Results tagged ‘ Johnny Damon ’

2013 Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament Was Simply Perfect

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I have mad respect and admiration for Jesse Litsch and Kevin Bechtel. It takes a special breed of person to give back year after year and make an event like their annual Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament grow larger and more respected every single year. And Litsch was a pure trooper this year just 4 weeks removed from surgery on his pitching shoulder and was there with energy to spare all day long bringing another huge positive vibe to the event.

Jesse Litsch Golf Tourney 2013 099 We all know this day of charity and great experiences is not just about the fun events like the Punt, Kick and Pass hole, or even hitting the ball off a tee for yardage, it is the bonding atmosphere and budding friendship vibe that encompasses this tournament from beginning to it’s final yearly conclusion that keeps people coming back, and telling their friends to also come experience the awesome event.

Jesse Litsch Golf Tourney 2013 104I do not know who or what sat Bechtel and Litsch together at that 2008 golf tourney awards dinner, but whatever it was, I can assure it has to have a grin from ear-to-ear because of their successes and forward motion to helping kids in the Northern reaches of Pinellas county and beyond. I have been a part of this grand day for the past 3 years and have personally seen it grow into the “Must Do” event that precedes the reporting dates for most of the MLB teams that migrate to this region in mid-February.

Jesse Litsch Golf Tourney 2013 072It is this duo’s shared passion and want to give back to their respective communities with a vengeance that has me eager and excited to come North to East Lake Woodlands Golf Course and spend a day with Jesse, Kevin and over a hundred of their golf celebrities and friends who also have charitable hearts. As the tournament has aged, so has their outreach to other needy organizations within this area.

Jesse Litsch Golf Tourney 2013 065Litsch first got to see a portion of Bechtel’s dream when he attended the 2008 “Bechtel’s Bike for Kids” program during the holidays when bikes and helmets were donated by Bechtel and then were loaded up by Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputies and distributed around the area. On that faithful night, the seed was planted that spawned this very event and the continuous expansion of focus towards helping more charitable kids programs.

After the success of 2012, the pair began helping the North Pinellas YMCA Summer Camp and have expanded their “Friends of Conner” involvement which benefits and helps children who are fighting cancer.

Jesse Litsch Golf Tourney 2013 036onner was there again this year and stayed only for part of the day since he had baseball practice at 3pm, but that reason in itself shows Conner is beating the big “C” and is living his life to the fullest. It was special seeing Conner this year get a photo with all around good guy Johnny Damon before the event started, and the pair talked for a bit and I think Conner inspired Johnny a bit that day (He later drained a 30-ft put on Hole 10).

At this year’s event we all got to meet another new “friend”, Dimitri or better known to all of us now as “D-Money”. Here is another crusader who is taking the fight to cancer, winning and showing all of us some amazing golf skills not only for someone of his age, but to the thrill of all of us young and old.

Jesse Litsch Golf Tourney 2013 136I watched in awe at Hole 9 as “D-Money” hit that ball almost on a string straight to the pin, only missing it by inches or getting a odd roll. More than once during the day Dimitri put his golf ball as close as anyone could, even a professional. If he keeps that up, “D-Money” will definitely get a shot to shoot the ball off a tee at Pebble Beach.

And it is great to see so many of these stellar athletes both young and retired mesh together with their parings and form memories and stories that will be told for years and years thanks to Litsch and Bechtel’s vision. I again walked the entire course and got nothing by waves and smiles from the pairings as they teed off, set up their putts or took a few moment to relax at the Red Bull “Oasis” at Hole 10.

Mixing the grand game of golf with a small slice of athletic challenges bring a unique energy to this event. Sure there is still the usual “Closest to the Pin”, and “Longest Drive” competitions, but the skills sometimes brings the celebrities and amateurs together bonding in both laughter and amazement.

