Results tagged ‘ Evan Longoria ’

Brandon Allen Introduces Himself Again to the Rays Republic

I hope Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman sends Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane a over-sized fruit basket to the Vinoy next weekend. Heck, I think toss the edible fruit basket idea and Friedman should instead reserve a late night dining reservation with Beane at the uber swanky Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa when the A’s hit Tampa Bay next weekend (May 4-6th) as a “thank you” for leaving a few A’s out on the waiver wire for Friedman to pluck.

It is almost as if there is a Kevin Bacon type 6 degree of separation coincidence going on here in correlation with the Rays and A’s that is starting to bond a growing lineage of former A’s become Rays then thrusting themselves into the Major League Baseball headlines. How is it two teams seem to mesh so well swapping players that fit into their system in very unique ways and these sluggers provide moments you will not forget, or want to forget.

Don’t forget the Rays Dan Johnson was also plucked off the waiver wire by Friedman, and we all know what he ended up doing for the Rays over his inspiring short but explosive Rays tenure. Johnson might be on the South side of Chi-town now, but he will never be forgotten in these parts. Do not forget, if not for Johnson’s Home Run in the bottom of the ninth inning with 2 outs off former Rays Spring Training 2011 RP Cory Wade, the Yankees would have won Game 162, and Evan Longoria would never have hit his monster shot.

It is not that Oakland is a feeder farm for Rays up and coming players, but it sure has made an impression with the last 2 waiver wire pick-ups for this Rays franchise, with Brandon Allen becoming the latest former Athletic to provide a gasp, then a burst of uncontrollable excitement under the Trop’s tilted cap. What is it about a player leaving his yellow and green uniform on one coast, then putting on the sunburst and magical things happen for them?

The latest former A’s offering, 1B/OF Brandon Allen went so deep into Right field this afternoon with his Walk-off Home Run offering if we were in an outside setting, someone’s car would have had a very visual dent or possibly a baseball embedded in their windshield. Wild how not 7 days ago the Rays plucked this unknown to anyone outside of MC Hammer-land. Allen was another Friedman find as he was plucked off the A’s waiver wire after being deemed possibly “expendable” after First Baseman Daric Barton cam off the DL. I got a feeling Beane tried to do exactly what Friedman did in the Rule-5 Draft with Josh Hamilton not so long ago and Beane ended up getting burned to the core on the move.

Allen now joins a list of former O-town off-casts from Carlos Pena to the legendary Dan “boom boom out goes the lights” Johnson in providing not only explosive results, but doing it with style, class and a bit of panache`. Allen is already gaining a bit of cult hero status with 2 deciding moments in the last 2 games that will have every kid and possibly adult beckoning for his autograph when the Rays return home after their 3-game Texas road trip.

Here is a guy who had less than 275 total MLB plate appearances in his career for both the Arizona D-Backs and A’s, but has provided an unheard of highly combustible start with the Rays. How else do you explain a player coming to the plate only 2 times in his Rays tenure and boasting a 1.000 batting average with the Rays, a bases loaded walk for his 1st Rays RBI and today’s 2-run blast that will be played endlessly on ESPN for some time.

Not sure what the correlation between O-town and Tampa Bay is yet. Sure some might say they are the only 2 cities without a new baseball home, but for some reason former A’s do not come here for retirement, they seem to come here to play ball like no one else. Maybe Friedman should make that reservation for 3…I think Brandon Allen also deserves a little special treat considering his last 2 at bats….Just no table-side flambe`s please, Allen is simply flammable right now.

Who Knew “The Longo” Would Endure

What is it about our society and crazes. Every time I turn around it seems there is a new and hip movement or direction being thrust upon us to either decide if we want to be hip or square. When we were young it was having the right tin lunch box and thermos ( mine was Gilligan’s Island) to today doing a one motion pose that is sweeping the baseball nation.

Yes, I’m talking about the phenom we know in Tampa Bay as “The Longo”. I got a chuckle recently from a fellow Rays blogger (Corky Gaines) who said “ it was like Tebowing, but had less religiously”. We have developed into a social animal that mimics, interprets and constantly repeats motions and things like human parrots. But that is not always a bad thing.

How much you want to bet there will be a between innings contest tonight to see who does the best “Longo” instead of dancing against the Rays mascot Raymond. I could easily see a group, an individual or maybe even an entire seating section down the Trop’s First Base region rising to their feet, thrust their arms and fingers at a 58 degree angle and do the addicting maneuver. Heck, who needs the Chik Filet cows tonight, give those 100′s of
Rays fan a free chicken sandwich for doing the latest visual craze since…..doing the Tebow.

