Results tagged ‘ James Shields ’

2012 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic

Professional athletes have a special format and platform to help educate and introduce us to charities and organization that are among us that without their support or enlightenment might go unnoticed or suffer financial downfalls and possible extinction. This is one of the many reasons I have chosen to be a part of the annual Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. Well, that and helping out one of my true baseball friends.

His 2012 event again was overflowing with support from the baseball and sports community of Tampa Bay. From the Tampa Bay Lightning to former and current athletes coming together to help support Hall and The Miracle League, the event was a winner from the arrival of the first golfer. This year the event took on a different feel for me. Hall had announced his official retirement as a player earlier in the year, and now his focus and determination was focused and pin-pointed towards helping those organizations that touched at his heart strings.

I also took on a different face within the classic this year as I was on the opposite end of the camera lens taking photos of some of the golfing pairings, and getting some unseen shots while accompanying Hall and his entourage around the course during the days events. It was great to see former Tampa Bay sports icons like Tampa Bay Bucs RB Mike Alstott, T E Dave Moore, K Martin Gramatica. and the Bucs mega fan Big Nasty made the region’s football presence known at the event. Other NFL participants were Kansas City Chiefs TE Anthony Becht and former Jets, Bengals and Bucs OL Matt O’Dwyer.

As usual, the Major League Baseball community both in Tampa Bay and with a bevy of former Rays made the bulk of the events celebrity attendees, each bringing their own spin and special moments to the event. Current members of the Rays showing their support for the former Rays backstop included SP David Price who formed Team Price along with teammates SS Reid Brignac and CF B J Upton. Also attending the event was SP James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and RF Matt Joyce who all acted as celebrity golfers in the classic’s pairings.

But Rays players were not the only one having fun on the links this day, Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley, former Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez, Bench coach Bill Evers, former Rays Hitting Coach Steve Henderson and former Rays OF and current Montgomery Biscuits Coach Ozzie Timmons made their rounds Thursday. Former Rays bat boy and current Toronto Blue Jays P Jesse Litsch was also on hand as well as FSN Sports and Rays Television broadcast man-on-the-move Todd Kalas who came out to support the event plus performed some spontaneous Awards Dinner MC work that inspired the evenings auctions.

Several other former Rays and long time supporters of the classic which included a pair of new Chicago Cubs, LHP Trever Miller and RP Andy Sonnanstine, plus new Indians RP Dan Wheeler who made their annual show of support for their former teammate. Former Rays backstop Gregg Zaun again brought his humor and great vibe to the event along with Washington Nationals OF Jason Michaels who again brought his unique putter and local radio “babe” and original Hooters icon Lynne Austin who I still owe a Bloody Mary. Local NBA icon and restaurant owner Matt Geiger also showed his tall and big presence on the links.

It was a great day on the greens and fairways and I had a great time talking and shooting the breeze with many of the celebrities and amateurs who took to the links. With great weather and great bonding on the golf course, the night’s final event brought the whole day to an eventual climax. Along with the raffles and awards presentation, Hall then introduced a group that had touched more than his heart strings to the assembled crowd.

Hall spoke of his recent introduction to another great baseball related group called Buddy Baseball that pairs a volunteer with a special needs player and they bond both on and off the field. His emotional moment touched so many in the crowd, and showed us another great organization to not only keep an eye on, but help develop into the successful model The Miracle League has become around the Tampa Bay area. Hall presented the group with a $ 4,000 check on this night, and with it came a rush of emotions all over the room and with the players and staff.

So many of the works and events that athletes do both in Tampa Bay or around the country do not get their “just desserts” within the local media. I volunteer for these events every Spring not to glamorize the athletes involved, but hope to inspire and promote others within the region to also join the path to helping these organizations have continued success and expansion into other Tampa Bay regions. Knowing that Hall has included the Baseball Buddies group now with The Miracle League charity it is a great moment for special needs kids and adults around the Tampa Bay area to have that unique baseball experience and enjoy the game.

Post Script:

I will be posting all my additional photos of the 2012 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic on my Flickr page (Rays Renegade) if you might desire to re-post or download a photo for your own.

Toby Hall’s (Surprise) Retirement Party

It was suppose to be a pairing party in advance of the 2012 Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. It was suppose to be one of those meet and greet opportunities for the duffers to meet other members of their foursome, and also celebrate another awesome tournament. That was the plan Toby Hall had in his mind before he entered the Courtside Grille last night.