Jesse Litsch Golf Tourney 2013 006But for me the best time of the event is the roll towards the end of the day. As dinner approaches the volume and capacity of the dining area grows with tales of the day. People gather who might not usual know each other as converse about the event, the silent auction items and even about a few celebrities at the next table or next to them in line at the buffet table. As the evening comes to a close awards are given out, people take a last chance at their auction wants, and new friendships and memories are sealed into us forever thanks to this event.

I can not thank George, Jesse, Kevin and Debbie enough for their hospitality over the last few years as I also got indoctrinated to this event and finding myself each January now saving the date for another round of fun and charity to support this organizations charities and objectives.

Jesse Litsch Golf Tourney 2013 016If you want a day of fun you will remember for a long, long time. Want to help children in the Northern reaches of Pinellas county and beyond, then you have to be a part of the 5th Annual Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament. But be warned, this event is addictive because once you have gotten a glimpse and taste of all the great times and experiences, you will be back again the next year knowing the golf again will be fantastic, the food delicious and the company on and off the course above par.

Hope to see you at the 2014 Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.

Here is a Flickr Link to a photo set of all the pictures taken during the 2012 Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament. All photos are public and can be saved to your computer if you want to print them. I never make my photos private so the great events moments can be shared by anyone and everyone.

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.

Has it Really Been a Year Since the ManDam Days?

It still doesn’t feel like we have gone full circle. Doesn’t seem to compute to 365 days, but it was 1 year ago today (January 31, 2010) that the most anticipated and exciting Press junket took off like a rocket. The anticipation and excitement within the room had the walls sweating, and more than a few of the assembled media members jockeying for the perfect photo of this grand Tampa Bay Rays moment.

The signing of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to me personally meant we were taking a giant leap of both faith and ability to get to the next level. Both men came to the Rays with World Series rings, plus a lingering bromance between the two MLB stars that bordered on a love-fest.

After the two traded volleys of compliments and platitudes amongst themselves, it seemed like this duo could be the eventual key to the Rays getting past the American League Divisional Series again and not just contend, but have a legitimate shot at seeing this young squad finally thrust skyward that long anticipated golden chalice. You had the feeling leaving that junket that these two MLB vets were here to win another crown and keep the drama to a minimal.

I still remember watching Manny and his father walking up to the Rays clubhouse in Port Charlotte, Florida on the day Pitchers and Catchers reported excited as Manny looked in great shape and had come in early to camp to talk with the staff, players and I even found my hand in his at some point. But we all know how the duo turned out.

One provided a perfect example of an MLB veteran thing and proved night after night his spunk, drive and a determination that has been previously unseen by a veteran in a Rays uniform. The other found himself suddenly an MLB outsider again after partaking in an illegal substance that took him instantly from the sparkling light of the Trop and into his own personal demon field.  I am still dumbfounded Manny did not take the penalty in stride, work to get back into a Rays uniform. Instead he packed-up, shipped out and seemed destined to fail for one of the first times in his career.

As Damon provided  a jolt of energized inspiration by his feats on and off the field, Manny found trouble on his own Florida home front.  I still want to somehow go back in time and shake Manny to and fro and wonder why he again slipped towards the dark side.  Manny signed for a small penance compared to his past contracts, and seemed he had something to show the rest of the league heading into the season.

I still wonder what could have transpired when Manny found his groove and could have been a great asset and weapon to keep American League pitchers’ honest against Evan Longoria. Instead Longo found himself with limited protection in the 5th spot in the batting order. If Manny had only kept himself straight, I shudder to think what each could have accomplished in 2011.

Both are long gone now. Damon pitching his skills and wares outside of his native state of Florida. Hoping to catch on with the Orioles and keep his AL East dream alive. Many have checked in on Manny this Winter, but so far no one has put a possible contract in front of him for 2012. There are rumors the Oakland Athletics might take a chance, but Billy Beane might have a few special provisions in that performance bonus laden contract before Manny has a chance to sign it.

