Results tagged ‘ Durham Bulls ’

Rain Out Bring an Encore Performance of: “The Legend of the Garfoose”

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Since the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red
Sox did not get to take the field today for their third game because
of liquid sunshine. The contest got postponed early enough (3 pm) for
the Rays to get on their charter flight, and possibly get in their
own beds in time for the later night news.


Because of the Rays/ Red Sox
cancellation, the good folks at the Sunsports/FSN Florida had to dig
into their massive vault to come up with instant programming to take
over the 3 hour segment originally slated for the Rays third game
against the Red Sox.


I decided also to bring a secondary bit
of blogging programming today to commemorate the Triple-A Charlotte
Knights and MLB rehabber Jake Peavy taking on the Rays Triple-A club,
the Durham Bulls and their “Garfoose” creator Dirk Hayhurst. You
can never get tired of “The Garfoose“.


I was introduced to a wild and new
character in the annuals of minor league baseball this week by a
couple of my Rays friends. I had heard that such a mythic character
existed around the darkened boundaries of baseball, especially within
the confines of that maddening place, the Bullpen.




The origin of this mystical character
first graced the pages of Baseball America back in August 2008, and
tells of the origin of one of the most colorful characters since Rays
reliever J P Howell to come out of the sometimes misunderstood
Bullpen region.


There is no historical reference of
when the “Garfoose” first entered the legends of baseball,
nothing in Wikipedia, MLB annuals do not even recognize its
existence, much like Bigfoot . But in Tampa Bay, we know the Garfoose
lives and breathes.


Dirk Hayhurst, the originator and
creator of all thing “‘Foose” was originally drafted by the San
Diego Padres back in 2003 and made his Major League Debut 17 days
after his tale of a particular Bullpen creature first appeared in
Baseball America. The following is the tale of the infamous
“Garfoose”.


Be warned, small children, people with
vivid imaginations and farm animals should not read this passage as
it will incite nightmares and possible sightings of this interesting
creature during both day and night games where ever Hayhurst hangs
his glove.

Garfooseville.jpg


Do not say I did not warn you in
advance about “The Garfoose”. Without further ado,…..The Legend
of the Garfoose:

The
ball rolled all the way to the pen. Struck foul with no one to give
chase, it made it’s way to us, the lazy pack of minute men sitting
down the left field line. Nonchalantly, I stepped on it to catch
it. 

Immediately cheers erupted. Fans know fouls go into
the stands and so they began petitioning for it.

Unfazed by
their urgent, desperate pleas, I leisurely reached down to pluck the
new ball from under foot.  It dawned on me, as I turned the ball
in my hand, the balls in the catch bag were not as nice as this
freshly foul pearl. I decided I would switch it out with a tarnished
ball so we could extend the life of this good one.


I
started to walk away from ball suitors to make the exchange. The
crowd let me have it. I expected as much, they assumed I wasn’t going
to sacrifice to them, but they were wrong. I made my way back with a
downgraded ball and tossed it into the maw of hungry hands.


182258_10150145667485850_613525849_8103263_5632004_n.jpgBefore
I could return to my seat a teenage boy in extra baggy clothes with
choppy hair shooting out under a hat turned at that annoying
half-cocked angle, bellowed at me with voice of rude expectation
indicative of little punk,  “
hey,
why choo didn’t gib-me-dat ball? Gib-me da other one, the good one. I
saw you switch it! You gotta whole bag dawg!”

“Are
you really asking me why I switched it or why I didn’t give it to
you?” I asked, in a slow, tired draw. 

Both,
man. I come to like every game and stuff, like all the time. I
deserve a ball
.”

Your
a big fan then huh?”

Yeah
bro, I love da Beavers (insert your team name here). I’m like the
number one fan yo, you should give me a ball
.”

“Ok,
well, what’s my name then?” It was on my jersey, but my back was
turned.

I,
uh…”

“Right.
Biggest fan.”

Still,
I seen you had a bag full a dem, hook me up man?”

