Results tagged ‘ Evan Longoria ’

If Florida Native Fans Embrace the Rays, Attendance Will Begin an Upswing

 

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I get upset every time I read something about sports fans in the Tampa Bay area being “bandwagon fans”.  Such article never take into consideration only 35 percent of fans in the state of Florida were actually born here.

Florida is currently grouped with 4 other states that have between 24.3 and 44.5 of their population born in their state. Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado are the only other states in that group, and only Colorado has a M L B franchise.

downloadBut none of these articles or bash blogs take into account that since the 1980’s the number grew from the mid 20’s to 35 percent at the time of the 2010 U. S. Census. 15% increase may not seem to be a lot to most, but to us natives, it is more and more people who share in this region as their birthplace and should establish local sports alliances as we grow older.

But the local teams also have to embrace this fact that less than 40 percent of their fan base is locally born and take measures to ensure these fans attach themselves to their local teams before family long-time allegiance plays havoc and they lose a fan based on their parent’s sports loyalties.

Only 10 states of 1/5th of our Nation have seen over 70 percent of their population born in their state.  M L B stronghold states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan are within that top tier native-born group that also include Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Kentucky.

download (1)If you look at the 2014 M L B attendance numbers, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were in the Top 15 for this past season.  Each of these states double the native population of the southernmost state in our country.

Just for giggles, let’s double the Rays 2014 attendance figures and see where they might have ranked in the overall 2014 if our Sunshine State had at least 70 percent of our residents born here.

The Rays had 1,446,464 fans cross their gates in 2014. Multiply that by 2 and we get 2,892,928 fans which would have vaulted them up to the 7th spot just above the Milwaukee Brewers who drew 2,797,384 through their turnstiles in 2014.

images (5)Now I’m only using this as an example, if the Rays  grew their attendance numbers 1.5 times in 2014, the Rays ( 2,169,696 ) would of cracked the M L B’s top 20 instead of being in 29th in attendance this season.

Now it might start to make some sense to the Rays Republic who have been arguing over the past several seasons that the Rays fan group under 14 get the best giveaways from the team.

Combine that with the fact those collectibles mostly happen during promotional days like Family Fun Days and you get a nice uptick in attendance, plus hopefully gather more loyalty and future franchise admiration for their hometown team.

That is why the Rays roll out the carpet for the younger generation, they will be the ticket buyers who takes the Rays back to 2 million plus fans through the gates. It is not the older crowd like myself who might be loyal fans, but with our age comes some limitations both physically and economically hamper us from attending as we have in the past.

images (4)That is why the kids get the great Evan Longoria drum sets, the Summer Camps and the opportunity on Sunday home games to get the autographs of Rays players. It is a subtle but insightful way for the Rays to embrace their young fans who will turn into adult fans and then hopefully stay in the region and produce another generation of Rays fans.

Who knows, by the time we get to the 2020 U.S. Census the Florida native number might rise to 45 percent which would put Florida on the lower end of the next level of native children currently being born in M L B states which includes Georgia, Washington, Maryland and California.

download (3)Teams like the Yankees, Boston Red Sox and even the Baltimore Orioles have over 100 years or at least 3 generations of native fans who grew up and adopted their teams based on their locality. Tampa Bay has not even been in the M L B 20 years are surely does have a transient fans who still have or pull out their home town jerseys when their old team comes to Tropicana Field.

My only hope is that the younger Rays fan who enjoy these great promotions and events stay within the Rays fold and help establish a lasting Rays tradition within their future families or relationships.

The Rays have planted the seeds for the younger members of our regions to embrace their local teams. Now we just have to wait until those seeds mature here in Tampa Bay and hopefully we will still have a team to call our own and to introduce to their kids and eventually their grand kids.

images (3)Baseball may be a business, but sometimes even in business you have to embrace the family approach and hope it expands and makes even the youngest fan want to grow up to be devote Rays fan.

 If you were wondering, the Colorado Rockies ( 2,680,329 ) ranked 10th in overall  M L B attendance this season.  The Rockies have been an M L B franchise since 1993 and the 2nd generation of Rockies fans seemed to have embraced the team.

That shows even in Tampa Bay, there is hope as long as the native sons and daughters support their local sports roots.

Peering Into My Rays 2015 Looking Glass-Position Players

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Well, Dandy Don has sung and the large but svelte woman in that Viking cap has vocally acknowledged the Tampa Bay Rays have lost that final grasp on any chance at an October date with destiny. So the chase is now over, but a few games still remain.