What a difference 365 days have made. Carlos Pena is back in the Rays fold, All 5 2011 starters are still penciled-in for the Spring, and B J Upton is still a Ray. It is a shame the Man-Dam traveling road show could not produce and make the Rays decision harder this off-season to keep or give-up the duo. One showed his class for 180 days, the other was gone even before the blink of an eye. Still, the madness and pretense of that first Man-Dam press conference was one for the ages…..Makes you  realize sometimes things can be too good to be true….Sigh!

Would the Rays Entertain a Possible Man-Dam Reunion for 2012?

Last off season we became intrigued by the possibility that two men could hold the fortunes of the Tampa Bay Rays within their veterans hands. One provided a bit of stability to a offense that sometimes tumble, tumbled and fell upon it’s face, the other was a gamble, but not a costly one. Each player had their pros and cons for their addition to this young squad, and each blazed their own path for the season early, one falling from grace while the other was quickly embraced by the Rays Republic.

When Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez emerged for their 2011 Press Conference within the confines of Tropicana Field, the sky seemed the limit for these two aging gladiators of the AL East wars. Both brought a huge chunk of veteran promise towards eradicating and eliminating the offensive woes of this young Rays squad.

The Spring came and went with each providing moments that quickly gathered energy and excitement, with each accomplishment building more confidence within the Rays Republic as to their inclusion on the Rays roster. In the end, it was the stability and leadership of Damon, and the perplexity of “Manny being Manny” that played out their parts and determined each of their roles.

So here we are almost a year later and again both of their free agent names are producing a intriguing hum along the Coconut Telegraph as a potential Rays duo once again. But I have to ask this in advance this time, will the rubber hit the road with either of them in 2012, or could this be a possible “Pat the Bat” moment in waiting?

We all know each player has offensive merits, and their liabilities are well documented, but if the price is comparable to their 2011 salaries, could this be the momentum to include them again in the Rays fold? To what extent do we believe the sincerity of Ramirez, and do we believe Damon’s “youthful” 2011 campaign will play out miraculously again, or fall flat on its face. When veterans are brought in there are risk, but do the risks outweigh the stats when winning has to be archived to stay the course or ramp up wins in 2012?

Damon has hinted he would love to again don the Rays Carolina blue unis and stay within his home state for another Rays tour. But even within Damon’s statement there is a dark looming cloud that could not only wreck such a reunion, but could deflate it instantly. Even in the enthusiastic language displayed by Damon in his want for a return into the Rays fold, his hint of a possible migration to Houston has to bring up some interesting question marks.

Why would Damon want to glide into Minute Maid Park possibly for the 2012 season when that team will be entering it last tour of duty as a National League franchise. Because of Damon’s obvious defensive skill depreciation as a fielder, his optimistic attitude in possibly joining the Houston club at this juncture seems a bit odd. This same oratory would make more sense in the 2012 off season as the Houston club re-evaluates and re-tools for their own migration into the AL West.

Doesn’t it seem more apt and par for the course that Damon would return to the Rays for 2012 with a possibly of a small raise in pay and the same attendance incentives. This kind of move would give Damon a chance to start the 2012 season in Tampa Bay, then if the Rays show a talent/ win digression , he could be a solid Trade Deadline addition for the Maestros emerging as an early candidate for their 2013 Designated Hitter slot. You also have to ask yourself if Damon knows a piece of information or move we are not privy to, or if it is just pure conjecture on his part at this moment.

The double talk of Damon eventually showing his cards to both locales would seem moot to some, but the underlying questions is why is Damon showing his cards so early, and why even mention Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s name at all, especially since there is a slim chance of him leaving the Rays and going “home” to Houston. Damon is a smart guy, maybe he is playing the odds in both directions even though it could cost him a bit at the bargaining table in the end.

Then there is Ramirez. A guy who can drive you batty with his bat and dialog as well as his off-the-field distractions. We all know of his transgressions early in the 2011 season, and it is not worth time mentioning it past this sentence. Still, his domestic situation brings about its own red flags, and possibly makes his name quickly disappear from the Rays “Wish List” this off season, even at a huge discount.

