Results tagged ‘ Joe Maddon ’

Peering Into My Rays 2015 Looking Glass-Position Players

2015

 

Well, Dandy Don has sung and the large but svelte woman in that Viking cap has vocally acknowledged the Tampa Bay Rays have lost that final grasp on any chance at an October date with destiny. So the chase is now over, but a few games still remain.

Over the next 2 weeks I think we will see a few slices of what might and could happen this winter in regards to our hometown Rays.

th3JODA4XGWe already know we will not see any fashion of a  $80 million payroll in 2015, but the Rays have a lot of pieces to consider this winter, some expendable, and some they have to keep at all costs. Might be a interesting winter as the Rays have a chance to push out another cycle of truly young pitching talent, might dangle a few names on their hook, and possibly be seeking a consistent power bat that could awaken an offense that rises and falls more than the tides in Tampa Bay.

From behind the plate to down the First Base line in the Bullpen, the Rays have some important work to do to not only up their offensive firepower, but also to shore up a reliever corps that did not have that secure level of consistency we have grown accustom to here.

I truly suspect the Rays will not only dangle but seek out a possible trade partner to take on veteran backstop Jose Molina’s 2015 salary. With the solid emergence of Curt Casali behind the dish in 2014, it makes Molina not only an extra body behind the plate, but a large salary that could be used to possibly secure a power bat for the Rays lineup.

thAWBZUW96In Casali’s favor right now is that he is showing great command of the Rays pitching corps and currently hold the best catcher’s ERA of 2.0 in the majors. He has caught Alex Cobb 6 times this season and sports a 1.09 ERA with Cobbster on the hill, including framing pitches during Cobb’s recent no-hitter adventure.

I think Ryan Hanigan is on solid ground, but people in Cincinnati probably thought the same before the 2013 offseason. Helping his cause for 2015 is definitely his current .306 average in 11 starts since coming back off the DL on August 26th.

Now in regards to the Rays infield. It would seem that 3 of the 4 slots are already occupied by players who should be rubber stamped in as starters for 2015.  Sure anything can happen, but these 3 players also have contracts inked with the team, some long-term, some with quicker expiration dates.

James Loney seems secure at First Base especially since he signed that 3-year #21 million contract in 2014 and should man the Rays 1B bag possibly until someone on the way up in the Rays farm system pushes him off it.  But also making Loney an easy name to pencil in is his superb bat skills and being great at GTMI (Get The Man In). Heading into Sunday’s contest Loney has 66 RBIs, second only to Evan Longoria.

thEFVI841BDo not be surprised if the Rays possibly show Sean Rodriguez a bit more at First Base in 2015. There is no guarantee the Rays will keep S-Rod, but he has been one of the most consistent pieces of the Rays utility corps right alongside Ben Zobrist.

Speaking of Zorilla, could this offseason be the first one where the Rays ask Zobrist to possibly take a few more turns at First as a possible fill-in should the team not re-sign Rodriguez? We all know Rays Manager Joe Maddon is S-Rod’s biggest supporter, but his salary is climbing and with less dollars in the till, could Rodriguez be one of the Rays biggest question marks going into the winter.

Third Base is all Evan Longoria’s until health or just plain age ripe him off the hot corner. People forget Longo is itching close to that big 3-0 that sometimes robs a player of agility and quickness needed to prevent screamers down the line. I do not see 2015 as the season Father Time begins to creep up on Longoria, but if he does we could possible see Tim Beckham or Logan Forsythe as guys to pencil in with spot starts.

th2I88KN6BLongoria did have what many consider a sub-par season in 2014, but he still leads the team in most offensive categories and is still the Rays Clubhouse figurehead, and that will not change for some time. His tear in offense since the All-Star break might just be to him finally finding that mechanics groove we have been waiting for all this season.

Shortstop is also a spot that seems secure, but has also been a spot of ups and downs in 2014. Now I like the spirited play of Yunel Escobar, but I think a healthy Hak-Ju Lee could press Escobar with a outstanding spring. You know subconsciously the Rays Front Office would love this kind of competition considering one would command a MLB minimal salary (Lee), and the other $5 million.

