Results tagged ‘ Jose Molina ’

Ice Bucket Challenge…Do You Have It in You?

 

If for nothing else, the Summer of 2014 is going to be known for ice cold buckets sloshing all over the heads, upper bodies and shoes of people from all walks of life. What’s a little H2O when it can be done for a great cause, and to also call out for friends, family, co-workers and maybe that one person you always wanted to get a little revenge on…..now is your chance.

The challenge is actually quite easy in thought: you get a full bucket of icy cold water, dump it over your head, record the action, post the video out and about on any or all of your social media outlets and then loudly call out or challenge anyone and everyone to also take the plunge and make a donation to the ALS Association.

I mean tons of famous and also non-famous people have already gotten their cold shiver on with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I mean athletes and celebrities like pro golfer Greg Norman, actress Elisha Cuthbert, Toronto Maple Leaf Dion Phaneuf, Household goddess Martha Stewart and even the Tampa Bay Rays mascot Raymond have completed and sent out their own challenges to other to also compete and complete the icy adventure.

I am simply flabbergasted that the watery “Tag..Your it!” endeavor has risen to such high standards with hundreds and thousands of people through their social media pages and messages calling for the friends, followers and even family to take a cold one for ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Amazingly enough, the event has raised over $150,000. Already this year and before the first leaf falls could surpass a quarter of a million dollars just by people all over the social map calling out others to douse themselves and to extend the challenge to their select intended targets to also partake and donate, then keep the cycle going…possibly all summer long.

And this awesome fund raising challenge actually has a bit of a baseball foundation. Seems that this whole icy situation began back in 2012 in the Boston, Mass area and quickly began to gain a more wet footing as friends, relatives and former teammates of former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates who was diagnosed with ALS.

Pete’s close knit group of friends, family and others decided used the cool idea as a visual physical challenge to raise awareness about ALS. Frates, 29, has been living with ALS since 2012 and has worked for The ALS Association’s Massachusetts Chapter. Frates is a former Divion1 college baseball player for Boston College and is a tireless champion for the foundation and its awareness.

Recently Pete’s own parents, John and Nancy along with 200 assembled dry souls doused themselves in Copley Square. His parents state that the ice bucket challenge has done more to increase the understanding about ALS than anything else they have imagined over the past 2 years.

How much has this event helped the ALS Association?

ALS Association National President Barbara Newhouse said donations to the national office have surged during the last 10-day period that ended this past Thursday to about $160,000. From $14,480 during the same period a year ago. And you have to believe that local and community chapter offices have not been able to give their donation yet, so a figure of $250,000. Seems within reach just for a few moments of uncomfortable chills for a tremendous cause.

I have been the subject of a ALS Ice Bucket  Challenge twice now (8/10/14 & 08/17/14) and have been honored to take that heavily laced bucket of ice chips and some water  and dumped it over my Rays capped noggin.  I completed my first challenge after being called out by a former Colts teammate on August 10th and completed my second tour of icy goodness on Sunday, August 17th after a challenge was issued to former Baylor football players. I also donated $100 each time with the second donation being presented in the name of my daughter Alex Hougham.

All I can tell you is thank goodness it is 90+ degree in St. Petersburg, Fl right now so the water not only cooled me down, but kept my feet and shorts cool for an hour or two afterwards as I did not bring spare clothes (Hint: remember spare clothes, at least flip flops). 

I mean I have heard of some wild challenges already like the one completed by Boston Bruins stars Brad Marchand and Torey Krug who willingly dropped frozen ice (not from Boston Garden) on themselves and then promptly issued their own set of challenges to their intended water-logged friends.

So friends, family and old arch-enemies be aware, for soon I might be calling you out to also partake in the chilling but totally satisfying adventure of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Now if only my Nike’s would dry out…

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Rays Photo Day Shows Both Sides of the Rays Personalities

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You never quite know what sensibilities are going to “play out” when the Tampa Bay Rays let photographers bring about their own illuminations on the team’s character, or is that characters. You only have to look back to the Feb. 25, 2010 Rays Photo Day shots where the photographer that day used the natural sunlight of Florida as sparkling and illumination points on the photos of that season squad.

