Results tagged ‘ Johnny Damon ’

Rays Wives to Host Mystery Ball Event on Saturday


I am a sucker for wrapped mystery gifts.  I love them because you never have a clear indication or ryhyme or reason of its enclosed contents but just pure imagination sprinkled with unadulterated speculation and kid-like wonder. Well this Saturday before the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox take the field, the Rays Wives will try and emulate that sense of joyous euphoria again on Saturday.

The Rays Wive’s “Mystery Ball” event will give Rays fan a chance at that rush of wonder and amazement as they offer $ 30 mystery bags filled with an autographed baseball. Who knows if it is a team signed ball, one with the awesome “Garfoose” illustration by former Ray Dirk Hayhurst, or a cherished David Price or Johnny Damon autograph. It will be just like opening your presents on Christmas morning, but in 72 degree comfort.

The event is being held to benefit St. Petersburg’s All Children’s Hospital. The plucking of your bag will be similar to the bag selection process the Rays have held during previous Fan Fest events as fans who pluck down $ 30 could receive a cherished new baseball heirloom signed by one or several Rays players.

As an added bonus, Allison Shelton, wife of Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton have worked diligently this season getting autographs not only from the Rays players, but also secured the penmanship markings from players who have visited Tropicana Field this season. A grand total of 600 signed balls will be available on Saturday, including autographs by the entire 2008 Rays team that went to the World Series.

Number 1 with our guys, they’re always willing to get behind a charity,” Derek said. “But particularly this one since it’s All Children’s Hospital, a place many of us have taken our kids, and a place so close to where we work. They made getting the items easy. And all the players were gracious while doing so.”

The Rays Wives will be stationed at Gate 1 and Gate 5 starting when the doors open at 5:10 pm. A silent auction will also be held just outside the Whitney Bank Club where many unique treasures like a Johnny Damon signed bat, a glove signed by the “Legend” Sam Fuld and a authentic MLB base signed by B J Upton.

This event is another great opportunity for not only the Rays Republic to commandeer some authentic autograph and share in that gift of giving, it can be a nice and exciting way to help support one of the near and dear charities that is close to the Rays hearts. Who knows, you might be the lucky one to pick the mystery bag that contains an entire rawhide ball encrusted with the signature of every member of the Rays 2008 World Series team…….I know I am raiding the ATM tonight.

The August “Whack-A-Mole” Experience

I love the smell in the morning of the August Trade Waiver drama. It is simply surprising to see who get through this seasonal “Whack-A -Mole” fandango without a single waiver claim, and those who find themselves popped on the noggin being smacked back to the reality of possibly leaving their present squad.

It sometimes seem to work exactly like that classic kid’s arcade game. Every MLB team has their own mallet that they can either whack or smack their collective desired player (mole) square on the head and try and claim them. But the wild part is their present team can pull them back down into the safety of their own 25-man roster and back off the waiver wire with not a hint of their real intentions.

It is clear arcade gamesmanship at it best. The first action of a team posting it player upon the waiver wire is exactly like the mole poking his head out of the hole. Up for all 29 other MLB head honchos to see and possibly mangle for their own team. But here is where it gets really interesting, the team that posts the player has all the advantages, not the person manning the heavy mallet.

You would think it would be the opposite, but then you would be sorely wrong. Even thought it might be a nice therapeutic action to pop a veteran or budding MLB player on the head, he could without warning be pulled back, offered safety again without his claiming club getting a viable chance to claim their prize. Not even a slew of tickets would emerge from the machine, sometimes this game is all or nothing.

That is where the real gamesmanship comes into play. Sure you could smack the daylights out of a player like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields when his head pops out of the machine, but the Rays front office could be also baiting you for a Winter discussion and pull Shields back into the comfort of the Rays fold. Suddenly you are left holding the bloody mallet with all to see you covet Shields.

Most of the time this scenario is the end result. Teams place the heads of their viable commodities firmly in the game to see who wants to take a whack at acquiring them, or has more than a passing interest. Some like Rays OF/DH Johnny Damon got completely through the game without a single thump upon the noggin, but still there might be a hidden want for his services.

It is almost like a visual game where others see what you are craving, wanting to thump into submission and take back to your roster as a prize. Interesting enough, even if you land one hard and heavy upon the exposed head of Shield’s, the Rays can pull him back to safety and he is no longer an exposed asset for the rest of the MLB to smash and dash.

Shields is not the only Rays player to be pulled back into his team’s safe haven with at least one square hit to his cap region. The Rays Republic have even seen their closer Kyle Farnsworth get a firm planting upon his frontal lobe, but the Rays pulled him back to the comfort of the Bullpen. B J Upton has been the latest Ray to receive a compound headache and a possible plane ticket out of Tampa Bay.

