Results tagged ‘ Devilrays ’

Digging the Rays Past (1996)

 


Raysbaseball.com/MLB.com

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

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

 
 

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

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

 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 


AP file Photo 

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

 
 

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

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

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

 


 TBO.com file Photo

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

 
 

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

McGwire, A-Rod and Canseco……Oh My!

 

 

                    
                      FoxNews.com
 

When former Tampa Bay D-Rays player Jose Canseco came out with his book  Juiced  on February 14, 2005, no one in the baseball community knew what to expect out of the allegations and the extent and lengths that steroids and illegal drugs were being used in the MLB even before the Major League Baseball brass had decided to include testing for steroids or Human Growth Hormones (HGH).

We all personally had our little mental lists of certain players in the league that could be suspected of illegal use or  might be under the umbrella of investigations, but no accurate information was in hand at that point in time in 2005 to provide concrete evidence or even a hint of a “failed drug test list” controversy to support any of Canseco’s claims at that time. With the recent MLB Network’s interview with former slugger Mark McGwire finally shedding light on his extra injectable “helpers” during his Home Run barrage of 1998, it seems most of us have finally gotten some measure of closure on an explanation years past due.

And even with these recent McGwire remorse and vocal tales of his transgressions, it seems more and more that the subculture of baseball before the beginning of MLB testing in 2003 might just begin to unravel with McGwire’s testimonial leading the way for others to admit and seek forgiveness for their past deeds. We all still have fresh in our minds the revelations of the knowledge that current New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez used PED’s during his 2001-2003 Texas Ranger days.

Mixed into this same drug cocktail is the recent admissions and failed drug test results evidence of Boston Red Sox players Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz back  during the Red Sox World Series season of 2004.  And we are far from over in this revolving door of names being slowly leaked out into the open about players who have failed tests back during that 2003 MLB season. It is becoming more and more plausable that Canseco might have been right the entire time, and we were fooled by the shiny lights and twirling balls by the players. And maybe it was the American baseball fans that were the ones naive to the entire extent of the steroid scene.
 

 



If Jose Canseco was seeking  a personal level of revenge, or even a ” I told you so.” moment, he can finally get that long overdue last laugh or justified response to his past allegations. With both of his books, Canseco was taking us on a journey into the heart of the baseball clubhouse culture and was actually trying to educate us as to the level of deceit and the unknowing extent and usage problems in baseball’s  not so distant past.

All this from a guy who was in the drivers seat of using these same stimulants and drugs himself, and Canseco has never denied the fact of his usage, or lied about trying to gain that ‘competitive edge” in the ever swirling arena of professional baseball. How enlightening it is to me right now that for years people in the media and in the high ranks in baseball have tried to shut him up and went beyond normal means to prove him wrong, to say he was trying to extract revenge over the so-called “blackballing” of him out of Major League Baseball because of his vocal noise about the scandal and his willingness to address the problem in the public eyesight.

 

                
                 Amazon.com 
 

I am not trying to paste Canseco up here as the patron Saint of America’s Pasttime within a room full of devils and serpents, but Canseco was right, and he has gained a huge amount of respect recently on the “so-called” incidents he wrote about in both of his books.  I know when Amazon.com reviewed his book back in 2005, and called it the ” Ball Four” for the new millennium. Canseco’s Juiced  was intentionally written to show the rampant use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball (with steroids replacing the amphetamines of Bouton’s day). 

Canseco is a self admitted steroid devotee since his 20’s, and he goes beyond admitting his own usage to claim that he acted as baseball’s ambassador of steroids and is therefore indirectly responsible for “saving” the game. Canseco admittedly says he was nice enough to educate Alex Rodriguez about steroids and even introduced him to a friendly steroids dealer in the late 1990s, but A-Rod returned the favor by trying to bed his wife, the former Bash Brother alleged in his book, Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars and the Battle to Save Baseball. Whatever his motivation, Canseco writes that he is “confident” the Yankees star and three-time MVP used steroids and stated it in his book published in  March 2008. “I did everything but inject the guy myself,” Canseco says in the book. Canseco said he introduced the future Yankee to a trainer named “Max.” 
 

 

 

But despite the headline-grabbing claims in his  first book, and whether Canseco really knows anything about the problem beyond his own use was viewed as opinion and total speculation at that time. He was viewed as a ” teller of tales”, and with no one coming forth to back him up, or even claim “off the record” of steroid usage in the majors, he was discounted as a bitter former player looking for his last series of hurrah’s. 

Most shocking at the time of both of the books release dates  that Canseco remains an unabashed booster of steroids, claiming they’ll one day be used safely under medical supervision to propel humans to better health and great feats. Doctors disagree, and it should be noted that doctors did not administer Canseco’s steroid use. “Is it cheating,” Canseco asks in a revealing moment of moral relativism, “to do what everyone wants you to do?” If that very question were asked by a Little Leaguer, its answer could not be more obvious. 

 

 

So here we are a few days removed from the latest Mark McGwire confessional after finally letting both the Ramirez and Ortiz transgressions fade to black along with A-Rod’s own media fiasco. But at what extent has this begun to tarnish the good spit and polish image of the game of baseball? Is the fact that since nothing in either of Canseco’s books have been disproven, should we again read them both and look for other answers before we are confronted with future demons coming to the surface?

Could there be other hidden facts and players within its pages that are still to be bought out into the light of day and  coffed at and discounted, or even shunned like Canseco has endured for so long. Or is the fact that the biggest stars in the game today and yesterday have either been caught or admitted usage of these drugs be an indicator to others  to come forward before they are also brought to light.

You can bet with the MLBPA’s agreement coming to a close soon that these drug issues and even some of the past trangressions might be a huge question mark being considered by Major League Baseballs’ higher powers right now. Should the rest of the world know their internal struggles and business in this issue?