You might wonder why the Rays did not bring up Lee or Beckham in September or after Durham finished their postseason run. Both have 2 minor league options left and if neither fights nor gains a 25-man roster slot in 2015, that gives the Rays some flexibility to hold onto them at least in Durham.

thNYXYJESCSecond Base might again be a “insert here” space in the Rays infield. With names like Nick Franklin, Forsythe, Lee and Beckham possibly fighting for a chance to line up at 2B, this might be one of the most contested spots during the spring of 2015.

Sure you could put Zobrist firmly in black ink in this spot, but I think Maddon still loves to tinker and place Zobrist and his many gloves wherever he sees a possible weakness. I truly think we will see Zobrist either swapping gloves a lot again in 2015, or he will be gone. I think a lot depends on the Rays evaluation of what they could obtain via a winter trade for Zorilla while he still has ample value to a team looking for a players who has a command of his offensive and defensive skills.

The Rays might end up coming out of 2015 spring training with their youngest outfield trio since their inception. I have an odd feeling this might be the other place where competition will be strong and possibly we see a name or possibly 2 change uniforms in direct response to possible 2015 salary as opposed to their overall value to the team.

thNOJJ6HYGOutfielders Matt Joyce and possibly Desmond Jennings might also see their names in print a bit more during the Rays off season. Not because they are not valued or important Rays pieces, but there is a younger crew of Rays outfielders led by Wil Myers and Kevin Keirmaier who can provide the same offense and defensive excellence at a more modest price.

The Rays also need to make a valued judgment on Brandon Guyer who doesn’t have any minor league options remaining. This whole Guyer situation might come down to a mirror image evaluation that the Rays had to make on Sam Fuld before the 2014 season. Believe me, if the Rays find value in keeping Guyer, he could definitely slot in as the team’s 4th or 5th outfield option without a problem.

I will no discuss the DH position since I think that will be a hired bat or possibly more Longoria and Zobrist in 2015 if the team can not find an adequate stick that can elevate the Rays offense.

In addition Maddon could use any variety of bench selections to insert or delete at his leisure. Designated Hitter might be a revolving door for the Rays if a valued bat is not found before the spring of 2015. 

thVSZNTP0FI have a feeling we will see a leaner and more stat-infused Rays team over the next 2 years. The Rays will again possibly show a “youth movement” as most positions will be secured by vets, but the younger corps of the team could mature into the offensive pieces the Rays lacked in 2014.

With a slimmed down payroll and some veterans nearing the cusp of free agency, the Rays might call upon their striving younger core to provide a cohesive and focused 2015 nucleus.

 

Extreme Pressure on Rays as Post Season Chances Near Bursting Point

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Offensively we’ve been challenged this year, but today their guy was that good. We have to be the 2007 Rockies the rest of the way”.

This pressure-filled quote was uttered by Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon after his squad let an extremely important win pop out of their grasp today against the Boston Red Sox.

Inflate the bicycle tyreAnd to mention the ’07 Rockies in a quote with less than 25 games to go is like trying to add 5 extra pounds to that bicycle tire. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it blows right up in your face.

I am all for pumping up the guys in the Rays Clubhouse right now, getting their juices flowing and honing their focus, but bringing up a team that won 21 of their final 22 games to clinch a post season slot.

With 25 games to go in the 2014 season and the Rays currently being 14 games back in their division, the fight for another American League East championship has sailed.

So with that seasonal goal firmly off the table, the team can realign their focus on gaining one of the two American League Wild Card slots. Another good trading point for Maddon is the ’07 Rockies captured the National League Wild Card slot that season, then magic began to happen.

But I know one thing Maddon will not remind the Rays players is the pure fact that Colorado finished the 2007 season a ½ game behind N L West Division winner, the Arizona Diamondbacks and won 90 games that season.

20131002_ajl_ar7_003-f024b9fbbed4c733df86918e9cd1a78fSo possibly in comparing the Rays chances to the last season magic of that inspiring Colorado squad might be cutting the Rays odds a bit close to the razor’s edge, but if Maddon could pull this off in the same fashion as the Rockies, it might also be a slice of pure brilliance from the Rays skipper.

So that leaves a viable chance still for the Rays to make a few waves towards securing a AL Wild Card slot and the Rays are currently 8.5 games out in that race. To makes the waves even a bit harder to tame is the fact 2 AL East teams are in front of the Rays as well as a fired-up Seattle squad that is less than ½ game out of pushing Oakland behind them.

downloadEven more interesting is the fact that the Cleveland Indians are also firmly in the hunt for October and they play the Rays in a season ending 3-games series in C-Town that could have more even more significance if the Rays surge, or the Indians stay tightly gripped to the Wild Card race and the Rays could play spoilers.