The Rays can either discuss a trade possibility, or pull Upton back into the Rays confines safe until at least the Winter Hot Stove season. The Upton talks or balks will be interesting. It will showcase either that Upton is a viable part of the Rays current post season march, or Desmond Jennings or Sam Fuld have started to erase the “Upton factor” from the Rays game plan.

More intriguing is the firm possibility that Upton was claimed by an American League team that has a good relationship via the trade with Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and could facilitate an Upton move with a few healthy and young and budding MLB relief options in their present fold. Should be a few interesting days until either the Rays pull Upton back to the safe confines, or send him to possibly play with the seagulls nightly up at a vista on the Great Lakes.

During this waiver period the Rays will pop out many of the Rays rostered minions hoping to find the right suitor, trade situation and possibly a future piece of the Rays always unfolding puzzle. This is not a game about “likes” or “dislikes”, it is still about a game where the person with the most toys win. And to win in this business, some times you got to whack a few moles. 

Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

Always a great guessing game trying to decipher correctly the needs, wants and desire of any of the 29 other MLB squads for anyone on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Sure there might be a few GM’s just coming by doing some future window shopping or prod and nudge a bit of the merchandise, but is there really any top shelf Rays that will exit before the end of the Trade Deadline?

Can’t be easy time span for a player either with a large contract or even a “ walk” season under their belt until the clock strikes midnight on August 1st. Sure even then deals can still be hashed out, but the large majority of the transactions will be at least attempted in the next few working days. But even the best deal can be stricken down by the might pen of the M L B Commissioner Bud Selig if it seems unfair or has too much cash considerations.

So who among the 25 currently rostered Rays players do you think will garner the most attention? Who do you feel will be showcased now for departure in the off season? There are plenty of options, including a few that could either make or break the Rays post season surge. Then again, if the Rays do go into a tailspin over the next few series( Kansas City/Oakland/Toronto), they could instead purge before the last moments in July?

Even the Great Kreskin would have a difficult time trying to summarize some of the gossip and whispers currently doing the rounds in the MLB circle. With the emergence of SP Alex Cobb and Rays Manager Joe Maddon staying with a 6-man rotation. Could this be a precursor to a starter leaving town?

James Shields has reconstructed his delivery and career to a point some teams are eager to get a guy who can push out innings and provide strikeouts. Shields might have de-valued himself a tad during his recent 4-game tailspin.  With a team friendly $ 7 million dollar salary for 2012, Shields is still affordable and could be in the plastic bubble until this time in 2012.

Do the Rays instead sell high on SP Jeff Niemann while he is on his own hot streak? The Tall Texan might not garner a top tier return, but a few teams do have veterans who might walk after this season, and if they fit into the Rays mold….Niemann could be on a flight by August 1st.

With that in mind, why not put SP/RP Andy Sonnanstine on the top shelf to see who wanders by for a long look. Sonny has all the qualities a good team needs with MLB experience, stability and is a solid “company man”. He can be used in a variety of ways, and his tenure with the Rays might be on unstable ground with the emergence of Cobb and others pushing hard to break through the Triple-A ceiling to the majors. Sonny, like Niemann will not collect a bevy of returns, but his shelf life with the Rays might be getting near its expiration point.

Cesar Ramos is a southpaw, and with the Rays currently having 3 in their Bullpen, excess might not be the keys to the Rays Bullpen success. He might bring in a better haul than Sonny, but knowing the Rays and their love of the crafty lefties, he might stick. Still, the Rays would not offer up fellow relievers Jake McGee or J P Howell unless the return was something they could not refuse.

That brings us to the Rays field players. A few names possibly jump out at you, but one that I truly think is “off limits” is First Baseman Casey Kotchman. The job he has done since he cemented himself at First has been incredible. With only 1 error this season, Kotchman might be tied to this Rays team soon for the next 3 years. I have heard a few whispers in the hallways.

In the infield, with the thoughts also swirling that SS Reid Brignac is taking backward steps, this effectively closes any possible discussions on Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez. Their stability will be needed now more than ever, and cutting loose even one of the pair would be disastrous unless an infield MLB caliber upgrade is received.

With the recent injuries surrounding the catching position, it might be a hidden blessing for C Kelly Shoppach. Still, the Rays could deal the often offensively maligned backstop for prospects, or maybe even a little cash. The market is not seeking Shoppach with gusto, but a back-up with experience heading into the stressful last months of the season and beyond can be a blessing to a young team.

