Results tagged ‘ Dioner Navarro ’

Shoppach Finally Won Me Over

Not sure why it took me so long to see this “other side” of Tampa Bay Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach. Most just get to see that focused and persistent of his Rays game day persona on the diamond where achieving positive results are warranted and his emotional outbursts tend to be genuine to a fault. Not sure why I held a wall up towards Shoppach, not wanting to really know this guy.

It is true I wasn’t a firm member of the Shoppach admiration society when Shoppach first came to the Rays from the Cleveland Indians. I somehow initially considered him a retread version of former Rays disgruntled employee Dioner Navarro. You know, good behind the dish but mediocre standing at it.

Maybe it was his Red Sox past that kept me from seeing him in any hint of early positive light. Possibly I mis-labeled his game day intensity and focus as arrogance and bit of a conceit instead of their true intentions. Got to admit now, I wasted a lot of time avoiding this guy like the plague when I should been open to seeing his true colors.

Over the past month or so I have gotten to see a different side of Shoppach. Not from personal one-on-one conversations over a Vente cup of Starbucks brew, or even on the Rays sidelines. The avenues that opened my mind towards Shoppach was his muses and 140-character visions Shoppach displayed daily on the social media site Twitter.

If it wasn’t for his Twitter handle @ShopHouse10, I would not have known about his deep seeded Starbucks daily obsession, or his love for his old Alma Mater, Baylor University. Maybe that is what bonded me finally to Shoppach, his love for the Baylor Bears. That was the college squad I last played for before taking my next step in my football career, and I hold my moments in Waco,Texas very close to my heart.

Or maybe it was his selfless actions pre-game before the Rays first “Tweet Up” when Shoppach made a point to stroll down to the Rays Bullpen with his own personalized Rays Tweet In T-shirt nestled above his glove complete with his signature in black Sharpie. Shoppach walked over and I almost took the t-shirt, but did the Southern guy thing and made sure the girl next to me got the new found treasure.

It was a grand gesture that finally opened my eyes and mind to the honest fact that Shoppach is truly a “Good old Boy” at heart, and someone I had misjudged. Even though the first day Shoppach wrote on Twitter I made sure to re-tweet his new handle and promote a new Ray on Twitter, that moment instantly made me a Shoppach fan.

Maybe I should have known that Shoppach had those Texas traits embodied in him as I had transfused into me those 2 years in Waco. Possibly his 2010 walk-up song “She’s Country” by Jason Aldean should have awoken me, but that small but grand gesture that afternoon sealed the deal for me.

Heck, I take my cap off to Shoppach, not a lot of Rays players who boast Twitter accounts came down there that afternoon to socialize with the “Rays Tweet Family”, but Shoppach made a point to show his support, even though Shoppach was starting behind the plate that day. Pity it took me this long to see this real side of Shoppach.

Especially since these last handful of home games might be the last time I get to holler towards him as a member of the Rays. Shoppach is one of the three Rays who have pending 2012 club options that will be addressed by the Rays front office after this season. All signs point towards the Rays declining this club option considering the recent bevy of young backstops showing their skills and prowess in 2011. Shoppach’s days are surely numbered with the Rays.

But that is the nature of the business side of baseball. Sometimes you just start to see someone true abilities and intentions and they are gone. But this brief recent discovery of Shoppach’s other side will keep me checking in on him no matter where he puts his glove in 2012.

I have found a player who I can respect both on and off the field for his comments, efforts and his beliefs. Keep posting those great 140-character glimpses into your mind, I am eager to get to know a little more about @ShopHouse10 every day. By the way, I agree with your Twitter follower @LeeBarlett, Starbucks should have a local Tampa Bay confection for the rest of 2011 called the Caffe Vanilla Shopalatte….just sayin.

Rays Harvesting a Great Bumper Corp of Backstops

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Five years ago it seems like it was the sore spot of the Tampa Bay Rays farm system. For some reason catching did not seem to be the Rays thing. After Toby Hall, the Rays did not seem to have a viable prospect in their system who might make it to the Major League level.

 

Sure the Rays had farm system catchers who could hit, play some solid defense, and even throw on a frozen line to second base to get the speediest of base runners. But the obvious problem was there was no one with even two of those traits in the system.

But just like everything else within the Rays system since 2007, Rays VP of Baseball Operation Andrew Friedman and his Scouting crew quickly honed, molded and transformed some of the Rays farm system borderline catching prospects into bona fide Major League Baseball caliber backstops.

Suddenly the Rays seem to have a bumper crops of backstops all emerging at the same time with only a limited amount of space at Triple-A and possibly no room at the MLB level. So let’s take a look at the few of the names on everyone’s lips in the catching corps of the Rays this Spring:

Most people considered John Jaso a great offensive weapon, but his catching fundamentals and procedures had a lot to be desired. But after the Rays committed to working with Jaso before, during and after Spring Training in 2010, the young catcher responded with a stellar game behind the plate.

Suddenly Jaso was stopping the pitches in the dirt that used to get by him and pushed base runners into scoring position. Jaso began to gain confidence and began to rocket the ball to second base having one of his best seasons of his professional baseball career. Most people forget Jaso started out at Triple-A with the Durham Bulls before the Rays recalled Jaso after Kelly Shoppach went down with his first injury on April 13,2010.

Jaso seized the opportunity and became only the 14th rookie catcher all time to serve as the primary catcher for a Rays team that made the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. With help from Rays Bullpen Coach bobby Ramos, who also used to serve as the Rays catching instructor, Jaso worked long and hard to separate himself from the rest of the Rays catching corp.

Jaso also took the lead-off spot in the Rays line-up 45 times in 2010 becoming the first Rays catcher to earn that spot, plus posting more time at the lead-off spot than any other rookie catcher in MLB history. Jaso had 59 walks leading all AL rookies and combined with his 39 total strikeouts, Jaso posted the best BB to K ration of anyone with over 400 plate appearances.

Coming into 2011, Jaso has renewed the focus to improving on his 18 percent rate in throwing out base runners by working extensively before Spring camp in finding a more reliable and quicker release point, plus working on his leg core in the weight room to bring stability and agility to his throwing motion. In essence, Jaso is trying to take his game to the next level and become an all-around catcher.

gLy7kH6u.jpgSome considered Nevin Ashley, the Rays heir apparent to the Rays second catching spot once Kelly Shoppach’s 2011 contract is off the books. Ashley has been considered the Rays farm system’s best defensive catcher the last two seasons, and seemed to have stepped up their game during the 2010 MLB Spring camp and during the Grapefruit League season.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon, a former catcher himself liked what he saw from Ashley during the Spring, and Nevin took that new confidence displayed by the Rays and put it into his game during his rapid climb through the Rays minor league system. Ashley even got a chance to provide some important insurance for the Rays during the American League Divisional Series as a non-rostered third catcher after former Rays catcher Dioner Navarro had a mental meltdown and took his equipment and went home in October 2010.

