Results tagged ‘ Fernando Perez ’

“Lady Luck, You Got Some Explainin’ to Do”

Sometimes I think we forget how lucky this Tampa Bay Rays team has been on the injury front over the past few years. Sure we have had untimely injuries that set this team back a tad, but not since their 2009 season have the Rays had their rabbit’s feet and luck slap them in the face like this. It’s been a long time since this Rays franchise has looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than a competitive baseball team.

It befuddles me a bit that we have a winning record and yet the boo-birds have come out not only targeting the wrong people, but also forgetting injuries are a part of the game, that is why there is a DL and call-ups to the majors. Even before Rays skipper Joe Maddon and Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield got Rays starter Jeff Niemann to the Visiting Clubhouse last night in Toronto, fingers began wagging and spit and vinegar ruled the roost. Heck, it not so long ago a Rays team dealt with this same rash of unforeseen injuries and watching players fall like Dominoes…I would think we would have learned a bit of ranting restraint since 2009.

Back in 2009 12 different Rays hit the DL at one time or another and amassed a hysterical number of 752 games missed over that 162 game season. Some spent as little as 6 games on the pine ( BJ Upton/shoulder surgery), while others, like the trio of RP Jason Isringhausen (137 games), RP Troy Percival (119 games) and OF Fernando Perez (130 games) spent most of the season either on the mend or recovering from some sort of surgery. This 2009 season was also the Rays season Carlos Pena missed 25 games due to a badly placed ( cough, cough) CC Sabathia pitch inside with a duo of fractured fingers.

The 2012 season is starting to become a bit of a mirror image of that 2009 injury riddled team, and I think we have not seen the end to the injury bug. How weird is it that both this season’s squad and the 2209 ( June 16-26) edition had 8 players on the DL. Downright freaky to consider that team lost so many “games” to their injured comrades, and this 2012 team as of game time tonight have banked 153 games in the DL bucket this season, not counting Jeff Niemann’s possible 40-60 game estimate.

For some reason we all forgot that this Rays team might have finally used up all their “good luck” fairy dust and for the first time since 2009, the Rays well-oiled machine has broken down not from dis-repair, but from the possible stress and strain each team endures over that 180 days during a MLB regular season. Do not blame Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr.

I am sure Porterfield’s training room at Tropicana Field will be re-named “ M*A*S*H 33701” as the Rays players begin to arrive to the Clubhouse on Wednesday. Funny how as soon as Niemann left the contest there were cries and yelps about the Rays Training staff and their Strength and Conditioning. Suddenly the same group of Rays personnel who are considered by many to be one of the best in MLB were being thrown under a speeding bus without even a slight bit of fact or visualization to promote any wrongdoing or mis-diagnosis.

I truly do not know how Niemann threw even a warm-up pitch last night without grimacing in pain after getting hacked by that drive. That determination to even try and stay in the game is a testament to the true guts and courage of this team as a whole. I bet each and every player , especially those nagging injuries they hold to themselves and that we know nothing about. But injuries small or large come with the salary, and sometimes letting them fester and linger are not worth the price paid in the end. Some players might even be playing right now on borrowed time, and that is not a good thing.

Sean Rodriguez has a lingering strained pectoral muscle. Think about that injury for a second. S-Rod has a strained muscle in the chest region of the lead arm in his bat swing. Add onto scenario the blatantly obvious condition of throwing the ball diagonally across his body from the Hot Corner and you have to either be impressed or think Rodriguez is crazy to set himself up for a possible long term injury. Recent errors might be more due to trying to play through the injury than his throws follow through. I seriously do not know why S-Rod is taking the punishment and not resting himself, but then again, the drive and resiliency shown right now by just this one Rays speaks volumes to the commitment of every one on this 25-man roster.

There is no conspiracy, no covert medical pandemic or lack of adherence to conditioning drills that have led to this recent outburst of injuries. The plan truth is this Rays team has been dodging huge bullets and taped up more than a few “walking wounded” over this season and some injuries go under the radar until they burst out into the daylight.

Sports fans today want to point a finger, find a viable scapegoat to focus blame and their anger towards, and sometimes the wrong people get caught in the cross-hairs. How many people know Porterfield last night called the local NBA team, the Raptors last night trying to find an over-sized set of crutches to make Niemann’s pain a bit more bearable. You can bet Porterfield and his staff including Strength and Conditioning Coach Barr have put in plenty of overtime and extended hours mending, taping and even discussing ways this team can keep its members on the field, even for a minimal of innings or effort.

 But still the finger wag and the voices get louder and louder. Maybe the Rays Republic needs to point their finger in another direction. Possibly there is another culprit who deserves your spit and vinegar. Possibly the bottle of luck the Rays have been pouring out since 2009 finally ran out of magic. Maybe we should point our fingers to the person who is suppose to keep it full. Lady Luck, as Ricky Ricardo once said, “You got some explainin’ to do! ” 

This Time of Year………..Fear the Friedman

The hands of time are moving quicker, the sands in the hourglass falling at an alarming rate….Yes, it is that special juncture in the Major League Baseball season when the days finally fall towards single digit working towards the July 31st M L B Non-Waiver Trade Deadline that the anxiety and impatience leads to lopsided deals.

The unpredictability of this entire trade charade keeps all of us wondering until the final period is typed on that Press Release, or the official “Approval” stamp slams upon the trade document in the New York M L B offices in Manhattan. You can never be sure just what is actually going on, especially within the Tampa Bay Rays camp.

I swear to anything and everything holy that the Rays conduct a stealth boot camp ever season to prepare for just these final fleeting moments. The Rays organization has effectively mastered the art of the Samurai “air of silence”. Still, I would think if you are a MLB GM, you kind of even a courtesy call by Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman a call to action.

