Results tagged ‘ J P Howell ’
RRCollections **** Within the next few days I will post a extended Photo blog of the pictures I took today after the Rays Fan fest tomorrow afternoon.
I could not sleep a wink last night and thank goodness AMC had a pretty good movie lineup until 6 am this morning. This felt like the first time I ever suited up for a baseball game. I had the butterflies early today and mixed with the anticipated assembly again with Tampa Bay Rays baseball players who I consider “baseball buddies”. And the long hours leading up to this special moment of the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting for 2010 more than lived up to all the previous night’s hype and anxiety.
Sure you would think the hour and a half drive down to Port Charlotte from the shadow of Tropicana Field would seem to take forever as the sun began to rise in the East, but the reality was it seemed to furiously fly by with only the time staring to ebb slower as I began to wait first in line this morning to get into the Charlotte County Sports Park and “officially” begin my 2010 Rays experience. And it was great to not have the over indulgence of the Mosaic Corporation’s name attached to signage surrounding the complex today. And as I was standing there as the Rays media members began to assemble, some just passed by, while others acknowledged me standing their in my Pepsi sweatshirt as I battled the 56 degree weather.
And while I was standing there, a wild figure in pink sweatpants, barefoot and a huge poof of hair began to walk up to the security checkpoint carrying his baseball gear in a Army green dufflebag. He had come to make the team, and Edgar Gonzalez was not going to take “no” for an answer. Sure he might not have had great baseball experience only playing Marine Corp baseball, but decked there in his USF baseball jersey ( but did not play at all for USF), he was energetic and wanting an audition today for a possible slot on the Rays.
And two assembled security guards were business like and totally professional as they tried to point him towards Tropicana Field and the Rays Front Office to arrange an “official arrival” or even a slot to participate when the minor league camp came in next week. But Gonzalez was persistent and totally seemed to have his wits about him, until he began to unravel his story into a million pieces by saying he was trying to hold correspondence with U.S. President Obama and the world leaders on the curing properties of baseball. So as Gonzalez began to fade to black in the minds of the security force, he was advised to “put shoes on, or vacate the property as a safety precaution”.
Just then, you could see the color drain from Gonzalez’s face and he knew instantly that he had blown his scheme to try and infiltrate the Rays first 2010 workout. But I do commend the security force for doing it with grace, class and not singling him out and making the situation difficult. So as he turned away he said he would rehash it out up in “Tampa” with the Rays officials and be back another day to formally take the field. Well, Edgar Gonzalez, I wish you luck, and I hope you do get that shot, but since you have, by your own admission, never faced a 90+ mph fastball or seen a slider in your life, the audition might last the $ 2 it costs to run the Batting Cage machine at the Mini Golf complex down the street.
But as 10 pm came, I strutted in first in the line and was handed a Dioner Navarro and Matt Garza bobble heads and a great present of a Rays Spring roster cardboard placard that listed each invited Rays ” guest” to the 2010 Spring Training complete with the final statistics including every stop during 2009. I scanned up and down it a few time to see the names and former 2009 teams illustrated and saw a few extremely interesting names. Names like Mike Ekstrom who was claimed off waivers by the Rays this off season from the San Diego Padres , or former Ranger pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who might push some pressure on the Rays Bullpen spots, or Joe Dillionaire” Dillon who might push for a bench spot on the team and be an adequate third catching option on the Major League roster because of his versatility.
As the guy all assembled around Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his first inspirational speech for 2010, and the brief speeches and chats by Jeff “Ziggy” Zigler, who is the Rays Traveling Secretary, the team got into stretching and began long toss to get their arms stretched out for the first time in 2010 in front of a live audience. Rays starter Matt Garza and Rays Bullpen reliever Lance Cormier put on the show of the day easily topping 200+ feet in their long toss segment before the squad split into three groups and began to start drills on retrieving the ball in front of the mound and doing basic drills like covering first base on a bunt or even shot towards the hole at first base.
And on another part of the field, the Rays field players were beginning their daily workouts in the batting cages under the watchful eyes of spectators and autograph hounds. Gabe Kapler, Jason Bartlett and a bulkier-looking Rays prospect shortstop Tim Beckham all took their swipes in the cage today before taking time out to sign for some of the fans and expressed excitement in returning to Tropicana Field tomorrow for the 2010 Rays Fan Fest. I took this time to chat a bit with Rays Communication Manager Carmen Molina and St Petersburg Times Rays writer Marc Topkin about the season and to see if I could get a few tidbits.
But I was lucky enough to be within a good earshot of the conversation by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to the assembled media when he began to discuss the Rays payroll, keeping Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and the possible Rays stadium pot that is beginning to boil. He was his usual self showing total commitment to the St. Petersburg market place the team is currently in, but stressed the stadium will not be adequate up until the 2026 lease expiration date. Standing their in his own “Rays Sky Blue” sweatshirt he spoke for about 15 minutes answering volleys at him and providing in depth, complex answers that more than fulfilled the questions thrown at him on the fly. P. T. Barnum would have been proud.
And as the players began to split into their respective groups for their day ending run in the western-most field’s outfield, several players like J P Howell, Jeff Neiman and Rays prospect Jake McGee sprinted to the Rays clubhouse and shed their sweatshirts and came out again to do their running before taking time to chat and sign for fans before leaving for the day. I had a chance to talk to Howell, and his eyes lit up when I asked about his off season trip to Bora Bora for his honeymoon, or when I asked if we could do an interview sometimes during Spring Training about it.
And as I was asking that, Grant Balfour slapped me on the back asking if I was keeping my same seat. I quickly told him I was, and told him he better keep his same seat also ( on the Rays Bullpen bench) for 2010. He just smiled from ear-to-ear and told me he was going to do everything possible to stay put. Or when Randy Choate came up with his new facial chin hair and asked why I did not yell “Randy” when he saw me. And I began to tear up a bit. This is hard to explain, but over the past three years while I have been battling employment issues, these guys have been the solid foundation and the people I made sure to say something to before, or during every single Rays game.
So today was special to me in a different way than most of the people assembled to welcome the Rays back from cold Winter snow-scapes, or even trips abroad with their new loved ones, this is my personal rite of Spring passage. Baseball is back, but better yet for me, Rays baseball is back. Even as I stood there talking with baseball buddy’s Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos or Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, I could feel that inner fire kicking up again and was eager for the upcoming season.
Maddon did not bring out any mathematical equations this season, but offered confidence and a yearning to remember those steps made in 2008 to again get back to that ” special place”. For the Rays to revisit their 2008 roots, it will take sweat, blood and commitment by each and ever member of their 2010 roster. In the next month and a half guys will come and go from the Rays clubhouse either to the minor league camps, or even towards other opportunities in baseball, but Maddon stressed that they had to regain that passion, had to redefine and re-energize to again do things “The Rays Way”, and make those steps to again claim a top spot not only in the American League, but in their ever present difficult Eastern division. But for today, it was just great to see my buddies again.
As I could hear the bell chimes ringing from the old church near near Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, at high noon, you know that the echoing sound could also be heard in the Rays front office on the third floor of Tropicana Field and provided a nice musical end the team’s revolving series of conversations with their remaining arbitration eligible player centerfielder B J Upton.
For it was now time for the Rays organization to regroup and prepare for their next meeting between them and Upton and his representation at his arbitration hearing. It was time for both parties to again refocus on the future where a single mediator will decide the future dent made by Upton in the Rays 2010 payroll. And at this time you can envision that there will be no winner in this round of talks, the Rays have a distinctive advantage going into this final round of discussions about Upton’s possible 2010 salaries.
And I kind of thought the arbitration situation might ultimately pan out this way only a few short weeks ago. Sure there was a chance that the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman might have extended a multiple year scenario and salary figure to Upton’s camp, but in reality, he was always the one player who might have been banking on going through with arbitration during the entire unfolding of the process. Upton might have been the one Rays player who thought it was his time to be heard in private about his worth to this franchise…..And now he and his representative will get that chance sometime this Spring.
And some people call this entire arbitration mess more like taking a load of your potential future earnings to Las Vegas and playing a single hand of Blackjack, but never being able to doubling down, or even slightly predict the outcome before the cards hit the table. And you have to admit it is always a crap shoot that your production numbers and potential earnings would mesh perfectly so that this process could be avoided at all costs. You end up put your total expected earnings amount up for grabs and hope that the mediator finds your figures satisfactory and in-line with your request.
But you always like your chances and gamble that the last minute paperwork to flow off that fax machine could be acceptable to you as it was the the last communication from the Rays after their team imposed high noon deadline. And because the Rays have enjoyed a stellar arbitration track record (3-0) in hearings since Stuart Sternberg took over the team, you would think the “house” has the strongest chance to win here.
