Results tagged ‘ Jonny Gomes ’

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

The Good, Bad, Unknown and the Wounded Join the Rays

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I find myself yo-yo back and forth between the positive and the negative on the Tampa Bay Rays recent signings to bolster their roster coming into Spring Training. I mean the team picked up a 17-year pitching journeyman, a guy who falsified his identity, and a guy who I still consider a scumbag, but maybe he can become a viable power option and addition and slowly that title will be erased.

DuncanKickAP2I know I was one of those guys toying with Shelley Duncan way before his blatant attempt to shift ex-Rays 2B Akinori Iwamura cup towards the far right in a Spring game back in 2008, and since that time I have watched his name in multiple team’s stats pages never showing what I thought was his potential. I am also one of the guys who heckled him in RF when he was with the Yankees when his throws were less than stellar making sure to remark he threw like his girls’ name.

But this is a different Rays team than the one who came off the bench and basically surrounded Duncan that faithful Spring afternoon with all of us remembering the “bear hug” Jonny Gomes applied to Duncan among other things. Sure it will take some time for me to forget all of that past experiences with Duncan at the center, but it can happen faster if he gets a few solid hits, drives in a few runs and make an attempt to be a member of this team. I am all about forgiveness if the potential and the fortitude both up skywards, and right now for me, Duncan better set his sights on the Stratosphere.

nunezThen we got the former reliever/closer Leo Nunez, or should I say the present day RP now officially known as Juan Carlos Oviedo who was one of those caught in the age and identity net back when he was a Bullpen fixture for the then Florida Marlins. Some might have thought it was “just desserts” that Nunez/Oviedo sustained an elbow injury during his minor league tune-up in 2012 after serving his 8-week MLB suspension for his part in the identity cover-up.

Even though Oviedo might not have any real impact on the Rays 2013 Bullpen since he is still in the recovery phase from his Tommy John’s surgery, he could be a key piece of the Rays bullpen puzzle come 2014 when he would be 100% healthy, experienced as a closer, plus the Rays hold a 2014 club option on his services. Ovideo might actually be one of those pieces that Rays can fit into their back pocket knowing he could be a bargaining chip come Winter 2013 for any member of the Rays Bullpen who wants to play hard ball for an extension or hefty raise.

That brings me to the long-term MLB journeyman Jamey Wright who began his new relief profession back in 2008 and has averaged about 60 appearances a season since that first try at the Bullpen adventure. Last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers Wright held a 5-3 record with a respectable 3.72 ERA in 66 relief appearances with 6 holds.

JameyWrightJuggleOff the top of my noggin, it seems Wright might be a nice veteran cog to use in situational appearances, but should not see many high leverage situations or possibly be a 6th or 7th inning stepping stone to the shut-down duo of RHP Joel Peralta and closer Fernando Rodney. But Wright would fit in perfectly with the multi-sport Rays who have been known to run football pass drills, play soccer in pre-game time and just be an all-around athletic team. Since Wright is of an advanced age, maybe he can play right fullback or midfield..or not.

Then there was a fourth player brought in basically as question mark, but who showed potential in his prior minor league career that could pose a bit of a threat to someone on the Rays Bullpen bubble if he shows his stuff and makes a play for a 25-man slot. RP Juan Sandoval has been a frequent Triple-A guy in his past before his recent success in his tenures with Diablo Rojos de Mexico and Oaxaca in the in the Mexican League.

Back in 2008 it seemed Sandoval might be a closer option since he posted 20 saves while in Huntsville in the Southern League (AA), but from there his star seemed to fizzle out a bit after a total of 9 innings at Triple-A Nashville that saw him take a journey back into the fold of the High-A Clearwater Threshers in 2010 before making his exodus to the Mexican League with Quintanna Roo, Diablos Rojos de Mexico in 2011 and foster a combined 6-14 record with those two club.

YqgsXOA5But in 2012 while still in the Mexican North division he posted a respectable 7-3 record with the Diablos Rojo de Mexico and Oaxaca. It doesn’t take a genius to see Sandoval might be more of a Double or Triple-A player come April, but sometimes it just takes a chance again for a guy to rise to the occasion and with Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos the only Rays RP at this moment with a slight finger hold on a chance for a 25-man spot, a great Spring by Sandoval could make noise and possibly change the Rays focus to give the guy a chance to finally throw a pitch at the MLB level. Crazier things have happened…even in St. Petersburg. I mean the guy at least understands intimidating eyeear like Kyle Farnsworth.

So the Rays decided to go the Good, the Bad, the Unknown and the Wounded angle with their recent signings. With the exception of Ovideo who is still recovering from his Tommy John’s surgery, the other 3 players who garnered a MLB camp Spring invite with their deals could see some significant time since Peralta and Rodney could miss some early time playing for the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic.