But let me throw a little more honesty out while I’m at it here. That same 2007 Colorado squad after winning 21 of those 22 games kept the winning charm alive by popping off 7 straight victories to eliminate the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and their NL West rival D-Backs to claim the National League Championship.

And in the end, winning 28 of those 29 games didn’t help as they met a swirling buzz saw in the World Series. Boston didn’t want any part of the Rockies “Purple Haze” form of winning and quickly eliminated any Rockies revival by beating them in 4 straight to take the 2007 World Series.

6a00d834515ddf69e20133ec9c59a0970b-500wiIronically, Boston has a hand in eliminating any Rockies-Rays comparisons by beating the Rays on Monday.

As long as this Rays team still have even a 0.01 percent chance of garnering a post season dream, I’ll believe in the magic because the alternative is something I do not wish to imagine until it slaps me hard in the face.

But then again, Maddon is a bike guy and may just know how much pressure he can put on his Rays bike tire before it blows Guess we shall find out.

American Legion & M L B, Two Peas in a Pod

 

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I was especially proud and honored this past weekend to hear that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon decided to honor the “American Legion” brand of baseball spirit.

images (7)And adding a cherry on top of it all, Maddon picked St. Petersburg Florida’s own American Legion Post 14 just a few miles down the road from Tropicana Field as a focus point.

American Legion unique style of baseball was first proposed during a speech by Major John L. Griffith (then collegiate commissioner of the Western Conference or called the Big Ten today) during a state convention in Milbank, South Dakota back in 1925.  Griffith centered his comments towards the role athletics can play in the development of youth.

Griffith stated to the assembled American Legion members: “Athletic competition teaches courage and respect for others, fostering their growth into active citizens.”

images (4)The South Dakota convention agreed and passed a resolution urging the Legion to create an organized summer baseball league that started each June and ended with a World Championship series. American Legion’s 1925 National Commander James A Drain backed the resolution and was easily passed during that year’s National Convention in Omaha, Nebraska.

The American Legion held its first World Series in 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where a team from Yonkers Post 321 defeated a squad from Pocatello, Idaho. A World Series was not held in 1927 due to the rising costs of attending the American Legion’s National Convention in Paris, France, but soon the Legion found a common ground benefactor to help nurture the development and funding of its young baseball program.

images (8)Early in 1928 the Legion’s Americanism Director Dan Sower had a plan to help keep the Legion baseball league solvent. Sowers attended an executive meeting of Major League Baseball hoping to catch a sympathetic ear of then Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  The M L B Commissioner pledged a $50,000 annual donation and within 2 years’ time the Legion baseball program expanded to include teams from every state plus the District of Columbia.

During the lean years of the Great Depression, MLB had to rescind their $50,000 a year endowment, but as the economy rebounded so did their contribution that started again at $25,000 in 1935 and gradually worked its way back to the original donation amount. M L B now contributes about 3 % of the total budget.

images (3)Since its inception in 1925, the American Legion baseball program has grown tremendously to now sporting over 5,400 teams from all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Almost 100,000 young players ages 15-19 pull on American Legion jerseys annually. Nearly 60 % of all current college players are graduates of the Legion baseball program.

M L B has help fund American Legion baseball almost since its inception and Legion baseball has produced a huge bevy of M L B prospects. The amount of former Legion ballplayer who go onto the professional ranks increases with every season and it is estimated more than half of all current major leaguers have Legion roots.

From fresh-faced M L B rookies playing short season summer baseball to current M L B players and Baseball Hall of Fame members, many got their true starts towards a professional career by playing Legion ball.

images (6)Hall of Famer Yogi Berra played for the Fred W. Stockholm Post 245 in St. Louis, Mo and was once heard saying American Legion ball was” the most fun he ever had.” Ted Williams pulled on a Legion jersey for a post back in San Diego, California.

Frank Robinson helped lead his Oakland, Calif. Squad to the only back-to-back World Series win in Legion ball history.

Babe Ruth however never got a chance to play Legion baseball as he was too old to participate during its younger years but spent the final years of his life promoting the Legion program as its director of operations.