 
 

 


Amazon.com
 

 

Here are a few passages taken from Canseco’s book Vindicated  that talked directly about the Yankee Alex Rodriguez with Canseco’s personal observations on their careers and steriods :
 


“I’m confident it was the ‘roids ( that made A-Rod buff ). I believed it then, and I believe it now. I’ve been down this road too many times with too many guys. I know my ( stuff ), and I know the way it works. I may not have seen ( A-Rod ) do the deed, but I set the whole thing up for him, just like he wanted. I saw the changes in his body in a short time. Hell, if you ask me, I did everything but inject the guy myself.”

And Canseco is being put on the hot seat again by McGwire and current St. Louis Cardinals and former Oakland A’s Manger Tony LaRussa about his tales of steroid usage and administration in connection with him and McGwire in the past. McGwire admitted Monday that he used steroids for a decade, including when he hit 70 homers in 1998, but denied Canseco’s claims that he injected himself and McGwire with steroids in bathroom stalls.


“I’ve defended Mark, I know a lot of good things about him,” Canseco told ESPN 1000 Radio in Chicago on Tuesday. “I
can’t believe he just called me a a liar. Umm, there’s something very strange going on here. “I even polygraphed that I injected him, and I passed it completely. So I want to challenge him on national TV to a polygraph examination. I want to see him call me a liar under a polygraph examination.” 

 
 

 

 

Both the above quoted players by Canseco have been linked, or subjectively linked to steroids in the last few years. McGwire is currently fighting for his Hall of Fame career life among allegations and evidence that he has either used, or lied under oath about his past usage. The only difference in these two gentlemen is that one knows that by admitting it now, he can still regain some of his credibility, while the other might always be mired in the thoughts of mistrust and lost opportunities to be honest to the fans who admired them. 

Right now it seems that McGwire will be basically left in a lepers colony by baseball’s fraternity to fester and rot within his own misguided statements and falsehoods. McGwire has gained some supporters in his Hall of Fame selection over the past two years, but could this new revelation push even those devoted believers to shun him and save his redemption for the Veteran’s Committee in the future?

I give Alex Rodriguez a lot of credit for coming clean and admitting and showing his true nature by not dodging the issue, but taking it head on, even if it garnered him a shower of public ridicule for years to come. Canseco has talked about both of these players in his books, and the last few months have shown that more and more Canseco is becoming more credible on all counts concerning these accusations. But will the baseball community ever acknowledge that he was right?
 

Will his legacy be that Canseco just got lucky in his MLB usage estimations and player accusations. Will Canseco ever get the true credit due to him for trying to soften the blow of the honest extent of the steroid scandal and its short-lived era. Isn’t it about time that we all wised up to the fact that we were lied to right to our faces, and even manipulated to see the evil intent of what Canseco was writing about at the time.

But now it seems like Canseco might come out of all of this smelling like a rose after years of badgering and misinformation by baseball and the media. Canseco will never be known as a prophet among the legions of baseball fans, but he did educate us to the darker side of the game that we did not want to see, or even realize until a  top tier player’s name got put out there for everyone to see firsthand.

So will this recent reveal make people again take notice of his two novels. Canseco is not a trying to be a poster boy for baseball. To the contrary, he is the one player who had admitted and showed no remorse in his choices to use performance enhancing drugs to better himself and his abilities in baseball. Not unlike a pitcher who relied on spitballs and scuffed balls in the past to produce movement on the ball coming into batters, Canseco found and edge and used it to its fullest.

But  was it his personal knowledge and his frank honesty about the rampant drug usage throughout the Major Leagues that condemned him for years. I am not saying that he should be given a chance for the Hall of Fame.  We all know the actions he took to get that edge will condemn him to baseball purgatory, but could his upfront honestly and revelations at least gain him some respect now with baseball fans?

 

                          
RRCollections
 

 

I believe Jose Canseco’s statements. I saw him play here in Tampa Bay as a member of the Rays highly touted ” Hit Show” in the late 90’s. He did garner some great moments in a Rays jersey, but the fact that he also tainted those multi-colored jerseys by using PED’s in that sacred clubhouse takes him off my Rays favorite player list. I admire him more today knowing that he tried to warn us of a storm that was brewing off our bows. Canseco got us all ready for the facts to finally come clean and the truth to be finally known in and around baseball……………….that there will always be evil within all that is good with the game.
 
 
 

Josh Hamilton’s “Homecoming”

 

 
 

I was sitting in front of the big screen last night flipping through the channel selector looking for something to watch about 9 pm last night. There was the usual movies, the movie channels had some interesting things, but nothing that stood out and made me select them. But then I strolled by the ESPN channels and saw a  small notation that only said, “Josh Hamilton.” Nothing else , just his name.
 


Well, if anyone knows me, they will know that Hamilton is someone who has always peaked my interest. From the moment in 1999 when he was selected as a Tampa Bay Devilray with the first selection in the amateur draft, to the moments during Spring Training when I would chat with him in the Rays Namoli field house between practices, Hamilton has always had my attention. So I clicked to ESPN2 hoping it was a real programs and not one of those preselected clips shows that really do not do the guy any justice.

 

 

 

 

But what I came upon was Rick Reilly’s show “Homecoming”. I had never seen the program before, but after the first 5 minutes, I can tell you I will try and find it again. The program started out with a huge panoramic view of the gym at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. That is the true heart of Hamilton country. The show began with a short monologue before Josh came out to a huge ovation from the crowd of friend, fans, and well wishers to this very special person.
 