“I
can’t do that. Sorry.”

Yo,
you suck then man, why you can’t? I mean, seriously, y’all be
millionaires and stuff.

“Oh,
If only that were the truth…”

I
had a buddy tell me you get those balls for free.

“That’s
not true at all. These balls are expensive. More expensive then
you’ll ever know.”

Whatchoo
mean?”

“Well,
it’s a long story, but since your such a big fan, I’ll tell
you…”

thumbnail.jpg“Every year, in the spring time, hopeful
monks wishing to enter the sacred order of the Stitched Moon make a
pilgrimage to a land deep in the Tibetan mountains. They take very
few supplies with them, barely enough to make the journey, resting
upon faith they will accomplish the task before them.

They
travel night and day, rarely stopping to eat or rest. Some are over
come with fatigue, others by starvation. Some are carried of by
predators. Still, a select few fulfill the journey and find
themselves in a paradise untouched by the poison of the modern
world.

You see my friend, legend speaks of a valley in those
mountains, a second Eden if you will, where beauty blossoms with out
limit. It is a land of magic and fantasy.

They sky of this
paradise is arrayed with exotic birds. The ground littered with
precious gems. There is a sapphire blue lake where mermaids live, the
water as sweet as ambrosia. There are fields of flowers, each bud
more magnificent then the next, where unicorns frolic. Sometimes,
when not singing to the sounds of their lutes and harps, the native
elves ride the unicorns, though that may just be an old wives
tale.

The journey is full of temptation, yet there is none
greater then call of this paradise. “Stay,” it bades,
“forget about the order of the Stitched Moon.” Many monks
are seduced, and in their careless self indulgence, they fall victim
to the lands only guardian, the dreaded Garfoose, a fire breathing
half giraffe, half moose, whose only known prey is man.

Stealthily,
so as not to alert the Garfoose, the monks travel into the heart of
the paradise to an enchanted grove. It is within in this grove they
find the treasure they so desperately seek. For the trees of this
grove are baseball trees with limbs bursting with perfectly formed
baseballs. The monks collect these baseballs and carry as many as
they can back to their villages.

Upon return, the monks are
met with celebration. Weeks of feasting are held in their honor
before they are warmly excepted into the order of the Stitched Moon.
The baseballs are proof of their commitment but they also serve
another purpose. The collected baseball are sold to Major League
baseball for a healthy profit to the monks. The money is then used to
buy new initiates their robs and Sacred Moon text books.

Major
League Baseball then takes the baseballs and sorts them. The best
balls going to the major leagues, the next best to triple A, and so
on. Over the years science has tried to replicate the the perfect
harmony of a naturally created baseball from the enchanted, Garfoose
guarded, groves of the legendary mountain paradise. But a real
baseball player knows the difference. Don’t ask me how, but there is
just something special that you can feel when you hold it…”

distance, my hand extended as
if pointing to some heavenly  paradise. 

thumbnailCAC1O9XH.jpg“That,
my friend, is why these balls are so special, and why I can’t give
them out to just anyone.”

Man
shut up, quit playing
.”
Said the boy. 

“It’s all real man, I’m not playing.”
I was stark serious, staring at him like it was all true, like he was
a crazy person for doubting me.

He paused, looked left and
right then leaned toward me and with a small, timid voice whispered,
You
being
for real about that?

“Of
course not, what kind of idiot would believe that story? The balls
all say made in China on right on them! I’m not giving you a ball
because your a lying little punk in need of a grammar lesson. Now get
a hair cut and fix your freaking hat, you look like a two year old
trying to wear his dads clothes.”

He made that
tongue-tisk sound, and threw his chest out at me, “
Man,
you suck! Dat’s why you be in da

minors,
you ain’t never gonna make it, loser!

“Thats
alright, at least I’m not going to have nightmares about the Garfoose
coming to get me.”