The whole process is not made any easier in the fact that Friedman is getting comfortable in his Rays role in this arbitration process by using his risk managment style scenarios with pin-point percision and submitting the right collection of statistics based on comparative peer player performances to end up snatching large amounts of moolah away from you as you stare blindly at him as Friedman sits at the other end of the table.
And it is not personal, it is business, the Rays business model in fact, to secure the lowest salary rewards to fine-tune and effectively reduce payroll and give some breathing room to the organization heading into the Spring Training reporting dates. Friedman has chiseled his own path to financial victory in all three of his prior arbitration hearing over his four seasons with the Rays. And that might make it seem more like a “no-win” situation for Upton, but he is also left standing alone with a better performance based situation for a nice raise in pay than former Rays catcher Josh Paul, who fell victim in two of Friedman’s four past arbitration hearings.
You would think that the Rays would consider Upton is one of the face’s of their Rays 2010 team and placed somewhere front and center in a collage on the cover of the Rays Season Ticket Information folder given out in December 2009. But the funniest thing happened here in the fact that the top four pitchers in the Rays rotation grace the cover of that folder, and not long time stalwarts Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford or even the arbitration eligible B J Upton.
Upton was the only player who I realistically thought was headed to his first arbitration setting long time before the Rays team imposed deadline. And both parties might have made some headway in their negoiations with the Rays before high noon, but the deadline passed without Upton batting an eye. As most of the long time Rays fans know, since Upton has been up with the Rays at the Major League level, he has let his Major League contract be renewed automatically with a small raise every season before 2010, and Upton has not been open to public discussions about any multi-year salary extensions since the long gone era of ex-Rays General Manager Chuck LaMar reign over 5 seasons ago.
It might be a bold move, and one that might have to be calculated closely as Upton will submit his first arbitration numbers to the Rays at some point today. I think Upton will be seeking a huge increase in salary considering his 2009 $ 435,000 salary was sandwiched closely between Garza and Howell’s 2009 salaries, and both could get sizeable increases for 2010. This will be the first chance for Upton to get his significant increase, and I could see him submitting a number around $ 3.5-3.75 for 2010 season.
Upton is the one member of this season’s Rays arbitration class that was not going to give a local discount to the Rays, or even consider an extension before getting his first chance before an arbitration mediator this Spring. But sometimes a situation like this can back-fire on a player and it can get pretty messy if personal feeling get twisted during discussions. With some members of the Rays Republic and even the media thinking that this could finally be Upton’s break-out season, this series of salary negoiations might be critical to his survival as a member of the Rays.
But then again, it could be a nice tactical situation by Upton to just see how important the team think he is to their future, and his position with the team in their future. I think his refusal to discuss his salary away from a mediator at a arbitration hearing has nothing to do with respect. But it will certainly be a war of wrds and sharp minds backed up by volumes of pages of statistics and future output projections both met and missed by Upton over the past two seasons that could decide this issue.
Not playing at all into this he
aring will be that nice shiny American League Championship ring upon Upton’s finger as he personally stepped it up a notch during the 2008 playoffs. But what is sure to surface is his step backwards in production after his shoulder situations in 2009, and his presumed attitude problems while playing in games. I can definitely see this hearing getting personal at times, and it might end up becoming a clear indication of the Rays hopes and Upton’s future plans with the team. The Rays could go hard on the megative factors in this hearing, or just sit and wait and see if Upton toots his horn a bit too loud, then come in and crash the party.
The funny thing about arbitration hearing is it should be about the player in relationship to his contributions on and off the field to his team. And should be a showcase to shop his ability to step up and and take it to another notch for his team, which would equal a request for an increase in salary. But most of the time it is a room full of lawyers and accountants with a pile of papers arguing for or against a matter as if in ta court of law.
Upton should play a major role in the Rays success during the 2010 season. He could end up being saddled with a salary that Upton doesn’t totally agree with, but still produce a stellar season and prove without a doubt he deserve some substancial coinage during his next arbitration round in 2011. But the reality of it all is that if Upton sees his arbitration salary as a Rays power play and as a way for management to control him, he could produce either a break-out season or have another bust season and possibly be gone by the July Trade deadline.
But there is always hope. The Rays thought Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett ($4 million),Rays starter Matt Garza ( $ 3.35 million) and reliever J P Howell ($ 1.8+incentives) might be all heading also towards arbitration before all three candidates agreed to contracts in the last 24 hour period. Their multiple phonecalls and faxes ended up with a series of deals that please both the players’ and the Rays front office.
So the Rays last minute dealings have cut the field to one lone survivor and they no longer intend to try and convince Upton to see it their way. And with Upton basically announcing he will submit his numbers, the arbitration clock stops ticking for 2010. And with it last tick, it makes Upton the lone Ray player to step into the mediator’s office during the 2010 Spring Training.
And the worst part is that all the information and all the number floating up at that meeting will have nothing to do with Upton the person, but be totally about Upton the team employee being considered for a huge fiscal upgrade. It will not be about handshakes or even hugs after winning key games, it will be about business, and that is something Friedman and his crew of fiscal mercenaries are pretty good at……..or so Upton will find out soon enough.
Sorry I have been able to post anything since New Year’s Eve, but things have been a little upside down in my little slice of the world. Not going to get into it, but if you know me, you know the restricted economical parameters of my lone wolf existence.
I was thinking last night about turning the pages back to my post back on January 1,2009 where I listed my 2009 New Year’s Rays Resolutions blog and see if my quarter-tossing guesses and totally dillusional dreams for the Tampa Bay Rays had either mysteriously evaporated or suddenly materialized for the team.
We all know just how difficult it is sometimes to partition our post-baseball lives to readjust back into our normal lifestyles with the absence of games nightly. And with my 2009 resolutions coming just a few months off the heels of the Rays first playoff push in team history, I am more than a bit curious to see if now those resolutions might have been a bit over zealous, or might have struck true center and be totally in line with the team’s seasonal performance.
But even if I did get a bit over excited and tranform my hopes and dreams into slight misguided illusions, isn’t that within the vein of the competitive spirit of the fan, who always wants to see the birght side of life in regards to their team? We all want to trust and believe that bigger and better things are always on the horizon for our squads, even as the skies turn suddenly dark and the wind begins to howl. You want to believe in solidarity of the true existence of the team dream.
You have to actively possess that unrelentless faith that the “much needed” team weapons will somehow materialize like that weird frost upon your car windshield in the morning, or that the Bullpen will again be a brickwall to your team’s lofty and ever-rising ride of success. So lets take a short jaunt back about 365 days and formally check out my bubble-headed prognostications to see if any of my 2009 resolutions for the Rays might have actually had some merit to them, or the whole thing was just dust in the wind.
Find a right-handed bat that can help the offense take it to the next level. Wow! This resolution could go a few different directions at the same time. But the true fact is that it might all actually depend on if you want to throw Pat Burrell’s 2009 fiasco into the pot here. I have thrown Burrell under the bus enough times during 2009 for this resolution to actually take on water and headed for the briny deep waters near Egmont Key.
But lost in the shuffle was the fact to totally look at the last two prior Rays season performances at the Designated Hitter spot and seeing that Burrell’s stats were really about average for the Rays. But that pure instance doesn’t get him out of Elvis’s locker room doghouse because Burrell was brought onto this squad to boost a sagging offense and was paid hansomely for his efforts.
I am willing to give him a slight partial pass here due to his neck situation that might have thrown a confidence and concentration monkey wrench into his “game shape” for 2009. Burrell did show some offensive firepower, but we are starving to see it on a more consistent basis, and it will be demanded of him in 2010. Not lost in all of this negativity is the fact he did produce 14 homers in the season, but they were all hit against right-handers, so Burrell definitely needs to readjust and refocus this off season to come in and conquer in 2010, or he will be considered a huge bust maybe in the company of Vinny Castilla.
Find a southpaw reliever to compliment the Bullpen.
This simple resolution might have actually been achieved by the Rays stockpiling a few left-handed experienced relievers at the Triple-A level prior to the team’s 2009 Opening Day. We did have southpaw lefty-specialist Brian Shouse primarily on the 25-man roster as a leftie specialist, but like Burrell, Shouse had his own series of ups and down via the injury bug in 2009 amd might not be considered a totally successful signing by the team.
And because the Rays hide a few options in their minor league system, when Shouse was put on the diasabled list on May 25th with a left elbow strain, it opened the door for a former Yankee reliever to come up and dramatically change the late inning game from the left-side of the mound. Randy Choate seemed at times to be a man on a mission and gained more and more confidence as the Rays 2009 season progressed. You can not discount his stellar .141 batting average against left-handers, or even his 5-for-5 perfect mark in save possibilities for the Rays this past season.
Just when the Rays were craving a clutch performer after a few unforeseen blown save situations, and a quickly downward spiraling in relief performances, Choate came up to appear in 61 of the Rays final 114 games. To throw a huge exclamation point on Choate’s 2009 performances, before his call-up by the team in 2009, Choate had appeared in 196 games and had never produced a save. Choate definitely did not choke for the Rays in 2009.
