Results tagged ‘ Hank Blalock ’
I now know how it feels to be “that other guy”. You know the one I am talking about right now. The “guy” who somehow does it right, works his tale off doing his job day after day, dating the right girl for him, polishing up that 1969 Camaro hood to a shine like the Sun, then as Jackie Gleason once said: “Pow!, right in the kisser.” He gets smacked in the teeth by reality. And just like that, he has to rebuild and recharge to pull himself off that canvas to answer the bell.
It is that same sense of realism that the Tampa Bay Rays are facing right now. Three games ago no one in their right mind could of, or would have predicted this horrific outcome. Some of the Red Sox Nation in attendance who came down to root for their visiting team never envisioned something like this series sweep when they boarded those flights from Logan to TIA. If this series were to emulate a boxing match, it would have been called by the referee in the third round by TKO. It was a classic Northeastern beat down plain and simple.
The Rays have to immediately rebuild after their customary 30-minute grace period to try and refocus and re-institute Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s main mantra of the 2010 season. This team needs to rise from this horrid beating the Red Sox put to them and push that anger and emotion within their offense and reclaim what is rightfully theirs……A first place squad doesn’t give up, doesn’t lay down, and doesn’t show fear…It stands tall, even if bloody and tired, and asks for more please.
This Boston series was a vivid reality check for the Rays that their starting pitching might “set the tone” for their rise this season, but it can just as quickly be their slope to falling too. The offense can not afford to take a single inning, a plate appearance, or a single swing off, or the offensive machine could break down just as it did the last three nights. Even with the power display put on by Rays slugger Carlos Pena with a long solo blast that came only feet short of the Trop’s back wall in that first contest, only five other hits sprinkles Tropicana Field’s turf during that initial Monday loss.
The Rays early Spring mantra of GTMI, or “Get The Man In” fell on hard times as the Rays went 1-6 with RISP, and stranded another 5 souls on the base. This statistic alone firmly stuck the fork deep into the Rays flesh and the fact the Red Sox pitching staff sent 17 consecutive hitters back to the dugout after Jason Bartlett’s double in that same contest , it twisted the fork harder into the Rays underbelly for their first loss to Boston this season.
GTMI had become instantly an anemic message of CWGaH (Can We Get a Hit). As the Rays fans walked to our cars for that long exhausting ride home after Monday night’s loss, we instantly gave that night’s win to the Red Sox knowing the “terrible two’s” ,Rays starters James Shields and Matt Garza were throwing the next two nights. With that great thought and vision of victories in our minds, that first loss seemed easier to swallow. The intense bitterness of that loss seemed less salty and diluted with the possibilities of “Big Game” and ” El Diablo” getting redemption for “WD-40″. A betting man would have wagered his salary easily on the duo with a high probability of a “W” on the left side of the Rays record column. Losing either of those match-ups would have entered his mind as he pluck down his wagers.
Tuesday night, Shields posted a “quality start”, and set the tone by only giving up 4 hits and 2 runs over 8 innings,. But the odd mixture of an ever widening strike zone by Home Plate Umpire Bob Davison and the trickery of Boston starter Jon Lester taking that extra 6 inches off the plate proved to be the Rays recipe for disaster. Lester gave up only a single to Rays Designated Hitter Willy Aybar in the fourth inning to spoil his night. The Rays again were faced with another “slumber of the lumber” epidemic as the Rays went 0-5 with RISP, and stranded 7 Rays on base in their second loss in as many nights.
The invisibility of Maddon’s offensive mantra GTMI, or “Get The Man In” might have become a broken tooth on the spoke of the Rays hitting machine and it brought the whole she-bang to a screeching halt. When the Rays have shown their offensive pratfalls this season, the team has stranded countless men on base, or forgotten where those bases were located. Without a solid smack, slap or a tickle off the Rays bats, this team will feel that bitter taste of losing again. And we knew after that second smack down this second divisional series would go to Boston. But we still felt strong in knowing the Rays were sending their own demon to the mound for the finale, and he could already taste the sweetness.
And in this final swing at the Red Sox you knew that something had to give for the Rays. Something had to be discovered or uncovered that had boosted the Rays chances at failure the previous two nights. But just as quickly as the sixth Red Sox hitter, you saw Garza instantly show the frustration behind the mound, and some sort of implosion was definitely on the horizon. After that first blast by Adrian Beltre, Garza seemed to second guessing his strategy and try to change his team’s outcome in one sweep. Garza’s 5 walks and 3 home runs allowed last night showed his mind along with his control was not as sharp as the whiskers on his chin.
Garza was having his own purgatory moments on the mound, the Rays hitters found a reoccurring theme of inconsistent hitting. They did string together an early scoring opportunity in the second inning after Blalock lead-off with a single. Blalock then advanced along the base paths and came across the plate on Reid Brignac’s grounder and tie the game and gave the Rays a boost of renewed confidence.
A second costly mistake to Beltre, which quickly deposited 388 feet into the Leftfield stands and the Red Sox quickly took this game solidly out of the Rays grasp.
