Results tagged ‘ Joe Maddon ’

30 Minutes to Reflect, then Onto the Second Half

By the time I end up posting this on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays will either be celebrating their gutsy performance over the first half, or spending 30 minutes before thoughts turn to the second half, and the chase for another spot on the post season dance card. Expectation were sky-high in April, reality and gravity brought the surreal excitement to a halt with unforeseen injuries and players beginning a Conga line into and out of Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s humble office. Even with a victory today in Cleveland, this 2012 Rays squad will have posted the worst record of any Rays team since their re-incarnation in November 2007 by dropping the “Devil”.

From the hamstring drama of Evan Longoria, the fainting spell that possessed Will Rhymes, to the bats that turned to sawdust, the first half of 2012 has been a test of patience, determination and faith both in the dugout and among the stands. True fans have seen this before, but it was pre-2008 when the Rays Republic had to hold their breath as long, and pray to anything and anyone for a simple single victory during some of their awful losing bouts so far this season. Do not fret little Rays campers, for the 2012 edition of Rays complete with their patchwork quilt of fielders and hodge podge of Mendoza Line hitters might not be the defensive unit of 2011, but they have the courage, confidence and vital constitution that was forged in 2008 and is still rock hard today.

That might be the Rays saving grace with their line-up changing as much as the flight board in Chicago O’Hare Airport with rehab delays, hitting slumps for the ages and a defense that looks more like a piece of Swiss Cheese. Even with all these intangibles working against them, the Rays will end the day with an identical 44-41 record as the Cleveland Indians. But hidden just out of view is the travel this team has taken lately that took them from the 4th slot in the American League East standings, to possibly the second spot by nightfall. Even with all the toils and troubles on the field, this team still is in prime choice position heading into their home-stand on Friday to make an early run at solidifying their silver medal position.

When Longoria went down, this team did not fret, did not pout. Instead they called upon new additions to the Rays fight card from Brandon Allen, Drew Sutton, Rick Thompson and finally Brooks Conrad trying to piece together a consistent order both on the field and in the batters’ box. Some pieces of this amended puzzle proved moot, and have been cut away from this team either for good, or onto the Triple-A Durham Bulls roster. Farmhands Stephen Vogt and Chris Gimenez tried to show down home production, but both faltered and again found themselves again staring at the Green Monster in Durham wondering “what if”.

Hitting has been the throne in the Rays side for most of this season as the team will enter today’s contest with a Team Batting Average of .232, which is the lowest average at this point in a season , but then again the 2011 squad entered the All Star break with a .245 average last season and went onto a post season Wild Card bid. And their last 13 games has been especially cruel to the Rays as they have been held to 4 runs or less in 11 of those games, and have hit only .193 with RISP. But hope is shining on the Rays lately as Luke Scott shrugged off his hitting slump demon with two powerful blasts in C-town, and has looked more relaxed and selective in his appearances.

That is a good thing as the Rays Designated Hitter position has looked more like the 9th slot in an National League line-up than an AL powerhouse slot. Scott and Hideki Matsui have not been able to capitalize and make opponents pitchers pay for their mistakes, which is vital for this position. Sure the Rays have been Hit by a Pitch more than anyone else in the AL (36 times), but going into today contest, the Rays are tied with Baltimore for the most K’s (679) in the American League. Possibly with Scott again finding a groove he likes, the Rays DH spot again can bring some amount of fear and power heading into the final months of the season.

Defense has been so bad early on for the Rays they currently have 71 errors with a few innings to play in today’s contest. To put this into perspective, the Rays have had 19 multi error games including today’s game and seen 22 flaws coming out of Longo-land (3B), 14 out of the 6-slot, and 11 from the pivot (2B). For this team to again climb back into the Wild Card race and have any shot of catching division leading New York Yankees, this team has to hone their throwing and again look like a impervious defensive stalwart. This is not to say this team has to be flawless, but they need to be calculated mistakes that can be erased possibly with double plays or sneaky pick-off moves, not be free run scoring opportunities for their opposition.

One part of the Rays equation though has been up to the challenge and has consistently shown they have the field players backs, even if the bats did not respond in kind. The Rays Team ERA of 3.72 (3rd best mark in club history at the break) combined with a club record 676 strikeout heading into the All Star break has been the foundation for many of the Rays 1st half victories. David Price shared the best record in the AL (11-4) and combined with Rays greybeard James Shields, they have sent 214 hitters back to the dugout via the K so far this season. Matt Moore has found his rhythm again, Hellboy is ready to wreck havoc and Cobb is primed to prove he belongs here even after SP Jeff Niemann heals.

We saw another piece of the Rays pitching future come into the spotlight and perform as Rays prospect Chris Archer became the first non-Rays raised farmhand to take the hill as a starter in the long, long time. Archer showed just how valuable he will be for this team in the coming seasons, and Alex Cobb only cemented his reputation not only at this level, but as a solid MLB pitcher.