I like doing “The Longo”, heck if I would have known a simple motion of thrusting my arms and fingers to the heavens would have done such for my “cool” stature, I would have done it in the late 70′s. I mean I did do a rendition of former Red Sox Carlton Fisk where I used my body to groove a ball fair, but it went unnoticed and was viewed by my baseball coach more as showboating than showing an air of respect to a baseball player.

How our society has evolved that we can embrace, simulate and take pride in an emotional reaction to a life and game altering moment like Longo’s blast to bring the Rays to the 2011 October party. If you really watch Longo on that play I truly expected him to turn towards the Rays dugout on the way to first and do that famous “Crash “ Davis move of pulling his hands to his face in form a moment of disbelief as the dugout does the Wave. But instead we have an emotionally charged moment as the ball clears the outfield yellow line then pandemonium not only breaks out in St. Petersburg, but I think a few hearts wept in New York City.

Not since KC and the Sunshine Band did their patented “shake your booty” move has Florida embraced a physical move like this. I have seen photos roll in from a class full of kids doing “The Longo”, to High School baseball teams in the clubhouse, numerous members of the Rays Republic doing it all around this community, to a simple figurine and glorious T-shirt so many fans will adorn and treasure tonight.

So many great moments have been witnessed under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Wade Bogg’s 3,000th hit, the first MLB instant replay and enough walk-off magical moments to make a 30-minute tutorial on how to do it right. But tonight we all get to not only honor, but relieve again and again via the Trop’s Jumbotron a moment our kid’s will discuss with their grandkids, and possibly re-enacting “the Longo” again 40 years from now.

So tonight we honor that special moment, that gesture that will live forever in not only Rays lore, but baseball’s magical moments as the Game 162 blast by Evan Longoria will possibly be this generation’s “Robby Thompson’s Shot Heard Around the World”.

As the gates of the Trop open, I wonder how many the entering fans will thrust their fingers and arms into the cooled Trop air, tilt a little for aerodynamic stability and take off again just like Longoria as he rounded First Base last October. Who knows, if you do the new cool and hip thing in Tampa Bay today you might even find yourself thrusting skyward revisiting the moment in your own glory on the Trop Jumbotron. That not only would be impressive, but I bet Longo would be mimicking you in the dugout….Now that would be a cool move.

Time For The Rays To Act Like Contenders, Not Morgue Meat

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Guess that is the only way to describe the scene that played out in front of me and the rest of the Nation after the fifth inning today. There is no other team that I hate seeing the Tampa Bay Rays lose to than this Boston bunch. And losing 2 out of the first 2 to begin the 2012 seasonal series, that just makes my stomach turn, burn and totally feeling like imploding.

I am not going to call anyone out for this loss because it has been 30 minutes and I am suppose to focus on the next day’s game now, but there is still some residue on my shoes and it doesn’t smell like roses. I tried to drum up the confidence game yesterday in my post by stating we have these types of losses during a long 162-game season, but against a divisional foe, the loss hurts double in my heart and in the standings. Worst part of it all is that this game seemed well in hand, then the mighty hand of something purely evil and nasty plucked the stingers off the Rays one-by-one until it seems our eyes glazed over from disbelief.

These types of losing streaks can be endured, but not when it gives glee and happiness to fan base that truly wishes and prays that the Rays choke on their pride and emphatically drown in their own tears. The scene on the Fenway grass today after the 5th inning seemed more likely to be one played out on a sappy medical drama where the patient comes into the facility in perfect health, has a great prognosis then somehow a severed jugular burst forward and instantly we were in a life or death struggle with no angels in the wings to pluck us from the obvious. The Rays right now look more like morgue meat than contenders, and that has to change…stat!

I so want that last sentence to be untrue, but there are fragments and obscure pieces missing that would make this whole enchilada complete. Some members of the pitching staff seem so at ease and “ in the flow”, while others seem to be going through the proverbial motions and not delivering up quality or quantity yet this season. It is frustrating when you have seen and felt the possibilities of this 2012 Rays team, then they stumble, fumble and look more like a pre-2007 Rays squad.