The Rays need to resoundingly wake up their slumbering offense that went a combined 1-14 with RISP in their Wednesday night debacle. Soon the mantra of GTMI might be dead in the water if the team doesn’t institute a lifesaving move to save this home stand. People will point fingers from the stands towards certain Rays players who have failed to connect or contribute lately, but the stark reality is all 25 members of this Rays team are accountable right now. You win as a team, and you lose as a team.
Somehow some way this spell of offensive despair has to end. Hopefully it is a simple attitude or minor adjustment and again we can cheer and say hello to victory soon for the Rays. Either that, or is it going to be a long, long Summer, and we do not want that!
But what concerns me is not the haste of the fond farewell to the Burrell Era, but the Rays reasoning for accepting Blalocks “convoluted” threats and letting him get what he wanted in the long run instead of flushing him out of the Rays organization. This recent action goes a bit against the grain of the Rays usual mentality to purge those negative influences instead of enhance them through promotion in their farm system.
There was already a viable Ray solution currently on the Rays 25-man roster named Willy Aybar who was more than capable of taking over and having instant success at the DH position. Why did the Rays Front Office bring in their resident angry child Blalock who might end up doing more harm than good in the character of this cohesive Rays clubhouse. Why wasn’t Aybar, who has seen his name erased from duty at First Base lately not given a chance to “own” the D H spot for himself before letting Blalock and his agent Scott Boras deafening verbal barrages force the Rays hands on give in to their temper tantrum problem child.
In essence, the Rays did not have to play any part in Blalocks tug and pull game, but there might be some sort of dark reasoning to all this madness that will expose itself in time. Sure there have been acknowledgments from the Rays camp that those verbal barrages did not play into the recent decision that could have ultimately exploded on them on May 15th if the Rays did not make a corresponding move to entice Blalocks happiness. My twisted point here is that this is second moment of Blalock misery that has descended upon the Rays Front Office ears in less than 60 days that Blalock has thrown his blatant opinions and close-ended options to the media instead of hashing them out in private with the Rays Front Office like a true professional.
I hate to say it like this, but I have more respect for the two snitches in the Mariner’s locker room right now than a player who whines through the media to hasten his departure from the minor leagues. But sometimes things are done in a business like baseball to hastly dampen outward disruptions while a viable alternative solution or destination can be fully figured out from stem to stern.
If you consider baseball a normal business, then why did the Rays let an “employee” manipulate their cherished positive value system and give him a promotion to the Major Leagues instead of sending Blalock on the same sharp rail that disgruntled former Rays employees Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes took on their treks out of town and to their MLB squads. And we all know how well that move went for the Rays organization. Well, at least the Young trade netted us key Rays contributors Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.
But this time for some odd reason, the Rays decided to let the playground bully get his way and stroll into the Rays locker room with his chest extended far and wide. I can tell you I will be one of those Rays fans sitting on their hands until good old # 9 gives me a legitimate and constant reason to raise them and pop them together. And the main reason for my defiance to Blalock comes from his numerous rants and raves that I felt was not needed if he truly did have the stats and the ability to help instead of hinder this squad. But there were other options at Durham who might have also fit the bill for the Rays. Cue the Dan Johnson promotional video.
Seriously, let’s look at both Aybar and Johnson for a moment before I make a final statements on Mr. Blalock. Coming into Sunday’s game, Aybar has been a great offensive addition to the Rays with the constant flux concerning Burrell before his final Designated For Assignment verdict on Saturday. Considering Aybar went a combined 5 for 21 with a HR and 6 RBI on the Rays recent 9-game road trip, Aybar has shown a knack for getting the right hit at the right moment to spark the Rays offense. And his exclamation point just Saturday afternoon of hitting a walk-off Home Run in the bottom of the ninth inning off former Rays reliever Jesus Colume shows he has the gumption and the ability to fill the D H position in-house without Blalock in the fold.
So let’s turn our attention to my subtle reasoning for a Dan Johnson promotion, who like Blalock can play most of the Rays infield positions. Johnson has also been on a bit of a tear in the minor leagues with Durham to start the season. And if you stack them side-by-side, they might make the Rays decision a bit more…well “convoluted” to me. Johnson has appeared in 31 games and has hit .325 while Blalock was maintaining a .349 batting average. Close enough to maybe throw a tie into that mixture of facts.
If you look at their collective OPS so far in 2010 at Durham, Johnson has a 1.047 OPS as opposed to Blalocks .910 mark. During their Bulls tenure, Blalock has played mostly Third Base while Johnson has manned the First Base bag for the Bulls. But I really think that Johnson’s 11 HR compared to Blalocks 4 HR gives Johnson a distinctive edge as an offensive weapon for the Rays. But maybe the Rays saw Johnson’s 25 strikeouts compared to Blalocks 19 and considered that stat another tie or wash. But then two stats that should of made Johnson a “shoe-in for promotion might be his .651 Slugging Percentage and 15 walks. It shows shows Johnson is more selective at the plate compared to Blalocks 10 walks and .505 Slugging Percentage.