Even though Ramirez has paid his supposed penances by removing himself from baseball for the entire 2011 season, will MLB mandate a 50-game sentence still before he can even step upon a MLB diamond. It might be a bit of time before the MLB honchos and the MLBPA sort out his options, eliminating him from the Rays equation by proxy.

I was not upset or even a bit surprised by the announcement of Ramirez’s suspension in 2011, but it still cuts deep into the Rays Republic’s aching heart when this past April, as the Rays floundered at the bottom of the AL East, Manny had to vacate the clubhouse bringing an unneeded and warranted distraction that could of cost the Rays more than just a dismal April.

Because Ramirez was not lighting up the Rays scoreboard or providing moments of clarity or brilliance at the time of his “reveal”, he was able to fade away basically because we let him. But could a Manny return be in the works possibly with Ramirez again giving a bargain basement price so he can again elevate his game and possibly bargaining chip as a trade piece come late July bringing the Rays an addition that could get them again into the October promised land.

I guess the answer all depends on your own opinions as to the ultimate worth of these two players, and if the risk is work the possible rewards, or keeping them out of the hands of divisional foes. These two names might not be heard loudly among the MLB Winter Meeting hallways in Dallas this week, but their presence even outside the comfort level of teams within their division will merit as least a glance in their direction.

So should the Rays even listen to a Manny conversation this off season, or just watch as he aligns himself possibly with the Baltimore Orioles or maybe even the New York Yankees and become a thorn in the Rays rise once again. You almost wish the Rays had the payroll of New York or the Boston Red Sox just so we can take him out of the American League East equation in every aspect. Problem is, if Manny comes back to the AL East in 2012, what penalty will MLB propose, or will he possibly be welcomed back with open arms having stayed away from the game for almost a year.

When Damon and Manny emerged for that Press Conference the room grew suddenly silent. There was an aire of dramatic change of realistic hopes of veterans of this caliber embracing this young team and their quest for another trip deep into the playoffs. Manny had to buy a ticket to see those games, Damon got a front row seat to watch this team mature before his eyes. Both took extremely different paths in 2011, but could a possible 2012 reunion or resolution tour be warranted?

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.

As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.

This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.

Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?

Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.

Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?

The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.

Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.

Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.

Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.

Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.

From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.

One Word Describes the 2011 Rays…Determined.

I was sitting somewhere last night and someone asked me one word that would describe the Tampa Bay Rays 2011 season. Instantly the thesaurus and dictionary capillaries went into overdrive. Images and events seems to transcend into my mind, clicks, bells and even a foghorn going off silently in my head until the one word seemed to shine bright…almost angelic to the forefront.

That word is determined.

That just seemed to fit this young crew of Rays this season. Baseball experts projected them fighting possibly for the third slot in the American League East, but rarely a soul found the courage to pronounce them “Wild Card” darlings. Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled the mantra “Find Another Way” deep into their collective psyches to show that the road to success this season would be determined by their own want and aspirations.

When the Rays announced their 2011 Most Valuable Player during their last home stand, you could have effectively split the trophy into 25 parts for each night it seemed a new hero, a determined athlete who wanted to celebrate not postulate came to the rescue of this Rays squad. From the Rays starters to the Bullpen, From First Base to the Right field corner this team was a determined unit, with each player having their shares of defining roles in this season.

It was simple inspirational to me to see the eternal youth of Johnny Damon steals bases, turn singles into extra base hits, show a excited and zestful leadership that turned the volume up on this team. Even guys like Sean Rodriguez, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer and Alex Cobb made impressions, showed their potential and raised the bar throughout this season. From veteran to rookie, this team seemed happy and content with passing the cap every night for someone else to lead the way to victory.