Over the next 2 weeks I think we will see a few slices of what might and could happen this winter in regards to our hometown Rays.

th3JODA4XGWe already know we will not see any fashion of a  $80 million payroll in 2015, but the Rays have a lot of pieces to consider this winter, some expendable, and some they have to keep at all costs. Might be a interesting winter as the Rays have a chance to push out another cycle of truly young pitching talent, might dangle a few names on their hook, and possibly be seeking a consistent power bat that could awaken an offense that rises and falls more than the tides in Tampa Bay.

From behind the plate to down the First Base line in the Bullpen, the Rays have some important work to do to not only up their offensive firepower, but also to shore up a reliever corps that did not have that secure level of consistency we have grown accustom to here.

I truly suspect the Rays will not only dangle but seek out a possible trade partner to take on veteran backstop Jose Molina’s 2015 salary. With the solid emergence of Curt Casali behind the dish in 2014, it makes Molina not only an extra body behind the plate, but a large salary that could be used to possibly secure a power bat for the Rays lineup.

thAWBZUW96In Casali’s favor right now is that he is showing great command of the Rays pitching corps and currently hold the best catcher’s ERA of 2.0 in the majors. He has caught Alex Cobb 6 times this season and sports a 1.09 ERA with Cobbster on the hill, including framing pitches during Cobb’s recent no-hitter adventure.

I think Ryan Hanigan is on solid ground, but people in Cincinnati probably thought the same before the 2013 offseason. Helping his cause for 2015 is definitely his current .306 average in 11 starts since coming back off the DL on August 26th.

Now in regards to the Rays infield. It would seem that 3 of the 4 slots are already occupied by players who should be rubber stamped in as starters for 2015.  Sure anything can happen, but these 3 players also have contracts inked with the team, some long-term, some with quicker expiration dates.

James Loney seems secure at First Base especially since he signed that 3-year #21 million contract in 2014 and should man the Rays 1B bag possibly until someone on the way up in the Rays farm system pushes him off it.  But also making Loney an easy name to pencil in is his superb bat skills and being great at GTMI (Get The Man In). Heading into Sunday’s contest Loney has 66 RBIs, second only to Evan Longoria.

thEFVI841BDo not be surprised if the Rays possibly show Sean Rodriguez a bit more at First Base in 2015. There is no guarantee the Rays will keep S-Rod, but he has been one of the most consistent pieces of the Rays utility corps right alongside Ben Zobrist.

Speaking of Zorilla, could this offseason be the first one where the Rays ask Zobrist to possibly take a few more turns at First as a possible fill-in should the team not re-sign Rodriguez? We all know Rays Manager Joe Maddon is S-Rod’s biggest supporter, but his salary is climbing and with less dollars in the till, could Rodriguez be one of the Rays biggest question marks going into the winter.

Third Base is all Evan Longoria’s until health or just plain age ripe him off the hot corner. People forget Longo is itching close to that big 3-0 that sometimes robs a player of agility and quickness needed to prevent screamers down the line. I do not see 2015 as the season Father Time begins to creep up on Longoria, but if he does we could possible see Tim Beckham or Logan Forsythe as guys to pencil in with spot starts.

th2I88KN6BLongoria did have what many consider a sub-par season in 2014, but he still leads the team in most offensive categories and is still the Rays Clubhouse figurehead, and that will not change for some time. His tear in offense since the All-Star break might just be to him finally finding that mechanics groove we have been waiting for all this season.

Shortstop is also a spot that seems secure, but has also been a spot of ups and downs in 2014. Now I like the spirited play of Yunel Escobar, but I think a healthy Hak-Ju Lee could press Escobar with a outstanding spring. You know subconsciously the Rays Front Office would love this kind of competition considering one would command a MLB minimal salary (Lee), and the other $5 million.

You might wonder why the Rays did not bring up Lee or Beckham in September or after Durham finished their postseason run. Both have 2 minor league options left and if neither fights nor gains a 25-man roster slot in 2015, that gives the Rays some flexibility to hold onto them at least in Durham.

thNYXYJESCSecond Base might again be a “insert here” space in the Rays infield. With names like Nick Franklin, Forsythe, Lee and Beckham possibly fighting for a chance to line up at 2B, this might be one of the most contested spots during the spring of 2015.

Sure you could put Zobrist firmly in black ink in this spot, but I think Maddon still loves to tinker and place Zobrist and his many gloves wherever he sees a possible weakness. I truly think we will see Zobrist either swapping gloves a lot again in 2015, or he will be gone. I think a lot depends on the Rays evaluation of what they could obtain via a winter trade for Zorilla while he still has ample value to a team looking for a players who has a command of his offensive and defensive skills.

