Results tagged ‘ Josh Hamilton ’

I Have Empathy for Josh Hamilton

There are legions of fans around Major League Baseball worried, anxious and fearful of the recent events that have cast a dark shadow around Texas Ranger slugger Josh Hamilton. Some will cast the disconnected and justification analogy that it was “only a few beers”, while others who have fought addictions in the past know it is a steep decline once you let an old evil habit invade your recovery efforts, even for a slight moment.

The incident actually happened earlier in the week in a Dallas area watering hole, well within the eyesight of the community that has taken Hamilton in as one of their own and showered him with respect, admiration and support for his past addiction downfalls. I wan to, but I can’t blame the barkeep who set down that first temptation in front of Hamilton, it was Josh’s job to push it away with authority at that moment. Instead he heeded that temptation.

There is a reason most addicts believe there will be trials, tribulations and stumbling points along their journey to sobriety and abstinence. Addictive personalities are said to be hereditary, but I also know they are socially birthed. Commercials have glamorized certain adult beverages as social tools, useful instruments to become accepted, wanted and even desired. Its intoxicating effect can be alluring not only by taste but by the legions of people around you also downing this same elixir and providing the same cause and effect dance of “Adult beverage+People=Fun times”.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Most of us know this verse as the “Serenity Prayer”, adopted by 12-step programs, Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction clinics. In fact this was an unnamed prayer originally penned by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr during a sermon in 1943. Some might say they are simple words with elegant phrasing and the promise of strength, resolute and courage.

Addiction can be a mean and vengeful mistress. She doesn’t take responsibility for her actions, she tries to destroy even the most basic family unit and devoid s life’s simplest aspirations, and she tries to run your life by blinding our minds and bodies into another addictive realm always oblivious to the chaos and destruction she has produced. She is a malignant disease that has to be constantly tamed, trapped and secured, or she can en gulp you again with spite and vengeance

People might downplay the importance of the public and Hamilton’s inner circle forgiving him and accepting his tumble, but it is imperative he hears those well wishes, being embraces with encouraging comments by fans, friends and family to show firm affirmation that his efforts and struggle with his demons are respected. Acceptance can sometimes be the thin threads towards abstinence when fighting addictions

In the next few days Hamilton will probably board a plane for NYC, meet with the MLB’s staff and medical experts to again pull his life within the lines. Who knows the path from there. Whether the final outcome be more treatments, rehab or even time away from the game to gain fortitude and conviction again, Hamilton has the embrace of the baseball community during his fight.

Addicts accept within themselves that they could be tempted and fail. It is a reality they try and shutter out, but it is a situation that can pounce at every corner and segment of their lives. Internal strength, conviction and the knowledge of others behind your efforts means the world to someone struggling with addictions. I see addiction as a secondary passenger within us. It is inactive within us, then come out in moments of weakness hoping to capitalize when our walls are down and our emotions steeped to the rim of the glass.

I have admired Hamilton since the first time I met him. I was in the Rays Clubhouse in St. Petersburg, Florida delivering Pepsi products when Hamilton took the field again after MLB and the Rays gave him a chance to be a recovering role model and a ball player again. I truly believe the measure of a man is not how fast he gets up off the canvas when life sucker punches him, but how he takes that event and transforms it into a learning experience, and an enlightening moment for others to also use for inspiration.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I spent 6 months in a local drug program Straight Incorporated in my mid-teens. Addiction caught me spinning out of emotional control , bewildered and confused after a sequence of events from my father’s death and the euthanasia of my friend/dog Hansel plus the pressures of being a budding athlete. People wonder why I rarely drink a beer at games, now you know. I do tempt myself, but I think I have it under control…until I don’t.

I hope Josh knows there are people like me out here wanting the best for him. Hoping for the tendencies and addictive triggers to be invisible or vanquished.  I hope Josh knows with clarity people like me will extend their hands to help in any way…Empathy has a way of helping you do that for others, especially your baseball friends.

Andrew Friedman: Reloading the Rays, Not Rebuilding.

 

TBO.com/Unknown Photog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TBT.com/unknown Photog

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

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

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

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

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

Gunslingin’ at the O K Trop Corral

 

They say that old Western gunfighters used to use their eyes to bring their opponents down in a street side disagreement. That a twitch of the eye or even a glimmer or glance could trigger an explosive event where one lies dead and the other victorious. Why is it tonight I think we just might be preparing for the fight at the O K Tropicana with plenty of fireworks and unexpected results before either teams give an inch tonight.