Ashley caught 41 percent of his base runners while with the Montgomery Biscuits early in 2010, and sported an impressive .992 Fielding Percentage. By comparison, the MLB average in 2010 was only 23.1 percent. How impressive was Ashley in the Spring of 2010, he only hit .474 (9-for-19) during only

9 Spring games,and got his first HR off Red Sox hurler Josh Beckett.

The Rays had such high hopes for Ashley in 2011 that they invited him to their Rays Winter Development Program held less than two months ago in Tropicana Field that helped highlight the attributes of the some of the Rays most promising prospects. High praise for a backstop who caught Washington Nationals top prospect Stephen Strausburg’s professional debut in the 2009 Arizona Fall League.


96UaelsQ.jpgA third name has quickly risen on the lips and scouting reports for the Rays. A former infielder who only took over catching chores three seasons ago in the Chicago Cubs farm system, Robinson Chirinos is making such an impressive display this Spring that some whispers within the system think he might leapfrog Ashley as the heir apparent to a Rays back-up catching slot.

Spring is still young, and Chirino’s offensive display including a 2-run rocket shot Home Run today to help defeat the Boston Red Sox is only hgelping to build on “El Chef’s” cult status for 2011. In the same way so many within the Rays faithful fell in love with Jaso’s hustle and confidence in 2010, Chirino’s is quickly turning into the best piece of the return for sending Rays starter Matt Garza to the Cubs this Winter.

How can you argue with a appearing in double digit games (10) this Spring for the Rays sporting a .289 Batting Average with 5 extra base hits, 8 RBI and stellar .944 Slugging Percentage. And this is not a fluke either. Chirinos posted a .999 OPS, which ranked 8th among all minor leaguers in 2010, and topped every catcher in the entire minor leagues.

And just like Ashley, Chirinos was considered by “Baseball America” to be the best defensive catcher for the second season in a row in the Cubs system. Chrinos also threw out 31.8 percent of his base runners at Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. Hit .438 versus left-handed pitching and .271 versus right-handers in his two minor league stops in 2010. Was placed on the Cub’s 40-man roster on October 29, 2010.


ap-185362e763d9467e8818ea332f0865eb.jpgSuddenly the once barren wasteland that was the Rays catching corps is bearing fruit close to the Major League level. All three of these catchers have limited MLB, or no MLB experience, but this bodes well for the future of Rays catching for a long time. There are other Rays catchers in the Rays minor league system currently paying their dues and making noise themselves.

But the noise and banter about these three potentially lethal Rays backstops will help cool the Rays scouting department’s yearning for the next great Rays catcher. Jaso could possibly lead-off 120 times in 2011 breaking the single season record set by Jason Kendall in 2004 while with the Pirates.

Ashley could make it difficult for the Rays to keep him at Triple-A with a solid start, or an injury at the MLB level. And then there is the Wild Card, Chirinos, who could prove to be the best of the rest and make Shoppach expendable before the end of the month. Rays catching has come a long way since the yearly rental of guys like Josh Paul Charlie Johnson or even recent retiree Gregg Zaun. Finally maybe the Rays backstop will get some respect. If one of the Rays starters can break that 20-game win plateau, you can bet he will celebrate with the guy behind the plate first….and that is the way it should be.


Time to Push Navarro From the Rays Nest


 
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Sometimes I can visually see vividly in my mind a few of the Tampa Bay Rays staff inside the dugout tunnels or near the clubhouse during games banging their heads against the wall in regards to the antics and misadventures involving Rays catcher Dioner Navarro over the past two seasons. The mire fact that Navarro is still on the Rays 40-man roster even at this moment just baffles me to no avail.


Navarro in my mind is one of those professional baseball players who just seems to be more of a heavy albatross around the neck of this franchise than any measure of a good omen. It just seems to me personally that Navarro must have had a few unflattering photos or video of someone somewhere within the Rays organization. I guess that is the rationale I have to put into my mind to explain how Navarro still has a coveted spot upon the Rays 40-man roster.


Soon the Rays front office could end all of this mind boggling insanity and possibly non-tender Navarro, thus setting set him free upon the rest of the MLB. Or could the Rays be hoping and praying for someone to be willing to trade even a few minor league prospects for their catcher who now seems to have his Rays days numbered.


Why in heck is this guy still got even a hint of possibly securing another year with the Rays after his blatant disregard for his own club after he walked away from the Rays on October 7th because his name was omitted from the American League Divisional Series 25-man roster. How in his mind could Navarro really think he deserved a ALDS roster spot over the more productive pairing of current Rays catchers Kelly Shoppach and rookie John Jaso?


Could his agent have possibly diluted his mind to such a state that Navarro took the omission as a disrespectful move by the Rays instead of the right personnel move considering Navarro’s 2010 track record? Might that roster omission by the Rays fueled Navarro’s frustrations and made him implode and pack up catching gear and leave the Rays clubhouse for maybe the last time?


Or was this another visual outburst of denial by Navarro of the ever increasing valley between the team and himself after Navarro spent his time from June 24th until his call-up on August 31st with the Rays Triple-A affiliate in Durham, North Carolina. The fact that Navarro openly told the team on October 7th that he was “going home” instead of staying with the club and working out in case of an injury to any of the Rays catchers’ should have pushed him beyond the confines of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s doghouse and given Navarro an instant exit from the Rays 40-man roster.

 

But still, the Venezuelan catcher still sits upon the 32 names currently resting on the Rays 40-man roster this off season. Isn’t this the same Navarro who became certainly expendable in the Rays minds back during Dec 2009 when the Rays first had thoughts of trading away Navarro, but the return was not considered beneficial to the team’s future. Wasn’t Navarro the figure on the Rays roster who should have been more aware and concerned for his job when the Rays traded one of the Rays top farmhand pitchers Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians for Shoppach.
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Shouldn’t that transaction by the Rays during the off season been a clear signal to Navarro that his Major League job might be in deep jeopardy? Instead it just seemed like Navarro, who had seen the Rays bring fellow backstop Gregg Zaun late in 2009 did not seem to heed the warning signals. Instead it seemed that Navarro just tried to do just enough to again hold onto one of the Rays two catching positions.

Even during the Winter of 2009 when teams like the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays were hunting for catching options, the slow-footed Navarro did not peak anyone interest farther than a casual phone call to the Rays. During the 2009 off season the Rays did think long and hard about non-tendering the arbitration eligible catcher, but again he somehow had enough believers in the Rays staff to fend off his departure.


More and more in 2009 and early 2010 the Rays faithful had to witness the extreme casual attitude behind the plate when Navarro basically saw balls hit the dirt in front of him and he mysteriously missed the balls and had to chase them around the Tropicana Field backstop. It was if Navarro had stepped into a hole defensively that he could not get himself out of in time to save his starting job.


But now as another arbitration time is quickly approaching it is time for the Rays to send a loud and clear message to their one time All Star catcher. It is time to cut the string between Navarro and the Rays and set him along towards another team. With the emergence of Jaso and the stability of a contract with Shoppach for another season, it would be ill advised to hold onto an arbitration eligible Navarro who could demand a $ 2.9 million salary even with his demotion during 2010 to the minor leagues.

It is time to let the slow-footed catcher makes his way out of the fold of the Rays and into the glaring sunlight to see his true worth around the Major Leagues . They say a mother bird sometimes has to push a baby bird out of it’s nest to make it realize it has to fly. It is time for this bird to definitely get pushed out of the Rays fold. Some might call it a reality check for Navarro, but I consider it more a relief of catching albatross from around the necks of the Rays. Fly away little Navi, Fly away!