 

It started with the story about how he was hitting homers at the age of 7 in his local little league games and how his older brother really was the beginnings of his career. Because his brother was older, he pushed Hamilton to play to the level of his team, and Josh delivered, even at such a young age. The show quickly moved  and contained a lot of great moments that Hamilton looked genuinely chocked up about sitting on that white stool.  there was a great segment about his High School baseball manger and Hamilton’s relationship and how they were as close as brothers, and how Hamilton, or “Hambone” was his best friend.

 


 

It quickly got into his selection by the Devilrays, and moved to the fact that it was Hamilton who wanted his parents there with him at all his games, and not the fact that the family just quit  work and became his touring company. I did not know the fact that he asked his parents to stop working, and that he would take care of everything since they sacrificed so much for him growing up. I was always under the impression that they were trying to protect the investment, and did not know the personal side of the story. It made me think more about him as a man, and how that gesture was really so sincere and almost unheard of from such a young guy to make at that point in his life.
 

 

It quickly got to the accident he was involved in coming back from a Spring Training game down in the Sarasota. He talked about how he saw the dump truck the entire time coming up to the intersection and reached over and pulled his mom to him before the  huge truck hit his smaller pickup truck. Hamilton spoke about the fact his parents went back to North Carolina to heal while he was still experiencing back problems and was alone for the first time in his life. The fact that he was without the two guiding points of his life lead to his experimenting and trying new things that would lead him down a rough and dark path over the next few years.
 

 

He talked about the first time he went into a parlor for some ink, and how it was one of the places that he felt safe, so he stayed there often during his rehab. Hamilton talked about how the ink on current Ray Carl Crawford got him interested in maybe getting one for himself. Hamilton talked about how a lot of the first tattoos’ had devilish and evil connotations and how some of them featured inkings with “soul-less eyes”. He talked about the night he went and did the three evils that changed his life. 

 


 

 

His “friends” at the parlor took him to his first strip club ( 1 ) where he had his first beer ever ( 2 ), and he also later in the night tried cocaine for the first time ( 3 ). From that point it was a fast and furious decline that both the Devilrays and some of his team mates saw in him. He did not talk a lot about it, but I do know of nights in Ybor City where he was the last guy to leave the bar, or parlor after a long night of celebrating his  new life. Because he was still rehabbing his back and a few nagging injuries, the drugs and the extra amount of time just sitting around doing nothing pushed him in the wrong direction.
 

 

Then came his suspension by the MLB after failing his drug tests. Now some people think it might just have been one test, but it was truly multiple tests that he had failed, and the league stepped in hard and suspended him for the year. As you might imagine, Hamilton spoke about how at that moment it felt like he might never play the game again. His marriage was starting to feel the effects of his activities, and no he was no longer associated with the one thing that kept him busy and clean. At this point in the interview, it kind of made me uneasy, not that I have even hit the kinds of lows or even tried anything remotely like he was talking about. 
 

 

But he went on about how the drugs slowly snuck into his marriage and how he once stole his wife’s wedding ring and gave it to a drug dealer for some drugs. The positive side of all of this is she went and got the ring back from the dealer. I have to say, this woman is a strong force in his life, and he is very lucky to have her in his life. One of the thing he mentioned at this point was the short season Rays franchise the Hudson Valley Renegades. He talked about how he also gave another dealer his championship ring from that season for drugs and really regretted the move. 

 

 

 

 

At that point Reilly introduced Eben Yager, who before today I only knew as one of my Facebook friends because of a friendship with someone else. He is the current General Manager of the Renegades, and he presented Josh with another championship ring on the stage. Hamilton quickly took off his All Star ring and replaced it with the newly acquired Renegades championship ring.  At the end of the show in the last few moments, you saw Hamilton hold up the ring, on his finger to the camera, and you could see the pure joy on his face about the ring.
 

 

I then got to the point where Hamilton was down in Clearwater, Florida working for Winning Inning, a local christian-based baseball school and facility working daily and having to earn time in the batting cages. No one knew that he was there at the time besides the staff and students of the academy, and might have been the best thing for him as he was trying to come to grips with his addiction. The Rays did have a small segment in which Hamilton talked about the phone call from Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman telling him about his reinstatement to the team. At that point they moved quickly to the fact that the Rays tried to sneak him trough the Rule 5 Draft, but the Cincinnati Reds pulled off the draft move of getting in front of the Florida Marlins so they could select Hamilton.

 

 

 

 

It moved quickly to the first at bat in Riverfront Stadium for Hamilton and how on that day he got 3 standing ovations during the game. It was then that his former Reds manager Jerry Narron, and his brother, Coach Johnny Narron were introduced and Johnny spoke about being Josh’s shadow during the season. He spoke on how Hamilton never had any money, credit cards or even checks so the temptation could not come back to him. And that the two of them were  just that, shadows of the other on the road that season. Reilly asked Hamilton who was Narron’s shadow to keep him from temptation, and johnny quickly spoke out “Jesus” as the shadow that kept him from taking advantage or keeping things from Hamilton.

 


 

 

Then  it spoke of that day in Yankee Stadium during the Home Run Derby and how he had asked Clay Council to throw his batting practice pitches three weeks before the event. There was a great heartfelt segment where the two of them talked about the adventure and Hamilton talked about how his B P was so sweet and perfect for his upper cut swing. It then had an outdoor scene set somewhere in Raleigh at a baseball diamond, and heard that first pitch come off the bat and knew it had found the grass beyond the fence. If you have ever listened to Hamilton hit the ball, I mean really listens to it, it does have a unique sound when it strikes a ball. It might be the type of bat, or it might be the wrist action the last second before impact, but it is a sound you will remember.
 