The confidence and the character displayed by the Rays rotation seemed to cement this mentality. They always pitched as if no lead was safe and minimal runs were needed. Even when their offense sputtered and shook, the Rays hurlers stepped up their game, produced amazing results and tried to make the bridge between starter and Bullpen one built on success not teeter-tottering towards the abyss. Always determined, the Rays all posted more than 10 wins, and Rays records seemed destined to fall nightly.

Even with Evan Longoria fighting injury and inconsistency, this team found other ways to produce, induce and collect runs, hits and amazing plays. I always think it shows the true spirit and merits of a team when their key figure has a bad night, or series and the guys around him rally and pull together to produce outstanding results. Sure Longo might have lost a few National followers with his down season, but locally, we saw his heart, his character tested and the end result was a determined athlete wanting to again get to that high level of expectation.

From the All-Star break on, Longoria found his rhythm, found his groove and along with the rest of the Rays, found a way to bypass the expectations and the naysayers to celebrate Mumm’s style. B J Upton has taken a lot of strife and ridicule over the past few years for his base running gaffs and his seemingly lack of hustle, but this season he showed his bat still has the goods, and his defense is up there with anyone in the Major Leagues.

When the going got tough, Upton stepped up his game determined to make more than a few broadcasters whisper, make more than a few teams fear his bat, his speed and his skill in the field. He might not have had an All Star season, but Upton did have a season worth remembering. His stats might not glow bright into the night, but his timely strokes and impressive defense kept the Rays in games when most fans around the ballpark thought the Rays would flounder. Upton became a clubhouse leader, even if the rest of the stadium didn’t know it.

The essence of this 2011 Rays team was based purely on determination. Every game they seemed to be the underdog, and they pulled out magic. On the road they stepped up their game to historical heights, almost seeming like they were possessed on the road while bedeviled at home. When their home record finally reached the .500 mark, they began to watch it also soar as high as their post season aspirations.

The 2011 edition of the Rays is firmly in the books, their legacy is bound not by their win and loss record, but by the feats and accolades of determination, spirit and never giving in to the temptation of failure. Truly the word “determined” fits this team like a glove from the exploits of Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to the mystical magic of Matt Moore this Rays squad might have started their own simplistic dynasty built on the sole virtues of eluding defeat, embrace success and showing determination can be the virtue that rewards those willing to sacrifice, strive for the brass ring, and willing to endure.

Maybe the 2012 Webster’s Dictionary will include the 2011 Rays Team Photo…..seems only fitting.

Removing the Stinger Slowly

Now matter how it happens, it still stings. Right now it feels like the barb is stuck deep within my heart and is twisting, bringing about another bout of painful remembrances. No matter if it was through a blaze of glory or just simply a laying down of the weapons of battle, seeing defeat come swiftly and stare you straight in the face is a biotch. This morning the air is not cleaner, the grass is not greener and another chapter in my Tampa Bay Rays life has been slammed shut by a bunch of Rangers.

It is not like I didn’t know this day might happen, I just wanted to linger, for a possible long savoring of the moment when the lights finally dimmed and the reality of the season was stuffed into our frontal lobes. I wanted to scream “This is not fair”, but in reality it is how the game is played and champion are born.

Sure I dreamed of a long long walk in October for the Rays, but somewhere the gears and the forward inertia just seemed stuck in slow motion. The reality was the one dark spot surrounding this otherwise bright and illuminating Rays squad dealt them their death card. It was not for the lack of effort, for the twisting of fate in the non-existent wind in Tropicana Field, but a lack of solid contact consistency.

For again the demonic invention of the “swing and miss” haunted this Rays club. They fought back this darkness at moments, but could not exterminate its festering and accumulation. It’s carnage bringing about an untimely end to the joy and excitement of the game for another season. Baseball is done for me for 2011. I will not hibernate, hide in sorrow or fester in the replaying of misdeeds and missed opportunities.

I plan to relish the affirmative over the coming months. Pull out the festering darkness and bring a new lantern forward for 2012. For the 2012 season will mark this franchises 15th season, and that is something worth a lofty celebration homage right now. As Rays Designated Hitter Johnny Damon packs his gear to surrender to the realization of another year categorized, there is hope he might again enter the Rays clubhouse doors in the Spring of 2012.