That leaves the outfield has one of the biggest question marks with at least 4 possible Rays players getting a few glances and maybe trade discussions. Still think Desmond Jennings is here to be looked at by not only the Rays, but by 29 other teams. I really think the Rays have a lot of questions about Jennings, and he could be traded for the right package.

You might have thought I would thrust B J Upton in the top spot for trade discussion, but I truly think the Rays will keep Upton until the end of the 2011 season, then listen intently to offers. Upton might not be the most attentive player on the bases, but he plays solid defense and has trimmed his swing a bit to be more productive. Who in their right mind thought he would get over 15 Hrs in 2011?

Still, with the Washington Nationals eager for Upton, and with names like INF Ian Desmond or RP Drew Storen being put on the end of the pole, the Rays could bite and fill a future hole in their team with young replacements who are starting to show their MLB potentials. Still it is a long shot these names are included with Upton’s’. Then again, Friedman can deliver brilliance with Bull-hockey pucks.

The guy who might garner the most outfield attention doesn’t actually play there on a daily basis. Johnny Damon could bring a nice haul in return from a team on the cusp of contention, or wanting to stay hard in the race until the end. But is he worth the gamble of leaving with the type of offense and ability to help charge up this team with a single swing?

You can’t buy that kind of massive production on and off the field this time of year. But if the Rays are truly in a mood to upgrade now, Damon might be the perfect carrot to dangle in front of the MLB herd. There is another player who has emerged to a point his status might be at its zenith, and a downward spiral is definitely in the cards.

I think the world of the abilities and freestyle aerial moves of Sam Fuld, but I also know MLB is treating him more like a novelty act right now than a budding star or long producing commodity. Here is another Rays player who might be at the peak of his trade value right now. Combine his on-field heroics with his solid base running and you get a nice threat either off the bench or in the field heading into the post season.

There is still the possibilities the Rays just bluff and stay with their current format, but the more realistic approach is someone will go, changes will be made. Upton should be planted in CF until the off season, Shields even though he turns 30 in December is a great anchor for this Rays rotation.

That being said, Sonny and Niemann could be on the “watch list” and be the two pitchers most likely to exit stage left. Shoppach could still be dealt even with the Rays catching corp down to their bare knuckles. This is one part of the Rays farm system that seems loaded for bear, and could endure a spell without remorse.

Jennings is the Rays top field prospect, and I have a sneaking feeling his up-coming promotion to “The Show” has a hidden agenda. Exposing Jennings to MLB caliber pitching with 10 days left could persuade someone to take a risk or gamble on a guy who might not be considered the best outfielder even on his Triple-A squad. But if the Rays do keep Jennings, Upton better look over his shoulder later in the season.

Fuld might be safe, but if his average goes South along with his “Legend”, his time and days will be numbered. Damon is the best Rays commodity right now and might be plucked. But Friedman will not trade him for a “rental” player or even a marginal player or prospects. When you have a guy who is putting up consistent numbers like Damon, the price tag has a few zeros in it, even for the short term.

This is the time of the year where guessing, predictions and even off-the-cuff remarks come with a glance from the baseball world. Teams want to chuck, acquire and sometimes streamline for different reasons. The only reasons any of these players might be plucked off the Rays roster is if this team truly thinks they have the horses for a playoff run.

Upgrading by trading would be the only reason right now the Rays would open their doors for change. 

Joyce is Enjoying the View at the Summit of the MLB Mountain

You knew the moment you first heard the distinctive sound of the ball of his bat Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce had ” it” within him. You always suspected that the burning fires ran deep and that his true passion for this game ran white hot. Suddenly Fantasy gurus around the Major Leagues are starting to chatter about his name, but we always knew he just needed reps in the box to prove he is no platoon player.


And I do not mean that as a disrespectful phrase, but before his recent outburst square onto the MLB radar, some started to label him as a ” specialist”, possibly downgrading his skill set in the process. But we know that is not what got Joyce red hot in the last few months, it more an extended amount of playing time by his Rays Skipper Joe Maddon that finally showed everyone outside of the Rays Republic that Joyce can smash a left-hander as well as a rightie any day of the week.

Amazing that coming into this off day for the Rays, Joyce is leading the Major Leagues in batting average (.367) a full 18 points above the second player, St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday (.349). Even more impressive is the fact Joyce has now led the American League in hitting for over 10 days.

 TEN Days. Think about that for a moment. Here is a guy who some had destined as a platoon positional player back in the Spring, but is having the ball come to the plate looking like a neon softball and he is hitting it all over the place. 10 days shows that a pattern is beginning to develop. Sure Joyce possibly can not keep this torrid pace up, but it suffices to say with a .429 average while hitting safely in 22 of his last 25 games, Joyce could pitch his tent in Rightfield.

