Results tagged ‘ J P Howell ’

Rays “Golden Arms” Were the Highlight of 2012

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As we begin our final countdown days towards the end of 2012, I want to take a moment to look back and remember both fondly and shudder at what was the Tampa Bay Rays 15th full season. This team showed us so much in their 180 day 2012 campaign both on the turf and off as this team bonded like never before where we all were witnessed to watch segments of their battle plan both explode and implode.

m3f5403-retouchIt was a season where human action figures named “Batman” (Wil Rhymes), “Godzilla” (Hidecki Matsui) and even “Wolverine” (Luke Scott) intertwined with “Zorilla” (Ben Zobrist), “HellBoy” (Jeremy Hellickson) and the “Archer” (Fernando Rodney). Even with such heroic character names, this team could not ultimately find a way into the October post season party, but their travel from game 1-162 was never boring, or devoid of heart and soul. We also got to see this team’s “nerdy”-side as team road trips again showed imagination and chemistry.

york-yankees-v-tampa-bay-20120702-193721-7552012 was also the season we saw a few players take their game to the next level with authority. B J Upton missed the coveted “30-30” spot by 2 HR, but in his failed attempt we finally saw glimmers of the potential we have always envisioned for him. Hellickson, fresh off his AL Rookie of the Year platform again garnered new hardware as he earned a special honor of garnering a co-ownership spot in the form of a glistening Gold Glove taking his pitching education to another dimension. We got to see the pitching promise that is Chris Archer, the resounding clarity that was Fernando Rodney brilliance, but also felt the pain and anguish of Rhymes as he collapsed into the arms of Rays First Base coach George Hendricks.

d2We all got to bear witness to one of those once-in-a-generation moments as Rays southpaw David Price and New York Mets knuckleballer R A Dickey both squared off in an early Inter League showdown on their journey towards their eventual Cy Young moments. Price in particular showed his stamina and determination throughout the 2012 campaign being one of the true linchpins of the Rays rotation providing the type of consistency and fortitude needed of your number 1 hurler.

In an ironic twist, the Rays home city of St. Petersburg, Florida somehow dropped the celebration ball with Price, possibly committing a ultimate publicity faux pas by getting “one-upped” by their “neighboring community” of Tampa presenting Price the key to the city with Astro, his trusty sidekick getting the opening cue on ESPN’s “Sportcenter” that evening. As is Price’s personality, he rolled with the moment possibly producing the best dog sound byte since Lassie’s first bark on television.

tumblr_m3fqj3gHF31qekndso3_12802012 was definitely a “Dog’s year” for the Rays as early on in the Spring they revealed their true love for the canine when players from the team teamed up with local no-kill animal shelter/clinic Pet Pals to produce a calendar that showcased the likes of RP Wade Davis’s German Shepherd pal Charlie, Evan Longoria’s “Spuds McKenzie” look-alike Bull Terrier Jango and Longo’s other canine condo bunk mate Boerboel Mastiff Tatum. We all even got to meet Maddon’s stoic English Bulldog furry friend Winston who like Astro has his own twitter account. Even behind the camera lens there was a Rays presence as James Shields wife Ryane did all of the shutterbug duties as the team embraced this community animal haven.

6985308645_09d3a46c7d_zalso saw bald again become beautiful as both Rays players, Coaches and even front office personnel let their curly and straight locks of hair fall to the wooden decks of the Charlotte Sports Park this Spring. From Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Maddon to even Rays clubhouse staffers, all sat in the barber’s chairs to show community support and love for the “Cut for a Cause” campaign started by another fellow Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny LeCavalier to bring about awareness to local pediatric cancer organizations and promote one of the Spring most heart-felt moments.

Even with all this animal love bounding through the Tampa Bay region, 2012 was also produced another stalemate check mark as the team and the surrounding communities wage verbal and visual battles trying to loosen the Rays lips and get some sort of loose translation sound byte of their own in the Rays quest to find their next home on either side of the bay.

carillon-new-rays-stadiumWith proposals surfacing that went as far East as the Florida Fairgrounds region, to a patch of dirt just off the Howard Franklin bridge in the Carrilon region, the entire community awaits with baited breath for some sign of the Rays want to stay or leave this community. Hopefully 2013 the silence will be broken and at least some parameters set into the community as to the Rays visions and dreams of a new state-of-the-art stadium hopefully somewhere in the Tampa Bay region.

Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta2012 started off with a few displays of fireworks with walk-off victories and the revelation that would become the foundation of the Rays Archery Club as we all bared witness to re-emergence of the shut-down abilities of Rodney who pushed post game arrows higher and farther with even his teammates watching as his quivers and stats reached levels not seen in the MLB for some time. Just watching Rodney pull back the imaginary string and release into the sky a Rays record 48 times was reason enough to be a Rays fan. 2012 was also filled with “Gladiator” moments as the team embraced the Roman warrior culture with some of it making its way onto television screen across America.

Evan LongoriaUnfortunately 2012 also revealed a few flaws in the Rays machine, especially after Longoria went down with a hamstring injury and the Rays began a roller coaster ride that did not straighten out until Longo again adorned a Rays uniform and returned to the lineup. Even with the Rays pitching staff producing incredible numbers in strikeouts, saves and ERA during 2012, the elimination of the Rays most potent weapon for such a long stretch showed their Achilles heel to all, and their opposition attacked the Rays at the core of their weakness with vengeance.

201208221343494136596-p2Even though Upton, Zobrist and even new Ray Jeff Keppinger tried to fill the void, their own production was muted by the struggles and slumps of Carlos Pena, Scott and the merry-go-round that was the Rays Third Base and Shortstop position for most of the season. The Rays once strong point of defense sprung leaks, showed faults and ultimately produced moments that reminded all of us of those pre-2008 Rays squads. 

It is hard to find a true title to the Rays 15th campaign. For all the highs and lows, the moments of exhilaration as we witnessed walk-offs and lost opportunities, nothing really stood out except the 5 souls who made up the Rays rotation.

Seattle Mariners v Tampa Bay RaysTheir arms truly becoming “golden” during the season as the team set an AL leading marks of 1,385 K’s , a incredible combined team ERA of 3.19, and saw Shields and Price eclipse the 200+ inning mark again. 2012 also saw mirror image inning production from young Rays Moore (177.1 innings pitched) and Hellickson (177.0 innings pitched) as they gained another strong year on the mound.

In the end, 2012 began and ended on the mound for the Rays. No matter what offensive highlight moment or defensive mis-step behind them, the Rays hurlers both starting and in relief set the tone this season and brought this team within a few victories of again hitting October moments. Their consistency, going deep into contests combined with stellar relief marks by everyone down in the Rays Bullpen gave us hope and want that the playoffs and October glory was still within our reach.

thYou can say 2012 was a lot of things from “Fortune Favoring the Bold”, to arrows piercing the night sky, but in the end it truly was the Rays “Golden Arms” who kept us spirited and showed us determination, heart and even a little hustle can produce moments to remember. As a homage to 2012, I am definitely tilting my cap to the right on New Years Eve as an homage to what was so fantastic about 2012.

August Waiver Fishing Can be Catch and Release

I have always looked at the 30 days after the final bell of the Trade Deadline as fishing season. Now that the non-waiver wire transaction have been concluded, that doesn’t mean the wheeling and deals has come to a halt, or that as the month of August comes to a close, more and more deals will come popping out of the blue. You got to remember, during this critical juncture in the season, if a player is not squared away on an MLB 40-man roster by August 31st, he will not have eligibility for post-season play.

So I imagine we will see an unending plethora of both fly fishing casts and deep sea trolling maneuvers from sea to shining MLB sea from any of the 30 members of the MLB brass up until the final ticks of the clock of August.

The Trade Deadline being done and buried, this is the time period where all 30 of the MLB brass can select any player on their 40-man roster, pluck him into the briny blue and wait to see if the waters churn and become agitated or remain flaccid and smooth. Any player, even a All-Star or fading veteran can be deposited into the water during this time, and depending on the type of fishing, they can either be landed or the underwater menace is left with just a bad taste in his mouth as his prey is pulled to safety.

Putting a player into the MLB waiver pond is simple enough, but from there the rules can get as muddled as the mighty Mississippi as it winds through the Louisiana delta. Teams can either be playing the light and loose game of catch and release by offering a player into the waiver wading pond, then just as a team puts in a waiver on the swimming feast, his parent club can yank him back to the safety of their 40-man roster without regret, and possibly a future off-season trading partner. Once a player during this waiver period has hit the tidal pool, if he is pulled back off the line, he can not be dealt for at least 30 days…if then.