Even with this gloomy ending hanging over their shoulders right now, this young Rays club have nothing to fear. The experience of not only the post season, but battling the cursed critics deposing of this squad in early September, throwing down those verbage bonds and emerging as a unified band of brothers.

This early exit, this unforeseen post season journey has matured this team, bonded them forever and shown all of us in Tampa Bay that fighting for what you believe in will be ingrained in this Rays culture for a long, long time. Some might say I am waxing a bit too poetic right now, but that is what is flowing from my cranium. I am not emotionally deceased right now, only morally bankrupt and need a moment to myself.

Saying “goodbye” even to a grand season where you see your squad bashed the expected and transverse beyond the realistic is one to always remember. 3 out of the past 4 years I have had these same emotions at this juncture, and the pain of realism has not damped one iota.

In the end I did not stand and clap at the end of yesterday’s contest to salute the Rangers defeat as their celebration upon our AstroTurf felt like someone pulling their swords out of our Rays lifeless carcass, I stood and applauded the 33 men who fought from April’s dismal start to Evan Longoria’s solo shot to get the post season party started in full gear.

Even though right now a air of sadness envelopes this Tampa Bay region and within the Trop. Feel proud this team pulled off what was previously thought to be impossible. Have pride in the fight and determination of this Rays crew to not buckle to convention, but thrust forward into the darkness still hoping for a shade of light, a renewed vigor, a embracing kiss from fate, destiny and hope that all is possible if you believe.

Been a long season patched together with grit, patience and the bonding of a group of guys I admire and trust will again in 2012 have that same internal fire and pride to again take us on another glorious ride. It is a ride I will dream and relish until mid-February when we can start it all over again.

It still stings like a barb twisted deep within me. Still has that poison coursing through me reminding me of the down turned faces and absence of smiles when the final card was dealt. I am slowly easing that barb out of my heart and replacing it with a new zeal and zest for the revival of these Rays again in the Spring of 2012. This wound will heal, the pain will subdue and again in a few months, we will fall in love with the game and this motley crew of Rays….and do it all over again.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



10 Years Later, “Heart and Hustle, Redux”

2011 is the 10th anniversary of the Tampa Bay Rays up tempo slogan “Heart and Hustle” that signified and branded a Rays squad consisting of a hodge podge of vets and rookies who meshed together to play a energized style of Rays baseball. Sounds kind of familiar?

That same highly energized and enthusiastic slogan could easily be stamped upon this 2011 Rays squad. Truly it is the essence of this team’s “ fire in the belly “heart and “never say die” hustle that has lead this ball club from the April darkness of the American League East cellar to them gaining momentum, slowly escalating onward and upward towards a 6-game shootout with the slumping Boston Red Sox and surging Los Angeles Angels for the potential AL Wild Card post season prize.

Even 10 years later, heart and hustle still seem to be firmly within the foundation and backbone of the Rays team culture. From the extreme performance last night from their youngest player on their roster RP/SP Matt Moore to a their oldest “young at heart” performer OF/DH Johnny Damon who only has to look at his ring fingers to visually show he can help lead this young maturing band of baseball brothers to that last glorious plateau in late October.

 I mean how can you root against a team where Damon, who was born in 1973 is still grinding out extra base hits and stealing bases like rookie sensation Desmond Jennings. Just because Damon is adding nightly to his future Hall of Fame resume, the pure magic he sees within this team is not lost on him that the Rays have the drive and confidence to take this thing to its final destination, then party like rock stars.

Even the Rays usual whipping boy B J Upton has pushed his numbers high and higher as the number of games diminish, possibly knowing within his mind this might be his last chance at post season glory with this Rays club before the Winter could dish out a harsh reality to him and the Rays Republic. Right now Upton is playing like a man possessed, or who knows the window of opportunity is beginning to be shut.

