Results tagged ‘ Jose Canseco ’

Catwalks are the Rays “Home Field Advantage”

 

 
MikeCarlson/AP

Every Major League Baseball team has their own unique home stadium idiosyncrasy or irregular dimensions or “quirks” that are particular to their own home stadium and creates an air of advantage that their player can play towards or focus their attentions on during their home games. It could be something as simple as a short Rightfield in Yankee Stadium, or the imposing “Green Monster”, or odd field placing of the “Pesky Pole” in Boston’s Fenway Park.

Or it could be something as simple as a huge foul ball area on both sides of the playing surface like in Toronto’s Rogers Centre to help induce a few extra outs or some additional exciting fielding moments during a typical baseball game in that retractable domed stadium.

So why is it that one of the “essentially needed” construction devices of having an enclosed tilted-roof domed stadium has so many uninformed people around the country ranting and raving like it is the only place on the face of the earth to have its own brand of “home field advantage”. Would these same National baseball commenters be rambling about the possible 32 rain outs or Rays rain delays just during 2009 that would have easily occurred if Tropicana Field was an outdoor stadium without those same  troublesome roof wires, lights and catwalks? 

Would this same community of crybabies be at home watching these Rays games on television or anywhere near this stadium if it faced the true elements in the late Summer when sideways rainstorms plague this region, bugs like human blood and temperatures rise faster and hotter than their own foreheads during Sunday’s game.

Before Rays Third Baseball Evan Longoria put a batted ball into the pinball maze above Tropicana Field known as the catwalks, only 102 other white MLB spheres had ventured into that science fiction realm of bouncing to and fro high above the fans and players within the Trop. And some people have mentioned to me how the out-of-town TBS Broadcasting crew did not know what to make of the whole adventure, but then again….if they had prepared themselves, they would understand this intrusion into their intellectual subconscious as a necessary evil to having all 81 games played in the splendor of 72 degree weather and completely dry seats.

 
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And even after the previously 12 concluded Major League Baseball seasons under this same Teflon-coated roof you would think the media members outside of this region would have seen the ball hit up into those rafters before and possibly prepared themselves to know the stadiums “Ground Rules” for answers instead of throwing out generalizations and miscommunications like they were empty Kasem hot dog wrappers.

So let me give you a bit of a rundown on these infamous catwalks that have doomed the Rays from ever being able to host an All-Star Game because of the circus atmosphere it would surely create during the State Farm Home Run Derby, which would make MLB Commissioner Bud Selig blush with embarrassment even more than his 2008 World Series Game 5 postponement. I actually think it would be impressive and a truly exciting moment to see a ball bouncing off a catwalk…but then again, I am used to it.

So when originally Tropicana Field, which was then known as the Florida Suncoast Dome was constructed almost 20 years ago, this “state-of-the-art” cable-supported design produced a stadium with 1.1 million square feet of internal space and subdued cost of $ 135 million to complete initial construction. The reason the Trop’s roof is tilted 6.5 degrees towards the Centerfield back end of the playing surface is to reduce almost 16.8 cubic feet of air volume. Combined with its 180 miles of support cables combined with the struts surrounding the internal skeleton of the catwalks, it produces a unique situation regarding the actual playing of a baseball game. 

With the four prominent circular catwalks known as A-D, located above sections of the playing surface of Tropicana field, they meander from a overhead distance of the A-ring from 184 feet in Centerfield to 194 feet above Home Plate, to the D-ring which rises from 59 feet above the Centerfield playing surface to over 121 feet behind Home Plate.  What is extremely confusing at times is that the D-ring, which hangs lower among the four rings has not been hit the most during the previous 12+ years of Rays baseball. The C-ring has actually been hit a record 60 times in the past, and the D-ring is actually third on the total list with only 18 balls striking that portion of the roof system. 

 
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But before I get into the balls that have hit our visual attraction or distraction depending on your team, let me provide you with the “official” Ground Rules of these special pieces of the Rays stadium: 

* Batted ball striking either of the lower two catwalks (C & D), lights or guide wires over fair territory is a Home Run.

* Batted ball that is not judged a Home Run and remains on the catwalks, light or other structure above the stadium floor within fair territory is a Ground Rule Double.

* Batted ball that is not judged a Home Run and strikes a catwalks, lights or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged either fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground, or is touched by a fielder. If caught by a fielder, the batter is out and runners can advance at their own risk.

* Batted ball strikes the catwalks,light or objects above the playing surface in foul territory is a dead ball (Ball to be judged foul, regardless of where it strikes or falls).

With that said and done, there have been balls caught off the catwalks for outs. I still remember years ago when Cleveland Shortstop Omar Vasquel sat under the C-ring waiting for a batted ball to come back down to earth, and his presistance paid off when a minute later the ball fell right down into his glove for an out.  But there have also been times when the ball did not come back down within a certain frame of time.

Only four times in Tropicana Field has a batted ball gone up into the catwalk cosmos and not re-entered the playing field. Three of these events happened in 2008 when Boston slugger David Ortiz hit a ball up there on September 17th two days after Red Sox Leftfielder Jason Bay duplicated the same feat on September 15,2008. The Ray
s own Carlos Pena was the first to push a ball into the unknown in 2008 when on May 26 against the Texas Rangers he hide a batted ball into the B-ring. What is amazing before these three astronomical adventures into the catwalk cosmos, only former Rays slugger Jose Canseco had put a ball into the catwalk (B-ring) back on May 2,199 against the Detroit tigers.

But even with this Rays home field advantage, some of the most memorable moments of “catwalk-inspired” hitting actually came during the Rays “magical” 2008 season when two balls made it up into the catwalks for dramatic moments during the 2008 Postseason. Rays All Star Third Baseman Evan Longoria was the first to hit a C-ring shot off of Chicago White Sox starter Javier Vasquez in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series. Then a few weeks later Rays Centerfielder B J Upton put a ball off the C-ring against Boston starter Josh Beckett during Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

So few moments have been decided by those overhanging obstructions within the white dome of Tropicana Field. Currently Pena leads the Rays in catwalk hits with six, but New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez leads all Rays opponents in catwalks strikes with 5 lifetime.  Some might consider it a extreme Rays advantage, but the reality is that anyone with a powerful upswing in their bat stroke could also add to the legacy of the catwalks within the Trop. This will not be the last time we speak about this infamous portion of playing at Tropicana Field against the Rays.


 
Steve Nesius/AP
 
But to throw the entire stadium under the bus for a design that was considered “revolutionary” 20 years ago and state-of-the-art is insane. And it is also fair game among the players visiting Tropicana Field to sometimes make wagers and small meal bets with teammates as they try and hit balls off the famous catwalks during Batting Practice, or simply gaze upon the sight when teammates hit one of the white-painted rings before the ball either keeps going towards the outfield seats or tumbled towards the Field Turf.

Every stadium has their “quirks”. It is the one thing that makes those stadium memorable or remarkable. For us here in Tampa Bay no one remembers the Ted Williams Museum which is house in Centerfield Street of the Trop. Or maybe they remember the cow-nosed Ray exhibit above Right-Centerfield. But few people either Rays or visiting fans can look away when they hear the clang off the metal surface of the catwalks. Why is it Right Said Fred’s song “I’m So Sexy” is stuck in my brain right now….Oh Yeah!………” On the catwalk…”

 

A Sad Goodbye

 
 
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I am done. I am completely done. Over the last decade I have been fooling myself inside and have finally come to the reality that maybe, just maybe I am not the fan I put out there for everyone else to see at Tampa Bay Rays games. Maybe it was the finalization that I am not even a thought in the entire process that my money is more important than me, the Season Ticket holder. Or maybe it was final obeservation that I am treated like a second class citizen by most baseball fans because I do not have a big “B” or pinstripes on my game day wear.

Or it might have been the reality that I was chasing the dream of the “underdog” for so long that I fell into a rut or trap to where I did not have a way or a reason to want anything different. Or maybe it was the final observation that over the past few Rays season little by little my past Rays special moments have been whittled away from me, that now I am just like the guy **** comes up to the Rayx Box Office at 7:05 pm, I am just a number.

And it is sad that today I will get a huge bag of charcoal, fire that grill up and throw my 50+ autographed wooden bats, tons of photos and paper collectibles and game-used jerseys onto the flames to finally return to the heavens. For maybe the frustration levels just got so bad in my head and my heart that change had to happen now to save my soul for another sports love. Maybe I finally found the sport that will love me back as the Tampa Bay Rowdies will soon come back from the ashes and play soccer again in Tampa Bay.

 
TBO.com

But the stark reality that things have slowly been taken from me as a fan of the Rays has been a stepping stone path towards this funk I am in right now. And it is time to release the devil or demon within my chest and set it free to maybe take the soul of the “Happy Heckler” again. And it was a subtle reversal of my favorite moments that went unoticed within my mind, but now it really looks like a deliberate move by the Rays to remove my presence from their fan base with slow and methodical surgical moves to cut the umbilical cord.

Maybe the first instance that the end was coming was when the Rays held the Rays Season Ticketholder Photo Day the next morning after the team celebrated their first Playoff berth after an evening and night of late into the twilight celebratory drinks, song and maybe even a few Patron shots. When only a handful of Rays players came out for photos and much more of them were ushered way into the field of the surrounding fans and we were not even offered a quick photo or even a snap of a photos are they were whisked down the line not even turning towards the crowd….once.