But then there are others who are playing the trolling or deep sea game. Putting a large contract or “ big fish” out there in hopes someone will nibble, bite or swallow whole a player and his club can wash their hands of a bad contract, aging veteran or possibly just rid themselves of a fish that is beginning to stink in his own bait bucket. You will definitely see this type of fishing game from a club hoping to swing a deal to lower payroll, but then again they could also pull back their bait knowing they have an interested party who might again bite in the Winter.

Sure a player can be pulled back to safety in either of those fishing antics, but what if the parent club lets the hook get in deep, doesn’t pull the bait to safety, or no one bites at the tasty morsel even if they desire it in their clubhouse. What options then might lie ahead for the consumed or lonely bait nugget? There can be 3 alternatives to waiver fishing at this time of the year.

First option is the fisherman/ parent club can begin to work out a trade arrangement with the Goliath Grouper /hungry adversary who bit the bait and hung on for dear life. As long as the player who is usually on his team’s 40-man roster clears waivers, both sides are privy to slicing and dicing up a trade/sushi roll that satisfies both of their desires.

Second option is more cunning and can directly effect the claiming team economically as well as physically. The trolling club can just take the option of dumping the player and his enormous salary right on the desired team’s dock with no remorse, regret or chance of being called “Indian givers”. This option comes with a bit of peril as one team will get the player desired as the others gets to walk away free and clear of all financial and physical responsibilities for the claimed trophy fish.

Third option that can be played out is no one claims the waiver wire bait and his parent club can wiggle his carcass to any of the other 29 MLB clubs free and clear of want or worry of someone making a claim on them.

But here is where it can come down to just plain good gamesmanship and cunning strategy. Let’s say a player is dangled and wiggled in the waters and two fish want to consume that tasty morsel. Well, then it gets a bit complicated, or simpler depending on your respective league and overall record at that moment.

Depending on both teams records and if the player is from their own American or National League, the team that has the worst record among the 2 squads, and if they are in the same league as the claimed player…that doubles the ante and gives that team a viable chance to nibble on the yummy fillet.

Okay, let’s use the Tampa Bay Rays RP/SP Wade Davis ( an avid fisherman) as an example here and show all 3 options. If we get a solid tug on the line and a team claims Davis and the Rays are receptive to dealing Davis to the claiming squad, then the two sides will haggle out a deal and Davis will turn in his sunburst for whatever colors his new team wears.

Option 2 definitely will not happen as the Rays have Davis under a pretty team-friendly contract and would not be looking to dump him on someone at any cost. Considering Davis is signed through 2014 with options for 2015,2016 and 2017, option 1 will be the only clear cut way to getting a player like Davis who a claiming team can control for the next 2 seasons with club options for 3 additional seasons. If this would happen, it would be a clear cost-cutting move for the Rays, but that isn’t a viable conclusion.

Option 3 would not happen as at considering there were more than 4 teams watching Davis before the Trade Deadline, and possibly every one of them would possibly put in a waiver wire claim on him knowing his contract and pitching flexibility.

Davis is definitely one of the examples from the Rays roster that could get a waiver claim submitted when the Rays post his name for that 48 hour period. Another key component here is the team doesn’t have to advise the player of his waiver posting, and usually a player can go through the entire process without a hint or whisper as either his team will pull him back from the waiver pond, or he will go unclaimed and be subject to the team’s final decision.

I expect SP James Shields, RP Kyle Farnsworth, RP J P Howell, CF B J Upton, RP Joel Peralta, INF Elliot Johnson, Jeff Keppinger , Jeff Niemann and maybe even 1B Carlos Pena to make a bigger splash with possible waiver decisions for the Rays.

With some of these mentioned players, 2012 might be their last time wearing the Rays colors, but before the end of August, almost every player with value, including possibly a few names we once thought were “untouchables” could spend a few moments in the cooling waters of the waiver pond.

Wonder who will be plucked, and who will be pulled back to safety?