Instead it became an impromptu Retirement Party complete with the obligatory pine wooden rocking chair that party invitees were asked to sign and give their well wishes to Hall as he embarks on other adventures in his post MLB life like watching his kids grow up, and devote more time to his charity and other worthwhile endeavors. It was an event I did not want to miss.

There were people coming out of the proverbial woodwork for this honor like former Rays owner Vince Namoli who looked very relaxed and had even lost a few pounds. Former Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez came to the event as well as former Rays Bullpen Coach Glenn Ezell and current Bullpen Catcher/Enforcer Scott Cursi. The showing of support from former players on a night usually reserved for the menial task of assigning pairings was a complete success.

 In the crowd was also former Rays OF Randy Winn, Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher/ Rays Bat boy Jesse Litsch, hurler Boof Bonser and Tampa Bay Bucs Defensive Back Ronde Barber. On the screens around the bar played a photo montage of Hall’s days both at Triple-A Durham, Tampa Bay and his stint with the White Sox. Food was plentiful, drinks were flowing and the room held a great vibe of well wishes and a few well placed cards and present for Hall and his family.

As the pairing were being announced, it was immediately noticeable that this season’s tournament had a few extra Rays names being bellowed out like P David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, SS Reid Brignac, CF B J Upton, RF Matt Joyce along with Rays farm Coach Ozzie Timmons, Jason Michaels and the always entertaining Gregg Zaun. Former Rays RP Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler Andy Sonnanstine, Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks plus that strapping young lad, FSN Florida/Rays traveling ambassador of good times Todd Kalas. The event seems to have exploded this season with the addition of several Rays player who will be first time attendees this year. The show of great support for Hall and his main charity, the Miracle League should make this the best tournament turnout and fundraising in the Toby Hall Foundation’s history.

It was a great time to show our admiration and respect for a player who gave his all for the Rays, and is still considered the best to ever squat behind the plate. Hall may be leaving the game a bit earlier than he expected, or wanted, but his foundation, his children and his wife will be more devoted attention. If Hall takes to his retirement that way he called games and hit at the plate, then he will again be hitting for the fences. Go get ‘em Toby!

Anxiously Awaiting the Rays Report Date

I do not know about you, but the next 14 days will surely seem like trying to get that last drop of molasses out of that stupid bottle. For as the climax and celebration of Super Bowl is finally beginning to get out of our ears and thoughts, now the baseball world begins to get their Spring priorities right and think of the American Pastime. With the last bit of cool crispness in the air, it will be time to pound a few dozen balls into newly oiled mitts and try out a few new pitch variations, and hopeful improvements.

14 days until the Tampa Bay Rays again try to mess up the status quo among the American League East. 14 days until we see what Rays starter Jeff Niemann has up his sleeve to make this team fall in love with him again and possibly jettison another piece of the Rays rotation puzzle to a destination unknown. Or will the magic that Rays rookie Matt Moore displayed in late September and October translate into a slot on the MLB roster, or a few months vacation in Durham until Niemann’s first anticipated soreness issue. This could only start a countdown for Rays SP Wade Davis too as teams are watching his every move as the Rays are surely going to have to make at least 1 painful starting pitching decision before the Rays Opening Day on April 6th.

14 days until we find out if new Rays RP Fernando Rodney will take a moment with Rays starter James Shields and try to get a fresh prospective and grip on his Change-Up. Shields would seem to be the perfect candidate for Rodney to chum up to considering his variable speed pitch is considered one of the best in the majors.

14 days until we see if the off-season was the time needed for Rays leftie J P Howell to again become “the Dude” providing long curves and a renewed vigor and vitality to his fastball, possibly topping 89 MPH by the season’s start. I truly hope and want Howell to have a revitalized Spring, or he might be re-named “ The Dud”. Along with Howell, there is considerable chatter on if the Rays will again hold onto 3 southpaws which could mean a trip to the minors or elsewhere for fellow left-handers Cesar Ramos ( no options) and Jake McGee (1 option).

14 days until we see who out of the Rays young backstop stable of Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos want the Rays back-up gig and produce defensive gems and offensive dreams from a position with loads of talent, but lacking in MLB catching experience. That will also be the moment we see just how much in the gas tank for “the other Molina” Jose. Will he excel at the Rays weak spot in the batting order, or become another Rays casualty destined to watch the young bucks get the starts while he mends.

