Results tagged ‘ Greg Vaughn ’

The Master and the Protege`


 

I might be romancing the situation a bit here, but I hope the moment Desmond Jennings entered the Rays Clubhouse today Carl Crawford went over and welcomed the young Rays rookie to “The Show”. Over the next few weeks, its seems more than likely that Crawford will be a wealth of information and knowledge that could help Jennings make his adjustment as a Major Leaguer easier. Crawford could provide an essential network of past experiences and mishaps and provide the guidance and inspiration needed while Jennings becomes secure in his new role, and before Crawford passes the torch to the young outfielder.


It is now, with just 30 games left that I am finally bring it out in the open that Crawford might never again don a Rays cap after 2010. unless it is during an introduction speech during a blustery Summer day in Cooperstown. You have to wonder if Crawford will soon begin to reminisce and look across the Rays clubhouse and envision his own fresh experiences after being called-up in 2002.

That was when former Ray Leftfielder Greg Vaughn saddled up next to Crawford and began to be a positive force during his first taste of the Major Leagues, and Vaughn began to mentor Crawford through his new adventure, and also how to leave a positive impression with grace and dignity knowing that the franchise would be in great hands with the young rookie.


 

In those early days, Crawford used to pull on the number 8 D-Rays jersey with the zeal and enthusiasm not unlike a child waking up on Christmas morning. The whole MLB World was vibrantly new and fresh to his then young eyes, and from that first moment on July 20, 2002 we knew as Rays fans we were witnessing the first passing of the Rays outfield torch from Vaughn to Crawford. It is amazing the similarities between Crawford ( LF ) and Jennings ( RF ) as they anchor the opposite ends of the Tropicana Field outfield during Jennings MLB debut this evening.


Crawford, being one of the Rays clubhouse leaders will take the young outfielder under his wings and show him some of the paths to greatness in this game. Not because Crawford has to, but because it is in his personality to want the best for his teammates, and for the guy who will immediately be under pressure in the Spring of 2011to emulate everything that Crawford has meant to this team. Since Crawford’s own MLB debut for the Rays versus the Blue Jays in Toronto on July 20, 2002 we have seen the swift outfielder evolve and mature into the consummate professional he is today. This unique bond of each debuting against the same foe just seems perfectly fitting tonight.

It is a bit weird at times knowing in your own mind that you are seeing the on-going maturation process of one player, while maybe also saying a silent goodbye to another over the span of the next 30 games. Hopefully we will see a few flashes of brilliance with Jennings that will ease the thoughts and tears of a Crawford departure. Sure it is not written in stone yet that Crawford will definitely head to a greener turf in 2011. But the stark realization that Crawford might have finally been transported into Vaughn’s own 2002 role to show the young rookie just what it means to play at this highest level day in and day out.

 

I can not think of a better player amongst the Rays to mentor, or even coax Jennings along during the rest of this season. Crawford has traditionally been one of those stoic Rays players who do not evoke bizarre headlines or any type of tabloid tales about his whereabouts or his after game activities. His own code of secrecy bonds perfectly with his low key personality and makes him a great example of playing the game with class and respect on and off the field. Hopefully Jennings can recognize that Crawford’s genuine admiration for the game and for his team is only a fraction of the hope Crawford has that Jennings can fill the void left within this team if Crawford does decide to permanently vacate his Rays locker at the end of the 2010 post season.


Tonight we will see the infant phase of the transformation. The night for Jennings will be filled with stomach butterflies, nervous energy and anxious moments. Each ball hit to him tonight will either feel like it is suspended in slow motion towards his glove, or seem to be coming at him like a rocket. Every single pitch will seem to be magnified and each plate appearance will seem like only seconds and evaporate in front of him way too soon.

Tonight after Rays starter David Price throws his first pitch, Jennings nerves will ease a bit, the entire crowd setting of Tropicana Field will become more secure and inviting as Jennings settles into his Major League career. Tonight we will witness the beginning of one great Rays players’ career, and might also begin to realize we will also start a proverbial countdown of another Rays players’ tenure in their Rays uniform.


 

I think somewhere in the distance, Greg Vaughn will be proud of the exciting player and Rays leader Crawford has become. Hopefully the first person Jennings sees after each plate appearance and who ultimately crosses paths with him as they enter by the dugout rail will be Crawford. Eager to talk about the inning, the pitcher on the mound, or just clowning around a bit to cut the tension and nerves a bit because that is what veterans do for rookies, ease then into their next great moments. And with each small piece of knowledge and advice, hopefully a little more of the flame and the passion of playing at this level will be ignited in Jennings.

Rays Now 0-11 on May 14th Games

 

 
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This date, May 14th, has always held a small special place within me. It has been a day of honest reflection and undefined possibilities. It has been the Alpha and Omega of my entire life, not only as a person, but as an athlete. In High School, this date usually corresponded with either the Florida State Class 5-A Track and Field championships, or the State Decathalon event held every year at the University of Florida. But since that time has long passed in my life, it has come to signify other things. But with regards to my Rays baseball, this date can be murder on me and the entire Rays team.

For the last 11 out of 13 years, the Tampa Bay Rays franchise has been unable to win a single game on this May 14th date on the calendar. In 8 of the past 11 years, they have gone down in defeat and it has brought my joy and happiness on that day to a sudden standstill. The only blemishes on that dubious record is the fact of two “Off Days” thrown on the schedule in 2001 and 2007 to break up the streak a bit. But in reality, this is one date that the Rays have a huge wall in front of them, and I am beginning to blame myself.