How effective has he been on trimming and honing this Rays roster and farm system towards the Rays lean and mean standards? Heck, I consider our farm system to be the “Minka Kelly” of farm systems. Red hot top prospects with a side order of 3,000 hits. Friedman has taken a system that was not in shambles but uncoordinated at times and turned it into a fine tuned concerto.


When was the last time you heard about a Rays trade before the rest of the baseball World knew about it? Still think each Rays desk has a cyanide capsule or dome of silence to keep idle chatter from hitting the mainstream. Kind of proud of that fact actually. It is so easy for one tongue to wag and then the World hears the vibrations.

Take 2010 for example. If you would have told me the Rays would trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the last days before the Trade Deadline for RP Chad Qualls, I would have reserved you an ample living quarters in the fluffy padded room at Windemere.

Somehow this deal got sign, sealed and delivered without fanfare, media knowledge or even a single cricket chirping before its announcement. Sure the trade was about eliminating a pricey Bullpen piece while the Rays added another veteran, even if it was a higher than normal risk for the Rays.

That is what is so intriguing about this time of the baseball season. Sometimes I wish I could be that “fly on the wall” just to see the process. Get to understand the Rays parameters and guides to the deal….Heck, we could market it and sell at least 100 copies to just baseball top tier guys. Seriously, if the Rays could bottle their trade success and finesse, it would be award winning.

Even if the Rays go into pure “buying” mode, you could see them still effectively shift a few attractive assets towards another roster while stockpiling more potential trade bait and appetizers for another day.

In a “buyer’s” mode the Rays could still bring in a few future commodities that will eventually mature and provide stability and increased productivity. I know it sounds a lot like I am reciting a insurance binder, but the reality is the Trade deadline is about insurance.

No matter if you are in “Buyer” or “Seller” mode, you want to assure your top tier management figures, your roster and farm system, plus your fan base that a move of this caliber at this time of the season will reap benefits towards your team’s goals, or help reduce future overhead limitations like a heavy salary so the Rays would have the cha-ching to go get that valued replacement part.

The art of the deal is a highly skilled and honed system that should bring results. You do not have to be a car salesman to get a great bargain this time of the year. Dangle a pitcher who is having a breakout season, finally burst through the wall of productivity or has a attractive present or future salary structure and you just have to sit back and take the phone calls.

Mix a great potential deal with the likes of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman with his senior counsel of Gerry Hunsicker, and these two could take an average deal and make it shine for years. All you have to do is look at the Rays and Chicago Cubs deal for emotional roller coaster Matt Garza.

Sure the Cubs got a guy who potential is as tall as the Sears Tower, but in my opinion, Friedman got a King’s ransom in return. One of the pieces of this puzzle that was sent to Chi-town, OF Fernando Perez has already been released and is on another team’s roster. In return the Rays got a new urban and M L B “Legend” ( Sam Fuld), an outfielder (Brandon Guyer) previously not in the Rays 2011 major league roster framework who made Fantasy owners giddy with his first game stats (10 points).

Add to that mix a shortstop who is only playing at the Class-A level, but who scouts and baseball gurus have gushed and gone all flustered with that has risen up the prospect charts like a rocket (Hak-Ju Lee). Suddenly it seems like Friedman and Hunsicker sold Garza when his talent and potential both reached their ceiling.

Wondering if the same magic will fall in the Rays hands before the final seconds of the 2011 Trade Deadline. Will it be a monster player haul, a salary dump or even the Rays taking on a player in their “ walk” season who could help them waltz into the post season.

Still think the biggest horror I would face if I were to ever become a M L B GM is hearing Friedman’s voice on the other end of the phone……Hopefully it will be a congratulation call, not a trademark Friedman “kick the tires” conversation….Those have ended badly lately.

Sternberg Still “Staying the Course” of the Rays Ship

The assembled Media mob down by the Rays dugout before this game merited a quick look. You usually do not see this many assembled media talking heads without reason. Then I saw the trademark sweater, the smile that radiates towards the Trop roof and immediately knew Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg was holding court with the media minions.

On tap this day was a bucketful of concerns within the Press Box about subjects like the possibilities of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations heading to his Houston hometown to head up the new Astros future. Also on the minds of the media was if the Rays would be “buyers or sellers” before the Trade Deadline at the end of the month.

Sternberg just showed his pearly whites, tap-danced a bit for the assembled crowd and really again made the masses fall in love with him all over again. That is the mark of a great salesman. Using his charm, personality and a bevy of great information and background materials, Sternberg tames the Media beasts once again.

Sure he might not have stabbed an issue in the heart like the attendance concerns or about Friedman, but he also did not skirt the issues at all. Some of the things that came out of Sternberg’s mouth did follow the Rays “ party lines” and did not surprise me in the least. But others comments did pose a slight concern, not in their rhetoric or presentation, but what was not said by Sternberg.

Still it is always refreshing to get the words straight from the “horse’s mouth”. Sternberg was asked about items like the Rays downward trend in attendance figures, if the Rays have the fiscal resources to “upgrade” their team before the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline.

His comments on the Rays struggling attendance was refreshing since one local media source seems to want to force-feed the public the attendance figures every night. Sternberg’s statement actually instilled a bit more confidence in me that the Rays owners is really here for the long haul, not a possibility of selling the team and moving onto more fiscally “greener pastures”.

To be frank as I can about it, I’m really not focused on the attendance. I’m tired of thinking about it, talking about it, and I know you’re tired of asking me the question and most importantly, everybody is tired of hearing about it. It’s really all about what’s going to be is going to be and what it is what it is. The numbers coming through what they are and I don’t anticipate talking about it or focusing on it at all this season or any time in the near future after that.”