Or maybe it was the reality that even though I am a kid at heart at the ballpark I could no longer complete my baseball collection each season getting some of the harder autograph becuase I was not under 14 years of age, which is the current age limit for getting player’s autographs in the lines on Sundays. Maybe that was strike two in my obvious heart. For this hurt my 2009-2010 adventure to have an autograph of everyone who was on the Rays 25-man roster during those seasons and now I am left with trading with young fans who want cold hard cash for their signed balls instead of trading Rays collectibles.

 
AP/Chris O’Meara

Or maybe the final blow was finding out today that even thought I have been faithfully writing paragraph after paragraph over the last few years into this very blog entry that I am viewed as an angry fan and not someone willing to post positive or even new news about the team in a “Rays fan’s point of view”. I am flabbergasted that my over 750 posts have been viewed as trash, that they have been proposed as fan propaganda with hidden agendas and motives. That my fan worship has been all about the all mighty dollar and not about the baseball and friendships that come wit it all.

So I guess all that is left to say is that I am done. I am finished. I am going to fade into the dark abyss. Sure I might have paid $ 1,800 dollars for my Rays seats but it will make a nice fire tonight. I can not fanthom following or even writing about a team who can not feel a kinship bond with me, even though some of them are my closest friends. I guess today is the day I am not longer a Tampa Bay Rays fan.

And like a bad relationship or marriage this break-up is coming with a heavy heart. It was not anticipated, planned or even thought possible even 24 hours ago, but now it is here and is a final nail in the coffin as I watch that shaved down Jose Canseco bat burning on the grill putting grill makes on the white pine shaft of the game-used bat. And next will be my “Jersey Off Their Back” Damon Rolls and Aubrey Huff jerseys with the whole episode finalizing with me burning my 1998 Game Used Wade Boggs jersey hopefully around nightfall.

It is said to sometimes say goodbye, but maybe this one has been 13 years long overdue. Maybe on this April 1, 2010 I finally found out that I am just a number. That my significance is minimal and insignificant to the Rays with every fiber of my being. Maybe on this first day of April, even with the season about to unfold…..my seat will be empty for 81 games……Goodbye.

 

 

 

yaD slooF lirpA yppaH

Richard Marx, Great Singer and a Lover of Baseball



As most people have ventured since the first time I wrote on this blog, I have a few well defined “loves” that I hold near and dear to my heart. Most of you already know my number one love with a bullet is my love for the game of baseball, and my dedication to my hometown Tampa Bay Rays.

And my secondary love interest that seems to flow endlessly among the notes and drumbeats that fill our ears might have became more apparent with the multiple blog postings of the Rays own acts that have graced the stage during their Hess Express/Rays Saturday Concert Series photo and commentary blogs over the last several years.

 

But there is another hidden part of my life that only a small community of people who have known me since my first days of High School have seen up close and personal. They are my longtime friends who have known my deep rooted passion to music and that singing is one of those hidden talents that only that select lounge full of people have ever experienced firsthand.

And maybe my everlasting love of the crescendo of the musical notes and thunderous drum beats have been made more than obvious by my photo blogs and commentary after every Rays Concert series act over the last few years.

 

Well, that is unless you live in St. Petersburg, Florida and go to some of the places I frequent after Rays games, then you would know I love to get up there and belt out a song or two before finally retiring to the house to rest up for the next day’s game. But one of my early musical influences is coming to Clearwater tonight for his first ever acoustic music set in the beautiful Capitol Theatre.
 
And the Capitol Theatre is the perfect venue acoustically for this musical troubadour as the interior of this classic old style musical theatre sets both a romantic tone as the venue is set among the revitalized older downtown core of this gulf-side community, and breathtaking to the eyes.


MISC2010 | www.RaysRenegade.com 

 

But then I might also surprise some of you that this singer also shares a same passion as each and every one of us, for this singer, songwriter’s second love is also our first passion. That’s right, world renown ballad singer Richard Marx is a bona fide Major League Baseball fanatic ever since his young days growing up in Chicago, Illinois.
 

But I am sorry Southside of Chicago fans, this singer of classic soft rock music classics like “Hold Onto The Nights”, “Hazard” , “Right Here Waiting” and “Now and Forever” that still today make all of us remember lost romance and new found love is a huge Chicago Cubs fan deep in his heart.

And he made that love more than apparent in the video for “Take This Heart” where Marx is brought up as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs of the Game 7 of a World Series against Baseball Hall of Fame member Dennis Eckersley.

 

The video was filmed in Oakland’s own home stadium in 1992 and features baseball players Greg Maddux, Dan Howitt, Eckersley, Jose Canseco, fellow Hall of Fame member Rickey Henderson, and an old Tampa Bay friend of mine A’s catcher Scott Hemond.

Got to say I love the way the video drew out the game storyline throughout the song with Marx falling behind Eck with an 0-2 count before connecting on a well hit hitting a long fly ball that sneaking past Howitt’s outstretched glove into the left-centerfield stands for a Home Run.

 

But in a nice touch, Marx is immediately woken up by one of his fellow band mates and it is all a dream. But as you see Marx looking into the camera you hear Brewer’s announcing legend Bob Uecker barreling out the line “The Cubs have won the World Series”. It is one of my favorite baseball videos more for the moment we all dream about as kid’s to one day be in that same position and to come through with a blast to win the World Series.

And in 1992, I did get out to Oakland, but it was right after Marx and his band were finished with their video takes, and retakes for that “Take This Heart” video. So I am looking forward to shaking his hand and getting his autograph like I wanted to do way back in 1992. For those who have heard me sing know I have an affluence for ballads, and Marx produced some of the best in the 1990’s and beyond.

But here is a side note most people do not know about this great artist. He was actually heard on a demo cassette tape by Lionel Richie and brought the then 18-year old Marx out to Los Angeles to record back-up singing tracks on a few of Richie’s earliest albums.

 

Marx then was referred to Kenny Rogers as an great back-up addition and one day Marx overheard the recording techs discussing with Rogers that they were one cut short of finishing the album. That night Marx went home and produced a song and played it for Rogers the next day. The song was “Crazy” and it ended up being a Country number one song. Not bad for your first entry into the songwriting business to be a Gram Slam.
 

But I am glad Marx took his music path to stardom instead of concentrating on his second love of baseball. For I am looking forward to hearing his music and some of the stories behind his music tonight in that acoustic setting that is brings the audience closer to his awesome music.

Marx never did another Baseball-themed video, but then once you do one where you bat in the bottom of the 9th inning against a closer legend and get a pinch-hit Home Run to win the Cubs the World Series……There is no place to go but down after such a dream sequence, and I do not see Marx heading that route anytime soon.

 
 
 
 

McGwire, A-Rod and Canseco……Oh My!

 

 

                    
                      FoxNews.com
 

When former Tampa Bay D-Rays player Jose Canseco came out with his book  Juiced  on February 14, 2005, no one in the baseball community knew what to expect out of the allegations and the extent and lengths that steroids and illegal drugs were being used in the MLB even before the Major League Baseball brass had decided to include testing for steroids or Human Growth Hormones (HGH).

We all personally had our little mental lists of certain players in the league that could be suspected of illegal use or  might be under the umbrella of investigations, but no accurate information was in hand at that point in time in 2005 to provide concrete evidence or even a hint of a “failed drug test list” controversy to support any of Canseco’s claims at that time. With the recent MLB Network’s interview with former slugger Mark McGwire finally shedding light on his extra injectable “helpers” during his Home Run barrage of 1998, it seems most of us have finally gotten some measure of closure on an explanation years past due.

And even with these recent McGwire remorse and vocal tales of his transgressions, it seems more and more that the subculture of baseball before the beginning of MLB testing in 2003 might just begin to unravel with McGwire’s testimonial leading the way for others to admit and seek forgiveness for their past deeds. We all still have fresh in our minds the revelations of the knowledge that current New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez used PED’s during his 2001-2003 Texas Ranger days.

Mixed into this same drug cocktail is the recent admissions and failed drug test results evidence of Boston Red Sox players Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz back  during the Red Sox World Series season of 2004.  And we are far from over in this revolving door of names being slowly leaked out into the open about players who have failed tests back during that 2003 MLB season. It is becoming more and more plausable that Canseco might have been right the entire time, and we were fooled by the shiny lights and twirling balls by the players. And maybe it was the American baseball fans that were the ones naive to the entire extent of the steroid scene.
 

 



If Jose Canseco was seeking  a personal level of revenge, or even a ” I told you so.” moment, he can finally get that long overdue last laugh or justified response to his past allegations. With both of his books, Canseco was taking us on a journey into the heart of the baseball clubhouse culture and was actually trying to educate us as to the level of deceit and the unknowing extent and usage problems in baseball’s  not so distant past.

All this from a guy who was in the drivers seat of using these same stimulants and drugs himself, and Canseco has never denied the fact of his usage, or lied about trying to gain that ‘competitive edge” in the ever swirling arena of professional baseball. How enlightening it is to me right now that for years people in the media and in the high ranks in baseball have tried to shut him up and went beyond normal means to prove him wrong, to say he was trying to extract revenge over the so-called “blackballing” of him out of Major League Baseball because of his vocal noise about the scandal and his willingness to address the problem in the public eyesight.