Since 1999, I have circled this date on my calendar hoping to see the roof turned orange after a Rays victory. But again this year we came close, but it was no celebratory cigar again to be lit on this date. It has been my epicenter of baseball for the last 10 years. Since 1999, I have either traveled to Tropicana Field or another city or sat idle on this day in response to where the Tampa Bay Rays were playing baseball.
 
That is right people, I use this date as my personal symbol of my commitment to my level of fandom to the Rays. It is my own form of special celebration to the team that descended on my home town to make me have more remarkable summer nights than just cruising the beaches with the windows open, or sitting in a sports bar watching the NHL playoffs.

So here I go doing a 11-year recap of those games and their results. Even if it brings up bad memories or provide a bit of funk, this is a date I truly wished would change in their 13th season (My lucky number). Most people will probably not give a big deal about all of this, but on this day…….It is what I say that goes….Got it. 



Timmer82@Flickr.com

1999:   Tampa Bay D-Rays vs Anaheim Angels. (AWAY)

That is right, the Anaheim Angels. The Halos had not gotten politically correct yet to include the “LA” region back onto their name. But in this contest the D-Rays starter Bobby Witt did not get any signs of offensive support and the then D-Rays fell to the Halos 8-3.  A total of 5 hits were dished out by the D-Rays during this contest. The bottom of the Rays order did most of the damage with catcher John Flaherty hitting a homer in the game. But the Rays did  show some defensive signs of life, converting three double plays in the game.

2000:    Tampa Bay versus Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)

This was my first trip outside of the country since my Army National Guard Tour almost 10 years earlier, and it was my venture to this awesome Canadian town. I  got a wild distaste for customs on this trip, but that is a story for another time. In this game, the D-Rays sent starter Esteban Yan to the hill. Yes, the same Yan who would become the Rays closer later in his career and provide massive puddles of sweat on the pitching rubber. But the game belonged to Blue Jays starter David Wells, who just seemed to have the D-Rays at bay all night in this contest. 

Wells threw a 7-hit 2-run game against the D-Rays, but the Rays Bullpen let the game get away from them in the end. In the bottom of the ninth inning, D-Rays reliever Albie Lopez gave up 2 runs to hand the Jays a 3-2 win.  After the game, I got my first taste of feeling a bit out of place when a French speaking woman was trying to have a conversation with me in a neighboring pub, but I could only understand every fifth word. I only took French 1 in college. Guess that day ended up as a total disaster for me, both on and off the turf.


www.bernssteakhouse.com

2001:                                 Off Day

I decided on this day to just go on out and hit a local James Beard recommended eater that boasts its steaks and fine conversation during an intimate dinner. It was the first time I had ever ventured into this South side of Tampa, and I made my Visa credit card pay dearly for it. I had heard the praise of the food and atmosphere around Bern’s Steakhouse for years, but this was my first entrance into the wine and steak primo emporium. If you have not heard of this fine dining experience, then you have missed out on some of the best foodie tales to ever tell at a cocktail party.

The interior is done in a classic French chateau style complete with the red velvet wall coverings and an over abundance of photos of people no one seems to know on the wall. But the real attraction is the telephone book wine list that has the World’s largest and most opulent collection of wines. An added bonus to all of this is an extended aging process on all of their beef offerings, which translates into a bit of ambrosia on your plate. I am going to stop here before I drool and ruin another computer keyboard.

2002:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees ( AWAY)

This was my first baseball venture into the Ballpark in the Bronx. And I did wear my Rays gear into Yankee Stadium and had a minimal stint of problems. I had secured a seat right above the Rays dugout using a Yankee insider friend I knew while playing football for a great ticket. This game was over rea
l early as Rays starter Travis Harper did not last 3.2 innings before Rays reliever Steve Kent came on in long relief. It was my third game on this date, and I was beginning to think I was the cause for the losing on this date.

But in reality, the team was up against Yankees starter Roger Clemens, and he threw a 3-hit, 1-run outing on that night.  Rays Leftfielder Steve Cox did have a good night, getting two of the hits in the game. My old buddy Greg Vaughn did get a hit as the DH  also during that night. But in the end, the Rays fell by a 10-3 score because of a pair of Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada home runs.

2003 :     Tampa Bay vs. Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)  

Here I am again venturing across the open borders on my trip to Canada, but this time I decided to bring a French phrase book (just in case). I decided to stay at Rogers Centre hotel this time, but it did not help in securing a win for the Rays. In this contest, my old Rays friend and current Jays starter Cory Lidle was throwing against the Rays. The Rays sent young starter Dewon Brazleton to the mound, who reminds me of Jeff Niemann sometimes, and he  quickly got roasted with 7-hits and 5-runs in the outing. This was also during the time when the Rays had John Rocker on their roster, and after the game I chatted with him a bit in the hotel lounge.

But the Rays were beginning in this 2003 to show signs of the emergence of one of their key players in the Rays future. This was Rays rookie Carl Crawford’s first full year in the MLB, and he had mixed results in this May 14th game. He did go 1 for 5 in the game, but Aubrey Huff was the star of this game, but even his bat was not enough as the Rays lost the contest 7-6. the Rays did try and mount a offensive counterattack by scoring 4 runs in the top of the eighth, but Jaye reliever Cliff Politte (Ironic a “Cliff” did me in) secured his fourth save of the season by shutting down the Rays offense.