Get 1 of the 2 best young players on your team a contract extension.
This was one of the 2009 resolutions that I thought would definitely get some extreme attention by the Rays front office at some moment in the 2009 season. With the team stressing they are “borrowing on tomorrow” right now with their increasing payroll demands, you thought Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman might chart a clear map on this one as a top priority to supplant a possible unforeseen huge arbitration dollar figure, or a series of multiple arbitration seasons by a number of players to substancially see a rise of ever increasing salary demands without a solid prediction for the Rays future payrolls.
I thought for sure the Rays first comfirmed target here would be to entice Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza to a contract extension for “services rendered”, and to reward him now for the huge upside he could provide the Rays in the next three years. Sure everyone wants to bring up moments with his emotional and temper situations as fodder to not extend him, but lost in that mumbo jumbo shuffle might be the pure fact he has the ability to be the first pitcher to post a no-hitter for the Rays.
Sign Jason Giambi already.I actually thought Giambi might have been a great addition to the Rays, and we know this whole scenario never materialized, so this might be a short resolution explanation. Even though Giambi did go on to play over 102 games in Oakland before heading onto the Rockies post season roster, the “Giambino” had a subpar season and actually did not even hit the low average plateau achieved by Burrell with the Rays in 2009.
It is actually funny to think Giambi hit worse than Pat “The Bat” Burrell, but then again, both did do a few mis-timed stints on the disabled list this season and neither seemed to get into a solid flow at the plate. In hindsight, 2009 might actually turn out to be Giambi’s last chance to play full-time with a potential off-the-bench position staring him in the face for 2010 and beyond.
Keep the team chemistry up high and the success will come again.
Here is another resolution that might totally be up to your own personal interpretation on the Rays 2009 season. We all know the stories of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s great inspirational speeches and motivational quotes that are meant to boost and inflate confidence like a balloon, but this Rays team did seem to miss a huge chunk of clubhouse chemistry in 2009.
Some say it was the departure of type-A personalities like Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd and Johnny Gomes took a huge presence and electric feel out of the clubhouse. But even with the two bigger than life cartoon characters of Gomes and Hinske gone, there still was the increasing confidence and emotional moment stature of “El Presidente” Carlos Pena. And you have to admire the guy for trying to step it up a few notches trying to fill those big shoes left by the trio, but Pena was only one guy, and could only beat the drum so loud in 2009.
Most of Pena’s teammates seemed to be relying on themselves and their close knit groups formed within the team to boost their confidence and act as support systems throughout the season. The Bullpen definitely had their own “vibe” in the clubhouse, and the Rays starters seemed to have their own “inside jokes” throughout the season. Dioner Navarro took the role of the “shaving cream pie” bandit in 2009, and even got Madddon during one post-game interview on television.
And the Rays did try and promote their road trips like a Carnival cruise night with events like the “White Party” and “Cowboy Up” during roadtrips. Some had great success, and a few might have been better left in the closet. One idea did seem to backfire a bit on the Rays. Maddon, being a huge Johnny Cash fan, had the inspirational idea of the “Ring of Fire” all-black traveling party during the Rays push towards the playoff in 2009. But from the first moment Maddon came out of his Manager’s office in the Rays clubhouse sporting that jet black hair, the idea seemed headed quickly like lemmings to the cliff.
Not sure why the idea ended up backfiring to produce a loss spiral that quickly deflated the Rays playoff hopes like a lead balloon. The Rays ended up losing 11 out of their first 13 games in September. Adding insult to injury was the disasterious timing of imploding against their American League East foes for the rest of the season. From the first dark-haired moment on August 19th by Maddon,the Rays posted only 3 wins against Boston and New York in their 13 games during September/October.
I actually think I went 1-4 in my quest to throw some early logical explanation into 2009 prior to the season. Sure we all want to think that as fans, we truly have such an underlying persona that we can make people hit the ball or even throw a bit harder, but in reality, we can only encourage and become louder in the stands hoping that more positive results take root on the field.
Even if my 2009 resolutions did fall on hard times, the Rays season was filled with great unexpected moments and showed more than a few times those glimpses of unforeseen promise that makes you proud to follow the team. Even the best at “predicting” seem to get it wrong most of the time, so my first dive into the resolution pool did not produce a total failure, but did produce a few questions. For we got to see baseball played again in the Tampa Bay area during 2009. We got to again gather as an extended family to root, boo and even console each other after some great games in 2009.
I have always been one of those firm believers in that you “win some, and you lose some” mentality both inside and outside of the sporting world. I mean if I really believed everything that has been written about teams just in our own division, then I would pack it up after April 1st and throw out that immortal Chicago Cubs line, “We will get ‘em next year!” But I go into day like this first one in 2010 thinking we have as good a chance as the other 30 Major League Baseball teams to hoist that golden trophy to the heavens this October. And who knows……….
As I glance up at the luminated clock on the kitchen wall, I see that it is just a few minutes past midnight on Saturday morning. Within the next 24 hours, the Tampa Bay Rays front office will be finalizing the 2010 fate of 10 of their players. This is that stressful 24-hour period that every Major League team and their selected players have to endure where offers of arbitration, possible signing of contracts, or non-tendering their players so they can find employment elsewhere, or possibly sign with the team as a free agent (but doubtful).
It is not only a nervous time period for the 10 Rays players the team has up for arbitration this season, but also for the Rays fans who have grown attached to these players. A few of these player’s names might be absent from the Rays 2010 equation within the next 24 hours. And the possible 10 decisions by the Rays will include core players and borderline players who stepped above and beyond, but might be eliminated by numbers and talent rising up from the Rays farm system.
Of the 10 Rays players being considered for 2010 arbitration hearings, only one of them is currently a Rays starting pitcher. And on paper, you have to consider him to be a bona fide “sure thing” to be offered a contract. Rays starter Matt Garza might actually be one of the four possible “sure things” for the Rays within the next 24 hours. Garza has been a key member of the Rays staff, and has upped his game again in 2009, and on paper is a solid choice yo again be with the team in 2010. And Garza will see a nice bump in his 2010 salary (estimated $ 3.2 million) compared to the $ 430,000 he receiveded during the Rays 2009 season.
But during this 24-hour period the Rays front office might be finished crunching the numbers and getting scouting reports while letting their personal feeling for the players disappear from the equation. The Rays Bullpen could look considerably different after this 24 hour period as 5 total members of the Bullpen are up for arbitration. But the first glints of daylight also showed a rays of light that one arbitration eligible player will not have to wait for his fate as left-handed reliever Randy Choate signed a 1-year $ 700,000 contract with a possible $ 25,000 bonus if he appears in 80 games next season for the Rays.
That’s right, Choate is the first Rays player to feel the joy of not having to worry about the anxious stress of not knowing his 2010 fate. But even with one player down, and nine to go, that still leaves Bullpen mates Grant Balfour,J P Howell, and Lance Cormier to wonder about their possible fates for the next several hours.
But of that selective reliever corps, I have to consider Howell the second “sure thing” bet of all the Rays players to again get a clear contract offer from the Rays. He went above and beyond his job description in 2009, even giving the closer’s job a chance before the Rays finally shut him down in late September due to arm fatigue. The progress that Howell has shown from miserable,disgruntled starter to confident, out-going reliever is like a night and day transformation. And with that, Howell might finally get a chance to celebrate with his new wife that fact that he could have an estimated 2010 salary in the $ 1.8 million range during his first time on the arbitration tightrope.
But that still leaves both Balfour and Cormier to be in the “unknown” group based on a few personal observations, and not on their solid pitching performances in 2009. During the late 2009 season, Balfour was critical of the Rays pitching concepts late in the season and might have produced some bad blood between him and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey. Could Balfour’s small episode of mouthing off cost him a chance to continue with the team?
Also considering the Aussie is about to get hitched on January10th, you hope he did not put a wedge between him and the Rays front office and coaching staff in 2009. Could the Rays make him sweat a bit before late in the evening offering Balfour a contract? And if they do sweat him out a bit, could they be possibly motivated by the comments to try and get his estimated $ 2.1 million reduced through the arbitration hearing?
But my biggest Rays question mark concerning the Bullpen might come down to what the Rays will do about their long reliever spot. Cormier was impressive in that role during 2009, and I truly hope he is safe. But the Rays have two other pitchers fighting for their 25-man roster spots who do not have a secured spot for 2010. Might Cormier be the “sacrifical lamb” to give the Rays a possible roster spot to pitcher Mitch Talbot, who has no minor League option left, or Andy Sonnanstine.