 By the way, Dirk Hayhurst, who started tonight for the Bulls went 6 innings and gave up 3 hits one earned run and 7 strikeouts to post his first victory as a Bull. Hayhurst is sporting a 1.64 ERA for the Bulls early in the 2011 International League season.  


 
 
 


Rays Already have a Viable Power Option In-House

Sometimes it just gets to me how a highly productive baseball player ,in your own farm system can fly so low under the radar, even after doing something amazing. That in this advanced electronics age of scouting and information, a surging baseball player can somehow go completely “out of sight, and out of mind” to his Major League team executives as they collectively screams and frantically searches for a player with his already apparent talent? This same scenario is happening within the Tampa Bay Rays farm system, and for some odd reason, this productive player is still sitting in front of his Triple-A locker every night suiting up.

The Rays have been searching high and low for a formidable power bat option throughout the Major Leagues, and somehow have skipped over the current Triple-A Home Run Derby Champ in their own farm system backyard. What is it that this mystery ballplayer has done to make the Rays Major League scouting department forget his name, stats or his dramatic flair for the game? It is like he is a ghost in the machine right now. How else do you explain hitting one of the most memorable Home Runs in Rays history, then not being on your team’s Spring Training invite list the following season?

Sure you might have developed double vision at one point in your past MLB career when you got suntan lotion in your eyes before an afternoon contest, but you have rebounded and proven you can be a power hitter and a consistent bat in the line-up. But then this same Rays front office sent you on a Japanese vacation as you played for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2009 like a baseball castaway. So you somehow got were sent farther out of sight and out of mind. But then these same Rays front office folks signed you in January 2010 for $500,000 and you again thought you had an honest chance to prove your worth in the Major Leagues. But again you were met with a career roadblock, and off to Triple-A obscurity you go again.

And during the 2010 Triple-A season you have gained a solid reputation for timely hits and huge Home Runs, but still you still sit in the Durham Bulls locker room waiting for that mystical call to “The Show”. You might have guessed by now, I am talking about Durham Bulls power slugger Dan Johnson. It has been a weird year for him, but what does Johnson have to do to show his willingness and abilities are just what the Rays need in their line-up without the Rays resorting to a trade? Does he have to hit 3 HR in a game? Steal a base? Or maybe Johnson just has to sit silently and watch as the parent team ache and pain for a talent like his without muttering a single word.

 
DurhamBull.com

I consider it a crime against great Major League talent here. Are the Rays so stockpiled with talent in their minor league system that Johnson has somehow slipped through the cracks without a head nod or mention as a in-house power option? It saddens me to think that a talent like Johnson has been relegated to being a second class citizen mired in the minors when he has the abilities to not only help the Rays, but produce runs, provide depth and bring a bit of fear back into the Designated Hitter’s spot. Currently there has to be no American League pitching staff that is in fear of the Rays trio D H force of Matt Joyce, Willy Aybar or John Jaso. But could Johnson the ointment needed to finally provide some relief to that burning lack of production in the Rays line-up, or are the Rays just seeing him as another quick fix bandage?


Considering Johnson’s statistics with the Bulls this season, you have to think he is the hidden treasure trove of multiple talents the Rays have been searching for during this seasons Trade Deadline. Johnson has played in all 83 games for the Bulls. Moving around the infield from his customary first base slot and playing third base, which provides more depth and versatility to his resume’. Could his “new position” be a viable reason Johnson is being stonewalled from being brought up?

Johnson is hovering at a .295 batting average with 24 HR and 80 RBI., but Johnson also has 87 hits, which currently leads the Bulls roster. Then there was his recent show of dramatic power during Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run Derby where Johnson blasted out 25 Home Runs, and ultimately won the title. But in the event finals, Johnson and Lehigh Valley Ironpigs slugger Andy Tracy each posted 10 HR each in the final round. So it came down to a HR shootout format and Tracy did not connect on any of his five swings. It took Johnson only one swing of his bat to decide the Home Run Derby, and proved once and for all, he still has a dramatic flair to his hitting style.