Do not get me started on this Rays rotation where from top to bottom we have seen 10+ wins by each starter, and had glimpses of magic from often maligned SP Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann. We have seen Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson get a secondary nickname just for 2011, “HellROY” as he burns towards the finish line.

Even the Rays rookies are set to make a little history of their own as Jennings needs only 2 stolen bases over the next 6 games to become the first AL rookie with 10 HR and 20 SB since the Rays own Rocco Baldelli and Kansas City’s Angel Berroa set the mark in 2003. Hellickson has a .290 ERA and a .208 opponent average, the fifth best rookie performance…ever.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mantra of “pitching sets the tone” has definitely sparked some beautiful music from his hurlers as the Rays collectively have held the American League to a .236 average. The last AL team to post such numbers was the 2001 Mariners who had the same .236 average. Oh, and by the way, that Mariners club made the playoffs. Rays starters have gone 7+ innings 77 times, 21 times more than the second closest squad, their AL East rivals the New York Yankees.

Amazing enough, this Rays pitching staff has thrown 1,024.1 innings (most in AL) and leads the AL with a 3.51 ERA, 15 complete games and has allowed an AL-low 593 runs. All this by a staff that has seen all 156 prior 2011 Rays game started by pitchers drafted and developed by the Rays, the only team in the majors this season who can boast that claim. Plus, they are riding a 758 consecutive streak of starters under the age of 30…an MLB record.

Along with their upward trend in pitching, the Rays have solidified their overall defense to the tone that the Rays have committed the least errors in the Majors (69), and their combined .988 Fielding Percentage is tied with NL powerhouse Philadelphia for the top slot in the MLB. Talk about “hustle”, this Rays team has committed only 4 errors in their last 17 games, and only 17 in their past 53 contests.

If ever there was a Rays team that demonstrated that mantra of “Heart and Hustle”, it is this 2011 squad. This Rays squad was 9 games out of playoff contention on September 2, 2011. No other team in MLB history has overcome that many games in September to get into the post season. The closest comparison would be the St. Louis Cardinals (who trained in St. Petersburg, Fl) who were in 3rd place and trailed the Philadelphia Phillies by 8.5 games on September 3, 1964.

History is definitely on the Rays side right now as the Rays have already secured their 4th straight 10 win seasonal series against tonight’s foe, the Toronto Blue Jays, the most against any Rays opponent. The Rays are also a combined 25-8 against the pesky bird in Tropicana Field over that same time period. Also working into the Rays favor is their lifetime 6-4 record against the Yankees in the last series of the season, including a dismal 1-2 mark in 1999.

Since 2001, the Rays have beaten New York by a 5-2 mark during the last series of the season at Tropicana Field. This 2011 squad has a chance to possibly duplicate some more late season angst upon the 2011 AL East Champion Yankee just as they did back in 2001 when the Yankees won the AL East and the Rays beat them 3 out of 4 games heading into the post season

The Rays past “Heart and Hustle” campaign centered on their rising stars and a few veterans getting their last swings at glory. Maybe we should collectively called this Rays prospect of the Rays 2011 Renaissance and possibly Rays history repeating itself, “Heart and Hustle Redux”. I think it fits perfectly like a glove.

No Pressure, Rays Just Need to Win

This Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankees final 6-game battle royale needs no hype, and definitely needs no extra drama. It is the classic tale of lower (payroll) class rising up against the established norm. A meager collection of gutsy veterans and energized rookies banging their heads with Major League Baseball’s anointed ones who’s own city treats them like royalty.

It is the tale of the player who still drives the car he bought with his MLB Draft signing bonus against the one’s who could buy a new auto for everyone in the clubhouse and still have money to valet each car. One is a team steeped in baseball lore with legends of greatness, longevity and feats of power unknown to the other squad.