One of the explanations for Blalocks promotion was his overall versatility to play both corner positions, plus add a Designated Hitting option from the left-side of the plate. But Johnson also has that same level of distinction. I hope the Rays did some serious soul searching before they arrived at this final decision to bring Blalock to this Rays clubhouse. Considering the combined abundance of extensive Scouting and player development intelligence within the Top floor offices at Tropicana Field, you got to think there is a secret black ops plan or some sort of alternative universe thought process in rewarding Blalock for his convoluted comments and threats.
And I expect to get hammered by some people who will try and tell me to give Blalock a chance because he was so great for this team this Spring. That was true for the two weeks Blalock played until the last week of Spring Training when Blalock seemed to veer from his “Rays Way” of thinking. That moment provided our first look into the Darkness of the Blalock world. After the Rays announced that Blalock did not have a coveted slot on the Rays final 25-man roster, his first wave of frustration or disbelief hit his brain stem hard and without thinking of possible recourse, he rebounded with an instant call for the Rays to find a team that would “respect his services” or send him packing.
Some will say that the Rays worked with him and gave him assurances and possible scenarios for promotion at certain moments in the Rays season, but Blalock began to get antsy and wanted fruition to the primal Rays song and dance. And there might be a Rays crafty ulterior motive here to let Blalock showcase his talents until possibly the Trade Deadline in the end of July when the Rays could discuss his final visa papers to leave the Rays-land for another location in return for some added minor league talent.
Maybe even back in March the Rays had a plan to maybe hold onto Blalock when he would become a “premium” player and use the market to their advantage to get some needed resources heading in their quest for a 2010 Playoff berth. And if that is the intention of the Rays in the long run, then Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would have been wise to swallow his tongue and take the verbal abuses when it might net some key member(s) to a future Rays squad.
But in the end, this should have been Aybar time to shine for the Rays. Even if he is only hitting .239 in his limited appearances, he was riding a wave of increasing offensive firepower and could reward the Rays greatly in their ultimate faith in him. But then again, Aybar was batting .308 in his past 13 games prior to Saturday afternoon’s contest after starting the season 1 for 12. If that is not the sign of a positive turnaround, then I am as dumb as a box of rocks So with Blalock here, it is a no-brainer that Aybar might get the multitude of appearances against left-handed hitters while Blalock might get his moments against a right-hander.
Mike Carlson / AP
It seems to me that the Rays made the choice of bringing up Blalock with a more than ultimate chance to showcase Blalock to other team’s who might be in the market for either power hitting options in their corner infield spots or possibly DH. It might end up being the Rays real ruse to use Blalocks talents to win some key ballgames and propel them within sight of their goal, then jettison him before the fire in his belly begins to burn again…..possibly in late July.
So I will sit silent until Blalock makes me a believer that the verbal assault were just his ploy to show he has the talent and ability to be here. But until then, my hands are folded for him, but cheering wildly and loudly for Aybar to take the position firmly in his hands and keep Blalock on the Rays bench. Oh, and hopefully during his tour in the minor leagues, Blalock finally learned how to hit a breaking ball on the outside corner. If not, it is going to be a long Summer for Blalock.
And if I was someone within the Tampa Bay Front Office, I would be beginning to be a bit annoyed at his spoiled child act flaring up again.Most people around baseball might have forgotten Blaylock pulled this same “if you do not put me on your Major League roster, I will take my toys and go away” scene back during Spring Training, and the Rays did not budge an inch from their positioning.
At that time, no one within the MLBs many front offices or scouting departments were eager or even remotely responsive to the Rays trying to entice their brethren with Blalock’s persona across the phone/email trails. It seemed that most MLB people still had reservations about the 2-time All Star being a productive member of the baseball society at that time. And because of that, the Rays did not get a big bite or a favorable offer to even move Blalock.
But now the team might hear at least some introduction to trade discussions from places like Seattle, Washington, or maybe even parts unknown for Blalocks services due to their own team’s downfalls in offense or defense. There are several teams who might nibble this time at the Rays bait, but a huge bite might not even be forthcoming at this moment for Blalock.
But for me, this song and dance is getting more than a bit old to me.
Hank, buddy, pal, you tried this childish temper tantrum and had to swallow your pumped-up pride and take a plane, train and automobile ticket to Durham to try and showcase your talents to not just the Rays, but to the rest of the Major League. People had enough doubt in you to want to see you produce the “goods” again before they would even discuss your name in conversation. That my friend is a ego-blast that should have humbled you.
So you have gotten your own predesignated 100 minor league at bats, which might have been your own self-diagnosed starting point to begin your trail of exile from Rays-land. Or could it have been that you just reached your minor league boiling point because you are still doing the minor league bus thing and you and your agent think you are better than that.
You have shown both yourself and the baseball world that you still got the goods and should maybe be basking in the MLB approved 5-star hotels eating expensive room service instead of getting your paltry minor league per deims that scream out Country Fried Steak or fast food. Maybe your appetite went from 3-squares to 5-star because of the whispers into your ears recently.