But here is where we do our work as fans. It is our job right now to keep the faith, push our chests out and take the insults and sharp criticism of this team’s downward turns and stand firm, stand erect, and above all stand united. For if even one of us falters in our belief and hope for this team, the dam could spring a leak and that will lead to a river of deplorable chaos and false propaganda with a Bulls Eye painted on each member of this team.

As the Rays unite as a team, solid in their goals, commitment and belief in themselves as individuals and a collective team, we must also stay the course, throw up the encouraging even in the face of the disenchanting truth. It is time to either bail out the boat and know survival is in sight or look in the distance for the school of media sharks awaiting any wobble or bob from this team and their potential.

4 Years and Counting for Our Favorite Dirtbag

It already seems like a perfect day in Detroit. Sun is warming, the breeze is cool and breaks the sun’s intensity, Rays Television savant Todd Kalas is riding a Tiger, then we get the added bonus of knowing Tampa Bay Rays Evan Longoria get to celebrate another anniversary in the bigs. Even more curious is the fact the Rays are playing their getaway game in the afternoon, so the team could be on the ground in Boston by late dinner time for an impromptu Longo hootenanny in beantown.

Seems fitting that Longo could enjoy himself in the borough where he once had men grinding their teeth at the mention of his name for his bachelor ways of procuring digits and calling wayward female Bostonians. Sure that is all a rumor (cough, cough) or at least a great MLB urban legend. But what do you get the guy as a gift?

Seriously, the guy probably has one or two of everything. He has a cherry Camaro RS, a hot ex-Playboy Playmate bit of arm candy, a cooler full of icy Red Bull for the rest of his life, plus a team that he fits into like a glove both as a leader and as a symbolic keystone to this franchise’s rise. Anything Longo does makes the press from his hat getting stolen via a New Era commercial, to front covers of video games, Topps and Heritage card packages, plus he already has enough MLB swag to open his own memorabilia shop and make a cool mil or two. It boggles the mind how far Longo has gone in 1,460 days.

Where would the Rays be without their solid figure at the “hot corner” who not only has won Silver (Slugger) and Gold (Gloves), but in his rookie season was the Fan’s American League Final Vote selection to the All-Star Game. From his first 2008 appearance against the Baltimore Orioles at home in front of 19,295 screaming fans, Longoria picked up his first hit and RBI as a Ray. Even thought the Rays lost Longo’s initial contest 3-2, the Rays knew after that game they had finally found a player who could help mold a new future for the franchise.

Longo will have played in 280 MLB games when he boards the Rays charter flight to Boston later this afternoon. In that span he has gone from the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 2008 to a MLB legend with his feats during Game 162 of the Rays 2011 season. All of this in 4 seasons. Remarkable is too small a word for it all. Consider for a second during that span Longo has blasted 114 regular season HR, 405 RBI and 148 2-baggers added onto your ever-growing MLB resume`.

Not only has Longoria become a bit of a icon on his Twitter account known throughout MLB, with every Longo round tripper in 2012, the Pet Pal Animal Shelter will receive a $ 100 donation from Brighthouse and the Rays. Seems Longo is now branching out to his canine fans within Tampa Bay too. Seriously, what do you get a guy who has received the highest accolades in his short career, has a community counting on him with his glove and bat, plus seeing his smiling mug on media sources from radio, television to photos during and after the MLB season.

Maybe I should call ahead to the Oyster House where I think Longo will get his first supper in Boston tonight and order the largest Monstah Lobstah they got and have it presented to him. Or maybe I will give him some special and from the heart…. Maybe I will pop that last bottle of Mumm’s 2008 celebratory champagne, pour a little out on my old Trop Field Turf on my porch and give Longo a 5-minute standing ovation as a salute to the short but incredibly productive career of my favorite Dirtbag.

Yeah, that’s would be mighty special. Happy Anniversary Longo!

GTL Rays Style

I know almost everyone has heard of the phrase GTL made famous now by the MTV series “Jersey Shore”. Well considering they did a stint in South Florida a few years ago, I am thinking we should do a small homage to the GTL events that members of the Tampa Bay Rays could have done for today’s “off day”. The original meaning of course was Gym, Tan and Laundry for the Seaside Heights, New Jersey crew, but I’m thinking the Port Charlotte, Florida regiment has their own versions of this classic phrasing.

Gas, Tan, Lotion: You know a few of the younger and single members of the Rays hit the area beaches since it is Spring Break for college students around the country. Since this region of SW Florida tends to have some of the best beaches in the country, it is only natural students would hit this region not only for the emerald waters and picture-perfect sunsets, but the allure of professional athletes possibly throwing a football or getting some extra tannage on the newly minted white domes.

