Results tagged ‘ Evan Longoria ’

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

They are the Unofficial M L B Fraternity Better Known as Gamma (R) Alpha (A) Upsilon (Y) Zeta (Z)

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Recently when asked why he chose to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays instead of the Cleveland Indians, P Mark Lowe said it was the Rays “laid back environment” that made him take their minor league offer this winter. It is a environment that has been cultivated, nursed and pretty well resembles a Fraternity at time than a professional sports team, but in that is also the charm that has materialized into the Rays being the B.M.O.C.’s or Big Men on Campus right now among the Major League Baseball ranks.

tbr1I know that feeling well having been in 2 Fraternities (Delta Theta Chi and Sigma Chi) in my college hazy days. I mean think about it logically here for a second and you too can see the similarities between the two types of organizations and it will come to you that no matter how you slice it, the Rays are a brotherhood that goes beyond the boundaries of the chalk lines, clay and grass.

A lot of these guys bond together as teammates and their friendships go outside the comforts of the game to include golf tournaments, dinners, fishing or hunting expeditions and activities involving Xbox or PS 3 consoles. From the moment these guys first roll into the Rays Spring Training clubhouse to the moment they pack and get ready for time away from the game in the Fall, unity, respect and creating a firm bond on and off the field is paramount.

Another indication that the Rays could be a great fraternal order is they have an insanely creative Advisor/Manager in Joe Maddon (former Zeta Psi frat boy) .  Who else could of come up with penguins named Cliff, a python that is longer than the Rays Bullpen bench, or could get every single person, including his own game day staff and the PR Dept. to coordinate and participate in some wildly creative and highly photographed road trip ensembles.

nerddddsFrom the classic All-White event to their awesome Nerd renditions to dressing in PJ’s, this team laughs at itself and is proud of the sum of their parts from starters, reserves to staffers. All are embraced and celebrated during these road trip ideas, and we have the photos to prove it.  I mean seriously, anyone who has been to college has walked by those hallowed buildings and wondered what really goes on inside, well with the Rays all the hype and magic are open for the eyes to see or look away.

Another similarity is the Rays annual Rookie initiation (I will not call it hazing). There have been some pretty wild costumes ideas over the past from other teams within the M L B Clubhouse halls, but we here in Tampa Bay always search and want to see that year’s edition of rookies and new players parade out to the bus in their selected gear that sometimes you wish you could be unseen, but for some odd reason you can’t seem to look away.

But one of the greatest part of being within the fraternal system is service, and the Rays do that in spades. Every player within the Rays M L B Clubhouse has their special interests, pinpointed cause or a foundation to support the Tampa Bay community.

bgcSome thought that when B J Upton left for ATL only fellow Rays David Price would be left to carry on with the S. St. Petersburg Dugout Club group that instills the great characteristics of staying healthy, positive, and being involved in life while also striving to be role models would crumble. But it didn’t Price got other players like Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings to come on board and keep the spirit of the project alive and striving.

Evan Longoria will donate more than $1 million a season over the life of his contract to the Rays Baseball Foundation, and almost every player on the Rays has written into their contracts or offered voluntarily great contributions that will benefit the Rays charitable arm of the Rays that give out grants and sponsorship’s to those Tampa Bay organizations that need a “help up”, not a hand out. “Paying it forward”, showing civility and acts of service adorn every member of the squad and even to their spouses (Rays Wives organization).

You can ask almost any player who has worn the Rays uniform since Maddon took the torch and they have great and glowing comments on the Rays clubhouse character and the way they play the game of baseball and life.  

rutoroSome of that light can be attributed to Maddon, but other beams of that sunburst has to be shone on the Rays Front Office and their staff for bringing in great men who can contribute to the Rays ideals as well as expand on their foundations and establish new traditions, visual and physical tests to unite and inspire. Remember the gladiator masks, or even Chewy or the Gene Simmons masks of 2013.

Fraternities build a person up inside and out and those values might fade a bit, but they are with you for life after you experience them. I still see 2 of my former Frat brothers at Rays games. Larry is with security, and Clevin is with the St. Petersburg Police Dept. presence at Rays games. We are always glad to see each other and even today talk of some of the past monumental events that formed our Frat lives.