 

 

 

Could Jaso be a AL ROY Dark Horse?

 

 

Some of the Tampa Bay Rays fans might have known that rookie catcher John Jaso plays guitar in the Rays team garage band, but how many of you knew if he was not playing baseball, he wanted to be a Mathematics teacher? I can honestly attest to not being the best at mathematical statistics and logistical probabilities, but I sure can predict with some clarity that Jaso will be a hard person to overlook when it comes down to voting for the 2010 Rookie of the Year in the American League.


Most people have two Detroit Tigers players high on their list as the potential one and two most likely candidates in rookies Austin Jackson and Brian Boesch, and they are excellent players to consider, but usually when two players on the same team go head-to-head against each other, there can be a secondary lapse of them cancelling themselves out in the process.

Other names to consider like M’s rookie Justin Smoak, and Indian infielder Jason Donald have also has solid years for their respective clubs, but if you truly consider how far Jaso has come since the beginning of Spring Training this season, he has out performed all of them. All this chatter about a possible ROY candidacy might not have even happened if Jaso had not impressed the Rays brass enough to get them all to collectively reconsider sending him back Durham (Triple-A) this season after Kelly Shoppach came back from his knee injury.

 

To even consider sending their long time starting catcher and former All Star Dioner Navarro down to the minors instead would have been out of the question if Jaso had not made his numbers at the plate and behind it pop out at you compared to Navarro or Shoppach. I would definitely say Jaso has already beaten some amazing odds to even still be wearing his Rays uniform every night.


Even if you think Jaso is not putting up the usual romantic offensive power numbers associated with most rookies who are considered for this ROY Award, Jaso has brought a great offensive level back to the Rays catching position, and his defensive skills get better with every pitch.. We already knew that Jaso possesses a big bat, but the Rays fans were a bit shocked, but pleasantly surprised to see an almost 180 degree shift in his catching defensive skills since his first Major League call-up in September 2008.

Jaso has basically had drastic changes made to his defensive stance, throwing motion changed by the Rays this Spring. Sure Jaso is still a little rough around the edges and learning behind the plate, but his mass improvement can be directly attributed with his extra time spent with Rays Bullpen Coach and former Catching Instructor Bobby Ramos and Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi. They both worked to simplify Jaso’s approach and skills behind the plate, and they made an immediate positive change in Jaso’s career path.

 
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With Jaso’s skills behind the plate beginning to shining brighter with every start, his offensive numbers have been consistent and a huge upgrade for the Rays in their quest for a second American League East title. Even though Jaso has less than 500 plate appearances ( 268 as of Sept 3), the left-hand hitting Jaso has amassed a .280 batting average with 4 HR and 42 RBI while seeing limited action, mostly against right-handed pitcher this season.

But the power aspect of this young catcher is firmly in hand when you notice in his brief plate appearances in 2010, he also has 75 hits and 15 doubles and has been extremely patient at the plate in getting 47 walks this season. Amazing still is the fact Jaso has hit out of the lead-off spot in 28 Rays contests and the first Rays catcher to every attempt the feat. According to Baseball Reference, no other rookie has ever started as many games as a catcher and batting lead-off in one season. To put it more into prospective, the previous record was 13 games by Philadelphia A’s Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane in 1925. Jaso was also the first rookie catcher to bat lead-off since Tiger Bruce Kimm in 1976.

 
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I know it doesn’t take a math wizard right now to see that Jaso has firmly planted himself as a vital cog in the Rays machine this season. To further boost up Jaso’s offensive display as a rookie, his .388 On Base Percentage leads all A L rookies, and would currently tie him with Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner for the 8th overall spot in the American League. And wouldn’t you know it, Jaso is also hitting .328 (22-67) since July 28th.


But before we finish this, let’s see where else he would rank among the A L Rookies. These numbers fully explain and demonstrate the pure fact that Jaso has been a prime ingredient in the Rays surge towards the top of their division, and has shown consistent offensive firepower for the Rays. Jaso is currently 3rd in batting average ( .280 ), 3rd in hits ( 75 ), 5th in doubles ( 15 ) 2nd in RBI ( 42 ), 2nd in runs scored (47) and the icing on the cake, Jaso leads all rookies with 47 walks against 32 strikeouts. This figure puts Jaso alone at the top in the Major Leagues as no one else with as many plate appearances has a better walk-to strikeout ration.

 
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When it is all said and done, Jaso will probably get a handful of votes for the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year. But like I stated above, with two Tigers expected to be the frontrunners in the race, Jaso could be the dark horse who could come charging to the front and snatch the award. Jaso has played this season like he has been here before.


He has not let the nerves or the stress of his position even taint him in any way as he charges forward with his team towards a playoff berth. But not winning the award probably will not phase the young catcher . Jaso has a special job to do, and a possible playoff berth in the balance right now. And anyhow, I would not bet on Jaso failing, so fair he has beaten the house consistently.

Never Play Cards with Friedman

Navarro’s Rays Clock Ticking Faster

 


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Somehow I knew the writing was on the wall for Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro. And not just because of the emergence of John Jaso, but because the once “stealthy” catcher had now become predictable. There was a time when Navarro would provide offensive mastery and blocks ball behind the plate like his dinner depended on it. But those days became far and end between in 2009, and beginning in 2010, you knew it was a make it or break season for Navi.


And with a Minor League option still attached to his name, it seems that a travel visa( ticket) is in the near future for the Rays former All-Star. But it has been a long time since Navarro has acted like his former All-Star self as his batting average and defensive skills have somehow diminished and all but guarantee his departure when Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett can come back off the disabled list on June 15th.

But is sending Navi down to the Triple-A Durham Bulls going to ravish his career, or will it be an immediate wake up call to either fight his way back to the Rays come September, or be vanquished to the minors and possibly traded later this year. It is truly a human gut check time for Navarro, and we might just see if the Rays own version of the Stay Puff Marshmallow man has the killer instinct and determination still in his belly to fight for his Major League Baseball existence.

Navarro has been down this road before after being signed as a free agent by the New York Yankees, he was thought to be the future catching star of the Pinstripes before his work ethic and his weight went different directions and the Yankees tired of his yo-yoing tendencies. He was quickly dispatched via a trade to the West Coast and the Los Angeles Dodgers where he was thought to be a buffer before current Dodger starter Russell Martin was ready to take the throne.

Even there, the effort and the talent seemed like polar opposites and he was again jettisoned to the Rays where it almost seemed like his last tango in Tampa Bay might be his last chance to show he had the talent and the ability to match up as a Major League catcher. And this team has never been known for their catching prospects, or even its starting catcher providing offensive numbers that make you take a positive second glance. Navarro had a middle-of-the-road beginning with the Rays before his 2008 explosion put him front and center in the company of the elite.

But just as fast as he risen to the top, he adamantly fell from grace in 2009 showing the “old” Navarro tendencies again and a lack of defensive fortitude in even remotely blocking balls bouncing all over the plate. He had relinquished the “stealth” side of his nature and again fell into the predictable mode.