I do not think there are enough superlatives my pocket size Webster’s dictionary to illustrate the true essence of what tonight’s game means to these two teams itching with their finger firmly on the trigger knowing that tonight’s eventual winner gets another crack at those city slicker New York Yankees.

Both the Tampa Bay Rays and the visiting Texas Rangers have shown that they both have a huge propensities to post impressive victorious campaigns in the other’s hostile environments, with both combatants hushing the home crowds. That is all about to possibly end tonight, for it is now a solo “Win or be Gone” situation where a gunfighter’s mentality may just be the final key to being crowned the victor and getting a champagne or Bud Light shower, with and the loser seeing their playoff dreams dead in the water..

Presently both the Rays the Rangers know what is at stake with a lose, and can see with their own steely eyes how to come out victorious tonight and get another shot at those smug Yankees. Not lost within all the predetermined drama and swirling circumstances is the small aspect that no matter who the victor is tonight…. A new chapter of baseball history will be written with the game’s final out.

Who knows what misadventures on the field or post-game jubilations awaits either team as they get set to play in front of 40,000+ highly energized fans under the Teflon roof of Tropicana Field tonight. Not lost on their minds, and those of their fans is the fact have a slight edge as the Rays are 45-18 (.714) lifetime playing in front of crowds 30,000 and above, but that pure and plain fact will not rattle the confidence of these ornery Rangers.

Still undecided is which page of the current ALDS history will be re-written tonight. No matter the final outcome, you can bet the fans both inside Tropicana Field and watching in Texas and around the country will get their money’s worth tonight. If the hometown Rays take it to the Texans tonight, they will be the first team since the 2001 Yankees to come back from a 0-2 start at home and finish off in the victor’s circle in an ALDS.

If the Rangers were to upend the high flying hometown Rays, this Texas team would be celebrating their franchises first postseason title …..ever. Not even the founding Washington Senators even won a single game in the post season, much less win a series. An added plus is the pure glorious fact that the ultimate winner will get to host the Yankees at their home stadium for the first two games of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) set to begin this Friday night.

 

Not lost in all the frilly glitter and plaid glamour tonight is the fact that if the Rays were to be defeated at home tonight, these two teams would have combined their collective road victories to become the first ALDS pair to even win all five of their road contests. But then we get the added bonus of superior pitching match-up between some of the best throwing left-hander in baseball in a ALDS finale.


How incredible is it that the Rays David Price and Rangers Cliff Lee get to square-off again tonight with some much on the line and put their own personal stamp on their team’s chance for victory. Lee posted a clear advantage in Game 1 of the ALDS, but there have been heavy whispers that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made a few adjustments to his line-up card for tonight and will have the Rays coming out at Lee with both barrels blazing.

Neither of these pitchers’ or their teammates’ have shown an ounce of stepping down, or aside for the other during this 5-game Battle Royale. Ultimately, it may come down to whichever team shows the first sign of weakening. Both have solid defenders in the field, but a slight miscalculation could provide the needed crack in either team’s armor right now.

This ALDS has been a classic old fashion baseball barnburner with no preconceived notions on the horizon as to who should be favored tonight. Who would have imagined less than a week ago that those “Claws and Antler” loving strangers from the Lone Star state could have moseyed into the Trop and put a hurting on the home town Rays by outscoring the homesteaders’ by a 11-1 margin in those contests, plus send more than a few shivers up the spines of the Rays Republic.

But with the Major League Baseball best road record in 2010, the Rays again showed why you can never count out this spontaneous team until recording the 27th out. The feisty Rays might have wandered into Arlington, Texas with a huge disadvantage in the series this past weekend. Then provided the Rangers with a personal double dose of the Rays old fashion Southern in-hospitality by strolling into the red-clad Rangers homestead and pushing the Rangers around for two solid games within their own green pasture.

But with everything squared-up and even now, it is again about time to see if we have a Rangers redemption or Rays celebration tonight. Before the clock ever strikes midnight, there will be an other Rays versus Rangers historic performance written in stone under the dome of Tropicana Field. Now we just have to wait and see which team’s fate and destiny gets written tonight into the MLB record books.

How much poetic justice would be served if a former Ranger and current Rays reliever Joaquin Benoit could provide the initial punch needed after being booed by the partisan Texas crowd in Arlington this past weekend. Or how insanely ironic would it be if a current Ranger and former Rays farmhand Josh Hamilton were to deliver the first deathblow to the Rays playoff chances after being applauded by Rays fans in Game 1 and 2.