2010Sure they were embarking on a new strand of light called the post season that spring and the Sun made more than a few spectacular effects in a variety of photos from that spring’s squad. Then in 2013 it seems the Rays photos were a bit more subdued than usual with some playful spots of individuality, but the photos overall seemed to illustrate a unison or harmony among the troops.

Of the 26 photos already released from the Rays 2014 Photo Day, there is again a underlying theme that clearly is visible and unique all to the Rays way of team chemistry. This spring photos show a calm, a essence of a more tranquil and centered squad of players who see that goal in the cross-hairs and calmly and professionally plan to be the team that “eats last” come November 2014.

eatslastYou see a more relaxed Papa Longoria with the Rays leadership crown solidly planted upon his head along with fellow Clubhouse General David Price presenting himself quite Zen-like in his photos awaiting the approaching Opening Day more with zeal than strife.

But then you have the other side of the Rays coin also displayed in the type of Gasparilla-infused notions and action of Rays reliever Josh Lueke both in his biting of a baseball, to juggling and possibly showing that some fun must come with all the stress of competing and delivering your goal.   

wjbjI enjoy seeing the fight and fire as well as the comedic notions that make up a M L B team. Not everyone can be serious all of the time and sometimes that moment of tongue-in-cheek humor or even dawning a gladiator’s mask can deliver more energy and fight into a group than any Knute Rockne oratory.

The Ying and Yang of this year’s released Photo Day shots also shows the ebb and flow that will ultimately exist within the Rays this year as leaders and jokers can come together tone their antics and abilities to the highest achievement levels and produce memories and events that we will speak about for years.

LLMEFrom the high points of  Longoria who with a consistent effort in 2014 should ultimately by-pass and become the sole Rays all-time leaders in such categories as HR, RBI, Extra Base Hits, doubles and Slugging Percentage before the end of 2014 to Myers who will again be called on provide the same kind of energy, production and raw unharnessed spirit that saw him take home an American League Rookie of the Year trophy, this team will rise and fall on both the chill moments and chaotic scrambles that make up a 162-game campaign.

pllbSure this is but only a 26 frame cross-section of the character and characters of that will become the heart and soul of the 2014 edition of the Rays, but if this is any indication of what we might have in store for us for a 162 game haul…..I’m ready to buckle in and take the rough with the fun for it’s almost time for the games to matter and I can’t wait for that last day in March………..But I don’t think Lueke will have to eat too many balls this year because this team looks and sounds hungry enough to push it to that last meal….and maybe have room for a champagne-infused dessert.

All photos taken by Zimbio.com photographers. They do so many other M L B teams photos each spring. Search their website for your team’s spring photos. I do have a Facebook link with the latest 26 and any additional Rays Photo Day shots I find past the submitting of this blog post.

Rays Could be Waving Goodbye to the Ice Cream Man

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Going to be sad to see the end of the Ice Cream Man’s era with the Tampa Bay Rays. Going into the winter off-season you could have hedged your bets the team would unload possibly a player striding the pitching rubber, not one crouched down 60 feet 6 inches away. Maybe the writing was on the wall for catcher Jose Lobaton the moment the Rays traded for a respected and well-tooled catcher like Ryan Hanigan.

Not helping in Lobaton’s increasingly unstable situation was that the other “Jose” in the Rays catching corps, Jose Molina had signed a team-friendly contract with an eye on a bit of a reduced role in 2014. Suddenly it didn’t seem like why, but when Lobaton would get a call from the team announcing a trade, but there is no way any of us thought this adventure would venture into February.

lkjhgfdfgAnd trade chatter is being heard from vista’s like Cleveland, Washington, the south-side of Chicago, Flushing, Phoenix and even Denver that Lobation could/should possibly be looking for a temporary abode in Arizona for Spring Training, not Port Charlotte, Florida.  Hopefully a deal will get done fast and swiftly as pitchers and catchers are beginning their journeys to their Spring Training camps and if he isn’t a Ray come February 14th, Loby got some hurried planning to do.