14 days until we see the sophomore effort of Hellboy take place. Will he again find his demonic rhythm that had everyone in baseball envying the upstart Rays? Can Hellboy improve on his walk to strikeout ratio, and more importantly improve on his ground ball ratio to let his great defense behind him help him gain victories and accolades. Will the young right-hander finally become comfortable in his 3-slot knowing he can be a series exclamation point behind the two top aces, Shields and David Price.

14 days until we see if Price can gain some consistency by not trying to change grips during a game and totally trusting the grips that got him to points in games without diverting from the game plan by toying with his art. 2012 will also be the season where Price can either gain a foothold on immortality by posting numbers worth of his new salary and being that stop gap starter that should be the Opening Day starter and player who can get that needed win.

14 days until we can see if the “B-brothers”, RP Brandon Gomes and ex-Fish Burke Bradenhop can secure roster spots with an impressive Spring. Also on our minds firmly in 14 days will be the talent escalation of the 2 “Alexs”, Cobb and Torres. Each throwing from a different side, but each wanting a roster slot and a chance to show their worth to the Rays this Spring. Coming into the Spring it seems Gomes has a clear shot, but as we all know, things can change before the calendar changes to April. All 4 players mentioned in this paragraph have minor league options, and the Rays could play a game of “mix-and-match” early on during the season with any of the 4 spending time both in St. Petersburg and Durham.

Also firm in the Rays Republic’s mind is the elbow health of Kyle Farnsworth who put up career numbers in 2012, but had a few episodes with soreness that some thought was a pre-cursor to possible Tommy Johns. 14 days the Rays will see if his off-season rehabilitation and strengthening program brought results or more of the same.

I truly think the Rays have aligned themselves with 3 closers now, who could all be used in certain situations and firmly close the door on the opposition. Farnsworth and Rodney might have the early nods, but I truly think Joel Peralta is going to be the thunder under the dome this season. I saw a spark of it late in 2012 when Farnsworth sat due to his soreness, Peralta showed beyond a shadow of a doubt he could inherit or be destined as the Rays closer. I thought he might ascend to that spot in 2011, but in-synch with Farnsy, the two became a consistent 1-2 late inning punch for the Rays.

14 days when I will be personally sad not to see former Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos giving off a loud belly laugh as he heads to the practice fields. It will seem odd, but new Bullpen Savant Stan Boroski not only has the credentials, but the familiarity with this Rays staff moving from his Assistant Pitching Coach role to an on-the-field mentor to the Rays staff.

14 days until we see if young catching prospects Nevin Ashley and Stephen Vogt can turn a few Rays heads, possibly moving their own name up the Rays depth chart with impressive Springs, maybe even outing one of the present favorites for a back-up role. Ashley and Vogt have the offensive chops to be with the Rays, but with the catching corps becoming clouded in 2011 with extra pieces and rehabbing players, they might have slipped out of the Rays minds as future weapons.

14 days until at 10 am the gates open and we embrace “officially the Rays 15th season in the Bigs. 15 years where coming into this point in the season there were tons of questions with few answers. This season there are tons of answers with clarifying questions dotting the landscape…for now. Port Charlotte comes alive when the team get back into town. The sky seems bluer, the air has a nice crispness to it and the grass awaits their footprints. 14 days until we can again firmly boast, and await our 2012 Rays. Look, already 15 minutes closer as you finish reading this post.

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.

So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.

Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.

Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.

But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.

The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.

But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.

I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.

But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.

I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet.  Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?

Where Do We Pencil in Rodney’s Name?

Photo: Rays Index

On paper, the signing of experienced closer and set-up man RHP Fernando Rodney seems like a solid investment for the right coinage to solidify the back-end of the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Rodney’s contract leaves the Rays 7-8 and 9th inning possible options with a combined commitment of just over $ 7 million and the clarity that they do not have a huge reliever contract lingering over their heads. Somehow I think Rodney is of the opinion the closer role is wide open and he wants toi take a huge step towards claiming it this Spring.