And I think it is more of a financial bully attack right now that Boras has pumped Blalock full to the brim with the 6-figures motivational speech of his choice that he is losing out every day at the minor league level.And if these two want to play this game….fine. If I was Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, I would throw his name out into the fodder trade pit of the Major League Baseball and see which team comes to sniff out Blalock the most in the next few days.
You can be sure the Seattle Mariners will be sniffing around and carcass and might actually take the Rays up on a trade since they have seen more two sluggers bats go cold within the last month.
But I hope the Rays might are wiser than that. They might just want to see who, and what might be available and let this festering cancer completely flush itself from the Rays professional system.Friedman already seems to not have a huge amount of professional respect or admiration for Blalock and his child’s games, maybe Friedman will send him to baseball purgatory as his reward. I think it would be fitting for Blalock to go somewhere he will lament and basically beg to get out of by the Trade deadline.
But for myself, I am ashamed we took the additional time, extra effort and considerable money to pay a guy like Blalock who always had a secondary plan in his mind the entire time he wore our colors. I truly do not think he ever had a viable intention to be a contributing member of this Rays team, but was going to use this franchise until he got what he wanted , then leave in a mad heated rush.So I say without reservation, we should flush a **** like Blalock far away. Get what we can for this disgruntled Rays employee who can swat the ball with power, and play a corner infield position. Give him his ultimate freedom so he can make this huge mistake and sit back and see the error of his ways come October when the Rays are still playing baseball, and Blaylock has packed his gear and headed home. He doesn’t deserve to play for a team like the Rays.
He definitely doesn’t deserve teammates like the 25 players assembled who will go out and basically die for their team without showing their battle scars and wounds as an example of their chest-thumping glory.I truly say Friedman and the Rays should toss Blalock into the porcelain bowl for a few days and let him float there as the Rays take offers and trade feelers about him. Let him marinate in his own devices, maybe even purge himself of some of his smug attitude and firm posturing.
Then, when he least expects it send him tossing and turning around the bowl with doubt and false expectations before you finally take the handle within your grasp and flush him forever from the confines of this Rays organization.
It was a crap shoot when we originally signed him to if Blalock could regain his Major League ability and be a viable option for the team if Burrell faltered or got injured. But Blalocks deceptive desire to vacate the Rays premises shows he had no true intentions of being a productive member of the Rays army. And for that, he should be gone by sunset in seven days. Hopefully we can flush this trouble down the drain without calling Roto-Rooter.
Bill Koustroun/AP Coming into the 2010 Spring Training season, the Tampa Bay Rays were optimistic that First Baseman Carlos Pena was going to come into camp perfectly healthy and ready to lead by example for this young Rays team. And all eyes have been on Pena ever since he first told the Tampa Bay media members even before this 2010 Spring Training camp began that he feels healthy and that his two fingers broken when he was plucked by a C C Sabathia fastball in late 2009 were completely healed and the entire situation is totally forgotten.
Then early on in this 2010 Spring camp, the Rays announced that First Baseman/Utility guru Willy Aybar sustained a wrist problem during this while playing in the Dominican Winter League, and lingering injury has put Aybar a bit behind the rest of the Rays squad this Spring. To some around the Rays Republic, this immediately sent up a few red flags concerned about Aybar’s ability to be an effective back-up to Pena and Third Baseman Evan Longoria if his wrist injury turned out to be more a nightmare than a simple sprain.
And when the Rays made an surprising move and signed Free Agent Hank Blalock, who played a majority of his time at First Base for the Texas Rangers in 2009 to a pretty complex and “convoluted” ( per Andrew Friedman) contract that now smells more and more like a “sure-thing” insurance policy heading into the middle of the Rays Spring schedule. But while the Rays were enjoying winning 9-straight games, it seemed like the Rays front office and Coaching staff was not in the least bit worried about Aybar not getting his first swings in a game until this week, or concerned with Pena’s early Spring struggles as he has now gone 0-18 with only one run scored to begin the 2010 Grapefruit season.
And then last week the Rays signed former Cuban National Team member Leslie Anderson who can play all three outfield positions and also First Base to a 4-year contract and the team has been adamant that they want to get him in a uniform as soon as possible. Some might say the Blalock signing is a coincidence, but the signing also a Anderson might signal something might be wrong and the silent treatment is being employed throughout the Rays clubhouse. I guess only time will tell what is really going on with Pena and Aybar this Spring.
And with Blalock just seeing his first Spring 2010 action this past Saturday against the Florida Marlins and going 0-2 with a walk and a strikeout, it appear on the surface that Pena and Blalock both have that mysterious .000 average going for them right now, but the reality is that Pena is swinging hard in the batting cages before the games. And maybe he is concentrating too much on his swing and it is transformed into Pena shooting blanks right now in Rays game situations. And with Aybar and Blalock just beginning to get their hacks at the plate, and the next week might speak volumes as to who starts ,or gets the most at bats this Spring.