Time For The Rays To Act Like Contenders, Not Morgue Meat

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Guess that is the only way to describe the scene that played out in front of me and the rest of the Nation after the fifth inning today. There is no other team that I hate seeing the Tampa Bay Rays lose to than this Boston bunch. And losing 2 out of the first 2 to begin the 2012 seasonal series, that just makes my stomach turn, burn and totally feeling like imploding.

I am not going to call anyone out for this loss because it has been 30 minutes and I am suppose to focus on the next day’s game now, but there is still some residue on my shoes and it doesn’t smell like roses. I tried to drum up the confidence game yesterday in my post by stating we have these types of losses during a long 162-game season, but against a divisional foe, the loss hurts double in my heart and in the standings. Worst part of it all is that this game seemed well in hand, then the mighty hand of something purely evil and nasty plucked the stingers off the Rays one-by-one until it seems our eyes glazed over from disbelief.

These types of losing streaks can be endured, but not when it gives glee and happiness to fan base that truly wishes and prays that the Rays choke on their pride and emphatically drown in their own tears. The scene on the Fenway grass today after the 5th inning seemed more likely to be one played out on a sappy medical drama where the patient comes into the facility in perfect health, has a great prognosis then somehow a severed jugular burst forward and instantly we were in a life or death struggle with no angels in the wings to pluck us from the obvious. The Rays right now look more like morgue meat than contenders, and that has to change…stat!

I so want that last sentence to be untrue, but there are fragments and obscure pieces missing that would make this whole enchilada complete. Some members of the pitching staff seem so at ease and “ in the flow”, while others seem to be going through the proverbial motions and not delivering up quality or quantity yet this season. It is frustrating when you have seen and felt the possibilities of this 2012 Rays team, then they stumble, fumble and look more like a pre-2007 Rays squad.

But here is where we do our work as fans. It is our job right now to keep the faith, push our chests out and take the insults and sharp criticism of this team’s downward turns and stand firm, stand erect, and above all stand united. For if even one of us falters in our belief and hope for this team, the dam could spring a leak and that will lead to a river of deplorable chaos and false propaganda with a Bulls Eye painted on each member of this team.

As the Rays unite as a team, solid in their goals, commitment and belief in themselves as individuals and a collective team, we must also stay the course, throw up the encouraging even in the face of the disenchanting truth. It is time to either bail out the boat and know survival is in sight or look in the distance for the school of media sharks awaiting any wobble or bob from this team and their potential.

“Closer by Committee” to Rise From the Ashes Again

I admit, when Tampa Bay Rays reliever/closer du Jour Kyle Farnsworth gives you that patented stare down…the intimidation factor leaps from 0-100 in a microsecond. And now that Farnsy will be on the shelf to begin the season, it takes a huge chunk of the visible confidence you might have in the back-end of the Rays Bullpen.

Now we just have to visualize Maddon going back to his old trusted and proven method of “closer by committee”, or the guessing game of stats and probabilities…Rays style. Even with Farnsworth’s absence to begin the 2012 season, the fall-off is not as extreme because the Rays have the right guys already in position ready, eager and willing to face the challenge.

We know “Goat Boy 2.0” or better known as Joel Peralta has the internal fortitude to be the last guy standing on the hill. Heck with his impromptu “Matt Garza-ish” adult billy-goat chin follicle formation, he could possibly channel a bit of the hardcore style of Garza. Who knows if Maddon will go to a match-up based 9th inning mash-up, or hand the reins to someone “qualified” without giving them the stamp “closer”.

Fernando Rodney used to be the guy who hit the hill after Farnsworth in Detroit, and maybe Rodney will get a chance to again show he can dominate that last frame of the game, effectively silencing critics instantly, possibly getting his first moment to shine in the Opening Game this Friday against the dreaded pinstripes. Peralta could easily be mixed into the last frame soup of relievers with his velocity and breaking stuff up there on par with both Farnsworth and Rodney, but I consider Peralta a “closer-in-training”, possibly getting the gig himself for good with the Rays in 2013…if he wants it.

The again, you can go the southpaw route also into the 9th inning with former leftie closer J P Howell looking healthier and more confident since his blow-out season in 2008. Of course surgery and an off-season should not hinder Howell possibly getting at least a handful of chances, especially if Maddon go by his mathematical equations instead of just giving the job to someone until Farnsworth can try to reclaim the slot.