Rodney will take home $ 1.75 million for 2012 with a club option kicker of a $ 2.5 million dollar question mark for 2013 (with a $ 250K buy-out), which seems within the guidelines of what the Rays value their relievers. Current closer Kyle Farnsworth will pocket $ 3.3 million and the new contract by Joel Peralta will net him a cool $ 2 million. Just under $ 7.1 million for the Rays possible 7th, 8th and 9th inning slots, which is considerably less than the $11 million the Philadelphia Phillies will pay for just their new closer, Johnathan Papelbon.

Here is where this signing by the Rays can become a bit hazy and gray. Is Rodney being brought in as an insurance policy in case the elbow tenderness that wrecked havoc for Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth this past September rears its ugly head again and promotes an angst that will remind all of us of the 2008 Troy Percival debacle.

Do the Rays see Rodney possibly as a “situational closer”, but more in tune with being a 8th inning set-up guy pushing Joel Peralta back to the 7th inning or into his own situational black hole. For some reason I have a sneaking suspicion the Rays are wanting a little competitive spirit and competition tossed into the Spring, and Rodney and Farnsworth have history as  a pair of late inning guys. But there are still a few things that worry me about Rodney, and it is not the fire in his belly or his experience.

Sure Rodney has posted 87 career MLB saves, but only 17 of them have come over the past 2 seasons while he was with the Angels. 87 career saves over his 9 year MLB tenure with the Tigers (7 yrs) and Angels ( 2 years) doesn’t leave me with a true air of confidence he could be the guy to set in if Farnsworth does have an elbow setback or is lost for a prolonged hiatus from the Rays. Rodney did post 26 K’s in his 32 innings of work in 2011, but he also tacked on 28 walks and 26 hits during his 2012 Angels season.

Still there is a great similarity between Farnsworth and Rodney that they both take care of their bodies, and can throw some extremely hard stuff at times, but can this former duo who used to work together in Detroit find that magic again in Tampa Bay? For Rodney is dominant on the hill when he has control over his change-up.

Could the Rays be a great matching for Rodney considering Rays starter James Shields has one of the best change-up in the game and is constantly tinkering with his grips and release points. Possibly the two hurlers could get together and find a better change-up in the mix for Rodney and bring him back to the top of his game. Rodney also employ a decent slider that tops out at around 86 mph, which can be greatly effective when his fastball is sitting in the high 90’s.

The problem I am having here is the inconsistency during 2011 of Rodney in his limited role and if the off season will produce amazing results or will he remain within his present flux state when it comes to his pitching. What effect could this have on Peralta considering he might have thought the 8th inning slot was his to lose, and now the Rays bring in competition. It could be a blessing or a curse for either player, but I still have a boatload of confidence in Peralta possibly pushing Rodney into a 7th inning slot by late March.

Some have already brought up the old baggage in regards to Rodney and his high and outside fastball up towards the Rays Press Box back in 2009 when he was a bit over excited during a save opportunity in Tropicana Field. Rodney ended up getting a 3-game suspension on the heels of a letter sent to MLB by Tampa Bay Times Rays writer Marc Topkin. I would love to be a fly on the wall on the first day of Pitchers and Catchers reporting and see if Topkin and Rodney shake hands. Still, as far as I’m concerned, he did the crime, the time and it is in the past.

Still, the signing of Rodney did not break the Rays piggy bank, and it filled a void left when they did not re-sign Juan Cruz. The final determination of the usage of Rodney has not been revealed yet, but you can definitely pencil in his name in the late hash marks of the game. It could end up being another blessing in disguise for the Rays in 2012 just like the unexpected signings of Joaquin Benoit in 2010 and Peralta in 2011. I have an odd feeling Rodney knows he has a chance to be with a contender and will come out fighting for his slot this Spring. 

This signing of Rodney could end up being the huge exclamation point the Rays Bullpen need heading into the Spring, or a demise in waiting. My money is firmly on Topkin and Rodney burying the hatchet and Rodney throwing so much heat a few of the Rays catcher’s mitt will need flame retardant materials sewn on them. In the end the Rays reliever corps will be a better unit with this competition, and who ever wins out and claims the closer role, well the other will probably be the first one to shake his hand. ….I hope.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were You The One?

Recently columnist John Romano of the “St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times” wrote an editorial stating the Tampa Bay Rays possibly could be one bat away from reaching the last series again in late October. Some have chuckled at this notion while others have taken his conjecture with a grain of salt, possibly whisking the sodium chloride over their left shoulder for luck just in case he is right.