Say what you want about Fraternities. Some people have had bad events, maybe even wanting to forget that portion of their lives, but I relished it. I mean I think all of us can imagine Longoria adorned in a Grand Puba water buffalo helmet after dark on the Charlotte Sports Park boardwalk asking the assembled brood to “Recite after me….I, state your name, do hereby pledge allegiance to the Rays….”

Yep. If I had to give this band of baseball brothers a fraternity name it would have to be Gamma Alpha Upsilon Zeta, or RAYZ (no “S” in Greek Alphabet).  

I swear I hear that old Isley Brothers song “Shout” in the swirling wind here in Port Charlotte. 

 

 

Rays Fan Fest Autograph on Your Slate? Be Ready to Donate

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Back in February 2011 if you wanted to get the autograph of a Tampa Bay Rays player you had to purchase a $40 wristband on that day to get unlimited player autographs. In 2013 that price increased to $50 for most current Rays players and Coaches autographs, and a select few more affluent members of the Rays Republic could purchase their own private autograph packages to have a more intimate private autograph session with some of the Rays star players.

ELDPWMThis year if you wanted to secure the signatures of the Rays “Big 3” which included Evan Longoria, David Price and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, it was going to cost you a bit more than the old 2013 option of an $50 “all-inclusive” wristband for all players available during Fan Fest signing moments.

So was really to anyone’s real surprise that the Rays announced recently that during the upcoming 2014 Rays Fan Fest to be held on Saturday, February 22, a new more streamlined and calculated autograph format would be in place. Some have been shocked by the news while others (like myself) have known this type of increase was just over the hill and is in line with other MLB players signing requests at their fan events.

I posted a blog post way back on February 14, 2011 comparing the Rays then request for fans to purchase $40 wristband donation fee for Fan Fest autographs. I started out in that essay stating:More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization”. And I really feel that sentiment is still true today.

kjhgfAt this year’s Fan Fest, for a $125 donation 60 affluent members of the Rays Republic can pre-purchase a more intimate behind the blue curtain opportunity with one of the trio or play a total of possibly $375 for obtaining all 3 players signatures. Immediately I know a few hands will go up that the pricing in “unheard of” and a bit astronomical, but in reality, it is pretty much in line with what donation amounts are requested by other MLB club for their premier player’s autographs at a fan event.

In that 2011 blog I showed you that it cost $175 back then at a Cards fan event to secure a chance at getting then St Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols. At that Cards event, Pujols commanded the most advance donation as the pricing swirled down from the $175 mark to $5 to secure former player Jack Clark’s signature.

pageAnd the Rays autograph donation fees do not start and end at the $125 price point. The team will also offer other Rays players who could/should be on the team’s 2014 roster at $25 each and also some additional players who will sign for kids 14 and younger only for no donation fee. Sure there was an instant shock and awe when I read the Rays autograph proposal, but the common denominator here for me is all money collected will go to the Rays in-house charity the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Foundation to further support research and developments within the Tampa Bay region.

Knowing that the money will all go to help promote and increase the funding for the Rays projects outside of the Trop and secure more than just signatures for the community, the $125 or even $25 each donations do not seem like a huge request. But I know as I wander around Tropicana Field on that day I will see a few tear-filled eyes that they cannot get the autographs of their baseball heroes, or their parents do not have the needed funds to obtain multiple autographs of players within the $25 price range.

jhgfdI know more than a few kids will possibly miss out on their own golden opportunity to be within ear range of their Rays heroes this Fan Fest, but I want to remind you that the MLBPA table is always full of former players from the Rays and baseball’s past and receiving their signatures is still free as always.

Still internally I’m a bit perplexed because for some fans, Fan Fest is their only viable opportunity to get access to their favorite player for more than a brief eye glance and this change will take that bit of uniqueness of being totally fan friendly away. Some fans travel great distances hoping to get this great access to Ray’s players.

Sure there will be multiple opportunities for some fans to get a bevy of additional changes to take photos and talk with players throughout the day, but this year’s autograph policy change might just also change a few minds on attending future Fan Fests, or even deaden a bit their Rays loyalty a tad.

pageI know the team wants to promote the other activities going on all over the playing field from the kid’s games, to the Pepsi display and Fan Wall of Fame ceremonies plus the Clubhouse tours and interacting with various radio and broadcast people on a more intimate scale. I know the Rays Garage Sale, Reading with the Rays will have huge crowds.

But no matter the team’s great intentions, a few tears will ultimately fall.