Joyce has always had a great knack of destroying right-handed hurlers and is currently leads the Majors with a .397 average against righties. To put Joyce’s achievement into a further enlightened prospective, Joyce’s current 1.071 OPS ranks 3rd overall within Major League Baseball, and only Cardinals surprise Lance Berkman (1.113 OPS) and Toronto’s Jose Bautista boast a higher OPS at this moment.

Sure people are going to point immediately towards Joyce’s dismal .190 average against Southpaws, but with time, that stat also will see a nice rise as he gets comfortable and having a veteran leftie-killer like Johnny Damon ( .286 average) next to you on the bench, sooner or later something is going to rub off and click within Joyce’s left-on-left battles.

When you are riding a 5-game hitting streak where you are slugging the ball at a current .471 average and have been helping with run production with a .407 average with Runners In Scoring Position, you might a few extra hacks against the lefties in the AL. But this is the potential we have been waiting patiently to surface in Joyce for the past two seasons.

There have been glimpses of the magic, but like a sparkler, it faded with time. For some reason this time feels a bit different. His hitting chart shows a little more of a spread pattern, and the sound of the ball off his bat just sounds different. Possibly the “softball” analogy might be happening to Joyce right now, and he will take it and plaster a few all around the ballpark.

This is the latest in a MLB Season that a Rays has held that coveted top spot in the American League in hitting. A few years ago former Rays SS Jason Bartlett had his time trying to maintain a bit of consistency, but finally fell by the wayside.

Joyce could also see a bit of a slide, but already he is on pace for a career high batting average, a new high in MLB Home Runs and RBI, plus a chance to shatter the 92-game mark he posted in Detroit back in 2008.

Right now the Tampa-born Joyce is enjoying his new found fame, soaking up everything he can learn from Damon, and basking in the cheers as he heads out nightly in Rightfield. It’s always great to see a guy hit is potential, even better to see him blast past it and explode on the MLB scene with gusto.

Rays Machine Churning and Burning Right Now

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“Over 162 games, if my big guys are
hitting and we get even halfway decent pitching, we’ll beat their (
our opponents) brains out.”


The above quote might seem more in
place possibly coming out of the mouth of someone within the Tampa
Bay Rays organization after the the solid efforts during Thursday’s
day/night double bubble victory tour against the hapless Minnesota
Twins. But it was not a quote from anyone within the Rays.

This quote was spoken loud and clear by
the late Cincinnati Reds Manager Sparky Anderson back when his “Big
Red Machine
” was still churning on 4 economical cylinders. But the
quote did have pertinent reference points to the Rays dismantling of
the Twins.


For some reason the outdoor confines of
the Twin’s Target Field seemed more welcoming to the style of play by
the visitors over the last three games. For some reason the usually
consistent Twins pitching staff turned into Batting Practice pitchers
at times, while at other resembled a mire shell of themselves.

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Some say the Rays were inhospitable
house guests as the two teams concluded their seasonal series with
the Rays knocking the breath of out the chests of the Twins in all
three contests. Heroes emerged for the Rays, pitching became a rising
star for this squad.


Anderson is so right, when all
cylinders are churning and both ends of the Rays machine is
producing, it is a glorious time to boast about the Rays. From this
series special moments like Johnny Damon extending his new Rays April
hitting streak record to 16 games. Damon had a 15-game streak last
season when he was with the Tigers. Matt Joyce, who is daily finding
more confidence and swagger went 4 for 8 and saw his average rise
from .290 to .313 during the twin bill.

Rays starters Jeremy Hellickson and
Jeff Niemann never seemed under duress or in any significant danger
of losing their contests at any point with each going past the 6.1
inning mark while both securing wins for their efforts. Before the
double-dipper, the Rays starters had gone 11 games still standing on
the mound during the 7th inning. The team had collectively
tossed a 2.67 ERA up, and held their opponents to a .215 batting
average.

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Niemann especially had me at hello last
night tossing some of the best baseball of his career and held the
Twins hitless until the bottom of the 7th when Tampa
native Denard Span who was facing a 3-2 count sent a ball into
shallow leftfield out of the reach of both OF Sam Fuld and SS Elliot
Johnson. Neimann ended up surrendering his only other hit of the game
on an RBI single by Twins 1B Justin Morneau. Great to see Jeffery the
Giraffe finally show why we all like his downhill pitching style


At no point in either of these games
did the Rays pitching staff have any significant threats or run
producing explosions to duplicate the Rays sudden offensive
bombardment. In three games the Rays posted 29 runs to the Twins 6
runs. It wasn’t a case of the Rays going against the Twins at their
low point, it was the Twins error to be playing the Rays as their
offense awoke and decided to thrust its might.