But this was not the first time drama had entered Johnson’s Rays life when it came to hitting the long ball. Most Rays fans remember the Coons Rapids, Minnesota native for his improbable Home Run during a September 9,2008 contest against the Boston Red Sox. Johnson was called-up earlier in the day by the Rays and was inserted into the starting line-up, but plane delays and slow meandering cab rides brought him to Fenway Park at 6:50 pm that evening. Johnson might have been scratched from the starting nod, but he got another chance to project his broad shouldered persona on the Rays as he went to the plate as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.

 
TBO.com

Johnson had been called-up to the Rays after posting a .307 average with 25 HR and 83 RBI since the Rays claimed him off waivers on April 18th from the Oakland A’s. Johnson stood at the plate with the game on the line and put a Papelbon fastball clear into the stands above the Red Sox Bullpen in right-centerfield for the first pinch-hit Home Run of Johnson’s career. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in the last 50 years that a player had hit a September Home Run in the ninth inning (or later) in his first at bat for a first place team. Johnson had made an immediate impact on his new Rays teammates, even before formally meeting most of them.


But why is it that the scouts and the Rays front office do not find Johnson so alluring right now for their slumping DH spot? Johnson is a guy who has toiled and done his time in both the minor leagues and abroad to show he has the innate ability and the broad confidence to hit both for average, and for power in dramatic settings. That is the type of player who is now being sought after by the Rays through the Major League grapevine. But it is really a tragedy that we have a proven asset sitting just up the Atlantic Seaboard Coastline in North Carolina who would not cost the team another single penny or a player from their packed farm system.

The Rays are actively doing their window shopping around the Major League right now looking for the same option they have in-house and who is ready for the phone call. It seems a bit illogical to send talent or even money to bring in a high cost alternative to hit for the Rays when you already have a proven commodity right in your system. Hopefully within the next few days, the Rays brass will somehow rediscovery Johnson and his talents because I would love to see him hit the ball “out of sight“, and if the Rays forget about this great player, and let him fester in the minor leagues, then they are “out of (their) minds“.

 

 

Looking Forward to the Rays 13th Season


RRCollections

There is going to be something special about the superstitious
number “13″ and the Tampa Bay Rays this season. And surprisingly, there is not
just one instance where this number will come hugely into play this year,
but several occasions where “13″ might just be the Rays lucky number. There are
a possible three instances where this superstitious number could bode heavily
into the Rays possible 2010 plans, and might also be instrumental in some of the
team’s future beyond 2010.

I have always liked this “strange”
combination of numbers, maybe more since it contains my two favorite numbers,
but the stark reality is that these two digits together will be constantly in
play over the next several weeks and might be right in the thick of it in
determining which direction this Rays team takes in the American East division.
I am  looking forward during the next three days to outline my scenarios
where “13″ and the Rays will be side-by-side this Spring.

 

Considering the simple fact that the
2010 season will be the Rays 13th professional baseball season, and (
hopefully) one that will further define the direction of the franchise and
possibly make all the rest of Major League Baseball green with envy. Sure I
want to say I would cherish seeing Rays Manager Joe Maddon hoisting  a beautiful
golden trophy with all 30 MLB teams flags on it to the high heavens during a
cool, crisp October night.

This 2010 team has a viable chance to
cement the phrases “winning” and “Rays”  uttered in the same sentence within the
mindset of all baseball fans and media members around the country this year. The
always negative “devil” has now been exorcised for three seasons, and maybe this
is the year people finally forget that old name and the Rays can move from
underneath that negative persona and flourish like a shining ray of consistent
light.

 

The 13th season is going to be one
of the best in Rays history based entirely on talent in regards to their pitching
and field players. This is one of the first Spring Training in history where the
Rays have come into their Spring camp without a huge number of question marks
dotting multiple field positions and their starting rotation/Bullpen. For the
first time in Rays franchise history, Maddon can have the confidence to pencil
in five names, even before the first Spring Training game as his desired 2010
starting rotation. Even the remote thought process of penciling in a  Rays
rotation  has never been a realistic option so early into Spring Training for a
Rays Manager in the last 12 seasons. 