Radioinsomnia@Flickr.com

2004:     Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians (AWAY)

This was my first venture to “The Jake”, and it was the first time I have ever been mesmerized by an “away” stadium. They were celebrating the 10th anniversary of “The Jake”, and it did not even look a few years old at that point. This was the night that my flight got delayed in Atlanta and I was still sitting on the tarmac at 5 pm EST, but  got on a alternate flight and the plane began its descent towards Cleveland-Hopkins Airport at about 20 minutes before game time. The plane banked just perfect so I could get a great shot of the stadium beaming with excitement.

I did not get into the stadium until the fourth inning, and it was “Ladies Night” at the ballpark. I have to say it was the best present I ever got seeing this stadium and going down to the Warehouse District and dancing until near dawn. I even got to catch a home run ball by Indians Casey Blake in the 10th inning of the game. Unfortunately, it was the game winner and I still have that ball in a special place in my collection. We lost that contest 8-7, and it was another friend, Rays reliever Lance Carter who gave up the home run to Blake that night.

2005:   Tampa Bay Rays vs, Kansas City Royals (AWAY)

This was my first post-football visit to Kansas City. I did my usual old habit of hitting a few BBQ joints before the game, but the contest was the real treat of the night. I had always loved to see that night starter, Hideo Nomo pitch in his younger years in LA. Now the Rays had this aging Japanese superstar on their team, and I was anxious to see him pitch tonight. But the Rays offense ended up coming up a bit short during the 6-5 loss. Rays hitters Chris Singleton and Nick Green did their best to try and finally pull out a May 14th win for me, but it was not in the cards again tonight.

2006:   Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays (HOME)

Yes, that is right. This is the only time I have seen the Rays play at home so far in their existence. But the home cooking was not enough this night as the Blue Jays took final control of the game in the top of the ninth to send the Rays faithful home miserable after a 8-3 beating. In the contest, the Rays gave up 3 additional runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach for the Rays.

Jays starter Josh Towers took the mound and was not overpowering, but the Jays defense kept them in the game and the Jays produced just enough offense to pull  the game out in the end. The Rays sent starter Casey Fossum to the mound and he had some success against the Jays, but could not keep the big inning from getting to him in the fifth. Rays reliever Chad Orvella gave up 3 doubles and a triple to Alex Rios that was the deathblow of the contest.

2007:                                 Off Day

Since we were going to begin a 3-game series at the Walt Disney starting this morning, I decided to head on out to O-town and do some wandering of the region. I have to admit I am a bad Floridian. I have never been to Sea World, and have only been to Walt Disney World (before this series) twice in my life. I have not even been there since 1984, but was looking forward to hitting both downtown Orlando and the Disney adult complex after the game that night.

Instead, after the contest I headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios and had a celebration dinner and then just hit the multitudes of clubs in the Orlando area. I did order an outstanding steak and lobster dish at the Hard Rock that gave me boundless amounts of energy for the night. I just wanted to have a great night before the Rays started their series the next day. I heard a rumor that Pop star Justin Timberlake was in the VIP area after doing some Nick show that afternoon. That is as close to getting “Sexy Back” as I have gotten in my life.


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2008:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees (AWAY)   

Back to old New York, New York. This would be my last trip into the old Yankee Stadium&nb
sp;haunts, and I tried to make the best of it. I did the usual Papaya King hot dog salute, and went down to Ground Zero, but I decided to sit in the Rightfield bleachers for this game. I do have to tell you I did get some wrath from the Bleacher Creatures at first, but by the end they were telling me a few places to have a post-game brew and maybe meet a Mets girl.

I think what went down better in their minds is the fact we lost a squeaker 2-1 to the Bronx Boys tonight.  Yankee starter Mike Mussina kept his dominance over the Rays intact and tight in this contest only giving up one run in the top of the sixth inning. This was also my first sighting of Joba Chamberlain, who did come into the game, but was gone just as quickly after walking 3 batters. James Shields also gave up all of the Yankee runs, but still pitched a great outing.

It was my last time to stroll amongst this hallowed baseball shrine, and I did take a stroll through Memorial Garden before the game. I even stayed a half hour after the game and was whisked out by security guards as I did not want to leave. But I did, still wearing my Rays gear and getting a few Bronx cheers, but nothing too bad to get me put into Fort Apache. But tonight was different from the other May 14th dates to me. I was at the last Rays game I would attend in this old iconic ballpark. I ended up sitting outside the front of the stadium for another half hour before finally heading to JFK to sleep before my 10 am flight back to Tampa International Airport.

2009:   Tampa Bay Rays vs Cleveland Indians (HOME)

On this night I had the feeling we might finally break the streak of not winning. Something in the air just felt different to me, and that gave me a immediate omen of a possible win. The Rays sent starter James Shields to the mound, but the Tribe quickly scalped him for 5 runs in the middle innings. It was a hole that the team would not come back from, even with 6-run effort to pull closer, the score was still 9-6 at the bottom of the sixth inning.

Just as quickly as we all began to sense a chance at victory in the stands after blanking the Tribe’s hitters in the top of the seventh inning, Rays reliever Grant Balfour gave up two runs and the Rays had to settle for a 11-7 loss. Even the ninth inning run by Ben Zorbrist on a Dioner Navarro double play, it brought the Rays only one more out and a chance to seal a final victory on May 14th. But B J Upton struck out to toss all those percentages down the drain. 

I hope I did not bore you too much with a special recollection on the date of May 14th through the Rays baseball times. I am lucky enough to have a home game again this season, and hopefully the team can break my curse of not getting a single victory on this date with me in attendance. You might notice that I had not included the date of May 14th 1998 on this blog. Well, that year I was here in St. Petersburg by my old dog’s side before he was to put to sleep. He had been my close ally for 15 years and had recently suffered a stroke and could not hold his balance well.