The Rays might end up coming out of 2015 spring training with their youngest outfield trio since their inception. I have an odd feeling this might be the other place where competition will be strong and possibly we see a name or possibly 2 change uniforms in direct response to possible 2015 salary as opposed to their overall value to the team.

thNOJJ6HYGOutfielders Matt Joyce and possibly Desmond Jennings might also see their names in print a bit more during the Rays off season. Not because they are not valued or important Rays pieces, but there is a younger crew of Rays outfielders led by Wil Myers and Kevin Keirmaier who can provide the same offense and defensive excellence at a more modest price.

The Rays also need to make a valued judgment on Brandon Guyer who doesn’t have any minor league options remaining. This whole Guyer situation might come down to a mirror image evaluation that the Rays had to make on Sam Fuld before the 2014 season. Believe me, if the Rays find value in keeping Guyer, he could definitely slot in as the team’s 4th or 5th outfield option without a problem.

I will no discuss the DH position since I think that will be a hired bat or possibly more Longoria and Zobrist in 2015 if the team can not find an adequate stick that can elevate the Rays offense.

In addition Maddon could use any variety of bench selections to insert or delete at his leisure. Designated Hitter might be a revolving door for the Rays if a valued bat is not found before the spring of 2015. 

thVSZNTP0FI have a feeling we will see a leaner and more stat-infused Rays team over the next 2 years. The Rays will again possibly show a “youth movement” as most positions will be secured by vets, but the younger corps of the team could mature into the offensive pieces the Rays lacked in 2014.

With a slimmed down payroll and some veterans nearing the cusp of free agency, the Rays might call upon their striving younger core to provide a cohesive and focused 2015 nucleus.

 

More Rays Decisions on the Horizon

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With just 20 days left in the 2014 season for the Tampa Bay Rays, you can expect an abundance of decision, changes and shifts in their usual format in regard to pitching, fielding assignments and possibly the last shuffle of players after the Durham Bulls complete their drive to try and retain the Governor’s Cup.

thYXLXH91BWe have saw one decision rear its ugly head on Tuesday as the Rays decided they would shut down starter Drew Smyly. The Rays only leftie currently in their rotation will be replaced by right-hander Nathan Karns who was to pitch on Thursday in Game 4 of the Governor’s Cup series, but will now toe the rubber for the Rays in Yankee Stadium for their last contest against the Yankee in 2014.

Even though the Rays have not been formally declared out of the post season, the shutting down of Smyly who has been a bright spot in the latter stages of the season signals the Rays looking ahead to 2015.

Now that doesn’t mean the Rays will re-invent themselves over the next 3 weeks, but the usual line-ups and match ups might go a little left and right and the Rays experiment and try out some new combos or fielding assignment to test their current corps of rostered players.

The first of these movements towards the future might be in feeling out the limitations or flexibility of Brandon Guyer. We all know Guyer has the heart and soul to play with this team, but if he shows a little more flexibility and resourceful use, possibly in Center Field, the Rays might extend their hands and provide Guyer with ample opportunity before the last contest in Cleveland.

thS5U101GFOver the next few weeks I suspect we might see a few tinkers with the lineup seeing if other players can adapt, convert and possibly excel at other spots in the 1-9 slot of the Rays lineup card. We could see a few new names attached to Third Base giving Evan Longoria a few more reps at DH.

Quite possibly we could also see if the Rays value certain player who have been established as 2015 options, or possible trade fodder this winter. One name I think you might want to watch close is the ways the Rays use Matt Joyce over the final games.

Joyce is still under team control in 2015, but I truly thought 2014 was his year to shine or submerge and quite possibly the Rays might be on that same wave length. It is kind of a pity Joyce seemed to have drawn the long straw when Wil Myers went down. I thought the team would try and expand on Joyce’s worthiness through more at bats against lefties, but instead the team went to the minor league system and have made Kevin Kiermaier a new Tampa Bay household name.

The emergence of Kiermaier might makes Joyce expendable this winter, and an affordable name for another team to scoop up at a bargain. And with the Rays possibly experimenting with different outfield setups, names like Ben Zobrist, David DeJesus and Desmond Jennings might find a few teams calling about their availability this winter too.

thC0O2Q3OAAnother decision much like Smyly is on the horizon for the Rays as starters Jake Odorizzi has thrown for 154.2 innings and Chris Archer has 173.2 innings. Taking two fixtures out of the rotation might not happen, but seeing as current Durham starters Alex Colome has only 86 innings on the book before his next Governor’s Cup start, he could be a viable option for the Rays after Durham finishes their playoff run.