Lobaton has to be an attractive option for a team wanting to bring in a young but experienced backstop. His .249 average during the 2013 season mixed with 7 HRs shows he is gaining the ability to not only be good behind the plate, but can deliver standing on either side of the dish. Switch-hitting catchers are a bit of a rarity in the MLB, and Lobaton has shown by his .736 OPS from the left side he should garner at least a few phone calls from every one of those cities mentioned above for their respective catching units.

He has a gold star attached to his name right now as a Super Two arbitration player who is excelling at a position where a team could acquire a player with his talents and experience knowing he will not hit the free agent market until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest.  We have already heard reports over the winter that the Nationals would love to find a capable young backstop to pair with W Ramos, and Lobaton definitely fit the criteria.

uytyuAlso in Lobatons favor is the pure fact he has been with the Rays during their stretch runs over the last few seasons and has post-season experience as well as his ability to come through in the clutch with power displays and ice cream runs. The Indians with their favorable park dimensions could utilize Lobaton’s left-sided goodness especially as the team wants to try and secure Carlos Santana at the First Base bag in 2014.

You can see the White Sox interest as they might not be totally all in favor of Tyler Flowers being their everyday catcher, and the Rockies and D-backs might be looking at Loby more as a young talented insurance option should injuries again plague their catching corps. And do not discount the fact teams already know Lobaton comes at a good value after he avoided arbitration earlier this off season with a $900,000.  2014 Salary.

Worst part of Molina re-signing and the team trading for Hanigan is the pure fact the path is blocked for any significant amount of time behind the plate for Lobaton in 2014. Another factor that will play into another team getting Lobaton is the fact he is out of minor league options and would have to go through the waiver wire to be shipped back to Triple-A Durham if he did not make the Rays 2014 Opening Day roster.

So we have hit on the positives for teams wanting Lobaton’s services for 2014. And with every player there also comes some uncertainty or liabilities.

jhgOne simple reason for a trade is in fact a by-product of the team’s trade for Hanigan and the keeping of Molina. Lobaton is not a defective pitch framer, but the Rays other 2 options at this time trump Lobaton’s ability and he might be considered average at best in getting borderline strike calls.

2 other glaring liabilities of obtaining Lobaton might be career stat-wise he is considered to be below average backstop in getting to balls in the dirt which would be a red flag to teams that rely on breaking pitches outside and low.

What a team might also offer for Lobaton might hinge on if they think they can correct his most illuminating flaw, a career 16 % Caught Stealing percentage mark. If a team can imagine fixing any of the 3 flaws in Loby’s bag of tricks they could come out as a winner in any trade offering.

In the end, the Rays know they might have to take a little less in return for Lobaton no matter his offensive upside because the team would have to make a difficult decision to retain him after March 31st.

jlkjjkjAlso with reporting dates quickly approaching, a team would want to get Lobaton in camp as soon as possible as he would need time to not only adjust to a new team and techniques, but get an early spring edge on the learning curve of catching and pitch calling for a new pitching staff before the season begins.

Hopefully the trade process is short and sweet and Lobaton is off to join his new team before their report date. You can only hope Lobaton begin to show some new prowess in scooping the ball this spring, digging down deep in the bowl to block pitches and deliver that sweet swing that always ends with ice cream.

 

Is Lobaton the Rays Catching Answer?

Still not sure Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Lobaton is the answer to the Rays catching deficiency. I thought heading into this season we could of seen the emergence of Lobaton finally taking the Rays reigns and leading this team, but time out rehabbing an early injury has stymied his maturation processes and left the Rays with a big void behind the plate.