 

Silent Avenger Becoming a Pleasant Offensive Surprise

James Loney

I now call him the “Silent Avenger”. On a Tampa Bay Rays team already filled with persona’s like “Tatman”, “Super Sam” and even “Wolverine”, Rays First Baseman James Loney has been one of those great players who comes out of nowhere and makes this team better immediately.

toronto-blue-jays-v-tampa-20130506-180616-029Playing a position that embodies power and defensive responsibility, Loney has become not that iconic 1B that smashes the ball into an oblong shape on its way to the cheap seats, but has become a hitting machine producing needed single and run producing opportunities that also have brought the Rays back to the .500 mark for the first time since April 7th. Sure Loney is not the only reason this team has rebounded from their April funk, but he is one of those shining examples of a player brought in with question marks and wonder as to what role he will ultimately play on this team’s rise towards a post season berth.

All Loney has done is be a stopgap defender at the corner who has committed only a solo error in 259 total chances this season. But lost in that vital fact is the number of errors his glove has erased due to his versatility and flexibility at the First Base bag. But that is only 1 dimension of the Loney story as he has again found his hitting stroke since coming to the Rays at one point this week reaching the summit of the American League Batting Average pile along side Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera.

James LoneyLoney currently heading into Sunday’s contest is 3rd among all MLB players in batting average (.371) behind Cabrera (.376) and Brewers OF Carlos Gomez (.374). He also shares another very vital distinction in the A L with Oakland A’s INF Jed Lowrie of 7 3-hit games this season which all transpired within 11 starts between April 17th and May 5th. Loney has not only shown the potential to produce for the Rays, he is doing it on a club once thought of as weak and full of holes offensively but has been one of those key linchpins to the Rays recent run explosions that has seen them creep from the bottom of the AL Team hitting stats.

Sure Loney (.959) might not have the Rays top OPS ranking which currently belongs to long-ball artist Evan Longoria (1.009), but he does have 39 hits in his 35 games as well as leading the Rays in doubles (11, tied for 7th in the AL). OBP (.426 which is 4th in the AL) and is second to Longo (.609) in Slugging Percentage (.533). Loney has been one of those pleasant surprises on a team that most thought would be hard pressed to produce runs much less victories this season after their horrific April start.

201304062129773759188-p2Want to know why the recent hitting surge of Loney is so impressive? Over his last 23 contests (17 starts) Loney leads the MLB with a .453 average with 2 HR,15 RBI and 9 doubles. But what is extremely impressive is his stat of only 4 strikeouts during this span that saw his average rise to over 200 points from its .167 spot on April 16th. Fangraphs also produced a fun fact that 33% of Loney’s hits this season have been line drives, the highest percentage in the MLB where the MLB average is 20.2 percent.

Amazingly enough Loney who is a left-handed hitter has produced a .529 average against Southpaws this season which should bode well for him as the Rays will be facing a lot of left-handed hurlers over the next week. Add on the nice stat of Loney sparking a .424 average with runners in scoring position and you get a player who is helping the team tremendously by slicing and dicing up hitting from both side of the pitching rubber. Loney is also boasting an impressive .337 average against right-handers so far this season.

And how rare was that Home Run by Loney last night against the San Diego Padres? The last time Loney deposited an offering in the his home stadium cheaps seats was September 17, 2011 in Dodger Stadium.

James Loney, Joe MaddonLoney has hit 8 HR on the road between those dates. Loney on May 9th also became only the 4th Rays player ever to be on the top tier of the AL in hitting with teammate Matt Joyce last doing it in 2011. Combine that with the pure fact Loney has produced back-to-back 3-hit performances on multiple occasions this season and you can see how he has transformed into a much needed silent avenger for the Rays.

Want one last reason to think Loney is having one of those dream seasons so many seem to have when they pull on a Rays jersey. Consider Loney has hit left-handed pitchers at a career .248 average heading into his Rays tenure. This season after Loney’s impressive outing against southpaw pitching during 3 starts against Toronto (May 6-9th) at the Trop produced a stellar 10-19 (.526) showcase. But the cherry on top of this is the fact during 2013 Loney has only struck out 11 times so far in 116 plate appearances which leads all MLB 1B qualifiers and had a streak of 39 at bats without a whiff this season.

Loney is definitely the silent avenger the Rays needed at First Base and has more than proven his worth.

Could the Rise of Moore and Cobb Make Price Late July Trade Bait?