But this was also something the bothered me at the end of 2011. We knew Farnsworth had elbow situations after throwing career numbers both in saves and pressure situations, but the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” might have crept into all our minds, especially Farnsworth thinking a little rest might do his elbow more good than surgery or even intense off-season rehab and check-ups to validate no lingering problems rise up like his DL move to start the 20121 seasons.

Farnsworth going on the shelf to mend even before the season begins does showcase a crack in the Rays late inning armor, but Peralta, Howell, Rodney and just called-up RP Josh Lueke should have the same grimacing facial expression and inside pitches to bring to life the Rays usual intimidation factor. Some have stated this feels like “Troy Percival 2.0”, and I get it. Believe me, I had a distrust for Percival you would not believe, but I do not get the same vibe from Farnsworth.

Maybe this is a perfect time for Maddon to thrust out his 2012 mantra: “Fortune Favors the Bold”. This is where the Rays depth and off-season positioning to sign Rodney, trade for Lueke and hope for a full recovery of Howell will pay dividends. The level of experience in the Rays 7-8-9th inning options should eliminate a lot of worry and lack of confidence outside the clubhouse.

These 4 guys can convert, they can stymie the opposition, and they will bring their own levels of intimidation to the Rays late innings along with a huge bushel of saves and wins. Heck we might even see a smile from Farnsworth knowing the Rays are stocked and ready in the late innings, even with him on the mend.

Rays + Laughter = Pure Magic

Coming into Spring Training, the Tampa Bay Rays have 20 of the 25 members of the 2011 squad back for another chance at the brass ring. That fact by itself is amazing, but considering the youth and talent of this group, that could also be a seasonal occurance for a while. And with that familiarity of the personnel comes a consistency, a confidence and most of all a bond that almost nothing can break.

Humor seems to be the bond of this young squad. From veteran 1B Carlos Pena producing a small masterpiece with resident comedian C Steven Vogt impersonating Rays skipper Joe Maddon to a nationwide acknowledgment of this talented group off the turf by INF Eliot Johnson as he nails ESPN’s resident leprechaun Tim Krukjian, humor rules the Rays roost.

From their great road trip ensembles of years past, to their annual Spring talent reveal, this Rays team knows the value of a giggle, belly laugh or even a practical joke. That lends a lot to a young team fighting for an identity. It bonds each member a bit tighter together and with that comes a more refined unity needed over the grueling 162 game schedule.

No matter if it is a joke, a story or even a off-the-cuff impression, the antics this young team does in the dugout, clubhouse or even in public shows they do not take themselves too seriously and know their day job comes with stress, but comic relief is only a conversation away.

Some might not guess, but this humor also keeps peop-le in check. How can we all forget the sunflower seed shower given to Rays P David Price during a live interview in 2011 when fellow hurler James Shields decided Price needed a bit of props/sunflower seeds for the interview process. I still chuckle at the mention of this event because it firmly illustrates the loose vibe in this clubhouse and the players ability to not take themselves so seriously.

Laughter by itself is also a great indicator of the closeness and unity of this Rays squad. For to laugh at yourself or others and take it with a grain of salt is the measure of this team grasping the reality that every win is critical, but sometimes steams has to be let off, and laughing is better than a more votatile alternative.

Joking around both before, during and after the game has been around for as long as players have taken to the diamond. It is a productive way to let off steam, do karma patrol action to players who’s follies might be known or personal as well as keep themselves loose and ready for anything. As long as this team stays in this humerous state, I think this team can go as far as their on the field talents take them. But if the laughter tends to cease in the clubhouse and on the field, then it is time to worry about these guys.

E-10, Photographer Throw High and Wide on Rays Spring Photos

If the recent Tampa Bay Rays Team Spring photos is any indication, I am starting to think the Tampa Bay Rays 2012 season is going to be more back to the basic, nothing flashy or disrupting to the status quo of the “Rays Way”. Maybe I was anticipating a re-visit or renewal of the grandeur and glamor of the Rays 2010 Spring Team photos that took my breath away, and made you wanted to see more of them.

2010 Evan Longoria Photo

If the 2012 Team Spring photos are any indication, this season is going to be a bare bones, nose to the grindstone, no huge frills and spills kind of season…not that this is a bad thing, maybe I set my expectations too high this season. But then again, it is Spring and hope has to grow eternal and unbridled.