Even now upon his return Lobaton has produced mixed results and possibly the Rays may be eying a few catching possibilities with the Trade Deadline just 5 weeks away. The possibility of Lobaton taking the majority of the starts behind the plate for the Rays is diminishing with each and every start he doesn’t impress or show production. The Rays have invested a lot of their faith in the Venezuelan former Water Polo player, but so far he has only slightly risen above the water crest and showed he can handle the full-time duty.

 Since his return from the disabled list, Lobaton over his 9 games has shown something the Rays have been lacking from their backstop position this season. Lobaton has seemed to have found his hitting groove sporting currently a .308 average and a nice.823 OPS. But even with his 8 hits, power is slowly coming to his game, almost to the point of being non-existent. And that is troubling to me since this spot in the Rays line-up needs to have that occasional “pop” and ability to keep pitchers honest with the top of the line-up just around the corner.

 
What is glaring to me in hindsight is the .091 average Lobaton sported during his rehab assignment as a possibly picture to what could evolve over the next 5 weeks. I shudder to think the Rays could handle or sustain any variance of Lobaton’s average getting anywhere near fellow catcher Jose Molina’s sub-par .183 batting average. If the Rays catching corp can not produce power numbers with any consistency over the next 5 weeks, changes will definitely be in the wind.

 I should just look at the bright side of it all that since Lobaton came off the DL, he has sported 4 hits and 2 RBI in comparison that he had produced previously only 4 hits and 2 RBI in his time in 2011. Possibly with Lobaton being 1 of only 2 Rays to even muster a hit off of Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale when he dismantled the Rays offense, I can cut him a bit of slack for now.

 When Lobaton made the Rays Opening Day roster after a up and down Spring Training, I wanted to put eggs in his basket, hoping he had what this team has desired for a long time… a true leader and power behind the plate.

Possibly I’m expecting too much out of this young player in a short amount of time, but with the Rays season 1/3rd of the way completed, a positive force behind the plate could be instrumental in this team heading on a wins run that could prove to be the deciding factor come September.

 Lobaton’s throwing ability bothers me right now. Sure he as an adequate arm, but a .166 (1 of 6) Catcher’s Efficiency is not making me any more confident or supportive of his possible long-term reign behind the Rays plate. But maybe I just need to give the guy a chance, let him mature and expand into his role and revisit this again in 5 weeks. By then we will all know if the Rays have faith in his expanding leadership and bat, or if another body will man the dish with Lobaton possibly looking on from the dugout. I’m hoping personally the guy finds his way and shows why both the Rays and the fans have been awaiting his return.


Did the Red Sox Signal Corps Find Success?

They’re just really hot right now,” Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times after Thursday afternoon’s 3rd loss in a row to the Boston Red Sox. “It’s almost like they knew what’s coming almost. They’re on every pitch. They’re on the fastball. They’re on the breaking ball. They’re on the change-up. They’re on everything right now. They’re really locked in.

Doesn’t take a baseball genius to decipher a little bit of hidden meaning in Maddon’s comments. But maybe Maddon is on to something. Sure stealing signs has been around since the invention of the game and unless you use a video tape system or other technology that can give you in-game information, Major League Baseball will turn it’s eye away from the situation. If you have every notice during Rays game, one of the Rays starters, and usually Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi will both keep an accurate account of the game stats, type of pitches and their results for future analysis.

This can be used in the future for predictions, but is not plausible for in-game use. Some thought the Rays pitching staff might be showing “tells” or tipping off their pitches during the Boston series. Seems a bit far-fetched when you consider the Rays sent hurlers David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie Matt Moore to the hill in the first 3 contests, and they did not seem to exhibit any visual “tells” in the delivery, arm slot release or facial movements. There are 3 valid reasons the Red Sox might have gotten the upper hand on the Rays this series.

First off, Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine is an astute student of the game who also caught for many years and knows the art of trying to both conceals and transmit false signals to prevent the stealing of signs. A smart Manager would have someone down near the back-end of the dugout watching in at the catcher, possibly seeing similarities, constant familiar movements or even a flash of a painted nail to signal the true intended pitch.