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You have to think the recent deep valley that Tampa Bay Race ace David Price has found himself so far in April is an unfortunate blip in his otherwise stellar Rays career marks. That fact Price is still winless after his 5th start of the season has some wondering if Price might indeed have more to worry about in late July than how much water to give super pooch Astro.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-151626-443With his recent slide backwards some chirps have been growing louder that Price could find himself on the opposite end of more than a few trade rumors come July, and possibly find himself throwing his late season starts in a National League park. Of course it is too early to fully dive deep into such a move, but with his recent struggles and the younger members of the Rays rotation posting wins and numbers that have the Rays Front Office giddy for the future, the proposed arbitration salary mark for Price might make him expendable a lot earlier than any of us truly imagined.

201304062105759248969-p2Because the Rays 4 and 5 starters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have stepped up considerably during the time of Price’s unfortunate pitching streak and have miraculously contributed to 7 of the Rays total 10 victories. In all, the Rays starting staff has notched 9 of the Rays 10 wins, with Rays closer Fernando Rodney getting the other victory. But with Moore and Cobb escalating their game, it kind of makes Price a little bit of extra weight especially since he is projected to be the Rays highest paid pitcher EVER possibly this Winter.

I truly expect that sooner rather than later the Rays will swap Moore into the 3 slot currently held by free agent signee Roberto Hernandez, and I would not be surprised if the Rays might also have Cobb tag-along right behind Moore and possibly take over the 4 spot with Hernandez descending to the 5th spot in the rotation. This is nothing personal to Hernandez, it is the pure fact Moore and Cobb have adjusted and matured to the point they would be solid at the 3 or 4 slots in the rotation for the rest of the season.

CarchCombine all of this with the success a few of the Rays top hurlers have had at Triple-A Durham, and you could see a considerably young explosion of talent rising up in September to claim attention and possible spot for 2014. Chris Archer who most thought might push possibly push Hernandez to the Bullpen this Spring has a healthy 3-1 record after 5 starts and has struck out 25 hitters. Jake Odorizzi might sport only a 1-0 record, but he also has sent 30 International League hitters back to the bench in his 25 innings.

It is not like I want to see or propose the Rays look for alternatives to Price come late July, but more and more the quick maturation process displayed already by Jeremy Hellickson, Moore and Cobb might hasten the Rays Front Office’s conversation to possibly find a suitor for Price who could possibly bring in a slew of great prospects, possibly a top catching prospect and maybe even a young Third Baseman currently at the High-A level who could mature in the Rays system and be a fit if and when Evan Longoria possibly becomes a Designated Hitter or possibly a First Baseman as he grows into the gray parts of his recent Rays “lifetime” deal.

price032713_8colThis is hard to write and even fathom since Price is such a likeable guy and has been more than generous with his time on and off the field to the Rays Republic. But as we all know, sometimes you have to make adjustments, let go of real talent to bring your own club’s level of competition to a higher level and bring in the right pieces to run the machine for several seasons.

This scenario of Price possibly leaving the Rays earlier than anyone expected might have its origins in the pure fact the Rays young pitching talent has shown reason for the team to possibly even think the unthinkable and imagine this team without Price leading the rotation come August 1st. But sometimes when the talent level rises as high as it has in 2013, no one is guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster, sometimes not even a proud and fan popular Ace.

Bad Luck Follows the Rays on the Road

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I want to be the first to stand up and applaud new Tampa Bay Rays James Loney and Shelly Duncan for their vocal barrage from the Visitor’s dugout railing tonight as they snipped with merit at the horrific job Home Plate Umpire Marty Foster made on the last pitched ball during the Rays 5-4 loss against the Texas Rangers.

c2s_rays040913_10589862_8colBelieve me if the Rangers had any deputy powers, they should have arrested Foster for impersonating a Umpire, but I digress. Seriously though, if the Rays were to lose that game even with their hottest hitter , Ben Zobrist at the plate, it should have been a ground ball, missed swing, not a called third strike to end a highly contested game that came so far out of left field Rangers closer Joe Nathan might have been the last person on the field to notice the game was over.

You can be sure there will either be a voice mail or a nice cordial phone call to Foster from someone within the MLB hiearchy, possibly his immediate supervisor asking him if he drank a frothy beverage as the teams changed positions for the top of the 9th inning instead of guzzling a nice, cool Gatorade. And the worst thing is you can not fathom or find a suitable excuse like the usual hot and hostile Texas heat or gnats that descended from purgatory (Texas) to make the sight lines into the Texas catcher’s glove impossible.