Refreshing to hear an owner talk straight from the hip and not sugarcoat, project pessimistic intentions or evoke a sense of entitlement that fans flock to his stadium. Sternberg has always remembered that this town is a tourist-based locale, and with that comes fluctuation in the fan base, community monetary flows. There is a presence of support, a foundation to build on that is solid, plus his focal group, the youngsters growing the Rays tradition are maturing.

But so many are focused on the end of the month Trade Deadline, and Sternberg had a few great sound bytes on that upcoming event in the season:

 “There’s resources in money and resources in players. A lot of that depends on what player you’re willing to give up and how much money you’re willing to spend. Sometimes you can spend less and give up more players. So we are always willing to expand resources, but it’s a question of what we get back and where that puts us. It’s certainly difficult doing that in our division more so than some of the other divisions and competing with the teams that we can compete with and have to beat.”

This comment by Sternberg might seem more versed in risk management assessments and terms than baseball, but you get the jest completely. The Rays are focused on getting a good return on any investment, trade or salary dump. With high profile Rays players like B J Upton, James Shields and possibly even Andy Sonnanstine on several M L B team’s radar, the return has to justify the decision.

Here is where Sternberg and his henchmen Rays President Matt Silverman and Friedman have excelled in recent seasons. They understand the power of the trade, and use it to their advantage. You only have to look at the trade of Rays starter Matt Garza before the Spring of 2011 to see the team is committed to getting a return that develops into a positive flow.

In that transaction the Rays got their “legend” Sam Fuld, outfielder Brandon Guyer and a future starting shortstop who has seen his stock as a top prospect rise repeatedly this season towards a Top 10 spot. Interesting enough, one of the players the Rays trade to the Cubs, outfield speedster Fernando Perez has already been cut from the Cubs system.

Then someone in the Media addressed the elephant in the room, the Rays stagnant stadium situation. This is where Sternberg really shined and provided a beautiful oratory on his thoughts, direction and true feeling as both an owner and fan of this frustrating issue:

We’re not changing anything at this point. I’ve tried everything. People know that. We hear it all the time, we’re winning on the field, we’re putting a good product out there, the place is inviting, we’ve got concerts, we’ve got the second most affordable team. There’s not much else to be done at this point. It’s baseball here. I believe in the game, I love the game. And just like (Tampa Bay Lightning owner) Jeff Vinik loves hockey, or the (Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners) Glazers might love football, you follow your passion and you put everything into it that you possibly can.”

But I think his last comments of the day after almost 20 minutes speaking to the media speaks volumes on his intentions and his focus surrounding the Tampa Bay region and baseball:

 “There’s nothing more perfect than having it all work here right now. This isn’t about putting up Sternberg’s palace, or my idea of a perfect ballfield. The concept when we first came here was that we were extraordinarily confident we were going to make it work. Winning the American League East twice out of 3 years, no, not necessarily. But be competitive. So I went in with this mindset and said Okay, great, we’re going to be friendly, prices are going to be great, we’re going to fix the place up, put all the dough in here and you know what, were also going to win. So I think it surprised each and every person here, but this is what it is. And we’re still going to keep going at it day after day and doing the best we can.”

Touch e` Stu. Spoken like a man, a confident business owner and beyond all of that a honest baseball fan. We are lucky to have someone like this pulling the reins on this organization. Sure he wants to make a profit, show a positive gain both in resources and even fan commitment, but he also know the product will sell itself.

Baseball fans around the country know the Tampa Bay franchise is a hidden gem with boatloads of potential and possible moments. Sternberg is the man at the top of the heap, the guy who ultimately decides the direction of this franchise…He is the perfect person to help guide this currently turbulent Rays ship through the shallow Tampa Bay shoals and sandbars unharmed before emerging into the crystal blue waters where smooth sailing will be par for the course. Oh Captain, my Captain.

Placing the Pieces of Former Ray Garza’s Trade Puzzle

 

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Some around the Rays Republic have already thrown up their hands in disbelief and bewilderment at the current state of the Rays roster without thinking of the overall picture or possible scenarios that could hinge based on this one trade recently of Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Garza, outfielder Fernando Perez and minor league prospect Zack Rosscup.

Individually they all might not seem related, but as a whole they turn into a gold mine of future potential and possible long term roster additions for the future of this Rays franchise.

No one has even minutely dug into the possible second vein of gold that is awaiting the Rays when the 2011 MLB First Year Players Draft is held and the Rays hold key positions in a relatively deep draft. The team could eventually through this Summer’s draft picks, plus the key addition of several top Cubs prospects could be in position to be sitting pretty both in personnel and fiscal contracts well into their next purge into playoff contention.

And do not forget just because of the mass exodus of some from the Rays fold, do not under estimate the power of a well turned draft and a few cunningly calculated trade pieces that could sparkle bright for many years with the right moves.

For some odd reason, every time the Rays have made such a trade move since Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations has been given the keys to drive the Rays team bus, I always seem to visualize Friedman putting together one of those intricate 500-1,000 piece photo-based puzzles.

That has become the basic nuance of Rays trades in recent years that the team has to find some sort of innate value over the long haul of the deal for it to get past just the chatter stage. Friedman has become a bit of a puppet master over his last few deals in wheeling and dealing until he gets just the right mesh of talent and potential that will satisfy his fiscal and physical demands. In this trade, the upside seems to favor the Cubs, but under the surface, the Rays might have struck a hidden vein of golden future potentials.

The Rays acquired the Cubs top pitching prospect (Christopher Archer),their top catching prospect who was thought to be in the mix for a possible Cubs back-up spot (Robinson Chirinos), two outfielders ( Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer), plus a possible future Rays shortstop option ( Hak-Ju Lee). If you look at 3 years down the road, then the Rays definitely got the better end of the deal.