Cormier would garner around $ 1.1 million in possible 2010 salary if the Rays offer him arbitration. Sonnanstine and Talbot’s combined 2010 salaries might only cost the Rays around $ 850,000, and could be the main reason the team doesn’t give Cormier an offer. Personally, I hope he gets an arbitration offer from the Rays because the job he did in 2009 was fantastic, but my word means nothing in the final scheme of things.
Now that we have looked into the Rays possible arbitration plans for their 2010 pitching staff, lets look to the five Rays field players who also could receive an arbitration offer within the next 24 hours. I will also make a quick evaluation on their possible chances to remain in the team past December 12th.
Jim Mone / AP
You have to consider both Rays players B J Upton and Jason Bartlett are pretty much another set of “sure things” locks for a contract offer within the next 24 hours. Bartlett has increased both his offensive and defensive worth to the Rays since the first day he lined up at the shortstop position for the team. But considering he might get a huge bump in contract up into the $ 3.3.5 million range in 2010, you can never count out anything until the arbitration contract is faxed to your agent. And everyone, everywhere has their own special opinions on Upton.
I personally can not see this team without Upton in centerfield in 2010. With the flip flopping of people around baseball as to the possible departure of Carl Crawford by the MLB Trade Deadline in late July, Upton is the solid member of the outfield and has increased tremendously over the last two years while learning his centerfield positon “on-the-job”. I truly have a feeling Upton will come into his own in 2010 both at the plate and in the field. Everyone has comments on his running style and his sense of complacency at the plate, but in reality, no one on the Rays is more concentrated and inwardly critical of his own actions as Upton.
But the stark reality is that Rays farm hand Desmond Jennings might just be on the cusp of playing in the Major Leagues, but it will not be in centerfield. Upton will be at the arbitration table for the first time and should get a considerable jump up from his 2009 salary of $ 435,000 to an estimated $ 3.5 million on his first journey through arbitration. It might seem like a good idea by Upton and his agent several years ago to not sign a long-term deal with former GM Chuck LaMar and continue with his norm of 1-year contracts until his arbitration years.
And this leaves us with only three members of the Rays squad still being considered for arbitration to discuss further. The trio left consist of outfielder Gabe Gross and catchers’ Dioner Navarro and newly acquired Kelly Shoppach. I do not think I am going too far out on a limb thinking here that a budget restricted team like the Rays usually do not trade for an arbitration eligible player unless the player could be a solution to a internal problem. And one of the main off season priorities of the Rays this year was their catching situation.
And that is what intrigues me most about Shoppach. Would the Rays possibly go to arbitration with both of their catchers and secure both of them on their 2010 25-man roster, or is one of them(hopefully) being shopped around for a possible new locale right now for 2010? Seriously here,I think Shoppach is a clear power upgrade to Navarro and might possibily be saved by the arbitration alarm clock in the 11th hour. Navarro might not so lucky.
Considering that Shoppach’s estimated 2010 salary ($ 2.1 million) is close in comparision to the estimation for Navarro ($ 2.5 million),I think Shoppach wins a arbitration submission based on his possible upgrade at the plate and his ability to get on base over Navarro. Their catching styles are similar, but Navarro has shown to be a bit lazy this past season behind the plate, or the team would never have traded for Gregg Zaun in the first place late in 2009.
I am thinking that Navarro might be one of the two Rays on the outside looking in after the bell strikes at midnight tonight. And I think there is nobody else to blame here but Navarro. The Rays gave him the steering wheel early in Spring Training by not bringing in a veteran to push him for the first time in his Rays career. But Navarro visually seemed to have gotten more and more lazy on bouncing balls in the dirt and seemed to have lost some concentration and confidence in his game behind the plate. Combine that with his solid decrease in hitting, and you have a formula for possibly being non-tendered tonight.
The lone Rays player left to be considered for arbitration just might be a victim of the Rays farm system and available options that exist within the club. He is a guy I have seen play above and beyond his abilities in his two seasons with the team, but hard cuts sometime have to be made,and Gabe Gross might be the hardest of the Rays decisions today.
You know the team has treasured having him in the lineup for the past two seasons, but youngsters like Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings are knocking at the Major League door to play in rightfield. And if Sean Rodriguez is dominant this spring at second base, it might force a position change for uber-player Ben Zobrist to play in the outfield. The Rays organization is coming to a point where a decision like this is not going to be based on performance, but on an obtainable roster space.
And you know the Rays have tried to find another suitor for Gross, but corner outfielders are a deep position this Hot Stove season, and no one has made a play for Gross. For years Rays fans have know that at some point the team would have an abundance of talented young players in place to force an established player off the Rays roster. And this season, the player elimination hatchet might fall hard on Gross. The Rays decision will not be based on monetary reasons, but on the overflow of talent just below the Major League level.
So within the next 24 hours, there will be cheer and tears for members of the Rays roster. Some players might be faced with the stark reality of looking for another team, while other might be just starting the battle for their positions in 2010. But as the arbitration offer clock winds down, some of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be sweating while others sit calm waiting for calls from their agents and the team. I am guessing that 7 or 8 of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be smiling.
(Fellow Rays blog, Rays Index was the source for my estimated 2010 salarie
s included today on my blog post. You can visit them on their website www.raysindex.com. It was a great help using your sidebar tools to complete this blog…..Thank You).
The more I read about this guy, the more I am liking the Rays possibilities in 2010. But the reality is now set in stone that the Tampa Bay Rays have traded for Rafael Soriano to man the back of the Rays Bullpen for 2010. And what a beautiful birthday present (Dec 19th) this turned out to be for Soriano that he got a bundle of money ($ 7.25 million dollars) and a chance to play in 74 degree weather for 81 games a year in Florida.
I mean the minute I heard the deal was about to be completed, I started to do some research on the guy and found some thing I automatically loved and caused concern about the Rays new closer. But the true fact that he is not Troy Percival is the first good news I have heard in the last two seasons for the Rays Bullpen. Soriano is from the Dominican Republic, and as most players from that region, did not start out as a pitching prospect. He was originally signed as an outfielder before being converted to a pitcher.
In 1999, Soriano was finally began his conversion into a pitcher while with the Everett and the move was considered an instant success as he finished his first season as a pitcher second in ERA and strikeouts, but also third in walks. Control would come with time as the young pitcher began to tweak his finger grips and learn the art of pitching.
And his pitching progression showed in 2000 as he was boasted a 2.87 ERA and was considered the third best pitcher prospect in the Mariner’s organization in 2000. Soriano also surrendered only one Home Run in the 167 batters he faced that season. And during the 2000 offseason, he got his first taste of Winter Ball as he was selected to play for Escogido in the Dominican League.
And his impression during his escalation through the minors was not missed by the Seattle front office which selected him from the Double-A San Antonio on May 8,2002 and he made his Major League debut against the Boston Red Sox on May 10th and earned his first MLB save in a 7-2 Seattle win. During 2002, he ended up only appearing in 10 games for the Mariners, but started 6 games during his tour with the big club.
There is one thing that bothers me a bit about Soriano. Early on in his career he did show a pattern of getting injured when he first went down with a right shoulder injury while up with the Mariners on July 10,2002. and was put on the disabled list. Soriano suffered a strained oblique muscle in Spring Training 2004 and saw very limited action before the regular season.
He then suffered another injury in May 2004 when while he was up with the Mariners he developed a right elbow strain. He sat out until July and tried to pitch during a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma, but the pain came back in the elbow. Soriano was diagnosed with a ulnar collateral ligament tear in the elbow and Dr Lewis Yocum performed Tommy John’s surgery on the aliment on August 17, 2004.
Soriano spent the rest of the 2004 season rehabbing from the surgery and after multiple rehab assignment in the minor leagues, finally returned to the Major Leagues on September 10,2005 for the Mariners and stayed with the club the rest of the season appearing in seven games that season. Soriano ended his season right by not allowing a run in his last five games of the season.
During the 2006 season you might have remembered Soriano as the pitcher that got clocked in the right ear off a line drive from the bat of Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero during the eighth inning August 29th contest at Safeco Field between the Angels and Mariners. Mariners Team Medical Director Edward Khalfayan said that Soriano was hit right beyond the right ear region and he never lost consciousness before being transported to Harborview Medical Center for further testing.
Soriano spent the night at Harborview after suffering a concussion, but was finally released the following afternoon. But the Mariners took a cautionary route and Soriano did not pitch again in the 2006 season. Prior to the August 29th incident, Soriano spent time on the DL for right shoulder fatigue before being reinstated in early August. That would be his last appearance for the Seattle Mariners as he was traded to the Atlanta Braves on December 6,2006 for fellow reliever Horacio Ramirez.
Soriano has been known to throw the ball in triple digits before, but suffered in his first season with the Braves setting up Braves closer Bob Wickman. After seeing Soriano begin to emerge in the Bullpen and Wickman starting to show regression, the Braves made a move in August 2006 by designating Soriano into the closer’s roles and designating Wickman for assignment.