So I was not in Kansas City where the team fell 10-3 that night. As you can see, this can either be a day of rejoicing or pain depending on how you look at it. I see it as a beautiful day for baseball. I feel a bit older every day on this date (hint, hint), but what has not aged is the enthusiasm and joy I feel inside my soul on this date in relation to baseball. 

I truly have baseball in my heart of hearts, and I hope that shows most of the time. As I have gotten steadily older (about to enter another decade) I have been given the gift of remembrance of this date in time. And these past Rays games where I have either traveled or seen my favorite team take on the rest of the MLB from the comfort of my seat in Section 138 have all been classic birthday moments in my life.

Crawford Celebrates his 1,000 Leftfield Start

 
 
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I popped up a tweet on Twitter the other day asking if I might be the only member of the Rays Republic to know that Tampa Bay Rays Leftfielder Carl Crawford celebrated his 1,000th start in Leftfield as a member of the Rays on Saturday night. Coming into the Rays 2010 season, Crawford has started 983 times in LF for the Rays, and with him sitting out only one Rays contest prior to their 18th game of the season on Saturday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, Crawford has now become a member of the 4-digit career starts longevity club in the MLB.

And I suspect in the last 10 years, that club has not inducted a lot of this generations MLB stars. But there was not a single Raysvision scoreboard moment before, during or after the game. No special mention of this awesome feat during the Rays Radio broadcast, or a spoken word over the Public Address system to give all of the Rays fans in attendance a chance to get on their feet and give Crawford the Standing Ovation he deserves for his long tenure service to the Rays. Here is a guy who has been a constant face of the Rays franchise since Crawford took his first steps upon the Field Turf II in 2001, and I am the only one outside, or in the Rays Press Box who saw this stat printed in the Rays 2010 Media Guide.


Not to push that I have any literary tendencies here, but I have been known to grace and glance at the pages of this 448 page colossal Rays Media Guide before and during Rays games as an instant resource for little tidbits and snippets just like this one concerning CC. Maybe what is troubling me deep down inside is that it would only take 30 seconds of airtime, a minute of scoreboard recognition, and might show Crawford that his sweat and grime over these years has been valued beyond just the “W’s” , the base stealing, and his multiple All-Star nods. That the Tampa Bay region has truly taken him in as a member of their own Rays family.

After Saturday nights game I spoke with a member of the Rays media cliché` (who wants to remain nameless) about this and he told me it was maybe just an oversight, but that these kind of career stats do not come up or matter as much as the offensive gems Crawford could still obtain here in 2010. Plus since CC already owns most of the Rays offensive numbers not related to power hitting already, it might seem as repetitious to those outside the stadium.

That even thought the event should have at least gotten a chance for the fans to give a roaring sign of support for Crawford, there might have been more pressing issues and events that determined it to be a fact that slips by without notice….or should have if I had not brought it up.

 
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And maybe this Rays Media member is right. Maybe it should not be something I am not so upset about, or frustrated about at all. Maybe I am turning into one of those emotional baseball historic factoid saps who actually think a moment of simple acknowledgment and crowd recognition can sometimes mend a fence better than a boatload of money. Maybe I have finally crossed that proverbial fence I have been riding for years and actually am outwardly giving a damn about these guys.

But, that is just the way I follow the game. I am the guy who envisions the little things snowballing into bigger situations. Maybe I finally grew up as a baseball fan and now see multiple sides of the game simultaneously instead of just the action on the field.

But it did bother me that a Rays player like Crawford, who takes up 9 pages in the Rays 2010 Media Guide did not get some sort of cap nod, or even vocal mention besides here in a Rays MLB-based blog that most member of the Rays Republic will never read on their way to the other Rays blogs. But then again, I am a fan-based blog and only get a mention if I show a photo or a snippet of information most people would not know unless I flushed it out of the system.

I am considered by some in the lefty Press Box as a bottom-feeder who finds the small morsels and turn them into a Goliath fish weighting 200 plus pounds (maybe like this post). There have been some recent other snippets or morsels just from the Rays career start page that within 2010 will see a total of four other Rays current players set their own career starts record for their respective positions. Some people might say that it just seemed like yesterday that B J Upton was beginning to learn the ropes at the team’s Centerfielder after his flurry of starts around the Rays infield.

But would it had made any difference to any of us that Upton also on Saturday night became the Rays career games leader in Centerfield passing Rays roving instructor Rocco Baldelli by staring his 375th career game in CF. Ironic that John Fogerty was here and started with “Centerfield” as his first song of the night.


And with the National Media attention on the Rays duo earlier in the season, don’t you think that Upton and Crawford both posting Rays career start marks on the same night might be a nice little factoid to toss to the Media fish? You would think at least the folks at Elias might catch onto this small morsel. But neither of them were mentioned at all, even in the Rays MLB Press Pass online publication for either Saturday or Sunday.

Or would it have mattered that with his 85th start of 2010 somewhere around the 2010 All Star break, Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena will pass former Rays First Baseman Fred McGriff and become the team’s career starts leader making his 483rd start at First Base for the Rays? Want to bet that makes the media handout!

Or maybe the fact that recently, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria, who is entering his third season with the Rays, in only his sixth start of the 2010 season at home set the Rays Third Base career starts record with his 273rd start passing former Ray Aubrey Huff for that honor.

And I have gazed twice and did not see that on Sunday’s MLB Press Pass either…Hmmm? But maybe it is just me that thinks it is impressive and show the solidarity of this Rays player foundation and the longevity of the strength of this team that these four will all have set career start records during this season.