Even though Maddon chose Post 14 as his local Post, it is not one of the most prolific American Legion baseball programs in Tampa Bay. That honor goes to Post 248 in Tampa, Florida which produced such future M L B players as Luis Gonzalez, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield.

images (5)Other Florida notables include David Eckstein who played for Post 53 in Sanford, Fl and Chipper Jones and Luke Scott both played for Post 6 out of Deland,Fl.

American Legion baseball even has another great ambassador who played on the gridiron in Bob Griese who played for the Evansville, Indiana post who were the American Legion champs in 1964.

Here is just a small list of some of the current M L B players who have their baseball roots firmly planted within the American Legion program: Cliff Lee (Benton,Ark), Justin Verlander (Post 201), Drew Stubbs and Will Middlebrook (Texarkana), Craig Kimbrel (Post 15), Jason Motte (Post 152), Chad Billingsley (Post 300), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Post 146), Brian Wilson (Post 27), Madison Bumgarner (Post 29) and many, many more…..

downloadI hope this shows some of the sheer magnitude of talent that has come through the American Legion system and are now inspiring members of the major leagues.    

American Legion baseball is something truly special and I was thrilled to be a part of it back in the late 70’s playing for Post 14.  And even though Post 14 never advanced to the World Series while I was playing Third Base, it solidified my personal growth and life foundation through competition, unity of team and created experiences I have used throughout my life.

Playing Post ball helped mold me tighter and wiser as a person while also embracing the spirit of the organization and embracing as well as respecting and honoring for those who fought bravely for our freedoms.

images (2)Some people see the High Schools and college systems as the feeder systems towards a M L B career. I hope this post shows that the American Legion program has deep roots within the American game of baseball and its presence is only going to increase.

I am glad Maddon decided to embrace this past weekend as an American Legion weekend and that he rewarded those in attendance Friday night in Post 14 by picking up that night’s bar tab of over $550.

I wasn’t there that night but if I was, I would have raised my glass high and saluted Major Griffith for having the foresight to embrace a Legion baseball program and giving so many of us great Legion memories.

I mean as the banner said that was displayed in the Rays Clubhouse, Post 14 is “The Fun Post”.

Was Wily Mr. O. Possum be the New Oakland Spirit Animal?

 

Native Americans believe that nine different spirit animals or totems are connected to us throughout our lives acting as guides to steer us towards events or occurrences that will define our lives. They believe these nine animals are with us for life and even as they all have their purpose, one is the lead animal that will show the way and provide moments of clarity and awareness.  downloadWe now know that the opossum has to be one of the Oakland Athletic’s nine focal spirit animals. And possibly with this white-faced creature showing itself to the assembled masses last night in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tied contest between the Tampa Bay Rays and the home town A’s, his presence had to be the deciding element to sway the energies last night and provide a victory. It’s the only logical reasoning  for the way the bottom of the 10th inning played out for the Tampa Rays last night. For the Opossum spirit animal is a deceiver, a strategist and an animal that uses deception to his advantage now both on and off the baseball diamond.  Whatever else could have caused such a rapid and defining chain of events that led to the A’s snapping the Rays road winning streak with this very peculiar stage of events? download (2)I mean the Rays had the fiery ex-Athletic, current Rays reliever Grant Balfour growling on the hill, but somehow the elements did not favor the Aussie one tonight as he saw not one, but 2 consecutive hitters get out of the 0-2 hole and find solace upon the base paths.   The first Oakland hitter Alberto Callaspo saw 4 pitches before lining out to left for the first out of the inning. The inning started to look a bit uneventful for the A’s. Then all bets seemed to be off as our opossum made his appearance strutting down the outfield wall in left field to his favorite cubbyhole just after Balfour’s first pitch to someone the O-town locals call “Super Sam” ( wonder where they got that name) Fuld. Possibly the opossum occurrence  inspired Fuld who was down 0-2 at the moment on 2 straight called strikes.  Fuld then found his pitch and deposited it into center field to become the A’s first base runner of the inning. Opossum 1, Rays 0. Then another former Rays, this time a chap named John Jaso swung mightily at 2 straight Balfour offerings as Balfour again had another A’s batter down 0-2 before Jaso, possibly through the vision of the opossum, gained  a bit of serenity and somehow secured himself a free pass to First base via a walk.  Opossum 2, Rays 0. imagesThe during the at bat by Oakland 3B Josh Donaldson we witnessed the usually steady defensive duo of Sean Rodriguez and Kevin Kiermaier somehow let a white sphere drop not in their gloves, but to the green turf  down the left field line missing a golden opportunity to garner a much needed out from this A’s  and keep them from victory. Wonder if S-Rod or the Outlaw saw a opossum out of the corner of their eye, or possibly seated in the stands? Donaldson’s at bat also produced a double whammy of not only reaching base by another walk by Balfour, but also via a deceived fourth ball that got Rays Manager Joe Maddon all ballistic and led to his eventual ejection from the contest by Home Plate Umpire Quinn Wolcott. Opossum 3, Rays 0. That set up a bases loaded situation with one out for the A’s next batter, Brandon Moss. Unfortunately Moss ended up striking out setting up the possible walk-off scenario for the next hitter, Derek Norris.   images (1)Balfour quickly got Norris behind in the count 0-2 before Norris followed Fuld’s lead and hit a game-winning single into center field breaking the Rays road winning streak and sending the Aussie muttering to himself about lost opportunities. Sure the victory went to the A’s that night, but somewhere, under the stands I can just see Mr O. Possum doing the “Dougie” knowing he might have helped by diverting just enough attention to deceive a win. 