Expectation were high in April, but even with this fall from grace the last few months, the Rays are in prime real estate to again fight to the last game for another chance to play into October. Even with all the Rays perils, they are only a few well placed wins away from the top Wild Card slot, and with the momentum of their recent win in their old nemesis Cleveland, the Rays should be pumped to against strap on the uniforms this Friday when rival Boston invade the Trop.

I’m going to take a page from Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra book and forget this first half in 30 minutes as soon as the Rays exit the turf at Progressive field and become excited and enamored with the second half and all its possibilities. This Rays team is one that is built for the long haul. With Longoria set to possibly still be out to mid to late August, and Matt Joyce possibly missing the 10-game home stand to start the second half, again faith, a slice of good luck and possibly a few bats finding the ball could help this team until their offensive brethren again don the Rays sunburst.

30 minutes has since elapsed since my first written word, time to forget the first half and stand ready, willing and able to help this team push a few squads out of their way in the second half of the season….or die trying.

 

Rays to Get Their “Funk On” This Saturday

Oh how I had hope those gaudy and hideous fashion statements unveiled by Major League Baseball teams near the end of the 1970′s would lie in a deep coma somewhere, possibly in an undisclosed cement covered grave, never to see the light of day ever again. But somehow one of those funky patterns and designs did rear its head again in a 70′s inspired Tampa Bay Rays uniform.

The Rays decided to bring their own groovy edge and retro visions to life even though the ball club was not even a gleam in anyone’s eye at that time. I do not even think vision of hit baseballs entered the minds of future Tampa Bay baseball pioneers Frank Morsani or Vince Namoli during the late 70′s especially in this sunny region. So as the team takes the field this Saturday night for their annual 70′s Night, with a post game concert by 70′s icons “Earth, Wind and Fire”, you can bet more than a few people in the stands will “be trippin’ a bit” with flashbacks of some of those other MLB late 70′s unfortunate uniform logos and designs of other franchises.

I had kind of hoped I would never again see some of the fashion mis-steps and funkadelic inspirations that hovered over baseball during the end of the 70′s. From the Stove top caps of the Pittsburgh Pirates to the insane uniform worn by the Chicago White Sox whose short pants inspired uniforms just made he shiver after looking at the mangled knees of catcher Carlton Fisk’s knees. But to be honest, funky lettering fonts and swaying word patterns were popular in those days especially off the diamond.

I commend the Rays for trying to get extra funky and into their 1970′s groove thing and come up with a Rays “Turn Back the Clock” jersey top that would be a 1-of-a-kind and “must have” item. It will be extra special that each Rays field staff members’ jersey will go up for auction on the Rays website after the contests to support the Moffit Cancer Center and the Rays Baseball Foundation.

But there are a few quirks that have caught my untrained fashion eye. The uniform’s primary color (powder blue) seems to mesh consistently with another team that patrolled the American League East during the late 70′s, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew’s road unis of that period seem to boast the same Rays flair as both jersey tops sport a portion of powder blue essence and both team’s utilized the traditional 70′s fashion item, the V-neck collar that seemed to be all the rage in that era.

But the Rays did divorce themselves from the total powder blue explosion on their uniform top by letting the chest and back region of the jersey be more of a royal blue separating these two teams a bit. But both uniforms sported powder blue pants with royal blue stirrups and white socks. Even the Rays retro baseball cap has visions of “Brew Crew” inspirations as both caps featured a yellow V-front panel with royal blue dominating the back and side panels of the cap.

The small bit of yellow trim that will fashion the Rays uniform number also plays nicely with the Brewers 1979 design. Thank goodness the Rays did not decide to use anything close to that hideous glove print design that sported the Brewers cap front. Rays decided on a more funkadelic “tb” on the cap with a Sun logo shining in bright yellow in the lower case “b” on the cap. The lower case “a” in the Rays embellished on their uniform front will also house a Sun design.

With the team having worn most of this area’s professional baseball team’s colors at some point during their previous 9 other “Throw-back” days, this meshing of the hypothetical past does have its own charm. The team will pay a bit of hometown homage to their St. Petersburg roots by having the City seal of St. Petersburg on their left jersey short sleeve.

Since it is a hypothetical design, and one that does seem to mirror a bit an actual AL East power at that time period, I can not only applaud the design, I might even buy a game used and autographed jersey through the auction on raysbaseball.com following the contest. I can’t call this a Home Run by the Rays, but possibly it is a nice sacrifice squeeze in the bottom of the 9th inning against a rival. It could have been worse, the Rays could of adopted the “tux stylings” of the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs. Those kinds of tops were the rage at my prom in 1979. 

If you might want to buy one of these interesting conceptual jerseys prior to game time on Saturday, you can call or visit any of the Rays Team Store at the Trop., in Tampa, or you can visit Raysbaseball.com and buy one online.

Is Pine Tar a Demon or an Equalizer?

It’s in every bag in the big leagues. We have it everywhere. If you get rid of it, there are going to be hitters getting plucked left and right. When you have adverse weather games, extremely hot, cold, windy humidity;s crazy, sometimes as a pitcher you can’t feel the ball, that’s no good for the guy (at bat).                      – former Tampa Bay Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez

I’m being to feel that pine tar is a lot more prevalent and in wide-spread use than any of us can imagine. One of the most important assets to a pitcher no matter if he is a starter or a reliever is feeling a consistent and constant grip on the baseball. There have been no reports or experiments conducted to see if pine tar does give you an extra inch of drop, velocity or even control, but even if it is all in the pitcher’s mind only that he has more consistency because of it, isn’t that a good thing for the game. 