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But it is a two-way conversation, and based on potential now and of value to the Cubs chances of regaining a post season nod, then the Garza trade favors the present day Cubs, but might hurt them in their farm system in the long run. And this might trouble some within the Rays Republic who can not look beyond the puzzle’s photo and into the intricate jigsaw pieces and future combinations that could turn into another chance for the Rays to contend.

Intricate pieces of this trade puzzle come in the form of RHP Archer who could possibly be sent to Double-A Montgomery to start the year, then with a great start and a maturation process, could be another potential Rays rotation piece knocking at the door by 2012. Archer’s has a tremendous slider and has huge potential upside for the Rays farm system staffs as he rises through the Rays system. Having another well-tooled pitching weapon in the Rays system is never a bad thing.

The addition of the infielder turned catcher Chirinos to the Rays catching corps could make current Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach into trade bait this July with an impressive minor league season. He will join an a Rays farm system catching corps that is quickly becoming a firm asset of the Rays system.

If Chirinos hits his marked potential during this minor league season, the Rays could see an extremely young catching duo of John Jaso and Chirinos as early as August 2011. Possibly earlier if an injury besets Shoppach.

I still feel firmly that the addition of 20-year old infield prospect Lee to the mix just gives the Rays another option of SS prospect Tim Beckham doesn’t begin to develop as the next Rays SS prospect. Bringing Lee in might just jump start Beckham’s competitive juices and finally get him to retain his First Round Pick potential. If not, the young Lee, who was considered the Cub’s fourth best prospect could be the steal of the deal.

The last hidden piece of this trade puzzle might be Guyer who could start the year at Triple-A, but after being selected as the Cub minor league player of the Year in 2010 with a .344 average with 13 Home Runs, 58 RBIs, 30 stolen bases and a .588 OPS. Over his first 4 years of professional ball, Guyer has a .292 average with 92 steals. Instantly you think this might be the guy the Rays wanted in the deal as a future player to replace a certain current Centerfielder who’s game has not lived up to the hype recently.

A quick comparison shows that B J Upton had a .234 batting average with 18 HRs, 62 RBIs, 42 stolen bases and a .322 OPS. A quick gander shows that if Upton gets into a sudden hitting funk, or doesn’t live up to a $ 5 million dollar salary, we could also see a exit visa punched for Upton to possibly finish 2011 in another team’s colors.

The Sam Fuld/ Fernando Perez swap just looks like a solid wash with the Cubs getting a speedy option as a outfielder or pinchrunner and the Rays getting some potential outfield depth in Durham or on the Rays bench. This is a minor deal churning within the bigger idea, but both will compliment thier new teams this Spring.  

Suddenly if you look at each piece of this Cubs/Rays puzzle, it all adds up to a huge potential for change as early as the 2010 Trade Deadline.

I bet even as I am sitting here pecking at these keys Friedman is sitting possibly online right now watching video or processing data looking for the next great Rays trade. Or maybe Friedman is just sitting at home right now sitting at the dining table staring at a pile of 500-1,000 individual puzzle pieces spread out in front of him trying to assemble a 3-D feasible puzzle of how to visually get the Rays back into contention.

500-1,000 individually crafted pieces that could systematically transform into another postseason puzzle with just the right combination of pieces. Or did he just acquire those pieces?

 

 

 

James Shield’s Other Talent….Rays T-Shirt Designer

 
 
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The evolution of the plain T-shirt has come a long way from its primary use as a undergarment. This button-less, collarless clothing item was originally just fashioned to cover the body’s torso with its generic rounded neck hole and short sleeves. Many fashion notables think the T-shirt craze exploded when the United States Navy adopted this outerwear as casual clothing following the Spanish American War. It made it possible for sailor to now “soil” their T-shirt instead of the uniform jacket while in warmer climates.

After World War II, the T-shirt was worn by returning soldiers as daily outerwear while performing duties around the house, or in farming communities. But most think the true origin and National preference came after actor Marlon Brando wore a T-shirt in the film “Streetcar Named Desire”. After that film it was considered by many to be a fashion statement and an accepted garment to wear out and about doing daily activities. The transformations of the T-shirt from there have been swift and very visual for all of us to see…daily.

From that moment on the T-shirt has transformed from a simple undergarment to prevent sweat stains on outerwear to the preferred clothing options within sports coats and on the film industries red carpet. From the tie-dye T-shirt to the invention of the silk screening process, this clothing item has been invented and reinvented several times until we finally get towards the most recent evolution of its creation, the designer T-shirt.

So maybe it is only right that the one member of the Tampa Bay Rays roster who has shown a knack and a passion for not only wearing classic designer T-shirts, but also classic Rock and Roll T-shirts would set his sights on taking on the task of designing a special Rays edition T-shirt to be given out to Rays Republic fans. And we have all seen him before after games or at Rays events like Rays Fan Fest or the Season Ticket Party at Gameworks in recent years sporting his black “Motorhead” T-shirt.

 
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But then again, Rays pitcher James Shields was also the guest announcer during a segment of the Rays 2009 “Rays on the Runway” fashion show and showed his own sense of style and designer flair during that brief flash on your television screen. And with that passion now exposed, the Rays consulted with Shields about maybe designing a Rays custom collectible T-shirt to be given out during the Rays Friday night celebrations in 2010.


Since the 1980′s, this form of clothing has been known to sport expressionistic ideals and images and was the perfect opportunity for Shields to show his skill in this avenue of fashion. Now this is not to suggest or introduce Shields as a T-shirt designer to the World, but is a great and special way for him to show his expression and passion for the game of baseball upon a cotton canvas. And Shields immediately chose his most famous T-shirt color, black as the base for his artistic T-shirt expression.

