Results tagged ‘ Joe Maddon ’

Hope Sweetbay’s Consolidation Doesn’t Sever Their Rays Partnership?

The minute I heard about the fact that Tampa Bay born Sweetbay Supermarkets were trimming their store chain by 33 locations within Tampa Bay I wondered immediately how the consolidation would affect their strong partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays? Sure the chain will still have over 72 store in Florida, but slicing the region of 33 locations definitely takes a huge chunk of both grocery sales and local “feel good” exposure for the grocery retailer.

4E472E35E4EB4AA3B73088EEBDFFC0A6With the grocery chains long history of support and sponsorship with the Rays, you have to now wonder with 33 of their Tampa Bay stores being vacated just about the time for the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training if the close and intimate relationship the Rays and the grocery chain had for so many Major League Baseball seasons might also becoming to a haste conclusion.

The chain became the first supermarket chain to join with the Rays back in September 2008 as the Rays were experiencing their “magical season of baseball”, when Sweetbay joined forces with the Rays by signing a multi-year partnership deal with the MLB franchise. From that moment on, the team and the grocery chain found interesting and unique ways to join bring the game of baseball into their stores.

main_promo_play-ball-kidWith Sweetbay’s consolidation announcement there is a boatload of questions without plausible answers at this time as to the continuation of such Rays game day experiences as the Rays Bat Kid of the game who loud and proudly announced that classic phrase “Play Ball!” before every Rays home game over the last few seasons. Sure the co-sponsor of the event, Aquafina/Pepsi could take the reins and make a smooth transition, but the fact remains, Sweetbay had a deeper impact on our Rays experience than we all realize.

018Could there be a naming change now for the former Sweetbay High-5 station manned by Rays players during the last 2 Rays Fan Fest where kids got to get a high-5 from Rays players and Coaches as they rounded Third and came into Home Plate. Most people might not remember, but Sweetbay was also one of the corporate sponsors of the Rays 2011 Fan Fest as well as hosting Rays players autograph signing within their stores.

Sweetbay also provided a unique experience back in 2011 season when they offered a unique Rays game day experience during a Matt Joyce autograph signing at their North Dale Marby location. Fans who donated a 4-pack of fruit cup to the Feeding America’s Kids Cafe within the store were then eligible for a drawing to get 4 Rays home game tickets, 4 batting practice field passes, and a Matt Joyce signed bat during that season. The Rays and Joyce also premiered a special edition Rays set of players card on that date with Joyce personally signing his card for all in attendance

b4s_raysdog070810bw_129946cSweetbay was also the first Tampa Bay area store to carry the same Kayem brand hot dogs sold during Rays home games at Tropicana field in their store locations throughout Tampa Bay to give fans a chance to also enjoy the same great hot dog taste while watching Rays away game broadcasts in the comfort of their own homes or backyards. And who could forget their annual $1,000 shopping spree with a Rays player in one of their locations where a Rays fan gets to go wild getting grocery carts filled within an allotted time with the help of Raymond and one of the Rays players. 

Hopefully there is no huge effect of the relationship between the Rays and Sweetbay, but the reality is there will be less of a footprint in the region for the grocery chain and their long time partnership with the Rays could definitely be a victim in this change. It would be sad to see the chain take a step back and re-assess or remove themselves from the Rays fold.

joe_madden_2It is a bit unsettling to see the chain who first brought their new name to our eyes in Largo, Florida in 2004, and is based in Tampa, Florida might be leaving our Rays game day experience. Together the Rays and Sweetbay chain made a great partnership with great game day and hit it out of the park regularly with their community events that not only sparked large crowds and a fond following, but showed that a sports franchise and a retailer could cross promote themselves with such class and grace.

But I guess sometimes change happens whether we want it to or not. Heck, where will Rays Manager Joe Maddon shop for his annual Thanks-Mas event if the stores near the Trop are shuttered up?

“We Want Mike Morse”

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._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”

To most people the above crypt ed type is a by-gone era relic of communication mostly done between long distance communicators or ships at sea. But to me it seems like a fitting code to use when the Tampa Bay Rays might be seeking out another body, and one who could take on multiple player duties while being a member of the Rays roster.

74fb6661-3d2f-383f-abfa-12823de2534aMaybe it is more than fitting that I tried to throw out a makeshift code of “We Want Mike Morse” in the above telegraph possibly showing at least one member of the Rays Republic’s adamant desire that the Rays go out ad get this desired First Base/DH and most of all, right handed hitting option.