Grate, Trowel, Luck: Just a few miles up the coast from Port Charlotte is Venice Beach. The reason I mention this is it has an activity at this peaceful beach that is special to this part of Florida, and it can be a great adventure for families or just a group of friends. It is shark tooth hunting, and it is as simple as it sounds. All you do is wade out into the estuary waterways scoop up a shovel load of bottom soil and sift it through a grate/filter system with the remnants and fine-toothed enamel teeth of long gone sharks materialize in the trays. Sure most can be of the small or even tiny variety, but every once in a while you can see a huge tooth of a species that used to not only swam this region, but possibly perished somewhere in land up the Peace or Alafia rivers.

Photo @HallerDave

Gig,Troll,Land ‘em: Several members of the Rays PR Department today hit the Boca Grande flats and open waters to fish, relax and sue it as their own bonding moment themselves. Just like the Rays squad, these guys will be together over that 180 day stretch and finding common ground, landing a few tasty lunch morsels and getting some Sun on their own newly mowed heads will do wonders come April.

Grip, Tee, Links: Considering so many of the Rays also are pretty good on the golf links, you could easily see the likes of B J Upton, David Price, James Shield, Matt Joyce and even Evan Longoria tee up a few at one of the local golf courses. With a day off, the links can be a great way to just have fun at a leisurely pace, kick back and clown a bit with friends and just enjoy a hot and humid Florida Spring day. Problem is, will these crews allow mulligans?

Grease, Tighten, Loosen: Who knows, maybe Rays skipper Joe Maddon could have gotten a few of his squad to help him do a bit of fix-up on his new ’55 Chevy. I remember someone telling me earlier the new ride had some spongy brakes, and this could be an additional bonding moment as Maddon, maybe a few of his staff and a player or two tinkering under the hood of a car most people can fix without a CPU system. I know I would have volunteered for that duty.

I know a majority of the team possibly just slept in later, did errands and adventures with their family, possibly doing some breakfast in one of the quaint and great restaurants in the region before embarking on day trips or even just lounging out enjoying the sights and sounds of their families. This was a needed moment for this team as a day like this can do so much to recharge and energize a team as they begin to enter the stretch run of the Grapefruit League season or as I like to call it Grapefruit, Tangerine and Lemon league. That’s my version of Spring GTL.

 

A Glimpse into the Rays 2012 Media Guide

This one publication I always await its arrival with great anticipation. This Spring I also had the great option of downloading a version so I could always have it at my fingertips for research, analysis or just gazing upon its 434 pages. I get excited the first time I open its cover. Not for the special freshly printed paper smell, but for the factoids, entertaining sidebars and information that makes it click, breathe and be a cherished item for any true Rays Republican.

Of course I am talking about the 2012 edition of the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide. I remember just a few weeks ago standing in the Rays media front desk awaiting my Spring Training daily credentials and overhearing a Rays staffer chat about their “ all-nighter” to get this season’s guide off to the printer. You had to be there to see the excitement in his eyes along with a hint of sleep deprivation, but within his voice you could hear the pride and resolution that a great product would soon grace our hands.

So let’s go on a little fact-finding mission shall we to seek our some new and interesting factoids about the men who don the Rays white and blue, plus maybe even a few odd facts that none of you knew about some of our current Rays players. It’s now time to feast on the bytes and bits about our roster of Rays players.

Kyle Farnsworth, an avid hunter does a lot of stalking during the off-season on his 2,500-acre plot of land in Georgia. Farnsy plans to so something original this season during Rays games as he will don a special pair of camouflage-style Oakley glasses on the mound this season. Talk about escalating up the intimidation factor to 10 as he stares in for the signs late in games.

We all know already emphatically that 3B Evan Longoria can play the drums. He is known to hit the skins before games, is the Rays in-house drum master during the video game Rock Band performances and even got a lesson from Goo Goo Dolls drummer Mike Malinin before the group’s 2011 Saturday night post game appearance. No word yet if Joyce and Longo might sit in with Z Z Top, 3 Doors Down or Gretchen Wilson during their post game trio this June at the Trop.