 

After that, the show quickly got to a point where you knew the journey was about to end tonight. The show had come through the horrors and the bottom rung of the ladder and showed his strive to reach the top again both in baseball and in life. Another segment near the end that caught me by surprise was with his wife. It spoke how she went to her pastor asking for help and guidance during Hamilton’s dark moments and got simple advice to just forgive him. It is amazing sometimes how a simple phrase or action can sometime see the solution to life’s problems. She spoke of the promise that she would talk about it once, and never bring it up again.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the show there was Hamilton exposed to the world. If you were a Devilrays fan back in the early days of his career you found a like-ability and sense of greatness out of this guy and truly wanted him to succeed in baseball and life. I have to say, I am not a family member, or a close friend or ally of Hamilton’s, but the strength and the distance he has come in such a short time is truly a miracle. I have to say I do check out his stats almost daily during the season to see how he is doing in Texas. 
 

 

The guy will always have a place in my mind from the first time I talked to him, to that last day I spoke with him in the clubhouse before he met the camera outside the Spring Training complex. You see that genuine strength and power now in him that if you ever saw him in 1999 or 2000, you saw in his eyes. He is again on his way to maybe setting numerous records before he is done with his bat. I truly hope that someday we can see him again in a Rays jersey. I know he would get a standing ovation that has never been seen in the Trop. Every time he has come up since he came back up into the major leagues, if I was in the stands, during his first at bat, I stood and clapped for Hamilton.
 

 

Some people just strike you personally for different reasons. Josh has stayed in my mind for the raw talent and the enthusiasm he has for the game of baseball. And beyond the past and the future that holds a lot of great moments for Hamilton, the fact that he is smiling and again playing his first love……….baseball is the true reason you got to love the way this guy plays………..Truly.

 

 

 

 

Tampa Bay’s Pursuit of Basball..A Short History Lesson

 

                            

 

The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the  1988 after  the  proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the  area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand.  The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new  domed stadium.

 


The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.


 

 

Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field,  ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.

 

 

Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams.  Professional baseball  in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.

 

 

 However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.

 

 

 

In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.

 


Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.

 


In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.

 

 


In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”

 


However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.

 


However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead  to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.

 

 


Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named  former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and  Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.

 

 

 Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager.  So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.

 


Tampa Bay’s pursuit of  major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring  a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.

 

 

My MLB Video Game Life

 

 


I remember many a Christmas as a kid  running out into the living room to gaze under the tree at 5 am before anyone else had gotten up in the house, It was a cardinal rule in our house that no one gets woken up before 6 am on Christmas Day. Not until I got a lot older, and had to put multiple bikes together did I truly understand that ruling by my Dad.

 


It was always a great time, because I was living in the budding gaming infancy. We had just gotten bombarded by commercials on the television the entire Christmas season about this new Atari system and the game Pong had kinda gotten boring after the first few hundred plays. Seriously, back then those two long slots and that crazy bouncing line was the total dimension of video games. Sure the video arcades had the real games and the pinball machines, but for the kids at home, we had  the ever repressive Pong game.

 

 


Now as soon as I saw that Atari system mentioned on TV, you know what got embedded into my parent’s ears for the next month. So when I found it under my tree with some of the newest and most advanced games at that time in the console package, you knew my rainy days and early nights would be filled with multiple colored 2-dimensional fun.

 


Yeah, that was the real drawback of it all is that height and vertical challenges were the extent of the magic back then, but we still played those suckers like there was no tomorrow. They did have a baseball game, but it was so prehistoric, I traded it for a Donkey Kong cartridge. Now there was a game of skill and magic. You had your ape fighting the massive barrels searching for the top and his redemption.


 

 


It is funny now to think I got so worked up by the controller sometimes that I had to walk away from the game for a bit to calm my nerves and get back into focus. But I also remember that I did not play it for hours, or have memory card save points on that machine. You got as high as you could, then turned off the machine and started all over again in the a. m. But I did have friends who discovered cheating methods to boast high levels completed, and also new adventures I had not gotten to yet on my boards. But I loved the thrill of achieving each one by myself without help or using cheat codes or leaving the machine on pause all night long to save your position on the game.

 


So I have an understanding of today’s youth and their playing of video games. I just do not understand the frustration and the level of self absorption to a screen and a cartoon character. But then again, I was an athlete at a young age and had other interests besides my games and what life had to offer. I guess I was lucky to play baseball and basketball and hit the pool during the summer, while my room mates kids sit in front of the TV for 6 hours and fight Sonic or Megatron.

 


I did buy a newer game system a few years ago and used to play only baseball games on the unit. When Sony came out with the Playstation 2, I won a unit as a sales incentive for work. It had a sports bundle and I got hooked on the MLB2004 as soon as it hit my big screen. I used to play it any time I was bored with computer work or nothing was on cable to my liking that night.

 


I got pretty good with the aspect of taking the lower ranked teams and kicking butt against any of the to tier or even All Star teams. It took a while to get some sort of feel for the strike zone and to know the nuances of the game. So when I went to Game Stop recently to buy a few games for a Playstation 3 system the kids’ were going to inherit from their uncle, I decided to buy MLB2004 for myself. I had a yearning to see if that game could still bring out the competitor in me and make me insane with wanting to beat the top teams.

 



So on Christmas Day, as the kids were bored with their new system, I went into my room and got my used copy of MLB2004 and put it in the player. On came that familiar screen and I decided to see if I still had it by going into the Home Run mode for a bit to get my timing back. After about 5 minutes, it was time to see if the old dog could still play this puppy. I decided to play my old team, the Tampa Bay Devilrays against the Florida Marlins.



Now at that time, the Marlins had a young Josh Beckett, A J Burnett, Dontrell Willis and Brad Penny  on their pitching staff. I always played against Beckett and Burnett. I liked playing against the young arms that had deceptive pitches and made the game more fun to play. So I selected that team and decided to also put the DH  in for both teams. That would make it more offensive, but also give me a chance to experiment with my lineup.