 

                
                 Amazon.com 
 

I am not trying to paste Canseco up here as the patron Saint of America’s Pasttime within a room full of devils and serpents, but Canseco was right, and he has gained a huge amount of respect recently on the “so-called” incidents he wrote about in both of his books.  I know when Amazon.com reviewed his book back in 2005, and called it the ” Ball Four” for the new millennium. Canseco’s Juiced  was intentionally written to show the rampant use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball (with steroids replacing the amphetamines of Bouton’s day). 

Canseco is a self admitted steroid devotee since his 20’s, and he goes beyond admitting his own usage to claim that he acted as baseball’s ambassador of steroids and is therefore indirectly responsible for “saving” the game. Canseco admittedly says he was nice enough to educate Alex Rodriguez about steroids and even introduced him to a friendly steroids dealer in the late 1990s, but A-Rod returned the favor by trying to bed his wife, the former Bash Brother alleged in his book, Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars and the Battle to Save Baseball. Whatever his motivation, Canseco writes that he is “confident” the Yankees star and three-time MVP used steroids and stated it in his book published in  March 2008. “I did everything but inject the guy myself,” Canseco says in the book. Canseco said he introduced the future Yankee to a trainer named “Max.” 
 

 

 

But despite the headline-grabbing claims in his  first book, and whether Canseco really knows anything about the problem beyond his own use was viewed as opinion and total speculation at that time. He was viewed as a ” teller of tales”, and with no one coming forth to back him up, or even claim “off the record” of steroid usage in the majors, he was discounted as a bitter former player looking for his last series of hurrah’s. 

Most shocking at the time of both of the books release dates  that Canseco remains an unabashed booster of steroids, claiming they’ll one day be used safely under medical supervision to propel humans to better health and great feats. Doctors disagree, and it should be noted that doctors did not administer Canseco’s steroid use. “Is it cheating,” Canseco asks in a revealing moment of moral relativism, “to do what everyone wants you to do?” If that very question were asked by a Little Leaguer, its answer could not be more obvious. 

 

 

So here we are a few days removed from the latest Mark McGwire confessional after finally letting both the Ramirez and Ortiz transgressions fade to black along with A-Rod’s own media fiasco. But at what extent has this begun to tarnish the good spit and polish image of the game of baseball? Is the fact that since nothing in either of Canseco’s books have been disproven, should we again read them both and look for other answers before we are confronted with future demons coming to the surface?

Could there be other hidden facts and players within its pages that are still to be bought out into the light of day and  coffed at and discounted, or even shunned like Canseco has endured for so long. Or is the fact that the biggest stars in the game today and yesterday have either been caught or admitted usage of these drugs be an indicator to others  to come forward before they are also brought to light.

You can bet with the MLBPA’s agreement coming to a close soon that these drug issues and even some of the past trangressions might be a huge question mark being considered by Major League Baseballs’ higher powers right now. Should the rest of the world know their internal struggles and business in this issue?

 
 

 


Amazon.com
 

 

Here are a few passages taken from Canseco’s book Vindicated  that talked directly about the Yankee Alex Rodriguez with Canseco’s personal observations on their careers and steriods :
 


“I’m confident it was the ‘roids ( that made A-Rod buff ). I believed it then, and I believe it now. I’ve been down this road too many times with too many guys. I know my ( stuff ), and I know the way it works. I may not have seen ( A-Rod ) do the deed, but I set the whole thing up for him, just like he wanted. I saw the changes in his body in a short time. Hell, if you ask me, I did everything but inject the guy myself.”

And Canseco is being put on the hot seat again by McGwire and current St. Louis Cardinals and former Oakland A’s Manger Tony LaRussa about his tales of steroid usage and administration in connection with him and McGwire in the past. McGwire admitted Monday that he used steroids for a decade, including when he hit 70 homers in 1998, but denied Canseco’s claims that he injected himself and McGwire with steroids in bathroom stalls.


“I’ve defended Mark, I know a lot of good things about him,” Canseco told ESPN 1000 Radio in Chicago on Tuesday. “I
can’t believe he just called me a a liar. Umm, there’s something very strange going on here. “I even polygraphed that I injected him, and I passed it completely. So I want to challenge him on national TV to a polygraph examination. I want to see him call me a liar under a polygraph examination.” 

 
 

 

 

Both the above quoted players by Canseco have been linked, or subjectively linked to steroids in the last few years. McGwire is currently fighting for his Hall of Fame career life among allegations and evidence that he has either used, or lied under oath about his past usage. The only difference in these two gentlemen is that one knows that by admitting it now, he can still regain some of his credibility, while the other might always be mired in the thoughts of mistrust and lost opportunities to be honest to the fans who admired them. 

Right now it seems that McGwire will be basically left in a lepers colony by baseball’s fraternity to fester and rot within his own misguided statements and falsehoods. McGwire has gained some supporters in his Hall of Fame selection over the past two years, but could this new revelation push even those devoted believers to shun him and save his redemption for the Veteran’s Committee in the future?

I give Alex Rodriguez a lot of credit for coming clean and admitting and showing his true nature by not dodging the issue, but taking it head on, even if it garnered him a shower of public ridicule for years to come. Canseco has talked about both of these players in his books, and the last few months have shown that more and more Canseco is becoming more credible on all counts concerning these accusations. But will the baseball community ever acknowledge that he was right?
 

Will his legacy be that Canseco just got lucky in his MLB usage estimations and player accusations. Will Canseco ever get the true credit due to him for trying to soften the blow of the honest extent of the steroid scandal and its short-lived era. Isn’t it about time that we all wised up to the fact that we were lied to right to our faces, and even manipulated to see the evil intent of what Canseco was writing about at the time.

But now it seems like Canseco might come out of all of this smelling like a rose after years of badgering and misinformation by baseball and the media. Canseco will never be known as a prophet among the legions of baseball fans, but he did educate us to the darker side of the game that we did not want to see, or even realize until a  top tier player’s name got put out there for everyone to see firsthand.

So will this recent reveal make people again take notice of his two novels. Canseco is not a trying to be a poster boy for baseball. To the contrary, he is the one player who had admitted and showed no remorse in his choices to use performance enhancing drugs to better himself and his abilities in baseball. Not unlike a pitcher who relied on spitballs and scuffed balls in the past to produce movement on the ball coming into batters, Canseco found and edge and used it to its fullest.

But  was it his personal knowledge and his frank honesty about the rampant drug usage throughout the Major Leagues that condemned him for years. I am not saying that he should be given a chance for the Hall of Fame.  We all know the actions he took to get that edge will condemn him to baseball purgatory, but could his upfront honestly and revelations at least gain him some respect now with baseball fans?

 

                          
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I believe Jose Canseco’s statements. I saw him play here in Tampa Bay as a member of the Rays highly touted ” Hit Show” in the late 90’s. He did garner some great moments in a Rays jersey, but the fact that he also tainted those multi-colored jerseys by using PED’s in that sacred clubhouse takes him off my Rays favorite player list. I admire him more today knowing that he tried to warn us of a storm that was brewing off our bows. Canseco got us all ready for the facts to finally come clean and the truth to be finally known in and around baseball……………….that there will always be evil within all that is good with the game.
 
 
 

Rays trio key to Playoff Dreams

 


Darren Calabrese / AP

Everyone around the game of baseball are starting to realize that the Tampa Bay Rays, who are nursing a 6-game winning streak might be starting hit on all cylinders right now at the right time to make some noise and cruise towards the top of the American League East division. But there is one problem right now with that idea. While the Rays have been one of the best clubs since April 30th (35-21) the division leading Boston Red Sox have also kept pace by going 33-22 during that same span. 

And the Rays have not even hit that cursed point from their 2008 season where they lost 7-straight before the All-Star break. That anniversary will not take place until July 7-13th when the Rays began their losing streak with a home stand ending loss to Kansas City and mushroomed into a debacle in Progressive Field in Cleveland where they were beaten in four games by a combined score of 26-6. Even with their late push towards the top of the division, the Rays are still 4 victories short of their 2008 pace, but it is expected that they can pick up that slack during that July 7-13th week.

In that seven day span they will play play a 6-game home series this season against AL East foe Toronto and three against the Oakland A’s before the All-Star break. You can expect the Rays to not have another 7-game fall like 2008 in this series with the Rays also having their annual “Throw Back” night on July 11th against the A’s. On that night, recording artist Smashmouth will also perform during the Rays Saturday Night Concert Series where the team is currently boasting a 11-0 record during concerts.  So that bodes well for the team going into the All-Star break with some positive energy to contend the rest of the way in 2009.

But what has been the answer here in 2009? Has the Rays really gotten that better even with some late bloomers not getting into their hitting rhythms until June.  Three Rays players have finally found their mojo and have started to produce and show the promise we all knew they had coming into 2009. Some people have speculated that a few of the Rays players might have had outside motives or distractions that have prevented them from achieving great numbers before the month of June. We all know that Pat Burrell was fighting a neck stiffness situation that landed him on the disabled list and even made him take at least two cortisone shots to ease some of the muscle pain at times.

But Burrell did finally come back feeling better and began to show the type of ball player the team was forking out $ 8 million for in 2008. Burrell has gone 7 for 39 with 2 HR, 6 RBI, 8 walks in 15 games since returning from the DL.  The Rays did miss his presence in the line-up for those 29 games, and on last Wednesday night he broke a 104 at-bat and 33 games without a home run streak with a nice shot against his former club, Philadelphia during the InterLeague series at Tropicana Field. 