I know Romano’s main premise is encircling the Rays need for one consistent weapon that empowers this team and acts as their point man during struggles and setbacks. A player of stature and confidence that evokes fear in other team’s, possibly with good reason. Names like Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and even former Ray Carlos Pena quickly come into my mind, but will the price for their services be more than the Rays can muster? Will they quickly be termed “not the one’s”.

Could it be possible my own ideals are more far-fetched than Romano’s? Maybe I am insane to think the entire 25-man roster can transform into one cohesive and consistent unit that nightly can get the job done. For 2 MLB seasons we have seen this Rays club get battered and beaten early in contests and somehow get back off the turf and watch as a Rays du Jour hits the plate or mound and deliver the final death-blow to an opponent. Maybe it is time for this team collectively to take a giant leap of faith in regard to reaching the individual zenith.

Maybe it is as simple as each member of the Rays 25-man roster to take their own game to their next level, to bring about a rude awakening of the slumbering weapons already harnessed within the Rays arsenal. Maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon should adopt a “Were You the ONE Today?” mantra for his 2012 squad. Possibly that is why this mantra speaks to me in such a way. A total unit is only as strong as its pieces, and this Rays squad has shown in the past it can play with anyone on any given night and post a “L” up on their side of the scoreboard. Did you forget, the Rays did beat the eventual World Series winners in their InterLeague series at the Trop, and outscored them 16-9

Because the Rays payroll is already hovering over $50 million mark for 2012, is there realistically room enough under their ceiling for another impact bat? Considering the potential power and hitting on this team, when all their cow-nosed Rays line up in a row and consistency rules the day, this team is a run scoring machine. The current 2012 roster has the talent, the potential and the ability to combine and prove sometimes the unit as a whole is better than the “one”.

Over the past few seasons we have seen players like Cliff Floyd who showed so many on this team how to be clubhouse leaders and professionals but did not translate that on the field with authority. We saw the Trop termites seemingly destroy “Pat the Bat”, and saw pieces of the puzzles like Brad Hawpe, and Hank Blalock post high hopes, but quickly that balloon burst and again this team was as square one. The “one” big bat concept has not evolved here, possibly doomed to fail from its onset.

But over that same period of time, the Rays Top 5 have produced some impressive numbers and have grown on and off the field. Young players like Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson have shown the 5 can expand into even larger omnipresent spectacle possibly becoming a shimmering 25-point star. We have seen shining bursts of the talent and power from players like Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, B J Upton plus pitchers David Price and James Shields as they have all shed brilliant light upon the Trop.

Maybe this is insanity speaking, but these five points of the Rays star need to shine brighter in 2012. The great thing about elevating your game is it becomes infectious to your team. Each player on the Rays roster wants to be the “one” on a daily basis. Could it really be as simple as combined pitching energies and offensive forces combining to add up to one win, one defining moment, one potentially moment of clarity for this team?  If this 2012 Rays team can harness that and mold it into a consistent vessel of power, then the sky is the limit for this team in 2012.

Moore’s Extention Provides Some Fiscal Stability for Rays

Finally the Tampa Bay Rays have done something positive in the team-oriented arena besides sending Double-J John Jaso to the Emerald City this off-season. The fact the Rays again signed, sealed and delivered another one of their meteoric rising stars by securing the services of southpaw pitcher Matt Moore until possibly 2019.

The deal might seem a bit minuscule compared to the recent quarter of a billion shelled out for new heavenly Angel 1B Albert Pujols, but it gives Moore a bit of financial stability, but also a huge jolt of confidence the team is behind him 100 percent. Sometimes a small financial boost and stable foundation can do more for a pitcher’s confidence than a new pitching grip.

Then again the Rays have become more comfortable over the last few years to giving their rising stars a chance to firm up not only their bank accounts, but give the team a stability in salary escalation that can be monitored with clarity. Some would say the deal Moore made with the Rays will have both sides smiles for a long, long time.

Kind of funny to me that Moore had to think about this deal for a second: “I had to basically make up my mind, was it worth it. I feel like the risk is being shared on both ends and I’m happy where we are.”

