Results tagged ‘ Fred McGriff ’
When I first arrived for the 2014 edition of the Jesse Litsch and Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament it was a Winnie-the-Pooh kind of blustery day. But a great thing happened just as the teams assembled for lunch before 18 holes of great golf. The skies parted and that warming Sun took charge of the event. But I also want to believe someone up there wanted Connor to have a perfect day.
I got to meet Connor a few years ago while he was struggling with that nasty “C” word. The kid was spunky, friendly and determined to fight this cancer back into submission. I heard from a smiling bird a week prior to the event some fantastic news about Connor, and I was beaming the rest of the day.
So it really was perfect the Sun was blazing and the celebrities all assembled in a half-moon around a make-shift Home Plate as Litsch lobbed a mid-zone pitch in and Connor rocked it high into the left-side section of the field up onto the Putting Green. You see today was a day Connor could celebrate, and all the assembled celebrities wanted to also give him a special and emotional celebration. You see Connor has fought the demon and won. He is now Cancer-free.
As he rounded the bases to cheers from everyone around the circle the celebrities gave him a Home Plate “team meeting” as they all rubbed his head, shook hands and clapped to celebrate this awesome achievement by one truly courageous young guy. I will admit, there was some liquid on my cheek, but I told people it was dew from the palm tree. I was even more honored to photograph the moment and hope everyone remembers Connor fight and to remember Jimmy V’s words, “Never Give Up”.
Connors own charity “Friends of Connor” which supports other children taking on cancer is only 1 of the trifecta of great charities that the golf tournament embraces closely. The North Pinellas YMCA Summer Camps and Bechtel’s Bikes for Kids, which provide bikes and protective gear for children in need around this region and are delivered each holiday season by Pinellas County Sheriff’s department.
After the emotional beginning of the day events the assembled duffers made their way around the beautiful and wildlife-filled EastLake Woodlands North course to take on events like the Long Drive, Closest to the Pin and the always welcome Red Bull 9th hole. This year some amazing food also graced the greens as Skyline Chili (Chili Dogs), Johnny Grits( amazing Shrimp & Grits) and Jersey Mikes (Cheesesteaks) helped keep the golfer full, happy and never hungry.
But of course everyone was either dreading or loving the all-time favorite holes, the tee-ball blast or the Kick, Punt and Pass competition. Every year there are highs and lows at the T-ball hole as some people give it their all and the tee takes the blunt, or some bunt while others like Toronto Blue Jays RP Sergio Santos gets some pre-Spring hacks in advance of Inter-League fun.
I swear the tournament should post up a photographer at this hole with photos of all the participants and hold the pictures as a charity ransom so they do not get popped over the social media channels. Okay, maybe that is just my sinister idea. But seriously, the Kick ,Punt &Pass hole is by far the measure of who still has it and who…doesn’t.
I know a few people dread this hole, but the two pairing I witnessed participate this year did a great job with only 1 shanked punt. You see they first have to kick off a tee, then someone has to punt the ball, finally someone has to bring out their inner-Flute and throw as far as possible and the pairing then set their balls down and go from that mark. Always one of my favorite stopping points as I walk the 18 holes and try and catch people off-guard (in a good way).
Absent from the tournament field today were the Rays contingency who had their Pitchers and Catchers report on the tournament’s date, but the event did have a Rays flair as former players Andy Sonnanstine, Dan Wheeler, Fred McGriff and Coach Ozzie Timmons made their ways around the course. There were also over 2 dozen members of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system from top prospect Aaron Sanchez to MLB showing support for the event.
Again the evening was not only highlighted by the always amazing Silent Auction, but by the antic and jovial personality of local television icon Charlie Belcher. He was out there along with his wife visiting the various greens chatting with the golfers and providing liquid refreshments. I can honestly say he is one of the best MC’s in this area and is always fun to watch as he presents awards during the evening’s final moments.
From start to finish I always enjoy the event as each gear from George’s precision from start to finish, to Jesse & Kevin Bechtel’s involvement on the course and beyond to the conversation and sights I get to witness each year. It was another Home Run of an event and it all started with a walk-off Grand Slam by a kid wearing that great Toronto Blue Jays cap. Connor may have stolen the show this year, but Litsch and Bechtel and eager to go to bat for each charity for the next 364 days.
Here is a link for additional photos I took at this year’s Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Cooler Weather Couldn’t Dampen the 2014 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic Spirit
Sure the weather might have been a bit unpleasant, but not a single soul seemed beaten by the weather as all who assembled for the 7th edition of the Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic knew first and foremost the day’s real winners were the Miracle League and the Buddy Baseball organizations within the Tampa Bay community.
It wasn’t the same old, same old during the annual Toby Hall event held this year on February 7th, it was one of those days where the weather prognosticators were off by a chilly 12 degrees and unexpected bouts of misty precipitation that never seemed to dampen any of the assembled golfer’s moods. Every foursome I witnessed this day whether with winter clothing or shorts and windbreakers seemed no worse for the wear and anxious to play the 18 holes at the new vista, the Feather Sound Country Club.
I was talking to Tampa Bay Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton who told me early tournament arrival Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey told him of the cold and possibly damp prediction of the day, but each showed up in Rays sweats and shorts smacking tee shots and drives into the mist towards each hold adorned with the Toby Hall black and red tournament flags.
Some did bundle up like former Ray Fred McGriff, but other like the Bucs Big Nasty, Mike Alstott and Rays pitcher Matt Moore braved the day with a little less covering but warmed by the true essence of the day which was to show support for the Miracle League and Buddies Baseball. Everyone got into the early spirit as the Rays official DJ, DJ Fresh warmed everyone up with music and Arby’s once again provided a hearty lunch and sweet treat for the assembled golfers.
