access to, or hear about before, during or after historic runs like the Rays 2010 divisional chase. Shield’s accounts of the daily events bring it into a more human and non-competitive format to illustrate everything you wanted to know about that great 2010 late season run.

James Shield- Humanitarian

I think this one part of Shield’s Renaissance man persona is the most accurate depiction of the man himself. Local Tampa Bay political icon US Congressman Bill Young thought so much of Shield’s advocacy for the Tampa Bay foster care system that he bestowed the 2010 “Angel of Adoption” award to Shields. This award gives members of Congress a chance to further applaud and bring to light the gallant efforts to enrich and enlighten the lives of foster and orphaned in this country and abroad.

But that is only a sliver of the way Shields gives back to this community. Shields and his wife Ryane have teamed up with the Eckerd Youth Alternatives to create an exclusive club for foster children in this area.

The Big Game James Club was designed to help promote normalcy along with a sense of stability and belonging within the everyday lives of Tampa Bay area foster children served by the Eckerd Community Alternatives program. About 50 kids participated in the program in 2010 and get to meet Shields before the game plus enjoy watching the contest in a specially-decorated suite generously donated by the Rays and the Shields family.

Shields and his wife are also firmly supportive with the traveling photo and audible exhibit the Progress Energy Heart Gallery for the last 5 seasons. The Heart Gallery was created to offer another visible way for children to get a chance to find their own family unity within the local foster care system. For his efforts Shields has also garnered the Rays nomination for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award given to the MLB star who epitomizes the off-the-field humanitarian efforts just like the Pirates legend.

In addition, Shields works with the Rays charity arm, the Rays Foundation during their fund raisers, golf tournament and has donated his time and expertise through the Rays annual Broadcast Auction to act as a pitching tutor/ instructor. Shields also donated funds to help rebuild a youth baseball field in Bradenton, Florida.

James Shields- Actor

By now all of us have become clients or at least admirers of the fictitious MLB pitching firm of Shields and Price portrayed infomercial style during the 2011 MLB season in conjunction with the MLB Fan cave. In this instant Rays classic video you see the easiness and professional demeanor of Shields, the actor. Shields does an great job of making us all want to pick up the phone and use the services of this great leftie-rightie pitching combo.

Being a “Renaissance man” in the 21st Century most would think you have to be fluent in multiple languages, be able to write computer RPG code, or possibly help give birth to a child in an elevator. Those are great attributes, but there is one more thing that resonates this “Renaissance man” theme with me with Shields in mind.

I have volunteered for a few pre-Spring Training golf tournaments over the last few years, and it is always a pleasure to see Shields step up to take a putt or smack the daylights out of that little dimpled ball. Shields plays golf with the same air of professionalism and competitive spirit that graces his face and body language on the mound. But Shields also carries that hint of non-nonchalant charm needed to have fun with the game and not take it all as serious as life or death. If I played golf, Shields would be the kind of player I would want in my pairing.

On the bottom of his page in the Rays media guide for the last several seasons there has been another chapter possibly unfolding behind the Rays blue curtain in regards to Shields, and it plays great with the paternal Italian side of his heritage. Shields wants to possibly pursue a career in the culinary field after he is done throwing a little white sphere 90+ mph.

Who knows, possibly the Rays could let Shield design a sandwich, a concession item in one of their Rays themed stands that would not only mirror this love of cooking for Shields, but give us all another avenue to delight and further admire the skills and craft that this Rays right hander has to offer. And Shield has achieved this remarkable “Renaissance” title even before his 30th birthday..

I truly can’t wait to see what talent or enterprise Shields unveils next!

Will Price’s Venture into Arbitration Facilitate a Rays Countermeasure?

Southpaw starting pitcher David Price easily can be considered the most important cog to retain in the Tampa Bay Rays surging competitive machine. His potential is limited only by his own tinkering and shifting in his pitching grips. His confidence and abilities might have taken a direct hit in 2011, but his first season as a Rays “ace” definitely showed he has huge potential and “up-side” to grow into the role and Price is eager to embrace these challenges.