Possibly it is an omen today that temps in the Tampa Bay region are hitting the Spring and Summer averages showing maybe even a higher power wanting this deal to go to fruition. But the total reality today is that the Washington Nationals since they signed their desired 1B Adam LaRoche to the dotted line, Morse might be a few dashes or dots away from finding a new vista to call home, and since Morse code is associated with water…..possibly ending up on a team who’s own hometown is surrounded on 3- sides by water.

mmmmmmmSome might ponder the idea that since Morse is in his “walk” season before he hits free agency for the first time a trade for him might not be in the Rays best interest, but if you dig beyond the surface and truly see the stats for what they are…Morse could be just the right fit for Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s sometimes maddening system of plug-and-go lineup shifting roles and reversing logic to find wins, key hits and much needed runs.

Morse’s 3-season line of .296/.345/.516 might not just out on the page at you, but it is clearly a huge upgrade to the 2012 Carlos Pena debacle and combined with already in-house option James Loney, the “Maddoning” lineup possibilities and positioning is simply boggling with right and left handed options possibly being inter-changed at First and DH with the addition of Morse.

280px-Michael_Morse_2011If you really think about it, if the Rays did trade for Morse who is set to make $ 6.75 million this season, you get twice the bag (and less K’s) for the slightly over $ 250,000 the money the Rays paid Pena in 2012 to mostly tap his cap on Home Runs and be the returning smiling face. It might surprise you that Morse had over 5 years of MLB service time split with 2 seasons each with the Seattle Mariners and Nats, but making Morse and even bigger prize for the Rays is another small bit of flexibility that Maddon enjoys even more.

250px-Mike_MorseMorse can also play other spots in the infield besides 1st (SS, 3B) as well as possibly a corner outfield position. With Desmond Jennings making a slight shift left in 2013 to post up at B J Upton’s old haunt, Centerfield, Morse could play right into Maddon’s always mind-bending game of match-up and situational defense possibly finally securing Ben Zobrist for mostly infield and outfield duties from time to time.

Instantly some of the cautious Rays Republic followers will bring up the pure fact in 2012 Morse only hit out 18 Rawlings while in 2011 he hit a career high 31 orbs into the cheap seats.

But even as you would notice Morse had a dip in his offensive numbers in 2012, he was also playing throughout the season with more than 1 nagging injury and still put together a season that showed his commitment to the game, confidence in his abilities and provided a added power option for the Nats.

That in a nut shell is the type of guy the Rays need. He fits the Maddon profile of being able to post up at various positions, plus has been in the post season race, plus played in a highly competitive NL East division that yearly produces enough stress and pressure to crumble a tea kettle. The dashes and dots all point to Morse as being the kind of player who will transcend under Maddon. But you have to ask if the Rays have the personnel to pull off such a heist. Why yes they do!

natitude-michael-morseConsidering the Nats lost out on former Rays RP J P Howell, maybe Friedman could patchwork up a nice package with a centerpiece of Southpaws Cesar Ramos or Alex Torres as viable Bullpen options. Torres has limited relief appearances, but his 2012 chances showed he might have a better calling in the MLB as a relief option than as a starter. Ramos we already know has the goods to be a consistent reliever and would be a valuable piece of the Rays Bullpen puzzle to lose, but if it bring a hint of better offensive presence….I’d jump on it and ride it until it dies.

Combine either of these leftie options, or possibly send a piece like OF Brandon Guyer or maybe even someone in the minors who is a few years away from MLB ready and if you are Washington you get a need filled, a extra bit of outfield security and a player developing in the wings to fill a future need, possibly in the infield.

Now this is not to convey the Rays will even take a gander at Morse with more than the usual Friedman cell call to ponder, wonder and suggest ad lib, but with camps beginning to open in just over 35 days, things concerning Morse might just hit a fast and furious pace as five other MLB squads also seek their own “Morse code” answer for 2013. I am expecting to hear a lot of dots and dashes over the next few days with hopefully Friedman finding the right combo and most conducive package to net the Rays Morse’s talents for 2013.

Maybe I need to do it 1 more time for clarity: “ ._ _ . ._ _ . _ _ . _ _ _ . . _ . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ . . . . .”

Rays Left to Fester in a Potential Weak 2013 DH Crop

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Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays waited a tad bit too long this time in looking for their 2013 Designated Hitter. Looking on various websites at potential “fits”, I found 7 names that seem to be listed on each of these sites as basically only “DH” candidates, and 3 of those names are former Rays players. I’m not even talking here about guys who might be right-handed and could pose a secondary First Base option and switch off as a DH or late inning power producer, for this post I’m hitting just the viable Free Agent DH candidates.