But the drama was not over for Soriano in 2006. In September during a game against division rivals, the Florida Marlins, Soriano drilled Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla with a pitch and drew a four game suspension from the National League front office. After appealing the sentence, it was reduced to two games, but Soriano ended his first Braves season with mixed reviews providing a 3-3 record and a 3.0 ERA for the season.
Soriano had stayed relatively injury free during his first two seasons with the Braves before finally feeling some right elbow pain, and went on his first stint on the DL with right elbow tendinitis during May. Soriano suffered another setback during the season and was activated from the DL on July 27th. Eventually, Soriano went back on the DL on August 3, and stayed there for the rest of the season. On August 28th, Dr James Andrews performed an ulnar nerve transposition surgery and removed some bone spurs from Soriano’s elbow.
The 2009 season was the first injury free season for Soriano in a long time. And his level of play did increase dramatically as he held righthanded batters to a .138 average during the season. He also converted 27 of 31 save opportunities while holding a 1-6 record on the season. But the season also saw new career highs in strikeouts (102) and innings pitched (75.2) to show that when healthy, Soriano is one of the rising closer stars in the Major Leagues.
During his three season with the Braves, Soriano might have only compiled a 4-10 record with 39 saves, but he gained valuable experience during the season gelling into the closer’s role for the Braves. And even if he only has three pitches in his arsenal, Soriano’s fastball maintains a consistent velocity in the upper 90’s, and has hit triple digits a few times last season. Combined with his hard-biting slider(81-84 mph) and a seldom used change-up(84-86) that he usually reserves for hard hitting left-handers.
But there is a level of concern that hits my brain about Soriano. There has not been a consistent level of health yet in his career for me to be jumping up and down yet about this trade. Sure I do not want a repeat of the last two seasons where you get ex
cited and looking forward to a closer taking it to the house for the Rays, then get saddened quickly by a sudden or hidden injury situation.
Maybe that is what is wrong to me about this trade. I like the pitching statistics of Soriano a lot, and really want him to be effective and healthy in 2010 for the Rays. But I was also excited to see what hard throwing reliever Jesse Chavez could do for this squad in 2010. It is an upgrade in instant talent, but for some odd reason, Chavez to me felt like a better long term addition.
But with the horrors of the “Percy” era still fresh in my mind, along with the wasted millions of dollars spent on him sitting in California on his duff while this team struggled without a bona fide closer. I am a bit more cautious to throw out the arms and welcome a closer now. Especially one who has only had one legitimate healthy season after several trips to the diasabled list in the past.
I truly hope that Soriano proves me wrong within the first few weeks of 2010. I want to again believe that we have a viable closing option on the Rays and that the “closer-by-committee” concept is thrown in the trash can and burned forever. But it is still funny to me the recent quote from Rays team owner Stuart Sternberg that this team payroll would not allow for a $ 7 million dollar closer. And he was right. But as is always the way with the Rays, irony had the last laugh as now we have a new $ 7.25 million dollar closer to put out hopes and playoff dreams upon in 2010.
Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.
And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.
So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.
It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.
A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009. It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.
I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay.
Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.
Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.
I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!). Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.
But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.
Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist. This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet.
But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves..
While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life.
Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.
You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.
There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.
But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.
Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.
But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.
And a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.
So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!
2009 will go down as one of those seasons that a few of the members of the Tampa Bay Rays might want to forget as fast as possible. But there also have been some amazing funny and totally memorable photos taken during the past season that might be needed right now for a few who can’t seem to turn their frowns upside down. How could the photo above of a dog lover even turning his canine best friend into a Rays fan not get you to at least start the curving of your mouth into a smile or a deep belly chuckle.
So today I decided to entertain and hopefully lighten up the stress and the angst of the playoff series an hopefully put a few chuckles and smiles on everyones faces as their favorite teams continue to battle it out between the chalk lines. And you know that the best way to relieve stress has always been laughter, or an occasional funny moment. So with that in mind, it is time to begin the 2009 search for the funny bone, and hopefully we all still have one.
I am always amazed at some of the new gadgets, puns and practical joke items on www.ArchieMcPhee.com . I originally used this photo not so long ago on August 7,2009 when I wrote on a visit to Seattle……the Renegade’s way. The place is virtual comics dream with some of the wildest items ever offered online, or in their unique store in Seattle. I mean, look at the photo above of the handerpants, which are billed as “underwear for your hands”. Just the idea of such a thing is beyond words to me at times. But at least you never have to worry about a skid marks, but you might have to worry about hairy palms.
I mean if you get a chance and want to have a really hard belly laugh, you got to go to the website and check out some of the wild and amazing things that you can buy for yourself or to amuse your friends. You can buy bacon soap, Absinthe floss for your teeth or maybe a Monkey portrait oil painting for the upcoming office Christmas party anonymous gift. Whatever your likes, this is the website for the simply insane and the mostly gag gift for people of any ages.
This one actually is not a funny photo, sorry, but it is a great reminder that we lose so many great baseball fans every season to the dangers of smoking. I know it might seem like I am jumping on a soapbox here, but I really feel that it is a habit that has robbed us of a lot of great people even during my lifetime. I have never smoked, chewed or used any tobacco products, but with my luck I will die trying to shove in that last hot dog during the $1 Dog Nights at the Trop.
What is also amazing about this photo is the fact that the skeleton has two handlers right behind them in case they have to run and retrieve a foul ball and the leg-bone becomes disconnected from the hip-bone, and the hip-bone loses its tail-bone somewhere on the stairs. Or maybe that is just my own sick sense of weird humor?
This extremely hungry Toronto Blue Jays reliever about to eat Rays fan Christin Manfredo’s head during a photo opportunity in Dunedin, Florida during Spring Training is Dirk Hayhurst. Most people might remember him as the original storyteller of the Legend of the Garfoose, which is a tremendously funny and totally obscure baseball story that gets me giggling every time I read it. The guy has a wild sense of humor, and seems to like to bite the heads of live Rays fans.
I always wondered what a 6 foot parrot ate when he came to Florida for Spring Training. I guess he has an appetite for foul ball catching kids. Seriously, when I first saw this photo in April I was wondering if t was one of those caption photos where you decide what he is doing, and what you want to have printed under the photo. If it was just that sort of opportunity, I guess my entry would say something like: Penalty in Pittsburgh for reaching over the wall for a ball, you get pecked to death by the Parrot.
Another website that has gotten me to give up more than a few chuckles this season is www.brainshousefanclub.com. On this website dedicated to the Rays “leftie” specialist, you can see him immortalized as Neo from “The Matrix“, the Terminator, Santa Claus, and also Ghandi. The site was developed when Shouse was with the Milwaukee Brewers and was used in the 8th inning of Brewers games.
When he came to the Rays, I was told about this website, and tried to immortalize it a few times during the season for the Rays faithful to check out and hopefully use as their desktop photo. No one has ever emailed me back with any information as to if they have selected any of the photos, and in turn added them to their desktops, even for one day. But it is still great to see fans of other teams have a great sense of humor about their favorite players, and want to immortalize them like this. Could a Jason Bay website be in the making?
Still not sure what these guys were trying to convey when they showed up at Tropicana Field one night during a Scott Kazmir start. Were they lost on their way to the Middle Ages revival somewhere downtown, or could they actually be showing some level of solidarity for the Rays Republic. I came up with the notion that they were the Knights Tampa, who were sent here by a Coucil of an European hierarchy to protect the American League Championship trophy as our own Holy Grail….or I could be wrong?
o this day, I wish I had known that the Rays and the GEICO Caveman were going to do a parody commercial where he runs out on the field and attacks the GEICO signage put up on the right-centerfield outfield wall. It was a trip talking with him in the interview I did a few minutes before he decided to run onto the field after being selected as the “GEICO Fan of the Game”. Such and honor, and yet he got to spend a night in the Pinellas County Jail making new friends and maybe getting a “Born to HATE GEICO” prison tattoo.
Earlier in the season I wrote about an old tradition that was resurfacing again in the land of the Oriole. It seemed that some years ago they used to do a cartoon after every game, and after a bit of time, the cartoon fell by the wayside until they decided to return the tradition again in 2009. After every one of the 162 Oriole games there was a cartoon the next morning right there for everyone to see both online and in the morning paper delivered to the doorsteps of thousands in the Baltimore area. Great to see such a humorous tradition again take root in the town that gave us the “Ace of Cakes“.
I still want to know how much each of those seagulls makes that have a habit of coming into Progressive Field and making a nuisance of themselves. I know that on at least one occasion, the winged ones have knocked down a potential game winning single then let out that all telling gull laugh as the Indians celebrated at Home Plate with a walk-off win. Make you want to again read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and see if there was any real truth to that book. In Cleveland, the proof is sitting right there among the green grass on most nights when the Indians play baseball.
