Results tagged ‘ Fred McGriff ’
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!
Tampa Bay’s Sports Talk Radio formats are in the same old as most of those encircling the MLB communities. You got your syndicated Sports shows that pop on for hours in the late morning and early afternoon on various spots on the FM dial like the “Mike and Mike Show” or the obnoxious little troll on the “Jim Rohme Show”.
Then around the time the clock strike 3, you get some of the localized radio instigators and rough-talkers that tend to hit the air waves running with a negative vibe, or venom in their voice attacking instead of informing people. Most of the Tampa Bay Talk Radio hosts have a good center of mediation and do not try and throw the shock value into their daily programming.
And with the Tampa Bay Rays entering their third losing game in a row earlier this work week, the local Talk Radio phone lines were buzzing and full of anti-Maddon, anti-Rays chatter surrounded by a cloud of negativity that has not been seen here since Hal McRae jogged around Tropicana Field. Entering this past weekend, the Rays had gone 3-0 to begin their 9-game road journey by sweeping the Seattle Mariners for only the second time in franchise history, but instantly, the positive Kumbaya community feeling seemed to begin crumbling as soon as the team lost on Monday night.
We heard on the Rays Radio Network, a rejuvenated Ben Sheets take the Rays down hard on Saturday afternoon to start the Rays loss avalanche, then witnessed on the Rays Television Network the 19th Perfect Game in MLB history by leftie Dallas Braden who personally handed the Rays their first road series loss of the 2010 season. Then immediately, the Rays stumbled out of the gate against the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim and lost a critical extra inning affair to start their 3-game losing stint in Anaheim, where losses have always been a premium.
At that moment, I think the edge of panic and uncertainty on this team’s foundation scared some of the uninformed members of the Rays Republic, and instant shock waves were developed when radio hosts tossed out a bevy of negativity gernades.
The Rays were a collective 22-9 before they tasted the sweet nectar of success again on Tuesday and Wednesday night. But even with one of the best starts in Rays franchise history, and one of the best records ever after only 33 games, the approaching poison was overflowing on the radio waves about the Rays team philosophy and hitting consistency. And a lot of the befuddled radio muses were about things that were not accurate, but were the fables of rambling madmen bent on destroying instead of building up the localities hopes of series resurgence to end this road trip on a high note.
It verged on throwing chum into the waters of Tampa Bay to see what would surface and attack it next.The Tampa Bay Talk Radio call-in sharks instantly smelled fresh blood, and their sense of common reasoning and comments quickly evolved into a frenzy feeding off each others negativity and constant bites and ill-advised snippets were made towards the team. I have been a part of this back and forth bantering by Rays fans in the past, both on the air waves and standing in lines at the stadium and sometimes I have gotten heated by the ignorance of people who do not seem to truly understand, or want to be told the truth.
But this time I was not going to digress to their lowly depths. I did not want to take a step backwards and give the rebel rouser’s anything to sink their nasty teeth into, or let them try and prey on another soul who still believes and sees positive signs on the horizon. Rays fans sometimes seem to forget just how far this Rays franchise had launched forward just in the past three short years. From the Rays uniform and logo change, to a true validation of character and positive energy in the clubhouse that makes players anxious to come to the ballpark.
Ask any of the ex-Rays from the past like Aubrey Huff, Fred McGriff or even Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs if they felt this type of leadership and commitment before in their Rays days. I would bet the farm they will emphatically tell you it is miles above the tension and the turmoil they encountered while wearing their Rays gear. This team is for real and is solidly got their feet on the ground and not stuck in the quicksand of the past.
One stumble on the road and this Tampa Bay region is already seeking a scapegoat or martyr to throw on the bonfires or burn in effigy. That to me is the fault of the Talk Radio hosts who have let the rousing get all consuming before they try to steer the madness a certain direction. I always thought it was the role of the radio host to mediate the approaching storm of alienating opinions by cultivating it with positive affirmations to show an alternative view instead of stoking the fires with kerosene? But then again, I might be old fashioned and not into the regiment of shock jock mentalities or misguided angst.
But it was hard for me here. I have been known to not back down from a fight or a argument, but this recent mob mentality was a bit too extreme for me. And even if a random Rays fan tried to inject their positive spin on the issue and got a brief moment to speak, he was quickly consumed and destroyed by the masses with their nasty wave of opinions that seemed to sting the caller like a hundred wasps attacking an intruder.