Delmon-YoungAs I mentioned before, 3 former Rays made the list on 3 different Free Agent DH websites lists. One of the listed Delmon Young can be automatically eliminated from this discussion because of his past temperament issues. Adding some more spice onto this is the fact I do not think Rays Manager Joe Maddon has Young on his annual Christmas Card list. Sure he still has youth and a crafty bat, but his attitude and demeanor probably will prevent any serious Rays discussion unless someone want to pull a prank on Maddon or Friedman.

BASEBALL/Then you get a second name that might merit a return, but at what cost. Johnny Damon did a lot in the Rays Clubhouse building upon the team’s strong leadership foundation, brought his hustle and bustle nightly, even if it was at a reduced speed due to his age. I loved his want to produce “big plays” and scoring opportunities with every swat of the bat, but he has digressed into a slap hitter, mostly producing RBI opportunities for others than being that DH who can drive the runs in and bring home the victory by himself. For that and possibly $5 or 6 million other reasons, Damon would be a role player at best for the Rays in 2013.

Luke+Scott+Minnesota+Twins+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+1OS9HZRTwWllThe one guy who I think might merit a second chance is the “Wolverine”. Sure Luke Scott had that dreadful hit-less streak that might stand for a decade, but the guy when he is focused, healthy and combined with the energy of this team seems to not only produce, but finds ways to motivate and get this team in the right mood to win games. But this Rays squad doesn’t need another cheerleader or bench attitude booster, it needs a guy who is healthy, hits the plate knowing his hit can score runs, and provide protection for the Rays middle of the lineup hitters by provoking a little stress when his name is announced. Scott might deserve a second try, but he would have to come in at the right cost and be willing to produce from day 1.

thCACOMU9OThere are other names out there that at least pique my interest like Jim Thome or maybe even Travis (Pronk) Hafner, but my honest gut tells me these guys have another great year left in them, but my head is telling me it might not be 2013. That leaves 2 names, Nick Johnson and one time D-Ray (for a NY minute) Bobby Abreu. Just like Thome above, Johnson has had enough injury time in his career to warrant any deal to be heavily laced with performance and appearance incentives rather than a solid seasonal paycheck. Abreu in my opinion last played an honest season of baseball as an Angel and that was some time ago.

So out of the stable of guys who might only be “DH” options for the Rays, only their 2012 edition Scott might make sense for the team again in 2013. That doesn’t mean Thome or Hafner are lesser players, but their potential for injury might be greater than their bang for the buck. Still, I think of the 7 names prevalently listed on a few of these websites lists for DH possibilities, Scott, Thome and Hafner might be the cream of the crop, but it is not a bumper crop and might be one more devastated with question marks than answers.

Whatever happens, the player selected has to bring power, stability and a core value of producing runs and getting those additional wins that might be needed in a more competitive American League East race in 2013. Each and every one of these DH selections besides Young (27 yrs old) are above 34 years of age, and each have injury concerns as well as if their power will be there for another seasons of swinging the bat.

As Spring Report Date draws nearer, it is looking more and more like the Rays might find their 2013 DH on another teams roster. I do not envy Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman in finding some luster in this crop, or possibly even picking one of my three as potential fixtures for the Rays roster.

Post Script: Sorry it has been a short while since a post but I underwent an off-season surgery myself recently and have only felt like popping the keyboard today. All is well and I will have glove in hand again, possibly by the Rays Pitchers and Catcher Report date.

Rays “Golden Arms” Were the Highlight of 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rays Should Elevate Zimmer to “Manager Emeritus”

I have a feeling there are going to be more than a handful of things I’m going to be writing about that the Tampa Bay Rays front office does between now and the time Pitchers and Catchers report to Port Charlotte, Florida in February 2013, but this one move to me signals their commitment to bring the top tier of talent to this squad.

 

It was not the affirmation of the team accepting the 2013 options for players like SP James Shields, C Jose Molina or even the brilliance that was RP Fernando Rodney’s 2012 campaign. No, the action that caught my eye and truly showed me this team is committed and expecting to “shoot for the Moon”, is the recent press release that Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer will partake in his 65th year in organized baseball, and his 10th with the Rays. This to me is the biggest, best and most logical move the team will make all Winter.

 

We all know that Zimmer is the Master Yoda for this young and energetic squad, having beat health situations in 2012 and is again eager, willing and excited about stepping foot on the field again this Spring. Sure Zim who has been immortalized in so many ways over his career and his 10 years with the Rays has his own “Bear” now, but I think the title of “Senior Advisor” needed to be ripped off the team website, and a new proclamation be made to show the respect and reverence to all things “Zim”.