Sure the 41 photos recently uploaded to the Zimbio webpage by photographer Jonathan Ferrey had some unusual and classic poses within their compositions, but somehow a large glove-full of the Rays possible 2012 roster personnel missed their camera time with the Zimbio photog. At least we know Rays 3B Evan Longoria got a few extra shots. Maybe dating a Playmate does have some photo advantages, but a total of 13 individual photos? Longo is one of the cornerstones of this team’s offensive and defensive foundations, but so many other cogs of the machine are missing, lost their possible chance in this annual Rays ritual of Spring.

Jeff Salazar

Sure C Mark Thomas and OF Jeff Salazar who are both Rays Spring Training invitees got their respective mugs/poses on a photo, but missing were a huge slice of the Rays other core players like starter Wade Davis, Rays Bullpen members JP Howell, Brandon Gomes, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and newcomers Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke.  Is it even imaginable that each and every one of these players somehow missed the vocal call for photos? Am I the only one who feels it is purely insane that 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson would have, could have somehow missed his 2012 photo chance, or was it a captive selection of players designated by the Zimbio photographer?

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the possible MLB bolo report put out since the “Legend” Sam Fuld, infielders Jeff Keppinger, Ben Zobrist, and Eliot Johnson must have mis-placed their “memos” possibly on their photo chance. Even more disappointing is that Carlos Pena somehow missed the photo cut…Really?

Want another firm kick in the proverbial teeth, the only catcher featured in the photo shoot was Jose Molina, and that was only for 1 photo. Heck even Reid Brignac got more photos than Molina, and he is not guaranteed a starting slot. I know there is a growing army of female Rays followers who would love to see a recent photo of Robinson “Honey Nut” Chirinos or even Jose Lobaton, but they will have to drive to the Charlotte Sports Park and take their own this Spring.

Maybe I got used to the flash and glamor set forth by those 2010 photos that had every single member of the Rays squad, including the Coaching staff in some sort of pose or hitting posture with the added sun flare somewhere within the photo framing. Maybe I was expecting something grand, a statement by the Rays this season as they start their 15th season.

But there were some positives in this set of photos of the 2012 Rays. We got to actually see what top Rays prospect Hak-Ju Lee will look like in a Rays uniform. We already know Lee can dance, and his bat has some magic in it, but seeing him in the Rays whites definitely makes you eager and hoping for the Rays future shortstop to make some additional magic happen during his minor league season so we can see him in that uniform possibly in September.

Maybe I am nitpicking here a bit, but I have come to expect more, especially after that grand and fabulous 2009 Spring photo package. Heck, even Rays skipper Joe Maddon had a possible glamor shot in 2009 that to this day might be one of the best photos of the Rays newly extended Manager.

I possibly wanted something again to “pop” off the screen of my computer, wished for another set of dynamic photos taken that would get my blood pumping, the sweat beading around my cap and the Rays Republic making photo copies of the team photos for signatures in the future. Not sure if any of these Rays Spring photos will be seen on the sidelines before games in 2012. Certainly doubt it (shudder).

Will Davis Wade into the Bullpen Pool?

The one thing that always seems constant in baseball is change. I know that sounds more like a comedic riddle you might hear on a sit-com, but it is too true in baseball. The game is an ever-changing microbes always feasting on the element of change and forcing its hand whenever possible. So why doesn’t Tampa Bay Rays starter Wade Davis go with that flow and at least have an open mind to possibly taking a short-term stint in the Rays Bullpen. What is the worst thing that can happen?

For one thing, he could like it and not want to ever go on that every 5 day ritual. Seriously, the balking and chatter now coming out of the avid bear hunter sounds a lot like the same vowel and constants that were uttered by former southpaw J P Howell when the Rays brought up the same idea back in 2008 after a few horrendous outings. So far the change of rituals seemed have done wonders for Howell.

Sure it will take some getting used to, and adjusting of both your schedule and workout regimen to get you into a habit of getting your arm loose in ½ the time, and basically being “on-call” for all 162 games. But it beats the alternative of alienating a Coaching staff that likes your work ethic, applauds the way you approach the game by suddenly not wanting to embrace a change that could benefit not only you, but the Rays chances over the course of a season.