No matter where you went on the front or back 9 holes of this remarkable golf course you could hear the laughing and stories being by celebrities and members of their golfing foursomes and it carried throughout the air. From the Long Drive hole where you almost could forecast a sonic boom from some of the great sounds coming off these custom-made drivers to the Closest-to-the-Pin competition or Straightest Drive competition was in the air, but charity always scored double-eagles. Even got to see another side of Bay New 9 anchor Jen Hollaway and that strapping young lad, the Rays Todd Kalas.
Some might say I’m waxing a bit too poetically with this, but truly I did not hear a single gruff or grumble all day long. From the first moment of registration to the final raffle and award given out at the post-tournament dinner at the Carillion Hilton, not a single person seemed weathered by the day events buy exhilarated by the day and gave even more of themselves in the Silent Auction.
Sure both the participants and Hall may have yearned for sun-kissed dry day, but the assembled masses who participated in this edition of the tournament could only rave and smile when asked if they had a “good day”. Sure some people got a bit shilled and possibly wet, but nothing dampened the hope and spirit of the event and even a few new faces I talked with were already wondering about a 2015 date.
That is the sign of a great tournament when just as people finish the days event they already want to plan for a return engagement. Once again Toby Hall and the Professional Golf Events team who provided not only a great 18 holes of golf, but possibly the weather also got these golfer more in tune with the true meaning of the day’s events and Hall’s charities reaped that emotion.
So I raise my glass once again to the organizers, Toby and all the golfers I met and chatted with this year…See you again next February when we all again assemble to help the Miracle League and Buddy Baseball achieve even greater moments.
Additional Photos from the 2014 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic.
I do not remember the first time I went out to the Tyrone area of St. Petersburg, Florida and watched my first Miracle League ballgame. Here were kids, some with huge physical disadvantages with smiles going from ear-to-ear laughing, along with their adult co-pilots whistling around a soft surfaced baseball diamond with the ease and grace of deer or birds. I tugs deep inside you to see the joy, adulation and huge amounts of spirit on display not only by the cheering parents and friends, but by other kids awaiting their own turn at the plate.
The Miracle League was the first charity ex-Tampa Bay Rays catcher Toby Hall took under his wing when he began his foundation. As the league as grown, so has Hall’s involvement with another great institution, Buddy Baseball who now joins side-by-side with The Miracle League as Hall’s main baseball charitable interests. Both of these leagues embrace the positive things about the game of baseball as well as promote equality as players no matter your limitations and bring about a honest and positive experience for all involved.
And this is something Hall has not only embraced during his playing days, but also kept the spirit alive and thriving since his retirement from baseball last season. His foundation and his annual Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament have grown just as much as his charities, and the involvement of present and past athletes from the Tampa Bay are and beyond have stepped to the plate and knocked balls clear past the fences with their charitable donations and efforts.
From his golf day events and raffles, to that evening much anticipated silent auction, I have been glad to watch as this event has grown into an event that people mark on their calendars as far back as October to be a part of this event.
This season I got a grand honor of being the celebrity greeter at the event and got to meet plenty of people I have never met personally as well as greet old baseball friends and past participants who remember my face. And this event is not only for baseball players. The assorted collection of athletes and celebrities from this region that show support for this event runs a gambit from artists like TW Curtis, Hooters/ Sports radio icon Lynne Austin, Rays “strapping young Rays lad Todd Kalas, and even Fisher from 97X radio grace the celebrity pairings as well as guys who made their name on the fields, ice and gridirons.
From the frozen ice we saw former Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, Pat Jablonski putting a few dimpled balls into the cup. Boxing champion Winky Wright took a few doglegs left and right this year as well as Montgomery Biscuits Coach Ozzie Timmons and his memorable pants. Even LPGA golfer Brittany Lincicome and Lantana Stone made celebrity appearances this year. Buried in the list of celebrities was also a race car driver, Martin Plowman. In all, athletes from ex-Bucs great Mike Alstott to Wright made their yearly pilgrimage to Hall’s event, and as always, fun was in the air and the kid’s were on our minds.
The day was prefect for golf. Not to hot, not to cold (until the later hours) and just enough wind to drive the golfers crazy with slices and hooks, but also keep the sweat off your neck and arms to prevent a little too much Sun. Even special treats like amazing Bloody Marys via an icy adventure, to succulent and tangy shrimp cakes with an amazing sauce kept spirits high and fun at an explosive level. It was great seeing old Rays baseball friends like Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Romano, Randy Winn and the “Crime Dog” Fred McGriff take time out of their schedules for such a great cause.
Other current MLB players like Adam Lind, Jesse Litsch and AJ Pierzenski (who brought his own foursome) along with the Rays rotation duo of Alex Cobb and Matt Moore showed their support for Hall’s charities as well as play a pretty competitive and good spirited round of golf. And the Tampa Bay Bucs were not absent from the festivities as former players like Alstott, Dave Moore, Anthony Becht and Reidel Anthony played along side current Bucs WR Vincent Jackson during the scramble tournament.
As always, the day began with everyone relaxing, eating some lunch and getting themselves ready for a great day for golf and supporting Hall’s many charitable organizations. From mulligans purchases to the final bids of the evening at the banquet with our new comedic friend “hook ‘em horns” guy, the event came to a final end with some of the kids and parents of both charities in attendance at the nightly banquet/silent auction.
I even got into the spirit this season bidding on a great autographed item and being able to take it home and proudly put it on my wall as a reminder of this great event and the guy who brings joy to so many kids within The Miracle League and Buddy Baseball.
So, I need the date for next year because I definitely want to highlight it and save it because who would not want to be a part of this foundation’s great events and shake hands with the humble host who always seems to get that clutch donation. I have always had mad respect for Hall, but this season I think I can ratchet it up a few more hundred notches.
Always a pleasure helping Toby out with this event, and I’m not only looking forward to the 2014 Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament, but 3-4 years into the future as it is so much fun to volunteer and be a part of such a great event hosted by such a humble and great supporter of the game of baseball. Call me anytime Toby, I’ll help in anyway possible.