Just as quickly that player could tip his cap, stand up, clap his hands or do any number of audio or visual patterns to signify a certain pitch being thrown to the plate. This is not an illegal activity, but does seem to hide within the large gray area of the unwritten rules of baseball.

A great second indicator that the Boston brood might be fishing for signals is the fact the Red Sox brought in former Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to be their primary backstop this season. Do not forget, it was this same Red Sox organization that gave @ShopHouse10 his first decent chance and taste of MLB life as a Red Sox prospect. Got to think the Red Sox have grilled and formulated a game plan in advance with information on pitching patterns and possible signal combinations so to get a bit of an edge against this young and talented staff.

This is also not illegal, and is a rather commonplace occurrence after a player leaves one team and joins another. But a catcher knows all the nuances and particulars of a team’s signal calling process. Even if the Rays changed their system this Spring, there is still leftover signals, patterns and small tell-tale signs that could trigger an all out discovery or disclosure of a team’s battery signals.

Still, Boston could have done their business the hard way and just watched game film from this Spring as these 2 squads played each other 3 times with the Red Sox coming away with wins in all 3 contests. Valentine could have had his off-the field staff tear down game tapes looking for patterns, “tells” or even a system that developed out of the constant movements of the Rays catchers this Spring and possibly into late 2011. He could have done it by dissecting the Rays Spring patterns, taking a slice of Shoppach’s past knowledge and sprinkled in a bit of his long history both as a spectator and catcher in the MLB.

Or maybe it is just as simple as Valentine figured out the Rays common “indicator” signal that all 3 of the Rays catchers from Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton to Chris Gimenez might have used when a player was on base. The “indicator” is usually one or two patterned finger or body movements made to try to throw off someone stealing signals, but if discovered, or if the pattern is somehow revealed throughout a contest, it can be a green light to the First and Third Base Coaches to alert hitters to what might be coming.

Even a calculated and synchronized system of random catcher movements and finger motions can be dissected within the scope of the game, possibly making the catcher the one giving up a “tell”. Even though it is illegal to videotape the concentrated area of the catcher for possible signal interception, the Centerfield camera always gives a perfect view into the heart of the plate, and signals can be deciphered quickly.

In the end it is a part of the game until you have hard concrete proof to the contrary. Considering Valentine and Shoppach could have brainstormed before the series began and when the indicators might have been discovered, the rest came fast and furious. But you want to think it was just an offense coming alive and no ulterior actions that hindered the Rays pitching staff this series.

But a clear indicator that possibly the system was compromised came to light today as starter James Shields held the Red Sox to a 4-hit shutout to break not only the Rays losing streak, but possibly the tale of the stealing signs. No matter if the Rays got duped by Boston this series and they did figure out the patterns and signals, it just goes to show you that not all information can be tied to a computer, a spreadsheet or even a video. Sometimes the human eye can figure out the game just as quickly and turn it into an advantage. I hope no signs were stolen, but who would fess up if it was true?

 

Hair Today….Gone Tommorrow… for a Great Cause

Some say Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made more than a few headlines for his follicle hair coloring statements over the past few seasons. From his steady head of gray to John Cash black to a more subtle but pronounced medium brown this Spring, Maddon has made his hair fashionable.

On Thursday Maddon’s “ hair moment” or in fact his “loss of hair moment” will proceed over an event that has seen it’s list of participants grow by the hour. Over 26 members of the Rays are set to see their locks fall to the ground and be swept away as a symbolic gesture of support for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Dubbed “Team Rays” on their website, Maddon will be not only leading by example, but following the road set forth by another Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning F Vinny Lacavalier.

This is the same organization that Rays starter Wade Davis showed such support for in 2011 as he let a young cancer patient shave his head as he sat in a chair over the Rays dugout after the conclusion of a Sunday game. That was only one participant, and the crowd was amazing. Think of the magnitude knowing over 25 members of the team and the Rays staff will also sit in the chair and have their locks fall to the grass in support of this effort.