 

Some will say being Senior Advisor is enough for Zimmer, but to me it can be elevated to a new level with the mere changing of his title. I’m sure Rays current Manager Joe Maddon will not take offense to this, or even take it as even a mild slap if the team were to elevate Zim to the position of esteemed and new fangled title of Rays Manager Emeritus. When former Rays owner Vince Namoli sold the team to the young and youthful Stuart Sternberg, he was given the designation “Chairman Emeritus” when you gaze at the Rays Ownership section of their website and Media Guide.


Emeritus” by definition in Webster’s Dictionary tends to lean more towards showing this title going to someone who has been “retired” as a post-positive adjective to show respect and dignity to someone who gave of themselves in all aspects for the betterment of their chosen field. Namoli possibly holds this distinction because of his tireless pursuit of the Rays franchise combined with his due diligence while commanding the top tier of the Rays hierarchy before passing the torch to Sternberg.

 

Zimmer is not retired as a Major League Baseball figurehead, but he is as an active “Manager”, and that is the aspect I feel his title being changed to “Manager Emeritus” has merit. Zim is a constant figure down on the turf during Rays Batting Practice and is as much a personality and part of this team as any of the players and Coaches who adorn the Rays colors. The Rays have not been shy in the past of being creative with titles, responsibilities or even assignment, but making Zimmer a permanent part of the Rays culture, game-day experience is the least we can do for a true MLB icon.

 

Heck, I still remember when Zimmer lived on Treasure Island, Florida with his awesome wife and used to come into my father’s gas station for fuel. I would talk baseball with him, even when he was the Red Sox Manger. I looked up to this man for not only living the dream, but always wanting to be within eyesight of the game and wanting to always have a finger on the pulse of this grand game.

 

Some might say my wanting of this title change is futile, a bit contrite and maybe a bit evasive on the legend that is Maddon right now in this region. I can see that point of view, but name me another figure besides Namoli who has done as much for this franchise both in front and behind the scenes as Zimmer. I know personally he loves to give knowledge, excite the younger generation of the baseball royalty and be the anointed “father figure” some of these guys need when the game slaps them around a bit. To me Zimmer is as much a part of the Rays game as Evan Longoria’s bat or even Rodney’s archery pose.

 

This action probably will not happen. Zim will remain the title of Senior Advisor until the time he walks away from this game for the final time. Maybe I’m just trying to be a bit insightful and want him to enjoy the respect, admiration fans like myself in the Rays Republic have held for Zimmer, even before he donned the “TB” cap for the first time. Zimmer is a Tampa Bay icon, a long time resident who has given us at least 2 generation of Zimmers’, and will always be cut into the fabric that is the Rays legacy. Maybe the word “Emeritus” is too small for the legend that is Zim, maybe “Emperor of the Rays Republic” fits more like a Rawlings glove.

 

 

Zorilla 2.0

I am starting to believe in this full circle train of thought. That all things go into circles and come back again new and improved and somehow modified in their simplicity. I guess we can say the same for Tampa Bay Rays newly annoited SS Ben Zorbrist, or should I call him Zorilla 2.0?

It was exactly 6 years and 33 days since the first time a young and lanky SS prospect was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros for a gruff and grumbling Aubrey Huff. Along with Zobrist the Rays received P Mitch Talbot, who we all know wears Cleveland Indians garb now. Zorbrist came to the Rays as a infield specialist, but his true specialty was playing the deep hole between second and third base both with range and a cannon attached to his shoulders.

Some say that his ability back then worked B J Upton around the infield from Third to Second before he finally found his home in Centerfield. But 2006 was a memorable season for the defensively maturing Zorilla as he spent only 18 games at Triple-A Round Rock and when Zorbrist and Upton were recalled by the Rays on August 1st after the Rays felt secure enough with the tag team of Upton and Zobrist at SS that they sent starting SS Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

All Zorilla did was start 50 of the final 56 games….all at the Short Stop position. How good was the new acquired defensive neophyte? Well not 31 days later did Zorbrist and Rays catcher Dione Navarro stamp their own brand on Major League Baseball history when they recorded the only 2-6-2 triple play…EVER.


Many might have forgotten Zorbrist was the Rays Opening Day SS in 2007 starting 13 of the Rays first 17 games, then something happened and he fell out of favor and started only 2 of the team’s next 17 games before the Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham and subsequently claimed SS Josh Wilson off waivers from Washington. Most see that as the memorial moment that the Rays might have set their sights on Zobrist being a key figure in the Rays scheme, just not front and center in their future infield.