Most people have voiced the opinion for the Rays to be a force again in the AL East, Burrell has to be the usually consistent 30 homer 100 RBI machine he has been for the Phillies for the last several years.  Gabe Kapler also came to the team with high hopes of posting good numbers as a platoon member in rightfield with Gabe Gross. Before the month of June, Kapler looked more like a shadow of his former self, and some have said that when his family finally arrived in Tampa Bay, he then began to again have total focus towards hitting.


Brian Blanco / AP

This might be a bit far fetched, but it might have a bit of merit to it too. Kapler has been seen during the last two Rays concerts visually smiling and having a great dad-daughter(s) moment on the turf of the Trop. during the event. He even was escorted up to the front stage area by Rays Security for the Pat Benatar concert and you can be sure that was a special moment for him and his girls. But I can tell you as a father that when you have a secure feeling and know your family is safe, you do have a different view on life. Maybe the girls, including his wife are just his “Good Luck” charms, and if they are, maybe we might want to trade him before school starts again in the Fall.

Seriously though, Kapler in his last 10 appearances has gone 12 for 23 with 4 HR, 14 RBI and has scored 6 runs for the Rays. And going up against left-handed pitchers the righty is hitting .324 this season and has hit a stellar .444 during the month of June.  But the amazing part might be his strong InterLeague hitting this year for the Rays as he went .500 for the InterLeague series to pace all major leaguers. He also lead all major leaguers in OPS (.586) and Slugging Percentage ( 1.227) to go along with his 3 homers and 14 RBI during the InterLeague schedule.

But Kapler has been more than just red hot in June. In his last 24 plate appearance he has gone 12 for 20 (.600) with 10 Extra Base hits and a 1.550 Slugging Percentage.  During that span he also became only the third Rays player to home in over 4 consecutive games joining Julio Lugo (4) and Jose Canseco (5). And Kapler is riding a 5-game hitting streak right now. So maybe his girls have a great effect on Dad, and if they are truly the reason for his surge, maybe looking into a local school here in Tampa Bay might be a great idea for the Kapler klan in the Fall.

           
            Steve Nesius / AP

The last of our late bloomers is a guy I always thought just needed some time to adjust and find his stride this season. After having off season shoulder surgery and getting a very late start at Spring Training, I always felt that B J Upton might not blossom or even begin to gel until the end of May. In the first home series this season against the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox  from April 13-19th, he had only a .217 average with 9 strikeouts and 4 runs scored in the two series. He did not look like the same guy who lite up the night during the 2008 American League Championship Series by hitting .321 with 4 HR and 11 RBI.

But in the last 35 games he has gone .319 to raise his average from a paltry .177 he set in his first 34 games of 2009. During that time he garnered a AL Player of the Week honor.  And he was simply magical during the InterLeague schedule this year hitting for a .364 average with 3HR,15 RBI and 11 stolen bas
es. His stolen base mark lead all MLB players, and he ranked second in total hits (28). Upton has hit safely in 13 of his last 16 games  boosting his average to his current .248 mark. He also has 12 stolen bases in his last 18 games, and his 29 stolen bases is ranked third in the American League behind teammate Carl Crawford (40) and Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury (31). 

Upton is finding his stride at the right time at the top of the order for the Rays. Combined with the speedy Crawford, they have posted over 69 steals so far in 2009. And Upton’s home run on Sunday capped the cheery on top as the Rays can boast to have the quickest march to 100 HR and 100 SB before the All-Star break in their 77th game. The shattered the previous record of the 1995 Cincinnati Reds who did it in their 80th game. At their current pace, the Rays are on course for 210 HR and 248 SB, which would be only the second time a team has hit that mark in MLB history.

With these three players beginning to hit their peaks in 2009, the Rays can count on more runs and scoring chances the rest of the season. With already consistent years from Crawford, Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena, the team is beginning to get their engines churning for a post All-Star run at both the team’s second  over .500 season and another playoff push. The Rays have a huge bit of momentum right now coming into the All-Star break, but they need to take that time to recharge and refocus their energies on the fact they will play their AL East foes in 46 of their final 84 games of the season starting tonight.


Steve Nesius / AP

It might seem as a huge goal to have to play 46 games against the likes of Boston ( 8 games), New York ( 10 games), Toronto ( 17 games) and Baltimore (11 games) before the season ends.  But most amazing is the fact that in the entire month of September to October 4th, all but 8 games will be against the AL East teams (23 games).  A 2-game series against the Seattle Mariners at home,3-game road series against the Texas Rangers and another 3-game home series against the Detroit Tigers are the only non-AL East contests in that  entire month to end the regular season.
 

So it is not only time to begin the quest for their second playoff spot, but also the time to begin the rise to the top to try and stake their claim to a second straight A L East crown.  The road is going to be long and hard right after the All-Star break, and the Rays are going to need some help from their other divisional teams to pull off another championship.  During that same month of September, the Red Sox play only 17 games against divisional foes. The Rays might need some added help from the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels who play a combined 10 games against them that month.

With the Yankees currently only 1.5 games ahead of them the Rays have set their sights for the second spot in the division. This is not meaning that the Yankees will not just let the Rays have the division, but they also know that the hard charging Rays might just be the team between them and getting back to the playoffs in 2009.  The Yankees also play 21 of their final 31 games inside their division, which includes a day/night doubleheader against the Rays on Labor Day, September 7, 2009.

 
 
 
The Rays hold their destiny in their own hands right now and seem ready to defend their title. For a short time it seemed like the Rays might take a step backwards, but the recent winning streak has people remembering the 2008 Playoff excitement again in Tampa Bay. So where did I put that AL East Championship cowbell?

Oakland Walk to a Win over the Rays

 

             Athletics 5,      Rays 2


Ben Margot / AP

Frustrations Mounting Fast

The worst part of the last couple of games is that the Rays have had their chances to mount sustained drives and have come away either empty-handed, or shot themselves in the foot on multiple occassions.  Some whispers in and outside of the Internet have hinted that it might be due to the large number of strikeouts by the Rays, and the number of walks given up by the pitching staff. I decided to do a little snooping around and see just what might be true or false with those statements.   First I decided to see how the Rays as a team are stacking up against the rest of the American League in those categories before trying to put any scientific or opinionated facts out there.

As of today, the Rays have a total of 151 strikeouts, which puts them third in the American League at this moment, but they are within striking range of again manning the top spot. That position right now is held with only 158 K’s by the Texas Rangers, who also was in the top 3 at the end of 2008. In comparison, the Rays pitching staff is ranked seventh in the AL in walks with 71 this season.  What that shows is that some of the people commenting that the Rays have been giving up too many walks is not completely accurate. But it is more to the fact that the Rays pitchers have been giving up too many walks in a condensed period of time.

Let me use today’s game as a good example. In the fourth inning, Rays starter Matt Garza gave up a lead-off walk to Orlando Cabrerra, then issued a second walk to Jason Giambi. Those kind of beginnings to an inning never seem to work out to the pitchers’ advantage. But after Matt Holliday hit a fly ball out to center field for the first out, it seemed he might have a chance to redeem himself. But he walked the next batter, Jack Cust to load the bases. That led to Nomar Garciaparra’s 3-run double to the left-center field wall on the first pitch he saw from Garza.  That instantly put the A’s up 4-0 on the Rays.

Situational pitching is an artform. Some pitchers seems to come by it naturally, while others struggle with it their entire careers. But what is killing the Rays right now is the fact that the squad is issuing some walks at the wrong moments in the game, and it is costing them dearly in the end. In their games this season, the Rays have issued 71 walks in 17 games, that is good enough for  over 4 walks a game. In two contests the team has issued over 6 walks a game and have gone 1-1 in those contests. The only win was during the Home Opener against the New York Yankees on April 13th.

But the Rays have not done themselves any favors in the offensive numbers either attached to strikeouts. in 6 of their losses, they have struck out over 9 times in a contest. the highest was actually during their Opening Day loss in Boston when they posted 14 strikeouts.  But that is not the only time they have suffered over 10 this season. They also posted 10 strikeouts in their second game agianst the Yankees at home on April 14th, 9 against the Chicago White Sox in a 12-2 loss to close out their last home stand, and 10 strikeouts the first game in Seattle to start this road trip.  In only one game have the Rays won when posting over 10 strikeouts. It was their lone win in Baltimore during their second series when they posted 10 K’s on the day.

Even during this series so far, the team has posted 12 strikeouts in two games. That figure might be lower than their average, which is sitting at 8.3 strikeouts per game right now. With that in mind, the Rays have topped the 8 strikeout mark in 10 of their 17 games, and have won only one of those games. The first thing to try tear apart here is the Hitting Coach. I do not think it is what Steve Henderson wants to see his club do on a nightly basis. I think he would not disagree that the burden here lies on the players for not taking intelligent swings at times. For a short period of time there, it almost seemed like Carl Crawford was just swinging into the air, not even expecting to hit anything.

       
        Ben Margot / AP

It is going to be a big test of Henderson’s patience and his expertise to again get this team to put their frustrations aside and begin to rebuild themselves from the ground up. But these guys are professional hitters’, it should not take long for them to discover and correct some of their flaws in the batters box. I mentioned Crawford above as a guy who seemed to be free-swinging a lot more than usual. This was true, but recently he has begun to see the ball better and is hitting it  as if it was a beach ball. But then you have guys like B J Upton, who have added pressure of being the lead-off man right now for the Rays and is mired in a bad slump.