Yankees versus Rays has all that connective lore and more, much more. The pinstripe now have the Rays initial franchise Manager acting as their Pitching Coach, while the Rays have the Yankees long time staple as their Senior Advisor. Interesting enough, so many thought current Yankee skipper Joe Girardi was going to be the Rays Manager after Lou Pineilla until the cerebral Merlot Joe won the gig.

There is bad blood that stems as far back as Spring 2008, with the aggressor of that day Rays INF Elliot Johnson on the field this series, and Franklin Cervelli again out with an injury, but not due to a 2011 plate collision with Johnson. Out in the Yankees Bullpen the Rays 2010 closer is being used as a set-up man while former Yankee RP Kyle Farnsworth is biting at the bit to get back into his closer’s saddle.

Both of these teams used to train in St. Petersburg, Florida in the Spring, with some saying departed Yankee greats still haunt the old ballfields. Yankees even still call Tampa Bay their Spring home, nestled behind the blue-hued fences off Dale Mabry and within view of an NFL stadium.

These teams are so much alike, but so different at the same notion. The Rays have been able to use their Save-a-Lot budget tactics to bring 2 American League East title to their dome catwalks in 3 seasons. The Yankees are the only other team over the last 4 years to equal the Rays AL East haul, and that is if the New York squad can hold off the ram-rod Rays in their final 6-game showdowns in 2011.

Before last night’s loss, their was fodder sinking and flowing around the web that if the Rays went 10-0, they would command the AL East title for the third time in four seasons, besting the high dollar Boston Red Sox and Yankees with a payroll that is less than their bench players make…combined. Maybe there is something to that “Moneyball” shenanigans.

Most have come into this series with the pure thought that the Rays will have to duplicate their “Fenway magic” in the replica Yankee Stadium if they are to fully send the Red Sox Nation into a tailspin, even before their upcoming 3-game weekend slate with these same Pinstripes. More importantly, this Yankee club would like to see nothing better than to see the Red Sox and their Nation try and justify out this recent plunder into the deep recesses of failure.

But the Rays are not going into this Yankee series without reservations. Their offense needs to crank itself up a notch, particularly with left-handed hitter aiming for the Rightfield short porch. Rays DH Johnny Damon needs to revisit a few of his Pinstripe past moments of pushing the ball into the stands, possibly aiding in the Rays taking 3 out of 4.

Even if the Rays play perfect ball both from their defense to their starting pitching, mistakes and lapses in judgment even at the plate can not be tolerated. Rays 2B/RF Ben Zobrist has to come into the nightcap game with vision of his newborn daughter dancing in his head, and a goal of planting a few souvenirs into the famed outfield stands.

Doesn’t matter who is on the hill to start, the Rays have the hurlers to keep the series interesting, the question is which Rays offense will show up…the anemic Baltimore crew who looked like they had food poisoning during their 3-game debacle or the swatting squad that sent Red Sox Nation scurrying onto Yakey Way talking to themselves about their darking fate.

The Rays have nothing to lose, and should play the Yankees with abandon knowing their fate lies firmly within their own hands, The Yankees do not have that luxury. Defeats will bring about worry and doubt heading into the final stretch, which would favor their adversary. Consider the fact that the Yankees have to play both Tampa Bay and Boston over that 10 game stretch, and the pressure cooker is gaining steam for the Yankees.

The possibilities of securing back-to-back series wins is firmly planted within the minds of the Rays, and the Bombers will do everything short of urban warfare to secure and safely conceal their quest of another AL East crown. Emotions will be sky high on both sides of the field as the Yankees still have a lingering hole in their souls after losing the AL East title on their last grasp in 2010.

If the Rays play the way they did in their 4 games in Boston and take the game to the Yankees, even during their day/night double-dose, this Rays team might have to all go have dinner at the Cracker Barrel a few blocks from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. For if this Rays team does the same to the Yankees that they just did to the Red Sox, when the Rays land late Thursday evening maybe Maddon should buy the whole team “meatloaf with a side of gravy” upon their return. I can smell it already. 

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