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But the question now might just be which direction will he turn towards if demoted to the Bulls? Will he take it as a moral imperative to improve, reevaluate and resurgence to his career, or languish in pity and remorse for a bit before again striking out to rebuild?


This time June 15th might be the defining date of Navarro’s career. And the steps he takes from that moment on will define his Major League Baseball chances, or be the beginning of his demise. I have been a conscientious observer of Navarro over the last several months and have seen his bat come alive at moment, but also seen him falter when needed in the clutch. But with this Rays team striving now to revisit the “Promised Land” again, can Navarro regain his former self to rejoin and step with his Rays teammates into that hallowed ground again?

It is up to Navarro right now to impress a certain former catcher, Rays Manager Joe Maddon, that this decision was not needed. That he had the heart and soul of this team vested close to his own heart and hit the ground running in Durham. Most important might be his indication to the team of his sweat and grit while down in the minor so if Kelly Shoppach or John Jaso fall to fall to injury or their own offensive woes, he is ready to don his catching gear at this level with the full confidence of his Rays Manager.

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This truly is going to be a gut check time for Navarro both as a person and as a professional athlete. How he reacts and interprets the final decision of Maddon and the Rays front office on June 15th will be critical to if they see him in the Rays future in 2010. I can end this with a few hundred different baseball cliché’s as to what Navarro needs to accomplish in his time left with the Rays. But in the end, it will be how, and what Navarro does with this last few impressions that will set deep within the Rays organization’s minds as to his viable future with this team beyond June 15th.

How Navarro carries himself out of that Rays clubhouse on that date could be the true telling point to his Rays career. Navarro can either stand tall and stride out of that Rays clubhouse with honor and a plan of action, or he can saunter out with bitterness and angst and hit Durham with a chip on his shoulder. This might be the biggest moment of Navarro career because it will define his future….even if it is not with the Rays.

Nelly Made the Trop Smolder with Heat

 

 

 I headed to the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday afternoon game wearing my jeans, an old Disney character polo and of course, my old Air Force Ones. It wasn’t Nostalgia Day or even 80′s Day, it was my own way of celebrating Hip Hop Night at Tropicana Field. Think about that wording for a minute…Hip Hop at the Trop…..Word to your Mother!

 

People seem to forget if it wasn’t for Nelly’s emerging talent at the mic he, Nelly might have made his way someday onto the Field Turf of the Trop on his own as a baseball player. He had some mad skills in the middle infield growing up and could turn the corner on a double play like his idol, former St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

 

And as soon as the ball settled into the Tropicana Field stands, and the team concluded their on-field Team Meeting with Aybar as the guest speaker, then it was Aybars turn to get a ceremonial shaving cream pie to his face and head and begin getting in Nelly mode.  I was already feeling the rhythm and the pulse of the bass to get out on the field and take a spot where the photos would fall like rain, and the crowd would swing in unison to the verses and song of the minstrel named Nelly. But I made a cardinal sin ( at least in my book).

 

I had a photographer’s pass from the Rays and I wanted to get deep into the action, so I posted up on a L-shaped corner in the right end of the “Mosh Pit”. At that moment it just seemed like a natural move and perfect move going from shooting the Rays first concert from the middle sections for John Fogerty, to right behind the VIP section during ZZ Top, to down in the pulsating action and sea of motion of the proverbial front row. It seemed like a natural progression….But a hasty mistake on my part.

For I had put myself in the eye of the swallowing storm on the wrong side of the steel barriers. I have been in the front rows tons of times before, but not with a camera, and surely not with a group of most teens to 20-ish fans who wanted to move and groove to every single sound wave of beat or vocals coming out of the supercharged bass system right in front of the assembled mass. From the first deep drumbeat from the DJ, there was pushing and shoving from the side and back as people began to crush forward wanting a taste of Nelly and the music.

 

But then again, I would have done the same thing myself 20-odd years ago. Well, I know I did. And the audience was definitely transfixed as the beats got deeper, and the crowd behind me got more animated and pulled into the rhythm and music. Out of the 480 photos I took that night, I had to trash about 200 photos due to the hands in front of the camera lens or  small waves of motion around me that caused the photo to appear out of focus produced by my arm and shoulder constantly getting hit during filming. But I took the commotion and the frustration in stride as I got popped like a pinball for a few songs but within me I now wished I had taken a position on the stage side of the barrier.

But the music was the center of everyone’s attention tonight as even some of the Rays players like Carl Crawford,Dioner Navarro, Reid Brignac, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Garza and B J Upton swayed and rocked to the beats while doing their own version of Nelly Karaoke on the West side of the stage region. Upton seemed to be totally into the concert as you could see him singing the words and doing his own set of dances to the beats. It was great to see the players having as much fun as the Rays fans that night.
 
 

And it is sometimes weird that Hip Hop has now been around long enough to have Nelly “classics” like Ride Wit Me , “Air Force Ones” and “Batter Up“. I still remember watching the first broadcast of MTV at a college viewing party complete with free MTV swag and music until we left transfixed by this new style of selling the music to the public. How much we have all grown accustomed to this video and music combination that now most of us never hear the song without also seeing a video interpretation of the song at the same time.

 

And from the moment Nelly first emerged wearing a stylish white Rays T-shirt, the crowd on the field and in the stands were immediately consumed by the tunes and the chatter from Nelly.  From his classic Nike Air Force Ones on his feet, to the diamond-encrusted dog tags, and glittering diamond watch bevel, Nelly was quickly transporting us to a part of St. Louis with his music we would never venture into alone. We were taken instantly into Nelly-ville, and he was the Mayor and the man that was definitely large and in charge.
 
 

And the Trop almost seemed to take flight the moment Nelly as his crew began to sing ” E.I.” as well as “C
ountry Grammar
“. The moment the first beats hit the speakers, the entire crowd began systematically swaying and singing to the tunes. It was definitely a well needed audience participation segment, and the assembled crowd did not disappoint as it rang out loud to an almost deafening level all around me. But people forget, it was not all about the music tonight.

But people forget it was not entirely about the music tonight as there was a large amount of young and older women inching towards the front of the stage area hoping to catch an eye glance with Nelly or getting some sort of savoring trinket to take home and cherish forever. At that moment you knew the focus and the attention was firmly bulls-eyed on Nelly as the player of the moment. When one of his crew announced he had a gig later that night at a local St. Petersburg nightclub, it was the assembled women who screamed and quickly asked the surrounding people the 5 W’s of finding this club. Nelly was in full effect, and the ladies were going to be in massive tow tonight at the Push Lounge.
 
 

And with that announcement, Nelly had just found the perfect segway to pop into his classic “Hot in Here” as he quickly removed his Rays  white t-shirt and threw it straight into the teeth of the crowd as people frantically pulled and yanked and finally separated the t-shirt into two sections before it fell into someone’s hands firmly encasing the prized possession for the night like a prized jewel. It was a white Rays gift from one of the Hip Hop chosen ones, and it now had to be guarded and cherished from that moment.