 
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When you first gaze upon the T-shirt you see instantly his style and his want to include baseball images and motifs intertwined in his design. From the lower cap lettering of “big game” under the front collarbone line to the induction of blue flames going outward from the center, you instantly got a Rock and Roll feel to the project. Then the central image of Shields in his on-the-mound pose right before he delivers a pitch, to the two flaming baseball skulls located around the bodies pectoral muscle region, the T-shirt instantly brings you into the design.


And the use of the white to accent both the outline of Shields and the baseball skulls brings you instantly into that region of the T-shirt as it pops off the black T-shirt. The front design of the Shields inspired T-shirt ends about midway down with a scroll piecing that is center under Shields outline on the mound and includes his uniform number “33″ in a blue lettering. And around the centralized design is blue hued artistic designs that also seems to push your eyes towards the center of the design.

 
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The back of the T-shirt also sports its own Shields inspired creation as his ever popular nickname set in uppercase lettering that is emblazed across the back upper shoulder region like his game day jersey. The moniker “Big Game” on the back of the T-shirt instantly pulls you into this region in silver ink and you also notice just below it the “TB” initials of the Tampa Bay Rays team. But the thing that might miss you eyes unless you turn the T-shirt upsides down might be the gigantic griffin, which has long been considered a symbol of power and strength.


The griffin is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle, which encompasses the king of beasts and birds into one animal entity. And the griffin illustrated on Shield’s T-shirt actually takes on the characteristics of a 15th Century alce or a keythong and the image is pronounced as if it was actually a coat of arms inspired design with a crown upon the griffin’s head.

 
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I got to say it personally is a unique and well designed T-shirt that will become an instant Rays collectors item, and one I think we might possibly see again in the future from Shields. But again it shows that each of these members of the Rays 25-man roster have outside interests that some of us might never know, or hear about unless it is brought to our attention or provided for all of us to marvel and enjoy also in life. Shields has a knack for designing, and might have been one of those kids who doodled a lot in class as a kid upon his notebooks or on sheets o paper.


Talent can come in many forms. It can be a sports talent like Shields unique change-up that has buckled the knees of many Major League Baseball player, or it could be an artistic talent like his recent T-shirt design for the Rays fans. Who knows where this first inspiration by Shields will go from here. He could go on to producing a yearly special design or make it an off or in season project to help raise funds or involve the community to show support for a cause or an event.

Major League Baseball players like Shields are all over the place. Most of the guys on the Rays 25-man roster have additional talents most of us might never know about unless they are shown or expressed to us fans. Fernando Perez has a special gift for writing, Carlos Pena is the fashion staple on the team, and we all know Rays bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos is the team dance instructor.

 
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Talents off the field help to endear us to our Rays players and it takes away that invisible barrier that makes them “off limits” or unapproachable to us. The Rays boast one of the most fan-friendly teams in Major League Baseball, but sometimes a little insight or exposure of the person within brings a new appreciation of that player to all of us.

I know with Shields it showed a side of him you would not have imagined with the creation of this special James Shields inspired T-shirt. Hopefully this is not the first player that opens the door a bit to us in 2010 and shows us the level of talent this team has beyond the base paths and mound.

I Thought Ruggiano’s Deserved a Longer Look

 

 
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The Tampa Bay Rays have begun their yearly ritual of slicing off some of the players today who might not make their 25-man roster to give players a chance to either get a chance with another team before the beginning of the 2010 MLB season, or hitch a ride in the Rays minor league carousel. Most of the names did not surprise me, or even have a legitimate chance to make the Rays roster, but there is one name I thought might get a longer tenure in the Major League camp.
 

Justin Ruggiano has always been a great player for the Rays each time they have decided to bring him up either short-term because of injuries, or during their Spring Training camps before finally sending him to their Triple-A affiliate as a right-handed insurance policy. Considering he was hitting .447 with 11 RBIs this Spring, I really hoped the Rays would consider him longer on the Spring roster with the question marks still over the heads of outfielders Matt Joyce, and another unimpressive Spring from fellow right-hander Gabe Kapler.
 

And a few of us long time Rays Republic members might remember some of Ruggiano’s past events while at the Major League level and wonder what, besides a logjam at outfielders, is keeping this guy down on the farm. Sure he let a ball fall in front of him during a game that cost the Rays a run, but he also did a full face-plant into the Leftfield padding catching a screaming line drive in 2008. And I have heard more than a few people say does he have the stats to be a Major League everyday player, but then I point people to Kapler’s same decline in stats and get the reply that “Kapler has paid his dues”.
 

And I hate that cliché’ when people throw that out at you. If you do not get a chance to build a foundation, how do you pay your “dues”? Sure Ruggiano got his first taste at this level in 2007 when he came up and appeared in 7 games in 2007 and went 3-14, but he did make enough of a impression that he lasted long into the 2008 Spring Training season with the Major League camp roster even with a dismal .176 Batting Average .
 

 

But I seriously thought the Rays organization might take a long and hard look at Ruggiano this year and find a way to keep him up here with the question marks I think are still lingering in Rightfield. Sure we have one portion of the platoon system firmly implanted in capable glove of Ben Zobrist, but still there is the inability of Kapler to give us that one firm reason to keep him besides a great mentoring process and clubhouse presence. And sure both of those qualities are monumental to helping build and maintaining team character, but with Kapler batting .136 this Spring…The Rays do have a viable option to Kapler in house right now.