ShelleyWith Ben Zobrist also playing for Team USA in the WBC, Duncan could see his name either in a corner outfield slot or as a DH since at this moment the Rays have not signed a viable power option to fill one of their biggest offensive holes at this time. With time and with Duncan getting his bat on the ball this Spring, little bits of that 2008 episode will be erased and maybe if he brought his offense with him to the Rays this Spring I might even nod my head in approval of his name when it is announced. I mean the guy’s real first name is David, Shelley is his middle name.

Tale of Two Gomes

Each stood facing the other last night trying to do damage. Each was hellbent within himself to defeat the odds and place their names upon our lips of the baseball world for at least for 24 hours. In the end it was an old Tampa Bay Rays soul, current A’s LF/DH who won the cosmic interaction while his last namesake counterpart could only watch from the discomfort of the Rays dugout as Gomes #1 strolled around the bases after the eventual finally happened. One hoisted up by the universe as the victor while the other could only watch it all unfold. This is the tale of two Gomes, and by the end of the night, each would walk a different path.

Brandon and Jonny Gomes are not related, but last night both of their names were on our lips and minds for reasons that could be considered by many as polar opposites. Each confronted his namesake on the field last night trying to make their own versions of history, each wanted their name connected with a moment that would be talked about, who’s image would be plastered on television screen as the other look on in disbelief and wonder. Last night they were the “Ying and Yang” of Tampa Bay, each of their careers set to move in different directions.

We all knew as Jonny sauntered to the plate for his final appearance of the night against Rays pitching stalwart Joel Puerperal, this “Gomes” could change the playing landscape with a swing or by imposing his own brand of “throw-back era” hustle into the contest. In that moment when the ball met the bat and screamed all the way out of the park we remembered why Jonny was so beloved by us all.

His personality was simply that of a human cartoon character (in a good way), his curly shaggy hair removed for the first wave of Ray hawks, his energy and action synonymous with the energy and vibrant nature of the 2008 Rays and their “Magical Season”. He was a game-changer even back then. His emotional power rivaled his physical. His antics amused and confused us, but they were done with the right intentions. Some loved his reckless abandon while other thought it cost the team chances, you either loved him, or loved to hate him. Each had their own army of followers.

As one “Gomes” triumphed, another would in fall on his Rays sword. Brandon did not factor into the final demise of the Rays last night as he fought valiantly tossing 2 innings of shut-out baseball, but one to his 2 walks in tonight’s appearance came to his Gomes counterpart on 4 pitches, and might have set into motion some of the events that would conclude his Rays tenure, at least for now. Even before their 10th inning lead-off encounter tonight each Gomes was on a different path.

5 straight batters came to the plate and Brandon factored significantly in the innings outcome as Kila Ka`aihue bunted a ball into the air to him, Kurt Suzuki was struck by a pitch, then Daric Barton walked on 4 pitches. Suddenly Jonny stood 60 feet at Third Base with 1 out from inflicting his own sword upon Gomes. But Brandon regained some sense of composure and got Brandon Inge to strike out the n finally let someone else play as he pitched inside to Jemile Weeks and got him to tag a dribbler to teammate Carlos Pena who stepped on the bag and ended the drama.

But this outing, even thought it was triumphant in the end for Brandon set into motion some post game decisions, possibly fostered by his outlandish 7.71 ERA. That first Gomes-on-Gomes event of the evening would be their only meeting of the night as Brandon got 3 straight ground ball outs in 2 plate appearances for the Athletics as Jonny stared in from the On-Deck Circle. As Brandon walked from the mound to the dugout you have to wonder if he felt the “Gomes” energy shift towards the other dugout.

Jonny headed to the plate in the top of the 12 inning poised and focused on somehow finding a hole in Rays relief stalwart Joel Peralta’s game, hopefully pushing this contest towards a conclusion. In true Gomes fashion, with 2 strikes on him in the at bat, Jonny turned on a Peralta pitch and deposited it 354 feet into the Leftfield stands. There was an awkward moment during Jonny’s stroll around the bases a some in attendance clapped for him while others seemed perplexed as to if they should salute or Bronx cheer the effort, not knowing yet it would be the final dagger in the Rays winning streak’s heart.

In a second, one emerged as the game’s hero while the other felt more like Nero watching his city burn to the ground. Each played the game with extreme confidence, brilliant expectations, but in the end it was a mighty stroke that pounded the white sphere while the other Gomes could only watch from the confines of the Rays dugout. Who would have guessed at that moment one Gomes was set for glory, and the other destined for an extreme moon-lite car ride to the airport.

After the game Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman were nestled behind a closed door in discussions on options. Who would have guessed at that moment as one Gomes celebrated in a locker room not 50 feet from the other, his counterpart would be packing his belongings sent back to Triple-A Durham once again.

But that is the way it is with baseball. No matter if you are the hero or the goat, or just a bystander to the final blow, you never know your fate. This ended the chance of another Gomes-on-Gomes encounter in this series, but even as both pack for different destinations today, I have a feeling this will not be the last time they meet in 2012. We still have 7 more games between these two squads in 2012, so possibly this is not the end of the “ Tales of Two Gomes”………..To be Continued.