Some of the negative Nellie’s were throwing logic out the window by expressing their opinions like they are spun off golden rays, but forgetful that underneath was a stench and a rotting decay of ignorance and annoyance. And there were a few radio hosts more than eager to let the bloodletting commence in hopes that ratings would take upwards trends, boosted by the loud and proud head-bobbing brood that did not even think of researching for the truth before spewing their carnage onto the radio waves.
How could they just throw away the truth of the Rays historic April 2010 which is not more than a year removed from one of their worst starting points (9-14 in 2009) in club’s history is beyond me. But it is the job of the radio host to move the conversation towards fertile grounds and not fester into the battlefields of discontent or dismay, unless that is their intention. So should we be actually attacking or using subterfuge towards the negative Talk Radio hosts, or just take it on the chin knowing that one day their listeners will awaken to see their motives and move on down the radio to another more rewarding and charismatic voice.
With their victory on Wednesday evening, the Rays posted another win and boosted this road trip record to 6-3. More than respectable considering the past debacles and pratfalls that usually encounter the team on a jaunt into the West Coast Major League Baseball regions. A 6-3 mark is winning over 2/3rds of their games, which for most teams is a beautiful success, and something to build on coming into a small 5-game home stand. But the Rays snarling mob have gotten used to winning after that almost perfect 9-1 road trip to start the season and took that past record as their focal point instead of the fact we still lead our American League East division.
The Rays organization has built a winning tradition here that did not have a footing before 2007 in both the record and the clubhouse. Come heck or high water, this region should embrace and rejoice in the Rays triumphs and forgive the minor setbacks and focus again on the long term goal…Playoffs and beyond. I can tell you I personally do not listen to Talk Radio before heading to a Rays game. I want to be filled with positive thoughts and energies before stepping within the confines of Tropicana Field. But I do partake in the Rays post-game show and enjoy the recaps and most of the banter expressed by the Rays fans on the broadcast.
But every once in a while, a “Negative Nellie” get through to Rays Radio host Rich Herrera and he lets them get out their poison before he tries to again fill them with the positives and show them alternative views and thoughts about the same issue they just vented. And that is a firm example of a Talk Radio host being the skipper of the radio show and steering it off the rocks and sandbars to provide positive affirmation not matter if we win or lose the contest.
But it did also had a bit of an eerie feel to the moment as it seems like such a long period since we saw Baldelli roaming the outfields at Tropicana Field. But there he stood this morning just smiling away with great opportunities in front of him and a chance to get healthy and help his former team’s next generation..
But even with a..that smile on his face, and his constantly shaking hands with Rays players who also gathered under that awning to see him and wait out this rain shower, Baldelli seemed to have that energized look on his face where he is totally excited to again be with this franchise, and around the game of baseball this season. I shouted over to Baldelli and he waved and then I asked him what number he planned to wear during Spring Training?
Baldelli just smiled and nodded his head and told me “we will all see soon enough”. A bit bummed, but then again, he has only been here a few hours and maybe Rays Equipment Manager Chris Westmoreland did not have his jersey done yet. I am guessing Baldelli will sport number 55 this Spring, since no one else in Rays Major League camp has that number, and it is twice as lucky as his old number 5 currently sitting on Rays DH Pat Burrell’s back.
But Baldelli was not just standing there waiting for the rain to stop so he could compete again for an outfield slot with the team, or even a part-time Designated Hitter spot, Baldelli accepted a chance today to come back onto the Rays staff as a Special Assistant with the team, and will be assigned to the Rays minor league camp and serve as an instructor during the rest of this year’s Spring Training. He will concentrate his efforts as a roving instructor focusing on base running and outfield play with budding minor league players like Desmond Jennings and 2009 Draftee Todd Glaesmann.
Having someone of Baldelli’s caliber and skills in this year’s minor league camp will be great for a top tier prospect like Jennings so that he has a sounding board with a former top tier prospect who made that quick transition to the Major League level.And the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman jumped at this great opportunity of having an MLB-caliber player like Baldelli to come into the start of the Rays minor league camp to advise and help mentor the next generation of Rays major league ready players. Plus the ” instructor” situation also helps Baldelli by supplying professional level baseball facilities and medical attention as he rehabs from a unspecified shoulder injury Baldelli endured during his 2009 season when he played sparingly with American League East rival, Boston.