 

But I also see the influx of the Rays farm system about to gobble up Ruggiano as more players get that chance to position themselves also for a shot with the big club. And here was a guy who was up with the Rays Spring team leaders in games played to this point who now will move his belongs over to the minor league clubhouse and begin his Triple-A 2010 experience. And how many Rays fans know he was the Durham Bulls Player of the Year in 2007 while hitting .309 with 20 HR 73 RBI and 26 stolen bases.
 

But then again, Ruggiano has always been a bit of a unknown except to some of us who watch Rays Spring and late season baseball. Who also remembers that he was the player-to-be-named-later from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the June 26,2006 trade that sent pitcher Mark Hendrickson and catcher Toby Hall and netted the Rays Dioner Navarro and pitcher Jae Seo along with Ruggiano. He is widely popular in Durham as he does play the “Rays Way” both on and off the field and is a fan favorite up at Durham Athletic Park.
 

But with his surge this Spring taking over the minor league player to watch role that former Rays minor league outfielder Jon Weber held onto for several Spring, I thought he might have finally broken through and showed the Rays they can take a chance on him. But instead, the Rays purged him from their Major League camp and he must rejoin his Durham Bulls Triple-A Champion teammates to begin the 2010 season.

 
DRayBay.com

And time is really clicking away for Ruggiano to show his stuff at the Major League level, and it has nothing to do with ability. But maybe his 2008 Rays campaign left doubt into his abilities to suffice at this level. A .197 Batting Average over 45 games of spot duty can bring up many dark clouds as to your abilities, and future projections.

 

With the Rays logjam at the minor league level with players developing who can play any of the outfield positions in Tropicana Field, this might be his last season to make an impact and show to the Rays or other teams he can succeed at this level, like Kapler for a long time. Right now players like Fernando Perez and even Desmond Jennings are getting the headlines and interviews instead of Ruggiano. Because of the hype concerning Jennings and the on and off again injury situations concerning Perez, the spotlight has always been a bit dim on Ruggiano.

But he is ready and able to perform, sweat and even bleed if necessary to help this Rays team in 2010. It is a shame we do not see a possibility of extracting Kapler and inserting Ruggiano into the right-handed portion of the Rightfield mix. He has the base stealing ability and the glove work to exceed Kapler, and could certainly hit better than Kapler’s 2009 .239 average with 8 HR,32 RBI and 5 steals. But then again, maybe his MLB past has haunted him, but then again how can he dispel those darkening clouds when Ruggiano is not given a chance to show his own Rays of light can also shine bright.

I Don’t Know Joe…..

 


YahooSports.com

What the heck Joe! Now  you know I respect you a helluva lot, but I am probably not the only one within the Rays Republic today scratching my forehead wondering why you made the move you did yesterday against the New York Yankees in a Spring Training game it seems your team was dominating in at the time. Why would you even think of pulling Sean Rodriguez who was about to put up a possible career achievement like hitting for the cycle and pinch-hit him for Fernando Perez?

 
I am wondering why you did not let Rodriguez at least get a fighting chance at completing his drive for the cycle and pop Perez into the outfield in the bottom of the inning. I mean the guy was about to do something as complex as hitting for the cycle in reverse. In reverse Joe! You watched him in his third game this Spring during his first at bat hit another ball deep enough to go out of the ball park (with some help from the outfield padding) against the Yankees to give your team an early lead.
 

I would be excited just by that feat in itself, but the kid out did even my expectations by then hitting a triple, then getting another RBI double to post 5 RBI on the day, which was the more than enough to help you team post a 11-7 win in Tampa against your AL East nemesis. But still this is gnawing at my frontal lobe Joe, why you did not let the kid try for it. I know the Rays new mantra of W.I.N. or “What’s Important Now”, but to me yesterday, it was letting the kid have a chance to put a firm stamp on his competition this Spring by going above and beyond even your wildest expectations and securing a rare feat, even in the Spring, of a cycle.

 
 

I am just perplexed here Mr. Maddon. I really do not know what to say mostly because I know the Spring Training season is the time to try new and unique situations or plays, but this one really has me so befuddled I almost couldn’t write this today. Here is a player basically about to come out of his cocoon stage and become a regular season butterfly for the Rays, and he gets sat down for a pitch-hitter right when he is about to secure what is considered an almost impossible feat.
 

And I know I am not the only one to consider this situation, and I might read a bit more from local news accounts within the next day or two, but personally, I am a bit bewildered beyond belief. I guess my realization that it is the Spring has to be my mind’s justification for this happening because I know you were not snoozing during the game and knew the scenario that was playing out on the field.

But hidden underneath all of this was the spike of emotion that somehow suddenly seemed to be lacking in your team until they finally rebounded in the top of the eight inning to secure this second win of the Spring for the Rays. I guess there is a lot more to managing that I can see from my seat here within the stands today. But I also see Rodriguez’s missed opportunity yesterday to have a “career” moment as a small blip on the oversight meter that you might have dropped the ball on this one.

 


YahooSports.com


I am more upset with the idea that it could furnish a seed of doubt within a young player’s mind who is tearing this competition between himself and Reid Brignac to shreds, and maybe that is something the Rays brass do not want to see settled so early in this Spring battle. But then again, I am only a fan and not a member of your dugout crew and do not know if there was a secondary reason for this based on match-ups or even the slightest hint of a situational movement by you to pop Perez up there at that moment.

 

So now that I have written my rave and gotten it out of my system, I hope if the same situation happens again in 2010 that we let the guy hit for the chance. Missing the opportunity might be just as bad as striking out in that pressure situation yesterday. Both can pop seeds of doubt or inconsistent decisions deep into their mindset that can blossom and turn this battle into a one-sided affair. But now in my moment of getting it all out, I am again resigned to believing you know what you are doing at all times in the dugout.