Rays Wolverine has Encounter With Mr Hammy.

I was going to start this post today saying something like “ who cares if he has a jacked-up Hugh Jackman ‘ Wolverine’ facial recognition, as long as Tampa Bay Rays new DH Luke Scott keep producing like this. Heck, his unique beard styling might become the 2012 Summer facial accessory around Tampa Bay”.

Just as quickly as I typed in that snippet, I gazed down and noticed Rays rookie Stephen Vogt coming out onto the On-Deck Circle with Scott nowhere in sight as a scanned the dugout bench. Got to admit, it instantly freaked me out to the core having known the cursed history the Rays have endured with their past DH malfunctions. Seeing someone replaced this early in a ballgame is not ever a good sign.

So leave it to the always repressed and lying in wait “Mr. Hammy” to take a hold of Scott’s hind quarters and jerk on it like it was a banana waiting to be peeled. Could Scott be the latest victim of the mystery plague that seems to descend upon players who man the Rays DH position?

Hamstring injuries have a way of being unpredictable especially in positions where you come into a contest a bit cold and not firmly stretched out after sitting for a bit, then are called into producing energy and motion again without a suitable warm-up session. The DH spot definitely calls into play constant movement and keeping the body limber and ready for anything, but injuries like this can still produce even with all the preventions.

We now know Scott will be considered day-to-day for at least the upcoming road trip to Detroit and Boston. We all knew going into 2012 that Scott came with a warning label, but we thought it might pertain more to his vocal comments than a lingering shoulder aliment…or worse.

From Paul Sorrento to Luke Scott, getting posted up as the Rays DH has materialized into a quasi-death sentence either for your Rays batting average or unexpected injuries. With Scott coming out of the contest after 1 at bat with a sore hamstring, could the Rays past DH cursed conundrum of complications be gaining momentum, gaining steam quickly, elevating itself to mid-season level.

The way Scott performed on Saturday stroking the ball and driving in runs, it felt like the first time since the departure of old Rays wild child Jonny Gomes that the Rays DH position might have the ability to make a significant difference in terms of the Rays inconsistent offensive woes. I truly thought, even with 2 games into the season, Scott might just take this dastardly curse and break it over his knee sending it away for good.

Maybe it will take days tender rest and rehabilitation before Scott can again embark into his pseudo-Rays superhero alter ego and begin to bring change the Rays DH status quo. Maybe Scott wearing a “Wolverine”-style beard could end up being a good thing. Superheroes tend to have that resilient quality to overcome adversity and beam confidently as they always seem to triumph in the end.  First, Scott has to defeat the improbable and unrelenting Mr Hammy.

 

New Fire Churning in Upton’s Belly

I spoke with him at the 2012 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. He was excited, energetic and anxious to hit the field “officially”. I have to admit, over the last 4 Springs when I have talked to the Tampa Bay Rays CF  B J Upton, these phrases never came vividly into my mind.

Some will want to discount it immediately as Upton knowing he has to produce, make his name shine above the madness even before the Trade Deadline mark in late July. Other dark forces will destined it to Upton possibly entering his “walk” season knowing if he wants a big payday like former Rays LF Carl Crawford, now is the time to put the exclamation points after his name.

But with all that diverse and circumventing opinions and comments swirling around like the waters of the Rays Tank, I truly have a hunch that Upton finally feels a part of this team. Over the past 2 seasons his confidence inside the clubhouse has soared, and players now look to him for inspiration and pointers. Finally Upton seems to feel that veteran vibe, and it suits him, especially this Spring.

Say what you want on me pounding the drum hard for Upton, but his work ethic in the off-season, and his presence at Charlotte Sports Park even earlier than Pitchers and Catchers Report date shows his agenda firmly has the Rays best interest stamped prominently upon it. This is the Upton I have been waiting for to emerge and want to lead this young squad for a long time.

Of course it is only the first Spring contest, and all his pre-Spring rituals and workouts did play into his great start today against the Minnesota Twins on the Grapefruit League’s Opening Day.  You want to get really excited about Upton’s 2-for-2 day with a run scored, a double and a spirited triple to RCF. Possibly Upton has found that focus he has swatted away in the past, found terra firma in the Batter’s Box, finally feels confident and ready in his Rays skin. The next 33 days will fly by like the wind, and hopefully Upton can make the Rays Republic confident the 2012 edition of the B J Upton Show will be a “must see”  event.

As I talked to him on the 10th tee, Upton was excited that the Rays starting rotation would be all returning, and a few tweaks could make them even stronger for 2012. Was anxious to see if the MLB persona of Luke Scott was just an act, or if his psychological warfare and rampant dialogue was just the sort of things to rev the Rays machine somehow reminiscent of the energy and volatile emotions displayed in the past by ex-Rays wild child Jonny Gomes.