 

And as Nelly let the crowd know about his forthcoming album to be released some time this Summer you could feel the crowd letting go a bit knowing their dream might end soon. Usually when a singer or group mentions this tidbit, it is nearing the end of the concert. And when he asked for three volunteers from the audience the sound was deafening as every woman within reach of the stage began cheering and more than eager a chance to be on stage with the Hip Hop icon. Three women were finally selected and it was the beginning of some interesting final moments to the concert.

Nelly even gave one of the chosen ones a photo opportunity of a lifetime as she snapped a photo with her phone of Nelly facing her with the screaming crowd behind him. Then he quickly quizzed them as to their singing abilities and then broke into his tune “Dilemma” which he did originally as a duet with former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland.

 

The girls instantly fell into the rhythm and the rhymes of the song and began to sing and dance along with Nelly and his crew. It was one of the slowest moments of the concert, but helped the crowd recharge a bit before the night ended too soon for so many in the crowd. People wanted to hear every song from all his album in his unique styling that some have called a “Missouri Twang”.

 

The night quickly condensed into a meandering of unforgettable song hooks based on schoolyard songs with double-dutch chants. But what is amazing is the simple fact most people do double dutch lyrics as a rap, while Nelly has primarily done them in song, which is a major reason so many see him as a Hip Hop icon. The night was truly an adventure into Nellyville (also the title of his 2nd album) that I will not soon get out of my head.
 

 

But that is the thing about great music no matter what the format or lyric style. If it is good, it stays with you for a while and maybe drills into your subconscious for a future moment or even visual stimulation brings it out again for a great memory. People say that Rap or Hip Hop artists are this generation’s storytellers. They give their versions of the action and stories of life through their musical lyrics and prose. Nelly is a great example of this sage of wisdom and urban existence being told through music. And through it all, we also get a chance to see life through Nelly’s eyes.   

Rays Now 0-11 on May 14th Games

 

 
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This date, May 14th, has always held a small special place within me. It has been a day of honest reflection and undefined possibilities. It has been the Alpha and Omega of my entire life, not only as a person, but as an athlete. In High School, this date usually corresponded with either the Florida State Class 5-A Track and Field championships, or the State Decathalon event held every year at the University of Florida. But since that time has long passed in my life, it has come to signify other things. But with regards to my Rays baseball, this date can be murder on me and the entire Rays team.

For the last 11 out of 13 years, the Tampa Bay Rays franchise has been unable to win a single game on this May 14th date on the calendar. In 8 of the past 11 years, they have gone down in defeat and it has brought my joy and happiness on that day to a sudden standstill. The only blemishes on that dubious record is the fact of two “Off Days” thrown on the schedule in 2001 and 2007 to break up the streak a bit. But in reality, this is one date that the Rays have a huge wall in front of them, and I am beginning to blame myself.

Since 1999, I have circled this date on my calendar hoping to see the roof turned orange after a Rays victory. But again this year we came close, but it was no celebratory cigar again to be lit on this date. It has been my epicenter of baseball for the last 10 years. Since 1999, I have either traveled to Tropicana Field or another city or sat idle on this day in response to where the Tampa Bay Rays were playing baseball.
 
That is right people, I use this date as my personal symbol of my commitment to my level of fandom to the Rays. It is my own form of special celebration to the team that descended on my home town to make me have more remarkable summer nights than just cruising the beaches with the windows open, or sitting in a sports bar watching the NHL playoffs.

So here I go doing a 11-year recap of those games and their results. Even if it brings up bad memories or provide a bit of funk, this is a date I truly wished would change in their 13th season (My lucky number). Most people will probably not give a big deal about all of this, but on this day…….It is what I say that goes….Got it. 



Timmer82@Flickr.com

1999:   Tampa Bay D-Rays vs Anaheim Angels. (AWAY)

That is right, the Anaheim Angels. The Halos had not gotten politically correct yet to include the “LA” region back onto their name. But in this contest the D-Rays starter Bobby Witt did not get any signs of offensive support and the then D-Rays fell to the Halos 8-3.  A total of 5 hits were dished out by the D-Rays during this contest. The bottom of the Rays order did most of the damage with catcher John Flaherty hitting a homer in the game. But the Rays did  show some defensive signs of life, converting three double plays in the game.

2000:    Tampa Bay versus Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)

This was my first trip outside of the country since my Army National Guard Tour almost 10 years earlier, and it was my venture to this awesome Canadian town. I  got a wild distaste for customs on this trip, but that is a story for another time. In this game, the D-Rays sent starter Esteban Yan to the hill. Yes, the same Yan who would become the Rays closer later in his career and provide massive puddles of sweat on the pitching rubber. But the game belonged to Blue Jays starter David Wells, who just seemed to have the D-Rays at bay all night in this contest. 

Wells threw a 7-hit 2-run game against the D-Rays, but the Rays Bullpen let the game get away from them in the end. In the bottom of the ninth inning, D-Rays reliever Albie Lopez gave up 2 runs to hand the Jays a 3-2 win.  After the game, I got my first taste of feeling a bit out of place when a French speaking woman was trying to have a conversation with me in a neighboring pub, but I could only understand every fifth word. I only took French 1 in college. Guess that day ended up as a total disaster for me, both on and off the turf.


www.bernssteakhouse.com

2001:                                 Off Day

I decided on this day to just go on out and hit a local James Beard recommended eater that boasts its steaks and fine conversation during an intimate dinner. It was the first time I had ever ventured into this South side of Tampa, and I made my Visa credit card pay dearly for it. I had heard the praise of the food and atmosphere around Bern’s Steakhouse for years, but this was my first entrance into the wine and steak primo emporium. If you have not heard of this fine dining experience, then you have missed out on some of the best foodie tales to ever tell at a cocktail party.

The interior is done in a classic French chateau style complete with the red velvet wall coverings and an over abundance of photos of people no one seems to know on the wall. But the real attraction is the telephone book wine list that has the World’s largest and most opulent collection of wines. An added bonus to all of this is an extended aging process on all of their beef offerings, which translates into a bit of ambrosia on your plate. I am going to stop here before I drool and ruin another computer keyboard.

2002:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees ( AWAY)

This was my first baseball venture into the Ballpark in the Bronx. And I did wear my Rays gear into Yankee Stadium and had a minimal stint of problems. I had secured a seat right above the Rays dugout using a Yankee insider friend I knew while playing football for a great ticket. This game was over rea
l early as Rays starter Travis Harper did not last 3.2 innings before Rays reliever Steve Kent came on in long relief. It was my third game on this date, and I was beginning to think I was the cause for the losing on this date.

But in reality, the team was up against Yankees starter Roger Clemens, and he threw a 3-hit, 1-run outing on that night.  Rays Leftfielder Steve Cox did have a good night, getting two of the hits in the game. My old buddy Greg Vaughn did get a hit as the DH  also during that night. But in the end, the Rays fell by a 10-3 score because of a pair of Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada home runs.

2003 :     Tampa Bay vs. Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)  

Here I am again venturing across the open borders on my trip to Canada, but this time I decided to bring a French phrase book (just in case). I decided to stay at Rogers Centre hotel this time, but it did not help in securing a win for the Rays. In this contest, my old Rays friend and current Jays starter Cory Lidle was throwing against the Rays. The Rays sent young starter Dewon Brazleton to the mound, who reminds me of Jeff Niemann sometimes, and he  quickly got roasted with 7-hits and 5-runs in the outing. This was also during the time when the Rays had John Rocker on their roster, and after the game I chatted with him a bit in the hotel lounge.