And maybe the Rays want you to take that lone spot of long reliever that usually is vested to a player who has a starter mentality, but also has the cunning and wilds of a reliever. Buck up bow hunting camper, you got the intestinal fortitude and the determination to not only own this spot, but make the position your own, and possibly find yourself destined for another path that could reward you greatly in the future.

It is not like the Rays are trying to convert you into the closer role like they did Esteban Yan or Seth McClung and you find yourself in a fun house of emotions and transitions trying to switch back and forth from starter to reliever to starter again before your arm either falls off, or your confidence hit empty. Look at it as a blessing, a bit of a seasonal vacation that could again produce a starting gig if fellow fishing/hunting buddy Jeff Niemann falls off the healthy wagon again in 2012.

Take it as a time to explore an option that might surface again in your latter baseball years and see if it has a nook or cranny that fits your style of baseball before spouting off or acting like the upset teen on that 16 hour trip in the backseat. I have faith in you Wade. You have shown time and time again to adjust on the mound between innings, the Rays are now asking if you might adjust through a course of a month to accept a new assignment, a new adventure, a possibility of a change in your long-term baseball livelihood.

Who knows, you might get out on that mound in the bottom of the 6th or 8th inning with a lead and just as quickly the competitive juices within you take over and you strike out the side and flash a smile on the way to the dugout rail. Just give it a chance. It is not a gurgling hot tub that will burn you up, it is a switch in-game situations and mannerisms. Heck, think about that 600 pound bear you bagged a few years ago and go after each hitter with authority if it helps you get the job done.

Just wade into the pool, check the water out and see if you can make the adjustments, ritual changes and quick muscle relaxation needed by today’s reliever corps. If you have any problems, there is always that “dude” down near the end of the Bullpen who also fought kicking and screaming when he first made the move to the Bullpen. Now you can’t keep J P away from the Bullpen. Try it for a bit, you might possibly find out it suits you better than starting, and has less stress and still pays you the same….kind of like a “win-win” situation.

Rays Fan Fest Autograph Times

I promised a few of you I would post the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest autograph participants and their relative time online as soon as humanly possibly. Well, they came out earlier today and of course I was in the middle of working for a living. So without further ado, here is the tentative autograph time for the Rays players to sign at this years Fan Fest.

Do not forget, if you want to participate in the Exclusive Signing Opportunity ($200-500), you have until midnight tonight to make your purchase for this special event away from the usual hustle and bustle of Fan Fest.

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Ryan Reid Tim Beckham Jeff Keppinger Ricky Orta Kyle Farnsworth
11:30 – 12:30 p.m. Brandon Guyer Burke Badenhop Robinson Chirinos Brandon Gomes Matt Mangini
12:30 – 1:15 p.m. J.P. Howell Matt Joyce Wade Davis Sean Rodriguez Jose Molina
1:15 – 1:45 p.m. Evan Longoria Don Zimmer Jeremy Hellickson (open) (open)
1:45 – 2:30 p.m. Chris Archer Carlos Peña Desmond Jennings Alex Cobb Matt Moore
2:30 – 3 p.m. B.J. Upton (open) (open) James Shields David Price
3. – 4 p.m. Luke Scott Fernando Rodney Cesar Ramos Jose Lobaton Josh Lueke
4. – 4:45 p.m. (open) Nevin Ashley Romulo Sanchez Stephen Vogt Craig Albernaz
** Schedule subject to change

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

Tuesday was Not a Sonny Day

Tuesday morning was not a particularly “Sonny” day for me. Sure I knew that the cards were stacked high and solid against the Rays closet jokester and team trivia buff from possibly garnering an arbitration hearing, but I held a slim sliver of hope for the impossible. For this was the quiet prankster who emerged with a triumphant team-wide display during the relatively short Dale Thayer phenomenon, and who was instrumental in the “porno moustache” caper during a Florida Marlins series back in 2008. This player was as much a consistent part of the Rays team character during his tenure as Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

Here was a player who was so in-tune with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s quips and quirks that he was  a covert Maddon Delta force commando with his comedic plays and daily transformations in 2010 of the figurine images on the right field wall. From the popular and comical road trip attire to team sponsored events and Season Ticket get-together, this player was all Tampa Bay, and I was glad to have known him. But that is just a small shovelful of the magic and outlandish things that made Andy Sonnanstine a team favorite.