This is a guy who is harder on himself than any reporter or fan. Who knows his legacy has bruises, tarnished spots and some question his motives and intellect at times. But I truly feel by October we will have seen a different side of Upton at the plate, possibly making a lot of those darkened moments from the past washed off his reputation like the clay from his cleats. It is about time we get introduced to Upton, the team leader and not just the Rays resident scapegoat.

 

 

Blogger’s Note: It is that time of year again. Spring Training to also rid myself of the Winter fat and get my brain tuned in for baseball. I will attempt to stretch out my creative process, bring some new items to light and get into seasonal writing shape before the Rays officially open the season against the Evil Empire on April 6, 2012. Going to be rough, there are going to be tired moments, writer’s block and maybe even some moments where the whole process comes up resembling a no-hitter scorecard. But one thing is for sure, I am excited to again be writing about actual baseball and not hoping for it……Play Ball!!!!

Does the “Legend” Have a Rays Future?

I swear if I dig enough into his genealogy somewhere I will find a past circus performer hidden in the gene pool of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld. There has to be a secondary reason for him flinging himself without regard to life and limb around the Major League Baseball outfield. Some call these people “kamikazes”, I just call them “one with the ball”.

Some have anointed Fuld a true life “legend”, some have seen him as a breath of fresh air in the 2011 M L B season, but no one anywhere has doubted his talent or ability to make us all wonder if he is blessed with an ALPHA ability. Some of us television zombies have possibly seen the new show “Alphas” on the SyFy Channel that deals directly with people who inhibit that extra special ability to perform a simple normal human task to the 10th degree, or pulls off something insanely difficult with ease and grace. But ultimately being an “Alpha” has its own drawbacks.

Such may be the case in the Spring of 2012 as whispers are beginning to ring louder that the Rays could keep centerfielder B J Upton through to his impending free agency date after the 2012 season.

Fuld has hit the optimal media spotlight point of his career, even before he has a daily spot to call his own. Indirectly the focus around his vertical talent and his sporadic appearances in the Rays line-up as of late could end up being his Rays downfall.

You see, the Rays already have a budding outfield prodigy named Desmond Jennings who has come out of the rookie gate like his nightly numbers at the plate will decide more than his future. Jennings may have seen the ESPN web gems and National media cooing about Fuld and felt anxious that his future spot might be gone if he did not produce now.

On the opposite side of the outfield from Jennings is rightfielder Matt Joyce who has also risen high above the early seasonal goals set by his Rays Manager Joe Maddon and is only being saddled now by Maddon’s inability to let go of his reins and let Joyce pounce and show his worth against left-handed pitching.

This squad does need a lead-off hitter and basestealer, but Jennings fills that bill right now. It needs a special player that pulls you out of your seat as you watch him hit, but Joyce fills that bill too. It might come down to one of those “mixed blessings” scenarios. Would the Rays trade Upton and his track record to go with the skill set of what Fuld could do for this team?

With these two bookends to Upton, plus the addition of Ben Zobrist as an ample and reliable 4th outfielder, Fuld’s best chance to rise again in the MLB might be to leave the Rays coop.

I really did not think the versatile 5′ 8” outfielder had a chance this Spring to compete and win a chance to play in the April 1st home opener at Tropicana Field. Then again, I did not know he secretly injected the blood of Rocky the Flying Squirrel into his body to produce so many early season defensive highlights, almost on a nightly scale. It was as if the “legend” was channeling “the little engine that could” by astounding us and making all of us believers in his abilities.

Fuld is super. Fuld is an aspiring “legend”, and Fuld might be a guy who will be constantly fighting for a job for the rest of his Rays days. Not a bad thing, but something that could ultimately drain the “Legend” of some of his magical powers and make him more of a Rays folk hero than a budding M L B career mainstay. I would hate for Fuld to go the way of former Rays OF Jason Tyner, from bobble head to oblivion in the blink of an eye.

Believe me, I am one of those who wish only the best for the often vertically prone magician, but with the prospect of Upton staying until 2012, and the double J’s, Jennings and Joyce manning the corners, Fuld may be a man without a position. And that sucks big time.

Fuld has the ability to play daily along with the support and admiration of people from 5-65. He makes each and every one of us wonder if we would do the same….defy gravity, bring in the ball and then pop back up off the ground like it was a dive into the swimming pool. That kind of play excited the crowd, makes people buy shirts and jerseys, even wear giveaway capes to bed with their name on them.

We have seen others here in Tampa Bay get the fan support, the admiration of all of us then find their place on the bench instead of the field. I felt this same way about Jonny Gomes. Here was a guy who would do anything short of a crime to get a win, an magical moment or produce a bit of history all for his team. Fuld might be smaller than Jonny, but he fits that mold to a “T”.

Fuld may never get a chance here in Tampa Bay to become a bona fide M L B or All-Star. He does however possesses that special ingredient we all find appealing and wonderful to watch. Fuld truly does channel the energy and spirit of a child when he plays.


Not worrying about the impending damage or possible injuries, but producing the out. Not trying to be a showboat, but a motivational punch in the gut to the other team’s offense. Fuld is someone every team needs, but the Rays already have an over abundance of this same type of talented individuals.