But the Rays were beginning in this 2003 to show signs of the emergence of one of their key players in the Rays future. This was Rays rookie Carl Crawford’s first full year in the MLB, and he had mixed results in this May 14th game. He did go 1 for 5 in the game, but Aubrey Huff was the star of this game, but even his bat was not enough as the Rays lost the contest 7-6. the Rays did try and mount a offensive counterattack by scoring 4 runs in the top of the eighth, but Jaye reliever Cliff Politte (Ironic a “Cliff” did me in) secured his fourth save of the season by shutting down the Rays offense.



Radioinsomnia@Flickr.com

2004:     Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians (AWAY)

This was my first venture to “The Jake”, and it was the first time I have ever been mesmerized by an “away” stadium. They were celebrating the 10th anniversary of “The Jake”, and it did not even look a few years old at that point. This was the night that my flight got delayed in Atlanta and I was still sitting on the tarmac at 5 pm EST, but  got on a alternate flight and the plane began its descent towards Cleveland-Hopkins Airport at about 20 minutes before game time. The plane banked just perfect so I could get a great shot of the stadium beaming with excitement.

I did not get into the stadium until the fourth inning, and it was “Ladies Night” at the ballpark. I have to say it was the best present I ever got seeing this stadium and going down to the Warehouse District and dancing until near dawn. I even got to catch a home run ball by Indians Casey Blake in the 10th inning of the game. Unfortunately, it was the game winner and I still have that ball in a special place in my collection. We lost that contest 8-7, and it was another friend, Rays reliever Lance Carter who gave up the home run to Blake that night.

2005:   Tampa Bay Rays vs, Kansas City Royals (AWAY)

This was my first post-football visit to Kansas City. I did my usual old habit of hitting a few BBQ joints before the game, but the contest was the real treat of the night. I had always loved to see that night starter, Hideo Nomo pitch in his younger years in LA. Now the Rays had this aging Japanese superstar on their team, and I was anxious to see him pitch tonight. But the Rays offense ended up coming up a bit short during the 6-5 loss. Rays hitters Chris Singleton and Nick Green did their best to try and finally pull out a May 14th win for me, but it was not in the cards again tonight.

2006:   Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays (HOME)

Yes, that is right. This is the only time I have seen the Rays play at home so far in their existence. But the home cooking was not enough this night as the Blue Jays took final control of the game in the top of the ninth to send the Rays faithful home miserable after a 8-3 beating. In the contest, the Rays gave up 3 additional runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach for the Rays.

Jays starter Josh Towers took the mound and was not overpowering, but the Jays defense kept them in the game and the Jays produced just enough offense to pull  the game out in the end. The Rays sent starter Casey Fossum to the mound and he had some success against the Jays, but could not keep the big inning from getting to him in the fifth. Rays reliever Chad Orvella gave up 3 doubles and a triple to Alex Rios that was the deathblow of the contest.

2007:                                 Off Day

Since we were going to begin a 3-game series at the Walt Disney starting this morning, I decided to head on out to O-town and do some wandering of the region. I have to admit I am a bad Floridian. I have never been to Sea World, and have only been to Walt Disney World (before this series) twice in my life. I have not even been there since 1984, but was looking forward to hitting both downtown Orlando and the Disney adult complex after the game that night.

Instead, after the contest I headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios and had a celebration dinner and then just hit the multitudes of clubs in the Orlando area. I did order an outstanding steak and lobster dish at the Hard Rock that gave me boundless amounts of energy for the night. I just wanted to have a great night before the Rays started their series the next day. I heard a rumor that Pop star Justin Timberlake was in the VIP area after doing some Nick show that afternoon. That is as close to getting “Sexy Back” as I have gotten in my life.


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2008:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees (AWAY)   

Back to old New York, New York. This would be my last trip into the old Yankee Stadium&nb
sp;haunts, and I tried to make the best of it. I did the usual Papaya King hot dog salute, and went down to Ground Zero, but I decided to sit in the Rightfield bleachers for this game. I do have to tell you I did get some wrath from the Bleacher Creatures at first, but by the end they were telling me a few places to have a post-game brew and maybe meet a Mets girl.

I think what went down better in their minds is the fact we lost a squeaker 2-1 to the Bronx Boys tonight.  Yankee starter Mike Mussina kept his dominance over the Rays intact and tight in this contest only giving up one run in the top of the sixth inning. This was also my first sighting of Joba Chamberlain, who did come into the game, but was gone just as quickly after walking 3 batters. James Shields also gave up all of the Yankee runs, but still pitched a great outing.

It was my last time to stroll amongst this hallowed baseball shrine, and I did take a stroll through Memorial Garden before the game. I even stayed a half hour after the game and was whisked out by security guards as I did not want to leave. But I did, still wearing my Rays gear and getting a few Bronx cheers, but nothing too bad to get me put into Fort Apache. But tonight was different from the other May 14th dates to me. I was at the last Rays game I would attend in this old iconic ballpark. I ended up sitting outside the front of the stadium for another half hour before finally heading to JFK to sleep before my 10 am flight back to Tampa International Airport.

2009:   Tampa Bay Rays vs Cleveland Indians (HOME)

On this night I had the feeling we might finally break the streak of not winning. Something in the air just felt different to me, and that gave me a immediate omen of a possible win. The Rays sent starter James Shields to the mound, but the Tribe quickly scalped him for 5 runs in the middle innings. It was a hole that the team would not come back from, even with 6-run effort to pull closer, the score was still 9-6 at the bottom of the sixth inning.

Just as quickly as we all began to sense a chance at victory in the stands after blanking the Tribe’s hitters in the top of the seventh inning, Rays reliever Grant Balfour gave up two runs and the Rays had to settle for a 11-7 loss. Even the ninth inning run by Ben Zorbrist on a Dioner Navarro double play, it brought the Rays only one more out and a chance to seal a final victory on May 14th. But B J Upton struck out to toss all those percentages down the drain. 

I hope I did not bore you too much with a special recollection on the date of May 14th through the Rays baseball times. I am lucky enough to have a home game again this season, and hopefully the team can break my curse of not getting a single victory on this date with me in attendance. You might notice that I had not included the date of May 14th 1998 on this blog. Well, that year I was here in St. Petersburg by my old dog’s side before he was to put to sleep. He had been my close ally for 15 years and had recently suffered a stroke and could not hold his balance well.

So I was not in Kansas City where the team fell 10-3 that night. As you can see, this can either be a day of rejoicing or pain depending on how you look at it. I see it as a beautiful day for baseball. I feel a bit older every day on this date (hint, hint), but what has not aged is the enthusiasm and joy I feel inside my soul on this date in relation to baseball. 

I truly have baseball in my heart of hearts, and I hope that shows most of the time. As I have gotten steadily older (about to enter another decade) I have been given the gift of remembrance of this date in time. And these past Rays games where I have either traveled or seen my favorite team take on the rest of the MLB from the comfort of my seat in Section 138 have all been classic birthday moments in my life.