This was purely and truthfully just a blown call that possibly seconds after it’s conclusion Foster wishes he could take back or get a proverbial “mulligan”. And these things happen during a 162 game season, but it didn’t need to happen to this Rays team who struggled back to within a run of changing the outcome and who were still nursing a TKO in their Sunday home matinee.

tampa-bay-rays-v-texas-20130408-201736-861But maybe this is the way the Rays will have to find ways to win in 2013. Possibly the high hype of their return to glory 5 years after their first surprising rise has more than a few people casting spells or making voodoo Longo dolls or Hellboy personas.  But the Rays did have chances before this moment and could of taken the fate of their resurgence out of Foster’s hands before the top of the 9th inning.

On the same day their might Tall Texan, Jeff Nieman decided to partake the knife and sideline himself for the rest of the 2013 campaign, this team needed some sign of impending good fortune and change of fortune. The problem was as in in most Texas sagas, the man in the black cap shot the Rays in the foot and took their victory off into the sunset.

Maybe we can find a way to blame the call on long-time Rays nemesis and current Rangers catcher AJ Pierzenski, he was the guy who framed that last pitch for Foster…….Nah, Foster blew the call.

Moore Finds His Groove and Posts a Beautiful Shutout Win

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If Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore who is usually a slow starter to begin the season as he gains velocity and control gets even a tad bit better for his second start, he might throw the Rays second No-Hitter. Seriously though, the fact Moore seems to have found a nice balance against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night and allowed only 2 hit to go with his 8 K’s and took home the “W” in his first start of the young season.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172823-107Maybe we can attest this change of routine to the fact Moore looked a little scruffy on the hill, not his usual clean-cut All-American cover boy self. Possibly Moore has taken a page from fellow southpaw David Price and just go with the flow and what the hitters give you and not stress the small stuff or missed borderline calls.

Or maybe it is really as simple as Moore took the mound during his Spring Training gigs like it was already the season and he used those 4 starts as his “early season” roller-coaster starts. No matter what the true reasoning is, it was great to see Moore showing great control, eliminating his walks and going6 innings while throwing an even 100 pitches. The pure fact Moore got to the 6th inning and helped the Bullpen is huge as it gave newly called-up reliever Brandon Gomes a chance to shine as well as give Jake McGee a solid outing to get that huge ERA starting it free-fall towards some sort of normalcy.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-192808-9463 times during his 6 inning stint Moore set the side down in order with only three hitters coming to the plate. And only during the top of the 3rd when Cleveland had 5 hitters come to the plate and advanced Mike Aviles to Third Base did a hitter reach third base. Moore even helped his own cause by pitching inside to Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera who hit a weakly hit ball right to Evan Longoria who rocketed the ball to Jose Lobaton stationed at Home Plate to gun down Cabrera and keep the shutout intact for Moore.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172837-183That is the kind of pitching that will elevate this team and keep them in ballgames. Playing to the oppositions weaknesses and strangling their run scoring opportunities by keeping the ball in the park, and on the ground. Of the 10 balls hit and put into play last night, 6 were on the ground and were converted with no problems at all. If Moore can keep playing to the Rays strength of a solid and well-oiled Rays infield defense, this is only the first of the wins for him in 2013.

Longoria Admitting his Error Shows his Leadership Maturity

One of the greatest traits a leader can have is admitting they are not perfect and just as the rest of us can make decisions that can be called into debate or discussion. Last night Tampa Bay Rays Clubhouse leader and Third Baseman Evan Longoria proved he was a leader and took responsibility for his error in his aggressive base running judgment during the Rays attempt to rally towards a possible 9th inning overtaking of their divisional foes, the Baltimore Orioles, but Longo’s gaffe might have been to try and amp up the energy for the rally, but it just as quickly put the Rays on their heels.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130404-162917-201Some say it is a cardinal rule of baseball to never just watch the ball, but also have a keen visual on any base runners in front of you to keep just such a situation of coming to fruition or costing your team a must needed chance to pull out a possible victory. Depending on which school of thought you adhere towards, either Longoria was wrong by watching the ball, or was being aggressive with a possible 9th inning rally in mind. Either way, it might be up to your own interpretation, or at the very least your viewpoint and visual judgment when viewing the above video which showed both the Rays and Oriole’s broadcast crews.