Still, I think this is a great idea that has been kicked around for quite a while by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who wanted to see Sean Rodriguez take ownership of the spot, but little things have de-railed the S-Rod experience for the Rays along with Rodriguez’s enemic .209 average with only 6 HR and 30 RBIs. Zobrist has a great first move towards the hole, and even with a few years of rust to shake off before he again find his optimal rhythm, I hate to say it, he is a vast improvement at the plate as well as in the field.

There are going to be a few rough patches as he again gains the trust in his abilities on the opposite side the the second base bag, but if anyone can do it and provide the leadership and positive mindset needed to be a consistent and agile SS, it has to be the Rays # 18.

It is a lot to ask of a player who doesn’t even make the Rays all-time Top-5 SS list in any category, but this is also the same stellar fielder who garnered a .989 fielding average and is not listed on either the SS or 2B all-time errors Top-5 list (Upton is #5 @ 2B with 12). So far in 2012, Zobrist has 8 errors in 961 total innings all around the Rays infield, and outfield. As a whole, the trio of Rodriguez, Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson have combined for 31 errors with Zobrist tied with Rhymes for 3rd most on the team.

This is not to say errors will cease and life in the middle of the Rays infield will be a bed of roses. There will be challenges, possibly multi-error contests, but the leadership and offensive confidence of Zobrist should emulate enough so that the rest of the infield can feed off of Zorilla and grow tighter and stingier over the last portion of the season. The Rays have not put Zobrist’s finger in the dike hoping to stave off the total flooding of potential errors, but the maturation of Zobrist and his “can-do” persona should do miracles in a position in the field that was looking more like a gaping hole.

Seriously, to me it is a long time coming, and a position change that will not only get Zorilla consistent starts in one spot in the Rays field alignment, but it can finally give him a chance to possibly not have to lug around the huge equipment bag with 9 different gloves inside it. Who knows, if Zorilla takes to this position like he did in 2006 and makes it his own again…..It would be hard not to vote him again as the Rays team MVP like in 2009. Zorilla 2.0…….I like the sound of that more and more.  

Are Rays Hitting Their Stride for the Final 50?

All season long some of us have been waiting for this kind of production. Since the days before Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria grabbed the back of his leg, the Rays Republic have been awaiting this kind of warfare. From singles to massive Home Runs, the Rays again have found their focus, their offense that combined with their pitching cohesiveness to brings about solid and warranted victories.

8 out of their last 13 road battle have seen either Fernando Rodney chuck a arrow into the sky, or provided the optimal moment for this team to celebrate mid-infield with high-5′s and handshakes galore. This is what happens when a team finally get back a fallen comrade and gets their sights set throughly for the final 50 game grind. That’s right, 50 games left in the Rays 2012 regular season, with a hope that October dreams come true.

From this squad getting their bellies full with “meatloafing” (winning 2 out of 3) series wins to finally finding that home remedy to evoke victories, this team has positioned itself going into today’s contest just 1 game out of the top spot for a American League Wild Card slot, and is within fighting range of the whole enchilada of another possible AL East banner being raised come April 2013. Tell me any of us felt that way as bombs burst in night air on July 4th while this team struggled to find cohesion and consistency.

Finally the Maddon mantra has again proven true as “Fortune Favors the Bold (or Bald)” as this team has stood tall in the face of injuries, potential trade chatter and unimaginable defensive blunders and gaffs to be in the right spot at the right time for a solid and concerted effort to topple their AL east rivals. Sitting currently with a 44 % chance of playoff champagne, this team has to continue to get their meaty goodness both at home and on the road mixed in with a few extra wins to bolster their post- season chances.

Right now the Rays are toe-to-toe with Oakland, Detroit, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Angels for a solid chance to walk into their third consecutive playoff spot, and fourth in 5 seasons. But it all begins now. 50 games, 50 chances to pull closer or fall to the back of the pack. Of those 50 contests, 29 of these contests will come against divisional leaders or Wild Card hopefuls. Plus in this 50 game hunt for October bliss, the Rays will play only 6 more games against the Yankees and 6 against the pesky Orioles. Of their final 50, the Rays will suit up against their AL East rivals in only half (25) of those contests.

Definitely the Rays might want to also channel a former Maddon Mantra from 2011 of “Finding Another Way” as they will have to garner additional victories against the likes of Seattle, Kansas City along with a slate of 16 contests against the unpredictable American League West foes.

The key to the Rays future seems to lie not only in their divisional slanted schedule in September, but in their rivalries against the West Coast opponents. Throw in 7 contests against the AL Central and you get the idea the Rays final AL East tallies might hold the key components to the Rays post-season recipe, but the rest of the American League could poison the “meaty” goodness with a few well-placed wins against the Rays.