 


Of course this was not the team of 2008 for the Devilrays. They still had the old name, the roster was spotted with young talent like Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford, but they also had old Rays mainstays at the time like Jose Cruz Jr., and Aubrey Huff. Now I always liked Huff Daddy as a Ray. He had power and could still play with some gusto back then. But the team was spotted with guys that were not even in a supporting role in 2004.



They had Devi Cruz at shortstop, and he never even took an inning in a Rays uniform at that position, but then again, Julio Lugo was not even on the Houston roster for me to pluck, and Rey Sanchez was not even considered a Ray at that time. But the catching position got me a bit perplexed at time. They had Brook Fordyce as my starting catcher. Now he might have been a great catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, but he was not my catcher…………..sorry Brook.



So I used to dig down into the minor league system for players and adjust my lineup accordingly. I used to put Jared Sandberg at third base because of his awesome power and his quick hands. I would insert Damian Rolls at short only because I trusted his bat and loved chatting with him back then, and put John Flaherty behind the dish for the D-Rays.

 


I started out as the home team, playing in the Trop., and forgot that down the right field line, they did not have my section in the game. That still pisses me off to this day that the location of my seat for 10 years is not even listed on a video game. Anyways, here I go starting Victor Zambrano for the game and using his slider and change up to confuse the Marlins. I can honestly say that it is a touchy situation to have one of the worst pitching staffs and strike out a side. The next inning you could make 3 mistakes and it is 3-0 without a bat of an eye.

 


I get through 4 innings and the kids come in and begin to watch the old guy take it to the Marlins. The youngest has never seen me use a controller and is a bit impressed I even know where the buttons are on the unit. I have a guy warming up in my Bullpen and have a 21-3 lead at that moment when Zambrano begins to get rocked by the Marlins. Before I can catch my breath and realize it, the score is 21-13 and I have inserted Jorge Sosa to relieve Zambrano.

 


With an increasing audience, I am a bit nervous and make a huge series of errors to get the game closer in the next frame. It is now 25-18, and I am letting the Marlins creep back into the contest. I decided to have some fun, or maybe it was a bout of madness, and let one of the kid play the 8th inning. After he got rocked and his pitcher was exhausted, it was 29-27. I did not fret, I did not worry, I knew who I had in my Bullpen warming up for the 9th inning. I also knew that I had a good bench and could pull this game out without a problem.

 


I inserted D-rays closer Dany Baez into the game in the top of the 9th and he got the Marlins down quickly, but not without surrendering a 2-run shot by Luis Gonzalez to right field. With the game tied, I got two quick strikeouts to end the inning. In the bottom of the 9th, I got things started by having Carl Crawford put down a bunt, but on this game, Crawford is not as fast as in real life.

 


Pity, in the real game, he was safe by a country mile. I then had Rolls put a ball down the third baseline that was grabbed behind the bag, but threw him out. Again in reality, that is also a base hit. So I am down to my last at bat and decide to use a pinch hitter. I select my old buddy Greg Vaughn. Now Vaughn was beginning to see the end with the D-Rays this season, and that was a shame.

 


He was seeing his speed and his bat become less of a weapon than ever in his career. But I have always had trust in the man, and I also knew he would not let me down. So here is my plan, to have him put a ball into play and hope for a miracle. I get two quick strikes off sliders from the Marlins reliever. I am battling off the next two pitches high and outside that could have gone for strikes against me. Finally, I get a hanging curve ball and put it into the gap for a double.

 

 


At this time, the score is tied, and I have two outs. I am running on anything that Huff puts into play. Huff gets two balls low and outside. He then get schooled on a nice curve ball for a 2-1 count. Then I get a lucky break and they try and pitch him outside and about waist high. Boom a nice liner to deep right field. I start Vaughn off from second base and do not even look up to see if the ball is getting relayed into the infield by the Marlin’s right fielder. I round third streaking for home and hear the room begin to groan.

 


But they do not know what I know. I can slide in this primitive addition of the Sony game. But I decide to take on the catcher mano-on-mano and thrust up into him as he gets the throw from second base.  I somehow get the ball loose and the umpire yells “safe” over the surround sound to the gathered crowd in the room. So here I am victorious with a walk-off  victory and everyone is saying I cheated.


 

 


What! I played heads up baseball, that resulted a a winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat an Inter-state rival. The 2008 Rays would be climbing all over themselves and the plate to celebrate such a win. But in this house, they all consider it a freak and a bit of user luck to beat the game. Damn, and to think I used to play that rectangular moving brick for hours chasing a moving pong ball and never heard the words cheating, or even a word of disappointment. Guess that is the problem with games in 3-D, it also comes with the interpretation of the crowd around you. I wonder if the 2004  Boston Red Sox are up for a rematch of my fantasy World Series win in 7 games tonight?

 

Rays Reminiscing…………..A Year Later

 

 

 

 

A little over 13 months ago we took on a new persona here in Tampa Bay. Everyone remembers the limp, win-challenged Tampa Bay Devilrays. Well, we were told to expect changes and get used to winning and maybe keeping a roll of antacids in our pockets for the 2008 season. But little did we know what was about to happen to effect our lives, stomachs and attitude towards our home team.

 

First there was the events st Straub Park that put the entire thing into motion for 2008. Kevin Costner and Modern West came to put on a free concert for the Tampa Bay Masses as we dropped the Devil from our moniker and became to Rays………free and clear. Along with those changes were vibrant logo with a highly accented “R” and the burst of light, which could of been a sunburst, a flashlight, or maybe even a quasar from the futre telling us about 2008.

 

 

 

 

The event brought alot of mixed emotions into the Tampa Bay area, but also brought about a sense of removing the past and being reborn to become what we should always have been…winners.  Not only did the team have a new energy about it, but the player showed the emotion and the anticipation on stage that night to bring about total acceptance of the new look. I only had one problem with all of this change. I still thank that the road jersey should have the “Tampa Bay” naming on the chest instead of the Rays.