Moore is just the latest in an increasing line of Rays budding stars like James Shields, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Wade Davis to see the team approach them and construct a package that suits both sides of the equation with fairness and stability. According to ESPN, Moore’s contract will be the highest guaranteed dollars and potential earning for a pitcher who has less than 2 years MLB service time.

Moore vaulted past Oakland SP Brett Anderson and Rays rotation mates Shields and Davis who all signed their own exclusive contract extensions after their first full MLB season. That is itself bodes well of the strong opinion and scouting confidence the Rays have in their budding star that he will surpass his 2011 excitement, possibly pushing out someone in the Rays current starting rotation.

The deal also puts the idea of the Rays habitually watching Moore’s MLB service time clock tick away before they can either bring him up to avoid quickening his salary arbitration clock. The deal is definitely a “win-win” on both sides of the coin.

Moore gets a solid $1 million in salary until after 2015, then Moore will begin an ascending odd-numbered salary climb of $3 million (2015). $5 million (2016) and a possible $7 million salary in 2017 when the Rays will begin a 3-year club option phase where the club can decide on his last 3 contract years at a combined $ 26.5 million with a huge buyout of $2.5 million in 2017.

Consider for a moment the magnitude of this contract offer of $39.75 million over 8 MLB seasons. That is just under $2.5 million off the team’s 2011 payroll of $42,171,308. That is a clear and concise affirmation of the Rays commitment to their young left-hander. Oh, let’s not forget, Moore even pocketed a clean $500,000 signing bonus prior to the Press Conference.

Moore might be the first in an expanding list of players within the Rays fold who might have a chance over the next few years to invest their skills long-term with the team and have a nice financial windfall to back their further Rays commitment.

I wonder if Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations has Jeremy Hellickson and his agent as his next new speed-dial number, I know I would.

Filling the First Base Hole is Crucial for Success


It is no secret among anyone in Major League Baseball right now that the Tampa Bay Rays are in need of a First Baseman. Be it from a trade, a free agent or maybe even a budding star caught between a rock and a potential All-Star, the Rays will find their man, but at what price?

Heck just for conversation and a few giggles, can Andy Sonnanstine play First Base? Seriously I am not applying Sonny name to the 1B fodder list, it is just he has done everything else for the Rays, plus he will finally get a gig where he can hit daily.

You can immediately take names like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Jorge Posada and Derrek Lee out of the think tank mostly because of the fear it would cause instantly to the Rays payroll situation. Even past Rays familiar names like Russell Branyan, Eric Hinske, Brad Hawpe, Jorge Cantu, Adam Kennedy, and Carlos Pena might give each of us a wonder if they can again be monster at the plate and huge pillows in the field, but their tenures have come and gone for this team.

Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day starter refused a assignment and is also within the free agent wading pool. His exploits, especially in the latter weeks of the season have made him a folk hero in Tampa Bay, but his dismal early season slump in 2011 made in more than expendable. Johnson has unfortunately had a yo-yo existence with the Rays from his plucking off the waiver wire, to a year in Japan courtesy of the Rays, to being a part of this team by proxy in Triple-A Durham then emerging with memorable Home Runs and spontaneous eruptions of power. If only he could get that power spurt to last 180 days during the regular season.

Interesting name do pop out at you from the list of potential young free agents like the powerful ex-Yankee Juan Miranda. The former Cuban baseball star signed a reasonable $2 million contract with the Yankees in 2006, and like former team Cuba team mate and current Rays farm hand Leslie Anderson, Miranda has not shown the verbosity yet to possibly warrant more than a casual look by the Rays. That and a limited MLB experience which mired Miranda with a .226 career average, this might take him out of any Rays consideration.

 Michael Cuddyer might be an interesting name to associate with the Rays in their 1B quest, but his Type A status, which could cost the Rays draft pick might be a huge stop sign to any advancement towards his name. We all know how the Rays value their draft picks, and accumulate them like canned goods to weather any impending payroll storm. I actually would love to see what Cuddyer would do with his photographic talents if given a few extra months of Trop photography….but that is not a reason to sign him (bummer).

There might be a few young tradeable names to ponder for the Rays, but then again it might come down to the “want “ list by the other franchise, possibly killing the deal in the initial chatter phase. If the Miami Marlins do indeed get Price or King Albert to guard their First Base bag, it will be interesting to see how the team positions Gaby Sanchez for relocation. With the Marlins pretty set with at least 3 starters on the books, there is room for rotation adjustments and improvement, but would someone like Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann or an Rays prospect on the cusp plus a young catcher like Jose Lobaton or Nevin Ashley be enough to land the powerful Marlin?