In another great and fantastic twist to the ever-expanding world that is the “Legend of Sam Fuld”. When  Sam had a sore shoulder back in 2007, this prompted Super Sam to  investigate possibly throwing right-handed. Although his left shoulder did recover, he never had to rely heavily on his new-found ambidextrous talent. Still, Fuld borrowed a friend’s glove after the injury and practiced throwing right-handed against a wall of a Phoenix, Az elementary school after his morning workouts with the Chicago Cubs. Later that same season Fuld made his MLB debut….left-handed.

Did you know Rays reliever Joel Peralta began his professional baseball career as an outfielder back in 1997 in the Oakland A’s system. He converted to pitching 2 seasons later prior to the beginning of the 1999 season with the Los Angeles Angels. But his prior hitting skills came in handy on May 20, 2007 when Peralta, then with the Kansas City Royals hit a 2-run RBI double in his first ever MLB plate appearance off Colorado Rockies RP Ramon Ramirez in the 12th inning of an Inter-League contest.

As if Minnesota Twins C Joe Mauer needed another reason to hate facing Hellboy. This off-season Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson was chosen by the Twin Cities Chapter of the BBWAA as the winner of the Dick Siebert Award given to the Upper Midwest MLB Player of the Year. Hellickson’s win in 2011 broke a 3-year reign by Mauer.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon must think SS/INF Reid Brignac is a human rabbits foot. During his 8 professional baseball seasons, Briggy Baseball has seen 11 of his 13 teams advance to the post season, including his last 8 stops in the minors. Brignac only played for one losing team, in his short season pro debut back in 2004 with the Princeton franchise.

Rays RF Matt Joyce began taking guitar and piano lessons this past off-season. Joyce is now versed in Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the piano and “Wonderwall” by Oasis on his Yamaha acoustic guitar. I wonder if Joyce is a left-handed guitar player since he does everything else right-handed like eat, write play golf and throw, but hits left-handed.

Another player trying to secure a spot on the Rays roster as a catcher this season Jose Lobaton had to pick between 2 sports at a young age. Lobaton an avid and skilled swimmer had to make a hard decision at age 14 whether to pursue a chance to play with a traveling water polo squad, or play baseball. Although Lobaton chose baseball, he frequently hit the pool to keep in shape during the season ( and hopefully beats the Florida Summer sweltering heat).

Luke Scott, the Rays new DH/OF has traveled over the past 3 Winters to Valencia, Venezuela bringing supplies, medicine and baseball equipment to the local residents. Scott is giving back to his adopted community after spending several Winters in this region playing Winter ball and practicing his Spanish. No word yet on if this is the place Scott hatched the idea of taking down a wild boar with a spear…..to be continued.

This past January, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment used Tropicana Field to film live cheetahs for a segment of ShamuTV, an environmental educational series distributed all over the country. Upton, a fan of big cats, was filmed with a hight intensity camera showing the speed of an elite athlete compared to that of a cheetah. No word yet on if the cheetah was caught trying to steal second base…or Upton’s glove.

Seriously, I joked on a few of these small snippets because we have a truly amazing assembly of athletics and civic leaders that go above and beyond both on and off the turf for the Rays. There are plenty more great facts within the covers of the Rays 2012 Media Guide including photos and history of events surrounding this great franchise as it enters it 15th MLB season.

You can get your own copy of the Rays 2012 Media Guide at the Rays Fan Store inside Tropicana Field during the upcoming 2012 season. It is well worth the investment and holds so many additional treasures and history.It is worth every penny of your investment.

One last fact before I conclude. Of the 934 players to appear on a MLB roster in 2011, Rays INF/OF Ben Zobrist was dead last in the alphabet. Even more amazing is the fact former Rays 1997 Expansion Draft selection Bobby Abreu ( 1st Round, 3rd D-Rays selection) heads this list of players. Amazing how from A-to-Z, this Rays club finds a way to set themselves apart in the MLB.

E-10, Photographer Throw High and Wide on Rays Spring Photos

If the recent Tampa Bay Rays Team Spring photos is any indication, I am starting to think the Tampa Bay Rays 2012 season is going to be more back to the basic, nothing flashy or disrupting to the status quo of the “Rays Way”. Maybe I was anticipating a re-visit or renewal of the grandeur and glamor of the Rays 2010 Spring Team photos that took my breath away, and made you wanted to see more of them.

2010 Evan Longoria Photo

If the 2012 Team Spring photos are any indication, this season is going to be a bare bones, nose to the grindstone, no huge frills and spills kind of season…not that this is a bad thing, maybe I set my expectations too high this season. But then again, it is Spring and hope has to grow eternal and unbridled.