And there were a few Rays fans out in the rain with me today wondering why the Rays were civil and open to bringing Baldelli back into the Rays fold after he played for our “arch enemy” last season. And the answer is really quite simple. This situation helps both parties involved, plus it gives Baldelli a chance to realistically see if he might also be open to taking the same Coaching path of former Rays slugger Jared Sandberg and move into the coaching profession after his playing career.
It also is a perfect “win-win” situation for Baldelli as able to provide certain nuances of the game to the Rays developing players, plus he will be able to rehabilitate his shoulder injury with a Rays medical staff that already knows his past injuries and medical history, and could be beneficial in providing top notch rehabilitation care and treatments while Baldelli also works with the Rays minor leaguers and eventually works out on his own to see if playing again is in his future. But this is also a way for Baldelli to keep his head in the game of baseball and stay mentally ready to play too.
Think about it for a second here, you are a Major League baseball player and you suffered through months of pain and anguish to find yourself unwanted by your 2009 team and a free agent seeking a shot to compete somewhere, but people know of your shoulder woes, and pass you by, or tell you to get healthy and then give them a call. Baldelli is in that middle “no-man’s land” zone right now between playing, or maybe having to make a difficult career choice in the near future to pursue coaching full-time and mentoring future ballplayers, or getting the chance to regain yourself and your baseball career. How could you not see this opportunity as a positive step to see what you could or maybe pursue after your playing days are over, but also still have your options open to continue with the game.
And the Rays have always been open to inviting former Rays players to work with their teams a ample chance to come back into the Rays organization and be a authority figure, or sports mentor to work with other Rays prospects to hone their craft and make them the best they can be in their baseball maturation process. Baldelli is not the first former Rays player to come back to his former club and provide instruction and mentor players. Ex-Ray and current Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs came back to the Rays in 2001 and served one season as their Hitting Coach before leaving the team.
Dave Martinez, who got the first hit in Rays history came back several years ago as an outfield instructor and is now sitting every game besides Rays Manager Joe Maddon as his Rays Bench Coach.And who can forget that 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame nominee Fred McGriff has spent several Rays Spring Trainings working as a Special Advisor to the Rays. Add on that scenario of the consistent growth within the Rays Coaching ranks of Sandberg through the Rays system from his first stint with short-season Princeton to his current post as Manager of the Hudson Valley Renegades for the2010 season.
And Sandberg might just be another budding former Rays player turned manager to some day patrol the benches at the Major League level within a few years. This Rays Front Office has always been open to hiring former players who understand the Rays system, and also adhere to their team’s mantra. And bringing back Baldelli right now just seems perfectly right to me.
Having Baldelli working out with the next generation of Upton’s, Crawford’s and maybe even another Baldelli just shows his passion and his drive for the little things about playing this game at it’s top level. And it is important to note here that Baldelli is not “retired”, but basically weighing his options and between jobs. Baldelli might have to take a step back like ex-Rays catcher Toby Hall did in 2009 when Hall was rehabbing a shoulder injury and get healthy before finally making some difficult decisions on his baseball future. But I personally would not bet against Baldelli not being wearing some team’s uniform at some point this season.
There is presently no talk of Baldelli wearing a Rays jersey besides his current Rays gear on his back while he does his job as a roving instructor. But the Rays and Baldelli both have left that door wide open for a future discussion about his plans. And that in itself is almost a mirror-image to the 2009 Spring Training situation where the Rays brought in rehabbing reliever Jason Isringhausen after his 2008 injuries into Spring Training with an eye to get him healthy, then make some personnel decisions.
Isringhausen eventually got healthy and appeared in a Rays uniform in 2009, but Isringhausen went down with a torn elbow ligament and had to undergo Tommy John’s surgery . Could Baldelli be this season’s “Izzy” and be able to again get back to the Major League level?
Would Baldelli even be open to taking another limited role situation with the Rays similar to his 2008 status with the team, or could there be an eye towards him being a possible in-house alternative/replacement if Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell gets injured or off to a weak start in 2009?. All these questions are streaming through my mind, and I know some of you also have those thoughts coursing through your cerebral cortex. But for now, Baldelli is here to heal and help guide and be a source of inspiration and motivation for the next generation of Rays. But that also doesn’t rule out the possibilities of Baldelli not being able to don a MLB jersey at some point in 2010.