Here is a Flickr link to all 81 photos taken during the 2013 Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Surprise, disappointment,and astonishment should reign supreme today when the hierarchy that is Cooperstown announces their enshrined class for 2013, I am suspecting a few gasps, a few hip-hip hoo-rays, and hopefully a few “it’s about time” noises from coast-to-coast. Be it the players nominated who played the game “old school” style, or player who went to historic lengths to press their imprint on their bronze plaque, the Hall of Fame class of 2013 will definitely have their pros and (almost) cons…and the various and widening shower of 360 degrees of both positive and negative opinions will rain down quickly as the selection become public.
It will be the first time we see via a voting tally what the fellowship of America’s favorite pastime truly feels about players who hustle, played the game within the chalk lines, and those who muddled them like a Southern rainstorm. Be you a pro-traditional sort, or one who yells to the rafters about the injustice of tainted stats possibly gaining iconic access into the hallowed halls, 2013 will definitely be the year of controversy and a first show of the river of divide that was the Steroid Era.
I am truly expecting a few of the Hall of Fame voters to pronounce proudly they will not vote an accuser/abuser into the Hall even with monumental statistics that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were/are in the game higher echelon all-time. Dark clouds will definitely be in order on this day no matter the sky cover or the temps as heat will rise and more than a few opinions will rant and rave up a storm, possibly into whirlwind potential.
Even the recent acknowledgment of Mark McGuire of his ruse might not be enough to float him towards those hallowed chambers, and his long time farce might actually cost him another chance in 2014 if the voters decide he doesn’t even desire the lowest total possible for another single chance at admittance.
There are a few names not tarnished by the era of the needle who should hear the phone ring today be it a catcher who offensively changed his position, or a ornery cuss who reminded fans and the media of those long ago icons who blistered out over 3,000 Rawlings which should get him a front row seat on the podium in his first Hall of Fame chance. I’m hoping a shortstop who played in old Tigers Stadium who for years was overshadow by Cal Ripken Jr, but who played that old constant style of clean and concise defense his calling card while Ripken made his with the lumber.
There are so many different style of players,disciplines and even motivations who could get a chance today to hear their names echoed from sea-to-shining sea and with it the quick opinions running rampant on whose team caps they will adorn along with their smile on their bronze plaque. I want to think it is pure skullduggery and thievery if the “Crime Dog” is again robbed of a chance for election, but then I remember some think the skinny First Baseman who rocked 200 Home Runs in each side of the MLB didn’t hit that stellar 500 HR plateau and again will have to buy a ticket to enter the Hall.
I expect a few names to bring a large amount of aggressive shock and awe that they are not only excluded once again, but possibly being a step closer to that critical vote percentage tipping point where their names may disappear from the ballot forever. Be he a “sure thing”, a player lost in the controversial shuffle, or one of those arraigned, tried and found not guilty in the court of law, but not in the public court of opinion.
If you gaze up at the opening photo montage on this post you will see the 6 names I would have selected on my personal 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. I struggled with expanding it to 8 names, but I’m sure the 2 people I juggled on and off the list will get the needed votes to be eligible again for the Hall of Fame eligibility in 2014, then I would check their names with no reservations.
Even with the disagreements, opinions and gambit of emotions from anger to excited, this is definitely going to be a Hall of Fame class we will be talking about the entire 2013 Major League baseball season…….So, who you got on your 2013 Hall of Fame ballot?
“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man-made New Years resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on a strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards.” – G K Chesterton
As we venture towards the approaching cusp of the New Year, I am reminded why teams like the Tampa Bay Rays do not make their New Year’s resolutions known. Maybe it is that realistic fact that the tricky part of it all is sticking to the resolution once the Sun takes it apex on January 1st. Maybe it is hard for some within the franchise to admit that this franchise is another year “older or wiser”,that they are blinded by the shining clarity that the loftier the resolution, the tougher it is to hang onto as the year unfolds. It takes steely nerves to live by what you divulge and resolve past the first day.
The resolutions I am noting today are just observations, translations or possible seasonal revelations that the Rays organization could encompass in their bag of New Years resolutions. Each of these 3 resolves have a different demographic target that currently lies within the existing Rays Republic community. One resolve would pay a visual homage to our ever-expanding Rays past while another bring into the light a culinary segment that is exploding around Tampa Bay. The third is a possible revisiting of a past “perk” by the Rays Front Office that might seem minimal to some, but has left a small segment of the Rays Republic wondering what their overall value is to this franchise.
Let Them Eat:
The first resolve is for the possibility of the Rays and their concessionary vendor Centerplate to unify and take a bold step in the concession stand black hole and make one of their Trop locations ( Centerfield Street) become a “pop-up” stand. Using the current fad of “pop-up” restaurants, the Rays and Centerplate could have a different local eating establishment come in and provide a different food concept or gastronomical experience. Think Monstah Lobster during a Red Sox visit. Short-term catering options that could trend with visiting team’s locales or even bring a certain culinary air of the unknown Tampa Bay regional cultural nuances.
I am one of those people who miss the American Sunday Plate concession stand where Chef Enzo and his wife on Rightfield Street. I miss their signature homemade peach/apple cobbler, meatloaf, mac and cheese and that special finger-licking bucket of ribs. Why not see if some of the local Tampa Bay fringe eateries might want to venture into the Trop for a 10-game home stand catering venture with 4 signature dishes, a few sides and possibly even a devilish dessert. Centerplate do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the Everglades BBQ experience in 2011, but maybe I just hunger for more. This franchise has been very upfront in the past promoting their sponsor restaurants with vigor, but has it generated the capital for the sponsor that was envisioned? A short-term “pop-up” even for 10 games could get fans to sample the goods of a local eatery like the Z-Grille, and bring in fans post-game to again dine on those fares featured in the Trop (Dr. Pepper ribs).