His average has sunk to .171 this season, with no end in sight of the dismal beginning. His recent game in Oakland came down as an 0-4 with a single strikeout, but after the at bat, he took his bat and cracked it over his knee in visual frustration over the lack of power by himself and the team right now. In that game, Upton did get on base once via a walk in the sixth inning, but he was stranded at third base after a Rays rally was stopped cold by Oakland starter Dallas Braden.  Upton hit the ball three times in this game, but they were at people. 

The frustration level on this team is at an all time high, and it is only going to get worse until the Rays bats begin to strike some fear into opposing pitching staffs. Right now, there is not a staff in the American League that fears the Rays hitters besides maybe Carlos Pena, who is on a homer run tear right now. Over their last two series, the Rays are hitting .243 as a team with 22 total runs and 42 strikeouts. Over the past six games, that puts them 12th in the AL during that time. Only the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s are underneath them, and Oakland is beginning to get hot.

      
       Ben Margot / AP

Is Matt Garza Getting Frustrated?

I am not sure if it is only Matt Garza that is starting to shoe outward frustration right now for the Rays. the enitre team seems to be in a dander, and not their usual confident and energetic selves on the field and at the plate. But Garza is a player who holds his emotion up close to his kin, and in yesterday’s fourth inning he seemed to almost bubble over on the mound. Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey did come out to the mound and seemd to make the right words cool the fires within Garza. He ended up getting back under control after Garciaparra’s RBI double and again pitch like a champion. After giving up that double, Garza retired the five of the next six batters  before getting into trouble in the sixth inning.

But the day did not start like that for him. He got two 1-2-3 innings before giving up a lead-off homer to Travis Buck in the thrid inning. Even after Buck’s shot, he retired the next three in a row to hold Oakland to a single run. Then came that fourth inning when 3 runs were given up by Garza on one hit. He had basically walked the bases full before Garciaparra’s drive to left-center.  Garza is one of this teams pitchers that needs to again regain some of the magic of 2008.  His 5.2 innings of work today yielded 4 runs on 4 hits, with 6 strikeuots. But his 4 walks did make the most damge today as three of those walks came around to score for the A’s.

           
            
Ben Margot  / AP

Aki is the Man

Since he left the lead-of
f spot this season for the Rays, Akinora Iwamura has been kind of quietly having a great season. Including today’s game, Aki is hitting .302 for the year, and has been one of the three consistent hitters on the team so far in 2009. His numbers might not jump out at you, but he has been doing great thing under the surface for the team. His 7 doubles are only one of the AL lead, and he is 5 for 5 in stolen bases this year.  He is 4 for 12 in his last 3 games with 2 doubles.

But since moving down to the bottom of the lineup for the Rays, Aki has not forgotten to be offensively motivated this season. Some players might view it as a bad omen to be figured into the bottom slots in the lineup, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon looks at it more like a “second” lead-off man, or a speedy option in the middle of a lineup. Iwamura has seemed to adopted well to the new spot, and is showing it with his bat. He was the first Rays to get on base today when he hit a single into right field in the third inning. In the fifth
inning, Aki again made his presence known when he stroked a RBI single to center field to begin the Rays coring on the day.

Aki might have cooled down a bit during the game, but his ninth inning at bat will be a controversial play for the rest of the season. With A’s closer Brad Ziegler on the mound, Aki hit a hard ball down the first baseline to Giambi.  the ball hit off of Giambi’s glove and he finally picked it up and tried to race Aki to the bag for the out.  First Base Umpire Mark Wegner called Iwamura out, but replays showed he had made the base in a stride before Giambi made it to the bag. After that play, the Rays went down in order the rest of the inning and lost their first game in Oakland this season.


Ben Margot / AP

Saturday Scrambles

****  The Rays on Saturday tried to win their second game in a row for only the second time in 2009. The only other time they have won two in a row was in their first series of the season against the Boston Red Sox. Up to today, that is also the only series the Rays have won this season.  Speaking of streaks, during their start to 2009, the Rays have now had two 3-game losing streaks and two 2-game losing streaks on the year.

**** With their current record of 7-10, the Rays have also  been at this mark 6 times in the franchise history, with the same record at this point in the season for the last  the past  4 out of 5 seasons. the lone exception since 2004, is the 2006 season, when they were 8-6 at this juncture in the season. Also of importance is the fact that at this point, the team has been in fifth place in the AL East each year, and have been from 3.5 to 5.5 games back of the division leader. The 2009 squad  however has the least amount of runs and errors after 17 games. The team does have their highest amount of stolen bases ( 24 ) in the franchise history at this point.

**** Carlos Pena’s two home runs last night have vaulted him into the major league lead this season.  The only other Rays player to lead the majors in home runs was Jose Canseco, who lead the majors as late as June 26,1999 with 28 homers.  Pena did lead the majors briefly early last season, when he had 6 homers on April 15th.  The 8 are currently tied for third-best in club history for April, and is onl three shy of the team record. Pena now has 14 homers over the past two Aprils, which is one shy of the tops in the majors held by Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.


****
The Rays currently lead the majors with 21 infield hits.
          They also have 24 stolen bases at this time, which leads the majors and are the most since the 1998 New York Yankees swiped 30 early in the year.
          They are currently fifth in the majors with 23 homers, which is their best output ever after 17 games.  

 

Rays Fall to King Felix via Rare Feat

 

  
      Mariners 1,        Rays 0


Elaine Thompson / AP

Still the Royalty of King County


Most of us Floridians do not know that Seattle is located in King County, and if yesterday afternoon is any indication, we know who rules with a multi-directional fastball and a beautiful change-up. But the young King is  truly going to be one of the leagues premier superstars once the east coast of the country get a good scouting report on the guy. Felix Hernandez is hyped to the roof top by the Mariners, and for good reason. He has only been on their major league roster since 2005, when he appeared in only 12 games and furnished a 4-4 record.

But the sea-faring fans of the Mariner’s have been waiting for the day that the rest of the league catches on to this hard-throwing Venezuelan product.  Funny, but in that short period of time he has stacked up 42 wins and over  620 strikeouts and still is mostly an unknown outside of the shadow of Mt. Rainer and the west coast. People have said that the Mariners lucked out by having another Venezuelan product on their roster back in 2002. Freddie Garcia was  a childhood idol of  Hernandez, and  it was the fact he trusted and loved the Seattle area and team that finally convinced the young Hernandez to sign with the Emerald City team. In 2002, he then went to play for Aquirre in the Venezuelan Summer League.

From that point on up through the Minor League rosters he has done nothing but impress and persuade the team that he is their next home grown star. Very rarely do pitchers seem to grow up in a team’s minor league system anymore. Most are packaged or brought in via trades  to compete in the minors for a shot in the majors. But Hernandez did his time working up from Class-A Everett to Triple-A Tacoma, then finally to the clay of Safeco Field.  But what is more amazing is the future that this series will hold for him and the budding Rays stars. We all know that Carl Crawford and B J Upton have dealt with him for years, but Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell got their first official look at the man locals have dubbed the “King”.

And of this series is any indication of their fights and battles, we are going to have a fun time watching  the Seattle ace take on the Rays for the next 10 years. Henandez might have won battle number one with a clear margin, but the game seemed like a different story after he left the mound yesterday. Before that, the Rays did manage to claw and fight to get  4 hits off of him in the game. Crawford had the most impact gaining two hits off of him, including  a ball hit to shortstop in the thrid inning that handcuffed him severely into committing a throwing error on the play. Burrell made his presence know early in the second inning by popping the first hit of the night off Hernandez to right field.

Then  in an error-filled play ( 2 errors, one by first baseman Jaimie Burke and the second on catcher Rob Johnson) by the Mariner’s team on Ben Zobrist’s fielders choice, it put a tying score less than 60 feet from Mariner’s catcher Rob Johnson. But the Seattle defense and Hernandez stiffened and  Hernandez got the next two batter retired to save his shutout.  In the fourth inning, after two walks to Burrell and Zobrist, the Rays again eventually had men at first and thrid with two-outs, but the Rays again failed to convert anything to get the run home to tie the contest.

Then in the fifth inning, with Crawford up for the third time tonight, he hit a screamer back towards the mound that Hernandez tried to bare-hand with his pitching hand and throw to first base. He ended up doing a spin and dump to the turf instead of getting balance and throwing the ball towards first base. But with Crawford’s speed, it might have been a blessing that he did not wing the ball towards Burke at first base. Burke was only playing the position for the first time in his career because of injuries to Mike Sweeney ( back) and Russell Branyan ( back ). Plus usual fill-in Jose Lopez could not switch over to first base since his sub, Ronny Cedeno had a bad hamstring from the previous night’s game. Dioner Navarro did get a worm killer single to left field in the seventh inning, but a rally-killing double play by Jason Bartlett ended the Rays chances.

The Rays did fight and claw back all night long with Burrell making the most trouble for the Mariners and Hernandez. For the afternoon, he went 1 for 1 with three walks and always seemed to get into scoring position for the Rays. But the Rays usual lack of hitting with men in scoring position doomed their day. The Rays ended up leaving 15 men on base, and also struck out 7 times against Hernandez. They had their chances against the Mariners, but let every one of them slip away. The Rays did not lose this game for lack of effort to get on base, but lost it for lack to the killer instinct needed at key time in this contest.  But the Rays came into this series wanting to set the tone, they did in the middle game of the series, but got out-played, and out-hit in both their losses in Seattle.