I have to admit, I always wondered why B J Upton never stole any bases against the New York Yankees earlier in the season. I guess during this game in July I got my answer. Seems that Robinson Cano likes to come up behind Upton and clutch him like a long lost buddy until the ball gets to the plate. Seriously tho, it is great to see the guy have a common respect and love for each other, but can we save the “Man Crush” for after the game and let B J run next time?
I am not sure why Scott Kazmir first off decided to give his rightfielder, Gabe Gross a nice little extra pat on the back pocket, but the look on Kazmir’s face is simply priceless. I miss Scott, he was always up for some sort of humor within the confines of the game, and usually it somehow did get caught by the camera. Not sure the reasoning behind the low pat, but you can bet he got more a few ribbing from his team mate when this one hit the wire services. But the sign held up in the background by Rays fan George Stone that stated simply “awesome” gives this picture a purely comical edge, and almost turns it a bit cartoonish, but it is a classic moment now.
All during the Rays season there has been at least one culprit during the Rays home games that has been delivering shaving cream pies to unsuspecting victims during television or stadium Jumbotron interviews. And the wild part it is someone who you would never associate such speed and stealth moves to for the most part. Dioner Navarro has been the shaving cream pie stealth bandit all season long, and you never know when he might sprint out of the dugout tunnel holding a towel filled with the creamy substance.
Such was the case when he got Rays Manager Joe Maddon during a FSN Florida interview near the end of the season. But Navarro was not as stealth as usual, as Maddon heard the catcher coming, and turned his head at the right moment to only get a right earful of the cool lime smelling concoction. Maddon, always the cool cucumber basically added during the interview that “Now I feel like one of the boys, and have been accepted into the club”. Classic line by a classic guy who also leads by example for his team to witness nightly. Even wilder, for the next two nights after the shaving cream pie, Navarro started behind the plate for the Rays.
A Major League dugout can be a wild place during a games. You never know just what kind of high jinks or pratfalls might be coming, and you never know who the true culprit is at the moment. Take this photo for example, it is the shoe of Rays Rookie Wade Davis after Rays pitcher Matt Garza gave him a hot foot during a game against the New York Yankees during the last home stand. But Davis was not the only victim of that series.
Earlier in the game, Rays reliever J P Howell, who was shut down in the last weeks before the end of the season got the classic treatment himself when he stayed in the dugout instead of strolling out to the Bullpen like he usually did on game days. He was situated on the dugout rail watching another Rays rookie, David Price pitch during a game and someone, who will remain nameless, got him with the classic bubble gum bubble on top of his Rays cap.
So these are a few of the moments in 2009 that got me to chuckle, laugh and maybe sip a few sips of soda all over the floor of the Trop. The season is long over, and the fans have gone from the stadium, but it is memories like these that will live on within our hearts and minds for a long time.
Bill Koustron / AP
There was some ramblings during the last months of 2008 that if that Tampa Bay Rays squad did not make the playoffs, they would be referred to as the “Best Rays team to never make the playoffs”. Well, with their huge mountain of success that season I can safely say they will never have that title attached to their legacy because of the 2009 team’s fall from grace. But, the 2009 team could very well be the team that will be in your minds for a long time as the team was good enough to win a post season berth based on their talent, but fell short of the goals with their game results.
Even with 15 games to go in the 2009 season, and the playoff balloon sitting on the ground with no more air in it for fight or flight, this Rays team is still fighting for a few of its members to post career numbers and fight for Top 10 rankings in categories all throughout the American League. Considering this is the same Rays team that sent 5 members and their entire Coaching Staff to the 2009 All Star Game in St. Louis, Missouri. And even with the improbable story of Carl Crawford walking away with the games MVP award on a monster catch in leftfield, it might be just as rewarding to remember the season of Ben Zobrist, who caught the last out of the All Star game.
So let’s take a look with 15 games to play in some of the American League leaderboard and some of its categories both good and bad, and see where our 2009 Rays team can make some historic marks for future Rays players to aspire to beat or avoid totally :
*** Even with two pins in his fingers, Carlos Pena is still the Home Run leader in the American League with 39 this season. With 15 games left, Pena’s biggest competition comes from Yankees First Baseman Mark Teixeira, who is 4 home runs away from catching fellow first baseman Pena. This battle might come down to the last series between the teams in October.
*** Evan Longoria is also fighting Teixeira for the AL Runs Batted In title right now as Longoria currently has 104 RBI and is just 8 RBI away from catching Teixeira for the title. Longoria, who is only in his second season at the major league level would become the first Rays player to hold such a title.
*** Carl Crawford has his hands in at least two chases for titles with one currently just 1 more than his career best. That is right, currently Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury, who has 61 stolen bases is leading the Stolen Base category, but Crawford is right behind him with 57 steals at this time. Crawford also is 29 hits short of 200 total hits for the season, and with both titles within his reach, you might see a few more chances by Crawford both at the plate and on the base paths in the last 15 games.
*** Both Longoria and Crawford also are currently tied for 10th in total games played this season with 142. the top spot is currently held by the Orioles Nick Markakis and Yankee Robinson Cano, who both have 146 games this season. Crawford is also currently 11th in at bats this season with 564 prior to tonight games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Longoria is also currently sitting in the 4th spot in doubles with 44 this season for the Rays.
*** Jason Bartlett has made a name for himself this season with his bat. Not only has he set new career highs in home runs and RBI, but he is currently batting to stay within the top 5 in AL Batting Average right now. Bartlett is sitting in 5th place at this moment with a .324 average, and is within .004 of tying Yankee Derek Jeter for the 4th spot. Bartlett is also holding strong in the race for triples where he currently sits in 7th place in a tie with fellow Rays Crawford and Ben Zobrist with 7 triples. The AL leader has only 9 triples, so the title is out there for any of the three to take it this season.
*** Then we have Longoria who is also right out of the Top 5 spots with 283 total bases in 2009. And there are currently two Rays in the top 10 for Walks this season in the AL. Pena is sitting in the 7th spot with 87 walks this season, and Zobrist is right behind him in 8th with a total of 85 walks in 2009. Zobrist has more of a chance to hit the Top 5 by the end of the season.
*** There is one category that the Rays probably wish they did not have 4 members in the Top 20 this season… Strikeouts. Pena is no longer in the top spot, but is holding down the 2nd spot with B J Upton sitting at the 5th spot with 147 K’s in the season. Longoria is also in the 10th spot with 127 strikeouts so far this season. And coming in 20th is the Rays new Designated Hitter, Pat Burrell with 109 for the year.
*** As we continue on the unhappy trail of some negative Top AL spots for the Rays, both Crawford (14) and Upton (13) are in the top 3 base runners caught stealing this season. This includes picked off of the bases and actual steals during games. And another honor that he might wish he did not have, Longoria is on pace to be the top offender in Grounding into Double Plays this season as he is the current leader with 27, just 1 GIDP short of the MLB lead right now.
So now that we have established that several Rays players are having career seasons in 2009, lets head on over to the American League leaderboard in the pitching categories and see if we might also have some contenders for top 10 spots on the Rays pitching staff:
*** Rays starter Matt Garza is currently sitting in the 8th spot in the AL in Strikeouts this season with 167. With another start on Saturday night, Garza might have a chance to boost himself closer to the top 5 spot currently held by Toronto’s Roy Halladay with 187 strikeouts. But in reality, he might not get to the 200 K plateau, but it has been a great season for the Rays rightie. James Shields also is in the top 15 in the AL in strikeouts sitting at 14th place with 145 this season.
*** Rays reliever J P Howell is currently sitting in the 6th spot for appearances with 67 this season. The top spot currently is only 4 appearance more than Howell’s, but that might be unrealistic as the Rays have unofficially shut down Howell at this time due to arm fatigue.
*** Rays starter Shields is also currently sitting in the Top 3 in Games Starts this season with 30, and is well within the top spot in the AL, which is held by Yankee CC Sabathia and Tiger Justin Verlander with 31 starts. But in reality, there are 10 people sharing the spot with Shields who will be making his 31st start of the season tonight against the Blue Jays at home.
*** Rays rookie Jeff Niemann also has a few spots within the top 20 in several categories for the Rays in 2009. In his first full season with the team, Niemann is currently 14th in wins with 12 this season and 14th in ERA (3.80). The Rays AL Rookie of the Year candidate also is in the 8th spot for Complete Games (2) and is in a 4-way tie for Shutouts with two this season.
*** The Rays also have three members of their starting rotation Niemann, Garza and Shields in the Top 20 in the AL ERA category this season. And at this moment, both Shields (198.2) and Garza (185.0) are within the top 15 for total innings pitched this season for the Rays. Garza also has the 3rd best Opponents Average in the AL currently sitting at .234 mark.