Makes sense that pitcher’s might dabble and spot a few dots of pine tar on their mitts during rain, sleet or snow, and humid and hot temperature do produce more sweat and moisture that could effect not only the grip, but final destination of every pitch. Seems like pine tar ( to me) might have a few helpful benefits to keep batters upright and safer at the plate. Former Rays TV Announcer and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Mcgrane said he has used pine tar before for it’s gripping properties while current Rays TV Announcer and former Rays/ Indians pitcher Brian Anderson says he never touched the stuff.

I remember more than once pitchers reaching into the Rays Bullpen bag for a green leather sleeve with a darkened element on it, but I never associated it with pine tar. Even though there has never been an adequate test or study to show if pine tar or a substance of that nature effects the flight of the ball, it seems more viable and controllable than other elements that can be applied to a baseball and masked without the darkened spots. In earlier baseball history Vaseline and saliva were commonplace, but I wonder if things like suntan lotion. Extra hair gel or possibly even leaving shampoo or conditioner in your hair pre-game could bring about the same results. 

In the same article Hernandez tells of the plight of former Detroit Tiger starter Kenny Rogers and his unfortunate pine tar incident that played out during the 2006 World Series when Rogers had some pine tar on his hands when he took the hill. Hernandez stated the aging hurler did not use the element to produce more sink or doctor the ball, he used it so he could get a better grip on the ball and not lose control of his pitches. 

In this case, rival Manger Tony La Russa handled it a bit more classier than Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson did recently. La Russa sent a message through the grapevine (Third Base Coach?) Telling Rogers to clean it up, clean it off. It was never made into the huge issue and polarizing issue it has in this recent Rays and Nationals series. Hernandez made a valid point that since they (Cardinals) beat the (Tigers) the issue was swept away without blossoming into a full blown incident.

You have to think MLB Home Plate Umpires reject a few baseball every game that might have hints or flashes of a substance, but do not call attention to it as pitchers “clean up” their act before it gets overly noticed or goes to extremes. I can tell you I’m going to be a bit more curious when an Umpire rejects a ball from now on as possibly having more than scrape mark or a darkened bat mark on the ball. 

I’m not looking to re-write MLB Rule 8.02, but Peralta did not touch the ball to his glove with the pine tar applied to it, the substance was within the finger area of the glove, thus not in direct contact with the ball. Still it was a violation, and a punishment Peralta might just be in the mood to appeal the punishment, possibly being a last thorn in the side of Nat’s Manager Johnson in this last game of the Rays and Nat’s InterLeague dance.  Wonder if Peralta heads to the mound tonight if the “boo-birds” will become a bit louder and crazier?

Maybe it is time for the hierarchy of Major League Baseball to dig a bit deeper into this situation, possibly poll current MLB roster pitchers with full immunity to discuss the issue and possibly find a viable solution everyone can not only live with, but promote safe usage and rules governing it’s application especially in adverse weather conditions. Just because MLB Umpires know it might be used by pitchers doesn’t mean they “look the other way”, it might not be as prevalent in everyday pitching situations thus a blind eye is given on occasion. 

I guess the use of pine tar will be one of those burning issues for a while some consider it in baseball’s “gray area”, and other see it as blatant cheating or dismissal of the rules of the game. No matter what your opinion, maybe this last statement by Hernandez might open a few eyes that maybe pine tar has an application in the game, but within set limitations or application.

I don’t see anything in pine tar that creates an unfair advantage for a pitcher. You make a big deal of it, and all of a sudden guys are going to start, as we call it in the business, pitching naked. More balls would get away from pitchers, and now you’re going to be fighting. We’re going to have more beanball brawls than ever.” 

Don’t know about you, but I hated getting pelted with a 90+ MPH pitch somewhere on my body while trying to hit that small white sphere. Plus I usually did apply a bit of pine tar to my bat…for a better grip.

 

 

Nats, Rats…Has a Nice Ring to It

I remember watching “Mob Wives” on VH-1 this season and one of the characters, Big Ang said these immortal words, “A rat is a rat is a rat.” But here lies the conundrum. It is up to interpretation as to whether you consider Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson the one with the wiry whiskers, or Rays reliever Joel Peralta to be the focal rodent here.

Do you consider a relief pitcher using a product that doesn’t give him a considerable edge the villain, or Peralta who is a former Nat’s pitcher and might have been “outed” by a former colleague, or your old Triple-A Manager who might have felt an obligation to divulge your old glove habit. Here is where the line between good sportsmanship and someone just trying to ruin someone for the sake of it all. To me, the smell permeates more from the Nationals dugout than from the body of Peralta.

Sure Peralta might have used some pine tar hidden within the folds of his black glove on the mound last night, but was there evidence on the ball used during that outing to suggest deception by Peralta, or was the Nationals staff using some long held information from Peralta’s past to discredit and damage his credibility throughout baseball.