Maybe I am saying my piece now because I have grown to like the guy from speaking to him, to getting his S P P D cap at the Spring Opener in Port Charlotte and wearing it on my head in my car when coming back from San Francisco to Tampa Bay. Fuld reminds me of me as an athlete just as he reminds all of us of our youth and own bouts with vertical mortality.

Be given another chance to take that next step, to spread his wings farther and stronger with another club. It is a thought I really do not want to have in my head, but one I know is the right thing for him professionally. I truly hope the Rays find a way to bring Fuld more into the Rays future game, letting his special light shine bright.

Maybe that is why I am writing this today. In a hope that if the Rays do not see a future place for Fuld. Possibly this off season we might see the “flighted one” leave Tampa Bay for a greener pasture. 

Life is Fitting Gomes Like a Glove

Got to be honest here, was not sure how the start of this week was going to shake out for me. It was a strange and unusual experience for me to wander past the Tampa Bay Rays Home Clubhouse and summons someone from within the Visitor’s Clubhouse, especially at 11 am. The guy I wanted to see was already working out and visiting with Rays staffers he had befriended in his years with the team.

I was on a personal fact-finding moral imperative type mission. Well, I did have to pull a string or two with someone outside the Rays media department, but it was for a really good cause. Besides a few Spring Training games and spotting him in off-the-field locales before his team moved their Spring home to Arizona, I had missed chatting with this player.

I used to make a special effort to walk down to the dugout rail before games and chat with this guy whenever possible, heck I am even writing this blog wearing his Rays batting gloves just for effect. Monday was the first time I would get an honest chance to interact with my favorite all-time Rays player.

I was hoping to catch up a bit on his life since he removed his last Rays blue jersey. Wondered to myself if he still had that specially made Rays robe, or still has a savoring palate for Patron Tequila or victory cigars. Wondered if he still has his home in the Jungle Prada section of St. Petersburg, or if he had finally found what he was always running full speed towards in life.

I made sure to bring a small finely chilled token of my past beverage alliance knowing that this guy always got a kick out of consuming mass quantities of energy drinks. When I was with Pepsi, I used to bring cases of energy drinks to this Tasmanian Devil whirling dervish. Fitting that the drink he really responded to most was the old Mountain Dew AMP Superman, but what else would satisfy a guy who always seemed as animated as a cartoon character.

I daydreamed back for a moment to his Rays image as a bit of a free spirit on adrenaline that always was there to poured beer or Patron for his teammates and Rays Manager Joe Maddon during the Rays 2008 post season. Remembering again very vividly a guy who sported the Rays-hawk with ceremonial pride, shaving off his usual curly locks.

Was not sure if I was about to meet the Seminole Hard Rock late night patron that was the life of the party. Instead I was greeted with a firm handshake of a mature Jonny Gomes. His world had changed dramatically since Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.

He had left the team he always dreamed of playing his entire career with, and ventured into a entirely new color scheme. Gone were the youthful aspirations of running into a WWE ring, offset by the golden wedding ring on his finger.

He has finally found her, and she grounded him. He had become a father to an adorable daughter, and was anxious for her to grow up and achieve great things. His past animated character still shined through, but his excitement now was filled with career security and sheer adulation for his little one

I stood there and listened for a bit and gained a huge new respect and admiration for the transformed Gomes. I got a great new energy vibe from Jonny and wanted only success on and off the field for him. I did not want to leave, wanted to stay there and hear more and more about Cincinnati, 5-way Chili and the ever expanding Gomes galaxy.

But I unfortunately had to get back to my own daily routine, but made sure to return the firm and hearty handshake to the guy who found his answers away from the confines of the Trop. As I began to leave I turned and told him I was proud of his success both in life and on the field. Reminded him that he would only hear cheers where Carl Crawford heard jeers in his return to his “first home”.and wished him a great series.

Gomes ended going 3-10 against his old squad, starting the series by launching a vintage Gomes shot to Leftfield off of Jeremy Hellickson on Monday night. He was also on base when Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan connected off of James Shields to win the get-away Wednesday afternoon contest.

As I sat there and watched as Gomes rounded Third Base, it reminded me of just how far he has come in less than 3 M L B seasons. From a instable career foundation with the Rays to a solid base with the Reds. Going from late night reveler to late night bottle butler. From a lady’s man to a devoted husband. All changes that fit him perfectly….like an old Batting Glove.

InterLeague is Good For the Fan’s Soul Joe

It is sometimes pretty rare for me to not go totally along with something Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon says. Usually I am not above drinking the team’s Kool Aid at times, particularly when it comes to some of their personnel moves.

But I have to take exception with one of Maddon’s recent vocal oratories. I am all for the InterLeague format. Been on their bandwagon since the First Pitch, and will be an adamant supporter of it to its last swing. Even though I can side with some of Maddon’s concerns, as a fan, InterLeague gives me a chance to see players and teams I would have to travel great distances to see in-person.