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But you can not discount the
significant and tremendous role uber utility man extraordinare Ben
Zobrist provided in this series. Zobrist who had been struggling a
bit at the plate at times with consistency has now hit 6 Home Runs in
his last 12 games. Finally Zobrist is materializing back into the
“Zorilla” of 2008 that we need right now to lead this club
offensively.


We all know Worldwide about his Rays
record 8 RBI eruption in the day game of the double douse y, but
overall Zobrist went from 31st in the RBI Leaders list to
Numero Uno in a lightning flash. Zorilla eclipsed the previous Rays
RBI record of 7 RBI’s held by Carlos Pena, and was the first
explosion of it’s type since Blue Jay Adam Lind back on August 2009
when he posted 8 RBIs on the Texas Rangers.

Lost in all the big numbers is the fact
Zobrist is now riding a 3-game hitting streak himself and boosted his
own batting average from .203 to .258 at the end of the night. Along
the way in this back-to-back series of game Zobrist produced a solid
7 for 10 stream along with 5 runs scored and a staggering 10 RBIs.
Suddenly Google searches for “Zorilla” have gone through the
roof.


That is the same mechanics that helped
build the “Big Red Machine” into MLB prominence before most of
this Rays squad other than Damon ( 1973 ) or relief pitchers Kyle
Farnsworth (1976 ) and Joel Peralta (1976 ) were even born.

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Suddenly this Rays team is posing some
problems for those people who wanted to believe that so much team
composition and transition would eliminate the Rays from any chances
of competing, but still the Ray keep pushing wins across the board.
Great teams have to gain their sturdy basic roots somewhere, possibly
this is the Rays chance to thrust them deep and solidify their team
structure and confidence.


This Spring there was great worry among
the Rays Republic about this team and their inherent structure and a
possible backslide in talent and abilities. Suddenly that same
worrisome thought process is being erased by the bats of Damon,
Zobrist, Joyce and the consistency of this all under-30 pitching
rotation.


I think I am just going to sit back a
bit more this short home stand and relax as this Rays team shows not
only me, but all of the Rays Republic and MLB that not only was
Anderson right with his quote, but we have nothing to worry
about….this team is out of hibernation and hungry for wins. Wonder
if the Los Angeles Angels are nervous yet about playing the red hot
Rays?




Simply “Johnny on the Spot”

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I imagine if I trolled the Internet
this morning and typed in the phrase “Johnny on the spot”, his
smiling dimpled mug would grace the page. Ever since the first Press
Conference when the Tampa Bay Rays announced their signing of the
long-in-the-tooth veteran Johnny Damon, this guy has been committed,
immediately impressive and down right nasty to opposing
pitchers…… just the way I like it.


It is not rare for a veteran to stand
up and lead by example on a young team like the Rays, it is an
imperative. It is a mission he has accepted with grace, honor and
even a slice of humble pie. Maybe his contract with attendance based
additive might seem a bit cocky, but in his years within Major League
Baseball his foresight and wisdom has served him well in the past.


I still wonder why it took so long for
the Rays to settle on Damon. Sure he ” came home” possibly for
less money to a team in furious transition, but he also came into a
situation where he could pass on knowledge, help build a strong base
and show that a few extra rings in the bat can sometimes bring
explosive results.

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Sure there are not many on this Rays squad with him who might have seen him in an old photo in the Royals
baby blue, but they all know the stories, the success and now the
baseball mind that is their Rays teammate. Damon always seemed to be
that guy in the right place, with the right offensive weapon in the
past. No matter if he wore pinstripes, a “B” on his cap or the
fine stencil of the Tigers, the guy has always given his 110 percent
to gather up a win.

Little known fact, Damon actually spent
a few moments at the Rays 2011 Fan Fest greeting young kids who ran
the bases and doing a few interviews before having to leave…..he
was moving his Damon crew to his new city. That is the level of
commitment this guy gives to his team. Sure he has earned the time to
mail in the commitment card, but he doesn’t.


He can rest on a few offensive lifetime
laurels and take a moment off every once in a while, but he doesn’t.
Right now it seems that Damon is the perfect veteran fit since Cliff
Floyd to mold and shape this young team again into the new “Beasts
of the East”. And he is doing it all recently by being…”Johnny
on the spot”.