6 games currently separate the Rays and Yankees with Baltimore still hanging on like that poster kitten, but destined to fall before the leaves turn colors. With the days of September coming closer the Rays engine is currently purring on all 8 cylinders and looking stronger every game. But it will only take a small back-step, a slip or even another key injury setback to again put haste and anxious thoughts into everyone’s noggin.

Winning series, posting up impressive game stats is only part of the equation. In the end, possibly the Rays will have to win at least 37 of these final 50 games to again shower the Trop’s fans with champagne and not have to re-visit another Game 162 moment or heartbreak.

幸福の小道 Godzilla

I truly do not know if the ever expanding legend surrounding this player has kept him on this Tampa Bay Rays roster. Some have been more than adamant that he is a shell of his former self, possibly dialing in his last breathes in Major League Baseball. I seriously do not see the reasoning or the dramatic prose of keeping Hidecki Matsui on this Rays roster.

Even last night as Rays Manager Joe Maddon closed his office door post-game in a personal discussion with his staff and front office personnel, I thought surely the fairy tale of this version of “Godzilla” might finally play out to a release or possible waiver. Not sure if the creature known as “Godzilla” has any feline traits, but definitely Matsui has evoked and used up more than 9 Rays lives in his short tenure.

I wanted Matsui to be a firm Rays building block, the keystone to a offensive revival of the Rays arsenal, but except for a few blasts more from the past than the present, Matsui has produced more blanks than lethal shots. It has now been over 3 weeks or 21 days since the “of Japan” demigod had a pair of singles going 2-for-3 against the Detroit Tigers on July 1st. Sure most will point towards Matsui only striding to the plate 15 times since that day, but with strikeouts to end two of the last 3 Rays last ditch efforts at victories, something has to give soon.

I truly want to look into Matsui’s Rays locker and find that lucky charm, that atonement symbol that has blessed him with chances after chances to provide defining moments, but has left us all wanting. In 20 plate appearances this month to today’s contest, Matsui is 2-for-15 with 7 strikeouts and has stranded 23 of 24 men who stood on base during his at bats. That statistic by itself lends the point of view that Matsui has performed beyond abysmal. I know Maddon has a huge amount of respect and admiration for Matsui, but I’m beginning to question the sanity of seeing # 56 in a Rays uniform at all.

For the Seattle series, Matsui is 0-6 and is scheduled to be again the Rays DH for today’s contest. When do we stop the madness and cut our losses, possibly calling up someone like Stephen Vogt again who definitely can hit better than Matsui’s current 1.49 batting average. Considering Matsui was brought onto this club to help with getting runners in scoring position across the plate. A .148 average in that category mixed with a lone Home Run doesn’t boast any additional confidence for me for the daily use of Matsui.

How can a opposing pitching staff be afraid of a guy who boasts a average that even Mendoza would shake his head at profusely. It seems right now that Godzilla’s fiery breathe has not only gone moot, but his been extinguished, possibly for good. Matsui started off his Rays venture impressively hitting 2 long bombs in his first few games, setting the table for good thing to come, but after that first volley of goodness, no Home Runs and only 3 RBI over his 30 games. Pressing further into the abyss we see Matsui has produced his worst year ever so far as a professional, and it only gets worse.

is not even an adequate field player or late inning replacement any longer and has proven more than a few times to seem lost and flustered out in leftfield. Matsui have only had a total of 14 chances in the outfield endeavors, but his lack of total confidence in the field has flashed upon his face as he moves toward balls in play. His last start against Boston on July 2nd, Matsui suffered a hamstring injury . Truly I think we have seen his last days as a Rays outfield accessory.

I know this is not the fairy tale ending any of us wanted for Matsui, but it might be time for the Rays to sever the cord. Matsui is not even a remote threat in the Rays offense that is currently ranked 28th in the MLB. He was brought into this Rays fold to be a defining offensive weapon, but has produced mostly blanks. Matsui was suppose to protect the bulk of the Rays line-ups, but they have done more to protect him than you can imagine. Maybe it is time to face the reality this venture turned into a horrific mis-step instead of a solid foot forward for the Rays.

After Sunday’s contest, the Rays get a day off on Monday before embarking on a 10 game road trip that will not see them back at the Trop until after the Trade Deadline, maybe cutting their losses and freeing Godzilla is in the best interest of the Rays chance at the post-season. I mean if Matsui was any other player in the Rays organization, he would have been gone long before now. Sorry Godzilla, it’s not personal, it the business of winning that drives baseball.