Or could the dangling of Cincinnati Reds young hitter Yonder Alonso be the morsel that tempts the Rays into digging into their roster and farm system possibly bringing Alonso to Tampa Bay where he will have a free range position in front of him unlike in Cincy where Joey Votto is cemented at 1B for the immediate future. The problem with Alonso is not his value, but the deal it would take to possibly separate him from his Reds jersey and into a Rays uniform.

Would Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman be willing to possibly delete SP James Shields from his roster even before Spring Training, or can be package a deal possibly including some middle infield talent, plus a budding pitcher and possibly another player to get this deal done and put a solid body with a few years of flexibility at the corner position for the Rays? Alonso might be a power upgrade over the Rays 2011 First Base corps, but will he be the fielding gem the Rays need to keep their defensive fielding advantage intact?

Even though other First Baseman names out there like Lyle Overbay and Jason Giambi might tweak a bit of Rays interest as potential platoon members, their salaries definitely might be out of the Rays comfort zone, immediately dissecting their name from the 1B Carousel.

In my honest opinion, I am still hopeful the Rays can plug in Rays 2011 First Baseman Casey Kotchman as a exclamation point into this pondering question. Still there are questions within this easy solution to the Rays First Base dilemma. Kotchman’s biggest stumbling block to him possibly getting a multi-year deal might be his ponderance for low power numbers. Still, if the guy can get the needed hits, place himself up near .300 and produce scoring opportunities and drive in runs, does that vault him over a guy who might hit 20+ HR and have a average glove?

This decision on the immediate horizon for the Rays has to have their direct and undivided attention. This current opening that the Rays need to fill this off season is the keystone of their defensive alignment. Get the right glove and bat into this slot, and the Rays could see their offense suddenly pull a Rasputin and emerge from their slumber with their lumber. Whatever happens, this one move will send immediate signals on the way the Rays want to do business in 2012.

Sure you would love to possibly see someone like Cantu come back, or possibly entertain a Pena reunion, but those scenarios might not be in the compromised deck of cards the Rays have for 2012. Possibly a Alonso or Sanchez could fall into the Rays hands, but at what cost, and is Rays pitching really such a high point that losing a Shields, Davis or even a emerging Cobb or Torres not produce a few shock waves?

This one movement by the Rays front office this Winter will be watched closely by the Rays Republic because First Base is just that critical a spot for the Rays, and only a solid corner man will fit nicely with the square peg shape of First Base.

Rays Own Rennaissance Man……James Shields

When I try and visualize a bit of the essence of the phrase “Renaissance man”, I do not immediately bring up images from the 1994 Penny Marshall flick starring Danny DeVito and Gregory Hines. Nor do I rank my brain to remember the spontaneous moments of an episode by that same name on the of Sci-Fi classic Star Trek:Voyager”.

Instead my mind comp templates a man or woman who shows a resounding expertise in multiple areas. From fashion acting, or possibly even the written word. I also see visions of a culinary artist in motion whipping up a delightful creme brulle or possibly a Basalmic Vinaigrette without a care or whim. I am beginning to think the Tampa Bay Rays might have own in-house version of a “Renaissance man”, and it’s not pitchers David Price or Andy Sonnanstine.

James Shields- Fashion Plate:

For me, Rays greybeard and man-of-the-moment James Shields fits this image perfectly. We all ready know of his fashion exploits designing two Friday Fest T-shirts given away to fans in the past two seasons, and you know there are more inspirations ans designs dancing around Shield’s cerebral cortex just waiting for their big entrance.

I remember when Shields unveiled his first T-shirt I did an in-depth blog post on the design and elements that caught the eye of a local fishwrap. But that is just one layer of the constantly unfolding pieces of work devised by Shields, and only a scratching of the surface of his potential. Shields has also been a model and seasonal participant of the Rays Wive’s “Rays on the Runway” show held every season in a local Tampa Bay venue to benefit the Children’s Dream Fund.

James Shields- Author

Recently Shields and MLBlogs.com’s own Bill Chastain, who also doubles as the Rays MLB.com writer unveiled their collaborated work “September Night’s” during a book signing at a South Tampa sports bar this past week. The book follows the wild month of September 2010 as the Rays fought for their second American League East title. It is an insightful account from a pitcher who hit the mound 5 times during that historic stretch.