This could open up a new customer base for these small restaurants, and maybe the Rays can incorporate another growing food fad into the mix. Maybe an olive branch could be extended to the budding food truck community ( Fire Monkeys) who are gaining a sizeable foothold in the Tampa Bay region and the food could be another way for the team to get those fringe Rays prospective fans into the stadium and let the way this team plays entice them to come back again and again. To me it sounds like a gastronomical “win-win”, but the potential fo even a slight attendance boost is a tasty side dish for me.
Perks Worth Revisiting:
My second resolve is for the Rays to take a firm stand and combat the mounting Season Ticket Holder apathy aliment that is gaining legs. It was not so long ago this segment of the Rays Republic had some special perks besides their seat discounts and gifts that made it worth the 81-game investment. Now it seem the trinket cupboard is bare and some long time Rays Republic Season Ticket members have decided to explore game packages and small allotments of tickets as opposed to footing a huge upfront financial investment into the team. The foundation is not crumbling, but it does have a few cracks.
I have heard from some Rays Fan Wall of Fame members who wish for the golden days (pre-Stu) when we got all of the promotional items so we did not have to fight the 5:10 masses to get our Rays trinkets. We even got the under-15 selections which went great for giving gifts to younger friend’s kids, planting a seed to them becoming future Rays fans. I used to get my promotional item when the gates opened, hold onto it and see if a young fan was sitting in my section who did not get an item and I would give it to them knowing I had one coming to me later in the season via the yearly Season Ticket perk. There is still one mid-season event I wish the team would bring back again. I loved the All-Star Celebration parties held on the turf with food, games and the All-Star game telecast on the big screen as we all lounged on the field either on blankets or chairs eating take-out food. bought beverages or provided eats and just having that special Rays All-Star united experience.
It was a great event held before the era of Stu back on July 12,2005 and July 11, 2006. This is one of the yearly Rays events I have missed the most, more for the chance to mingle with Rays fans than for the simple fact of sitting down in Centerfield and looking upwards to the Teflon roof of the Trop. I still have vivid images in my mind of the phrases on those Rays invites stating: “You are our Most Valuable Player” (2005) or “Season Ticket Holders will take over the Trop!” (2006) These events used to make me feel like a small important cog of the Rays machine. Now I feel more like replaceable oil that can be changed at a moment’s notice.
Shining Examples of the “Rays Way”:
The third resolve could easily be done. It just takes a solid decision and possibly a can of paint and a brave maintenance man. I went to Dallas for the Super Bowl a few years ago and had my breath taken away when I witnessed the Cowboys Ring of Honor in person. Not only does it convey the importance of that player in the team history, but it symbolized a team and fan’s love and ultimate respect for their former heroes and role models from the gridiron. I think the Rays need just that same symbolic example of honoring their past now that we are entering our 15th season.
It could be included on the facade of the 200 or Club Level of seating starting outward on either side of the current Press Box locations. There is more than enough space for future additions as the list grows towards the corners, plus even if the Rays do finally commit to a new home, it can be incorporated into the plans and just be re-instituted in the new venue. Without a shadow of doubt the Rays “Yoda”, Don Zimmer has to be the first name etched in this collection of great Rays. Some might say it should be Wade Boggs or even Fred McGriff who grace the honorary ring first, but to me Zim has all the prototypical Rays qualities you want both from a on-the-field, and in-the-seats standpoint. Top to bottom he is a Tampa Bay resident, a role model and a wealth of baseball stories, knowledge and experience worth of such an honor.
Well, these are my 3 possible 2012 resolves for the Rays as the New Year beams brighter upon the horizon. Some will say I should have addressed the Rays impending on-the-field issues and left these sleeping dogs lie, but I take great pride in my past, present and future dealings with this great franchise and think that sometimes things need to be instituted, re-invented or brought back to life to make being a member of the Rays Republic special again. These 3 resolves can be achieved, they can be enacted and they can be turning point to regaining some of the lost beams of light that have escaped the brilliance of the Rays Republic.
In advance, I wish all my loyal readers and those who stumble upon my writs a grand celebration tonight on this New Year’s Eve. I also wish you safety and the courage of resolve in seeing your own personal resolutions blossom into beautiful bouquet of obtainable goals and life aspirations.
HAPPY NEW YEARS from Rays Renegade
On the eve of the day all of us collectively gather together and pronounce our blessing and “thanks” for all the bounty and goodness life has exposed to us in our past year. Like so many other families around this Nation and Tampa Bay, my parents kept that honored tradition of everyone gathered at the table giving “thanks” a loud for the blessing and good things that had transpired over those last 365 days.
I loved those moments, but as the Rays begin to venture into their 15th year of baseball in the major leagues, I have some unfinished business. People and events that warrant not only a “ shout out”, but a significant remembrance or high-5 at this time we want to express ourselves. So, hang on, this list might be a long one.
THANK YOU to the cities of Seattle, Oakland, Chicago, San Francisco and even the Minneapolis/St Paul Minnesota community that were stepping-stones as the eventual Tampa Bay expansion franchise made it path through the MLB minefields. These MLB teams all brought bits and pieces of themselves to the table as the Rays fashioned their early patchwork franchise.
THANK YOU to our first owner Vince Namoli and his crew who fought the tides and battles early on in this franchise, and still do. Our Captain at the helm since 2007, Stuart Sternberg who has secured a new path, a new identity and a new reason to rejoice being a member of the Rays Republic crew.
THANK YOU to Wilson Alvarez for that first delivery to the plate on March 31, 1998. It completed the completed the mission and set into motion that events that are still unfolding, and will for a long, long time.
THANK YOU to players like Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, and St. Pete natives Casey Kotchman and Doug Waechter who came “home” to play in the Rays colors for Tampa Bay. Each of you have left footprints in the Rays historical sands that will stand the tests of time, and always be some of our fondest memories
THANK YOU to my friends within the Rays 4th Floor from BK to DJ Kitty’s master. Each of your actions have brought together different scenarios and changes to the Rays experience from the concerts, promotional goodies to the foundations of fan-based gatherings like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”.