And with two of the three Rays usual First Base candidates nursing off season trials and tribulations, it is only a matter of time before we find out if there is additional problems at bay, or if Blalock was actually brought here to maybe supplant Aybar as the Rays uber-utility guy since Blalock can effectively play both corner positions. And Blalock might not have put up some impressive offensive numbers ( .234, 25 HR 66 RBI) the last season with the Rangers, but his overall MLB pedigree ( 2 All Star nods) reads like a great sleeper addition to the ball club….on paper.
Since Blalock has a unique Rays contract that basically give him the final decision/option to decide if staying here with the Rays is a good thing, or bad, that might also speak volumes as to the Rays cautious level of uncertainty concerning both the health of Pena and Aybar heading into the last week of the Grapefruit season. The Blalock move puzzled me at first, but more and more I am seeing it is a great insurance policy with power by getting a guy who could start, or be an effective back-up DH if either Pena or Aybar go down with additional time on the disable list in 2010, or a viable option if Burrell sinks deeper in the quicksand with a slow start to the regular season.
And sure, Ben Zobrist can also play First and Third Base, but Zobrist has been used sparingly at First Base, even during Pen’a injury time in 2009, and might be a significant drop in the defense right now at First Base compared to Blalock who only had 6 errors in over 567 chances in 2009. And you can expect the question marks to get even bigger hanging over First Base with every game that Pena puts up a goose egg, or doesn’t hit the ball solidly at the plate. Sometimes the physical injuries can be healed, but the mental impression of the injury takes some additional plate appearances, or hitting attempts before the mind also thinks you are ready to hit again effectively.
And Pena is a total team player. If for some reason, Pena sees something harmful in his swing or plate demeanor towards the last week of Spring Training, you can bet Pena will be open and honest to anything the Rays might want to do to get him back on track again. And sometimes slumps happen to every team’s All Stars and Silver Slugger winners. All you have to do is look back at the horrific beginning to 2009 that happened to Boston DH David Ortiz following his wrist ailments to know that sometimes the body is willing, but the balls doesn’t seem to be going anywhere effective.
And hopefully that is what is going on right now in the Pena’s situation. Maybe his timing is not where he wants it to be and his eye-hand coordination is off a tick or two. That can produce some major contact problems, but Pena also is not striking out in bunches this Spring, so it might just be simple adjustments and Pena maybe watching video of his swing mechanics the next couple of game before he comes back with a bang for the Rays.
But it is great that the Rays have made some consolation arrangements just in case something else might be derailing either Aybar or Pena for any amount of time this season. But the Spring clock is ticking louder on Blalock and with him having the final decision on his name being maybe placed upon the Rays roster, it might be time for both Aybar and Pena to show solid contact at the plate and relieve some of the Rays front office and staff from holding their breath this Spring and becoming Rays blue in the face.
I seriously would not like to see the Rays take the field in their 2010 Opening Game against division foe Baltimore without Pena on the field. But the reality of the situation might be that the Rays just have to collectively take a step back with both players, and maybe give Blalock a few more at bats while Aybar and Pena work in the cages with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton and get some more confidence in themselves.
Pena is entering his last contract year with the Rays, and unlike the mysterious Crawford situation, I can see the Rays working with Pena to try and keep a guy who is a cornerstone of this franchise with his great power and his leadership on this Rays roster for a few more years. But right now there are big question marks rising every day over near that first base bag, and the Rays need to squash those questions and doubts in the bud as soon as possible.
If there is something wrong with either Aybar or Pena, even a small problem, then the Rays need to take a step backwards and work towards taking two steps forward later this Spring. With three guys with Major League Baseball experience at first base right now straddling the line and bag for the Rays something has to give. If Pena and Aybar are healthy and mentally clicking to begin the season, the parting of Blalock might not be a huge thing.
But if there is the hint of the lingering situation, Blalock might be the ultimate sleeper signing for the Rays this season. Clock is ticking, and soon Pena and Aybar must get on their horse and ride, or the former Ranger Blalock might be the guy wearing the big white hat for the Rays.
And these word spoken by then Rays Team Owner Vince Namoli to the Tampa Tribune might sum up the great celebration and also the knowledge that we still had a long journey ahead of us before that First Pitch in 1998. “It’s been a path of 10,000 steps, 10,000 phone calls, 10,000 frustrations. Now we’re at the end of the path, but we start a new path,” Naimoli said. “We start to focus on hiring a general manager, on the Dome, on the development of the franchise, on the minor-league system, on Opening Day 1998. We’re into the fun path.”
I still remember both announcements as if it was yesterday and still have that memory of finally hearing we had our dream of a professional baseball team in our sights and had a hard road ahead of us, but one that always has been a pleasure. From our first pick (Paul Wilder) in the 1996 First Year Players Draft, to the recent announcement of two-time All Star Hank Blalock being signed by the Rays, to paraphrase an old television commercial, this team has come a long way baby!