And the Price Trade Circus has Begun

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I swear it seemed like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price didn’t even get his TB cap down upon his head after saluting the home crowd today when the annual M L B Trade Deadline circus circus began its carny barking as to the future vista of Price.

PriceHopefully these ministers of the media keep their whispers and speculation banter somewhere between the tattered chalk lines of truth and facts and only the confirmed facts will eventually rise to our collective ears.

For we are again at that fateful time of the season when the critic’s Circus again pulls back its tattered curtain and all 3 rings are anxious with tales flowing in all imaginary directions set to whet our baseball whistles. 

One local Tampa Bay media talking head boasted the headline “Price delivers in potential final home start for Rays”.

odkyI understand everyone and every body wanting to be the first voice to pop out a possible true scenario and bring to light or put to bed an issue, but with 12 Rays home contests between July 7-30th, I have a feeling unless the Rays get a golden offer around the All-Star break, we should be able to witness  at least 1 more “Price, Price baby” moment in Tropicana Field before the Trade clock hits zero..

With the first high octane voice bellowing the half-truths, Price has now officially embarked on a unwanted and unflattering 65 possible team destinations in 65 days trip with the potential for no return flight to TPA or PIE this season.

I know many in the media will lead their stories with Price’s stupendous double-digit K feats and not be direct links to the circus.

They will adamantly state that Price is again got a firm grip on his game, but I am not naive enough to no worry that some trade darkness might creep into these same reports thanks to that one negative ” last home start” concerning Price.

images (2)I was hoping not to get caught up in the fiasco and stand on the sideline a bit until July 30th, but this unexpected Rays riptide has taken a hold of me and I’m now along for the whole nasty ride….sink or swim style.

Maybe I’m in the minority that believe whole heatedly  that the Rays still have an iota of a post-season chance and go decide ultimately to go “All In” with Price knowing he can muster some vital late season dividends.  

It is the fiscal reality of being a Rays player….If you have success, someone will pay a premium to possess your skills for their own zip code and fan base.  I know deep down into my cavernous baseball soul this dark day will happen and Price will someday pull on another team’s jersey, but hopefully after November 1, 2014.

downloadWithin 5 minutes of the end of this contest, even before Price possibly had a chance to don his street clothes, drums were being beaten as to his new vista.

I heard Los Angeles, Toronto, Seattle and even Texas, and this was just in the stands. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had him as the new Manager of Manchester United knowing Price’s Soccer prowess.  

One ounce of misquoted speculation, rancid rumor or well-placed slight of tongue can bring your own baseball swirling faster than the seams on a Price fastball.

images (9)But even if that is what I truly want as a fan of Price and the Rays, the total opposite can happen with one single phone call or text and the healing process within this community will have to begin for all parties involved.

I plan thinking it is all lies unless Rays VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman, Rays Manager Joe Maddon or Price tell me otherwise. Sorry I plan on being that obnoxious little kid in church who pops his fingers in his ears and warbles “nana boo, boo” noises ‘til the cow-nose rays or Price again comes home.

Oh gosh, I gotta end this now I can hear the Calliope comin’ around the Clubhouse bend…..