 

It might be something simple to most people, but I also have been on teams that accented the away jersey would have a regional flair, and the Rays became only one of a handful of teams that now held the same uniform both home and away. One small patch on the sleeve kept the flying “ray” alive, but for how long. I have a feeling we might see it gone in 2009, replaced by some sort of symbolic gesture of winning, or maybe a “burst” like in the center of the current logo.

 

 

 

 

After the effectiver launching of the new logo and advertising, the team went on a media blitz that saturated the Tampa Bay area with the new attitude and logo. Gone were the green and white shirts off the shelves, and on them now was the burst and the typically blue hats with the white “TB” on them. Also gone were the 5 or 6 variations of the caps during the initial launch. Tampa Bay wanted the entire area to re-unite under one cap scheme before re-launching variations and knock-offs.

 

The Champs Sporting Good store player appearance were extremely popular and some store even ran out of certain team apparel that night. The buzz was all over the Tampa Bay area about the recharged Rays and their plans for the future.  So we got to relax for a short while before the team announced two huge trades of disgruntled or negatively-aligned players. One was a superstar in waiting, while the other may someday be a great powerhitter, but not with the Rays.

 

 

 

 

Delmon Young, who had been in the doghouse of Maddons’ since the last game of the season was jettisoned to the great white dome in Minnesota along with utility guy Brendan Harris and minor league outfielder Jason Pridie. The deal at first looked like the Twins had fleeced the Rays for a potential All-Star and slick-hitter in Young.  But the deal did not take a Tampa Bay turn into late in Spring Training when it looked like two of the players dealt to the Rays might be starters on the team.

 

 

 

 

Jason Bartlett came to the Rays as a much under used appreciated and mis used member of the Twin’s infield. He had good skills at the plate, but his strong point was his defense. The second member of the trade might have come with the most baggage to Tampa Bay. Matt Garza was a great pitcher, but he got into himself too much and might have done himself more damage than good in his time with the Twins. In the end, both guys became valuable members of the team and did not even look back as they moved forward with the Rays. The minute Spring Training started at the Namoli Complex, you could see both guys were relishing in their change of scenery.  Bartlett quickly got into the team’s rhythm and poised to become a valuable member of the squad.

 

 

 

 

Garza tried to become a dominating pitcher early, but his mind got in the way of his pitching and sulking and frustration came to the top alot in the beginning. The truning point for this trade came on that faithful day in Texas where Garza could not longer hide the frustrations and outwardly exploded in the dugout. That day, Garza let it all out and began a transformation that made him into a stellar pitcher.

 

 

 

 

The second trade might not have made much sense at the time, but it was done more out of helping a player who did not think he needed the help at the moment. Elijah Dukes will someday be a trememdous hitter and outfielder, but the local enviorment for him was toxic and he needed to leave before it destroyed him. Duke was traded to the Washington Nationals and did not see a huge amount of action in 2008, but the positive did rear their heads for him during the year.

 

He played inspired ball and did not focus or dwell on the off the field problem he had in Tampa Bay. He showed the Nationals the raw ability and power he had, and made some amazing plays in the field before finally going down in a game against the New York Mets. In that game, Dukes sprinted for a ball near the base of the wall and hit it with such force it should have broken his leg.

 

He did come outy with a knee problem, but came back  quickly and even made more heads turn before the end of the year. He stayed out of trouble and learned that the change of scenery made the trade a blessing in disguise. Tampa Bay might not have gotten alot in return for Dukes, but they did give him his life back, and he repaid them by doing it the right way.

 

 

 

 

After these two trades, the team went about signing two members of the 2008 team that made contributions in different ways. Troy Percival was chasing a top 10 spot in the All-Time save list when he signed a 2-year contract with the Rays. Because of his knowledge of Maddon’s gameplan, he was the perfect candidate for closing out Rays games. He came with veteran experience and postseason muscle, which could come in handy for the young Bullpen.

 

His work ethic and chats with the young guys could serve a dual purpose as having another pitching coach out there in the Bullpen to educate and relate to the other players. Percival came into the year  wanting to secuire the back end of the Rays Bullpen and give them some stability in the position.  Little did we know at the time what would happen, but in 2007, it was heralded as a major upgrade and a certain intimidation factor.

 

 

                              

 

 

The second signing was for a former outfielder who had won a World Series ring just like Percival. Cliff Floyd came to the team with a dual mission. He came to the team to provide ammunition and experience to help educate and emotionally charge the young bench. Floyd came here with great credentials, but his on-field mobility was in question from the start. Gone were the legs who could produce a run from a single, but the power and the stroke were still there in force.

 

He became an instant leader in the clubhouse and lead by example. Always the professional, Floyd took young players like B J Upton and Carl Crawford under his wing and taught both of them the art of the game. That half the battle in this psort was fought between their ears and in their words and comments to others. You could see the change in both players’ early in the year, and it set the tone for the team.

 

                                

 

 

 

So with these 4 episodes early in the off season for the Rays, the team set about  a series of changes like never before in their history. They had a change of uniforms, attitude and a veteran experience level they had not witnessed in their short history. The sky was the limit for the young team before the Feb. reporting day, and from there they just kept making history. 

 

Josh Hamilton Bio and Tdibits

 

 

When else in history have we had a story like Josh Hamilton.  First off, he was the  First overall pick in the 1999 Amateur Draft for the then Tampa Bay Devilrays.  He was a blue-chip or 5-tool player out of high school who could do almost anything in the field and at the plate.

He was a highly decorated high school player, twice being named North Carolina’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Following his senior season, he was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America and Amateur Player of the Year by USA Baseball.