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It is almost unimaginable that a MLB
player can produce 5 straight game-winning RBI in his last 5
contests, but Johnny has stepped to the plate with the eyes of the
dugout and stadium upon him and become clutch, dependable and down
right almost automatic in the late innings.


Friday night Damon produced a 2-run RBI
single in the 6th inning, which has been early for a
“Damon moment” in 2011, but his act pulsated from the Rays dugout
to the Bullpen and the team held on to a 5-2 win. Damon’s hitting
explosion has also been simultaneous with the Rays own 5-game winning
streak.


Sometimes you need someone to
shine the flashlight first for all of us to find it our ways of the
darkness
“. – former University of Florida Football Coach Charlie
Pell.

Damon has done just that during this 5
game streak. He has used his bat as a symbol of enlightenment,
produced a lightning bolt from its shaft to help push his young squad
out of the impending darkness back into the warm rays of the Sun.
With his game winner on Saturday afternoon in front of a nationally
televised audience, Damon moved into a tie at 80th place
(2,583 hits) with the great Cubbie and Baseball Hall of Fame member
Ernie Banks.


Damon has hit 3 Home Runs so far in
2011, last season in Detroit, he hit a total of 8 for the entire
season. This week he became the first MLB player to hit a walk-off
Homer with 5 different teams (Royals,Red Sox, Yankees,Tigers,Rays).
It was his 6th walk-off homer of his career, and his third
against the Minnesota Twins.


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Possibly the youth and eagerness in the
Rays clubhouse has re-energized and focused Damon in a new direction.
He has hit safely in his last 8 games (.305 11 for 36) after going 1
for 15 during the Rays 0-6 first homestand.


On April 8th at US Cellular
Field, Damon homered off of White Sox starter John Danks, his first
Home Run off a southpaw since his August 28, 2009 blast off Dank’s
teammate Mark Buerhle at Yankee Stadium. The end result, the Rays
first victory of 2011 after 8 straight defeats.


This team is not going to totally sit
on the back of Damon all season long to provide moments to inspire,
thrust themselves forward or depend solely on his current well timed
offensive moments. But isn’t it great that when you need a hit, a run
producing moment, this veteran has just been “Johnny on the spot”
in 2011.



  

Matt Had Us All Re-Joycing Last Night

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You’ve been waiting for this day for a
while Tampa Bay. The perfect time to board the bus and support Tampa
Bay Rays RF Matt Joyce. Sure he is a local guy, graduated from
Armwood High School just a stone throw away from the State
Fairgrounds. But you had doubts.


Hopefully a few of those “doubting
Thomas’s” got some sense of religion last night after Joyce produce a beautiful
2-run single to tie the game against the Twins at 2-all setting the
plate for more hi-jinxs in the later innings. Still some of you
pointed to Joyce getting nailed on a steal in the fifth inning.


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Then again some of you are finally
seeing that this Rays team needs someone like Joyce who seems to pick
his moments and then seals the deal with a key hit, a sensational
catch, or maybe even something as simple as a single into the CF-RF
gap that sent Denard Span into hyper gear, but to no avail.


The mantra of these feisty Rays is
“Find Another Way”. Last night that simple but multi-layered
mantra ended up dancing in the late night streets, celebrated by
howling at a sliver of the moon, and brought the Rays their first
victory at home this season.

The victory also snapped a 2011 5-game
losing streak at Tropicana Field that used to play into the Rays
hands, but has been an albatross for them this season. Furthermore,
the Rays snapped a 9-game consecutive losing streak (including post
season) since September 29, 2010.


Suddenly a team mired in the cellar has
found ” another way” to win, via a new hero every night. A the
Rays Republic are the ones re-Joycing.


  

Interesting Tidbits on the Rays Offensive Feast


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I knew it still resided within the
Tampa Bay Rays. That fighting spirit and competitive nature than
churns your stomach and makes you want another chance to show the
forward momentum instead of their early 2011 offensive backpedaling.
Even a 2010 seasonal overall record of 11-7, their best ever against
the Red Sox did not parlay a positive vibe going into last night’s
contest.


You knew somehow the Rays would soon
find their fingers on the offensive triggers, but early indications,
plus an 1-8 record only showed an abysmal effort and frustrations
rising. Suddenly Rays DH/LF Johnny Damon took the first pitch from
Daisuke Matsuzaka and deposited it into the Rightfield stands and the
Rays had only their lead.


In the end, the Rays would score 44
percent of their 2001 runs in this one contest (16/36 runs), produce
a .500 average with runners in scoring position, and raise their
overall team batting average from .163 to just over the Mendoza Line
( .201). Suddenly there was a bright ray of light at the end of the
once darkened Rays tunnel.