Sure
there could still be a huge question mark added as to the final decision on
the Rays fifth starter, but current fifth starter Wade Davis and possible option
Andy Sonnanstine both have minor league options still available for the Rays.
This might be another deja vu moment to 2009 when Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel
fought it out to the last moment to finally reign in that fifth rotation spot. 
But could the loser of this competition be a possible trade piece for the
Rays? But this ensuing competition will be great for both of them, and that
makes this 13th Rays season special.

 

And even if the biggest question mark hovering
the Rays field players might be where Ben Zobrist hop, skips and jumps within
the Rays line-up, or lines up on the field in 2010, you can bet there will be
more than capable players to take the vacant spot(s) left by Zobrist with
a vigor and vitality that has been missed during past Spring Training seasons.
And with Maddon stressing that his starting nine will get more chances to hit
during the Spring Training games this year, it can only be a positive sign of
better things to come for the team and better prepared hitting corps coming into
the Rays first game against Baltimore on April 6th in Tropicana
Field.

When was the last time there was even the possibility
of a handful of Rays players possibly formulating all the changes within this
team’s final seasonal make-up.
Sure there
is the fight brewing for the fifth rotation spot between Davis and Sonnanstine,
but the top four slots are pretty much set in stone even before their first
inter-squad workout. The biggest controversy with the starting rotation will
come out of this fifth spot, and maybe if Rays left-handed starter David Price
gets the number 3 rotation slot to break up the right-hand dominated Rays
rotation right down the middle and provides a different adjustment for teams in
2010.

And even in the Rays Bullpen, there are signs it might
be down to a total of one or two slots depending on the numbers of pitchers the
Rays want to carry going into the 2010 season.
It could come down to the Rays decision on relievers Dale Thayer,
Winston Abreu or maybe a healthy Joaquin Benoit to win one of the two last
slots. But Sonnanstine could also figure into this mix as a long
reliever/6th starter option sitting in the Bullpen. And who knows,
maybe someone else coming into the Rays camp from the minor leagues might blow
the doors off the Rays Coaching staff and wiggle their name into the
conversation. That is why they call this part of the year
“training”.

 

But this 13th season could also be
the breakout year for many of the Rays field players. We all know that
outfielder Matt Joyce was upset last Spring after starting the season on the
Major League roster to go back down to Triple-A Durham after Rays centerfielder
B J Upton came back after his shoulder surgery, but the whole experience also
gave Joyce ample time to play daily and develop more in the minors with an eye
towards regaining his rightfield slot for good this Spring.

Maddon and Triple-A Manger Charlie Montoya have both praising
Joyce’s 2009 development and his adherence to the Rays ” wish list” given to him
before he left for the minors. It might have been this forward stride in their
confidence in Joyce’s ability for the Rays not to pursue a left-handed
outfielder this off season and that Joyce made all the right moves and the
strides to be penciled-in  as a starter in the Rays
rightfield.

 

 


But then again, we get the “Zobrist” factor that
will come immediately into play here. With Zobrist not having a defined position
and a defined role right now in the Rays field positions, he might just be a
human pinball bouncing from infield to outfield  to start the season until some
sort of stability forms, hopefully not due to an injury. And with that, it makes
the competition between prospects Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac one of the
most interesting and closely watched Rays competitions coming into Spring
Training.

This fight is going to be for one of the coveted
“utility” player roles on the Rays along with Rays holdover Willy Aybar. But
with the possibilities of Aybar nursing a bad wrist through much of the Spring
Training schedule. It might be their ultimate chances this Spring to either fade
out or shine  and possibly make this Rays squad, even if Aybar would go on the
D L.
And right now, there is a distinct
possibility that until Aybar takes his first swings in the batting cages, that
both could possibly be penciled into the Rays roster.