*** And some of the marks that the Rays pitching staff wishes it did not have in 2009 consists of Shields surrendering the second worst amount of hits this season in the AL with 217 hits. Also in the Red spots for the Rays is Shields with the third worst amount of runs scored against him in 2009 with 101 this season. And it gets even worse as Shields is also in third surrendering 27 HR this season.
*** And just because his name did not flash in the last paragraph doesn’t mean that Garza also is off the hook with bad statistics this season. He is currently the second worst pitcher in the AL in hit batsmen this season. Garza is also within the Top 3 in Walks Allowed this season in th American League with 68 so far this season.
So as you can see, the Rays harbor some of the best young talent in the American League. With a splattering of great events throughout this season taking the spotlight away from the reality of the disastrous events of the last few weeks, this team has struggled the entire year to decide what kind of team they wanted to be both on the mound and at the plate. That indecision might have led to the final free fall in September that dashed their dreams of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
But the solid foundation of this Rays team is strong and should be able to weather the storm of 2009 and come out strong again in 2010. Even with their expected 3 young starters with a year or less of MLB service hitting the mound in 2010, the Rays should again be the team to watch in the AL East. Because with this season coming to a close, the learning process of this squad will not stop with the games. In the off season you can be sure that the hitters and the pitchers will be working hard to again get the taste of champagne in their mouths.
And the stark reality that this team is being built for the long haul and not just a single season or two of championship caliber talent might hasten their rise again to the top of the AL standings. With the Rays minor league system again brimming with young talent striving to make a mark so they can get a shot in the big leagues, this team might be again the envy of most of the Major League Baseball world.
So this team might be considered a failure by some, but the reality of the situation is that the team could finish with the second best record EVER by a Rays team in 2009 and be considered a failure by the critics around the league. Just because the team took a step backwards in 2009 doesn’t mean they are losing their grips or going to go into another free fall towards mediocrity in 2010. The team again will be stocked with tremendous talent with the abilities to again have the team celebrating next October.
It might be one step back, but it is not as if the team stepped off a large cliff and is destined for the rocky bottom. There is a current team who also struggled like the Rays the season after they appeared in the World Series. The Colorado Rockies came upon the same fate as the Rays and lost their chance at a world title. And the team did take a backwards step in 2008, but in 2009 they currently are riding high with a chance to again make the post season in the National League.
Anything is possible for the Rays in 2010. With the example of the Rockies also coming off the rock pile and again chasing the top spots there is hope and a sense of determination from these Rays players to be next season’s Rockies and again go to the MLB playoffs. So maybe it is now that the team needs to set a short term goal of showing the community their commitment and their striving to again post “W’s” in the left column for the next 15 games. This team might be the worst of the best Rays team to ever set foot on the Trop’s turf, but it is in no way comparable to the 2007 squad.
Lately I have been focusing a huge amount of my attention on the aspect of getting the Tampa Bay area convinced and enticed by the possibilities of this Rays team thrusting onward and upwards towards a possible American League Playoff spot. As the noose gets a bit tighter, and the ice begins to melt faster beneath all of our feet, I think it is time to back it down a notch and maybe have some fun today. Yeah, it is definitely a time to take a step back and chill for a moment and just have fun with today’s blog.
Heck, I even began toying a bit with what if I had some sort of theme music, or a walk-up introduction music that would play if I walked into the stadium. And my personal choice of music would be Bon Jovi’s hit “Have A Nice Day”. I mean we all have thought about it for a few minutes, and we all have a few songs rolling around in our minds that might play out our hidden personalities and our music styles. Wouldn’t it be too cool to have that music playing even if it is on our own personal Ipods every time we stepped down into the bowl of the stadium.
We all know that a player’s walk-up music is a signature of their inner personalities that we might not see outside of the lines of the baseball field, and some them have some unusual and odd choice for their music. Some base it on childhood memories or a friendly reminding beat that gives them a sense of calm and clear mind just before they step into the batter box, or on the pitching rubber. But one of the wildest music I have heard is the music that accompanies J P Howell as he comes to the mound.
I have never asked Howell why he picks a song by Huey “Piano” Smith who was an important part of the great New Orleans piano tradition, following in the footsteps of Professor Longhair and Fats Domino to take his place among the Crescent City’s R&B elite. He was also one of R&B’s great comedians, his best singles matching the Coasters for genial, good-time humor, although his taste often ran more towards nonsense lyrics. So why would a guy who was born in Modesto, California in 1983 come in contact with a song written and recorded in the late 1950’s? That has got to be one of the great stories that underline some of the Rays players song selections.
But then you have a guy like Rays starter James Shields who uses a well known song from a German band Rammstein that came into all of our subconscious when the band performed it live during a scene in the movie “XXX” with Vin Diesel. “Du Hast”( Do Have) is a great techno song that does get your mind and physical being up and ready. The pumping of the bass and the hard guitar licks do get you wanting to start a mosh pit right in the Rays Bullpen area each time you hear it. It was actually a undercover favorite of mine and I can truly see how it could be a favorite of Shields. Seriously I want to bang my head and pump my fist every time it plays in the stadium.
You might be wondering why I am focusing so much on the Rays pitcher’s music instead of the Rays hitters? Well, really the answer is quite simple, the batters get their music heard sometimes 4 times a night, while the starters and the reliever might not get their music heard but once a series. So I decided to focus more on the pitching staffs music then the hitters right now. But that could be a possible future blog entry.
One of the newest members of the Tampa Bay Rays relieving corp is veteran Russ Springer. And in his mound music he reflects on his home town roots and his affection for the music that had influenced him for so long. Being a native of Pollack, Louisiana he is truly what you would expect of a country boy. The guy is low key, but passionate about the sport and remarked in a recent article in the St Petersburg Times that in his hometown, people ask “How your coondog is doing?” as mush as they ask about you.
But Springer has been able to keep that low key personality under the MLB radar until 2006 when in May of that year his name was spread out all over the media when he was a member of the Houston Astros and threw at San Francisco Giant several times in a series, finally plucking him once. He ended up with a 5-game suspension and a reputation that you do not mess with him.
Another guy who can changed and tossed his music around a lot during his Rays career has been Rays reliever Grant Balfour. He has gone as far as using fellow Aussies’ Midnight Oil and their hit “King of the Mountain” to the wild and mysterious pick of Men at Work and their classic “Land Down Under.” I have to tell you, the Men at Work song tends to freak me out a bit. I really hate to admit I liked that song so long ago when it first came out.
But seriously here, he has done a bit of mixing those two up with a few wild off the cuff picks like The Doors in the recent Red Sox/Rays series. I could not place the song title, but know it was not “Back Door Man”, or even “The End”, which could be a interesting twist to his use as a 7th, 8th inning set-up man for the team. Got to admit, the Midnight Oil song is an old classic I had not even thought about for years, but is a nice classic tune for a mound mood.
But then you have the left-side of the brain music of two of the Rays southpaws that really sets the tone for a reliever coming into the game late in a contest and gets the bass and the hard back beats going in your mind and body. It is the band AC/DC and their hard core rock and roll themes like “Thunderstruck” and ” You Shook Me All Night Long”, and “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)” as their mound music.
I know that Brian Shouse and Randy Choate did not intentionally pick those tunes just for their times here with the Rays, but it is actually really funny, that they pick that music since resident Brian Johnson, who did the lead vocals for the group actually lives in the Sarasota area and attends some Rays games during the season. Hopefully the lead singer can get to a game before the end of the season and get a chance to chat with the guys who enjoy his band’s music so much. Heck, I think he would be a fantastic National Anthem singer if the former Aussie would not mind belting out the tune.
As you can see some of the Rays pitching staff has a wide variety of musical tastes that can range from the wild and unusual to the down at home music from their regions. But most of all, it can be a audio cure to them personally to get into that mode of operation that will result in total concentration and effort on their parts. The job of a Major League pitcher is difficult enough knowing that the guy at the plate is trying to knock every pitch out of the ballpark, and it is your job to keep that from happening.
Music, song lyrics and also beat can get them into a frame of mind to mask that objective by the batter and get their job done so they can all go home with a win. Some days it works, some days it fails, but it is their own personal stamp on the game and it is their badge of recognition for the fans. Music can be the great inspirational point in a game. That is why we have certain songs that play during the game to key emotions and get not just the players, but us the crowd into the heat of the battle.
Because the Rays have seemed to lose a bit of the fight in them the last few days, I decided to revisit my favorite moment from 2008 and try and get some of the “Playoff Fever” rhythm back again in the Rays House. I do not have all the answers, believe me, I want to have the answers to get this team back into that fighting and hungry mode again. There is a different vibe on this team this year, and it doesn’t have the same feel to it. So I am revisiting this moment that is etched deep within me in hope that the team, the fans, and the community can again remember what 2008 really meant to all of us.