Rays participants set to join Maddon in the barber’s chair before the Rays Thursday afternoon contest in Port Charlotte include Rays pitchers: Davis, James Shields, Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Ramos. Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, Brandon Gomes, Matt Torra, Albert Suarez, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa and Rays rookie sensation Matt Moore.

Not to be outdone by the pitchers’, the entire Rays catching corps will also have their time in the leather chair as Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Mark Thomas,Stephen Vogt, Robinson Chirinos and follicle-challenged Craig Abernaz will see their hair fly away in the Charlotte Sports Park wind before that days contest. Also making an appearance in the chair will be some of the members of the Rays right-side of their infield: SS Reid Brignac, 3B Jesus Feliciano, INF Elliot Johnson, plus Rays outfield members Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer and the “Legend” himself, Sam Fuld.

A few well-known figures in the Rays coaching staff will also need more sunscreen this Spring as Third Base Coach Tom Foley and Bench Coach Dave Martinez will also be supporting this great charity. The Rays front office will also have a few hit the chair as Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Brian Auld, Sr VP Mark Fernandez, VP of Branding and Fan Experience Darcy Raymond, Sr Director of Corporate Partnerships Aaron Cohn,Manager of Corporate Sales Jake Hornstein and two Directors of Corporate Partnerships, Richard Reeves and Josh Bullock.

I think the paragraph on the pcfcutforacure website under “Team Rays” speaks volumes on why the team is so focused and excited about the event:

This is about being there for the kids and their families. We want them to know they are not alone. It’s a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through. We have a saying posted in our locker room that says ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ As we go forward with this campaign we are doing so under the flag ‘Fortune favors the bald.’ As an organization, we are proud to support organizations and institutions like the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) and the Moffitt Cancer Center.”

This is the kind of event that bonds a team. Unified with a common thought and goal, it can be a great starting point of the Rays taking another step not only in their development as a team, but as a great inspiration to other teams around the MLB to follow suit. I commend Maddon and his troops for their commitment, their outstanding community involvement and support, and most of all for donating what some see as a status symbol but they see as only hair and a visual stamp that they support this organization.

If you want to help support this cause with a donation of your own, text CUT to 50555 or go to pcfcutforacure.org. Just as every snip of the scissors is a chance to change a life, every text can also be life-changing for someone.

 

 

Anxiously Awaiting the Rays Report Date

I do not know about you, but the next 14 days will surely seem like trying to get that last drop of molasses out of that stupid bottle. For as the climax and celebration of Super Bowl is finally beginning to get out of our ears and thoughts, now the baseball world begins to get their Spring priorities right and think of the American Pastime. With the last bit of cool crispness in the air, it will be time to pound a few dozen balls into newly oiled mitts and try out a few new pitch variations, and hopeful improvements.

14 days until the Tampa Bay Rays again try to mess up the status quo among the American League East. 14 days until we see what Rays starter Jeff Niemann has up his sleeve to make this team fall in love with him again and possibly jettison another piece of the Rays rotation puzzle to a destination unknown. Or will the magic that Rays rookie Matt Moore displayed in late September and October translate into a slot on the MLB roster, or a few months vacation in Durham until Niemann’s first anticipated soreness issue. This could only start a countdown for Rays SP Wade Davis too as teams are watching his every move as the Rays are surely going to have to make at least 1 painful starting pitching decision before the Rays Opening Day on April 6th.

14 days until we find out if new Rays RP Fernando Rodney will take a moment with Rays starter James Shields and try to get a fresh prospective and grip on his Change-Up. Shields would seem to be the perfect candidate for Rodney to chum up to considering his variable speed pitch is considered one of the best in the majors.

14 days until we see if the off-season was the time needed for Rays leftie J P Howell to again become “the Dude” providing long curves and a renewed vigor and vitality to his fastball, possibly topping 89 MPH by the season’s start. I truly hope and want Howell to have a revitalized Spring, or he might be re-named “ The Dud”. Along with Howell, there is considerable chatter on if the Rays will again hold onto 3 southpaws which could mean a trip to the minors or elsewhere for fellow left-handers Cesar Ramos ( no options) and Jake McGee (1 option).