But not in Colome’s favor might be the pure fact that would give the Rays 5 starters who all throw from the right side of the rubber. The Rays could go with the option of bringing up 2 different lefties after the Durham playoff run, or promote another right-hander, Merrill Kelly as he only has 114 innings on his arm this season.

If the Rays did want to go the duo lefty option, Mike Montgomery and Enny Romero both have about 126 innings on their stats this year and could possibly be an option for 1-2 starts each to finish off 2014 plus give the team a real time evaluation on if they might be MLB ready in 2015.

th7BV3QC8DInfield wise I could see the Rays possibly bring up Hak-Ju Lee or maybe even Tim Beckham and throw them in Longoria’s spot at Third and test them on being viable future options or possible add-ons to a winter trade.

Who knows, maybe Rays can bring up a Ray…Olmedo to see if he could be a piece of the depth puzzle again next season either in Triple-A or with the Rays.

Everything is just speculation until certain things fall or are decided by the Rays. With the season winding down and the team all but .01% eliminated from any contention the Rays now only fear the calendar.

As soon as the Bulls complete their post season series I truly suspect a few of these name to appear quickly on the transaction wire.

Now if only the Bulls would hurry up and win the Governor’s Cup so we can really see what the Rays are thinking……for 2015.

 

Rays Begin The Price Clearance via a Online Auction

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We all knew this moment was coming. When the Tampa Bay Rays would begin a process of removing David Price themed items. It is sad, but unfortunately a way of life that people come and go sometimes in our baseball lives and the Rays have begun auctioning off some Price memorabilia with a larger more tuned-in auction process beginning on August 11,2014 at 1:30 pm EST and running until August 18,2014 at 1:00 pm EST.

Funny side note, as of the time I am producing this post, the Rays somehow decided to use the abbreviation EDT to designate Eastern Daylight Time instead of the traditional EST that symbolizes the more known Eastern Standard Time we older folks all learned in school. Both are correct, it is just odd to see it posted in that manner (I suspect it might be changed by Monday).

img-255075-mWanted to remind everyone every item up for auction will feature a MLB authentication hologram sticker.

Several premier items will be featured in the almost 7-day Price auction including a unworn one–of-a-kind David Price away retro 80’s jersey. This is the same mostly yellow-hued style uniform top the Rays will sport this weekend during the Chicago Cub series. This item is a must have for the Price collectors out there and will begin the bidding at $300. on August 11th.

img-255084-mAnother one-of-a-kind and historically unique auction offerings is the game-used home jersey from Price’s last start as a Ray that also features the “ZIM” patch on the right sleeve. Bidding for this one-of-a-kind prize will begin at $400.

The team will also be offering such items as Price’s old Rays Clubhouse locker chair back. Bidding for this personal Price heirloom will begin at $40.

adpThe Rays will also be auctioning off 1 each of the over-sized Price and Astro head cutouts that became iconic collection pieces that became the mainstays of the now defunct District K-9 outings that always corresponded with Price’s game day starts.

I mean who in their right mind would not want an oversized Price face and Astro’s adorable mug both complete with an MLB authentication. Bidding will begin for the cutouts at $10 and each will have their own separate auction listing featuring these special close-out of Price themed memorabilia items.

img-255071-mAlso on the auction block of Price eradication items will be the awesome 27 foot by 2 foot “Welcome to Tropicana Field” featuring Price on the left corner and Evan Longoria on the right side of the huge banner. Bidding for this grand item will start at $20. I suspect someone with a sports bar or possibly an over-sized great/trophy room might jump all over this item.

img-255076-mPrice’s 6 foot by 8 foot Player Profile Banner will begin its bidding at $100. Or possibly you would enjoy having Price’s team-issued blue Rays batting helmet which will begin this items bidding frenzy at $150.

img-255087-mAlso on the auction block will be Game-Used baseballs hit by the likes of Brewer Ryan Braun (reached on an error) or possibly baseballs hit against Price by Red Sox teammates Dustin Pedroia (single) or David Ortiz (single) during a home contest in 2014. Bidding for these baseball will be in separate auction listings and begin at $40.

img-255088-mPossibly you are just one of those many statistic driven Rays souls who would love to possess the game day line-up card from Price’s last start as a Ray. The bidding for this special item will begin at $100.