Giving the Rays Some ZZ Top Lovin’

 

With Texas Rockers ZZ Top set to perform after the Tampa Bay Rays play the Kansas City Royals tonight, it only seemed appropriate that maybe I should try and pair up a few of the Rays players with some classic ZZ Top songs. Every once in a while it is fun to just take a moment out and sit back and relax and either poke fun or show the respect I have for this Rays team and their stable of workhorse style players.

I could have rambled towards a posting of Kentucky Derby hopeful candidates that currently play for the Rays, but we already know that coming in one-two in that race might be the sprinter Carl Crawford and the long strides of B J Upton neck and neck at the wire. Honestly might come down to if CC has a forward neck bob at the moment he hit’s the finish line. But it only seemed fitting that I take a few names and personalities off the Rays roster and give them a one-night only ZZ Top song. I can tell you that I-Tunes is going to love me today with this research.



Raysonthe Runway

Sharp Dressed Man:


Now this one might seem like a pretty self explanatory song choice for Rays fashion plate and G Q model in residence slugger Carlos Pena. But I actually have two Rays figures in this choice. The first is of course Pena who has been the fashion sensible member of the Rays since day one. But my other selection might fool a few people, but he is trying with what he’s got, and for that I got to give Rays Television announcer Brian Anderson an Honorable Mention in this song choice.

Anderson might not have the fashion runway swagger of Carlos Pena, or even the handsome looks that make more than a few women faint, but Anderson is a budding fashion police poster child who seems to get better with every road trip. Maybe Pena is secretly taking Anderson out on road trips and getting him a new tie or stylish sports coat or tie to go with his daily ensemble on the Rays broadcasts. No matter what the true story is, we all know Pena is the true fashionista on the Rays roster, but Anderson might be raiding his closet if Pena is not careful…maybe.


 
Raysbaseball.com/ MLB.com

Gimme All Your Lovin’:

I got to go classic tongue-in-cheek here and give this royally down to Rays All-Star and female heartthrob Evan Longoria. For during the last Rays road trip while the team was in Boston for a 4-game series, Longoria made the Boston papers with complaint letters that he was sending multiple texts to a unique collective group of women in the Beantown area. What was so amazing is that people somehow seemed a bit shocked about all of this.

I do not see how this could be a surprise to anyone. Major League Baseball players get handed cellphone numbers and even room keys all the time for prospective romantic interludes, but most disregard them as “groupies” or even trouble waiting to happen. But the fact that is totally humorous is that these same women had Longo’s digits in their cellphones, so they can not play as innocent either here as they might have had conversation with Longoria either before they met their current squeezes, or during their courtship.

Either way, it really has just up the ante and further advanced the mystic and allure of Longoria to women from coast-to-coast. So the next time your “significant other” gets a text message that she either smiles at or giggles like a schoolgirl, just ask her point blank is it from Longoria. It probably is not, but you never know, some guys might think it was an ultimate compliment if Longo was texting his girl….Not me, but there might be someone like that out there in the Rays Republic.


 
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Legs:

This actually might have been the easiest song to place with a Rays player basically because I seem to smile and chuckle every time I see him attempt an extra base or turn the corner for a try at a triple during a Rays contest. Carl Crawford has streamlined his glide around the base paths over the last several years to provide more energy and push to accelerate his speed within a few strides. But still when he rounds the First Base bag and he seems to be leaning at a 45 degree angle and chugging those arms back and forth, his legs always seems to come out in my photos as magical blurs or looking like time lapse photography.

So it was a perfect choice to include Crawford’s name as the player associated with “Legs”. And even if this song ultimately illustrates a love for the female form, I hope Crawford can take that I am using a bit of literary license here to portray this song towards his burst of speed and not the way his lower lips seems to drag like a English Bulldog when he is pumping towards an extra base. And I want to apologize in print if you read the lyrics to the second verse and think I am referring to Crawford with hair down to his fanny….I am not….Seriously ( My Grey’s Anatomy voice)….Seriously!

 
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Cheap Sunglasses:

You might think this would be a natural for Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but I have another victim, I mean choice for this classic ZZ Top tune. To me this song screams out Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. Maybe it is just me, but Garza sporting that James Shields T-shirt during his side Bullpen session yesterday showed me that he is ultimately the “Too hip for school” guy on this team. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Garza has always had that persona to me. The one where he seems to display and cool and clam demeanor under that bundle of emotions and inner frustration sometimes with himself on the mound. He usually can wear those cheap sunglasses as a outer shield to keep him from actually showing his highly charged confidence and emotions. But then again, Tom Cruise pulled it off with the same pair of cheap sunglasses in “Risky Business” and it turned him into a movie superstar. Maybe Garza can turn his cheap sunglasses into a Cy Young?

 
Rob Carr/ AP

Blue Jeans Blues:


I am not sure why this next one seems to fit just by the title of the song, but I see Rays fifth starter Wade Davis as the perfect poster child for this song. Maybe it is that outer shell he has that eludes most strife and controversy as he seems to glide through his starts even against some of the opposing teams top pitchers. Davis has provided some interesting performances already in 2010, and has been totally in control and often times kind of in his own personal zone of tranquility while attempting to provide pitching brilliance so early in 2010.

And I am not trying to play on his nickname “W D-40″ to provide some raw angle of southern gentleman meets ferocious beast, but the guy is from Lake Wales, Florida and is as calm as a cucumber and soft-spoken as they come. But then again, when things are clicking like they are right now for Davis, there is nothing to worry about anyways….really.

 
Steve Nesius/ AP

Got Me Under Pressure:

For some reason I think this song actually could apply for most of this Rays team this season. Sure I could of thrown this out as a Rafael Soriano selection based mostly on his new role as the Rays closer, but in actuality, I think this entire Rays roster is feeling the pressure this season. Most of them know that this might be the last season that this collective body of players get a chance to revisit or remove some of the pain and feeling of not completing the task at hand that still lurks within some of their minds from 2008.

It might be the last time Crawford, Pena and even Dioner Navarro and possibly Jason Bartlett all hit the field at the same time to try and right a situation that seemed to melt them apart like the cold weather on that unusual October night. Maybe it is the mantra adopted by Maddon for 2010 that no longer uses mathematical situations, but asks the simple question: ” WIN or What’s Important Now”. Maybe it is that urgency of completing the mission, of finally breathing a sigh of relief that will act as the whistle from this pressure cooker called the MLB season.

ZZ Top is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member. They got their start just like so many other musicians did struggling in the small bars and honky tonks in the Texas landscape. But their telling of the stories and the message in their lyrics, they got the rest of the country to not only experience a bit of Texas, but of their own personal cultures and rituals.

But hopefully in the next several months the Rays can duplicate the success and get the admiration of the rest of the Major League Baseball world to again see them for the hardworking and diligent team that they are….And maybe after it is all said and done, the Rays could actually shadow another ZZ Top song as a team.