I mean you do not have to think long and hard that the Nat’s had to have had this information long in advance as a black colored glove doesn’t give off the air of deception via black pine tar unless you had prior knowledge the event might be unfolding. It is not like any member of the Nat’s roster or staff got a chance to take a intense nasal upload of Peralta’s mitt, or that an odor or remnants of pine tar suggested the element was present before Johnson made Home Plate Umpire Tim Tschida aware of any wrongdoing.

Johnson just played a trump card he had in his back pocket, and got an effective reliever not only out of this game, but possibly the rest of the series between these two clubs. It might be a clever move to isolate one key ingredient that could thwart any late inning heroics by his Nationals club, but was it a rat move by doing it in such a devious and cowardly way. It is not like the pine tar was visible or even someone witnessed the event. Johnson was going on private knowledge he had on a prior Peralta game day tradition/superstition and used it to his advantage, possibly ruining Peralta’s reputation and putting doubt of all of Peralta’s positive career steps in the process.

So is this going to start a bit of a “glove war” in this series? Possibly not, but you can bet Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his squad will use this measure as a energizing polar moment, possibly playing their final 2 games against Washington with a bit more energy and want for victories. Peralta did glide over the MLB lines with his move, but isn’t it common knowledge pitchers use any tools or items at their disposal to get that slight edge?

We have all seen pitchers pick up the resin bag and popped it into their forearms and hands, then do a few hard and suggestive bumps on their uniform leg for possible “future application”. Isn’t this considered a foreign substance since it is not a viable part of either the glove or the uniform and MLB warrants a pitcher rub his hand on his uniform after using the resin bag to extract possible excess materials?

This is one of those unwritten things you know each teams does, but it doesn’t have a direct affect on the game’s integrity or outcome. Players find their own ways to not so much cheat, but get their own slight advantages, but this time Peralta will pay the price through a possible game suspension and unexpected fine and further long glances into his past achievements. Johnson took the “low road” in my opinion here.

It was not a crafty move made on an observation, but on a long held habit of Peralta’s that in evidently got him ejected and under the thumb of the MLB disciplinarians now. Sure some within the Nat’s fan base will stand and applaud Johnson’s move, but I truly wonder how many players in his own clubhouse do not want to be a part of these shenanigans. In the end Johnson pulled his trump card and sent Peralta up the Delaware River without a paddle or a bucket to keep himself from sinking.

I hope whoever divulged that tidbit of information about Peralta on the Nat’s Coaching staff or player roster can sleep well at night now knowing they discredited a former teammate and possible friend. Sad when a former employer has to dig up prior dirt to get you discredited, show doubt and possibly black label you for the rest of your career just to try and develop a scoring opportunity.

I think it is extremely funny that if you go 4 letters to the right in our alphabet, then Johnson is not the Manager of the “Nat’s”, he is the skipper of the “Rat’s”…..I bet none of his 25 man roster would want to put on that jersey….ever. 

I Forecast Moore Moments Like This

Kind of amazing that in the span of less than 3 days, the Tampa Bay Rays have provided their fans with complete opposite results, and even thrown a bit of pitching brilliance into the mix. We all knew Rays rookie Matt Moore had the goods to pull off a miraculous outing,and he delivered more than we all anticipated. Kind of ironic a first inning hit by a speedster ruined a chance at Moore getting his own piece of history.

I mean who does this 5′ 9” Marlin Donovan Solano’s think he is pushing the No-No out of the equation? Did this fellow rookie like Moore have to provide the solo single moment of Miami pride in just the second at-bat of the first inning. Well if you search further and see Solano has only gone to the plate 28 times so far in his rookie campaign and has produced a .393 batting average, we have to be thankful the guy doesn’t have down the alley power.

Interesting that a small adjustment in his game plan against the Marlins tonight might have paid the most dividends for Moore:

A week ago when I faced them, I think I threw 3 or 4 curveballs the entire game, so today was just a little bit of a different look for them. I feel like I had a good feel for it (curveball), especially in the 4th,5th,6th and 7th innings when I was throwing it for strike one. I’m not necessarily looking for a swing right there but I am looking to get ahead in the count; a little get-me-over to start 0-1. It was definitely nice to have another pitch to have them looking out for.

I was talking to a visiting MIA fan in the bottom of the 1st inning and he remarked his team has seem to make it a habit of being “slump-busters” for their opposition this season. If you are having a bad time hitting, you have to hope a visit by the obliging Marlins is on the horizon. I have to be honest here, with their off-season pick-ups and their potential, this team should not be dwelling in the deep waters of their division. Still, the Rays have seemed to de-bone the fish recently, and we still have 2 outings to go in the seasonal Citrus Series.

With the Rays victory last night, they can take claim officially to the 2012 Citrus Series crown. Seems fitting a team whose stadium is sponsored by a citrus juice manufacturer (Tropicana) and based in the Tampa Bay area (Bradenton) hoist the Vitamin C enriched go-go juice. Interesting note, this gives the Rays their 4th title in the last 5 seasons. It’s not a dynasty, but I’ll raise a glass of Rudy Red or Tangerine to this squad.