Sure the 41 photos recently uploaded to the Zimbio webpage by photographer Jonathan Ferrey had some unusual and classic poses within their compositions, but somehow a large glove-full of the Rays possible 2012 roster personnel missed their camera time with the Zimbio photog. At least we know Rays 3B Evan Longoria got a few extra shots. Maybe dating a Playmate does have some photo advantages, but a total of 13 individual photos? Longo is one of the cornerstones of this team’s offensive and defensive foundations, but so many other cogs of the machine are missing, lost their possible chance in this annual Rays ritual of Spring.

Jeff Salazar

Sure C Mark Thomas and OF Jeff Salazar who are both Rays Spring Training invitees got their respective mugs/poses on a photo, but missing were a huge slice of the Rays other core players like starter Wade Davis, Rays Bullpen members JP Howell, Brandon Gomes, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and newcomers Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke.  Is it even imaginable that each and every one of these players somehow missed the vocal call for photos? Am I the only one who feels it is purely insane that 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson would have, could have somehow missed his 2012 photo chance, or was it a captive selection of players designated by the Zimbio photographer?

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the possible MLB bolo report put out since the “Legend” Sam Fuld, infielders Jeff Keppinger, Ben Zobrist, and Eliot Johnson must have mis-placed their “memos” possibly on their photo chance. Even more disappointing is that Carlos Pena somehow missed the photo cut…Really?

Want another firm kick in the proverbial teeth, the only catcher featured in the photo shoot was Jose Molina, and that was only for 1 photo. Heck even Reid Brignac got more photos than Molina, and he is not guaranteed a starting slot. I know there is a growing army of female Rays followers who would love to see a recent photo of Robinson “Honey Nut” Chirinos or even Jose Lobaton, but they will have to drive to the Charlotte Sports Park and take their own this Spring.

Maybe I got used to the flash and glamor set forth by those 2010 photos that had every single member of the Rays squad, including the Coaching staff in some sort of pose or hitting posture with the added sun flare somewhere within the photo framing. Maybe I was expecting something grand, a statement by the Rays this season as they start their 15th season.

But there were some positives in this set of photos of the 2012 Rays. We got to actually see what top Rays prospect Hak-Ju Lee will look like in a Rays uniform. We already know Lee can dance, and his bat has some magic in it, but seeing him in the Rays whites definitely makes you eager and hoping for the Rays future shortstop to make some additional magic happen during his minor league season so we can see him in that uniform possibly in September.

Maybe I am nitpicking here a bit, but I have come to expect more, especially after that grand and fabulous 2009 Spring photo package. Heck, even Rays skipper Joe Maddon had a possible glamor shot in 2009 that to this day might be one of the best photos of the Rays newly extended Manager.

I possibly wanted something again to “pop” off the screen of my computer, wished for another set of dynamic photos taken that would get my blood pumping, the sweat beading around my cap and the Rays Republic making photo copies of the team photos for signatures in the future. Not sure if any of these Rays Spring photos will be seen on the sidelines before games in 2012. Certainly doubt it (shudder).

Rays Fan Fest 2012 was a Walk-Off Grand Slam

Pulling off an event the size of Rays Fan Fest must keep some within the confines of the Tampa Bay Rays 4th floor sleepless, anxious and maybe a bit stir-crazy at times. Hundreds of emails, untold hours of planning, confirmations and re-confirmation must make it a logistical nightmare that rivals a major NCAA bowl game. All this energy, physical exertion and mental numbness accumulating with a huge bang over a 7 hour period.

If the crowd was any indication, then this year’s Fan Fest might be a precursor to another extraordinary Rays MLB run to who knows what new plateau. The building felt different when I entered on Saturday. Maybe it was the simple fact I was not in the first wave of fans for a change, or maybe it is the electricity and anticipation that was heavy in the air as I strutted into the tilted roof home of the Rays. Everything seemed bolder, more vibrant, more animated this year.

From the MLB Alumni wiffle ball contest that featured a Grand Salami by the Big O, former Marlin Orestes Destrade or the presence of former HR slugger Roger Maris’s son and grandson, the Trop just seemed more colorful and ready for exploration. With the added Internet celebrity factor and exclamation point in the wiffle ball contest of Sean Steffy (@Wiffleball28) who is better known as the world’s greatest wiffle ball pitcher. I was transfixed on the game even as Travis Phelps had an HR dashed by the big hands of Eric Knott. It was great to see kids running the bases, all smiling, giggling and giving up high-fives to the former MLB players.