And today I hope all Tampa Bay fans take a moment after 12 pm to again try and remember and enjoy this moment. Sure we might have had a few rough years starting out before our Rays farm system began to churn out players like outfielder Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, or pitcher Joe Kennedy who showed us that building through our minor leagues was our path to the top. And less than 7 years after Crawford first played on the turf of Tropicana Field, we envisioned a rise to Playoff status, and an eventual ride to the World Series.
And as we near that special moment in time today, it is actually fun for me to go back in time and remember I was sitting in a local gym when the announcement hit the airwaves that sent the room into an instant celebration. Because around me also working out were minor league players from the Orioles system and also a few University of Florida football players getting ready for Spring drills. Instantly the mood went from working out to celebrating, and I know we were not alone in wanting to paint the town red that night.
Got to admit it here, I love it when the Tampa Bay Rays come north and play the Philadelphia Phillies during Spring Training. It is basically a Rays “homecoming” to their fans who do not have the time or resources to travel the 80 miles down to Port Charlotte, Florida for their Grapefruit League schedule. And making it a double pleasure is that the game is played at BrightHouse Field, which has to be one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in Pinellas County.
So here we go as I pop on a few photos today on my journey northbound to the chilly tundra that is Clearwater, Florida. Seriously, when the game started on Sunday at 1 pm, it was 65 degrees, by the time the game was wrapped up with the Rays shutting down the Phillies 5-3 for their third victory of the Spring, it was down to 61 degrees. Not complaining, just found it kind of weird during such a sunny day with limited wind hitting you in the stands. But then again as I always say….If you do not like the weather in Florida, wait 15 minutes, it will change.
That might be another reason Dillon has been catching more this season to make his stock rise above just being a utility player mostly playing in the infield. And during Batting Practice today, I saw him moving all around the infield from taking balls at third base, to manning the first base bag for a bit. Dillon did get in the game yesterday coming in for Elliot Johnson and playing third base, but went 0-2 in the game. Got to tell you, I always get a bit jealous of those corporate slugs across from me sitting in the Hooters VIP Diamond Dugout section. Not only do they get waitresses in skimpy Hooter attire, but they have almost instant access to the bench along with some great chicken wings and blue cheese.
Got to befriend someone some day and see if I should be so jealous of this section….I think I would be no matter what. But I also find it kind of wild that in Bright House Field, the Phillies have two Hooters ball girls down the foul lines who sit in these nice canvas chairs with gloves in hand flirting with the fans and just looking pretty. Sure I have seen them get out of their chairs a few times, but I forget they are not there for their baseball skills but to look cute and smile for the fans. Always wondered why the Phillies did not bring down two of their regular season Philly Ballgirls who actually play softball for local leagues or college in the Philly area.
Always love how the Rays players treat their younger fans. You do not get the total jest of it in this photo, but Elliot Johnson was actually throwing the ball with the young baseball player in red for about three minutes before the kid had to go back into the infield and stand for the National Anthem. You know it is moments like these that makes a child a baseball fan for life. And what a story he will have when he goes back to school on Monday telling all of his friends he threw a baseball with a Major League Baseball player… on the field before a game….priceless moment.
Always love it when the United States Army’s Golden Knights parachute team does a pre-game event like this in BrightHouse Field. I have now seen it a few times and it is always a great spectacle and an extremely emotional sight seeing the billowing red smoke and the final recognition of our flag attached to his parachute. I find it really interesting to see this Sunday prior to the Oscars last night that saw the simply amazing film “The Hurt Locker” take the Best Film honors. I have to say I have seen the film and loved it for its realism and attention to military detail.
What was amazing in this game on Sunday is we saw everyone of the Rays players fighting for a roster spot play in front of some of their hometown fans who came out and helped set a attendance record for a Spring Training game held at Bright House Field. 10,474 fans filled every nook and cranny of the stadium on Sunday. It was definitely standing room only out in the grassy berm areas, and the concession stands did look like the usual rush during a Rays/Yankees or Rays/Red Sox series. Even saw one of the Trop’s beer guys Mark working in the stands yesterday and it made the game feel more like a home game.
Had a funny thing happen to me yesterday while I was sitting in the 7th row down in Section 104. Had an older gentleman tell us to either give him play-by-play of the game or shut up. My new found friends from Philly were a bit perplexed, but I reminded them that we do live in a retirement region here in Florida, and some people like to concentrate on the baseball game. I did not want to upstage the guy and tell him I would be more than willing to do audio for him of the game. The few fans around us were a bit upset, but for me, it was just business as usual in Florida. But I do understand the guy’s request.
We were talking about Philly places I knew and the Winter they just went through up there, and maybe this guy was not into our discussions. One of the Philly guys actually remarked that if we were in a movie theatre, it was not a problem to stop talking, but we were at a baseball game. I just laughed it all off and said it was fine, I could get some more photos and maybe get some much needed sun on my farmer-tanned bones. Funny it really got a few people around me upset, but I made sure they knew if it was Tropicana Field I might have kept talking, but since I was in someone else’s stadium, I respected the guy wearing his green Phillies cap.