 
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And this is only talking about career starts, this is not digging into the team’s record books like a member of SABR even trying to find diamond hidden in the miles of words and facts. But the pure fact that these four instances just jumped out at me during this weekend truly speaks volumes to how if the general Rays media members do not have the space or the time to add such small bits of recognition, maybe that is a niche I should consider soon as my blog format.

Maybe there is a need to find the “small things” dangling off the line and take it like a Blue Marlin and run with it.


Maybe it is time to reconfigure and rethink. There is such a plethora of information out there in the Internet stratosphere just aching for some sunlight. Maybe I should take a few fellow Rays friends advice and seek one of those names upon the black tags around the Rays dugout and reestablish the Rays Renegade website. Maybe there is a place for both my long-winded blog posts, and smaller multiple paragraphs of photos or even great Rays information that could be beneficial to other Rays Republic followers.

But it does still bother me that Crawford, who started his 1,000th career game in LF for the Rays did not get an ounce of mention. Especially since the Rays player who holds second place in that LF category is former Ray Greg Vaughn who started only 159 Rays games, and who last manned that spot before Crawford became the heir apparent.

P.S. I know my photos are coming out a bit blurry, but I have an inferior camera. I at first thought it was my eyes going bad on me, but I had someone else also take a few and they came out the same way. As soon as I get some chicken feed, I will upgrade my camera and also get a wide angle/ telephoto lens that suits game day shots….Might take a while.

Cursi gets ready for All Star game action

 

                   
                     RHaggerty@Flickr.com

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.”


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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.

He could ask Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to throw to him with Cursi catching and all will be great in Happy Valley. But I am not sure if Hickey will want to do that on such a large stage. Not that he doesn’t have the chops or the pitching ability ( he does), but the fact si he might be concentrating on the All Star pitching staff during that first day. But it would be a simple resolution to the problem, and would bring about a unique angle to the game.

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. 

               
               RRCollections


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.

Rays Fall to King Felix via Rare Feat

 

  
      Mariners 1,        Rays 0


Elaine Thompson / AP

Still the Royalty of King County


Most of us Floridians do not know that Seattle is located in King County, and if yesterday afternoon is any indication, we know who rules with a multi-directional fastball and a beautiful change-up. But the young King is  truly going to be one of the leagues premier superstars once the east coast of the country get a good scouting report on the guy. Felix Hernandez is hyped to the roof top by the Mariners, and for good reason. He has only been on their major league roster since 2005, when he appeared in only 12 games and furnished a 4-4 record.

But the sea-faring fans of the Mariner’s have been waiting for the day that the rest of the league catches on to this hard-throwing Venezuelan product.  Funny, but in that short period of time he has stacked up 42 wins and over  620 strikeouts and still is mostly an unknown outside of the shadow of Mt. Rainer and the west coast. People have said that the Mariners lucked out by having another Venezuelan product on their roster back in 2002. Freddie Garcia was  a childhood idol of  Hernandez, and  it was the fact he trusted and loved the Seattle area and team that finally convinced the young Hernandez to sign with the Emerald City team. In 2002, he then went to play for Aquirre in the Venezuelan Summer League.

From that point on up through the Minor League rosters he has done nothing but impress and persuade the team that he is their next home grown star. Very rarely do pitchers seem to grow up in a team’s minor league system anymore. Most are packaged or brought in via trades  to compete in the minors for a shot in the majors. But Hernandez did his time working up from Class-A Everett to Triple-A Tacoma, then finally to the clay of Safeco Field.  But what is more amazing is the future that this series will hold for him and the budding Rays stars. We all know that Carl Crawford and B J Upton have dealt with him for years, but Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell got their first official look at the man locals have dubbed the “King”.

And of this series is any indication of their fights and battles, we are going to have a fun time watching  the Seattle ace take on the Rays for the next 10 years. Henandez might have won battle number one with a clear margin, but the game seemed like a different story after he left the mound yesterday. Before that, the Rays did manage to claw and fight to get  4 hits off of him in the game. Crawford had the most impact gaining two hits off of him, including  a ball hit to shortstop in the thrid inning that handcuffed him severely into committing a throwing error on the play. Burrell made his presence know early in the second inning by popping the first hit of the night off Hernandez to right field.

Then  in an error-filled play ( 2 errors, one by first baseman Jaimie Burke and the second on catcher Rob Johnson) by the Mariner’s team on Ben Zobrist’s fielders choice, it put a tying score less than 60 feet from Mariner’s catcher Rob Johnson. But the Seattle defense and Hernandez stiffened and  Hernandez got the next two batter retired to save his shutout.  In the fourth inning, after two walks to Burrell and Zobrist, the Rays again eventually had men at first and thrid with two-outs, but the Rays again failed to convert anything to get the run home to tie the contest.

Then in the fifth inning, with Crawford up for the third time tonight, he hit a screamer back towards the mound that Hernandez tried to bare-hand with his pitching hand and throw to first base. He ended up doing a spin and dump to the turf instead of getting balance and throwing the ball towards first base. But with Crawford’s speed, it might have been a blessing that he did not wing the ball towards Burke at first base. Burke was only playing the position for the first time in his career because of injuries to Mike Sweeney ( back) and Russell Branyan ( back ). Plus usual fill-in Jose Lopez could not switch over to first base since his sub, Ronny Cedeno had a bad hamstring from the previous night’s game. Dioner Navarro did get a worm killer single to left field in the seventh inning, but a rally-killing double play by Jason Bartlett ended the Rays chances.