Moore was on-point tonight, throwing good solid pitches, not conforming his strike zone, and basically showing that he might have finally turned the corner and put his sub-par previous outing to bed. Moore might not have gotten that elusive masterpiece, but it is hard to find fault in almost anything he did tonight. I mean the guy threw the 9th 1-hitter in Rays history, and the 6th under the tilted cap (Trop). Moore became the first Rays hurler to hold a team to 1 hit or less in 7 innings since former Rays P Matt Garza threw the only No-Hitter in Rays history back on July 26, 2010 versus the Detroit Tigers.

To be honest, Moore has been slowly finding his way back to the top of the pitching mountain. He has picked up a win now in all 3 of his last 3 starts after only posting a solo victory in his first 10 attempts in 2012. And Moore has put the work into his 3 wins going at least 6 innings in his last 4 starts after failing to get to that mark in 5 of his 6 previous starts to his pitching victory streak.

To really cement this achievement further as concrete proof Moore might have turned the corner, the Rays offense has scored 28 runs in support of Moore in his last 3 trips to the mound compared to the same total of runs in his first 10 starts of the season. When your team shows that kind of confidence and outpouring of run support, you got to believe the winning spirit is contagious.

Most people focus on the high velocity of Moore’s fastball (averages over 94 mph), but his weapon that probably paved the way for this great moment was his elusive curveball. Rays Manager Joe Maddon put it best when he stated:

“How about the curveball strike? That was a really big difference once he settled in and I loved the fastball. But I like the fact that he commanded his breaking ball without trying to overthrow it, making it too good of a pitch and then it started becoming a strike. Now they (hitters) have to honor the fastball and breaking ball mentally. That makes it difficult. So once he got into the groove with the breaking ball strike it made it a little easier for him”.

Moore tonight showed us all again the brilliance we knew was trapped inside his pitching arm. He showed a sharp mind of using a secondary pitch that was breaking and crossing the plate with accuracy and consistency and put the Marlins in “ thinking “ mode at the plate, wondering if they would be facing Moore’s hard heat, or wait on a mistake curveball that never seemed to materialize tonight. Backed by an impressive offensive explosion, Moore not only got the support he desperately needed to secure a win, he got a combined great defensive effort which had been lacking lately from this squad. All in all a superb night from first pitch to last. Definitely one for Moore, the Rays and their fans to savor for more than Maddon’s usual 30 minute window of celebration.

The Rays Wa

I think I might have finally found the seed that formed the Tampa Bay Rays serene sense of brotherhood. It always seemed to me to just be a bit out of focus or range, but I truly feel I might have figured out and maybe cracked Rays skipper Joe Maddon’s long held secret to his team cohesive unity….I might have finally dug up a simplified version of the orgin of the mystical “Rays Way”. But who knew I only had to remove the “Y” to find out it might actually be the “Rays Wa”.

Why did it take me so long to realize this simple concept was foreign to our shores and this great group element did not sprout from the American terra firm. This belief of wa is a complex little entity, yet its simplified and time honored value system that derives out of respect for authority, devotion to the group as a whole and instills a slice of the honor and pride of the Japanese Samurai tradition finally makes sense to it all. This mashing of the Far Eastern elements that have been instrumental in the Japanese adoption of our game make it unique, and before now, totally foreign to the style and type of baseball played in this country.

The concept of wa into baseball probably came from the impromptu baseball games in Japan during post World War II. As the Japanese culture and population began their love affair love for baseball, the game internal elements began evolving more in tune with the Japanese beliefs and traditional system. With that evolution came intricate changes and nuances that made it distinctively a Japanese version of the game we treasured. Maybe someone once gave Maddon a copy of Robert Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa”, which goes into deeper this delicate team dynamic told through the thoughts of a American writer who witnessed first-hand this intricate ballet of team chemistry while living in the orient.

Both countries play the game with the same equipment, rulebooks and even the same bravado and lust for victory, but each have their own personalities and traits that make their style special, and wa is as important a part of the Japanese game as the bat or the ball. The US version of the game celebrates the individual achievements within the core team concept, while in Japan, the basis is more team-oriented and celebrated, on and off the field.

The more and more I researched on the concept of wa, the more Maddon and his implementation of this grand system made sense to instill into the patterns and routines of his young team, possibly building their unified team bond through the introduction of this time honored testament of team cohesion. Made total sense to me that Maddon, who is a great scavenger of past positive elements of baseball borrowed and re-configured parts of the “wa” culture and made them MLB-friendly evolving this aura of respect, honor and continuity into his early Rays foundation.

This transition started way before the Rays introduced Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui to the local media this Tuesday, way before former Ray Akinora Iwamura stepped into the Rays fold. Maddon might have been shaping this proven and team unifying element even before his hiring as the Rays Manager. Possibly this could have been a mantra in the works long before his name and the Rays combined into their now successful association.

We all thought this concept of group harmony was unique to Maddon, but we also knew he loved to bring back time honored traditions and elements of baseball’s past. This could be Maddon’s way of honoring the team concept by basing it on a time tested and honored tradition that started beyond even his former California shores.

This country immortalizes the individual effort more than the team concept. That sense of one person making a difference has been grounded into our psyche for as long as we have played sports. In Japan, “kojinshugi” the term for individualism is considered a bit of an obscenity. There is an old Japanese proverb that states, “ The nail that sticks up shall be nailed down”. What better way to illustrate the Japanese endeared concept of unity as opposed to individualism.

I might be wrong in finally having found the element that makes Maddon’s special way of bringing his team together and having them bond for that 180 day grind more believable. But to me, wa seems to be the founding element at the base of Maddon’s popular themed road trips that promote unity, imagination and form a cohesive shell of cooperation between Maddon and his troops as they embark on their travels. Even the way the Rays collectively go about their game of not showing intense emotion at random moments speaks highly towards the wa foundation of respect for the game and its officials as well as other players.

I have always wondered what the essence of Maddon truly was that took players once deemed as borderline MLB players and sometimes troublemakers and suddenly they become transitioned into model team leaders and enthusiastic players who stayed within the lines both on and off the field. Is it Maddon, or is wa more of a secret power than we ever realized People see the Rays clubhouse as a “Fraternity house” of different personalities, cultures and beliefs, but underneath could the floor of this exciting team be actually based on the concept of wa?

The Rays Wa”, still has a great ring to it, maybe it will catch on in the stadium stands too.

 

Editor’s Note:  I included photos of the Rays road trip themes as a show of this team unity. It might not go perfectly with the essence of the posting, but it shows the always evolving Maddon philosophy and his team’s eager thrusts towards fulfilling this “wa” venture.

 

Are You Ready for Zilla-Mania!

All day long I have had Blue Oyster Cult’s classic “Godzilla” repeating on my truck CD player. Over and over the lyrics and words have amped me up to a point of mystic reality that a human “Godzilla” and the swallowing International entourage that encompasses his MLB mystic via frenzied Japanese media, a sudden influx of Asian fans with personalized and cryptic homemade signs around Tropicana Field.

You can bet the moment it was announced that the human version of “Godzillawas on his way to the hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida, the Rays Communications Department’s cellphones and email addresses have been bombarded with requests both for video and photo of the historic first appearance of Hideki Matsui in a Rays uniform. I did not get into the Trop. early today to witness the explosion when Matsui finally ascended the dugout steps and into the media gasping and camera clicking frenzy.

Simply put, this might be one of the biggest moves the Rays have made in a while that could turn their Designated Hitter position into a true powerhouse spot in the nightly line-up. It is going to be extremely interesting to see how Rays Manager Joe Maddon juggles the animated Wolverine/ Luke Scott and Matsui in and out of the Rays line-up, especially since both smash the ball from the left side of the plate.

But think about this all for an extended second, with the addition of Matsui who is a finessed professional hitter, the Rays finally have a guy who Maddon can be put behind anyone from Desmond Jennings (when he returns from the D L) to Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria or Carlos Pena and they will automatically see more pitches that they might be able to clobber themselves. Matsui might finally be able to help elevate the DH position for the Rays the way we hoped Manny Ramirez would have in 2011 before his own personal substance debacle.

Even the idea of Matsui playing in the field is not far-fetched especially during the Inter-League slate of games in National League parks. With the idea Scott might play a bit of First Base or the outfield plus Matsui drawing time in the outfield too, it might take the usually lighting-quick Rays outfield and make it a bit more…positioned to keep the big play from dominating the inning.

Even though Matsui has 9 years in the major leagues, it has taken its toll on his knees, but with him missing almost 2 months of the grit and grind of baseball, his knees and health might be timed perfectly to get him through the Inter-League schedule, then DH and be a valuable pinch-hit weapon for Maddon.

Of course Maddon and the Rays will not elevate the call-up of Matsui and anything “special”, but the moment the whisper was first uttered he was destined for the MLB before June, people have been lying in wait for just his arrival. Of course he will have to get used to a new band of baseball brothers, who tend to keep their clubhouse loose and free of the media drama that unfortunately follows Matsui from his homeland.

But there is a hidden gem here some people have not realized yet, but they will as soon as the MLB and Rays Team site begin to see a run on personalized Matsui # 35 jerseys and any collectible that tends to fall the way of E-bay or the Rays Baseball Foundation’s charity online auctions. Instantly the Rays will get extra press and free advertising back to the television sets in the Far East nightly as video replays and Matsui box scores and highlights hit the Web.

Do not be surprised if you see more Japanese advertisements being showcased on FSN/Sun Sports during Rays telecasts, especially on the MLB Network where fans in Japan can watch the game at almost anytime, even in the middle of the night as they get their fill of Matsui. Don’t be surprised if the blue screen to the right of Home Plate gets a few more swirling Matsui-inspired signs that will rotate as Hideki digs into the left-hand side of the Batter’s Box.

This is a big thing people. Not only does the call-up of Matsui possibly give us a profession power hitting bit of muscle, but it will open a new segment of Rays marketing, far out-reaching into the Asian baseball market as well as bring some new faces and excited fans into the Trop. Going to be amazing tonight if Matsui gets a hold of a hanging curveball and deposits it into the right field stands. Do not be surprised if the Raysvision crew already have their own “Godzilla” inspired video clip keyed up and ready to go full ballistic on the Jumbotron at the crack of the bat. 

Coaches Behaving Badly

First off, I do not blame any of last nights beanball shenanigans and ultimate bench-clearing by both squads on Boston Red Sox reliever Franklin Morales. If you saw a camera view of Morales just after the plucking, you can see he meant no personal glory or want to throw behind or at Tampa Bay Rays DH Luke Scott, he was following the orders sent in from his arrogant Coaching staff. 

My anger and frustration is poised directly towards the Red Sox bench, and in particular 4 main characters. The first person was right at ground zero, and should of known better than to stand in front of a increasingly angry hitter still clutching a pine bat in his strong hand. Standing in front of a player, blocking his path is one thing, but to chest bump him….That only makes the anger vented towards Red Sox backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia and away from the true instigators in this plucking. 

I seriously felt Salti would of deserved a pop in the kisser with Scott standing over him grinning like a Cheshire cat. Even though Saltalamacchia made an error in judgment by bumping Scott, he is not the sole individual who needed a smack down. Instantly I lost all respect for the Boston Coaching staff. Suddenly they went from cunning rivals to blatant idiots, all in the time it took for the ball to leave Morales hand and hit Scott. 

What was the Boston bench thinking not only tossing the ball behind but at Scott for the second time in two games? Did they really think Scott would just stand there and chuckle as he made his way to First Base with the free pass? Worst yet, when the two benches did clear, it was two members of the Boston Coaching staff who made the most noise and provided the most pushing and shoving. Way to be positive role model gentlemen. You acted more like the small percentage of Red Sox hooligans than members of a MLB staff.

I expected more out of Red Sox Bench Coach Tim Bogar, especially since he spent time on the Rays staff and knows the demeanor and attitude of Rays skipper Joe Maddon. I know in his heart and mind Bogar knows Maddon would not start this kind of retaliation, and what happens now is firmly on Bogar and Boston Pitching Coach Bob McClure’s heads.

 Sure Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine gave the head nod to start it all, but he was not out their with his hands firmly on Rays 1B Carlos Pena’s jersey and undershirt. Bogar was right up into Scott’s grill and possibly deserved a beat down, but Scott did the wise thing and took the verbal abuse and let it wash pretty much right off him. I mean McClure is the Coach who was jawing it with usual low-key guys Pena and Ben Zobrist when suddenly McClure grabbed Pena either trying to get him to see his way, or provoking an even more violent counter-action.

 I did not see a single Red Sox player come into the field of play with the hostility and bravado of these two Red Sox Coaches. Sure a few players did some pushing and shoving, but the vocal and physical action of these two Coaches demand some sort of suspension and definite fine. I can forgive Salti for his action of bumping Scott as a product of the first response to protecting a teammate, but I do nor and can not give the same pass to the Bogar and McClure.

What is kind of confusing me further is the fact Boston had just started a bit of a come-back in this contest, and did not need that extra emotional energy. That is what makes this all even more confusing. Your team is starting to figure out the Rays relief staff and then you throw a further monkey wrench into the plans of stirring up emotions and tempers? This was downright insane.

I am leaving Valentine out of the cross-hairs for this moment. Not that he should be equally guilty and subject to a future salary plucking my MLB, but he did not make matters worse after the fact. He did not go out there and berate Maddon or tussle with a player. When a member of an MLB Coaching staff goes out there and gets physical and vocally aggressive with a fellow player not in the main mix of the situation…heads should roll. Sure Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks were also a bit animated during the bench clearing moments, but they did not make matter worse or hasten the situations, they voiced their opinions and tried to keep their players from doing anything to a Boston player.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Rays or Red Sox fan, some in that tussle last night went beyond their job descriptions and could of made the matter worse. I lost all respect for former Rays Coach Bogar last night, not for his overall actions, but for him bee-lining it to Scott and being sure he was in the heart of the matter as it unfolded. That was a poor bit of judgment by Bogar, but not as bad as the tongue-lashing and jersey pulling done by McClure on Pena. Good Coaches know better than to instigate further actions, for that I say “Shame on you, role models do not act like that.”

Rays Emerging as Modern Baseball Gladiators

A Gladiator is deemed one who is an armed combatant who entertained the audiences in the Roman Republic with violent confrontations and engagement with both fellow warriors, animals and in some cases, condemned souls. The term gladiator is actually Latin in origin meaning “swordsman” from the original word “gladius” or “sword”.

The first sighting of the rejuvenation of this classic Roman warrior reared its head on Monday evening when Rays closer Fernando Rodney (Maximus Savous Gameous) and his partner in battle Joel Peralta (Setus Gameous Maximus) donned the headgear of the Roman Centurions. It was quite a sight to see the pair of Bullpen comrades in arms sitting there stoic in the Rays dugout before their quest to the Bullpen.

Seems kind of apropos that the Tampa Bay Rays have taken on the historic persona lately of these grand entertaining warriors of old as the game of baseball has always been about the attack, the mano-on-mano engagement of pitchers and hitters and the ultimate entertainment ebb and flow that pulsates throughout the stadium on any given play or action.

Like their Roman counterparts, the end result is to gain the victory or die trying. Gone are the menacing lethal weapon of yore that combatants use to eliminate and produce pain and suffering upon their victims. Today clubs made of ash, maple and pine replace the menacing swords,and deadly weaponry. Leather padded fielding and batting gloves and other assorted protective gear aimed at diverting blows and direct hits have replaced heavy and restricting chain-mail, shields and armor. A sphere of white leather is the fondest tool of their trade. It can be thrust, scuffed and even propelled to heights and distances beyond the arena’s turf and into the hands of the new (Rays) Republic.

But today just as it was so long ago, the men who partake in these games do it as much for the adulation and cheers of the crowd as they do for their fellow combatants. For it is the cheers or jeers of the assembled masses that energize, vitalize and make these men want to fight to the last out, cursing a loss as if it was the admittance of an open wound. The Rays Republic have always been vocal to the cause and effect of their combatants, showing praise even in the dire times and pure adulation in the moment just after securing victory. In that manner, the two societies inter-mingle with grand clarity.

Then after last night’s heroics, 2 more legionnaires of Rays descent Carlos Pena (Hittus Ballus Longous) and Luke Scott (Wolerinous Magnus) made their on-screen appearance bearing the same garb and distinctive helmet accessory as Rodney and Peralta a day earlier. It really was a great interview, with the crowning touch of Scott looking deep into the camera lens possibly scaring a few young kids ( hopefully not).

But that goes to show the character of this team. They are a true band of comrades battling it out in a 162 game war that has seen its share of casualties and heroic moments. I always thought the 2008 team had that special something, possibly that extra sports chromosome that would bring them victory in November, but we all know of the Fall of the Rays 2008 Empire. This season’s team feels more energized and bit more prepared for the long journey again possibly into those cooler night when victories are savored and cherished for eternity.

This Rays team does bode well with their Roman counterparts as each fought to preserve their way of life or process. Both have brought innovative ideals and procedures to fill their arsenal and each reincarnated past winning strategies and forgotten maneuvers and thus them up for all to see and bask at as they take their victories. Like their Roman counterparts, these modern combatants live a better life compensated for their grand actions and reveled by the throngs of the Rays Republic for their game day deeds as well as their action off the field of battle.


And their mentor and Field General Joe Maddon instills the truth and balance that makes this whole unit stand united as well as loose and ready to change their battle plan at a tip of the cap. Fine tuned plays, signals and the rhythm of playing together as a single unit has strengthened their resolve and boasted their confidence as they strut onto the turf, just like the gladiators of old.

I think the Roman Emperor Commodus would give a robust “thumbs up” to these modern Rays gladiators.

 

Another Maddon-inspired Idea Grows Roots in the MLB

They say imitation is the best form of flattery. If that is true, Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon is one proud skipper. Ironically, the latest person to get on board with a Maddon idea has not only a Tampa Bay Rays tie when he was our Bullpen Coach back in 2001. going further into the ironic pot is the fact this person was also a former Los Angeles (of Anaheim) Angels Manager who Maddon replaced as skipper after his resignation 29 games into the 1999 season.

By now you might have guessed that current New York Mets skipper Terry Collins is the latest to follow a Maddon trend and institute it into his team’s rituals. We all know the rest of the Major League baseball world loves how Maddon reaches back into the past the pulls out past nuggets of baseball gold and wipes off their coating of dust and makes them shine brilliantly like the infield shift, the use of the 5-man infield, and walking in a run with the bases loaded to avoid a Grand Slam (Hamilton). All amazing blast from the past innovative ideas plucked by Maddon back into the 21st Century.

But Collins has taken one of Maddon most brilliant moves and inserted it into his own Mets routine recently of doing the themed road trips. Recently as they embarked for their road trip the Mets skipper decided since so many NHL teams in his region were fighting for the Stanley Cup, why not have a NHL-themed road trip. It hearkens me back to a past Rays road trip where the squad popped on either Chicago Blackhawks specially made unis, or got to flash their own favorites for the rest of their team to enjoy or tease them about.

Collins must have decided to take on this great idea after seeing the bonds and commitment the Rays teams have taken in not only deciding their wardrobe, but committing to themselves and their teammates as they grew closer and more focused with the themed road trip having a distinct cause and effect to the team’s chemistry and character becoming more solid and united.

If there was anything Maddon brought out of mothballs or introduced during his tenure, this road trip themed idea might just be league-wide before you can say “amalgamated”. And that’s a great thing since every teams needs something to take a bit of the focal point of a road trip and the perils that await them. I do not know seriously why all 30 MLB teams do not impose some sort of road trip ritual or theme as they head out on their excursions away from home. It seems to be a great bonding element for the team, plus the players seem to have fun trying to one-up their teammates or make a certain fashion statement. This is definitely one Maddon-ism I hope every team adapts ASAP.

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