 

 

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

Foley Displays the Ultimate Sign of Respect

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I have had a mountain of respect for Tampa Bay Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley over the years. He is a funny guy who loves his craft, is eager to teach and mentor young players and swings a mean golf club.

Evan+Longoria+Boston+Red+Sox+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+znZ91QS5QxXlBut when he recent came out to his usual spot manning an extra “6” on his jersey ( Foley normally wear just a lone “6” ) and emblazoned with the name “Zimmer” on his shoulders, that sealed him permanently among my all-time favorite list of M L B personalities.  

The moment I realized it was emotional for me with my memories of Zim, and amplified this team’s love, admiration and want for the Rays Senior Advisor to recouporate and return to his usual spot on the field during the Rays Batting Practice sessions before games .  

“I’m going to wear it until they (M L B ) tell me, ‘Don’t wear it,’ ” Foley said Saturday. “We are 1-0 9 (now 3-0, all Walk-off wins ) with it.”  Personally I’m hoping M L B let’s Foley wear it as long as Zimmer is recovering and away from the field.

With Foley being “Zimmer for a day”, the action personally pushed the level of admiration and respect I had for him to an astronomical level. It was the ultimate homage by one of the senior members of the Rays franchise displaying his own kinship and affection for the Rays iconic Senior Advisor.  The Zen that is Zim is such a vital piece of this team’s chemistry and spirit. 

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay RaysFoley’s want to pay homage in this way also provides an exclamation point to just how important he also is to the overall fabric of this Rays franchise.

He is the longest tenured Coach in Rays history. Foley first stepped into the Rays Third Base Coaching box back on October 25, 2001 and has survived the turmoil and change of 3 different Rays Managers from Hal McRae, Lou Pinella and Joe Maddon.

That a magical 13 years giving signals and signs to hundreds of Rays players who have passed him during that time. Only St Louis Cardinals Third Base Coach Jose Oquendo, who has manned the same spot for 14 years has patrolled the box longer.

dt.common.streams.StreamServerHow important is Foley to the Rays game plan?  Former Rays Coaches’ Greg Riddoch (1998-1999), Billy Hatcher (2000-2001) and current NY Mets Manager Terry Collins (2001). All have manned that same strategic spot for the Rays, but only Foley has stood there since.

Only 3 other members of the Rays organization’s uniformed corps have pulled on a Rays tunic longer. Field Coordinator and Durham Bulls iconic Manager Bill Evers, current Bulls Manager Charlie Montoyo and long-time Hitting Coordinator Steve Livesey.

Coming into the 2014 season Foley had done his patterned windmill signal and watched 76% of the Rays franchise’s runs cross Home Plate. I do not think there are many if any other Coaches’ in the entire history of M L B baseball besides possibly Oquendo who could boast such an achievement.

I was proud and exhilarated watching Foley’s game day homage to Zimmer. It is not often we see one Rays icon pay homage to another eternal Rays icon.  My one hope is that sometime in the future, whoever takes over that sacred Rays Third Base spot after Foley puts away his spikes will someday display the same honor and be “Foley for a day”..

Are You Ready for Some BaseBolly!

 

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It is going to be one colorful, extravagant and interesting game tonight under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. For tonight the Tampa Bay Rays not only play host to the Minnesota Twins, but they also invite Bollywood as a salute to their own neighbor Tampa being selected as the sight for this year’s International India Film Academy (IIFA), which some affectionately anoint the “Bollywood Oscars”.

It will be a night of choreographed flamboyant dances, or as the television show “The Neighbors” call it, “screw in the light bulb, pet the dog” large scale ballpark participation sequences. Who knows, all game long during the mid-innings we could see sporadic mob style dancing segments pop up all over the ballpark from the Porch, to the TBT Deck, or maybe even the Papa John’s Bullpen Café.

SKI mean we have the dancing segment filled, and also have a real Bollywood leading man (Shahid Kapoor) throwing out the First Pitch and if my friend’s daughter is any judge, hearts will swoon.

I am sure we will witness Rays game day host Rusty Kath dressed festively possibly in a Gandi cap or ornate and fashionable Sherwani. Who knows maybe he will put his Gandi cap into the ring and do some impromptu dance moves (we know Raymond will try).