Neither team has to be coached or prepped on the severity of the moment, and the fact that their 2010 season is at stake tonight. Both team’s have itchy fingers and are ready and eager to go at it tonight.


Some say that the actions of a pitcher and a hitter at the plate mimic those of a pair of gunfighters’ ready for battle. Each trying to provoke and gain an advantage before finally administering the final shot that would decide one’s death or elimination. All night long these battle will be undertaken by both team’s until the ultimately there will only be a team of 25 still standing and celebrating the victory.

It reminds me definitely of a deadly gunfight where two may enter the field of battle, but only one is left standing in the end.

Sunday Rewind: “Options for Broadcast Changes to the Home Run Derby”

 

 
Blogger’s Note:

As it has been my custom this off season to pry the rusty hinges of my archives and troll fror some of the better stuff I have written during 2009, this installment was first posted on July 14,2009 right after I ended the chaos of watching the “ESPN Baseball Three Stooges” do their thing boring and completely putting to sleep the audience during another State Farm Home Run Derby telecast.

The ideas might be filled with an ocean of controversy for MLB or even ESPN to promote change within the structure of the broadcast seats during this telecast, but I would rather watch this event with the sound off than hear one more Joe Morgan “back in the Day” reference about how the “Old Timer’s” did it.  And Chris Berman, I love you dude, but there are only so many “back…Back..Back..” moments I can hear in a broadcast before my ears bleed. 

Here we go again people, eight hours until all the fun surrounding the 2009 All Star game starts all over again. But hopefully tonight’s game will not have that rambling and totaly brain numbing feel of last night’s State Farm Home Run Derby. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a home run as much as the rest of you, but it did not have the same flavor and thrill for me anymore for some reason.

Not to say there were no majestic swats into the outfield caverns encompassing Busch Stadium during that event.  There were a few blasts that evoked a realistic awe factor from me watching from my couch peering in HD at my big screen, but for some weird reason, the thrill of the event, the anxious anticipation of watching one go deep into the night sky and the true spectacle of  seeing a power display all seemed a bit subdued  and dull for some reason.

I sat there and tried to wander back into the caverns of my mind and seek an answer to why I felt this way. But it wasn’t until I heard the shriek of  “Back…Back…Back!” surrounding me as it thundered over the living room from my television screen by ESPN legend Chris Berman. It was then that it all finally began to click and fall into place. The  thrill and magestic power displayed during this event was not falling by the wayside for me, it was the stale and predictable audio coming out of the mouth of  the “Three Stooges” clones/commentating of Berman, MLB Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, and former Met GM Steve Phillips.

For some reason, during every participants at bats the trio made sure to fill our brains with great information and thrilling backstories into the player’s rise to this level of the game. But it was instantly ruined by the cliche’s and all around locker room banter that should be reserved for pre and post game discussions, not for a four hour event during Prime Time. Sometimes I wish that the head honchos’ at MLB notice this air of bad breath during the game and decide collectively to maybe select as commentators’ some of the great voices  from parks around the Major Leagues to come out and broadcast the Home Run Derby as a tribute to their announcing chops. and expand their own fanbase.

Locally here with the Tampa Bay Rays, we have been blessed with a pretty good broadcast crew on both the television and the radio over our short history. But then again every city has  been blessed at some time in their history with that same distinction. Maybe MLB can regenerate that anticipation and excitement for the Home Run Derby again by instituting a much needed vocal change in the on-the-field staff covering the event.

By including a renowned or even Hall of Fame level broadcaster into the mix, it would bring a local flavor to the event that most of the 29 MLB teams never get to experience during that club’s 81 home games. Not that I would not love to see  St. Louis Cardinals and Fox broadcaster Joe Buck pop down there like he did last night, but  there is such a treasure trove of talent speaking into mics all around baseball during the regular season.
 

I  am all for a wild idea like maybe one of the radio or television voices from the hosting stadium’s broadcast team to pop down there even for a few hitters to break up the stagnant flow of garbage that sometimes filters during this contest. I mean, anyone, even the Hot Dog vendor up in the Upper Deck would make more sense at times than Phillips, and I bet he would do a better job just by simply sitting down in the chair.