THANK YOU to the men who have assembled in the Rays Bullpen over the past 14 seasons who have sat, spat and even chattered with me on their journey’s to and from the Rays “second Clubhouse” under the Rays Rightfield stands. From the gum-tossing and comedic activities of Andy Sonnanstine, to the Elvis-inspired guitar styling of Rusty Meacham, I am thankful for those moments.
THANK YOU to guys like Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland and his crew who let me see things behind-the scenes as their Pepsi vendor for years. Getting to see the Rays Clubhouse as it transformed, and even letting me take a piece of it home forever.
THANK YOU to the assembled hundreds who have graced the Rays roster sporting numbers from 1 (Joey Gathright, Akinori Iwamura, Miguel Cairo, Rey Sanchez, Antonio Perez, Sean Rodriguez) to 98 (Jae Seo) for your spent energies, blood and even heartaches as this franchise went through their growing pains and ultimate defeats and celebrations. I consider you all friends for life.
THANK YOU to the fans I have met, entertained and even fought verbally with our these years. Your opinions, insights and even diverse comments have molded these posts and even gave me more than a dozen reasons to question my own logic. From Jeff McKinney, Pat and Christine Manfredo to George, Charlie and the crew up in the 300′s, if we could bottle your optimism and energy for this team, we could light up the Tampa Bay region indefinitely.
THANK YOU to the 2008 Rays team who let me grace a moment within a team photo etching myself permanently into the fabric of the greatest Rays team to date. Still hard to imagine that the Rays, in their rookie attempt in the post season fought so hard and valiantly had an element like rain play such a critical role in their first World Series.
THANK YOU to the Rays scout and player development people like Mitch Lukevics, RJ Harrison who have been linchpin in the development of so many of the Rays past, present and future stars. Their devotion and work ethic knows no bounds, and their tireless emphasis on quality has made the Rays farm system a model of player development efficiency.
HANK YOU to the people of Tampa Bay no matter if you are a long-time Season Ticket holder or someone who graces the stands only a handful of games a season. Your support is needed and appreciated from those among you in the stands, on the field and assisting you with your baseball experience. The lifeblood of this team is the interaction and reaction of the community, and our return to future games.
Giving “thanks” at this time of the year for things outside of Tropicana Field are also very important. So my last THANK YOU has to go out to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his cooking crew of Rays Coaches, Rays staff and employees who have yearly venture out into the Tampa Bay region for Maddon’s annual “Thanks-Mas” celebration.
But I would be remiss if I did not make one more “THANK YOU”. I have to also make a huge and humble shout out to you, the readers of this blog. Since our change over in May 2011, so many of you have stayed the course and returned while others have gone away or have not returned. I “THANK” each and every one of you reading this right now for your support, your time and your comments that have made my writing better since 2007.
But then again, you can never hear the words “Thank You” enough these days.
Got to admit to all of the Rays Republic, in the beginning I had a few doubts and even reservations about a Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez duo signing. Maybe it was the aspect that they have been associated with the 2004 Red Sox “Cast of Idiots“, or maybe I was afraid they might not be able to “Cowboy Up!” one last time.
After witnessing the magic and pure adrenaline rush permeating through that Tampa Bay Rays Press Conference media room, my doubts and worry suddenly melted off like Ramirez’s pounds during his workouts in Arizona. From the moment their agent Scott Boras led them into the room until Rays Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn yelled “Is that all?” This was a glorious ride to see in person.
I was not suppose to be in this room nestled near the darkness with my little camera, but the entire Rays office was poised at noon today to see the next chapter unfold and I tagged along for the ride. From the media buzz to the clicking of camera’s and live video feed both locally and from MLB, this quickly became a love fest, not just for Tampa Bay, but for the two men seated in the middle of the large table.
Instantly you knew both guys were on the same page, had the same intentions and wanted to the guys to help usher in a repeat American League East title. Like Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein so eloquently said recently, “The demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated.” I am not climbing the flagpole just yet, or marching fully to that beat of triumph again, but this duo instantly make me hunger for that chance.
Both said the right things too. Ramirez flexed his right arm to show his muscle when asked if he was “fit” ,and Damon said insistently this was not the “last chapter” of his baseball career. Instantly the void that grew immense when former clubhouse guru Carlos Pena vacated for Chi-town became smaller. Suddenly I could see the Rays clubhouse leader ship not come from one speaker, but act in stereo with their actions and observations going to make this team competitive every game.
Suddenly I remembered why I hated these two so much. Their competitive nature just seems to ooze from their confidence levels, and that used to scare the death out of me. But there were comments from both that instantly brought me back to why they were signed, Damon called the Rays his “Dream Team” or Ramirez saying while putting on his number 24 Rays jersey that he ” looks good in white“.
Integrity, confidence and ability all joined hands in that room today. Manny was his usual joking self, but did not shy away from questions on if “Manny might be Manny” in Tampa Bay, but a guy who has hit almost .300 lifetime in this dome knows what is expected of him. Possibly Manny even threw out a nugget for the Rays to consider in 2011 that he thinks he can play “five more years”. Not making any predictions, but if Manny is right he has already made his money….maybe a Tampa Bay discount knowing this team can compete might be in the future.
The love fest we saw between these two today was incredible. You can tell they are more than happy to be playing with each other again, and the respect level is very high between them. Several times during the Press Conference I expected both to rise and do an Ari Gold (Entourage) “hug out“. Not since Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs and HOF hopeful Fred McGriff put on a Rays uniform have I been excited about such a veteran duo. Some in the assembled crowd made predictions of a possible 70 Home Runs between the pair while other were optimistic of a great meshing of the duo with the young Rays corps.I left that room running for my laptop in the car wanting to write this. Eager to let this feeling flow from me today of this incredible moment. Some say defining moments in a franchise’s history never reveal themselves until later, but today the moment just felt perfectly right for a half hour. So the signings are official, the jerseys have pressed their backs for the first time and the media got to shake their verbal hands with Damon and Ramirez. For some reason the comment from Ramirez to Damon of “You play 100 games, I’ll play 62” (referring to LF) is still ringing in my ears…in a good way.