For I have a lot of respect and admiration for what you have done since you took the reins in 2007 to change to psyche and the foundation of Rays baseball through your theories, actions and game day quotes that have inspired, motivated and amused us while you have been at the helm. No Captain Joe, I am not calling for mutiny or even a vote of the crew as to that course of action with regards to Rodriguez and his shot at the cycle.

There has to be a gem of wisdom in there somewhere, and even if I do not agree with your action, I will come to accept the move in time. Still, I wanted to see what Rodriguez would have done against the Yankee reliever. Who knows, maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon made the right decision……maybe.

Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2

 

 


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

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

 

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

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

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

 


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

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


 

 

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


 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 


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

  

 

 

 

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

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

Rays Players Off Season Plans

 

Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.

And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.

So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.

It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.

A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009.  It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.

I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to  have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we  also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay. 

Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.

Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally  just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful  European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.

I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!).  Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.

But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some  of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.

Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist.  This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet. 

But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just  wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves.. 

While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life. 

Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there  to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go  duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.

You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.

There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time  during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.  

But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a  hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.

Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.

But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.

And  a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.

So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!

 

M*A*S*H* 33701 Staff

 


Lynn Sladsky / AP

The roster of the Tampa Bay Rays is beginning to represent a television episode of M*A*S*H* 4077th right now. The recent flurry of injuries, both serious and treated with kindness have made this roster change shape in recent weeks. But behind the scenes, the sight in the Rays training room right now might not be as bloody or surgically fixated as the television show, but the drama and the extent of the injuries have made their medical staff one of the true treasures right now in the Rays organization.

Most fans have never heard the names Ron Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr before during most of the Rays telecasts. They are a group of guys who try and stay beyond the cameras and beyond the eye sight of most people in the stands before, during and after most of the Rays games. But their contribution to the Tampa Bay Rays will now have a huge significance on what is going to happen on the field. You see, this trio is the conglomerate that is responsible for the well being and health of the players on our roster. Each one of them is considered the best in their field, and have served the Rays for several season in their respective positions.

With their state-of-the-art training complex and new and proven methods being employed daily, the medical staff is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s take Rays reliever Brian Shouse’s injury first. After his first MRI, it was concluded that he might have a slight tear in his left flexor muscle right off the elbow. This would put the reliever essentially out for some time. But under further diagnosis and further testing, it was ruled that Shouse might have just a slight strain to the region and not need surgery at all. That diligence in finding the correct diagnosis might have cost the Rays the use of Shouse later in the season. Now after rehab and some carefully watched exercise and throwing sessions, he might again be back with the club a lot soon than originally expected. And that is huge as the Rays try and regain their core and take on the task of repeating their AL East title.

As we speak several players are also trying to get off the training tables and rehab assignments to bring some help to the slumping Rays. Designated Hitter Pat Burrell has missed 15 games now due to his neck stiffness. The team has been able to tread water to a 8-7 record since he went down, but his bat is needed to protect Carlos Pena in the lineup. Yesterday in Cleveland, Burrell was suppose to take some special individualized batting practice to see just how far he has progressed in his fight to get his neck situation under control.  The session was canceled after he was experiencing more neck stiffness. The team is tentatively expecting another try at Burrell going to the plate on Friday when they return to Tropicana field for their latest home stand. Hopefully on that day the Rays will have some good news on their ailing DH.

But then you have guys like Rays reliever Chad Bradford, who is right now on loan to the Rays Class-A squad, the Charlotte Stone Crabs for a rehab assignment. So far the prognosis is great for Bradford, and with the Bullpen right now a bit tired and weathered, he just might be ready soon to give some relief to his Bullpen mates.  His last appearance was on May 24th, and he went 1-inning and only gave up 1-hit in the appearance. The Stone Crabs have been victimized lately by weather as their last two game have been canceled due to the elements. But this week they are in Clearwater to play the Threshers, and the medical staff left behind on this road trip will be keeping a close eye on Bradford if he gets into any of these contests.

Another guy who is suffering from bad timing is Shawn Riggans. Earlier on in the season, Riggans went down with a bout of shoulder tendinitis and was set down for a few weeks before he was again allowed to participate in a throwing program. He went through the  throwing program set up by Barr and was ready to again try and hit a rehab assignment with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits.  Riggans went on up to Alabama and joined the team, but was quickly taken back off the roster after a sudden pain in his shoulder after throwing a pick-off attempt to first base during a game. He was sent to renowned doctor James Andrews in neighboring Birmingham, Alabama. After son consultation and recommendations from Andrews, Riggans was on his way back to St. Petersburg, Florida to again try all over again with the rest and relaxation program for a while. He is hoping to again be ready for a throwing program by the first week of June.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

Ron Porterfield probably had one of his worst days recently during Sunday’s Florida Marlins versus the Rays game. In the ninth inning of that contest, the Marlins Chris Coghlan came into second base to break up a double play opportunity and struck Akinora Iwamura in the left leg while it was still planted firmly on the infield clay. The result of the moving Coghlan into the rigid Iwamura made for one force taking damage on the other. Iwamura instantly went down and was in obvious pain on the infield. Porterfield rushed out their immediately and tried to ease the pain of Iwamura. The hardest part of this job might be the instant recognition of a bad situation and remaining cool and calm during this time is extremely difficult.

You could see on the replays during the injury time-out that Porterfield was not trying to stretch the area out or even attempt to have Iwamura stand based on the visual extent of the injury. He immediately asked for the crash cart to be brought out onto the turf and Iwamura was transported off the field to the rear of the Visitor’s Clubhouse area. At this time it is Porterfield’s job to ease the suffering and pain of Iwamura and give reassurance.  You have to guess he already had a opinion on the extent of the injury and was doing everything he could to mask the emotions and the conversation more towards positive elements. 