As his abilities have grown, so will his seasonal salary, with Price garnering a sustainable $1.25 million for 2011, Price definitely will see his bank account expand in the coming seasons. Some people among the Rays Republic were shocked when Price opted out of his original 6-year $8.5 million dollar payday recently with the Rays. After achieving Super Two status this past season, Price was in a position to not throw a curveball into the Rays 2012 plans, but possibly offer a bit of salary stability if the Rays would talk about an extended foundation in the Rays fold. Price was set to earn $ 1.5 million for 2012, plus garner the last deferred installment payment of his $ 5.6 million signing bonus from his original Rays contract signed on August 15, 2007.

Some have said publicly that Price executing his right to refuse his 2012 option of $ 2.433 million was a formality, possibly a venue for the Rays and Price to discuss another deal for the long haul. But his decision to exercise his right to refuse his option might put a few of the Rays “wishes” for offensive help on the back burner for a bit possibly putting handcuffs on the Rays front office from getting that needed offensive firepower to stay competitive.

Then again, the move by Price could be a calculated risk with Price knowing he could bring a sense of salary stability with an extended deal instead of the financial darkness that always overshadows the arbitration process. The Rays currently have club control over Price until 2015. But with Price’s decline of his 2012 set salary, his suspected 2012 salary jumps tremendously from the $ 2.4 million figure to between $ 7-8 million dollars just for 2012.

Price could go instantly this off-season from a true Rays payroll value to potentially being the top dog (sorry Astro) within the Rays salary hierarchy. This off-season both Price and arbitration eligible CF B J Upton could both possibly take between $14-16 million of the Rays payroll between themselves. That is why a long-term understanding between the Rays and Price should be on the table this Winter.

Price’s decision definitely puts the Rays front office behind the 8-ball this Winter to either sign Price to a team friendly extension, or face the reality that his escalating arbitration salaries after 2012 might make Price more of a liability financially as his abilities escalate upwards. You wonder if the Rays will stand by patiently watching as Price’s salary escalates yearly finally seeing the Rays faced with another Scott Kazmir or Carl Crawford situation as his worth exceeds the Rays fiscal abilities.

This move by Price could transition into a finely packaged extended stay with the Rays for the southpaw, or be the first indicator of his own exit visa being stamped with a potential 2015 date. possibly shipped out before that expiration date. Rays payrolls for the next few seasons might not venture even close to the previous high of $72+ million dollar threshold back in 2008.

SP Jame Shields has a bevy of club option salaries of $ 9 million ($1.5 million buy-out) for 2013 and $ 12 million for 2014 on the immediate horizon, and these high dollar figures will make him instantly expendable as early as July 2012. Current Rays offensive spark plug 3B Evan Longoria will see his 2011 salary double from $ 2 million to $4.5 million in 2012 with club options on the horizon that balloon to $7.5 million (2014) to $11.5 million in 2016. Even 2B/OF Ben Zobrist will see his coffers increase from $4.5 million in 2012 to a possible $ 7.5+ million club option in 2015. Suddenly this Rays cohesive core has an impending high salary expiration date.

This whole Price situation can go a multitude of directions. The two sides could sit down, iron out an extended stay with the club with team friendly terms. Or the Rays could venture into the unknown void of the arbitration process that will surely see Price’s value escalate skyward on a yearly basis until Price is a high dollar risk and an instant trade commodity.

This fiscal nightmare has been on the horizon for some time. With extended deals signed prior by Zobrist, Shields,Longoria and last season with SP Wade Davis. The Rays financial nightmare scenario might have been set into motion by Price’s option out of his low-ball 2012 salary. Other members of the Rays young core will soon reach salary arbitration for the first time and financial decisions will have to be made as to the breaking point nears for this Rays expanding young nucleus.

That is the fiscal reality of the Rays. They are a franchise that is currently treading water in a deepening financial MLB ocean as salaries push them under and they gasp for needed financial relief. There is the potential for salvation, or the realistic drowning financially of this franchise. Either way, the Rays player movements this Winter will definitely define their direction and their commitment towards their young core. Within the next few years with a few budding stars pushed out by their impending financial burdens, not their talents.

The final rendering of their movements with Price will either send out shock tremors, or sighs of relief. Price is the keystone to this movement. The first to walk through this fragile threshold, and he will definitely not be the last. Price is wandering into the impending darkness not knowing his final destination, but hopefully the Rays will illuminate the path with their trademark sunburst and make the whole journey pleasant for both sides. Price is betting his Rays future on it.

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