I snuck in to see this magical moment mush like a kid who sneaks under the canvas at the circus. I expected to see a sideshow event. Once that propped both of them up in a definite light. What I got was two men who had extreme confidence and respect for each other pass compliment after compliment not just to themselves, but to the young team they will embrace in 2011.
I really do hope that Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and the rest of the Rays budding hitter pick the brains of these two baseball icons. I hope the competitive nature and confidence level showed by Damon and Ramirez today fills that Rays Spring Training clubhouse. But most of all I am just glad I got to see the magic happen….firsthand.
I am not a voting member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Nor do I profess or pretend to be the “almighty and all seeing” eyes of the game, but I can bet the farm easily today that there will be a controversy extended at 1 pm when the official Inductees are announced for this year’s class for Induction this Summer to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Some may say I am posting this at 11:49 am because I know something, but I do not. I am instead wondering just like the rest of you who will join former Philadelphia Phillies writer Bill Conlin who was announced in early December as the J G Taylor Spinks Award winner in the BBWAA first ballot of the year. And within the next hour or so countless other BBWAA members and media savvy folks will be typing away either giving you their 2011 ballot for discussion, or writing prose in defense of them not submitting a certain name or the reasons why they were left off their ballot.
This year there are 14 carry-overs from the potential HOF nominating class of 2010 including two former players who just missed the Hall threshold with less than 75% of the BBWAA votes in 2009. Former slugger and ex-Tampa Bay Rays Second Baseman Roberto Alomar just missed his election in his first year of eligibility after receiving 73.7 percent of the vote. He was joined in that “just missed by a hair” club for men with fellow nominee Bert Blyleven (74.2 %) who missed a 2009 HOF election by a paltry.8 percent of the vote.
Here is the entire list of eligible former MLB players who comprised the voting community that the BBWAA members had to choose from in 2010 (anyone receiving votes in 2009):
Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Harold Baines (6.1%), Bert Blyleven (74.2%), Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Barry Larkin (51.6%), Al Leiter, Edgar Martinez (36.2%), Don Mattingly (16.1%), Mark McGuire (23.7%), Raul Mondesi, Jack Morris (52.3%), Dale Murphy (11.7%), John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Dave Parker (15.2%), Tim Raines (30.4%), Kirk Rueter, Benito Santiago, Lee Smith (47.3%), B J Surhoff, Alan Trammel (22.4%) and Larry Walker.
Also under consideration are 4 former Tampa Bay Rays, which include 2 former nominees Roberto Alomar (73.7%) and Fred McGriff (21.5%). The other two are first time nominees this year former Rays First Baseman Tino Martinez and Catcher Charles Johnson.
The list is an impressive selection that includes 2 former AL MVPS, 2 former AL MVPs, 2 Rookie of the Year winners, plus the MLB All Time pinch hit leader and a member of the exclusive 3,000 hit and 500 Home Run fraternity. With these 19 names it was hard to even pick a possible 10 that I would list on my own BBWAA ballot if I ever got a lucky break, but there are also a few that I will never vote for, and maybe that list should be easier for me to compile here. But instead of dragging someone’s MLB career through the mud for my own dislike of them personally, maybe I will just list my 10 personal nominees.
1. Edgar Martinez. I always loved the way the former Mariner always seemed to take the game and molded it into his own style. He is the first HOF nominee who can be mostly classified as a Designated Hitter, and his tenure on this list before Induction might be a testament to the struggles other DH’s will have in the future. But he has been class from the get-go to me, and has a sure fire check next to his name from me.
2. Roberto Alomar. I might not like the way the former Ray left the team before the season, but I can not detest him enough to leave him off the list because of the way he controlled and provided more than a book load of awesome moments both at the plate and turning the pivot in his career. Some might say his exclusion in 2009 might have been a nudge for his spitting incident, but the former Jays/O’s player has more problems currently in Tampa Bay where his wife is claiming some outrageous behavior that makes his spitting seem tame. But based on his skill and grace on the field….He get a head nod and a “sure thing” check mark.
3. Bert Blyleven. Here is another head scratcher for me from the 2009 HOF results. I thought the Manager of the Netherlands WBC squad was more than deserving, but I think 2010 is the year the former Twin hurler gets to be greeted by his already inducted peers on the steps of Cooperstown. He is one of my two sure thing picks.
4. Fred McGriff. What can I say about the former Rays 1B and Special Advisor. When you get a moniker like “Crimedog”, you know he took a bite out of someone. In this case it was 200 Home Runs in each MLB League. But some say his struggle to get to 500 HR might be his downfall. But this character of great integrity and grace deserves a spot in the hallowed halls, even if he will not bear wearing a Rays capo.
5. Don Mattingly. This is the first time I have included “Donny Baseball” on my personal HOF wish list. More and more I have come to admire and respect the former pinstripe for what he did for his city, his team and the accolades he achieved. Now that he is finally getting the reins of a MLB team, hopefully this will be the first of two possible inductions, one as a player, and the second as a MLB Manager.
6. Tim Raines. I never got to see Raines stretch one out for extra bases or see him deliver a pinch hit that produced a walk-off win or moment. And maybe I am bitter about that. But in reality it is the type of player that Raines was, and the fear he instilled in his competition after a long career manning the outfields that should get his name called for Cooperstown. Hopefully he is not the last former Expos to get a chance to grace the Hall of Fame.
7. Dale Murphy. Here is a guy I got to see a lot in regional broadcasts of baseball games since the state of Florida got a lot of Braves games in his heydays. I respect the way he took this team on his back for so many years and lead by example and power to show some of us how the game should be played. The ATL would have been a totally different MLB town if not for the likes of Murphy stroking those long balls out of Turner Field. His HOF speech might be sponsored by TBS, which during his induction would mean, The Best Story”.