Iwamura was on crutches by the end of the game putting no pressure or force on his left knee region. He was then put in a car en route to St. Petersburg where a MRI was to be conducted this past Monday morning. He was not there when the results came in from the MRI in St. Petersburg as he was with the team in Cleveland for their four game series there before finally coming back to Tropicana Field. The results of Iwamura’s MRI showed that surgery will be needed to repair the ACL and a slight bit of damage to his MCL ligaments.

This will put him out for the rest of the 2008 season, and some speculate it might be his last time to put on a Rays uniform. But a planned surgery in the next two weeks after the swelling goes down and it is optimal to operate, Iwamura will get fixed up locally by Dr. Koko Eaton.

Later in that same ballgame, they again got called back onto the field after Dan
Uggla’s stolen base attempt. On that play, the Rays starting shortstop Jason Bartlett put his left leg in front of the base to attempt to make Uggla go to the outside of the base. Instead, Ugglas came in spikes first and clipped Bartlett on the top of the ankle, which resulted in him going down fast to the clay surface.  Again the medical staff went out there and performed some quick aid to relieve Bartlett of his obvious pain at the time. Bartlett did refuse to come out of the game and finished the contest and was getting more treatment as the team was packing up for their plane ride to Cleveland for the next series.

In Cleveland, it was decided because of the conversation with the medical staff that Bartlett should rest the ankle for a few days. Some say he could have played through the pain, but considering that Bartlett is a key element of the team again playing for that divisional title, precautionary measures were decided by Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the medical staff. Bartlett sat out the Monday game against the Indians and was set to have an MRI to check for further damage in the region. 

Because the MRI revealed a sprain, it was advised by the medical staff that rest and staying off the ankle would further the healing process. We all know that Bartlett would want to play, and might just do a good job even with a gimpy ankle. But the consideration of his total health was in order. A healthy Bartlett could help the team pick up the needed wins to regain some places within the division. If he re-injured it, or made the injury more severe, his participation might be hindered significantly the rest of the season.

Then you have people like Barr, who have designed the rehab programs for players like Fernando Perez while he is on the DL to increase his mobility and keep him in shape while he waits for further word on when he can begin a throwing program of his own designed by Barr. With his baby blue cast off his wrist you would think that the injury might be over and he can again take full baseball activities. But the wrist area is a delicate region that can be injured again quickly if the injury is not fully healed before a top workout begins. Perez was recently transferred to the 60-day DL, and it is thought he might not be on either a rehab assignment or playing before August 2009.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

The training/medical staff of the Rays is considered one of the best in baseball.  So who are these guys, and why should we be glad we have them on the Rays. Well, let me see if I can give you some insight to why we are lucky to have this trio in Tampa Bay.

First let’s start with the team’s Strength and conditioning Coach, Kevin Barr. In 2009, Barr will be presented with the Nolan Ryan Award, sponsored by Life Fitness. The award named after the Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, honors an outstanding strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball. The Nolan Ryan Award recognizes the coach whose accomplishments, in the opinion of fellow members of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS), reflects an exemplary dedication to strength training and conditioning. The award also recognizes the recipient’s professional and personal accomplishments as well as his integrity as a strength and conditioning coach.

You might recognize him more for his time spent out on the field during Batting Practice in the right field corner with the pitchers’ helping them both do stretching exercises and running drills. He also can be seen on the first baseline just before the game when the players come out to stretch before Rays games. He is one of the only people out there at that time not in a Rays uniform, and can be easy to spot. He is a key element to the consistent health and rebuilding of the Rays roster after an injury has been sustained by a player.

Most people confuse Paul Harker with a player since he is tall and built like a player. But it is his duty to assist Porterfield in any needs before after and during the game to prepare the Rays field players and pitchers for that days game. Harker joined the major league staff after serving for three seasons as the Rays Minor League head trainer.  He  first joined the organization in November 1996 as the trainer for the Class- A St. Petersburg Devil Rays before serving as Triple-A Durham’s trainer from 1998-2002. Prior to joining the Rays organization, Harker worked in the Seattle Mariners organization for six seasons. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association.

But the guy most people know by his smile and his personality is Ron Portfield, the head honcho in the Rays medical corps. Porterfield is afraid to put a glove on and catch a bit with rehabbing players, or to just be a sounding board for a player trying out a new pitch or delivery. He is on one of the busiest people before the game for the Rays, and his training table area is also a hot spot for conversation and group conversations before the Rays games. Porterfield, spent his time as the team’s Major League assistant trainer before finally getting the top spot in December 2005. He joined the Rays organization in 1997, serving as the Minor League medical and rehabilitation coordinator for six years. Porterfield originally came to the Rays from the Houston Astros, an organization he joined in 1987 after he graduated from New Mexico State University.

In 2004, Porterfield was a member of the medical staff that received the Dick Martin Medical Staff of the Year Award from Baseball Prospectus. Porterfield’s intense computer research and commitment to helping Rocco Baldelli in 2008 get back to the field last August helped earn Porterfield the 2008 American Sports Medicine Institute Career Service Award.


So as you can see, the Rays have a well educated and knowledgeable staff to prevent and treat any aliments that might come up during the Rays contests. With new technologies and treatment systems being discovered daily, it is also their job to wade through the  published  treatment paperwork and computer postings to find the best injury solutions for the Rays players.  The commitment and the stamina displayed by these three guys should be commended.

They are the first line of defense to keeping these players on the field, and the last ones to insure they are ready again to play for the Rays. It is a tough job, and one that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, but it is what they love, and what they are extremely good at doing. And we are lucky to have them here in Tampa Bay.

 

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