 Hamilton played outfield and also pitched during his high school career. As a left-handed high school pitcher, Hamilton sometimes hit 96 MPH. He was touted as a rare talent, who was almost equally skilled as a pitcher and a position player (outfield).

Dan Jennings, a Tampa Bay scout said “He has every tool we look for in a position player.” His high school coach at Athens Drive, John Thomas said “He’s better at this game than anyone else I’ve seen in high school or college.”

Hamilton signed with the Devil Rays receiving a $3.96 million signing bonus, and joined their minor league system. His first stop in the minors was the  short-season rookie level Princeton Devil Rays, where he played 56 games. He also joined the Hudson Valley Renegades, and helped lead them to their first New York-Penn League championship.

  

I remember first seeing Josh at the Namoli Complex in St. Petersburg, Florida, you first focus was on his strong forearms and his professional demeanor. I know from my involvement with the Spring Training staff that Hamilton was eager and willing to do anything to show his worth to the team at that stage of his career.

On the training field facing SE of the center  coaching towers at the complex,Josh used to routinely put balls into the players’ parking lot during BP. It became a running joke that the clubhouse staff used to sit out there and shag balls to keep them from hitting the veteran’s cars

 

After this successful debut in professional baseball, he spent the 2000 season with the Charleston RiverDogs in the South Atlantic League. Prior to the 2001 season, Hamilton was involved in an accident in his truck coming back from a Spring Training game in Sarasota,Florida. His mother was also injured in the accident, and she went home with her husband to recuperate from her injuries.

                                      

The 2001 season was the first time Hamilton began going to Ybor City with teammates and became involved in the local bar scene and began experimenting with drugs, and made his first attempt at rehab. Several former Rays players routinely went to the Tampa entertainment zone to let off steam from the days work and enjoy the nightlife. It was at this time that Josh also began his obsession with tattoo’s and the local parlors in Ybor City.

Hamilton only played 27 games in the 2001 season, split between Charleston (A-Ball) and the Orlando Rays. Hamilton began the 2002 season with the Bakersfield Blaze, batting .303 with 9 home runs and 44 RBIin 56 games before his season came to an end due to lingering back and shoulder injuries.At the start of the 2003 season, Hamilton started showing up late during the Rays’ Spring Training and was reassigned to the team’s minor league camp. He left the team and disappeared for several weeks, resurfaced several times, but eventually took the rest of the season off for personal reasons.

 

 

 

Hamilton was hoping to return to spring training with the Devil Rays in 2004, but he was suspended 30 days and fined for violating the drug policy put in place by MLB. Because of the length of his suspension, and the terms of the drug policy, Hamilton must have failed two or more drug tests after being put into the program. A ‘failed’ test is a positive result for a drug more severe than marijuana. Hamilton was known to frequent known nightspots where cocaine and other drugs could be bought easily and without problems.

The  suspension was increased several times after repeated violations of the terms of the program.

From 2002 until 2006, Hamilton did not play baseball at all. He made several attempts at rehab, and started off the 2005 season with hopes of being reinstated by MLB. 

During his time away from baseball, Hamilton had escalated to using heroin and shed almost 35 pounds off his frame from the drug use. One time during a breif stay in a drug house in North Carolina, Hamilton let a known drug dealer use his truck to go get more product for the people in the house to use. The drug dealer never returned with his truck or the drugs.

Hamilton’s struggles with drugs and alcohol are well documented. He finally got clean after being confronted by his grandmother, Mary Holt. Hamilton says he hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since October 6, 2005. When giving a brief summary of his recovery Hamilton says simply “It’s a God thing.”

 He does not shy away from telling his story, speaking to community groups and fans at many different functions. He frequently and publicly tells stories of how Christianity has brought him back from the brink and that faith is what keeps him going.

 His wife Katie sometimes accompanies him, offering her perspective on his struggles as well.  To go along with the provisions of MLB’s drug policy, Hamilton provides urine samples for drug testing at least three times per week.

 Rangers’ coach Johnny Narron says of the frequent testing: “I think he looks forward to the tests. He knows he’s an addict. He knows he has to be accountable. He looks at those tests as a way to reassure people around him who had faith.”

 Hamilton approaches the plate at Texas Rangers home games to the song “Saved The Day” by Christian group Phillips, Craig & Dean.


 His return to baseball was helped along by Roy Silver who owns a baseball academy in Clearwater,Florida. After hearing about Hamilton’s desire to return to baseball, Silver offered the use of his facility if Hamilton agreed to work there. After several months there, Hamilton attempted to play with an independent minor league team, but MLB stepped in and disallowed it.

After reviewing his case, and hearing from doctors that being around baseball might speed his recovery, Hamilton was allowed to work out with the Devil Rays minor league players starting on June 2, 2006.

 

I remember I had to deliver some product to the Rays complex that morning, and did not know of the media circus when I pulled up to the doors. Sit outside the field doors were almost 10 TV cameras’ and crews waiting for Hamilton to remerge from the doors to start his MLB career over again. He was inside talking to Tim M, who runs the complex for the Rays when I first saw him. 

Hamilton looked bigger and stronger than when he was with the Rays before, and had a aura about him now. As he turned and smiled at me, I saw that he also had a renewed vigor about him. A positive light that truly would guide him through this endeavor. 

Josh had found religion was the key to his core. That by believing in the Lord, he had a co-pilot on his journey this time. That he could trust himself and his faith that things would be right this time. He turned, shook my hand after I told him it was glad to see a smile on his face again and slowly step towards the door. I warned him of the media storm outside the door, and he just smiled and said, ” I have been waiting for this all my life, I am past the storm, this is just a sun-soaked rainshower now.”

 

 By the end of the month, he was allowed to participate in minor league games.

 He played 15 games with the Hudson Valley Renegadesat the end of the 2006 season. In addition to returning to baseball, Hamilton also served as a cautionary tale for his young teammates with the Renegades.