           
           
Elaine Thompson / AP

Shields Make only One Mistake

The  oddity of throwing your second pitch of a baseball game and it landing into the right field stands and becoming the winning margin in a game is rare, but not unknown in baseball annuals.  Ichiro usually gets his two hits a game no matter who is pitching, but those who have seen the Japanese product take Batting Practice know he has the power and the ability to take a bad pitch and deposit it into the stands at any point in the game. Ichiro’s lead-off home run accounted for the game’s only run. He’s the second player in Mariners history to hit a lead-off homer in a 1-0 game. Greg Briley did it in 1992 with a home run off the Twins’ Kevin Tapani.

But how rare is it really in baseball? Does an early mistake happen as much as we think, or is it just a twist of fate that doomed the Rays early in this contest? Well, according to Stats Inc.,it was just the third time since 1994 – most recently by the Cubs on May 9, 2007, against the Pirates ( Alfonso Soriano homered ) and before that by the Mets on
May 12, 2004, over Arizona ( on Kaz Matsui’s homer ).  A rare feat, but also a rare omen for the Rays. It had been 12 days since they suffered their last shutout, and the team had ample time to get back that elusive run because of the pitching of James Shields. His one mistake should not have been the margin of victory today.

Shields did everything in his power to keep the score close and also crush any potential Seattle rallies throughout the game. After Ichiro’s blast, Shields and the Rays defense  sat down the next 7 hitters until Endy Chavez hit a single to center field to lead-off the fourth inning. But the Rays quickly erased that threat by getting Lopez to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to again empty the bases. Even in the fifth inning, after Shields walked Johnson, a hard hit ball to Longoria by  Yuniesky Bentancourt provided the 5-3 putout to end the inning.  But in the sixth inning, the Rays defense reared its ugly head and put its mark on the game. The only blemish was a bloop single over Bartlett by Ichiro, who now had two of Seattle’s 4 hits in the game.

Shields did  pitch deep into the game finally giving up the ball after throwing 102 pitches in 7.1 innings of work. His lines score would usually show a victory, but in tonight’s wild and unusual battle he was given the loss after only surrendering 4 hits himself and giving up the lone run. Tho his efforts were valiant, he did give up only one walk to Johnson in the fifth inning and posted 4 strike outs on the day. His pitching matched Hernandez’s pitch-for-pitch. And except for that lone one pitch that he might have known would spell doom the minute it left his hand, he was to suffer his second loss of the year to even his record to 2-2 on the season.

Twice this year Shields has been opposite a “hot” pitcher when he took the mound. Even if Shields was as effective in this contest as he was for the Opening Day game in which Red Sox starter Josh Beckett pitched a masterpiece, it is the underlying problem of pitching in the number one slot. You always face the premier pitcher of the opposing staff, and even if you are on your game, situation can take it from you. But Shields has the inner confidence and the stamina to know that karma and things can change in an instant and go for the Rays. Tonight it was just one swing of the bat that took the wind out of the Rays sails. Just less than 16 hours from one of their best road wins of the young season. Games can shift one one pitch or moment, and unfortunately Shields know that all too well tonight.


Elaine Thompson / AP

Pat Burrell is Heating Up

Burrell is in a weird situation for the first time in his career. He is having to take a crash course in the American League hitters and also the tedencies of the leagues infields to get a firm grounding in the batter’s box this season. Consider how hard it is to not only adjust to the fact you are no longer in the flow of the game by being out in the field, but now you have to sit a majority of the time on the bench and observe your team taking their defensive licks, and you can do nothing but cheer and clap for them. I think that would be the biggest adjustment he has to make since signing with the Rays this off season. Jonny Gomes found it difficult  the last few seasons, and it might have cost him his spot. Cliff Floyd was a great addition to the clubhouse in leadership and mentoring young players, but his bat did not surface to save him either.

It is as if the Rays Designated Hitter spot is the place where hitters have gone to die or retire for a long time. I am not even going to get into the Greg Vaughn or even the Jose Canceso days as a DH, because the formula has changed since their times. Now the DH has to be a run producer and a cheerleader second. Burrell also had the second horrific duty of having to digest and memorize the pitch selections and tendencies of every pitcher in the AL in a compressed manner. No longer can he just go up there and take his swings like in the Spring, but now he has to adjust and compensate for tailing breaking pitches on the fly, and catching up to fireballs coming in at his hands. 

It has been a tough first few weeks for Burrell evident by his average, but the last week of game have also given a sign he might be  gaining on the AL pitching staffs and being more selective at the plate. In yesterday’s game he was only 1-1, but his 3 walks showed he is seeing the ball and making great judgments at the plate for the Rays. In the entire three-game series, he went 4 for 9 , with 4 walks and 2 RBI’s to raise his average to .265 this year. He is beginning to come to terms with the American League. Some hitters who have spent their entire careers in the National League do not adjust fast, but Burrell  is hitting even better on the road ( .276 ) than at home  ( .250 ) this season and he knows that for the Rays to be successful again in 2009, he has to be on his game. It might have taken a bit longer than either he or we wanted for him to adjust and come to terms with the different hitting in the AL, but in the next few months, it is the Rays that will benefit from it all.


Elaine Thompson/ AP

Navi needs to Trust Hitting on the Ground

Dioner Navarro is beginning to heat up a bit at the plate. In the last three games he has gone 2-13, but the true fact is that in the last two series he has garnered only two hits a series. I am not about to cast him under the  ships rudder, because his two hits recently have been down a bit and not the usual rocket fly balls that have plagued his average this season. the last few days, Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been stressing the fact of ground hit balls might be the ticket for this team to survive right now. And for Navarro, that might be the right ticket. He is not going to beat a ball hit in the infield 9 out of 10 times, but the lone time could make for a scoring opportunity.

Not since the Baltimore and Yankees home series has Navarro had two hits in a single game.  Navarro hit 6 fly ball outs in this series and 3 ground outs in addition to his two singles to right field. But in yesterdays game, he  hit two long fly balls out to center field with men in scoring position. He did get Burrell to tag up and go to third base on his fly out in the fourth inning, but his fly out with Gabe Kapler on second in the ninth inning finished the Rays in that contest. Navarro seems to be the lone holdout still hitting the ball primarily into the sky for outs for the team. Because of his defensive abilities, it would be a down grade to sit him right now. He is calling a great game behind the plate, and is getting into a groove with his throws to second base on steal attempts. His peg of Ichiro in this series will be a the highlight of the year for him.


Cursi Magic Runs Out

My buddy Scott Cursi
is one of the best people you will ever meet in the Rays organization.  It has been a thrill for me to see him get some extra recognition that last few days in taking out the line-up card and also doing double duty as the “Jobu” of the Rays. Cursi has been the Bullpen Coach pro tempre before, and also been know to celebrate with the best of them during the Rays run in 2008. By Maddon picking Scott to have the honor again last night of handing out the line-up cards shows that Maddon respect streaks and anything that can make them roll on for another game. I hope he again get a chance to redeem his karma tonight when the team hits the field  in Oakland at 10:07 pm.

During last night game, the line-up card that Cursi presented to Home Plate Umpire Sam Holbrook had a Chinese Proverb written on it by Maddon. I am unclear if this is the exact verse, but this is the only one I could find with that phrasing in an old Chinese Proverb quotation book at the library. It might have said, ” Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.”   The saying has been found in two references, one in Chinese lore and the other in Native American. Which ever is the true origin of the proverb, it might be a unique key to the Rays success this season.

  

Jose Canseco was Right

 

                    
 
 

When Jose Canseco first came out with his book  Juiced  on February 14, 2005 “, we had no idea of the extent and the lengths that steroids and illegal drugs were being used in the MLB. We all knew of certain players that were suspected of use or under investigations, but nothing concrete was brought up to support  any of Canseco’s claims at the time. With the recent revelation of Alex Rodriguez using PED’s during his 2001-2003 Texas Ranger days, it is finally showing just cause that Canseco might have been right the entire time> And maybe it was the American baseball fans that were the ones naive to the entire extent of the steroid scene.
 

 

If Jose Canseco was seeking revenge,  or even a ” I told you so.” moment, he finally got the last laugh or justified response. In both of his books, Canseco was exploring the culture and trying to educate us as to the extent and the flagrant usage problems in baseball’s past. All this from a guy who was in the drivers seat of using himself, and has never denied the fact, to gain an edge in the competitive arena of professional baseball. How enlightening it is to me right now that for years people in the media and in the high ranks in baseball have tried to prove him wrong, to say he was trying to extract revenge over the so-called “blackballing” of him out of the major leagues because of his outward voice towards the problem. And to this day, no one had proven him wrong yet.

 

                
 
 
I am not trying to paste Canseco up here as a saint in a room of devils, but he was right, and he has gained a huge amount of respect recently on the incidents he has written about, and the players he has been quoted about in both of his books.  I know that Amazon.com reviewed his book back in 2005, and called it the ” Ball Four” for the new millennium,  Canseco’s Juiced  was intentionally written to show the rampant use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball (with steroids replacing the amphetamines of Bouton’s day). Canseco is a self admitted steroid devotee since his 20’s, and he goes beyond admitting his own usage to claim that he acted as baseball’s ambassador of steroids and is therefore indirectly responsible for “saving” the game.
 