And there is no guarantee it would even be the Rays classic blue and white, or even a Rays Blue jersey. B ut having Baldelli here is motivation enough for me to feel better about the future of this team. Some web sites have called him the “Prodigal Son”. To some of us, Baldelli never went away, he just was on “vacation” away from the Rays. But in the end, is this the kind of guy you want on your team? Is this the type of former player you want teaching your young players “The Rays Way”?
And can the Rays prospects learn and mature hearing of Baldelli’s past and develop their own pattern to enrich their game before hitting the Major League level? To all three of these questions, I sound a loud and resounding “Yes”. Hopefully in the near future, Rays fans will see Baldelli standing on the side of the field again both his glove and a black bat in each hand, or maybe it will be Baldelli’s arms swaying and pointing a shift to one of the Rays minor leaguers to put him into a better fielding position based on the hitter tendencies, either way, it is great to see Baldelli again in a Rays uniform. Blue just seems to be his color!
Those people who know me in the Trop know I have a good baseball relationship with one of the members of the Rays staff. I would like to think I have a good rapport with several people, but you never really know what is said off the field. Anyways, I have had a post-game gesture with this person since 2001, and I have never tried to revert or change that routine for the fear of breaking a superstition. It is more me than him, but I truly look forward to it right after each third out in victory or in defeat. It is a simple gesture, but it is a bond I have with him in my baseball world.
It is a simple hand salute off the baseball cap, but it has symbolism beyond just the motion to me. I met this guy back in 2001 when I was sitting the the Bullpen Cafe ( before Checkers bought the rights) and he used to always come over before the games to chat with myself and a good friend. I got to know this guy pretty well beyond the foul lines on the diamond, and also had on a few occasions had the chance to meet him over at Ferg’s with others for a post-game brew and some chatter. It was a special time for me because he was living the dream. He was on the field. It did not matter to me that ex-Ray Toby Hall or Greg Vaughn was standing right next to me up in the upstairs bar at Ferg’s run by former Rays Tony Saunders. Those were the simple times with Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi and they have been amazing.
I have gone on road trips following the teams in recent years and Cursi and Chico Fernandez, the Rays Video Coordinator have always welcomed me into their post-game events and we have spent some good times in other cities. Places like Cleveland where we went after a game into the Warehouse District and did the usual pub crawls checking out the nightlife and the local club scene. Or maybe it was a great atmosphere of Swannee’s in Seattle when I went a few years ago and he told me of prior years when Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff were in this same small bar drinking a few beverages and there with the fans. I just wanted to give you guys another side of the guy former Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane called “The Enforcer.”
So when Cursi came over the other day before the game and we chatted for a bit I told him I was upset for finding out that he was getting married in December by seeing it in the Rays 2009 Media Guide. But what he told me next was exciting, even bigger to me than the fact he and Stephanie were going to tie the knot on the beach. Cursi sat there and told me he was going to get a chance to maybe catch during the 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby. I was not totally surprised since I knew he was going to be at the All-Star game in the Bullpen anyways as a member of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s staff. But the added thrill of seeing Scott catch with the world watching him was simply amazing.
But in the last week there might be a small problem here with Cursi even catching in the Home Run Derby. You see, Evan Longoria can bring along his own pitcher for the event, and Cursi is one of the staff who almost daily throws Batting Practice to the Rays players. In such, you would think he would want a Rays staffer, since they are already there for the All Star game to throw to him. But there is a simple answer.
But to even throw more cold water on either idea is the fact that Longoria, who was imformed by MLB he was the highest vote getter in the American League to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, might bow out of the competition to save his ailing hamstring. With the health concern, that is a good idea for Longo, but hopefully he is not pulling out after a poor showing
in the 2008 Home Run Derby. Maybe teammate Ben Zobrist could take his spot? I wonder, have there ever been any switch-hitting home runs hit during the Home Run Derby? I will check on it and let you know the answer…..
It almost makes me want to find some way financially to make it to the game and see it in person. I do not want an outfield seat, but just something near the field so I could yell out to Cursi before he squatted behind the dish and watch dinger after dinger disappear into the St. Louis night. Think of how amazing that is going to be for the guy who has put in countless hours and time warming-up pitchers and coming in and catching pitching prospects and potential free agents over the years for the Rays. I thought 2008 might be the top of the proverbial mountain for some people in the Rays organization, but the hits just keep on rolling here for Cursi.