Sure it plays a bit of havoc on the Ray’s already crowded 162-game schedule, but it has advantages that sometimes miss the mindset of the 30 dugout leaders of Major League Baseball. We all know without question Maddon’s admiration and affection for a possible future balanced schedule. But it might not happen in MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s tenure.

Where else can a Manager have a chance to play devil’s advocate with no pressure from the playoffs than at this juncture in mid-May and June. Suddenly they can insert, delete or even tinker without the worry of a 3, 5 or 7-game series hinging on their line-up card. Plus it gives the fans and added impact via opinions, blogs and even Twitter to voice their own preferences towards DH or non-DH starters in games.

The main appeal of InterLeague to me is still the match-ups that constantly revolve to give our American League team a chance to see budding superstars, aging stars and some part-time focus on things outside our AL-realm of thinking. The National League plays a different game at times than the power conscious AL.

For that reason alone it brings back into play the skill set and imagination of all 30 MLB Managers, their rosters potential, and also bring to light some of the obvious flaws we see even in a championship squad. The NL frame of mind is firmly planted into moving runners into scoring position and systematically ( hopefully) bringing the home in before the third out.

AL seems to play more wing and a prayer long ball with the potential of each pitch possibly bringing a victory. Put the two systems together and you get a massive human Chess match that can be dominated in a nano second by the more versatile club. But that is not the InterLeague’s biggest drawing point to me.

I remember seeing Barry Bonds in the Trop a few years ago when the San Francisco Giants were not “World beaters”. It brought a figure who was larger to life into the cool confines of the Trop when if not for InterLeague, Rays fans would have had to travel to the city by the bay, or go to an Arizona Spring game to see Bonds.

Take this season’s match-ups of the 2010 surprising Cincinnati Reds and their budding superstar 1B Joey Votto and the return of former Rays fav Jonny Gomes since his exit from the Rays Republic. This match-up pushed together two equally matched teams on the hill with offenses that strive to score and produce at will at times. But in the Rays disadvantage is this is a home series where the team has been…well dreadful.

Or maybe you have the dates that the St. Louise Cardinals, who trained in these parts for over 25 years come back to the Trop and bring former Rays RP Trever Miller and some guy named Pujols. Tell me Sir Albert will not bring the Rays fans in droves to see a star that is still shining bright and hope to see a long ball deposited into the seats of the Trop. InterLeague makes these kind of meeting possibly outside the realm of the World Series. But maybe it was the quote in an article by the St. Petersburg Times where Maddon voiced his displeasure for this wild yearly adventure that evoked the most emotion from me.

Maddon was quoted in that article stating: ” I Think in the beginning it was an idea that fans kind of got into and it was kind of interesting. I don’t know that it’s interesting any more.”

Sorry to give you the news Joe, but it is relevant to us in the Rays Republic. We love seeing guys like Pujols, Votto and old friends like Gomes and Miller strut into the Trop and play creative baseball with our Rays. The most interesting thing here is that I finally found something to disagree with you on. That doesn’t happen with regularity, just like the InterLeague season.

 

(Sitting at the Rays Watch Party at Courtside Grille as I submit this blog……Where are you?)

Farnsworth Brings Intimidation Back to the Rays Game

 

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StPeteTimes.com (unknown Photographer)

Sometimes I think in pretty abstract ideals and put together some really “out there” suggestions that might take most people a bottle of Mezcal to comprehend or embrace my sometimes obscure reference points. And I am fine with that. I mean, I am a lifetime Pepper for gosh sakes (Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too!). Last night I was in one of those usual states of odd combinational thinking while watching the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning (they won 3-0) take on the potent Washington Capitals squad.

While sitting at the game bundled up in my pre-2008 Rays Winter outerwear jacket, I began a quick cold climate aided thought process emerging wondering why Major League Baseball team’s have never selected or signed a player just for his physical intimidation factor?

Sure there have been guys like former MLB players Ty Cobb and LHP Randy Johnson that have made more than a few of their MLB peers quake when they hit the rubber, or was getting a sizable lead off First Base. This type of intimidation is a primal human instinct and sometimes needed to have success at this level. I am talking about a singular player who can be labeled as an “enforcer”, a guy who will take no backtalk and will prove his measure and means with his fists if needed.

The reason I bring this idea even up is that in their recent past, the Rays have had two distinctive mano-on-mano moments (during 2008) where just this type of rugged barbaric presence was not only needed, but could have quelled the on-field bravado in advance knowing this one lone figure could emerge from the dugout or Bullpen to go headhunting.

We all remember the Cobb-style thigh spiking of Rays Second Baseman Akinora Iwamura by then Yankees First Baseman Shelly Duncan back in the Spring of 2008 after Rays INF Elliot Johnson plowed into Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and sent him to the hospital and the DL. During that Rays moment, the immediate enforcer role was taken on by Rightfielder Jonny Gomes. He was a student and admirer of the professional wrestling circuit, and Gomes took his run-in role seriously tackling Duncan from behind as both benches and Bullpens cleared.