As some people mumbled and grumbled about the $50 autograph wristband, it was not lost to me that the event helped build a nest egg of over $100,000 for the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Association Florida Chapter. From Rays skipper Joe Maddon and his new dark brown locks to even hearing Kyle Farnsworth reading to children without any intimidation, the event truly was one for the record books. And the crowd expanded to bulging capacity more than once as travel around the Trop during this Fan Fest was very packed in, but respectful.

The event even had more than a hint of animal presence as the Rays new mascot DJ Kitty got his first moment on the AstroTurf, and Rays SP David Price brought his canine wing-man Astro to the event, which sparked photos, conversations and general smiles from people of all ages. DJ Kitty sporting his trademark huge Rays 2008 AL Championship ring has evolved a lot since his first appearance on the Rays Jumbotron. Now he will be another added fan experience at Rays game along with Raymond.

The kid’s Interactive zone was packed with excited kids, parents and Rays staff member as pint-sized future Rays dashed through obstacle courses, threw pitches or try to hit one into the LF seats in the wiffle ball field. During all of this Rays players made spot appearances at the basketball game, the High-Five Station at the end of the Run the Bases event, plus talked to friends, family or just anyone you chose at the Metro PCS Call-A-Friend table.

I still marvel at how much the Pepsi displayed have also become a spectacle ever since I erected the first one back in 2004 on the field. It has become a feature backdrop not only for the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame inductions, but for panel discussions and fan interaction with Rays players and personnel. From my first mild-mannered 1,000 case display to the present monstrosity on caffeine, it was again a constant background for photos and memorable pictures with kids and fans. Everywhere you looked on this day you saw smiles, people exchanging greetings and awaiting the new 2012 season with enthusiasm and glee.

This event for so many signals the end of Winter and the insurgence of not only Spring, but the renewal of our favorite game. Fan Fest means so many things to so many. Some came for the great deals on collectibles and autographed items in the two selected areas of sales merchandise. From team authenticated items near the old stick ball court beyond the left field seats to the huge outlying of items in the usual Corona Beach section, there was something for every Rays fan, even an old cap commemorating the Rays 2004 trip to the Far East (I bought one).

I secluded myself in my usual post 1 pm section near the entrance point for the Rays players in Section 134 not only to say hello and greet some of the Rays long and new faithful back to the Trop, but to also see their faces as they came up the tunnel and saw that huge amassed crowd. To a t, the players all seemed to take an extra second at the top of the stairs to take in the whole spectacle and immerse themselves in this great Rays Fan Fest vibe.

I even got a chance to see the first meeting of Rays new DH Luke Scott and owner Stuart Sternberg just beyond the Rays autograph area. Sternberg who few down from New York especially for the event must have a sore face today from all of the smiling and love shown by the fans at this year’s event. Some say this season is critical to the Rays future success in the region, and if the crowd is any indication, baseball is alive and well in Tampa Bay.

I could also see from my vantage point the smiles on Rays staffers from Fan Hosts to the Rays Promotions Department as the hum of voices and energy in the Trop inhaled and exhaled throughout the day. I gazed down the Rays promotional schedule and saw more than a few “must-have” items that not only peaked my interest, but had some sentimental appeal. Who would not want a Evan Longoria mini drum set, or hold onto a Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore or DJ Kitty figurine. From the Rays Opening Day schedule magnet to their last promotion of the season, the Rays fan favorite bobblehead, this is definite another Walk-off win ( do not forget the Longo Walk-off figurine on 4/21) for this Rays Department.

This season’s Fan Fest was a monster. Both in attendance, the level of excitement and even the plucking of Rays host Rusty Kath with a wiffle ball that is sure to be a Youtube sensation (currently only 74 views, but climbing). From Sternberg down to the Rays interns, there has to be an added level of excitement and confidence heading into Tuesday’s report date for Pitchers and Catchers in Port Charlotte, Florida. If this Fan Fest is any indication, it could be a great season both on and off the field for the Rays organization. And it all started with this annual rite of Spring by the Rays. I am giddy to see what unfolds next.

 

Random Rays Fan Fest photos on my Flickr photostream

Rays Fan Fest Autograph Times

I promised a few of you I would post the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest autograph participants and their relative time online as soon as humanly possibly. Well, they came out earlier today and of course I was in the middle of working for a living. So without further ado, here is the tentative autograph time for the Rays players to sign at this years Fan Fest.