 

Canseco says he was nice enough to educate Alex Rodriguez about steroids and even introduced him to a friendly steroids dealer in the late 1990s, but A-Rod returned the favor by trying to bed his wife, the former Bash Brother alleges in his new book, Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars and the Battle to Save Baseball. Whatever his motivation, Canseco writes that he is “confident” the Yankees star and three-time MVP used steroids and stated it in his book published in  March 2008. “I did everything but inject the guy myself,” Canseco says in the book. Canseco said he introduced the future Yankee to a trainer named “Max.” 
 

 

 

But despite the headline-grabbing claims in his  first book, whether Canseco really knows anything about the problem beyond his own use was viewed as opinion and total speculation at the time. He was viewed as a ” teller of tales”, and with no one coming forth to back him up, or even claim “off the record” of steroid usage in the majors, he was discounted as a bitter former player looking for his last series of hurrah’s.  Most shocking at the time of both of the books release dates  that Canseco remains an unabashed booster of steroids, claiming they’ll one day be used safely under medical supervision to propel humans to better health and great feats. Doctors disagree, and it should be noted that doctors did not administer Canseco’s steroid use. “Is it cheating,” Canseco asks in a revealing moment of moral relativism, “to do what everyone wants you to do?” If that very question were asked by a Little Leaguer, its answer could not be more obvious. 

 

 

So here we are a few days removed from the A-Rod fiasco, in which he might have truly come clean and began the healing process for himself and his team. But what about the holy integrity of baseball? Is the fact that since nothing in either of his books have been disproved, should we again read them both and look for other answers. Could there be other hidden facts and players within its pages that are still to be bought out into the light of day and discounted, or even shunned like Canseco has endured for so long. Or is the fact that the biggest star in the game today was caught be a indicator to others  to come forward before they are also brought to light. That is the question before baseballs’ higher powers right now. Should the rest of the world know their business, that happened 6 years ago, or should we just let time and league handle the situation. 

 

 

 


 

 

Here are a few passages taken from Canseco’s book Vindicated  that talked directly about  current Yankee Alex Rodriguez and former Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens with Canseco’s personal observations on their careers and steriods :
 

“I’m confident it was the ‘roids ( that made A-Rod buff ). I believed it then, and I believe it now. I’ve been down this road too many times with too many guys. I know my ( stuff ), and I know the way it works. I may not have seen ( A-Rod ) do the deed, but I set the whole thing up for him, just like he wanted. I saw the changes in his body in a short time. Hell, if you ask me, I did everything but inject the guy myself.”
 

“I admitted to Mike ( Wallace, in 2005 ) that I had never seen Clemens shoot up, but that I had my suspicions. All those Cy Young Awards. The way he was throwing, hard and fast and steady, without seeming to break a sweat. The way he seemed to be getting stronger as he got older. What else could it be? Good genes? Hell, while most of Clemens’s peers were sitting on porches, in rocking chairs, with old dogs at their feet, he was still pitching rockets.”
 

 

Both the above quoted players by Canseco have been linked, or subjectively linked to steroids in the last few years.  Clemens is currently fighting for his Hall of Fame career life among allegations and evidence that he has either used, or lied under oath about his past usage. The only difference in these two gentlemen is that one knows that by admitting it now, he can still regain some of his credibility in the next 9 years under his current New York Yankees contract. The other has been basically left in a lepers colony by baseball’s fraternity to fester and rot within his own misguided statements and falsehoods. I give Alex Rodriguez a lot of credit for coming clean and admitting and showing his true nature by not dodging the issue, but taking it head on, even if it garners him a suspension or even public ridicule for years.
 

 

 

Canseco talked about both of these players in his books, and the last few months have shown that more and more he is correct on all counts concerning them. But will the baseball community ever acknowledge that he was right?, or will it just conclude that the truth came out and Canseco got lucky in his estimations and accusations. Will he ever get the due credit for trying to soften the blow that was the extent of the steroid scandal and its short-lived era. Isn’t it about time that we all wised up to the fact that we were lied to, and manipulated to see the evil in what Canseco was writing at the time, but now he is coming out smelling like a rose after years of badgering and misinformation by baseball and the media.
 

 

 

But the current fact that the 103 other players might be listed on a document obtained by Sports Illustrated.  Should their names also be leaked to the media, or would that collapse the entire foundation of integrity of the game to its core.  And will it’s leadership be able to rebuild it quickly to keeps its fans and sponsors happy and coming back to the ballparks. Canseco will never be known as a prophet, but he did try and educate us to the darker side of the game that we did not want to see, or even realize until a  top tier player’s name got put out there for everyone to see firsthand. So will this recent reveal make people again take notice of his two novels. I know I am personally going to re-read both novels and see if I can gain more understanding, or even investigate for myself that the game at that time was not clean, but  it had a dirty underbelly that now must be cleaned to save what is left of its purity.
 

 

Canseco is not a trying to be a poster boy for baseball. To the contrary, he is the one player who had admitted and showed no remorse in his choices to use performance enhancing drugs to better himself and his abilities in baseball. Not unlike a pitcher who relied on spitballs and scuffed balls in the past to produce movement on the ball coming into batters, Canseco found and edge and used it to its fullest. But it was his knowledge and his frank honesty about the rampant usage throughout the major leagues that condemned him for years. I am not saying that he should be given a chance for the Hall of Fame.  We all know the actions he took to get that edge will condemn him to baseball purgatory, but could his upfront honestly and revelations at least gain him some respect now with baseball fans?

 

                         
 

 

I believe in Jose Canseco. I saw him as a memeber of the Rays highly touted ” Hit Show” in the late 90’s. He did garner some great moments in a Rays jersey, but the fact that he also tainted those multi-colored jerseys by using PED’s in that clubhouse takes him off my Rays favorite player list. I admire him more today knowing that he tried to warn us of a storm that was brewing off our bows. He also got us ready for the facts to finally come clean and the truth be known in baseball……………….that there will always be evil within all that is good with the game.
 
 
 

Photos obtained from http://www.FoxNews.com,www.Amazon.com and http://www.oddball-mall.com for today’s blog.

Recent Rays Moves………….My View from Rightfield

 

 

Wow!

Here it is a few days from the Winter MLB meetings in Opry-ville and we made a few needed moves that will help define our current and future goals for our squad.

 

First off, let me get that off my chest right now. I am not a Delmon Young hater in anyway, but, from my seat in Right Field, I could read some of his body language and tell  he was just buying time before the poisoned axe or his actions  dictated a move to new Fieldturf pastures.

 

 Have fun in the pillow-dome Delmon. You complained about not being able to clearly see balls at the Trop. Wait until you look up in that sea of lights and  true white roof at the Metrodome………..you will wish for the grey white roof of the Trop. I do wish him alot of luck in his future and success with that “Young” brothers curse of having a small attitude adjustment problem. His brother seemed to have finally gotten his attitude to shine with the Nats, let’s hope it doesn’t take Delmon as long to fine the right basepath to being the great teammate. Delmon’s departure will come back to haunt us at times,…………..but only for 6 or 7 games a year.

 

Now the players we got for Delmon are quality guys. Matt Garza is a young player that can br dialed into this rotation for years and will be a positive and needed upgrade to our constantly inproving and maturing pitching staff. Garza has not even hit the stride in his career yet, so the sky is the limit right now with him.

By the way, in Garza’s last 2007 start in, he pitched 6.2 innings with 4 hits and 1 ER against the Royals and Lost the game. We will take 6.2 inning outting any day with only 1 ER…….with the offensive power we have on our roster right now, it should always  be a “W” with the Rays.

 

The additon of Garza is great because this staff can grow into a huge AL East  pitching monster. Scott “The K” Kazmir is just getting started. James Shields was perfecting a few of his pitches last year, and gaining a boatload of knowledge about American League hitters.

 

 Those two will hold down the front of the rotation for a long time. Matt Garza is a great addition to help get those extra ( hopefully) 10-15 wins a year to get close to that hallowed 82-82 mark.

 

They only curious point to this trade is Jason Barlett,the second player involved in this trade.  He is destined to be just a stop-gap fill-in until protege’ Reid Brignac is ready to man the 5 hole for years to come. Bartlett  hit .265 last year, but only has 10 HR’s in his career and only 1,079 AB’s in his career.  He has primarily been a utility man during his career in the bigs, and this is his first extended playing time in the shortstop position.

 

Now he knows the role he will play here in Tampa Bay, but who knows, someone could come to camp to even replace him ( maybe Ben Zobrist ). Worst things have happened to our team.  Remember Danny Batista and Roberto Alomar retiring from our squad with only days to go in Spring Training. Losing these ex- All-Stars was viewed at the time as a failure by the team. It turned into the emmergance of Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes as “go-to” guys for the Rays for  that year.  So, sometimes a bad look can turn into a solid gold treasure when you only look at the surface of a situation. But that is why we play the games and do not award a trophy for roster potential, but game results.

 

With that in mind, let me wander a bit. and fantasize here.

 

 Can you go back home again in baseball? Not to a home per se, but to an old team that left you unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, and you selected to a good NL team that did not even know if you could play an entire season because of health and personal concerns.