There are also current auctions going on the Rays auction site providing “BUY NOW” options.

img-252495-mOne of the items you can now buy today is a game used, MLB authenticated ball from Price’s 1,000 strikeout game for just $40.

img-186620-mAlso being offered are 2 different Price jersey swatch plague for $15 each. One is a Price game day jersey swatch framed plague (auction runs until bought or November 1, 2014) while the other commemorates Price’s 2012 Cy Young Award with a specially themed jersey swatch plague (auction runs until bought or Dec 31, 2014).

All items in this auction will benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation, the official charity of the Tampa Bay Rays. The organization focuses primarily on youth and educational programs within the Tampa Bay region that make a measurable difference in the community.

Please use this link  to visit the Rays Auction site and bid on these great pieces of Price memorabilia today. 

I know it is sometimes hard to close the book on players as they move from one team to another. Price leaving the Rays did produce a bit of pain for fans of this franchise. But you have to let him go, and quite possibly win some of this great Price memorabilia that you can look at and remember him forever. I know I will be nodding on more than a few of these Price items.

Thank You David…..Simply THANK YOU!

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I have to admit, when I first heard some of the Spring comment from then Tampa Bay Rays prospect David Price’s mouth back in 2008 I wonder if he arrogant or just knew something we all somehow could not see at that moment in time.

1379997_10151724907248429_463699542_nHow wrong was my thought process on that day because Price did not only deliver on his statement way back in 2008, he has backed it up every contest since up until his eventual trade today not a half hour short of the Trade Deadline finish line.

Going to be weird thinking of Price as a Detroit Tiger. He always seemed at ease in the Rays Carolina Blue unis, never seeming to delight in donning the darker Rays home or away jerseys, just bathing as much as possible in the team’s blues and whites.

Price was even on the turf of the old Tilted Cap that is Tropicana Field today throwing on his off-day with fellow Rays hurler Jeremy Hellickson just 200 yards away from the Rays War Room that eventually cast a different end of his 2014 tale.

But so not fret Rays Republic for Price will be back sooner than you think.

thCAZZG668Because the Rays and Tigers still have to play a mid-week, 3-game series under the Teflon dome from Tuesday, August 19 to Thursday, August 21.  It could be the last chance for any of us in 2014 to see see Price on the AstroTurf, and I think we can almost guarantee Price will be out working the sidelines chatting with old and new friends.

But there could be an additional huge cherry on the top of this series if the Tigers arrange their pitching matchups in a way that Price could take the hill during that 3-game stint and get a righteous standing ovation from the fans he has thrilled ever since his promotion to the “Show” back in September 2008.

From Astro to Zorilla  Price has truly been a class act showing leadership, relieved team stress through humor and has ( to myself personally) exceeded every expectation, every social engagement, and certainly been a prime example of the true essence that makes up the “Rays Way” of baseball.

thCAQO9RE7I was lucky enough to be in the stands at old Yankee Stadium back on September 14, 2008 when Price took the hill against the Yankees in his MLB debut.

I even shagged a baseball during that day with the old Yankee Stadium logo attached and Price signed it for me without pausing for a second. I still cherish that ball sandwiched between the signed MLB debut balls of Evan Longoria and James Shields

I was also lucky enough to see his hands go skyward after finishing off the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and sip some of that sweet nectar as he and the team paraded down the First Base line post game.

Was even lucky enough in 2011 as Price wearing that Carolina Blue tartan-themed post season shirt took a swig of bubbly supplied by one of my Bullpen friends.

 

I was also lucky enough to get to know Price on many occasions on and off the turf at charity events, Season Ticket holder events and just chilling by the Bullpen seats after a bullpen session.  Taken numerous images and videos of the daily defacing of his bobble head cartoon image on the Right field wall, and seen him become a well respected and admired figure among his adopted community.

thCA8ZX2R3I know there is a lot of “I’s” here, but truly what Price brought to not only me, but the entire Rays Republic is knowing hard work, believing in yourself and your teammates brought historic memories to this franchise and their fan base.

Was simply a pleasure knowing this guy who might have irked me for a moment, but rose to the occasion so many times I lost count. Even though he only pitched once every 5 days, he always took this team on his back doing whatever needed to be done.

He was the Rays biggest cheerleader, their clubhouse voice of reason and a guy who grew into a leadership role for the pitching staff and accepted it with grace, confidence and a hint of calculated indifference.

If there was an All-Star designation for value to his team, Price would have been a 7 time All-Star.

I’m personally looking forward to that mid-August mid-week series with the Tigers. Because I want to find Price on the sidelines, catch his eye and shake his hand and truly thank him for not only the memories, but the role model and man he became while a Ray.

Thank you David…..Truly THANK YOU.

 

 

 

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)

TBR

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?

3-hurls

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.

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