Do not forget, if you want to participate in the Exclusive Signing Opportunity ($200-500), you have until midnight tonight to make your purchase for this special event away from the usual hustle and bustle of Fan Fest.

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Ryan Reid Tim Beckham Jeff Keppinger Ricky Orta Kyle Farnsworth
11:30 – 12:30 p.m. Brandon Guyer Burke Badenhop Robinson Chirinos Brandon Gomes Matt Mangini
12:30 – 1:15 p.m. J.P. Howell Matt Joyce Wade Davis Sean Rodriguez Jose Molina
1:15 – 1:45 p.m. Evan Longoria Don Zimmer Jeremy Hellickson (open) (open)
1:45 – 2:30 p.m. Chris Archer Carlos Peña Desmond Jennings Alex Cobb Matt Moore
2:30 – 3 p.m. B.J. Upton (open) (open) James Shields David Price
3. – 4 p.m. Luke Scott Fernando Rodney Cesar Ramos Jose Lobaton Josh Lueke
4. – 4:45 p.m. (open) Nevin Ashley Romulo Sanchez Stephen Vogt Craig Albernaz
** Schedule subject to change

Has it Really Been a Year Since the ManDam Days?

It still doesn’t feel like we have gone full circle. Doesn’t seem to compute to 365 days, but it was 1 year ago today (January 31, 2010) that the most anticipated and exciting Press junket took off like a rocket. The anticipation and excitement within the room had the walls sweating, and more than a few of the assembled media members jockeying for the perfect photo of this grand Tampa Bay Rays moment.

The signing of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to me personally meant we were taking a giant leap of both faith and ability to get to the next level. Both men came to the Rays with World Series rings, plus a lingering bromance between the two MLB stars that bordered on a love-fest.

After the two traded volleys of compliments and platitudes amongst themselves, it seemed like this duo could be the eventual key to the Rays getting past the American League Divisional Series again and not just contend, but have a legitimate shot at seeing this young squad finally thrust skyward that long anticipated golden chalice. You had the feeling leaving that junket that these two MLB vets were here to win another crown and keep the drama to a minimal.

I still remember watching Manny and his father walking up to the Rays clubhouse in Port Charlotte, Florida on the day Pitchers and Catchers reported excited as Manny looked in great shape and had come in early to camp to talk with the staff, players and I even found my hand in his at some point. But we all know how the duo turned out.

One provided a perfect example of an MLB veteran thing and proved night after night his spunk, drive and a determination that has been previously unseen by a veteran in a Rays uniform. The other found himself suddenly an MLB outsider again after partaking in an illegal substance that took him instantly from the sparkling light of the Trop and into his own personal demon field.  I am still dumbfounded Manny did not take the penalty in stride, work to get back into a Rays uniform. Instead he packed-up, shipped out and seemed destined to fail for one of the first times in his career.

As Damon provided  a jolt of energized inspiration by his feats on and off the field, Manny found trouble on his own Florida home front.  I still want to somehow go back in time and shake Manny to and fro and wonder why he again slipped towards the dark side.  Manny signed for a small penance compared to his past contracts, and seemed he had something to show the rest of the league heading into the season.

I still wonder what could have transpired when Manny found his groove and could have been a great asset and weapon to keep American League pitchers’ honest against Evan Longoria. Instead Longo found himself with limited protection in the 5th spot in the batting order. If Manny had only kept himself straight, I shudder to think what each could have accomplished in 2011.

Both are long gone now. Damon pitching his skills and wares outside of his native state of Florida. Hoping to catch on with the Orioles and keep his AL East dream alive. Many have checked in on Manny this Winter, but so far no one has put a possible contract in front of him for 2012. There are rumors the Oakland Athletics might take a chance, but Billy Beane might have a few special provisions in that performance bonus laden contract before Manny has a chance to sign it.

What a difference 365 days have made. Carlos Pena is back in the Rays fold, All 5 2011 starters are still penciled-in for the Spring, and B J Upton is still a Ray. It is a shame the Man-Dam traveling road show could not produce and make the Rays decision harder this off-season to keep or give-up the duo. One showed his class for 180 days, the other was gone even before the blink of an eye. Still, the madness and pretense of that first Man-Dam press conference was one for the ages…..Makes you  realize sometimes things can be too good to be true….Sigh!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers