Results tagged ‘ John Rocker ’

2,000 Rays Memories in a Flash of Light

 


 
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Has it really been 2,000 Tampa Bay Rays game? Seriously, it seems like just a few brief moments ago that I witnessed the Rays first pitch thrown by starter Wilson Alvarez past Detroit Tigers lead-off man Brian Hunter to produce the first game photo opportunity for Rays fans. How long ago does that March 31,1998 5:08 pm start seems today now that it has been revealed that we (the Rays) have played 2,000 contests against some of the best who have ever played this great game of baseball. I really doesn’t seem all that long to me, but then again it has been a bumpy ride at time over the last 12 ½ Rays seasons.


I would be totally absentminded if I did not to note the great baseball dignitaries that were on hand to throw out First Pitches prior to Alvarez’s low and outside first Rays MLB offering. Baseball Hall of Fame members Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin and Tampa’s own Al Lopez were on hand to celebrate the beginning of regular season baseball in the Tampa Bay area. Even though the Rays did begin their history with a loss to the Tigers that night, every one of their 1,136 losses still cause the same aches and pains in my heart as they did in 1998. Even if the Rays record from 1998-2007 (645-972), their first 10 years of existence is the worst MLB club mark over that 10 year period in the majors, their current win-loss record since that time has been inspirational and shows the solid growth of the franchise.

 
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From 2008-2010, the Rays have the fourth best record in the Major Leagues providing a 220-164 mark and that record growing more impressive with every game.1998 seems so long ago now, but the memories I have witnessed sitting in my Rightfield corner seat has been amazing over that 2,000 game journey. I still remember during the last home game during the 2001 season, when Rays pitcher Brain Rekar sat with me and a few friends in the Bullpen Café during the ninth inning, just shooting the breeze during his last day as a Ray. I still have the hat he gave me that afternoon with the handwritten NYPD FDNY symbols in the brim of the hat honoring the men lost during 9-11.

Even thinking of that past moment has the memories suddenly began to flow like a waterfall, remembering moment after moment both at home and when I took my fandom on the road, like my first experience with the “rain delay” aspect of the game while in Cleveland on May 14,2004. Or hitting Safeco Field for the first time in years and feeling that wind gush through the stadium and wishing for my Rays warm-up jacket. Home or away, the Rays expansive memories keep piling up and for some odd reason, the stories seem to get longer now.

 

But the aspect of this team finally hurdling that 2,000 game plateau is simply amazing to me. A quick thought to the talent that have pulled on a Rays uniform over that time period, from Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez, Bubba Trammel, Roberto Hernandez, Toby Hall, Jonny Gomes, Ozzie Guillen, Randy Winn, and hundreds of other great ballplayers who made Rays fans laugh, cry and cheer with the wins and losses. And the tears of sadness we expressed when former Rays players Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle were taken away too early in their lives. Experiencing not once, but twice as Rays fans grimaced and reacted to the horror of starter Tony Saunder’s breaking his left forearm in front of the home crowds.


The countless snippets of chatter and conversation over that 2,000 game span with an army of former and current Rays Bullpen members about important things like the birth of a child, or just congratulating a Rays player after a great outing. This blog is too small to even attempt to relay and include the massive amount of memories associated with those first 2,000 events. I truly hope I am physically around to celebrate the 4,000th, and even 5,000th Rays game, but we know that the game is immortal, while we are skin and bones, and nothing is guaranteed past 30-90 days anymore. The Rays memories formed by myself and the rest of the Rays Republic within the Trop could fill up a computer’s memory banks within nanoseconds.

 
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Rays fans have seen odd and confusing moments like the odd multi-million dollar contracts of Rays (then) prospects Matt White and Bobby Seay, even before they threw their first professional pitch for the organization. Or the injury and contract craziness of Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman that still baffle the mind. But there have also been great Rays player finds like Jorge Cantu, Travis Phelps, Dan Wheeler and even the Bullpen reinvention of J P Howell that saved his MLB career. But we can not neglect the shock and horrors of Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla and their “Hit Show” debacle that produced more ammunition to make the Rays a laughing stock team, than as a force to be reckoned with on the Trop’s diamond.


The ups and downs of this franchise have been both extreme and subtle at the same time. No one other than Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir predicted the magic that would ultimately unfolded in 2008. Kazmir made an honest comment that the Rays would make the Playoffs during a 2008 Spring Training interview. Most in the assembled media circle chuckled and pushed the comment as bravado and not a reality at the moment. But Kazmir’s brave comment that day turned into one of the Rays greatest moments as we saw the team raising of that banner to the rafter of Tropicana Field proclaiming the Rays the 2008 American League Champions.

 

We have seen former MLB greats like pitchers Hideo Nomo (2005), John Rocker (2003), Bobby Witt (1999), Norm Charlton (1999) and current Yankee Pitching Coach Dave Eiland (1998-2000) take the mound for the Rays. We have also watched the batting exploits of guys like Greg Vaughn (2000-2002), Julio Franco (1999), Travis Lee (2003, 2005-2006) and Aubrey Huff (2000-2006) taking their shots at the outfield seats surrounding the Trop. Highs and lows, like the tidal pools have plagued this franchise until in 2008, when it seemed the proverbial ship seemed to be destined for more smooth sailing than rough weather.

 

Spectacular catches and impossible throws have begun to become routine and common place to the Rays faithful. Walk-offs, stealing home for the lead, and putting down that elusive bunt to score or advance the runners were past and future hallmarks of these Rays. And the history grows again in a few hours.


Each of us had a unique perspective or thought process in remembering and reliving these great moments of Rays history. Not one of us sees any one action the same, or reacts with the same emotion on any given aspect of the game as it unfolds in front of us. But there is one general emotion and feeling that is felt by all of us daily about this Rays team, from that first moment on March 31,1998 to tonight’s contest. We are proud to be fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, and that pride shows on every one of our faces as we begin our trek through the next 2,000 Rays games…..Play Ball!

 

Rays Now 0-11 on May 14th Games

 

 
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This date, May 14th, has always held a small special place within me. It has been a day of honest reflection and undefined possibilities. It has been the Alpha and Omega of my entire life, not only as a person, but as an athlete. In High School, this date usually corresponded with either the Florida State Class 5-A Track and Field championships, or the State Decathalon event held every year at the University of Florida. But since that time has long passed in my life, it has come to signify other things. But with regards to my Rays baseball, this date can be murder on me and the entire Rays team.

For the last 11 out of 13 years, the Tampa Bay Rays franchise has been unable to win a single game on this May 14th date on the calendar. In 8 of the past 11 years, they have gone down in defeat and it has brought my joy and happiness on that day to a sudden standstill. The only blemishes on that dubious record is the fact of two “Off Days” thrown on the schedule in 2001 and 2007 to break up the streak a bit. But in reality, this is one date that the Rays have a huge wall in front of them, and I am beginning to blame myself.

Since 1999, I have circled this date on my calendar hoping to see the roof turned orange after a Rays victory. But again this year we came close, but it was no celebratory cigar again to be lit on this date. It has been my epicenter of baseball for the last 10 years. Since 1999, I have either traveled to Tropicana Field or another city or sat idle on this day in response to where the Tampa Bay Rays were playing baseball.
 
That is right people, I use this date as my personal symbol of my commitment to my level of fandom to the Rays. It is my own form of special celebration to the team that descended on my home town to make me have more remarkable summer nights than just cruising the beaches with the windows open, or sitting in a sports bar watching the NHL playoffs.

So here I go doing a 11-year recap of those games and their results. Even if it brings up bad memories or provide a bit of funk, this is a date I truly wished would change in their 13th season (My lucky number). Most people will probably not give a big deal about all of this, but on this day…….It is what I say that goes….Got it. 



Timmer82@Flickr.com

1999:   Tampa Bay D-Rays vs Anaheim Angels. (AWAY)

That is right, the Anaheim Angels. The Halos had not gotten politically correct yet to include the “LA” region back onto their name. But in this contest the D-Rays starter Bobby Witt did not get any signs of offensive support and the then D-Rays fell to the Halos 8-3.  A total of 5 hits were dished out by the D-Rays during this contest. The bottom of the Rays order did most of the damage with catcher John Flaherty hitting a homer in the game. But the Rays did  show some defensive signs of life, converting three double plays in the game.

2000:    Tampa Bay versus Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)

This was my first trip outside of the country since my Army National Guard Tour almost 10 years earlier, and it was my venture to this awesome Canadian town. I  got a wild distaste for customs on this trip, but that is a story for another time. In this game, the D-Rays sent starter Esteban Yan to the hill. Yes, the same Yan who would become the Rays closer later in his career and provide massive puddles of sweat on the pitching rubber. But the game belonged to Blue Jays starter David Wells, who just seemed to have the D-Rays at bay all night in this contest. 

Wells threw a 7-hit 2-run game against the D-Rays, but the Rays Bullpen let the game get away from them in the end. In the bottom of the ninth inning, D-Rays reliever Albie Lopez gave up 2 runs to hand the Jays a 3-2 win.  After the game, I got my first taste of feeling a bit out of place when a French speaking woman was trying to have a conversation with me in a neighboring pub, but I could only understand every fifth word. I only took French 1 in college. Guess that day ended up as a total disaster for me, both on and off the turf.


www.bernssteakhouse.com

2001:                                 Off Day

I decided on this day to just go on out and hit a local James Beard recommended eater that boasts its steaks and fine conversation during an intimate dinner. It was the first time I had ever ventured into this South side of Tampa, and I made my Visa credit card pay dearly for it. I had heard the praise of the food and atmosphere around Bern’s Steakhouse for years, but this was my first entrance into the wine and steak primo emporium. If you have not heard of this fine dining experience, then you have missed out on some of the best foodie tales to ever tell at a cocktail party.

The interior is done in a classic French chateau style complete with the red velvet wall coverings and an over abundance of photos of people no one seems to know on the wall. But the real attraction is the telephone book wine list that has the World’s largest and most opulent collection of wines. An added bonus to all of this is an extended aging process on all of their beef offerings, which translates into a bit of ambrosia on your plate. I am going to stop here before I drool and ruin another computer keyboard.

2002:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees ( AWAY)

This was my first baseball venture into the Ballpark in the Bronx. And I did wear my Rays gear into Yankee Stadium and had a minimal stint of problems. I had secured a seat right above the Rays dugout using a Yankee insider friend I knew while playing football for a great ticket. This game was over rea
l early as Rays starter Travis Harper did not last 3.2 innings before Rays reliever Steve Kent came on in long relief. It was my third game on this date, and I was beginning to think I was the cause for the losing on this date.

But in reality, the team was up against Yankees starter Roger Clemens, and he threw a 3-hit, 1-run outing on that night.  Rays Leftfielder Steve Cox did have a good night, getting two of the hits in the game. My old buddy Greg Vaughn did get a hit as the DH  also during that night. But in the end, the Rays fell by a 10-3 score because of a pair of Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada home runs.

2003 :     Tampa Bay vs. Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)  

Here I am again venturing across the open borders on my trip to Canada, but this time I decided to bring a French phrase book (just in case). I decided to stay at Rogers Centre hotel this time, but it did not help in securing a win for the Rays. In this contest, my old Rays friend and current Jays starter Cory Lidle was throwing against the Rays. The Rays sent young starter Dewon Brazleton to the mound, who reminds me of Jeff Niemann sometimes, and he  quickly got roasted with 7-hits and 5-runs in the outing. This was also during the time when the Rays had John Rocker on their roster, and after the game I chatted with him a bit in the hotel lounge.

But the Rays were beginning in this 2003 to show signs of the emergence of one of their key players in the Rays future. This was Rays rookie Carl Crawford’s first full year in the MLB, and he had mixed results in this May 14th game. He did go 1 for 5 in the game, but Aubrey Huff was the star of this game, but even his bat was not enough as the Rays lost the contest 7-6. the Rays did try and mount a offensive counterattack by scoring 4 runs in the top of the eighth, but Jaye reliever Cliff Politte (Ironic a “Cliff” did me in) secured his fourth save of the season by shutting down the Rays offense.



Radioinsomnia@Flickr.com

2004:     Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians (AWAY)

This was my first venture to “The Jake”, and it was the first time I have ever been mesmerized by an “away” stadium. They were celebrating the 10th anniversary of “The Jake”, and it did not even look a few years old at that point. This was the night that my flight got delayed in Atlanta and I was still sitting on the tarmac at 5 pm EST, but  got on a alternate flight and the plane began its descent towards Cleveland-Hopkins Airport at about 20 minutes before game time. The plane banked just perfect so I could get a great shot of the stadium beaming with excitement.

I did not get into the stadium until the fourth inning, and it was “Ladies Night” at the ballpark. I have to say it was the best present I ever got seeing this stadium and going down to the Warehouse District and dancing until near dawn. I even got to catch a home run ball by Indians Casey Blake in the 10th inning of the game. Unfortunately, it was the game winner and I still have that ball in a special place in my collection. We lost that contest 8-7, and it was another friend, Rays reliever Lance Carter who gave up the home run to Blake that night.

2005:   Tampa Bay Rays vs, Kansas City Royals (AWAY)

This was my first post-football visit to Kansas City. I did my usual old habit of hitting a few BBQ joints before the game, but the contest was the real treat of the night. I had always loved to see that night starter, Hideo Nomo pitch in his younger years in LA. Now the Rays had this aging Japanese superstar on their team, and I was anxious to see him pitch tonight. But the Rays offense ended up coming up a bit short during the 6-5 loss. Rays hitters Chris Singleton and Nick Green did their best to try and finally pull out a May 14th win for me, but it was not in the cards again tonight.

2006:   Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays (HOME)

Yes, that is right. This is the only time I have seen the Rays play at home so far in their existence. But the home cooking was not enough this night as the Blue Jays took final control of the game in the top of the ninth to send the Rays faithful home miserable after a 8-3 beating. In the contest, the Rays gave up 3 additional runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach for the Rays.

Jays starter Josh Towers took the mound and was not overpowering, but the Jays defense kept them in the game and the Jays produced just enough offense to pull  the game out in the end. The Rays sent starter Casey Fossum to the mound and he had some success against the Jays, but could not keep the big inning from getting to him in the fifth. Rays reliever Chad Orvella gave up 3 doubles and a triple to Alex Rios that was the deathblow of the contest.

2007:                                 Off Day

Since we were going to begin a 3-game series at the Walt Disney starting this morning, I decided to head on out to O-town and do some wandering of the region. I have to admit I am a bad Floridian. I have never been to Sea World, and have only been to Walt Disney World (before this series) twice in my life. I have not even been there since 1984, but was looking forward to hitting both downtown Orlando and the Disney adult complex after the game that night.

Instead, after the contest I headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios and had a celebration dinner and then just hit the multitudes of clubs in the Orlando area. I did order an outstanding steak and lobster dish at the Hard Rock that gave me boundless amounts of energy for the night. I just wanted to have a great night before the Rays started their series the next day. I heard a rumor that Pop star Justin Timberlake was in the VIP area after doing some Nick show that afternoon. That is as close to getting “Sexy Back” as I have gotten in my life.


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2008:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees (AWAY)   

Back to old New York, New York. This would be my last trip into the old Yankee Stadium&nb
sp;haunts, and I tried to make the best of it. I did the usual Papaya King hot dog salute, and went down to Ground Zero, but I decided to sit in the Rightfield bleachers for this game. I do have to tell you I did get some wrath from the Bleacher Creatures at first, but by the end they were telling me a few places to have a post-game brew and maybe meet a Mets girl.

I think what went down better in their minds is the fact we lost a squeaker 2-1 to the Bronx Boys tonight.  Yankee starter Mike Mussina kept his dominance over the Rays intact and tight in this contest only giving up one run in the top of the sixth inning. This was also my first sighting of Joba Chamberlain, who did come into the game, but was gone just as quickly after walking 3 batters. James Shields also gave up all of the Yankee runs, but still pitched a great outing.

It was my last time to stroll amongst this hallowed baseball shrine, and I did take a stroll through Memorial Garden before the game. I even stayed a half hour after the game and was whisked out by security guards as I did not want to leave. But I did, still wearing my Rays gear and getting a few Bronx cheers, but nothing too bad to get me put into Fort Apache. But tonight was different from the other May 14th dates to me. I was at the last Rays game I would attend in this old iconic ballpark. I ended up sitting outside the front of the stadium for another half hour before finally heading to JFK to sleep before my 10 am flight back to Tampa International Airport.

2009:   Tampa Bay Rays vs Cleveland Indians (HOME)

On this night I had the feeling we might finally break the streak of not winning. Something in the air just felt different to me, and that gave me a immediate omen of a possible win. The Rays sent starter James Shields to the mound, but the Tribe quickly scalped him for 5 runs in the middle innings. It was a hole that the team would not come back from, even with 6-run effort to pull closer, the score was still 9-6 at the bottom of the sixth inning.

Just as quickly as we all began to sense a chance at victory in the stands after blanking the Tribe’s hitters in the top of the seventh inning, Rays reliever Grant Balfour gave up two runs and the Rays had to settle for a 11-7 loss. Even the ninth inning run by Ben Zorbrist on a Dioner Navarro double play, it brought the Rays only one more out and a chance to seal a final victory on May 14th. But B J Upton struck out to toss all those percentages down the drain. 

I hope I did not bore you too much with a special recollection on the date of May 14th through the Rays baseball times. I am lucky enough to have a home game again this season, and hopefully the team can break my curse of not getting a single victory on this date with me in attendance. You might notice that I had not included the date of May 14th 1998 on this blog. Well, that year I was here in St. Petersburg by my old dog’s side before he was to put to sleep. He had been my close ally for 15 years and had recently suffered a stroke and could not hold his balance well.

So I was not in Kansas City where the team fell 10-3 that night. As you can see, this can either be a day of rejoicing or pain depending on how you look at it. I see it as a beautiful day for baseball. I feel a bit older every day on this date (hint, hint), but what has not aged is the enthusiasm and joy I feel inside my soul on this date in relation to baseball. 

I truly have baseball in my heart of hearts, and I hope that shows most of the time. As I have gotten steadily older (about to enter another decade) I have been given the gift of remembrance of this date in time. And these past Rays games where I have either traveled or seen my favorite team take on the rest of the MLB from the comfort of my seat in Section 138 have all been classic birthday moments in my life.

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