If you did not see the play, it occurred in the bottom of the 9th with the Rays trailing 6-2 to Baltimore and followed a lead-off plucking of pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez and a Ben Zobrist single to right to put two runners on the base path with no outs in the inning. Longoria then hit a ball deep to left-center field that was played off the upper portion of the wall and then the unfortunate again raised it ugly head.

009Zobrist is a calculated and safe runner. Since the ball’s path was blocked by the advancing fielders, Zobrist had to play upon the hunch it might still be caught and he would have to jettison back to first to avoid possibly being involved in a double play situation. Longoria who has that aggressive nature to his base running that has be haphazard before with at least one instance involving Zobrist in the past felt the outfielders could not make the play and was looking for a double and possible triple on the play.

This is where the error of Longo’s search for that vital punch to the Oriole’s chances took a solid uppercut to the Rays proverbial jaw. Longoria in his haste to make this a possible 2-RBI moment over ran the lead runner (Zobrist) and in that situation was immediately called out by First Base Umpire James Hoye which then had Zobrist stop his progress at Third Base and Longoria producing the first out of the inning. This did not ultimately destroy the Rays chances of securing additional runs in the inning, but it did hamper the game strategy that Rays Manager Joe Maddon could employ if there was no outs and two runners in definite scoring position.

Some will banter that the Second Base Umpire and Crew Chief John Hirschbeck should have convened a small meet with Home Plate Umpire Jim Reynolds who had a better visual vantage point as to if Longoria had passed Zobrist or if the two had been in the same area without cause for the out decision.

011If you look at the video, Longoria is strutting at quarter speed when he rounds first base possibly remembering his past base running mistake where he also passed Zobrist to produce an out in that past contest. The true angle or vantage point of the video doesn’t make it concrete in either decision’s direction, but the visual angle from behind Home Plate could have been a secondary check mark to Longo’s gaffe, or been a reason to question the play all together and have the Umpires convene for a discussion.

MLB Rule 7.08 (H), clearly states that any base runner is to be called out when he “passes a preceding runner before such runner is out”. Hirschbeck’s clarification in his decision was that this movement was akin to a runner missing a base and stated the situation “was kind of the thing you see or you don’t”. Maddon himself situated on the top step of the Rays dugout had a different point of view to the situation and possibly might have been the one person off to the side of the play besides Reynolds who could of see if Longo did in fact pass Zobrist or lagged a bit behind him as a precaution to having just this type of event unfold again for the pair.

All in all, Longoria did admit he was not running full speed and was watching the flight of the ball intensely with regard to possible extra bases, but he also did admit he did not know where “Zo was, but as soon as I saw the ball hit the ground, I took a hard step. And it seemed when I took that one hard step, I saw Zo to my left”. ”

014Some might find fault in Zobrist in this instance because he is a more careful and less flamboyant base runner who didn’t want to be a factor in losing this game due to a base running gaffe. With his Zobrist’s visual sight lines blocked by the advancing outfielders to the ball off the wall, he erred on the side of caution and in that moment could of set the wheels in motion for this gaffe, but he doing so to prolong the inning and not to be overly aggressive on a play that still could have been made by his sight angle.

In the end, it was great that Longoria did not throw anyone under the bus about the incident but took the right path and accepted the responsibility as well as showed he has grown as a leader of this club plus is willing to admit an error in judgment. Some players might have immediately pointed their finger to the runner in front of them or gone off full nuclear towards the Umpires, but Longoria used tact and accepted his plight the way a leader should and that commands a bit of respect.

But please Longo, the next time this situation comes during a game, please error on the side of caution, especially if you have a conscientious runner like Zobrist in front of you. Making this same type of mistake 3 times in your career is not a charm.

Rays Opener Produced a Mixed Bag of Moments

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Baseball defines itself by its unscripted single plays and moments that can easily decide victory or defeat. Where the crack of the bat meeting the ball can electrify a crowd, a defensive play that illustrates brilliance can boost your confidence for success, or a misplaced pitch left flat and lifeless can become a isolating factor in the contest.

201304021221444815482-p2These moments and more showed themselves vividly on Tuesday afternoon as the Tampa Bay Rays opened their 16th Major League baseball campaign against divisional rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays were riding a 2-game home opener winning streak and with a third win in a row could get Rays Manager Joe Maddon back to the .500 mark in his Rays tenure. Instead, the Rays showed us all the ways they have improved over the Winter, but also gave us a quick dose of reality that some things still need some fine tuning to succeed in 2013.