The Rays did fight and claw back all night long with Burrell making the most trouble for the Mariners and Hernandez. For the afternoon, he went 1 for 1 with three walks and always seemed to get into scoring position for the Rays. But the Rays usual lack of hitting with men in scoring position doomed their day. The Rays ended up leaving 15 men on base, and also struck out 7 times against Hernandez. They had their chances against the Mariners, but let every one of them slip away. The Rays did not lose this game for lack of effort to get on base, but lost it for lack to the killer instinct needed at key time in this contest.  But the Rays came into this series wanting to set the tone, they did in the middle game of the series, but got out-played, and out-hit in both their losses in Seattle.

           
           
Elaine Thompson / AP

Shields Make only One Mistake

The  oddity of throwing your second pitch of a baseball game and it landing into the right field stands and becoming the winning margin in a game is rare, but not unknown in baseball annuals.  Ichiro usually gets his two hits a game no matter who is pitching, but those who have seen the Japanese product take Batting Practice know he has the power and the ability to take a bad pitch and deposit it into the stands at any point in the game. Ichiro’s lead-off home run accounted for the game’s only run. He’s the second player in Mariners history to hit a lead-off homer in a 1-0 game. Greg Briley did it in 1992 with a home run off the Twins’ Kevin Tapani.

But how rare is it really in baseball? Does an early mistake happen as much as we think, or is it just a twist of fate that doomed the Rays early in this contest? Well, according to Stats Inc.,it was just the third time since 1994 – most recently by the Cubs on May 9, 2007, against the Pirates ( Alfonso Soriano homered ) and before that by the Mets on
May 12, 2004, over Arizona ( on Kaz Matsui’s homer ).  A rare feat, but also a rare omen for the Rays. It had been 12 days since they suffered their last shutout, and the team had ample time to get back that elusive run because of the pitching of James Shields. His one mistake should not have been the margin of victory today.

Shields did everything in his power to keep the score close and also crush any potential Seattle rallies throughout the game. After Ichiro’s blast, Shields and the Rays defense  sat down the next 7 hitters until Endy Chavez hit a single to center field to lead-off the fourth inning. But the Rays quickly erased that threat by getting Lopez to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to again empty the bases. Even in the fifth inning, after Shields walked Johnson, a hard hit ball to Longoria by  Yuniesky Bentancourt provided the 5-3 putout to end the inning.  But in the sixth inning, the Rays defense reared its ugly head and put its mark on the game. The only blemish was a bloop single over Bartlett by Ichiro, who now had two of Seattle’s 4 hits in the game.

Shields did  pitch deep into the game finally giving up the ball after throwing 102 pitches in 7.1 innings of work. His lines score would usually show a victory, but in tonight’s wild and unusual battle he was given the loss after only surrendering 4 hits himself and giving up the lone run. Tho his efforts were valiant, he did give up only one walk to Johnson in the fifth inning and posted 4 strike outs on the day. His pitching matched Hernandez’s pitch-for-pitch. And except for that lone one pitch that he might have known would spell doom the minute it left his hand, he was to suffer his second loss of the year to even his record to 2-2 on the season.

Twice this year Shields has been opposite a “hot” pitcher when he took the mound. Even if Shields was as effective in this contest as he was for the Opening Day game in which Red Sox starter Josh Beckett pitched a masterpiece, it is the underlying problem of pitching in the number one slot. You always face the premier pitcher of the opposing staff, and even if you are on your game, situation can take it from you. But Shields has the inner confidence and the stamina to know that karma and things can change in an instant and go for the Rays. Tonight it was just one swing of the bat that took the wind out of the Rays sails. Just less than 16 hours from one of their best road wins of the young season. Games can shift one one pitch or moment, and unfortunately Shields know that all too well tonight.


Elaine Thompson / AP

Pat Burrell is Heating Up

Burrell is in a weird situation for the first time in his career. He is having to take a crash course in the American League hitters and also the tedencies of the leagues infields to get a firm grounding in the batter’s box this season. Consider how hard it is to not only adjust to the fact you are no longer in the flow of the game by being out in the field, but now you have to sit a majority of the time on the bench and observe your team taking their defensive licks, and you can do nothing but cheer and clap for them. I think that would be the biggest adjustment he has to make since signing with the Rays this off season. Jonny Gomes found it difficult  the last few seasons, and it might have cost him his spot. Cliff Floyd was a great addition to the clubhouse in leadership and mentoring young players, but his bat did not surface to save him either.

It is as if the Rays Designated Hitter spot is the place where hitters have gone to die or retire for a long time. I am not even going to get into the Greg Vaughn or even the Jose Canceso days as a DH, because the formula has changed since their times. Now the DH has to be a run producer and a cheerleader second. Burrell also had the second horrific duty of having to digest and memorize the pitch selections and tendencies of every pitcher in the AL in a compressed manner. No longer can he just go up there and take his swings like in the Spring, but now he has to adjust and compensate for tailing breaking pitches on the fly, and catching up to fireballs coming in at his hands. 

It has been a tough first few weeks for Burrell evident by his average, but the last week of game have also given a sign he might be  gaining on the AL pitching staffs and being more selective at the plate. In yesterday’s game he was only 1-1, but his 3 walks showed he is seeing the ball and making great judgments at the plate for the Rays. In the entire three-game series, he went 4 for 9 , with 4 walks and 2 RBI’s to raise his average to .265 this year. He is beginning to come to terms with the American League. Some hitters who have spent their entire careers in the National League do not adjust fast, but Burrell  is hitting even better on the road ( .276 ) than at home  ( .250 ) this season and he knows that for the Rays to be successful again in 2009, he has to be on his game. It might have taken a bit longer than either he or we wanted for him to adjust and come to terms with the different hitting in the AL, but in the next few months, it is the Rays that will benefit from it all.