14 days until we see who out of the Rays young backstop stable of Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos want the Rays back-up gig and produce defensive gems and offensive dreams from a position with loads of talent, but lacking in MLB catching experience. That will also be the moment we see just how much in the gas tank for “the other Molina” Jose. Will he excel at the Rays weak spot in the batting order, or become another Rays casualty destined to watch the young bucks get the starts while he mends.

14 days until we see the sophomore effort of Hellboy take place. Will he again find his demonic rhythm that had everyone in baseball envying the upstart Rays? Can Hellboy improve on his walk to strikeout ratio, and more importantly improve on his ground ball ratio to let his great defense behind him help him gain victories and accolades. Will the young right-hander finally become comfortable in his 3-slot knowing he can be a series exclamation point behind the two top aces, Shields and David Price.

14 days until we see if Price can gain some consistency by not trying to change grips during a game and totally trusting the grips that got him to points in games without diverting from the game plan by toying with his art. 2012 will also be the season where Price can either gain a foothold on immortality by posting numbers worth of his new salary and being that stop gap starter that should be the Opening Day starter and player who can get that needed win.

14 days until we can see if the “B-brothers”, RP Brandon Gomes and ex-Fish Burke Bradenhop can secure roster spots with an impressive Spring. Also on our minds firmly in 14 days will be the talent escalation of the 2 “Alexs”, Cobb and Torres. Each throwing from a different side, but each wanting a roster slot and a chance to show their worth to the Rays this Spring. Coming into the Spring it seems Gomes has a clear shot, but as we all know, things can change before the calendar changes to April. All 4 players mentioned in this paragraph have minor league options, and the Rays could play a game of “mix-and-match” early on during the season with any of the 4 spending time both in St. Petersburg and Durham.

Also firm in the Rays Republic’s mind is the elbow health of Kyle Farnsworth who put up career numbers in 2012, but had a few episodes with soreness that some thought was a pre-cursor to possible Tommy Johns. 14 days the Rays will see if his off-season rehabilitation and strengthening program brought results or more of the same.

I truly think the Rays have aligned themselves with 3 closers now, who could all be used in certain situations and firmly close the door on the opposition. Farnsworth and Rodney might have the early nods, but I truly think Joel Peralta is going to be the thunder under the dome this season. I saw a spark of it late in 2012 when Farnsworth sat due to his soreness, Peralta showed beyond a shadow of a doubt he could inherit or be destined as the Rays closer. I thought he might ascend to that spot in 2011, but in-synch with Farnsy, the two became a consistent 1-2 late inning punch for the Rays.

14 days when I will be personally sad not to see former Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos giving off a loud belly laugh as he heads to the practice fields. It will seem odd, but new Bullpen Savant Stan Boroski not only has the credentials, but the familiarity with this Rays staff moving from his Assistant Pitching Coach role to an on-the-field mentor to the Rays staff.

14 days until we see if young catching prospects Nevin Ashley and Stephen Vogt can turn a few Rays heads, possibly moving their own name up the Rays depth chart with impressive Springs, maybe even outing one of the present favorites for a back-up role. Ashley and Vogt have the offensive chops to be with the Rays, but with the catching corps becoming clouded in 2011 with extra pieces and rehabbing players, they might have slipped out of the Rays minds as future weapons.

14 days until at 10 am the gates open and we embrace “officially the Rays 15th season in the Bigs. 15 years where coming into this point in the season there were tons of questions with few answers. This season there are tons of answers with clarifying questions dotting the landscape…for now. Port Charlotte comes alive when the team get back into town. The sky seems bluer, the air has a nice crispness to it and the grass awaits their footprints. 14 days until we can again firmly boast, and await our 2012 Rays. Look, already 15 minutes closer as you finish reading this post.