幸福の小道  (Happy Trails) Godzilla

A Personal Way to Get That Sought After Autograph

What if I could give you an alternative to obtaining that cherished signature of your favorite sports figure without having to feel like a sardine in the can awaiting his arrival down by the field railing? What if I can get you virtually and digitally “hooked up” with a unique way to not only get that autograph, but be provided the additional added bonus of getting your selected photo personalized with the cherry on top of it all being a 30 second sound byte by that player?

 etter yet, what if I told you it is not only pleasantly affordable, but it can also be conveniently emailed with no tussle of fuss of having black Sharpie stains on your fingers or hand, plus the stress-free addition of not having to fight your way in or out of the assembled crowd seeking that same player’s autograph. Now Egraphs can not only make that experience pleasant, it can give you the opportunity to get a photo personalized without worry of offending the player or those seeking his autograph without the hassle of wasting your precious time and possibly being one of those missed by the player before he leaves.

This revolutionary idea in obtaining and personalizing autographs was the brain child of the Auld brothers David and Brian who also happens to be the Tampa Bay Rays Senior Vice President for Business Operations. Brian might be the “idea guy”, but it is David who once worked for technologically savvy Microsoft out in Seattle brought this concept together after hatching the idea last Summer. Also on board with the Auld brothers is former Rays player Gabe Kapler who will take on the role of Director of Business Development, and with his MLB connections should have a stream of players and MLB personnel both active and from the past phoning him for a chance at providing their own images and signatures to this expanding Egraphs universe.

Think about this for a second, you could be a huge Rays fan who live outside the 727 or 813 zip codes living anywhere, anyplace in this country or overseas and by just going through a simple application you could receive a photo personalized along with a short voice message from your favorite player. This concept can not only broadens the player and teams fan base outside the confines of Tampa Bay, it brings about the possibility of these special autographs and photos being presented as special tokens of loyal fans through the Rays Republic on a worldwide basis. Even at the recently completed All Star Game festivities in Kansas City, Missouri there was chatter and whispers about this great product, and I would not be surprised if the Egraphs roster of players doesn’t explode over the second half of this season and be a formidable personalized autograph provider by Spring Training 2013.

Interesting enough, one of the first investors in this project was Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg who knows a thing or two about investments and risks. And if you peel back the surface of this presently baseball-related autograph and photo opportunity, there is an unlimited and expansive opening of the arms to possibly include other sports from NFL, NBA or NHL as well as Hollywood stars and people in the news to become future providers of their images and signatures. And the process is really simple, heck I tried out the process today just to see how it all plays out, and it was effortless for me until I had to decide what I wanted message I might want personalized to myself or someone else.

Maybe you write a blog and might want to use it as an avatar, maybe include it as a link on your website, or maybe you want a framed 8X11 of the photo for your office or personal baseball shrine? It is all as simple as writing an email and for an offering of $50 which includes a high resolution photo which is electronically signed and personalized by the player, then emailed to your email address. This whole painless autograph process is not only affordable, it is a down right steal. 

Think of how invaluable this is not only for the fans, but for the players as they can use an I-pad device anywhere, even on the charter flight, in the clubhouse, or maybe even lounging on a Florida beach during an off-day or off-season. By simply using a stylist and voice recorder, the player can complete the request in their leisure taking away the added stress of a crowd of people with Sharpies, balls or photos waved in front of them for their signatures. I truly think this whole new way of getting autographs could bring about a serenity to the whole process and will be a great asset for both parties involved.

 Egraphs currently have around 100 players in their stable, but as other learn of the ease of this new autograph endeavor, the Egraphs list will expand as rapidly as Kapler and his (future) staff can answer the phone. Of course some people are afraid the signatures might not be original, and possibly be duplicated in some way. Well, Egraphs has devised a system where not only can the clubhouse assistant or friend of the player not sign the photographs, there is a voice recognition system to not only helps authenticate the process, but give you the satisfaction of knowing you got the autograph you desired along with a real voice message.

 Of course for an additional fee of $45, you can also get a certificate of authenticity provided with your 8X10 framed photograph that will not only be good for future generations, but gives you piece of mind and security that this is indeed an real photo and signature of your favorite player. So if you want to check out Egraphs, you can click on any of the “Egraphs” mentions in this posting, or go to this link and check it out for yourself. This new way of getting autographs is not meant to replace or remove the thrill or adventure of getting it in person, it just gives others the opportunity to also get that exciting feeling of having a genuine MLB player’s photo and signature, with a personalized both written and vocal message just for them.