Everyone remembers the magic of your first time. The first time you had a bubbly ice cold soda, or your first adult beverage. Or maybe it was the first time you finally go the courage and finally decided to try that scary ride at the fair that has terrified you to death your entire life. The fascination and excitement of trying something, or achieving something for the first time can be a rush that can not be beat. There is a burst of energy that you can never have again. And last, but not least, a sense of accomplishment for finally hitting the finish line with gusto and pride. You always remember your ” first” anything, but this one will stay with me until the day I meet St. Peter at the pearly gates and he asks what I am most proud of in my life. My answer will be pretty simple, my answer will be unexpected to most people. My honest answer is my All-Time favorite” first” was when my home town team finally got to go to “the Show.”
It is for that reason that I feel I have to revisit my “Top Moment for 2008″ one more time. As I said before, we always remember our first time entering the ballpark, checking out the sounds, smells and the atmosphere of this game that excites us from the television screen or in-person . You still think about the first Batting Practice or your first foul ball catch. And how special was getting your first autograph, and didn’t that player become a favorite of yours instantly. And who could ever forget the taste of that first stadium hot dog. I know all of these are still fresh in my mind, and it has been over 40 years since my first game at Al Lang Field watching the St. Petersburg Cardinals. And the bag of peanuts in front of me still taste better at the ballpark.
So it is with great pleasure that I re-introduce to the MLB community my number one memory of 2008. The realization of the 2008 playoff finally came to light on September 20, 2008 with 36,048 other “9 = 8″ believers in the stands who had spent most of the game jumping up and down like maniacs. It was a time for celebration and rejoicing. It was a time to remember all the things we loved about the 2008 Rays. Not only did the team play a hard fought 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins, but the team secured its first EVER playoff berth. And that moment seems have been buried lately because this group of players want to make their own memories, which is fine, but sometimes you have to embrace the past to secure your future.
Considering the 2008 Rays squad pushed the envelope from the first Spring Training game and fought long and hard to finally get this team over that “wins hump” that has kept prior teams from achieving this goal. This was a team before 2008 who had NEVER won more than 71 games a year, and for the first time in this franchises history, they fought and sweated daily to keep themselves in the top spot in the American League East. September 20,2008 was a blessed moment of celebration for the fans both inside Tropicana Field or at home, plus it was a perfect moment for the players to salute a great season, and a unique event for both sides to celebrate together. This moment was so personal to me. I got to celebrate with a few baseball buddies both with hugs and fist bumps to swigs of champagne and cheers of excitement as the entire team wandered and cheered around the stadium.
I made sure to remind a select few of them that the journey has just began and they made sure I knew that it was us, the fans that drove this bus to the playoffs as much as the players. And I got to drink from the champagne bottles and taste that sweet nectar that went down like cool rainwater and tasted like spun honey. It was one of the biggest moments for me as a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays…………….and hopefully you got to enjoy it too that day…………….
It might have looked like a mob scene out of your favorite sports movie, but believe me, the energy in that place on that September afternoon was so severe that it sometimes seemed to choke you from the intensity in the air. From the energy and the explosion of emotion in the stadium atmosphere, this game seemed to have been in the cards even before the Rays stepped on the turf. There was a wild feeling in the air that day. Most of that might have been nervous energy knowing they were within a whisker of franchise first and an event that would explode throughout the Tampa Bay community.
Seriously folks, after that celebration in the stands and on the field, I felt so drained emotionally and mentally just a wreck. I was literally crawling out on my hands and knees, but I had a huge Cheshire Cat grin when I finally exited the Trop around 9 P.M. after celebrating in the stands, near the clubhouse with a few friends, and in the Budweiser Brew house having a few brews with the old crew from the last 11 years. This was a night where everyone in Tampa Bay would have a peaceful nights sleep more induced by exhaustion than by excitement. But that was fine, because that night we all dreamed the moment again and again and finally awoke knowing OUR team finally had a date to play in the postseason.
This was an entire weekend that will sit up there with the best memories I have involving sports in my life. I have been to a few wild celebrations, like the Baltimore Ravens victory party in Ybor City after they won the Super Bowl in Tampa, or even a late night cocktail party at Reign after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with a few ex-Rays players. I was so spent that next morning from sheer excitement and celebration that I did not even feel I was walking on the turf when I arrived at the Trop for the annual Season Ticket holder Picture Day with the players. Well, the ones who are awake at 10 am. and did not have that emotional and physical body and mind hangover from all the celebrations.
TWO more times these guys got to pay as much attention to their team partying as they do out with us, the fans. From interview to interview that night, the Rays players to a “T”, talked about the Tampa Bay Rays fans. And to show their respect to those fans, they included all of us in their celebrations. There were wild scenes of players like Akinora Iwamura and Carl Crawford getting up on the dugout and spraying the masses with champagne and beer. Throwing 9=8 playoff hats and T-shirts to outstretched hands, and basking in a moment that will live in this franchises history books and our collective memories forever.
The picture above means so much more to me now that all three have moved onto other opportunities away from this Rays team. All three of them had a unique personality that helped this squad in different ways to achieve this goal in 2008. It was also was the first time all three of these old teammates got to celebrate something like this in a Rays uniform. You know they will always remember their first time. You remember where you were, Who you were standing with, and what you were doing at that exact moment. When the guys came running down towards the Bull Pen Cafe area , I was standing on the railing waiting for them. I can not remember how many of those guys came by there and how many times I slapped their hands and gave them a fist bump.
But the memories that are really were the energy that produced Hugs from J P Howell, Jonny Gomes, Chad Orvella and Scott Kazmir. I have chatted almost daily with a lot of these guys on their way to the Bullpen, or back in the right field area, and they are some of the best guys you will ever want to meet. But that night on and off the field I got to know and see other sides to these guys that only their teammates get to see daily. And that is a moment that was not lost in my mind. Even today as I remember that September afternoon, the images are still crystal clear and the emotions still swirl within me. It was a time I again want to feel in 2009. It will be another awesome moment for this second generation of Rays. This years squad do not have the “jokers” and some of the big personalities that the 2008 squad had, but they are still the reigning AL Champs.
Some of these guys have been transformed by the moment. And success can do that to a player. It gives them a vital self realization that they are winners. Take J P Howell for instance. He used to be one of the quiet guys on this team. When he was a starter, he was a bit moody and never seemed to want to talk with anyone near the field level. But now he has been transformed since he has found his calling in the bullpen He now one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on the Rays. Dan Wheeler is not known to smile a lot, but he does when we chat back and forth during the games. There is a unique bond there between the Bullpen and the fans here that I have never seen before in my life. But then again, they are living the dream in 2008.
From the first champagne bottle out of the clubhouse that day, to the two champagne bottles Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos had ordered for himself and the close fans down there near the Bullpen, it was a magical night. The parade around the Trop outer perimeter was a show of the love and respect these guys have for the fan base. I have been lucky enough to know a few of these guys off the turf in private. And I have to tell you this in total confidence, not one time this year did any of these guys take this responsibility to the fans or to the community as a job or work.
On that September afternoon these guys actually enjoyed interacting with the fans. From the time they walked out at the Spring Training complex in mid-Feb. to now has been a long and rewarding journey. There have been injuries to key members of this pitching staff early in the year, but the team bent like a rubber band and did not break. This season players have come and gone from the roster, but the core of this team has been strong, mentally tough and been an inspiration to the fans. Not many groups have a tie to the fans that these guys have. The Rays community can honestly say the have the team’s back at any moment.
The funny thing about that celebration is that about 50 percent of it was outside the locker room on the same field where these guys have toiled and struggled and left themselves bleeding and wounded some nights. To say this battle towards a playoff spot did not end with a fairy tale ending is totally inaccurate. I really need to hit the sack for a few hours before I fall down, but the adrenaline is still pumping hard in me right now and I have tossed and turned for about 5 hours since I got home.
I am a emotional wreck right now, but I would do it again in a New York moment. If you have never been to one of these defining moments, you know how the Rays Republic is now feeling. If you have not, I truly wish it upon yourself and your team sometime in the future. It is a roller coaster ride fitted with some great ups and downs that is not even over yet.
I just want to repurchase my “E” ticket so I can climb aboard the coaster again and roll through another three of these celebrations with the Rays and this truly spectacular group of guys. I actually now know what other team’s fans have talked about when the y remark about the feelings and the intensity of the moment. I can see why New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox fans yearn and seek thin moment in their lives yearly. But I have to almost admit, I do not want to share it with them anytime soon.
So As I finally slink out of the stadium, and check out that bright orange roof, I am reminded of all the glory and the sweat and tears that have blanketed this great dome in the past 10 years. But tonight they all seem like a distant memory as we have a new found tradition of winning and are celebrating the success of our boys’ tonight. I can’t wait to get back into my seat tomorrow and see how much of the energy is still trapped in this building…………….9 am is coming fast to me tonight.