 

Josh, I have always wanted success for you and knew that you could and would pull yourself together and show the world what a ture 5-tool player looks like up here. You went on to  prove you can play at the highest level and even make their opening day lineup in Right Field. the start of the season offensive expolsion you provided made everyone’s jaws dropped in awe. You finally had an entire country knowing you had it in you, and you proved it to everyone.

 

Hey Josh, I was there the day you came back after your off field problems that took you from baseball and the Rays. I was the Pepsi  guy in the locker room talking to Tim M. right before you went out the door of the training complex and first met the media.

 

I knew then that you had it again. That your head and attitude felt right to me, and I wanted the sky for you. Can you forgive the powers from beyond the Trop’s D-rings and just listen to them if they want to trade and include you on our squad.  I would cheer and enjoy watching you in Right Field again. And a huge plus that people forget, you can be the left-handed bat that Joe has been searching for in the lineup. Could be a sea of pluses for both the team, and yourself.

 

Okay, fantasy time is over……… Trade number two might not seem big on paper or even in reality, but it can be the jump start for each player. Elijah Dukes and Glen Gibson both needed a team that wanted them and believed in them. Now I do not think the Rays ever disliked or wanted harm for Elijah. His off-field and on-field distractions just took their toll on himself and the front office. Both parties knew that a change of scenery can work wonders for you, as a  person and a player.

 

 I wish you a cartload of homers in that new park Elijah. And we will not see you for  about 6 years. It take a few years for the schedule to again list the Nats’ as a interleague opponent again.So this trade might be a hidden blessing for you.

 

 Now Glen Gibson is  daily becoming a more polished pitcher.  Baseball America rated Gibson’s changeup and curve the best in the Nats’s farm system. Now we  know he has inherited talent and a great barometer a phone call away from him. Not every guy has a father that pitched in the majors. That could end up being a hidden blessing for him and the Rays.

 

Fantasy time again…………this time Minor edition.  The Rays’ top draft pick last year, David Price has set high expectations of himself and his progression in the Rays farm system this year. Now I will never argue with a Vandy grad, but I just want him to have a shot to know the systems and not rush his progress. When he gets called up to the Big club, he may  get hit like a pinball for a few weeks, but being a Southeastern Conference pitcher is a bit of a farm system in its own right. The best have had a rough beginning until they adapt and conquer the unique strike zones and brutal power potential of a MLB batters’ box.

 

I love to hear bravado and throwing caution to the wind, but I think a year in triple-A and a call up down the line could be his best medicine. There are a great amount of talent in Double-A and Triple-A right now biting at the bit to get that Spring Reporting date here and start to show their stuff. Jeff Neimann, Jeff Ridgeway, JP Howell,Mitch Talbot, and ex-big club guys like Chad Orvella, Jae Kuk Ryu want another shot up here as well. And that does not include the future power pitchers scattered in the Montgomery, Columbus, and Vero Beach teams. The future looks really bright for this team in the pitching department.

 

Having a prospective rotation of………Scott Kazmir, James Shields,Matt Garza, and add any of these  current teammates names,………Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel and my favorite, Edwin Jackson to the mix, make for an exciting rotation problem  that could win anytime they hit the rubber.

 

Back to reality.  The addition of  closer extrodinaire, Troy Percival only makes the 6th through 9th inning  a more secure spot for the Rays.

 

What I am talking about is the fact that  Gary Glover,Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler are proven MLB relievers who can make it a challenge for any team to try and score after the starter leaves the game.  We have had great relievers before, but never in the middle roles.

 

 I think Reyes showed a huge amount of class in knowing that what is right for the team is great for the future of this squad. I think that is why they picked up his option. There is no doubts or questions he is a plus everytime he hits the mound for us.

 

 He might be the last guy to get the ball on most nights, but he is the first to know that this team has  within reach lofty goals, and they are within reach most nights, even in Fenway Park.

 

Now I have heard a bushel basket of rumors about additons and subtractions to this team. I want to address my views on a few subtractions here.

 

 Delmon might have been a player with a career that will bury his older brothers, but he also has the Young family cancer of that hidden danger and aggression that could ruin all that is good with……..a simple, casual walk to first.  Rays’ fans know what I am talking about here. I enjoyed watching Aubrey Huff hit for years here, but when he started to jog down to first is when he got that dreaded “Ben Grieve” epidemic. Maybe it is in the aura of Right Field that our players get that attitude and begin to falter right in front of us. 

 

Brendan Harris and Josh Wilson were the “blue collar” guys last year. Each guy experienced  a banner year. they got to play ball almost every night and did it the right way. Both got rewarded in different ways.

 

 Brendan got to play in another Dome, but has a great chance to be the everyday guy in the 5 hole up in Minn. Josh Wilson was put on the daily MLB waiver wire with the hopes he could pass through without a hitch. One big hitch, some people actually read those waiver wires daily.  The Pirates took a gamble, and got another quality infielder for their rebuilding ballclub. We wish you a ton of success Josh……you did a great job for the short time you were a Rays. Just a reminder, we did get Josh on waivers from the Nationals last year.  Karma?  you never know.

 

The last two trades I want to discuss did not happen as of the writing of this blog. That does not mean that the teams are not on their cellphone right now mending the deal or twisting the pieces to fit both teams.

 

 The First is the rumor of Edwin Jackson shipping off to Seattle for  1b/DH Ben Broussard. Now I am a huge “Action” Jackson fan, just ask him (lol). I liked Ben Broussard when he was an Indian, but I think his production has slowly seem a downward spiral. We could have done better even in a rumor than this one.  Another rumor had the Mets again this year coveting Jackson.  I do not know what the Mets’ still have left in their farm system. They have been active the last few years adding the missing pieces to their squad. But I am not sure their farm system is as strong as when we plucked Scott Kazmir from their clutches.

 

The second  non trade is a two-parter.It is the “non” trading of Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli.

 

I know that Carl would love to be a part of the first winning team in this franchises’ short history.  He should be a part of this celebration……front and center. Rocco I believe will come out of Spring Training in better shape, and better condition than any other time in his short Rays tenure.

 

 I used to be out at the Rays complex delivering alot, and when Rocco was mending from his surgeries and bumps and bruises, he was  always eagerly training and building himself up for his return. If you remember, Joe used to like to have Rocco in the dugout at home games and selected road series because of his great attitude and zest for success.

 

 I think this time it is totally personal for Rocco. I feel he knows that the team took a gamble and signed him to a long term deal. He is a proud guy, and he is probably the most excited about reporting in  Feb. 2008. Rocco stated in a news article he will relax this off season for a change. I believe that like I believe the “Clear” was a muscle relaxing ointment.  FDA approved too………right? He is probably getting in the best condition both mentally and physically for this team.

 

Right Field has been a concern for the big wigs upstairs since Delmon hit the road for the Great White north.  I think Jonny Gomes, Rocco, or even the tandem of Triple-A studs Fernando Perez or Jason Ruggiano can man it better than Cliff Floyd, Geoff Jenkins, or Darin Erstad. No disrespect to Darin, Luis Gonzalez, or Cliff. I even recently heard a rumor of my old baseball buddy Trot Nixon maybe being a good fit for us. He did hit great here against us, But remember fans,so did Jose Cruz Jr. when he was with the Jays and then got suddenly an average hitter at the Trop.

 

I think the Rays can have a perfect “wait and see” attitude here, unless Josh Hamilton is truly availiable….hint hint Andrew and Matt.

 

In conclusion, the non-tendered list of players will be announced in the coming weeks. This is a huge announcement that always has a few jaw dropping names on it. Things can change dramatically if a huge or unexpected name is released.  There always seem to be a  a few  high dollar drops, or a player with  health questions when  these names hit a wire……………We shall see.

 

 Kick the tires and look  real close under the hoods  there guys. This team is finally in a position to take quality over quantity in a players signing.

 

This team will have Carlos Pena back with a projected one year deal.  Pena has two years until he is a Free Agent, but both sides are working towards a agreement in place before the Spring Training report date.

 

I think this might happen to both prove both sides points.  His agent,Scott Boras says that “Carlos is just heating up”, and the Rays are hoping it was not  just a fluke year offensively for Pena. Either way, Carlos will be a rich guy come Feb. 2008.

 

 And we are a richer team both in knowing the talent is the best this team has fielded in its 11 years in the MLB. Sorry Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs and Jose Canseco. I wanted the “Hit Show” to be the thing that we measure our successes by, but that is not the case.

 

I will end this with a note about the hardest working Rays I have nkown in my years watching and following this team.  Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi  is always working with the pitchers and providing BP pitching and foul pole comments and analysis. I have known Scott for years and truly feel blessed to have ever met him. We have had a routine of him coming to give me some grief before every game down the Right field line after he tosses with the Rightfielders.

 

 We have a habit of tipping our caps after the last out before he heads into the locker room for the night. Scott is a guy who has invited me out a few times when I have gone on road trips to celebrate with himself and a few people on the team. I have cherished these moments in Seattle and Cleveland. I look forward to 2008 for both the Rays sucesses, and seeing my baseball buddy again manning the Bullpen with Bobby Ramos. As always Scott, I tip my hat to you for what you do for the Rays, and our  Section 138 fans group.

 

Only ( as of Dec 7th, 2008) 77 days until Pitchers’ and Catchers’ report ……..and I can’t wait until 8 am that day.

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