I am truly so excited that my baseball buddy get to live the All-Star dream on the field this season and also get to attend some of those exclusive and sought after events during the All-Star experience. I can not think of anyone else in baseball that I think deserves that honor than Cursi. Seriously here, the guy has bled Rays green, blue and even yellow for this franchise and this is another great life experience for him in his position with the Rays. But I think I need to let you know a little bit about Scott Cursi before I go today. He is in his 11th season with the Rays organization, and his 13th in professional baseball. He spent three seasons as the Bullpen Catcher for the Double-A Orlando Cubs and the Orlando Rays of the Southern League from 1996-1998.
And sometimes you will also see him late in the Rays Batting Practice throwing balls to the hitters on the mound. Cursi played college baseball at Seminole Community College in Orlando and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Physical Education. Before he made his trek to Florida, Cursi spent four seasons coaching for Bishop Waterson High School in Columbus, Ohio under Ohio baseball legend Scott Manahan. The guy knows baseball inside and out, and that has only endeared him more to the Rays.
So Congrats Scott. You deserve a spot in the television of the world, and you can be sure all of Tampa Bay will be watching for you to put your mask on and squat behind the plate during the State Farm Home Run Derby. I know you will have some great memorable chats with some of the hitters that night, and I hope I can hear some of those stories some night after a game over some cool, refreshing beverages with great company. But until then I will just give to the hand salute to the cap back every night and wish you a safe road trip, and tons of great baseball memories.
It was learned earlier today that Tampa Bay almost lost one of their baseball icons over the holiday season. Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer was said to have suffered a small stroke during the holidays and is resting and recovering now with a great chance for total recovery. For this to be kept under the covers for this long is an amazement to me. Maybe it is because I view Zimmer as a living treasure trove of information, stories and is just plain fun to talk to about baseball, fishing and life in this area when the streetcars went down Central Avenue and the Vinoy was an abandoned building rotting away with time and not a 5-star resort nestled on the waterfront in St Petersburg.
That last statement might be interesting to some people in St Petersburg, but Zimmer has lived here, and most of the time in Treasure Island, Florida. Zimmer first fell in love with the area when he was a player with the New York Mets. He is as much an institution to this area and to the Rays as the Don Cesar Hotel, and even the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Of the people who have been associated with this franchise, he has to be one of the top 5 people listed on almost everyone’s list. The only other people in my top list with him are Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff, who might have a chance for the Hall of Fame starting in 2010.
I am here today to write a living tribute to the man also known as “Popeye” who has meant so much to the game of baseball and to fans of the American League East. Every team in this division has a Don Zimmer story or event. And it is for that reason that we should celebrate this amazing life and career on January 17th, which is also the date of his 78th birthday. So please feel free to remember and also visualize the times and career of this player and manager that has had a incredible life both on and off the diamond. Something you might not know about Zimmer, he wed his beautiful wife Soot ( Jean ) in Elmira, New York during a baseball game. Zimmer first began dating her in 10th grade.
Zimmer is as famous as a player as he is a manager in his years in baseball. Most people remember him as the feisty and skilled shortstop of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who broke into the majors in 1954. For the next 12 years he played in the majors, and found his first taste of success in 1955 with the World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers. But he also has dealt with adversity playing shortstop for the New York Mets in 1962 when they lost 120 games.
His time in baseball was almost cut short by a in 1953 while with the St Paul minor league squad. In a game, Zimmer was struck in the temple and did not regain consciousness for 13 days. With pressure building on his brain, he had hole drilled into his skull to relieve the building pressure and suffered from blurred vision and went from 170 to 124 pound while trying to regain his motors skills to walk and talk. He was only 22 years old when he was told his baseball career might be over for good.
But Zimmer rose above the complications to regain his motor skills and again play the game he loved for a living. He was again hit by a Cincinnati fastball in the cheek in 1956 and broke his cheekbone. Again he rose from the ashes and after a steel plate was inserted into his head, again trained to begin playing baseball. If nothing else, Zimmer was a test to the art of positive thinking and determination in this point in his career. Most people would have called it quits and went about a life after baseball. But not Zimmer, he still loved the game, and the people in it.
In 1958, Zimmer followed the Dodgers to their new home in Los Angeles, then moved from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Mets and the Cincinnati Reds in 1962. He then returned to the Dodgers in 1963 before finally moving onto the Washington Senators where he played his last game on the field on October 2, 1965. In his 12 years in the majors leagues, Zimmer appeared in 1095 games, compiled over 773 hits,79 homers, with 352 RBI’s and a lifetime .235 batting average.