8. Jeff Bagwell. I do not know how this ballot could not include Bagwell. Has it really been 5 years since he last strapped on a pair of cleats? I still have that moment in my mind in the Astros dugout when my buddy Brandon Backe came off the mound during a 1-hit miracle in the World Series and “Bags” pumping Brandon up for the next inning with talks on the bench. He could make it on inspiration alone, but his talent will show he is Hall worthy (possibly 2011).
9. Mark McGuire. I am on the fence some days as to the effect that PED’s had on the game. But back in his era, Andro was not a condemned products until it was seen in a photo in McGuire’s locker and then investigated. For that I can not keep him off the HOF ballot, but his recent statements and also his willingness come back back and give of himself as a St. Louis Cardinals Coach speaks volume to the character underneath “Big Macs” now smaller pecs.
10. Shoeless Joe Jackson. I know this is just a personal statement, but Jackson ceased to be a “person” long ago and in it, his MLB restriction should have been lifted. How can the guy Babe Ruth copied his swing from not be HOF worthy. He was a Georgia farm boy who could not write with clarity and possibly buckled to the pressures of his White Sox teammates in the World Series scandal. Until the day I also cease to exist, I will bang the drum the Jackson deserves to be in the Hall of Fame as much as 50% of the guy already deserving of the bronze plague.
Only one guy is on my black list of not getting a vote ever on my HOF ballot. Rafael Palmiero to me boldfaced lied to our collective faces, and Congress, then got caught and suddenly was as silent as a clam. I personally have a problem with someone who put out a mighty persona only to have it crumble down like a house of cheap cards. If he had not produced a positive drug test, then he might have been one of my favorites on this ballot for consideration. But he has tarnished the game in my mind, and for that you get a thumbs down for eternity. If he ever does get inducted, I will gladly turn my back to the screen during you induction, but that is the Renegade way.
Hope you enjoyed reading my little muses on the Hall of Fame ballot I would have submitted if given the chance. Some days I wish there was a few fans votes included into the actual Hall of Fame voting academy, but then someone would be writing from field level instead of the high palace that is the press box.
The Red Sox series did a few things for the Tampa Bay Rays. Not only did it create a scenario where the Red Sox would have to go 23-8 to even catch the Rays now, it also brought about some personal celebrations within the Rays clubhouse. Some of these moments show the longevity, commitment and great feats accomplished by a few of our favorite Rays. But it also silently rewarded a guy who has been viewed as a liability for the wrong reasons.
It was great to see James Shields win his third game in a row after getting demolished in Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays. Especially enlightening was the way Carl Crawford still seems so humble as his name is written next to some of the true icons of the game and still he has that “aw shucks” mannerism to him. But hidden behind all of this was the celebration of the big “10″. Former Rays DH Pat Burrell hit this lofty plateau on my birthday (ironically).
Most Rays Republic members have mixed emotions about Gabe Kapler being on this Rays squad. Some point to his ability to play the outfield with zest and gumption as a perfect model of the consummate professional baseball player. Others nag and argue about his diminishing skills at the plate and his usefulness to this Rays squad has passed him by. I am centered in both camps a bit knowing that 10 years of playing in this league can take a lot out of you, but Kapler is a player that remains “old school” in hustle and demeanor, and that never gets old. But even as the team brought in a chocolate cheesecake to commemorate the moment.
But a confectionary treat should also be brought in for Rays starter James Shields who got to the top of the Rays pitching mountain with his 56th career Rays victory in his 145th career start. It has been classic Shields over the last two weeks after his out of character homer fest in Toronto, and that bodes well for the Rays. Not only has Shields turns his game around, but he is also closing in on a dubious Rays seasonal record. Shields currently has 29 Home Runs allowed, which is tops in the American League, and that total is within 3 of the Rays club record of 32 Home Runs allowed by Tanyon Sturtze back in 2002.
Even with a 6-2 record now over his last 8 starts, Shields has also shown a bit of his advanced age (28) this year on the mound, but his 13-11 record is very misleading. He has thrown 10 strikeouts in 5 games this season, and also was on the other end of the Dallas Braden Perfect Game against the Rays. As the cocky veteran on the Rays staff this year, Shields has also established his legacy here in Tampa Bay by finally rising to the top. But another Rays has been on top for quite a while, and we might be seeing the twilight of his Rays adventure.
There is no denying that Carl Crawford is a humble and timid person off the field. The guy is soft-spoken and polite to the end. So when he hit his 100th Home Run last night to push himself past Fred McGriff and into the third spot in the Rays all time Home Run list, you knew he would not want a big thing made out if the event. And the same thing happened twice this year as Crawford jumped over the 400 stolen bases mark, or even hit his 100th triple. This same guy will probably be the first player to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame wearing a Rays cap ( hopefully an old 2002 model ) and you would think he was only selected as Employee of the Month at your local Publix.
But that is what you love about C C, that he is caught up in the numbers or the historical significance of it all right now. Crawford is definitely the type of guy who will reflect on it after his job is done maybe this off season on the accomplishments and events that have transpired over his Rays career with admiration, but the whole enchilada has not hit him yet. The iconic baseball names like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Lou Brock, Frankie Frisch, Kenny Lofton, Paul Molitor and Tim Raines, who pushed beyond that 100 HR,100 triples and 400 stolen base mark like Crawford also had that humble gene close in their minds and heart.
People will remark soon about this team as winners. They will embrace them again as playoff contenders, but one of the greatest things to me about this Rays team is the way each player melts into the whole stew of doping it the “Rays Way”. You have a wily veteran (Kapler) who might be seeing the sunset of his professional career hit a high water mark of 10 years of MLB Service while watching the kids win nightly. You have a pitcher young in age, but older in his leadership ability and effort (Shields) while guiding this team again towards the path of remembrance.
And then you have the still swift feet of Crawford, who might soon find these same feet walking out of his Rays clubhouse for the last time after their playoff run. Each celebrating a different special moment this season, but all collectively staying true to the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. Last night’s series victory over the Red Sox might be a special moment in the melting pot of the 2010 Rays, but within that cauldron of bubbling goodness is the feats of Kapler, Crawford and Shields each going in their own singular directions, but within the path of the Rays destiny.