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The Rays 16 runs last night is the
fourth largest total in team history and the most since they tacked
on 17 against the Orioles on September 5, 2007. Want to hear another
interesting fact, the Rays have scored 25 runs in their 2 “W’s”
and 11 runs in their 8 losses. The Rays also raised their average
against right-handed pitching from a bargain basement .138 to a more
dismal .189.


The Rays have also now won 7 of their
last 10 games in Fenway Park, in which the Rays have outscored the
Red Sox 78-53 over that span. In 2010 the Rays went 6-3 in Fenway,
eliminating 10 straight losing campaigns in the Boston ballpark.


More remarkable, the Rays have now
scored 35 runs in their last 3 games in Boston, and have mustered 9
extra base hits in their last 2 contests. Not surprising, the Rays
have a .318 batting average in their last 7 games at Fenway ( since
April 19,2010).


Then you have tonight’s Southpaw
match-up of 2010 AL Cy Young runner-up David Price, and the always
elusive Jon Lester. Interesting side note, tonight’s game is the
first between a pair of 2-8 teams since April 30, 1918 when the
Brooklyn Robins (1-9) played host to the Boston Braves (2-8) at
Ebbets Field.


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Since divisional play started in 1969,
this is only the second time two teams from the American League East
are 2-8 ( or worse). The only other time was in 1980 when both the
Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers were sporting 2-8 records.
Right now the Rays are the first team since the 2003 Arizona
Diamondbacks to be 2-8 the season after going to the postseason.


All in all it was a dynamic display by
the Rays to finally cast the chains off their offensive power and
turn in a stellar performance against one of their biggest divisional
rivals. It set the tone for tonight’s battle between the two dynamic
lefties, with tonight a better than average probability of a low
scoring pitcher’s duel.


Time to Again Raise the “Unique” Bar Rays Fans

 

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Every once in a while a fan does something so incredible you hope people around the Major Leagues got to see their perfection. Sometimes getting a professional baseball player to notice you, even for a nano second takes a bit of intelligent thinking or genuine costuming.

That is why this San Francisco Giant fan really caught my eye, and hopefully he also got the attention he garnered of the object of his affection, Giants closer Brain Wilson. So much was made of the obvious manipulation of Wilson during the playoff of a ample supple of “Just For Men” or some other male hair product.

We kind of forgot that someone, somewhere possibly under the age of 9 would emulate or even show up in the ultimate homage to Wilson, a full back beard complete with a blackened f aux hawk on their head. It is one of those signs to people like me that sometimes the fans do have the creative juices and abilities to still make these players take a double take and possibly a chuckle or two as they head to or from the field.

ap-a9cccdf97d6345caaec0db91c4c5932f.jpgBut what is so amazing about this young fan is that he made sure he got up front, on the first row and thrust himself in the perfect spot for his idol to see, respond and hopefully grant him the wish of a signed baseball. In this era where some athletes get as bad rap, or even get pushed into a negative label, seeing a young kid emulate a hero, even for a moment just feels right.

I am not sure if the Rays fan will do the same thing, but I hope they do. I truly expect to see more than a few f aux hawks materialize around the Trop. over the course of the season, and maybe even a few full beards to show an homage to Johnny Damon or Rays Bench Coach Dave Martinez.

 

Sure I am expecting a few “Manny” dreadlocks, or possibly a pompadour or two to show some support for Evan Longoria. But will there be anything shown by the Rays Republic in 2011 that would be considered super out of the ordinary in imagination or creativity. Who can forget the sheet propped up in the Checker’s Bullpen Cafe a few years ago asking if the “Rays Wanna Sign My Sweet Spot”.

lCA0E3Y6V.jpgThat kind of imagination and creativity get someone like me excited for my team. Maybe that is why that move by that young G-men’s fan means so much to me. These guys hears their names or nicknames hollered at them all the time by kids, adults and even a few overly excited female fans.

I am looking forward to seeing some new and original signs, T-shirts and possibly costumes during Rays games this season. So that is your task Rays fans, to one up the great and unique persona presented this Spring by that miniature Brian Wilson in Arizona.

We have some really creative mind wandering throughout the Rays Republic, now it is time to put your thinking caps on and come up with an idea or creation that will make a player or even someone like me do a double take…..So the mission is easy…

Come on out and give us your most creative, most original costume idea, even if it is not for an autograph….Possibly you could end up on this blog…..Or even better on National television so the World can one up you too.

 

 

Andrew Friedman: Reloading the Rays, Not Rebuilding.

 

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I really do not know how Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman keeps doing it. For a long span of this off season it was almost as if the Rays entire front office staff closed their doors until almost January.