One thing I did notice was that Rays First Base Coach George Hendricks seemed a bit unprepared for this game today. I tried to ask someone in the Rays clubhouse if George’s usual number 25 jersey might not have made the trip north, but they were really closed-lipped about it. It was kind of funny to see him wearing that “95″ jersey, which usually a sure sign of a Rays minor leaguer getting a chance with the big club. Notice Hendrick’s batting helmet shows his “usual” jersey number 25 on it
I also asked a few of the photographers about these wild looking silver camera I saw in at least three different spots around BrightHouse Field on Sunday. I was advised that they were permanent Major League Baseball Network cameras that got primary shots from the First Base, Third Base and Centerfield angles during Spring Training games. I had not even noticed them before and found it quite interesting they did not employ three different cameramen for these regions during telecasts earlier in the Spring.
But it was a great simply beautiful day out in the sun in Florida on Sunday. And the day was even made more special after Rays Radio man Rich Herrera yelled out “Renegade” from his silver car as he sped away from a side street onto Old Coachman Road on his way home from the ballgame. Plenty of excited Rays fans and Phillies fans enjoying one of the best weather days this Spring. Congrats to the Phillies again for setting a new single game attendance record, and hopefully we can make another run at that record on Tuesday, March 23rd when the Rays come back to this amazing ballpark and I will sit instead out in the berm region to give a different prospective to this great ballpark.
When Jon Daniels signed Michael Young to a five-year, $80 million extension two years ago, he said he hoped it would help the Rangers keep his good friend Mark Teixeira. Big Tex is long gone. Michael Young could be on the way. Young revealed over the weekend that he asked to be traded after a breakfast with Daniels a few weeks ago turned ugly when, Young said, Daniels gave him an ultimatum to move to third base.
As a brand new third baseman, Young probably wouldn’t be the league’s best any time soon. And whereas Young committed 11 errors at shortstop in 2008, heir apparent to the shortstop position, Elvis Andrus committed 32 in the minors. Throw in second baseman Ian Kinsler’s error totals, and the Rangers might give up even more runs this year than they did in 2008.
I personally love it sometimes when great baseball players are asked to change from their All Star positions because they are blocking the path of some upstart rookie ( Elvis Andrus ) who is the future star of the franchise. But what is most upsetting in this situation is the fact that Young is being viewed as an afterthought even though he is one of the best at his position in the American League. I have heard a few people say that current Texas Ranger Michael Young is being a baby for complaining about moving further to the left in the infield and now playing third base for the team. Hey, the guy has established himself on a team that fights to hit .500 every year. He has moved before for a player, and might just consider it a way for the team to get him close to the dugout, then out the door in Arlington.
Now let me see here, the guy was an All Star at second base and he was holding up Ian Kinsler from being able to play in the major leagues, so he moved over to shortstop to make the transition and the second base spot opened up magically for Kinsler to move faster through the system to the majors. Now that is the sign of a great team-first attitude guy. He moved over to another position to get another big bat to the lineup. That is the kind of guy you want on your squad, right?
So here we are in 2009, and the Rangers are again trying to convince Young to move a little more to his left and become the team’s third baseman. Is this an indication that they are going to give up on the Hank Blalock at third experiment and hope that Young can find happiness at his third position while he has been in the majors. Now I agree that the first time he was a perfect gentleman in moving over “for the good of the team.” But it seems like this time he has every right to not want to move over for another guy again.
Something to take into consideration here, Young has played a total of 8 innings, not even an entire game at third base in his career. So by asking a player to switch his position just before the season, or a trade happens is rare, but in Texas there is a previous action that can be deemed for the move. People tend to forget that 8 years ago, when Alex Rodriguez agreed to switch to third base to be traded to the New York Yankees, he also was not familiar with the position for an extended time. Considering he was a better defensive shortstop that Derek Jeter, A-Rod did the team oriented thing and manned up and switched to the Hot Corner.
If you remember right, the Rangers kind of forced out Rodriguez late in the off season, and the Yankees made his position switch a prerequisite to the trade. Why would you move a guy who has been an All Star at his position for the last 5 years to another more skilled and reflex-oriented position and bring up a 20-year old rookie who has only played below double-A ball. Let’s not forget that when A-Rod was traded for Alphonso Soriano, it was thought that Soriano would be the Rangers everyday shortstop, and not go to the outfield. Because Young switched to shortstop at this moment makes the idea that he is not willing to move an inaccurate statement considering his history in the past. Or could it be that when Young signed that $ 80 million dollar extension, there were already seeds planted to make this move and were not brought up in the negotiations at all.
Come on, the guy is an All Star at his position and is considered one of the best shortstops both hitting and fielding in the American League. Put the fact that he finally got some real recognition this past season by getting his first Gold Glove and you want to move him? Are you serious here guys. You want to bring up a rookie and pop him into the shortstop position and are not aware of the growing pains you are going to place not only on your first baseman, but on your entire team concept.