Rick Zolzer, the Renegades’ director of special events said of Hamilton: “”He pointed (the other players) in the right direction. He said, Don’t make the mistakes I made.’ He was so good with all of the young kids.”

 

Hamilton was selected third overall in the MLB portion of the 2006 Rule 5 Draft by the Chicago Cubs, as the Rays had not placed him on their 40-man roster. The Rays were hoping that with his sorted past, teams would not select him and he would remain with the Rays while resurecting his career.

 The Cubs then sold Hamilton to the Cincinnati Reds for $100,000 ($50,000 for his rights, and $50,000 to cover the cost of the Rule 5 selection). In their coverage of the draft, Chris Kline and John Manuel of Baseball America called Hamilton “the biggest name in the Rule 5 Draft.”                

                                  

In order to retain the rights to Hamilton, the Reds had to keep him on their Major League 25-man roster for the entire 2007 season. He was one of the Reds’ best hitters in spring training, leaving camp with a .403 batting average. As a result, he won a spot on the Reds’ Opening Day roster; the Reds planned to use him as a fourth outfielder.

Hamilton started most of the time in centerfield after an injury to former-Ray Ryan Freel. He also received starts due to injuries to Chris Denorfia and Norris Hopper.

Hamilton made his long-awaited Major League debut on April 2 against the Chicago Cubs in a pinch-hit appearance,and received a 22-second standing ovation from the Reds’ faithful. He lined out to left fielder Matt Murton, who made a sliding catch. Hamilton stayed in the game to play left field. As he was waiting to bat, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said “‘You deserve it, Josh. Take it all in, brother. I’m happy for you.”

He made his first start on April 10 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, batting lead off. In that game, he recorded his first Major League hit, a home run off Édgar González. The next night, he hit another. Hamilton was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April.

On May 22, the Reds placed Hamilton on the 15-day DL with gastroenteritis; they activated him on June 5 after he batted .333 (8-for-24) with four home runs and six RBI in a six-game Minor League rehabilitation assignment. Hamilton went back on the DL on July 12 with a sprained wrist.

Among all NL rookies, Hamilton placed second behind the  Brewers’Ryan Braun in slugging percentage (.554), and fourth in home runs (19); behind Braun, Arizonza’s Chris Young, and the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki. He was shut out in the voting for the Rookie of the Year, which was won by Braun.

On December 21, 2007, the Reds traded Hamilton to the Texas Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera.

 

 

 In 2008, Hamilton locked up the Rangers starting centerfielder job with a stellar spring training in which he batted .556 and drove in 13 RBIs in 14 games. His spring training performance proceeded to follow into the regular season. Hamilton, usually slotted third in the Texas batting order, appears to be finally fulfilling his great potential.

Hamilton led all Major League players in RBI for the month of April. He was named American League Player of the Month after hitting .330 with 32 RBI during the month. Hamilton then went on to win player of the month for the second straight month in May, becoming the first American League player in baseball history to be awarded Player of the Month for the first two months of the season.

 Hamilton was featured on the cover of the June 2, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated, in a story chronicling his comeback.

 On July 9, 2008 Josh Hamilton hit the first walk-off home run of his career against Angels’ closer, Francisco Rodriguez.

Fans selected Hamilton as one of the starting outfielders for the American League at the 2008 MLB All Star Game at Yankee Stadium. He finished first in voting among the outfielders to clinch his spot. He will be one of seven first-time starters in the game.

 

Along with Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto,Ryan Braun,and the Rays’ Evan Longoria, he will be one of four who made their MLB debut 2007 or 2008.

 He was selected to participate in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby the evening before the game. 

Hamilton selected 71-year old Clay Counsil to throw to him during the Derby. Counsil was a  local volunteer who threw batting practice for him as an American Legion player  in Cary, NC. Counsil threw picture perfect pitches for Hamilton to hit that night in Yankee Stadium. At one point it was rumored he had thrown over 90 pitches before Josh had finished his First Round.

In the first round of the event Hamilton hit 28 home runs, to break the single round record of 24 set by Bobby Abreu in 2005. Several of those homers were to the only place in Yankee Stadium where a ball could be hit out of the complex, deep right centerfield next to the upper decks. Hamilton, who had 28 homers after the first round, came out and took only a small amount of pitches to extend his total to 32, before retiring for the final round.

 Hamilton ended up hitting the most total home runs in the contest with 35, but lost in the final round to Justin Morneau, as the scores were reset. His record setting first round included 13 straight home runs at one point, and three that went further than 500 feet. His longest home run was 518 feet.

 In 2006, when Hamilton was trying to get back into baseball, he had a dream where he participated in a Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, but he could not remember how many home runs he had hit. After the Derby Hamilton said: “This, was like living the dream out, because like I’ve said, I didn’t know the ending to that dream.”

 Last night, Josh started in centerfield for the American League, and went 1-3 on the night and was greeted by a huge cheer from the mostly Yankee crowd on his first at-bat.

Hamilton has been an ispiration to both young and old to rise to this level of achievement in such a short frame of time. The season is still young, and Hamilton is currently leading Major League Baseball in RBI’s with 95. He is currently hitting .310 for the year and is ranked 18th in the MLB, and 9th in the AL. Hamilton also has 21 homers at the break to rank 12th in the MLB and 3rd in the AL, two behind the leader.

Hamilton has a chance to make a bid for the Triple Crown this season. That is top spot on average, homers and RBI’s in the American League. He is also being touted as a eraly favorite for the AL MVP award.  We have alot of great baseball to play, and Josh still has some unfinished business to attend to this season.

We should all be grateful this fantastic athlete found the courage and commitment to self and his religion to rise from the ashes and make us all feel great about life.  

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