Sure most of the people in Section 140 remember him as the Bullpen player who grabbed fists full of bubble gum and showered them with the sweet confection. Others knew him for his literal side, the one that could quote stats and Rays team trivia with more insight and more depth than the Rays own broadcast historians and fact-checkers. Sonny was a guy who with a glance could have you either laughing or knowing instinctively that you must have missed out on a special Rays moment.

Did you know he was the first of the post-2007 Rays to get a dog and make him a huge part of his off-the-field routine. Sonny was so into his “man’s best friend” that in 2011 he would travel almost 160 miles daily to the Rays Spring Training camp and then back home to his Gulfport abode to be with his canine (golden retriever) roommate “Murphy “. Maybe that was one of the reason I grew to like seeing Sonnanstine being a devoted dog dude myself.

The again my kinship with Sonny might have blossomed with his daily journey into his artistic side as he changed the Matt Garza and David Price figurine Fathead decal put up on the Right field corner back in 2010. Daily I would be transfixed the moment I entered Tropicana Field wondering what accessories, what facial or body transformations would await all of us in attendance. Even being sent down to Rookie Hudson Valley, Sonny found a willing accomplice in Randy Choate who put the finishing touches on his Price masterpiece while Sonny sat on the pine bench 1,300 miles away.

Sonny was the consummate “company man”, a person who Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey knew would do whatever was needed to secure an advantage. His biggest day of flexibility came via a Maddon line-up card malfunction (5/17/2009) against the Cleveland Indians. Sonny committed to the start, then picked up a bat and brought his own offensive pop to the game and his eventual victory. On that day Sonny became the first pitcher since Chicago White Sox starter Ken Brett (Sept. 23, 1976) to be listed on a game’s starting line-up card as a hitter.

He was a guy who was born in a pitcher’s body, but had the mindset and confidence of a power hitter. Some of the most entertaining Batting Practice events of this past seasons came on the days the Rays pitchers got into the cage and took their hacks. Sonny loved to hit and leaves the Rays with a lifetime .318 batting average. Sonny was such a frustrated hitter he took his past 2 Rays team individual photos in the Spring with a bat on his shoulder. Now that is a commitment to hitting.

Sonny leaves the Rays organization with fond memories. Take April 19, 2009 start is a great testament to the magic that can come from Sonnastine’s arm. He went to the mound opposite White Sox hurler Mark Buehrle and produced his first complete game, which included a 3-hit shutout. But there was an additional bit of essence that was all-Sonny on that day.

Sonny combined that night with Beuhrle and completed that contest in a remarkable 2 hours and 2 minutes, the shortest game in Tropicana Field history, plus Sonny faced only 29 batters and at one time retired 17-straight, both club records at the time. On June 18,2010 Sonny earned his first MLB save in an impressive way retired 3 batters while the tying run was anxiously awaiting a hit ball at third base. Ice water truly ran in his veins that night in that balmy contest against the Marlins.

Then in late 2010 Sonny became an author collaborating with MLBlogs.com’s own Tucker Eliot to produce the popular “Tampa Bay Rays IQ: The Ultimate Test of True Fandom” in paperback. Seems only natural the artistic flow of a writer would enter into the versatile Sonny persona since he did attend Kent State University with fellow MLB author and Rays teammate Dirk Hayhurst (Bullpen Gospels).

Some say the last nail was firmly struck in Sonny’s coffin when the Rays trade for fellow arbitration player RP Burke Badenhop from the Marlins on December 10th. Badenhop might not have the rubber band mentality of Sonnastine to go from starter-to reliever and back again without recourse, but his 58.5% ground ball rate peaked the Rays interest pushing Sonny firmly to the outside of the team circle of trust.

Sonny will truly be missed by the Rays Republic for many reasons. From his gum barrage, to his artistic impressions and clothing selections, Sonny has always been a disciple of the “Rays Way”, a consummate professional, and someone you never could turn you back on because of his spontaneous prankster mentality His antics and memorable moments will resonate within Tropicana Field for a lot of us for a long, long time. Viva la Sonny!

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