Hopefully Rusty will not chose to wear a Panache or Lungi because that would make hopping a wall a bit….exposing even for the unflappable Rays game host. Now Raymond could pull off the traditional men’s sarong with grace and ease (I hope).

bolly_300x169I know with the upcoming IIFA awards beginning today and running through April 26th in our neighboring city on the east side of Tampa Bay, it is a perfect time to bring Bollywood into a baseball stadium and the Rays Promo team jumped right into the fray with a ticket offer with a ceremonial one-of-a-kind T-shirt offer just for the special night with seating starting at $25 in the Press Level (maybe Marc Topkin will pass you a hot dog).

Million_Dollar_Arm_posterI am also hoping the Rays, who seem closely aligned with Florida neighbor Walt Disney Productions will also have a few trailer or spot videos of the upcoming Disney baseball film “The Million Dollar Arm” which opens May 16th Nationwide. The biological sports drama is a true story of the Indian pitching prospects Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel who began their M L B dream in another neighboring city, Bradenton, Fl. back in 2008.

Tonight should be a great festive night with colors splashes all over the Trop., great dancing and who knows maybe even a post-game dance on the field via walk-off (it’s been a while). No matter how you slice it, tonight will be a collision of the senses as colors, sounds fill the Trop celebrating Bollywood and who knows, maybe even Todd Kalas or Rays Manager Joe Maddon  will get into the moment do their own little post-game shimmy….I can’t wait to take it all in tonight.

ਪਲੇ ball!

 

I also included a trailer for “The Million Dollar Arm” for those interested in the film:

Spring has Sprung, But Still no IsoBlox Caps

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Toronto’s J A Happ, Cincy’s Aroidis Chapman, Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy, Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb and recently teammate Matt Moore. A short list, but a list of impressive M L B caliber players who recently have taken rocket shots to their bodies courtesy of a “come-backer” while on the mound.

c4s_2moore032414_12825661_8colMoore’s tangle with a M L B approved white missle happened less than 24 hours ago as a ball came back at him and Moore was able to get his right glove up just enough to deflect the bulk of the energy coming furiously towards his face. Moore left that contest but was seen today having lunch today with Rays Manager Joe Maddon prior to the cancellation of this afternoon’s contest. Moore was extremely lucky and the only true sign of the event is a busted lip and some lingering jaw soreness.

Over the last 6 seasons 14 M L B pitchers have been plucked by batted line drives to their bodies.  Interesting enough earlier this spring M L B did announce a protective cap prototype that had their stamp of approval and had the “thumbs up” M L B P A and M L B executive vice president for labor relations Dan Halem.

“We’re excited to have a product that meets our safety criteria. M L B is committed to working with manufacturers to develop products that offer maximum protection to our players, and we’re not stopping at all.”

It was initially announced the approved cap made by 4Licensing Corporation subsidiary isoBlox would be in-house for all member club and their minor league affiliates to try this spring and be an optional protective item for players to try out and evaluate personally before the season began. I have talked to 2 different members of the Rays organization and so far no one in the Rays spring camp has seen such a cap in-house either as an example or test model.

 

The proposed protective cap is a bit more cumbersome than the traditional M L B cap as it will be a half inch fuller in the front region and an inch thicker near the temples and provide additional padding protection from a line drive of up to 90 mph to a hurlers frontal skull region and protection up to 85 mph for a side strike.

thIsoBlox states the protective material is a “plastic injection molded polymer combined with a foam substrate and is designed to diffuse energy upon impact through a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques.” Not in the release is the fact the new cap will be about 7 ounces while the usual New Era cap comes in at around 3-4 ounces. New Era is to be sent the protective element to be sewn into their M L B approved caps for regular seasonal use.

Wouldn’t you think the best viable way to test if such a protective cap could or would help curtail such injuries or down time for hurlers be in their hands so they could experiment, test it themselves and give feedback so M L B or isoBlox could facilitate a more universally accepted cap model that would appeal instantly to the M L B or minor league pitching masses.

Do we have to witness someone named Verlander, Price, Darvish or Hernandez plucked or possibly severely injured before people awaken fully to the dangers or the possible carnage that can be done by the ball revolving stiches and blunt trauma.  

aroldis_chapman_instagram_1This is just my opinion, but I think Happ, Cobb, Chapman, McCarthy and Moore are extremely valuable assets to their respective clubs and not only deserve but should be afforded every protective options available to them so the next time a ball comes screaming back at them we do not have to worry about their safety. I hated watching both Happ and Cobb put on stretchers and wheeled out of Tropicana Field last season. The recent injury to Chapman and his sub sequential surgery and time loss due to injury puts a further dark cloud above M L B to not only have these caps in-house soon, but before we witness another pitching disaster or possibly an ending of a great career.