I hear too much of Phillips wishy-washy mentality just during his “ESPN Baseball Tonight” telecasts, do I have to be subjected to him again during a fun and exciting event like the Home Run Derby?  So with that in mind, even thought the event is now over for this season, I would have loved to hear some banter from St. Louis broadcaster and baseball legend Al Hrabosky during that four hour span. He is not only a St. Louis folk legend and former Cardinal player, but a pretty entertaining and informed broadcaster in his own right. Plus, he has played in this style of game and knows what might be going on behind-the-scenes with better clarity than the present trio. 

Hrabosky has been up in the television booth for  13 straight seasons for the Cardinals doing the telecasts for FSN-Midwest. He started his broadcasting chops back in 1985 for the Cardinals doing telecasts on several different venues before finally finding his home on FSN-Midwest.  “The Mad Hungarian” would have been a instant hit for the fans watching at home who used to watch his antics on and behind the pitching mound during his playing career.

But also of note would have been the telling of stories by fathers and grandfathers watching the event parlaying tales of Hrabosky during his pitching career to their kids or grand kids watching this great  reliever legend relive the game with us.

That would bring a spark to the Home Run Derby. To bring a local broadcasting iconic figure into the broadcast team for the entire event would bring a new light of the game to other fans. Bringing baseball’s golden voices to the mic would be a great dramatic gesture to engulp us again in the pride and legends of the game with their additional stories and ad libs that would keep the audience interested even during a lull in the action at the plate.

Do not fret Phillips, I do not instantly dislike your mindless banter on this aged panel, but I want to All Star game to be about special instances and  great situations, not  about the tales I can hear from a guy I get to listen to, and ignore for 162 games a year on ESPN.

My picking of Hrabosky is no slight to the other broadcasters like Mike Shannon in the radio booth ,or even Jay Rudolph or Dan McLaughlin who are also great figures for the Cards. I am only trying to find the diamond-in-the-rough that will get people glued to the television, plus give the nation an opportunity to hear other broadcasters during the Home Run Derby.

Who knows, maybe in the 2010 event hosted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim we can get ex-player Rex Hudler or Mark Gubicza to come on board and bring some special Angels flavor to the Home Run Derby panel. 

And Joe Morgan, I love your stories…. sometimes, but maybe we need to hear someone else for a while who can keep me entertained and interested in the broadcast instead of me doing re-tweets and hoping for a commercial break so we can see something more exciting like a commercial instead of your constant re-hashing and speculations about each of the Derby hitters. I am beginning to see a pattern in your sight observations on the hitters. I have heard the same lines, but tweaked a bit left or right about hitters for the last few years by you on the ESPN Sunday Night games, and it is growing very old and tiresome to me.

So my idea to replace Morgan might be the best one yet.
You see, I am not voting for myself or another fan to replace Morgan, that would be too easy, but maybe MLB, which is spending millions of dollars on this 3-day festival can get ESPN to bend their rules a bit from their current mundane announcers to let maybe another MLB legend, or newcomer take the reins from Morgan for awhile. I am going to use the Rays Dewayne Staats as my example because I have some familiarity with his broadcast persona.

He is someone who will be the in the broadcaster wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame before his career is all said and done, and would be a  exciting breath of fresh air not only for the fans viewing the event, but to hear a voice that has called some of the most remarkable and memorable games during his long career.

To let the younger viewers, or even the older generation like me enjoy some of the voice around the league at that table would be an true All Star experience. Maybe if not Staats, then Seattle M’s  great voice Dave Niehaus, who was admitted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.  He is a voice that people on the east coast of the United States do not get to hear at all, and his booming voice would bring more energy and substance to the game knowing it is their national spotlight to shine and shoiw why they are one of the best ever to announce a MLB contest.

That is not to say I would not like to hear other new voices like Arizona’s Daron Sutton, who is in only his third year with the Diamondbacks. Each of these guys, even at their opposite points in their careers would be another taste of the MLB for each of the fans to savor during the All Star week. To bring about the change where the MLB audience gets to hear some of the voices and charisma that fans throughout the league get to hear each night might be a great influx of new energy and enthusiasm at the broadcast table during the Home Run Derby.

They are voices that do not get to be heard unless it is below a clip on the Internet or ESPN now. Or their voices get echoed around the playoff times for substantial calls or historic moments.

 
I have loved hearing Berman call games and events for year and years, but in that same statement, there lies the problem. Years and years….. I have also heard the same phrases rolled over and over until they should have a toe tag attached to them and delivered to a crematorium for burning. How many time last night did Berman try and elevate Albert Pujols to cult status during the broadcast even though he was involved in a 3-way tie in the first round. I mean come on, he was the home town favorite….How much pumping up do you really have to do to get the crowd involved…….Duh! 