 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

For if the Rays hit that desired pinnacle they seek so dearly in 2010. If this Rays team can climb that last rung of the ladder and stand proudly at the top with a golden trophy in their mitts, then maybe they can all collectively sing “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” on the pitching mound as they shower each other with praise, champagne and memories just like ZZ Top has given all of us over their long career.

Got to go people. Got a small errand to do since I am getting Photo Credentials to shoot the ZZ Top Concert tonight. And yes, tomorrow will be a ZZ Top post Concert Photo blog. See you later Gator…

Could Jaso Stay Up with the Rays ?

 
 
J Meric / Getty Images

I have to be honest here. I have never really considered Rays current Catcher Du Jour John Jaso to be a Major League catcher. I always heard a huge bunch of baloney about his erratic bat motion that even frustrated ESPN analyst and ex-bat wiggler himself Joe Morgan. That the motion Jaso wastes in his swing just before the pitcher releases the ball would tire him out after 4 at bats. And wasn’t it some Rays website somewhere who was throwing the fear of God almighty that Jaso’s defensive indifference would also be a burden if he ever became a full time fixture with the Rays.

Isn’t it great that all that noise about Jaso for some reason has instantly disappeared after he came up and started to produce like a true back-up catcher trying to fulfill a full-time spot with the big club. And I have to say I am not only pleasantly surprised, but I was touched enough by his fine bit of offensive and defensive adjustments that I popped him instantly as the starting catcher in my ESPN Fantasy League. But with Jaso currently sporting a hefty .455 Batting Average and the ability to not only produce runs, but also showing a great amount of plate discipline for a guy on the edge of a roster spot.

And it has been a great surprise, and even a godsend that he has shown the maturity and the ability to make some nice adjustments to his defensive game while he has been up with the Rays to get an extended look by Rays Manager Joe Maddon as he handles every member of this Rays young pitching staff. And this is all from a guy that most people within the organizations stands thought would never be able to produce at this level and might be a Triple-A lifer at best. And I can honestly say I am one of those guys who is glad I was wrong, because Jaso might actually make a decision hard for the Rays after Shoppach gets back behind the dish again soon.

But that also raises a good question as to if he could be a great addition to this Rays team, or is one of those guy who might be a nice plug-in piece for the future, or at least get an extended look in Spring 2011. But with Rays current starter Dioner Navarro in a bit of a slump both offensively and showing some lazy tendencies on defense, could Jaso just be the piece of the puzzle that might click without forcing or taking any momentum from this team. It offers up a good question as to if Navi might have to sweat it out and provide some impressive numbers to remain a fixture on this Rays roster.

And this might be a decision or an idea that the Rays have had in the back of their mind for a bit, but not thinking it might crop up during the season, but in the 2010 off season. With Shoppach in the fold with a two-year contract, and Navarro possibly showing a upper price in the mid $ 2 million range in 2011, could this be the right time for the Rays to dangle Navi to a few teams that are currently in a bit of upheaval over their own catching department.

 
J Meric / Getty Images

We saw one of those teams recently when the Oakland Athletics came into Tropicana Field and had to use Jake Fox who they got in a trade with the Chicago Cubs this off season behind the dish, and everyone in attendance was looking all throughout the dugout for Kurt Suzuki. Bringing in a experienced backstop would be beneficial to the A’s, and might not take more than a high left-handed reliever in the A’s farm system, and maybe a prospect or two considering the package. It could be a “win-win” situation for the Rays and A’s as they both get some benefit from such a deal.


But then there is another catching carousel going on in the same American League West division as the Texas Rangers are currently playing their own version of musical catchers with the recent demotion of both od their Opening Day catchers Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to their Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City Redhawks. And with the Rangers then picking up the option of Triple-A catcher Max Ramirez, the team is hoping that the tandem of Ramirez and old timer Matt Treanor can finally shore up the Texas backstop. But this might just be a temporary fix, and there might need to be a further look maybe towards Tampa Bay.

And in the 2010 Spring Training Grapefruit League season I was whispering about the Rangers potential problem with the young Teagarden maybe not ready for the full-time MLB reins, and Saltalamacchia maybe too fragile with his curvature of the spin situation to see him do prolonged duties behind the plate more than four starts a week at the most. It might be about time for the Rangers to stop trying to bluff the rest of Major League Baseball and admit they might have been backing the wrong horses.

 
J Meric / Getty Images

Enter Navarro into the Rangers possible catching equation. He would provide instant credibility and endurance to their line-up, plus get a chance to start again fresh and contribute to a young team and pitching staff that might benefit from his experience. For some reason when I think of Navarro and the Rangers I do see a marriage maybe not made in heaven, but of necessity and mutual want for a clean slate. Again, the price might not be a huge burden here in terms of prospects or maybe even a reliever like Darren O’Day or C J Wilson (lefthander) straight up for Navarro.

It is not like I would be foolish enough to consider a great developing prospect like fireball reliever Neftali Feliz… that would just be plain unimaginable a price for Navarro. But I do think that at some point in 2010, the Rays will consider offers for Navarro considering his salary will jump, plus the Rays would not probably be willing to bank about $5 million dollars in two catchers who basically are bookends offensively, with Shoppach showing a bit more defensive prowess.
 
And an additional point might be which of them would be a positive mentor for the young Jaso? Instantly the eyes wander straight to Shoppach’s name and the job he did in Cleveland after Victor Martinez headed East with Cleveland’s young catcher Lou Marson.

So maybe when Shoppach completes his rehab assignment and shows he has a healthy outlook for the Rays in 2010, their attention might not be in returning Jaso to Durham for the remainder of the season, but possibly be to find a new home for Navarro and his gear.

And this might just happen due to the extent of the development that Jaso has shown during his short time up with the Rays. If he remains “hot” and can both produce a offensive firestorm at the catching position while also diving on balls and throwing out base runners, Jaso could honestly get a chance to retain some MLB service time in 2010.


Considering he is making the MLB minimum even if he does stay up with the team for the rest of the season, his jump in pay scale will not break the Rays bank, or cause any alarms to go off in Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedmans laptop when considering his salary under the Rays 2011 payroll limits. The Rays have always committed towards fiscal respectability and holding each member of the Rays roster responsible for their actions and production. After Shoppach returns, it just might be time for the Rays to consider cutting the cord with Navarro and letting him find a better suited future somewhere else.

 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

Catching has never been a position that the Rays could ever say they have been over abundant with talent or power, but right now there might be an indication of a crossroads for one Rays catcher, and who know which direction he will wander next. No matter if Navarro stays and Jaso is returned to Triple-A Durham when Shoppach returns, or a trade keeps Jaso here and sends another catcher to fresh surroundings, this is a huge stepping stone for this franchise to finally know they have the talent and the in-house abilities to even consider such a move well within the season.


I like Navarro as a person. I have talked to him several times and get a good vibe from him most days. But right now it seems that Maddon is trying to let Navarro out himself from this situation or possibly this team. So far Navarro has been a team player who realistically sees that Jaso has the “hot hand” and respectfully gives him the chance to strive.

But with each passing RBI or walk, it also seems like another small seed of doubt or even confidence in Jaso to do the same job without the offensive woes or the defensive catnaps behind the plate. Hopefully no matter what happens, Jaso knows he can finally be considered MLB worthy.

 
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