Shields was approached by Chastain during a 2010 road trip to Detroit to write the tale, and Shields hovered over Chastain’s microphone telling the untold stories and events that were behind the usual Blue curtain of the Rays. Shields wanted to deliver the passing of that eventful months with anecdotes and inside muses that only Shields could deliver. Shields even delivered a few spot-on caricatures of his teammates that showed both their serious and spontaneous side as the Rays concluded their 2010 regular season campaign.

In the book Shields reveals a few unknown events, and bring a human side and clarity to some of the things we was fans never have access to, or hear about before, during or after historic runs like the Rays 2010 divisional chase. Shield’s accounts of the daily events bring it into a more human and non-competitive format to illustrate everything you wanted to know about that great 2010 late season run.

James Shield- Humanitarian

I think this one part of Shield’s Renaissance man persona is the most accurate depiction of the man himself. Local Tampa Bay political icon US Congressman Bill Young thought so much of Shield’s advocacy for the Tampa Bay foster care system that he bestowed the 2010 “Angel of Adoption” award to Shields. This award gives members of Congress a chance to further applaud and bring to light the gallant efforts to enrich and enlighten the lives of foster and orphaned in this country and abroad.

But that is only a sliver of the way Shields gives back to this community. Shields and his wife Ryane have teamed up with the Eckerd Youth Alternatives to create an exclusive club for foster children in this area.

The Big Game James Club was designed to help promote normalcy along with a sense of stability and belonging within the everyday lives of Tampa Bay area foster children served by the Eckerd Community Alternatives program. About 50 kids participated in the program in 2010 and get to meet Shields before the game plus enjoy watching the contest in a specially-decorated suite generously donated by the Rays and the Shields family.

Shields and his wife are also firmly supportive with the traveling photo and audible exhibit the Progress Energy Heart Gallery for the last 5 seasons. The Heart Gallery was created to offer another visible way for children to get a chance to find their own family unity within the local foster care system. For his efforts Shields has also garnered the Rays nomination for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award given to the MLB star who epitomizes the off-the-field humanitarian efforts just like the Pirates legend.

In addition, Shields works with the Rays charity arm, the Rays Foundation during their fund raisers, golf tournament and has donated his time and expertise through the Rays annual Broadcast Auction to act as a pitching tutor/ instructor. Shields also donated funds to help rebuild a youth baseball field in Bradenton, Florida.

James Shields- Actor

By now all of us have become clients or at least admirers of the fictitious MLB pitching firm of Shields and Price portrayed infomercial style during the 2011 MLB season in conjunction with the MLB Fan cave. In this instant Rays classic video you see the easiness and professional demeanor of Shields, the actor. Shields does an great job of making us all want to pick up the phone and use the services of this great leftie-rightie pitching combo.

Being a “Renaissance man” in the 21st Century most would think you have to be fluent in multiple languages, be able to write computer RPG code, or possibly help give birth to a child in an elevator. Those are great attributes, but there is one more thing that resonates this “Renaissance man” theme with me with Shields in mind.

I have volunteered for a few pre-Spring Training golf tournaments over the last few years, and it is always a pleasure to see Shields step up to take a putt or smack the daylights out of that little dimpled ball. Shields plays golf with the same air of professionalism and competitive spirit that graces his face and body language on the mound. But Shields also carries that hint of non-nonchalant charm needed to have fun with the game and not take it all as serious as life or death. If I played golf, Shields would be the kind of player I would want in my pairing.

On the bottom of his page in the Rays media guide for the last several seasons there has been another chapter possibly unfolding behind the Rays blue curtain in regards to Shields, and it plays great with the paternal Italian side of his heritage. Shields wants to possibly pursue a career in the culinary field after he is done throwing a little white sphere 90+ mph.

Who knows, possibly the Rays could let Shield design a sandwich, a concession item in one of their Rays themed stands that would not only mirror this love of cooking for Shields, but give us all another avenue to delight and further admire the skills and craft that this Rays right hander has to offer. And Shield has achieved this remarkable “Renaissance” title even before his 30th birthday..

I truly can’t wait to see what talent or enterprise Shields unveils next!

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