Well, I have a solution for you Texas. Since you do not seem to know what you want to do with Mr. Young, why hot trade him to the Tampa Bay Rays for a few missing pieces in your lineup and pitching staff. I am here to offer you a starting pitcher who has already pitched at the major league level, a infielder who can play third base, and an outfielder to make the deal an all around success. Now with the starting pitcher, you have a nice selection of ex-Rice star Jeff Neimann, tall reliever/starter Jason Hammel, and Mitch Talbot.
All come with their own fantastic positives, but all have been to the big club level and need more appearances to make their presence know in this league. With your young staff, such a luxury of getting a young savvy starter would help Ranger G M Nolan Ryan move quickly to transform his rag tag pitching staff into a well oiled machine. I am willing to throw in a great up and coming infielder who I think will be a great star for you this season. Willy Aybar might be under arbitration right now, but the guy has pure upside and is one of the most underrated infielders in the league.
His ever increasing power and his ability to play the hot corner give you an instant solution to the “Young” situation, and he can play there for years until you develop or sign a young third baseman in the future. I do think tho, that Aybar could be your man for the next 5 years in that spot. And to round thing off, let’s include a young outfielder with a lot of intelligence and major league ability. Justin Ruggiano is a outstanding fielder who is currently stuck in his own logjam at the major league level with the Rays. By acquiring this young star, you can have an ample fourth outfielder who can play the corner positions without a problem.
If this is not enough, we might be able to include or exclude or even piece together the right package to get this deal done as soon as possible. Just be sure to let me know where your thinking is on the matter and we can respond accordingly.
Seriously here, this deal would be a total plus for the Rays. Hey, we might even be able to just give up a pitcher or Aybar and then give them current Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett as a throw in so they can trade him to Boston or another team looking long and hard for a able shortstop. This is not to say I think that Bartlett is not the shortstop for the Rays, but if you can make a major upgrade like this, in a year that will be faced with more pitfalls and holes than in 2008, then why not make the move.
To put an All Star like Young next to a young gun like Evan Longoria makes that side of the infield almost the Great Wall of Tampa Bay. The power solution is almost off the charts here too. Think about the offensive firepower of such a move. You could have 3 guys who could hit 30 homers in a season in 3 of your 4 infield positions in the tightest division in baseball. And you would not be paying New York Yankee prices to get that offensive firepower. Young is on the hook for $ 16 million a year, but wouldn’t the offensive fireworks be worth the effort?
And let’s not forget that Young would be flanked by Akinori Iwamura, who might just be coming into his own in 2009 at second base. After 1 season getting used to the position, Aki might just propel his defensive numbers again skyward and prove to be the next All Star for the Rays at his position. And combined with his speed and clutch hitting, makes a great pairing in the lineup.
But the biggest piece is that Gold Glover at first base for the Rays. Not only is he a offensive power, but he was a defensive marvel in 2008 to help Bartlett look even better on paper by leaning, jumping and blocking everything throw within range of him. Not only can Pena do it with his maple bat, but he is the best option at first base in the American League. Think of the nice defensive numbers Young could put up with a guy who sacrifices his body for the ball and will go above and beyond for the team and his team mates.
Seriously think about the possible firepower and the defensive grip such an infield could have on the American League East. Every team in our division has a solid third baseman, but non have a shortstop except for the Yankees who could even reach the potential of Young. He could come into a situation with this team to be a major winner in a short period of time. Young has never been to the postseason while with the Rangers. If this trade were to somehow manifest itself, could he be holding up a nice gleaming piece of hardware in October?
I know this is pure fantasy. The Rays have already committed about $ 60 million to their payroll for 2009. Such a trade would have to be a wish list offering by Andrew Friedman to owner Stu Sternberg as the final piece of the puzzle to repeat and take that next step in 2009. I can not see Friedman make that kind of request first off, but then again, he has pulled off a few under the radar trades that have been internal blockbusters to the Rays. In comparison, if they would pick up Young, the Rays would be paying him the almost the same as the combined salaries of left fielder Carl Crawford and Pena ( $ 16.25 million). But in all reality, Young might end up in the American League East, but not with the Rays. There are a few teams on the horizon who could scoop up Young without a problem with their 2009 payroll.
You have to know that by now, Red Sox G M Theo Epstein is burning up Nolan Ryan’s cellphone minutes offering what he can to fulfill a nice trade to bean town. But the fact might be that Young might not want to go to Boston. But the nice part of who ever gets Young is that he is signed until 2013. That give a huge amount of security to whoever takes his contract. It might mean a set $ 16 million is gone every year upfront, but it also gives you the stability to know what you payroll will be even after your last game in 2009 for the following year.
I would love to see such an infield in Tampa Bay, but I know that it is illogical for Friedman to pull off such a great trade. The money involved with Young would be the deal breaker, but just for a moment, think of the offensive juggernaut that would make the Rays coming into 2009. It would put the team firmly up there as the team to beat in 2009, even without consideration of their young and talented pitching staff.