But in comparison, in 2008 during this same event, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton last deserved that level of praise. Players like Bobby Abreu also garnered that respect and attention a few years ago in the Home Run Derby, but Pujols was not the giant that night. After his first round 11 home runs, you really did not get the feeling the panel really was going for Prince Fielder until his semi-final round was complete. But the worst thing about last night was the odd comments or “fillers” being thrown around left and right by the enitre panel to fill air time.

There could have been better stories about players like the Rays Carlos Pena or even Ranger slugger Nelson Cruz that would have made you want to root for them. Like the fact Pena had a dream before the end of his first Spring Training with the Rays back in 2007, (he was a non-roster invitee) about getting on the team’s charter pflight for the trip to New York with his fellow Rays teammates for that first series against the Yankees.

Or maybe they could have brought up the pure fact about how an injury in the last Spring Training game to Rays DH Greg Norton opened the door wide for Pena to hit 101 Home runs since that moment in the major leagues. Or maybe  the panel could have dug a bit deeper and seen that Pena went from a non-issue minor leaguer with the New York Yankees system in 2006 to parlay his time with Rays into the 2007 Comeback Player of the Season, or how he escalated his game in 2008 and won the Silver Slugger award at First Base in the American League, or even boost his reputation more by winning a Gold Glove. The elevation of his game was the reason for his All Star selection, not just his current home run total. It was the mythical rise of the phoenix of his career from the bottom to the top.

Heck, I even got a few people tweeting I should do the broadcasting of the Derby. First off, I am honored, and I did take a aptitude test back at Eckerd College in 1976 that told me my two vocations that stressed my strengths was law and radio in that ord
er. But that is another chapter to discuss at another time. I have some ideas to maybe invite some fellow fans who love to broadcast to maybe be invited to participate in the on-air duties during the Taco bell celebrity and athletes softball game to give it a different flavor. Maybe that is the stage for me to  see the MLB break out of the norm and have a good time with it all.

I have to admit, I did have more fun watching rapper Nellie making his diving catches and seeing gymnast Shawn Johnson doing her rendition of Ozzie Smith’s flip during that game’s broadcast. It made me want to watch the annual softball game again next season. And that is new for me. I usually watch about 10 minutes of it all then click to something else, but last night I got interested. And no, it was not because I fell in visual lust/love again with Jenna Fisher from “The Office”.

The Home Run Derby was based on a 1959 show with the same title. That show evolved into the present day model we see during the All Star game. For this fan popular event to evolve more might take some hard stances by MLB with their broadcast partners, but for one night shouldn’t the event be about the broadcasters of the MLB and their premier hitters. A combining of the two forces both vocal and physical could bring about a renewed interest in the viewing of the Home Run Derby.

The All Star game will always be the focal point of the three days, but to elevate the Home Run Derby a bit would only bring more money and more exposure to other facets of the MLB. By letting other MLB broadcasters showcase their talents during the event would make someone in San Diego or even another country outisde the United States want to hear another game called by Boston Red Sox’s Jerry Remy or maybe even the Chicago White Sox’s Ken Harrelson. It would mean more revenue for the MLB through the MLB.TV packages, and also retain some interest of fans outside their current markets to maybe attend away games and boost attendance in some manner.

To expand the minds of baseball fans is not always an easy task, but for us to enjoy hearing some of the legends and growing talent around the league maybe call the Home Run Derby would be a deep, deep shot into the night and would be a solo shot for everyone involved with baseball.

It is now your choice MLB. You can take this advice and use it as your own, or you can just let the Derby stagnate until the viewership goes down and you do not know why. It is time for a change, and here I listed a few easy solutions, the rest is up to you. Do it for the fans. Do it for the International viewers. Do it for the expansion of the sport around the globe. Or like Nike loves to say………”Just Do it!”

Options for Broadcast changes to the Home Run Derby

 

Here we go again people, eight hours until all the fun starts all over again. But hopefully tonight;s game will not have that rambling and prognostic feel of last night’s State Farm Home Run Derby. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a home run as much as the rest of us, but it did not have the same flavor this season for some reason. Not to say there was not a few majestic swats into the outfield caverns there at Busch Stadium.  There were a few blasts that evoked an awe factor from me watching on my big screen, but for some reason the anticipation and the true spectacle of it all was dulled for some reason.