But
if I had to point towards someone right now, it seems that Brignac might be the
guy right now to have the edge defensively because he can play all the infield
positions but first base. But the Rays are going to push and raise the bar
for Rodriguez by having him play every position around the diamond this Spring
to test his abilities and evaluate his readiness to be pushed towards the Major
League level.

 

And right now based on possible logistics, you
have to consider that second base will be mostly a transient position for either
of them since second base gives the Rays a instant option to get Zobrist in the
line-up if Joyce come out  this Spring hitting the cover off the ball. But isn’t
it great to know that 4 infielders could decide the formulation of the Rays
2010 roster to such a degree. And there is only one shoe-in at this time
(Zobrist) that could be guaranteed a roster spot while the other three fight it
out to what degrees they will ultimately play in the Rays 2010 plans.

 
 

Got to love that as a fan. You can finally take a
side, much like the “Vampire/Werewolf” teams formed by the “Twilight” movie
series. We could see possible “Team Joyce” or even “Team S-Rod” or Team Brig”
T-shirts don the stands around the Grapefruit League pushing each of them
farther  along in this realm of competition. And maybe I am the first to say it
out loud, but this infield competition will greatly effected on what
ultimately happens with Joyce and a possible Rightfield slot. This
13th Rays season is going to be fun-packed from the get-go, and we
will definitely see the strongest Rays squad to ever take the field when the
rosters are finalized around the time the Rays face their own affiliate
and Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls in Durham’s home stadium on April
3,2010.
 
 

How fitting that the Rays will be playing
their Triple-A affiliate in their last warm-up game before heading back to Tampa
Bay to get ready for the 2010 Major League Baseball season. How great is it that
the Durham fans might actually be the first to see the formative Rays
everyday line-up the team will field in 2010. But then again, how bad is it
going to be for one of these borderline Rays players to be told after the game
they might be remaining in Durham, and not have a plane ticket for the flight
back to Tampa Bay for the season.

I have a weird vision in my
mind that all of them will be donning the Rays home blue and whites for the Rays
Opening Night game against the Baltimore Orioles. For some reason I
see Rodriguez,Brignac, Sonnanstine and Joyce there and being introduced to the
sold-out crowd beaming with pride that they made the cut for the Rays 13th
season roster. But their Spring Training numbers and play will ultimately decide
their fate. Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Right now there are 
plenty of other MLB squads that need to fear this 13th Rays season. For I view
it like the Hindu religion as a positive sign and not the negative influences of
the Rays past. “13″ will play a major role in the formulation of this season’s
Rays roster, but the next example will have to wait for
tomorrow. 

 

Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2

 

 


One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.

And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.

 

But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.

And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.

And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.  

 


And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.

And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and  small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day. 


 

 

Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign.  Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.
 


 

 

People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.

And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.

 

 

Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.

 

Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship.  Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.
 

 

One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.

Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007.  About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.

Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually. 

I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).

But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2′s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods. 
 

 

 

There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.

 

 

And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.

 

Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join MLBlogs.com and submit some stuff….You can count on that!
 

 

 

But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.
 

 


And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1″ line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.

  

 

 

 

As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.

Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the “Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.

Could a Bull Durham Sequel be in Trouble?

After public announcements by movie stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon that they are formally separated as a couple after first falling in love during the filming of “Bull Durham“, you have to wonder if this shocking event might be a potential dagger in Director Ron Shelton’s heart to ruin the 2010 planned production of another “Bull Durham” film. Most people might remember that during the late 1980′s, the Hollywood power couple first began to stoke their own romantic fires as a pair during the film’s production in North Carolina. 

With their recent separation, you have to wonder if it will have any lasting effects on Producer Thom Mount’s already finished script,or Shelton’s unreleased production schedule. As recent as 2008, there have been loud whispers and anticipated rumors flying around the Durham, North Carolina foothills that Shelton and Mount were secretly beginning subtle arrangements to bring back the baseball cult film’s three main characters to a new setting at a new and improved Durham Athletic Park (DAP) for filming during the upcoming 2010 season.
But could the couple’s recent news throw  a monkey wrench into the film’s excitement level, or could it just add an air of spice to the entire adventure? There has been wild spread speculation that the film will reunite the trio with  slight references to the first films love triangle getting back together again, but with some added twists and turns. But one solid idea being tossed around is for Kevin Costner to revive his Crash Davis persona, but this time he will be patrolling only the Bull’s dugout as their Triple-A Manager.  