During his playing career he got to go to the fall classic with the Dodgers in 1955 and 1959, and was selected for the National League squad of the 1961. Although his hitting was not his best aspect of the game, his fielding was never called into question, He was versatile enough to play third base, second base, shortstop , and even caught 33 games in his final season in Washington in 1965. Zimmer also had the honor of playing in 1966 in Japan with the Toei Flyers.
But it was in the dugout where the feisty ex-player gained the respect of everyone in baseball. He started out as most do, in the minor leagues until he first stood on the field as the Third Base Coach for the Montreal Expos in 1971. He did the same in 1972 with the San Diego Padres, but 11 games into the season, he was called upon to replace Preston Gomez as manager. Zimmer remained with the Padres until the close of the 1973 season when he was fired and he moved on to the Boston Red Sox for the next 2 1/2 seasons.
Zimmer was then a key figure in the 1975 World Series with the Red Sox when in Game 6 a ball was hit into shallow left field and Zimmer coaching at third base yelled to base runner Denny Doyle, ” No, No No” upon the catch in shallow left. Doyle misunderstood Zimmer and tried to score and was thrown out at the plate. The play helped set up one of the most memorable moments in Red Sox history as Carlton Fisk hit his memorable game winning home run later in the contest.
In 1976, the Red Sox did not come out confident and playing up to par, and Johnson was fired and Zimmer was given the reigns of the young Boston team. From 1977-79, the Red Sox won at least 90 games for Zimmer. His 1978 squad won 99 game, still the 4th best record by a Red Sox team in their hallowed history. But that same season, he was remembered more for the collapse after leading the A L East by as many as 14 games. Zimmer was the unfortunate skipper at the helm when the New York Yankees finally caught the Red Sox in a series dubbed, “The Boston Massacre.” That year the team went back and forth with the Yankees before Bucky Dent sent a stake through their hearts in a one-game playoff on October 2, 1978.
During that span Zimmer made a few questionable moves that were played out in the newspapers and in the stands. He did not get along with popular pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee and further stuck the dagger in their feud when he gave the last game start during the “Boston Massacre” series to a triple-A pitcher Bobby Sprowl instead of Lee. Zimmer also might have overused Carlton Fisk during that season starting him in 154 of 162 games. Fisk would begin to have sore knee problems and missed a bunch of time in 1979 due to arm problems.
Zimmer also kept a suspect Butch Hobson at third base even as elbow problems began to surface with the players throws to first base. Zimmer held firm to the belief Hobson could play until after a series of bad errors he was forced to call up Jack Brohamer to replace Hobson. The Boston debacle was not the last stage for Zimmer as he moved on to mange the Texas Rangers in 1981, then moved onto three stints with the Yankees and also the San Francisco giants between 1982 until 1989 when he took over the Chicago Cubs.
In that season, Zimmer won a divisional title for the Cubs, and was named the Manager of the Year by major league baseball. Zimmer returned to Boston in 1992 to help one of his former players, Butch Hodson with the club. Zimmer went onto coach on the first expansion staff of the Colorado Rockies in 1993, and in 1996 began a long tenure as the Bench Coach of the New York Yankees. He was on the bench for 4 of their World Series Championships. He also took over the Manager’s position when Joe Torre was recuperating from prostate cancer in 1999. Zimmer went 21-15 in Torre’s absence, then returned to his usual spot in the dugout again. Those game were never officially credited to Zimmer, who won over 906 games as a manager in the major leagues.
But the event that further made him into a legend was the game between the Boston Red Sox and his New York Yankees during the 2003 ALCS. When a brawl began on the field, Zimmer went out onto the Fenway field and was face to face with Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez who threw the nimble Zimmer to the turf by his warm up jacket. The scene became world famous and made Martinez an instant enemy to Yankee fans throughout the nation.
In another game, Zimmer was sitting on the bench when Chuck Knoblach hit a screaming foul ball into the dugout and got Zimmer flush on the head. Zimmer used the event to evike some humor as he came out the next day wearing an army helmet with “ZIM” written in it in white. Since his time with the Yankees, Zimmer has been the Tampa Bay Rays Senior Advisor helping the squad with expertise during Spring Training and he can often be seen down on the field in his Rays uniform during Batting Practice chatting with coaches’ and players’ daily.