Rays ace David Price took the hill hoping to begin another trek towards a stellar season, but some crafty hitting and patience by the O’s hitters bore into the small holes of opportunity and had Price on the ropes early in this contest. Sure Oriole’s sluggers Adam Jones and Chris Davis had great starts to the 2013 season against Price, but C Matt Wieters seemed to be the biggest nemesis to Price on this day.

201304021528557035843-p2Not only did Wieters stake Baltimore to a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning, but his 13-pitch at bat in the top of the 3rd inning that ended up as a walk, which included 8 foul balls did load the bases for a potentially bad situation, but a Davis ground ball to Yunel Escobar began a nifty double play that ended the inning without any further incident. Wieters did have a secondary effect on Price that his long plate appearance did elevate Price’s pitch count and hastened his exit from the game after 6 innings.

Jake McGee then came on in the 7th inning and made a few pitch location mistakes. Jones made the first impression with a 2-RBI to deep left center to give the Orioles the lead again at 4-3. Misfortune again reared her ugly head for McGee in the inning after he intentionally walked Wieters and David blasted a 396-foot 3-run Home Run to right and posted the eventual runs needed to secure the O’s first win of the new season. McGee just never seemed comfortable out on the mound yesterday and might have thrown 18 strikes in his 25 pitch outing, but the Baltimore hitters made his exit swift after 2/3rds of an inning.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-125456-149Mistakes happen in ballgames, that is par for the course. A pitch that stays flat or doesn’t break away from the plate is destined to be put into play and bad things can become the immediate result. Both Price and McGee had moments of flatness in this game and it cost both of them dearly with McGee getting the loss plus posting up a ballooned 67.50 early ERA. Both pitchers will find their grooves and make amends this season, but their small mistakes on this day definitely played into the Rays breaking their home opener streaks and taking Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s career home opening day mark to 3-5.

But there were also some moments in this contest that made you not only feel good inside, but built upon the confidence that a few pieces that falters at times in 2012 have been fixed and made great starts to building confidence on the field and in the stands. All around the field yesterday there were defensive plays and great moves on the base paths that showed this team again has that attitude that no game is decided until the 27th out. That kind of mentality will pay huge dividends down the road and even in this initial loss, we saw more than a few reasons to think our defensive debacle in 2012 has been rectified.

201304021523553955827-p2Evan Longoria definitely showed he is psyched for 2013 with 2-straight impressive defensive plays in the top of the 5th inning with the second play coming with a throw on his backside at third against the speedster Jones with his throw bouncing across the turf until James Loney secured it to end the inning. Sam Fuld who replaced Matt Joyce in left also made his presence known as well as Ryan Roberts who replaced Ben Zobrist at 2B when Zorilla went to RF and SS Yunel Escobar showed brilliance on the pivot providing a crucial 6-3 double play in the top of the 3rd to stop the O’s scoring chances.

From the Rays first hit of the season, a solo Home Run by Zobrist to RF, to Desmond Jennings RBI double in the 6th inning then scoring on a Sac Fly by Zorilla. Jennings again provided some needed magic beating out an infield single to the shortstop, then stealing his first base of the season in the bottom of the 7th inning putting him in great scoring position to secure the Rays 4th run of the game on a ground ball to 2B by Fuld in the bottom of the 8th inning. These plays show great glimmers of hope the Rays offensive woes from 2012 might have also vanished over the Winter as the Rays employed both long and short ball concepts during this first contest.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-154433-217All in all it might have been a mixed bag of results for the Rays, but the team showed the type of hustle and strive for victory you need when in the course of a season a single win or loss could decide not only your fate. I know that might seem a bit fatal thinking a single loss can be so detrimental to a team, but in this high contested AL East, especially against a division rival who wants to improve on their 90+ win totals from 2012, a single loss can put you behind the 8-ball early on in the season.

Tuesday the Rays might have come out on the losing end of it all, but there were multiple bright spots to show this team’s improvement and 161 more chances to grab back this loss and get on with the grand scheme of things this season…which is securing another ticket to play deep into October.

Do not forget, this season is the 5th anniversary of the “Miracle of Baseball”, and that 2008 Rays campaign also started off with a opening day home loss to these same Orioles ( 9-6).  And we all know how that season ended up…….Coincidence, I think not.