Elaine Thompson/ AP

Navi needs to Trust Hitting on the Ground

Dioner Navarro is beginning to heat up a bit at the plate. In the last three games he has gone 2-13, but the true fact is that in the last two series he has garnered only two hits a series. I am not about to cast him under the  ships rudder, because his two hits recently have been down a bit and not the usual rocket fly balls that have plagued his average this season. the last few days, Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been stressing the fact of ground hit balls might be the ticket for this team to survive right now. And for Navarro, that might be the right ticket. He is not going to beat a ball hit in the infield 9 out of 10 times, but the lone time could make for a scoring opportunity.

Not since the Baltimore and Yankees home series has Navarro had two hits in a single game.  Navarro hit 6 fly ball outs in this series and 3 ground outs in addition to his two singles to right field. But in yesterdays game, he  hit two long fly balls out to center field with men in scoring position. He did get Burrell to tag up and go to third base on his fly out in the fourth inning, but his fly out with Gabe Kapler on second in the ninth inning finished the Rays in that contest. Navarro seems to be the lone holdout still hitting the ball primarily into the sky for outs for the team. Because of his defensive abilities, it would be a down grade to sit him right now. He is calling a great game behind the plate, and is getting into a groove with his throws to second base on steal attempts. His peg of Ichiro in this series will be a the highlight of the year for him.


Cursi Magic Runs Out

My buddy Scott Cursi
is one of the best people you will ever meet in the Rays organization.  It has been a thrill for me to see him get some extra recognition that last few days in taking out the line-up card and also doing double duty as the “Jobu” of the Rays. Cursi has been the Bullpen Coach pro tempre before, and also been know to celebrate with the best of them during the Rays run in 2008. By Maddon picking Scott to have the honor again last night of handing out the line-up cards shows that Maddon respect streaks and anything that can make them roll on for another game. I hope he again get a chance to redeem his karma tonight when the team hits the field  in Oakland at 10:07 pm.

During last night game, the line-up card that Cursi presented to Home Plate Umpire Sam Holbrook had a Chinese Proverb written on it by Maddon. I am unclear if this is the exact verse, but this is the only one I could find with that phrasing in an old Chinese Proverb quotation book at the library. It might have said, ” Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.”   The saying has been found in two references, one in Chinese lore and the other in Native American. Which ever is the true origin of the proverb, it might be a unique key to the Rays success this season.

  

My MLB Video Game Life

 

 


I remember many a Christmas as a kid  running out into the living room to gaze under the tree at 5 am before anyone else had gotten up in the house, It was a cardinal rule in our house that no one gets woken up before 6 am on Christmas Day. Not until I got a lot older, and had to put multiple bikes together did I truly understand that ruling by my Dad.

 


It was always a great time, because I was living in the budding gaming infancy. We had just gotten bombarded by commercials on the television the entire Christmas season about this new Atari system and the game Pong had kinda gotten boring after the first few hundred plays. Seriously, back then those two long slots and that crazy bouncing line was the total dimension of video games. Sure the video arcades had the real games and the pinball machines, but for the kids at home, we had  the ever repressive Pong game.

 

 


Now as soon as I saw that Atari system mentioned on TV, you know what got embedded into my parent’s ears for the next month. So when I found it under my tree with some of the newest and most advanced games at that time in the console package, you knew my rainy days and early nights would be filled with multiple colored 2-dimensional fun.

 


Yeah, that was the real drawback of it all is that height and vertical challenges were the extent of the magic back then, but we still played those suckers like there was no tomorrow. They did have a baseball game, but it was so prehistoric, I traded it for a Donkey Kong cartridge. Now there was a game of skill and magic. You had your ape fighting the massive barrels searching for the top and his redemption.


 

 


It is funny now to think I got so worked up by the controller sometimes that I had to walk away from the game for a bit to calm my nerves and get back into focus. But I also remember that I did not play it for hours, or have memory card save points on that machine. You got as high as you could, then turned off the machine and started all over again in the a. m. But I did have friends who discovered cheating methods to boast high levels completed, and also new adventures I had not gotten to yet on my boards. But I loved the thrill of achieving each one by myself without help or using cheat codes or leaving the machine on pause all night long to save your position on the game.

 


So I have an understanding of today’s youth and their playing of video games. I just do not understand the frustration and the level of self absorption to a screen and a cartoon character. But then again, I was an athlete at a young age and had other interests besides my games and what life had to offer. I guess I was lucky to play baseball and basketball and hit the pool during the summer, while my room mates kids sit in front of the TV for 6 hours and fight Sonic or Megatron.

 


I did buy a newer game system a few years ago and used to play only baseball games on the unit. When Sony came out with the Playstation 2, I won a unit as a sales incentive for work. It had a sports bundle and I got hooked on the MLB2004 as soon as it hit my big screen. I used to play it any time I was bored with computer work or nothing was on cable to my liking that night.

 


I got pretty good with the aspect of taking the lower ranked teams and kicking butt against any of the to tier or even All Star teams. It took a while to get some sort of feel for the strike zone and to know the nuances of the game. So when I went to Game Stop recently to buy a few games for a Playstation 3 system the kids’ were going to inherit from their uncle, I decided to buy MLB2004 for myself. I had a yearning to see if that game could still bring out the competitor in me and make me insane with wanting to beat the top teams.