Then again on June 5, 2008, during a Rays versus Red Sox game in Fenway Park, Boston outfielder Coco Crisp took exception after a pitch from Rays starter James Shields plopped him and charged the mound. Again it was Gomes who got there after a missed haymaker punch was thrown by Shields at Crisp, but the boxing savvy Crisp ducked the punch before Gomes again took him down like a linebacker to the green grass.

But with Gomes leaving the Rays fold and doing his thing now with the Cincinnati Reds, the on-field antics and bench clearing brawls over the last two years have resembled line dances like the Hustle or the Electric Slide more than standing up for your teammates. The 2009 tussle between the Rays and Cleveland after Indians catcher insulted Rays Manager Joe Maddon seemed more choreographed than spur of the moment. Something seemed to be missing in this Rays clubhouse. Something intimidating seemed to have packed its bags and wandered away, and was not to be refilled by another soul.

Who knows, maybe that past Rays intimidation factor instantly returned yesterday when the Rays signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a two year contract. Maybe a little more physical heart and intimidation was in order since it clearly has been missing since Gome’s departure. Can Farnsworth’s intimidating presence firmly prove fruitful to the Rays psychological bag of tricks

This entire realm of pugilistic or barbaric thinking was escalated by a ESPN,The Magazine poll that asked MLB players who was the one man you would not like to see clench his fight and head your direction in a bench-clearing incident? Farnsworth was the clear winner in the poll, and that could definitely play into the Rays advantage in the late innings of a game. Farnsworth could be utilized in the 8th inning set-up role vacated by departed Dan Wheeler, or possibly be posted up as a Rays closer to cement and increase the intimidating pulse.

Farnsworth threw around 94.5 mph in his tours in Kansas City and Atlanta in 2010,and there is no sign of him slowing down any time soon. But his overall 27 saves in 12 seasons might point more towards him taking Wheeler’s spot and letting Joel Peralta man the closer role. Still, the image of the “Rick Vaughn” look-a-like with his wide rimmed glasses perched on his face adds to his character on the mound. This will be Farnsworth’s 6th team in 12 seasons, but could easily escalate into a career defining moment as Farnsworth will be looked upon to provide a veteran stalwart point to help maintain and stabilize a evolving Rays Bullpen mix.

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RSBS.mlblogs.com

Most people might not know that the ray is actually closely related to the shark family, but they only have their lone barbed stinger as their source of self defense. Being the human counterparts of this fierce combative familia, possibly the Rays have finally solidified a member into their fold who can teach some of the other Rays more timid relievers or starters a thing or two about on the mound intimidation and how to use that wisdom to their advantage on the hill.

In 2010 the only person feared on the Rays roster might have been Rays starter Matt Garza, and his facial hair might have provided most of that notion. With Garza gone to the Windy City, the Rays might have picked someone they feared in the past to become an ally to their team and provide a bit of his on-the-mound presence knowledge to help the Rays future.

At first I did not like this signing because of what Farnsworth had done to us in the past on the mound. On April 29, Farnsworth came on in the bottom of the 6th inning with his team down by 10 runs and threw 2 complete innings while striking out 4 of 8 Rays hitters in the Rays 11-1 blowout. It was the only time in 2010 he would face the Rays.

Intimidation plays a great psychological role in the game of baseball. At any moment a team or their players play coy mental games against their opponent both in the field and at the plate. This Farnsworth deal might be one of those signings that do not add up on paper, but in regards to what he can produce both mentally and physically for this rebuilding Rays team, Farnsworth has heavyweight potential…even before he clenches his fists.

 

 

Riding the Rays Rollercoast with no Seat Belts

 
 
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Man, we are only two whole games into the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays 13th Major League Baseball season and I am already extremely tired from the massive rollercoaster journey we have taken just in the last two days. And believe me, I do not mind the twists, drops and even the unsuspecting high steeping emotional climbs, but I am still a bit wary of that stomach shifting towards the Adam’s Apple intense drop that takes not only your breathe away, but does something to your overall mode of team confidence and inner soul that can not be repaired by just a few spotty wins.

 
And already there are those dark D-Rays souls who have warned the “pumped-up” people like me about the possible side effects of believing in the hype before there is a foundation to support it. And believe me here, there is no “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey in my I-Pod music mix. But then again I am reminded in the back of my mind that these same dark dwelling remnants of D-Rays people have not attended a single Rays Spring Training game since the Rays left St. Petersburg for Port Charlotte, Florida in March 2008, and they are still stuck in the muck and mire of their season-ending Rays emotions pertaining to the 2009 season.
 

Maybe I am getting myself in a serious state of heart break and toeing the edge of the jagged path on the high cliff to a possible let down of massive enthusiasm proportions, but then again, maybe I am going to do what I feel is the right thing for myself and this team and throw my caution to the wind and hope the monkey on the loose doesn’t throw a steaming pile of poo at me from the Rightfield foul pole during the game.
 