It has been rumored that the original conceptual theme could possibly put the 1988 film’s original love triangle firmly on its ear as Major League pitcher Ebby Calvin (Nuke) LaLoosh and baseball savant  Anne Savoy will be reintroduced in the new film as a married couple and current owners of the Triple-A Bulls squad being managed by Davis.  With their current announcement, maybe the film needs to be tweaked a bit to make us believe it from the get-go.

My own personal twist that can be added to the script after the separation news is that LaLoosh would eventually see his own  Major League baseball greatness at a distance having both success and failure quickly and dramatically crash and burning before Anne and Davis find LaLoosh passed out in the middle of his posh hotel room in a drunken stupor and carry him back to Durham to teach him a knuckleball to  hopefully resurrect his rollercoaster career and give him one last shot at glory in the Major Leagues.

But with the recent developments in the long time relationship between Sarandon and Robbins, you have to think that maybe Mount is sequestered somewhere within the Durham triangle in a dark trying to find a believable scenario where we will again fall in love with these three characters. That was one of the underlying high points of the original film seeing that love affair bloom under the Bull sign in the old Durham Athletic Park before the new and improved stadium and the advent of the Blue Monster.

And I know Hollywood actors and actresses can create on-screen magic at the drop of a baseball cap, but could the couple create that same believable wildfire of passionate chemistry that we saw smoldering well beyond the surface in the original 1988 scenes. Or could their real life candle finally flaming out bring some predestined thoughts to the filmgoer’s minds even before the film begins to roll in theaters?

And this is a serious question in my mind because we have to believe that Anne and Nuke still have that fire within them, or that there is some path to show a rebirth of the romantic pathos burning bright again, or the film could just go right down the tube. Could the recent announcement actually be a nicely planned public relations (genius) move with the film beginning its production. That would draw instant interest in the film, and maybe be a highly pinioned subject in the blogging community  to try to dig deep within Shelton’s and Mount’s mind for answers and peak the excitement even before production.
And a possible third storyline that springs quickly into my conspiracy-themed mind of a possible Anne and Crash finally finding their sense of real relationship explosion or closure climaxing with a Bull’s Triple-A Championship(Bulls won the 2009 Triple-A Championship)  bringing them together, and a possible career chance thrust upon Davis to finally manage in the big leagues would be a perfect movie kicker.

You can bet there are all sorts of brainstorming sessions going on right now between Shelton and Mounts to find a suitable storyline that will be believable to you and me on the screen. Hollywood has always been a fickle when it comes to sequels of classic sports films. And when you take one of the All Time favorite baseball films and try to resurrect it again on-screen, it has to be near perfect or it will just quickly flutter into DVD only distribution like “Major League 3“. 

And I do not know about you and your views on this film, but I do not want that fate for a film I consider in my personal All Time Top 5 to go out like that. When “Bull Durham” first came out in my local theater I rushed to see it because I wanted to renew my long-lost love for the game. I seriously still watch this film about once every few months just for the pure joy of watching these three characters development during the film. There is a feeling to me watching the film that all three actors were having the time of their lives doing the film.

If they do renew the film series, I want to feel that same level of baseball love and the same comedic level of the current classic lines from the film that have become bar pick-up lines and  are forever interwoven into the fabric of baseball. When you remake a film, or even continue on its journey, you have to feel the love and get transfixed back into the realm of the film. If you can not  reconnect the audience and transform us like in the original Ron Shelton, then maybe we should just leave the film in its current brilliance and let it shine bright without a second glance into this awesome world of baseball.

 

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