 

Rays to Hold Second Tweet Up

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If you are an avid Twitter fan and also have a passion for the Tampa Bay Rays, then you will be more than glad that the Rays have decided to resurrect a special night again at Tropicana Field just for the Rays Republic’s Twitter branch, or just those souls who love using their finger dexterity as well as enjoy a great baseball game. I  hope the rest of the Rays Republic are as excited as I am that the Rays again embraced the social media segment of their fan base and again brought a LIVE Tweet in to Tropicana Field.

 016I’m personally as excited as watching a walk-off victory ( which happened during the Rays 1st tweet Up), complete game shutout or possibly seeing another Rays player hit for the cycle. Who wouldn’t be excited about sitting just above the Rays Bullpen area tweeting our fingers to the bone while cheering on our Rays both on the web, and in person. 

Coming up on Tuesday, May 7th as the Rays take on their divisional rivals the Toronto Blue Jays, the Twitterverse will be completely congested again with Tweets and Photos from the Trop. It is truly fantastic that the Rays front office and their marketing department have again embraced the Rays huge social media  presence and again provide a chance for the Rays Republic to take another stab at possibly trending not only in Tampa Bay, but possibly Worldwide.

That is what I’m hoping happens that the Rays  Republic’s own Tweet Nation comes alive and provides a trending  experience we can all be proud of. Even if we just hold that sacred spot for a minute, the work, hustle and bustle would be a complete success. So that is a goal within our reach, one we can touch or type, to provide a Rays moment Worldwide. I love the sound of that personally.

035It is actually kind of ironic the Rays announced this recently as I was about to compose a blog posting asking them to again have just such an event during the upcoming season. I felt the first one back in 2011 went off without a hitch and the speech by guest speaker Emmy award winning  CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) was entertaining and informative.

hiUnlike the 2011 Tweet Up, the May 7th contest will take place with a First Pitch at 7:10 pm and not in the afternoon. The early evening and night scheduling of this Tweet Up should help to boost the Rays chances of getting that trending acknowledgment as well as show the true size of the Rays Republic’s social media segment. There will be a future announcement possibly via Twitter about a Guest Speaker that will also be on-hand with us Tweeting the night away.

028Just as the Rays did back in 2011, the team will furnish all participants who purchase tickets in the Rays Tweet Up special section a blue T-shirt sporting the event logo and your Twitter handle/name. On the evening of the event the Rays will distribute these shirts to the assembled masses, but you have to purchase your ticket by April 21, 2013 for you to have your shirt silk-screened and ready for the event. If you miss the deadline, you can still get a T-shirt, but it will have the @RaysBaseball handle on it instead of your own personal Twitter handle.

Also during this grand night of digital dexterity there will be drawings for autographed baseballs, game tickets and even a chance to possibly throw out the First Pitch that evening. I was a participant during the Rays first event that was held during an afternoon game and there was a great response and constant Tweets before, during and even after the game. I can attest to the fact that the Rays offer a great quality T-shirt, and you do have a chance to win prizes ( I won a Matt Joyce autographed baseball). I truly expect this second edition of the event to have even more rabid Rays fans using their fingers all game long, possibly even taking photos of other participants and driving up their follower base during this event.

065I have already bought my seat (Sect 128), and hope to see a huge turnout from the Tweeter branch of the Rays Republic. I’m looking forward to see so many of the Twitter followers that gaze at the Tweets from @RaysRenegade or @TheRaysRenegade during the season and 365 days a year. I fully expect the event to sell-out as the Rays Twitterverse has expanded so much since our first event back in 2011. If you still need to purchase a ticket and get into this grand night of Tweeting and supporting the Rays, here is the Tweet Up At The Trop page on RaysBaseball.com ro secure your T-shirt and spot within the Rats Tweeters area for the contest.

023Just as last time, any Tweet using the special event hashtag will have a chance to be displayed on the Rays Jumbotron during the Game and the entire group will be recognized by the Public Address announcer probably more than once that evening. This is one of those events where you can not only meet some of the people who pop up those funny and great Tweets during the year, but also a chance for you to bring in new followers, find possibly a few new friends to attend games with, and promote yourself and the Rays while watching a fantastic baseball game.

I got to warn you, I’ve gotten better since the last time at doing my Tweet in 140-characters or less…….See you there Rays Twitter Nation!

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