Molina Light,a Possible Backstop Libation for the 2012 Rays

When I first heard we were possibly getting a member of the famed Molina trifecta of catching. Instantly my mind was a-flutter with who of the trio of Molina’s had been caught in the Rays net. I knew instantly it could not be Yadier. For the youngest Molina was probably still basking in the underdog afterglow after securing the improbable 2011 World Series Championship.

My mind quickly shifted gears 180 degrees wondering if my old baseball friend Bengie was eager to help his old Halos Bench Coach and current Rays Manager Joe Maddon strengthen up his pitching staff and young catchers. I was thrust back into our own Rays Republic reality when I heard Bengie is loving his time away from the game watching his kids grow up, and possibly hinting of a return of his own to the diamond, but not as a player.

 With the two bookend Molinas accounted for as non-factors for the 2012 Rays roster, it left only the middle brother and a bit of a mid-line offensive minded Molina. Neither of the potential choice cuts of the Molina clan where heading to Tampa Bay. Instead we might be getting the robust yet refined Molina Light.

Granted Jose Benjamin Molina Matta has his own set of World Series rings the first garnered in 2002 when he backed up older bro Bengie with the Halos, then again in 2009 as a member of the New York Yankees. This middle-of-the-road Molina had a bit of history in his baseball resume after becoming the last MLB player to hit a Home Run in the original Yankee Stadium.

After that game the baseball savvy Molina took to quoting famous Bronx icon Babe Ruth who in his last public speech at the original Yankee Stadium said, “I was glad to have hit the first home run in this park. God knows who will hit the last”. Now that is paying the ultimate homage to a man who’s offensive swagger was said to have built the original Yankee Stadium.

 I am sorry if the “Molina Light” might seem a bit harsh, but it is unfortunately realistic. If you had a choice of any of the trio, even the retired Bengie would get your honest vote over the former Toronto Blue Jay backstop. Sure Jose is the tallest of the Molina catching foundation standing a robust 6 foot 2 inches, but his career total of 24 Home Runs, 430 hits and a lifetime .241 average begs you to consider him “light” with the lumber.

In his favor is his uncanny ability to get the most out of his pitchers, especially young staffs. I was impressed over the past 2 MLB seasons when Molina was handed a merry-go-round of pitchers to become familiar with, some with experience, both most still just raw talents. He sculpted that young staff, refined a few of their weaknesses and used their advantages night in and night out to steal critical wins from opponents. I shudder to think what that staff would of accomplished had there not been the injuries and setbacks.

With the Rays possibly having maybe 2-3 starting pitchers coming into Spring Training 2012 with less than 2 full MLB seasons of work, maybe the 1 year deal for Molina with a club option kicker might end up being more than the Rays usual modus operandi of a solid veteran presence to act as a mentor to work with and teach the Rays young crew of backstops, plus add another layer of fine tuned seasoning to guys like young pitchers Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Torres and Alex Cobb.

The Rays would be however experiencing Deja Vu by bringing in another veteran catcher who has a skilled and solid defensive style, which firmly fits the Rays mold, but Molina has seen his offensive numbers decline since 2010, and that gives me a huge reason for concern. Still signing Molina for a 1-year deal with a club option for 2013 could end up being both financially feasible and a future insurance policy in the event John Jaso or Jose Lobaton can not grow and escalate to take this Rays pitching staff to a higher level.

Jose Molina might not be my favorite Molina, but I respect his past present and future work ethic and his undying courage to sit another season behind the plate and get battered night after night by bats, balls and thundering base runners. In that regard he is a solid choice, and along with his skill at slicing and dicing the pitching game plan into a lean, mean strikeout machine, he could be a welcome and solid addition for 2012.

In retrospect, the Rays are a better team with any Molina behind the plate be it Bengie, Yadier or Jose. Who knows, if Dioner Navarro can have a breakout season and be an All-Star, maybe the Rays are just the place for another Molina brother to make his mark.

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