That to me is simply priceless.  

First Half in the Books, Can’t Wait for Friday

Been a rough first half for the Tampa Bay Rays. Some things have gone as planned, while others have seemed to be spontaneous adjustments and hunches that either worked brilliantly or destined to be talked about, and dissected over and over again by the Rays faithful. Not once this season did Rays Manager Joe Maddon get to post the nine names he wanted on his line-up card together, the 9 names that he felt would make a difference, would bring him a consistent key to victory.

Not one line-up card in the first half carried all 9 of the Rays best players. That in itself proves something to me.  It also tells  a tale of how hard these first 86 games has been for the Rays coaching staff and Maddon to nightly present a consistent line-up card.  How frustrating  it must have been for Maddon over these first few months to consult his Medical staff before penciling in someone with clarity.  From B J Upton’s early season absence to Evan Longoria’s delayed return ( maybe mid-August), this team has been  a mire shadow of their 2011 selves.  

But with this All Star break comes a mini diversion of their 162 strife with a few days of life away from the ballpark to not only catch their breaths, but recharge and re-focus heading into their final 76 contests, I’m expecting to see some nervous energy and renewed excitement  bouncing from the roof catwalks to the outfield walls when the team again straps on their uniforms this Thursday in preparation of their second half kick-off against divisional rivals Boston.

Odd how that old Maddon mantra of “Fortune Favors the Bold” will again be in play this Friday as divisional rival Boston brings their bats and fans into the Trop. for a weekend shindig. Bold moves have been made all year-long with positional players doing a merry-go-round of nightly choices, with a few of them meriting longer looks and prolonged involvement for players who might not have made this squad if all were healthy. Still the seamstress known as Maddon has stitched some amazing embroidery so far this season with his patchwork quilt of players from Brandon Allen to Will Rhymes.

Got to hand it to the Rays skipper for keeping the positive front, going with his gut instincts and proving again and again sometimes stats do not lie about players and situations.  Only problem is Maddon will have to dig a little deeper over this final stretch, to find the pieces of the puzzle that fit each and every situation. Maddon has always preached the gospel of “Pitching sets the tone”, and it does, but when bats go silent or swing at dead air, even a brilliant pitching performance or quality start can be lost in the nightly box score. Maddon might have to listen closer to the Zim bear as he whispers into the Rays skipper’s ear.  Seize the day has to be paramount with  a hard-nosed defense again becoming the focal point of this club.

Might be kind of ironic that the group Train will perform on the Rays first night of their 10-game home festivities to begin their quest for another champagne soaked clubhouse and game dates in October. I got a nice vibe of reassurance from this squad in their final game in Cleveland on Sunday, that with all the strife, humbling injuries and peculiar results this team has had to endure over their first 86 games , the simple prospect of this team sitting just 1 game out of the American League Wild Card race is amazing.

I believe it was less than a month ago that the entire AL East was so jammed and reaching for the top spot you had to check the standing nightly to see who might be top dog.  This division currently has their entire corp of contenders at or above the .500 mark and are bunched within single digits from the top-tier to the cellar. Toronto and Boston currently are 9.5 games out of the top spot, but that could change as quickly as a 3-game win or losing streak by anyone in front of them. To put this into deeper prospective, if the Rays were to get swept in their upcoming series against Boston ( not going to happen), the Red Sox would not only jump over the Rays into third place, it could just as easily push the Rays from eyesight of the New York Yankees into the cellar.

Even with the Rays currently sporting a 45-41 record, ESPN has the Rays enthusiastically sporting a 26.8 % chance of again spilling champagne in late September.  For that to materialize, this squad has to re-mold itself into a more consistent fighting machine both on the field, and especially at the plate. Signs have been surfacing lately with Ben Zobrist rising his average up more than 50 points, Luke Scott finally getting the woodpeckers out of his bat bin, and Elliot Johnson no longer being the “secret weapon” no one knows about. Just a little more out of each of the Rays 25, and this club could be on track to again move onward and upward.

I know this Rays squad has it in them, we all saw it in their  early Walk-off victories that somehow got lost in all the clouds of frustrations both on the hill and at the plate.  When the Rays again get a few cogs of their offense back from their  injury hiatus, pieces of the overall Rays puzzle will click back in place. Matt Joyce is days away, Evan Longoria could be back by mid August, starter Jeff Niemann should begin some level of baseball activities soon, possibly being back before the roster expand in September.  This team realistically has their old magic just out of their reach right now, but it could be back sooner than we all imagine.  For now, patience is not only a virtue for this team, it is a necessity.

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