Has it really been 2,000 Tampa Bay Rays game? Seriously, it seems like just a few brief moments ago that I witnessed the Rays first pitch thrown by starter Wilson Alvarez past Detroit Tigers lead-off man Brian Hunter to produce the first game photo opportunity for Rays fans. How long ago does that March 31,1998 5:08 pm start seems today now that it has been revealed that we (the Rays) have played 2,000 contests against some of the best who have ever played this great game of baseball. I really doesn’t seem all that long to me, but then again it has been a bumpy ride at time over the last 12 ½ Rays seasons.
I would be totally absentminded if I did not to note the great baseball dignitaries that were on hand to throw out First Pitches prior to Alvarez’s low and outside first Rays MLB offering. Baseball Hall of Fame members Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin and Tampa’s own Al Lopez were on hand to celebrate the beginning of regular season baseball in the Tampa Bay area. Even though the Rays did begin their history with a loss to the Tigers that night, every one of their 1,136 losses still cause the same aches and pains in my heart as they did in 1998. Even if the Rays record from 1998-2007 (645-972), their first 10 years of existence is the worst MLB club mark over that 10 year period in the majors, their current win-loss record since that time has been inspirational and shows the solid growth of the franchise.
From 2008-2010, the Rays have the fourth best record in the Major Leagues providing a 220-164 mark and that record growing more impressive with every game.1998 seems so long ago now, but the memories I have witnessed sitting in my Rightfield corner seat has been amazing over that 2,000 game journey. I still remember during the last home game during the 2001 season, when Rays pitcher Brain Rekar sat with me and a few friends in the Bullpen Café during the ninth inning, just shooting the breeze during his last day as a Ray. I still have the hat he gave me that afternoon with the handwritten NYPD FDNY symbols in the brim of the hat honoring the men lost during 9-11.
Even thinking of that past moment has the memories suddenly began to flow like a waterfall, remembering moment after moment both at home and when I took my fandom on the road, like my first experience with the “rain delay” aspect of the game while in Cleveland on May 14,2004. Or hitting Safeco Field for the first time in years and feeling that wind gush through the stadium and wishing for my Rays warm-up jacket. Home or away, the Rays expansive memories keep piling up and for some odd reason, the stories seem to get longer now.
But the aspect of this team finally hurdling that 2,000 game plateau is simply amazing to me. A quick thought to the talent that have pulled on a Rays uniform over that time period, from Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez, Bubba Trammel, Roberto Hernandez, Toby Hall, Jonny Gomes, Ozzie Guillen, Randy Winn, and hundreds of other great ballplayers who made Rays fans laugh, cry and cheer with the wins and losses. And the tears of sadness we expressed when former Rays players Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle were taken away too early in their lives. Experiencing not once, but twice as Rays fans grimaced and reacted to the horror of starter Tony Saunder’s breaking his left forearm in front of the home crowds.
The countless snippets of chatter and conversation over that 2,000 game span with an army of former and current Rays Bullpen members about important things like the birth of a child, or just congratulating a Rays player after a great outing. This blog is too small to even attempt to relay and include the massive amount of memories associated with those first 2,000 events. I truly hope I am physically around to celebrate the 4,000th, and even 5,000th Rays game, but we know that the game is immortal, while we are skin and bones, and nothing is guaranteed past 30-90 days anymore. The Rays memories formed by myself and the rest of the Rays Republic within the Trop could fill up a computer’s memory banks within nanoseconds.
Rays fans have seen odd and confusing moments like the odd multi-million dollar contracts of Rays (then) prospects Matt White and Bobby Seay, even before they threw their first professional pitch for the organization. Or the injury and contract craziness of Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman that still baffle the mind. But there have also been great Rays player finds like Jorge Cantu, Travis Phelps, Dan Wheeler and even the Bullpen reinvention of J P Howell that saved his MLB career. But we can not neglect the shock and horrors of Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla and their “Hit Show” debacle that produced more ammunition to make the Rays a laughing stock team, than as a force to be reckoned with on the Trop’s diamond.
The ups and downs of this franchise have been both extreme and subtle at the same time. No one other than Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir predicted the magic that would ultimately unfolded in 2008. Kazmir made an honest comment that the Rays would make the Playoffs during a 2008 Spring Training interview. Most in the assembled media circle chuckled and pushed the comment as bravado and not a reality at the moment. But Kazmir’s brave comment that day turned into one of the Rays greatest moments as we saw the team raising of that banner to the rafter of Tropicana Field proclaiming the Rays the 2008 American League Champions.
We have seen former MLB greats like pitchers Hideo Nomo (2005), John Rocker (2003), Bobby Witt (1999), Norm Charlton (1999) and current Yankee Pitching Coach Dave Eiland (1998-2000) take the mound for the Rays. We have also watched the batting exploits of guys like Greg Vaughn (2000-2002), Julio Franco (1999), Travis Lee (2003, 2005-2006) and Aubrey Huff (2000-2006) taking their shots at the outfield seats surrounding the Trop. Highs and lows, like the tidal pools have plagued this franchise until in 2008, when it seemed the proverbial ship seemed to be destined for more smooth sailing than rough weather.
Spectacular catches and impossible throws have begun to become routine and common place to the Rays faithful. Walk-offs, stealing home for the lead, and putting down that elusive bunt to score or advance the runners were past and future hallmarks of these Rays. And the history grows again in a few hours.
Each of us had a unique perspective or thought process in remembering and reliving these great moments of Rays history. Not one of us sees any one action the same, or reacts with the same emotion on any given aspect of the game as it unfolds in front of us. But there is one general emotion and feeling that is felt by all of us daily about this Rays team, from that first moment on March 31,1998 to tonight’s contest. We are proud to be fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, and that pride shows on every one of our faces as we begin our trek through the next 2,000 Rays games…..Play Ball!