 4 of 5 M L B pitchers struck since 2012 have been hit below the cap line. This isoBlox cap is a great step forward, but with it not in M L B Clubhouses this spring as announced, it might hamper the learning curve as some pitchers might have to make their adjustments to such a protective caps in non-game situation or bullpen sessions before trying it out live during a game…..

Sorry M L B, this is a E-10 to me, but can be corrected with just a simple delivery.

 

Ramos and his Versatility Deserves a Chance at Rays 5th Slot.

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Some would say throwing your ball cap into a ring with several other MLB caliber players is a “no-win” situation. That in doing so you might seem a bit of unsure of your part in the Tampa Bay Rays brain trusts ultimate plans for you, but I disagree with that train of thought.

I actually think the decision reached by southpaw reliever Cesar Ramos is not only bold but a calculated move and shows to the men who make these kind of decisions that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to put his name on a Rays 25-man spot come Opening Day, even if it means abandoning their pre-set agenda of him being the long guy out of the Rays Bullpen.

cr2It also shows to me Ramos wants to garner the same type of versatility and game situational thought process that makes a utility player like Sean Rodriguez an invaluable piece of the Rays game day puzzle. By Ramos going back and trying to stretch himself out again as a starter, it could give the Rays not only another leftie starter, it could ultimately solidify his slot as the Rays long innings eater out of the Pen as well as a spot starter without having to bring someone in from Triple-A Durham in an emergency scenario.

Making yourself an invaluable piece of the Rays machinery has led to a longer Rays tenure for Rodriguez, and it only seems natural for Ramos to also want to secure additional roles or situational ideas with his name imprinted upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mind.  By wanting to take a chance on the Rays 5th rotation spot, even in the short term until Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson come back sometime in late May, Ramos is showing his versatility, willingness to take on challenges as well as show he wants the ball every 5th day this season.

Sure it might only be a gig for 7-8 starts then back into the Bullpen frame of mind, but it can project not only the confidence he has in his pitches, but if the Rays did elect to hand the ball to Ramos, it shows they too understand the commitment whether long term or short is one the leftie would accept again at a moment’s notice.

cr3And that kind of guy down in the Bullpen is needed. You never know when a guy might stiffen up, feel a tweak or just doesn’t have his stuff on a given day and with the Rays confident in Ramos, it makes the decision not only easier, but gives them confidence immediately Ramos will rise to the occasion and take the ball.

A great comparison to what Ramos is trying to achieve is the situation that fell to Andy Sonnanstine late in his Rays tenure.  Sonny was put into the Bullpen with the knowledge he not only has “starter’s stuff” in the way of preparation and stamina, but had the reliever’s mentality at the same time to get the job done in the least amount of pitches, with the least amount of damage until the Bullpen took over the late innings.

And not surprising today during his first Spring Training outing, Ramos survived 2.2 innings of work but did give up 4 hits and 2 runs while fellow 5th spot contenders Eric Bedard got the victory and Jake Odorizzi got his first ever M L B save. Still Ramos faced 12 batters and was added by a sniper-like throw by Evan Longoria to get shifty pinstripe Brett Gardner who was trying to stretch his single to left field into a double at Second Base.

Some might instantly say Ramos was lucky, but every M L B starter knows a little “luck” is more than welcomed during an outing.

cr4I kind of like the idea of Ramos fighting for the 5th rotation slot even if it might be on an interim and abbreviated basis. It puts another usable pitching cog into Maddon’s arsenal as well as doesn’t use up a minor league option on one of the Rays triple-A stars trying to bang their way into the majors. Now it’s up to Maddon and his brain trust to decide if Ramos, who is out of minor league options is their 5th guy until Hellickson hit the mound again, or remains in their long reliever role from this point on this Spring.

Hopefully Ramos will get a few more chances to not only change the minds of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Maddon, but endear himself to all of us as not only Evan Longoria’s old roommate at Long Beach State, but as the versatile guy is truly is……..I hope Ramos get the shot because versatility especially in the pitching area is something special and should be rewarded. 

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