It was if the Rays staff wanted to sit there lurking as the MLB Free Agent market set its ceilings and cellars for positional and pitching. Then like a top of the food chain predator, Friedman awoke from his Rip Van Winkle slumber and proceeded to hand pick his replacement fruit from the still bountiful MLB player trees.

Evan as other free agents started getting plucked with vigor from the tree by other teams in haste, Friedman acted more like a customer in the produce aisle thumping the exterior of players like a ripe melon. His first move of the off season Friedman went out and signed promising ex-Nationals right-hand reliever Joel Peralta on December 17,2010 to help fill the first piece of the Rays Bullpen overhaul.

In his now classic under a cloak of secrecy Rays style, Friedman was also concluding one trade deal with the San Diego Padres to ship one of his big ticket arbitration eligible Jason Bartlett on the same day as the Peralta singing. Still lurking in the darkness was a thunderous trade of Rays starter Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs on January 8, 2011. Friedman made out like a bandit on both trades bringing back a bountiful treasure trove of both MLB quality players, plus some high caliber prospects that will help reload the Rays farm system for the next Rays reload.

The trades of his two highest dollar arbitration eligible players helped Friedman free up just over $ 10 million to pursue some big fish for other Rays glaring holes in their Bullpen, plus a big bat to protect Evan Longoria in the Rays line-up. But the Tampa Bay sun was shining bright on Friedman as two of his other arbitration eligible players Centerfielder B J Upton and reliever Andy Sonnanstine both signed one year contracts freeing up Friedman from any possible arbitration hearing duty this Spring.

Just as you thought Friedman might take a deep breath and relax for a brief moment, Friedman went out and got his intimidating back-end of the Bullpen reliever in RHP Kyle Farnsworth on January 15. Friedman then possibly made a few decoy moves in signing complimentary pieces RHP Dirk Hayhurst and 2B Daniel Mayora to minor league deals with a Spring Training Invites.

Then in Friedman style, just when you thought that the MLB cupboard was starting to become mighty bare, Friedman signs Tampa Bay native and defensive First Baseman Casey Kotchman to a minor league deal. The Kotchman deal might have been another Friedman diversion as his next deal had some around the MLB wondering if the Rays were in fact rebuilding or just simply reloading.

One day after Kotchman signed, the Rays announce their biggest off season signing of the season, a duo signing of Lf/DH Manny Ramirez and LF/DH Johnny Damon to one year contracts that are very team friendly. Ramirez and Damon’s combined salaries will cost the Rays around $ 7.25 million (not including Damon’s attendance incentives), which still is only $ 1.75 million LESS than the Rays paid Pat Burrell for his services through mid-May 2010.

If you even include Farnsworth’s $ 3 million base salary (not including games finished incentives), the three signings will sneak just under the projected off season arbitration figures of traded players Bartlett and Garza ( $ 10.5 million). Only Friedman could trade away two important cogs of the Rays roster and get so much back in return, plus prospects who will help keep the Rays payroll in check for a long time.

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But that is the magic of Friedman. Somehow he can come into a do-or-die cost-cutting scenario with only a bale of wheat or hay and come out in the end spinning a strand of thin gold into a tight ball. You have to seriously wonder just how savvy and creative Friedman was as an investment banker if he can do all of this with a significantly reduced Rays payroll (proposed ceiling between $40-50 million).

Pull up the Rays 40-man roster going into Spring Training, including their under the radar Spring Training Invites. On February 15, 2011 when Rays pitchers and catchers begin their first 2011 workouts, it will be just over 60 days since Friedman’s first signing of Peralta. Just think about the level of talent already assembled, and we still have over 10 days for Friedman to still daze and confuse us before that first workout.

Not since that first Rays blunder under Friedman’s watch when the Rays tried to sneak Josh Hamilton through the Rule 5 Draft, has Friedman toughened up and taken a firm stand that he will never be surprised like that again. Deal for deal, salary for salary, I truly think Friedman might have gotten the most money back on his entire player investments since taking the Rays reins.

Besides the tarnish of the Burrell debacle, there is nothing but shine to Friedman’s trade and Free Agent moves. Since his emergence on the MLB scene, Friedman has been simply golden. Gifted with a crack Scouting Department, piles and piles of correlated data and visuals, plus an eye for talent, Friedman has made the Rays a role model for team competing on a shoestring budget.

But do not be surprised if in the next 10 days, before February 15th if Friedman doesn’t pull another off-the-cuff deal that seemed to come out of nowhere. But then again, that is okay, Friedman is not rebuilding the Rays, he is just helping them reload

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