But if you have been amongst the tidal waves of emotions surrounding Tropicana Field the last two night and really felt that pulse of energy cascading throughout the stadium with even the 15,000+ on Wednesday night, then you know that something special is happening in front of us again. And maybe since St. Petersburg is the “Lightning Capital of the World”, it is about to strike hard for a second time in 2010. And maybe Rays fans like me are all riding that huge wave of off season pent-up emotions right now, but that is what fans do, they act and react and counter move to the ebb and flow of the rhythm of the game hoping that the last big wave of the night will produce that moment you remember for a long, long time and provide you with that rush of adrenaline we all seek as we drive home with smiles from ear-to-ear .
 

And that is what is happening right now. From Tuesday nights bottom of the ninth inning extravaganza when the longest tenured Ray, Carl Crawford provided the 90th Walk-off moment in Rays history, to the thunderous crack from the bat of Rays legend-in-the-making Evan Longoria, the last two nights have been sprinkled with classic Rays moments where a huge cloud of magical pixie dust has fallen from the rafters of Tropicana Field and coated all of us with amazement and wonder.
 

 
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If you would have told me the Rays would win a game in Walk-off fashion in either of these nights, I could have believed you. But if you would have told me Longoria would make his first two blasts of the year pale in epic proportions by going into the TBT Deck/Beach/ way-the-heck-up-there, I might have taken that bet and thought it was a sucker bet by you. But more amazing was the shot last night into Section 149, which had a plastic poster hanging at the top of that same section of Tropicana field asking Longoria to hit it here with a massive Bulls-Eye of red and white.

 

Two games into the 2010 season and we already have a few moments that will be talked about even after the All-Star break, and maybe in the 2010 off season. Seriously here, I could imagine Carl Crawford lacing a ball for a 2-run double to produce a Walk-off win way before a blast 473 feet that just missing the Second slot on the Rays All-Time Home Run Distance list by a tiny foot compared to the Centerfield blast of Jonny Gomes that bounced like a golf ball on the roof of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. But the amazing fact might still be that Longoria has 4 RBI on his only 3 hits this season, and all three of them have been for extra bases.
 
 
But what might be more amazing about the last few nights is the show of support this crowd has shown this Rays team especially after a bad invisible swinging strike call by Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley, who never even asked Third Base Umpire Dana DeMuth for a ruling on the invisible phantom swing by Crawford that brought out the Trop. boo-bird for the rest of the game. I have always thought that when the true meaning of baseball and the intelligence level of our area fans ever matured, this Rays “Pit” environment would be a huge vocal point towards pushing the momentum into the Rays favor in extreme moments.
 

 
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I was extremely proud of the 15,000+ who were screaming and yelling for an appeal to the Third Base Umpire, and their fats reaction to booing and questioning the call immediately instead of looking around for an exclamation from someone wearing headphone listening to the game on the Rays Radio network in the stands. I actually had a nice photo of Crawford at that moment and he was hunched down in his stance and could not have even thrown out a half-hazard swing to fend off the ball if it was a true strike. But the pure fact this crowd has matured as a whole and gathered the mustard to question and show immediate recourse towards Danley reminds me a lot of the baseball savvy crowds you see in other MLB stadiums that have been around for over 100 years.

 

But I am also aware and poised to remember that these same Orioles have beaten us into the ground before when our guard has been down a bit, or the confidence level made a few Rays fan’s heads rise an inch or two and not remember that a streaky Baltimore Second Baseman Brian Roberts can change the entire game all by himself with his legs and bat. But maybe his bad start to the season is our reward right now. To be 2-0, and maybe blossom to 3-0 before the Evil Empire valet parks their Deathstar at the Vinoy for the upcoming weekend series, it might be a nice emotional and confident momentary foundation before we partake in the renewed rivalry for the first time in 2010.
 

And some people have already brought out that attendance trump card after just two Rays games, but they also forget that these mid-week games have always been the Achilles’ Heel of this Rays clubs attendance marks as far back as 1998. They are a work-in-progress, and with 15,000+ in the stands last night, that is a nice bump up from the last time the Orioles were in the Trop from September 29-October 1,2009 when an average of just over 10,492 fans packed the Trop for the season ending series of these same two teams.
 

 
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5,000 extra bodies in the seats might not seem like much to those viewing the empty blue seats in other locales. But those same 5,000+ extra Rays bodies have also been sporting more of the home team’s Columbia Blue or Rays Blue this season and that in its own small way might show the Tampa Bay community trickling in little by little to see if the Rays can renew that spirit and drive that possessed this region in 2008. And I guess I can revel in the fact that the “greatest game played on dirt” is living up to that moniker in the first two fun-filled energy-draining contests of 2010.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet as the New York Yankees will be unpacking their equipment in the Rays Visitor’s Clubhouse soon enough, then the first true test of 2010 is full on………Game on people….Game On!

 

 

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