Zimmer currently wears number “60″, for 2008 was his 60th year in professional baseball. Every season, Zimmer moves up one more uniform number. In 2009, Zimmer will be issued the number “61″ jersey. During 2008, Zimmer was the last member of the Brooklyn dodger organization still serving in some capacity in baseball. Along with living in Seminole, Florida now with his wife, he is a proud author of 2 books, “The Zen of Zim” and ” Zim: A Baseball Life.”
Thank goodness that this past holiday season did not take this great warrior away from us. The guy truly believes he has more baseball to enjoy in life, and if you have ever had the pleasure to speak to this man about baseball, you can see the twinkle in his eye as he remembers some of the greatest moments in the game. Zimmer is recovering and is slowly getting back to his normal lifestyle.
With less than 30 days until the Rays head to Port Charlotte, Florida for the first time away from their old St. Petersburg training complex, Zimmer might not be at this years site for the first time in a long while. but the accent should be on him regaining his strength and his stamina so he can sit in the seat behind home plate again in 2009 and see his Rays again contend for the American League East title.
I can not imagine a year without Zimmer in the organization, but you know that it will come to and end at some moment in time. Hopefully we did not see the last of this great warrior as he threw out that first pitch before Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. I truly think we have not seen the last of this great titan of the sport. He has risen before from worse odds to again smile and enjoy this great game. Hopefully his next seat will be within range of yelling at Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his players in 2009.
The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the 1988 after the proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand. The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new domed stadium.
The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.
Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field, ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.
Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams. Professional baseball in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.
However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.
In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.
Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.
In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.
In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”
However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.
However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.
Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.
Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager. So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.
Tampa Bay’s pursuit of major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.
On November 8th, the Tampa Bay Rays will present the new look of the future to all in attendance in waterfront Straub Park in St. Petersburg, Florida. It has been billed as a event for all ages with special appearances by ex-players Fred McGriff and Mr Hall of Fame, Wade Boggs showing off the new duds.
This date is only the first of two kick-off dates to showcase the new uni’s and logos. The following day, the crew hits the Tampa downtown Gaslight Park to again display the uniforms and give fans a venue to vent or shout their approval on the choices.
For years, the team has been working behind the scenes to update and translate the new look Rays to the public. They have done a massive retro fitting to the home stadium, the Trop., that has been converted from a average ballpark, to and interactive family friendly park with all the new bells and whistles.
The next step was the on field look to complete the transition from the Vince Namoli era to the new Stu Sternberg baseball look.
The uniforms are suppose to convey and old style that will accent the days of uniform lore. Gone will be the green lettering and the blue piping. Gone will be the green modern looking “Rays” logo on the outer gear and home uniforms. Also going the way of the dinosaur, will be the “Tampa Bay” lettering on the away jerseys.
This is not the last stage of the transformation of the team. The on field product is taking leaps and bounds in confidence and skill. The record does not speak well of the developments, but we did play 17 games against Boston, and 7 against Cleveland this year. This is noted, since they are the two teams via to play the Rockies soon in the World Series.
Oh, I forgot the main thing about that day.
Kevin Costner, Mr Crash Davis and Billy Chapel of baseball cinema fame will be on hand to help in the unveiling of this new look. This is a guy who made our AAA franchise a hit with everyone from Cali to Maine. I think he personally made it cool to wear a Durham Bulls hat.
I still wear mine daily to work.
Kevin had a special place in my psyche. He has been in 2 of my favorite baseball related films, “Bull Durham“, and “For the Love of the Game.”
Both are great films with a flair for the cocky and confident nature of the sport. I have the honor to have personal collectibles from both films and they are treasure possessions to me. I am currently working on getting a “Meet and Greet” with him for a photo op and a signing of the 1999 Baseball America magazine with him portraying “Bill Chapel” on the cover.
The event will conclude with a waterfront fireworks display, and a few hundreds hats and items throw to the masses.
The next evening, ____Rays players and coaches will be situated all over Tampa Bay to meet and greet fans at the Champs sporting good store locations to help the official public sales of the new look ___Rays merchandise.
I am looking forward to it like a kid at Christmas. I have been a fan even before our first pitch. I was a fan wanting and waiting since the first proposed “buying” of a team back in the days. For those who forgot, before we got our team, we tried to buy the Twins, A’s, Mariners,Giants, and White Sox. All those efforts went by the wayside by either MLB rulings, or local ownership in the their respective areas finally bellying up to the bar and paying for their teams.
I am excited to hear Costner’s band , “Modern West”. If this band had half the talent that he has on the screen, they will rock the bay that night and send everyone home with a memory for the ages…….