 



So on Christmas Day, as the kids were bored with their new system, I went into my room and got my used copy of MLB2004 and put it in the player. On came that familiar screen and I decided to see if I still had it by going into the Home Run mode for a bit to get my timing back. After about 5 minutes, it was time to see if the old dog could still play this puppy. I decided to play my old team, the Tampa Bay Devilrays against the Florida Marlins.



Now at that time, the Marlins had a young Josh Beckett, A J Burnett, Dontrell Willis and Brad Penny  on their pitching staff. I always played against Beckett and Burnett. I liked playing against the young arms that had deceptive pitches and made the game more fun to play. So I selected that team and decided to also put the DH  in for both teams. That would make it more offensive, but also give me a chance to experiment with my lineup.

 


Of course this was not the team of 2008 for the Devilrays. They still had the old name, the roster was spotted with young talent like Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford, but they also had old Rays mainstays at the time like Jose Cruz Jr., and Aubrey Huff. Now I always liked Huff Daddy as a Ray. He had power and could still play with some gusto back then. But the team was spotted with guys that were not even in a supporting role in 2004.



They had Devi Cruz at shortstop, and he never even took an inning in a Rays uniform at that position, but then again, Julio Lugo was not even on the Houston roster for me to pluck, and Rey Sanchez was not even considered a Ray at that time. But the catching position got me a bit perplexed at time. They had Brook Fordyce as my starting catcher. Now he might have been a great catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, but he was not my catcher…………..sorry Brook.



So I used to dig down into the minor league system for players and adjust my lineup accordingly. I used to put Jared Sandberg at third base because of his awesome power and his quick hands. I would insert Damian Rolls at short only because I trusted his bat and loved chatting with him back then, and put John Flaherty behind the dish for the D-Rays.

 


I started out as the home team, playing in the Trop., and forgot that down the right field line, they did not have my section in the game. That still pisses me off to this day that the location of my seat for 10 years is not even listed on a video game. Anyways, here I go starting Victor Zambrano for the game and using his slider and change up to confuse the Marlins. I can honestly say that it is a touchy situation to have one of the worst pitching staffs and strike out a side. The next inning you could make 3 mistakes and it is 3-0 without a bat of an eye.

 


I get through 4 innings and the kids come in and begin to watch the old guy take it to the Marlins. The youngest has never seen me use a controller and is a bit impressed I even know where the buttons are on the unit. I have a guy warming up in my Bullpen and have a 21-3 lead at that moment when Zambrano begins to get rocked by the Marlins. Before I can catch my breath and realize it, the score is 21-13 and I have inserted Jorge Sosa to relieve Zambrano.

 


With an increasing audience, I am a bit nervous and make a huge series of errors to get the game closer in the next frame. It is now 25-18, and I am letting the Marlins creep back into the contest. I decided to have some fun, or maybe it was a bout of madness, and let one of the kid play the 8th inning. After he got rocked and his pitcher was exhausted, it was 29-27. I did not fret, I did not worry, I knew who I had in my Bullpen warming up for the 9th inning. I also knew that I had a good bench and could pull this game out without a problem.

 


I inserted D-rays closer Dany Baez into the game in the top of the 9th and he got the Marlins down quickly, but not without surrendering a 2-run shot by Luis Gonzalez to right field. With the game tied, I got two quick strikeouts to end the inning. In the bottom of the 9th, I got things started by having Carl Crawford put down a bunt, but on this game, Crawford is not as fast as in real life.

 


Pity, in the real game, he was safe by a country mile. I then had Rolls put a ball down the third baseline that was grabbed behind the bag, but threw him out. Again in reality, that is also a base hit. So I am down to my last at bat and decide to use a pinch hitter. I select my old buddy Greg Vaughn. Now Vaughn was beginning to see the end with the D-Rays this season, and that was a shame.

 


He was seeing his speed and his bat become less of a weapon than ever in his career. But I have always had trust in the man, and I also knew he would not let me down. So here is my plan, to have him put a ball into play and hope for a miracle. I get two quick strikes off sliders from the Marlins reliever. I am battling off the next two pitches high and outside that could have gone for strikes against me. Finally, I get a hanging curve ball and put it into the gap for a double.

 

 


At this time, the score is tied, and I have two outs. I am running on anything that Huff puts into play. Huff gets two balls low and outside. He then get schooled on a nice curve ball for a 2-1 count. Then I get a lucky break and they try and pitch him outside and about waist high. Boom a nice liner to deep right field. I start Vaughn off from second base and do not even look up to see if the ball is getting relayed into the infield by the Marlin’s right fielder. I round third streaking for home and hear the room begin to groan.

 


But they do not know what I know. I can slide in this primitive addition of the Sony game. But I decide to take on the catcher mano-on-mano and thrust up into him as he gets the throw from second base.  I somehow get the ball loose and the umpire yells “safe” over the surround sound to the gathered crowd in the room. So here I am victorious with a walk-off  victory and everyone is saying I cheated.


 

 


What! I played heads up baseball, that resulted a a winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat an Inter-state rival. The 2008 Rays would be climbing all over themselves and the plate to celebrate such a win. But in this house, they all consider it a freak and a bit of user luck to beat the game. Damn, and to think I used to play that rectangular moving brick for hours chasing a moving pong ball and never heard the words cheating, or even a word of disappointment. Guess that is the problem with games in 3-D, it also comes with the interpretation of the crowd around you. I wonder if the 2004  Boston Red Sox are up for a rematch of my fantasy World Series win in 7 games tonight?

 

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