I sat there and tried to remember, or even fathom why I felt this way until I heard the “back, back back!” thundered over my television screen by ESPN legend Chris Berman. It was then that it all finally began to click and fall into place. The event was not falling by the wayside for me, it was the stale and predictable audio coming out of the mouth of commentators Berman, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, and former Met GM Steve Phillips. Sometimes I think they should instead maybe pick some of the great voices of the Major Leagues to come out and broadcast the Home Run Derby as a tribute to their announcing chops.

Locally here with the Tampa Bay Rays we have been blessed with a pretty good broadcast crew on both the television and the radio. But then again every city has that distinction. But maybe MLB can regenerate the enthusiasm and the bravado of the Home Run Derby by instituting a chance in the on-the-field staff to cover the event to maybe include  a member of the MLB family who usually only does their own local broadcasts. Not that I would not like to see Joe Buck maybe pop down there like he did last night, but he is reserved for the big game. I  am all for maybe one of the voices being from the home stadium crew, which would replace Phillips and do a better job just by sitting down in the chair.

I hear too much of Phillips just on “Baseball Tonight”, do I have to be subjected to him again during a fun event like the Home Run Derby?  So with that in mind, even thought the event is now over, we could have gotten  Al Hrabosky, who is not only a St. Louis folk legend and former  Cardinal player, but a pretty good broadcaster in his own right.

Hrabosky has been up in the television booth for the Cardinals now for his 13th straight season for FSN-Midwest. He started with the team back in 1985 doing broadcasts on several different venues before finally finding his home on FSN-Midwest.  “The Mad Hungarian” would have been a instant hit for the fans watching at home who used to watch his antics on and behind the mound during his playing career. But also of note would have been the telling of stories by fathers and grandfathers to the kids watching about this great  reliever legend.

That would bring a spark to the Home Run Derby. To bring a local figure onto the broadcast team for the entire event. It will also add a air of local pride and resources as this is their domain, and they know the nooks and crannies of Busch Stadium as well as the men who built it. They are there every day and would have additional stories and ad libs that would keep the audience interested even during a lull in the action at the plate. Do not fret Phillips, I do not instantly dislike you banter on the panel, but I want to All Star game to be about special instances and situation, not the one guy I get to hear 162 games a year and beyond every night on ESPN.

By me picking Hrabosky is no slight to the other broadcasters like Mike Shannon in the radio booth ,or even Jay Rudolph or Dan McLaughlin. I am only trying to find the diamond-in-the-rough that most people do not get to hear during their team’s broadcasts. Who knows, maybe in the 2010 event hosted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim we can get ex-player Rex Hudler or Mark Gubicza to come on board and bring some special Angels flavor to the Home Run Derby panel. 

And Joe Morgan, well I love your stories sometimes, but maybe you need to go for someone else who can keep me doing more than re-twitting and pausing away hoping for a break in the action to see some more exciting commercials than your re-hashed speculations about the Derby hitters. I am beginning to see a pattern in your observations on the hitters. I have heard the same lines, but tweaked a bit left or right about hitters for the last few years by you on the ESPN Sunday Night games, and it is growing old to me. So my idea to replace Morgan might be the best one yet.

You see, I am not voting for myself or another fan to replace Morgan, that would be too easy, but maybe MLB, which is spending millions on this 3-day festival can get ESPN to waiver a bit from their mundane announcers to let a current MLB legend or newcomer take the reins from Morgan. I am going to use the Rays Dewayne Staats only because I have some familiarity with him. He is someone who will be the in the broadcaster wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame before it is all said and done and would be a breath of fresh air not only for the fans to get another perspective, but to hear a voice that has called some of the most remarkable and memorable games.

To let the youth, and the older generation like me enjoy some of the voice around the league at that table would be an true All Star experience. Maybe if not Staats, then Seattle Mariners voice Dave Niehaus, who was admitted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.  He is a voice that people on the east coast of the United States do not get to hear, and would bring about more energy and substance to the game knowing it is their national time to shine.

That is not to say I would not like to hear others like Arizona’s Daron Sutton, who is in his third year with the Diamondbacks. Each of these guys, even at their opposite points in their careers would be another taste of the MLB for each of us to savor during the All Star week. To bring about the change where the MLB audience gets to hear some of the voices and charisma that fans throughout the league and America get to hear each night might be a great influx of new energy and enthusiasm at the broadcast table during the Home Run Derby. They are voices that do not get to be heard unless it is below a clip on the Internet or ESPN now. Or their voices get echoed around the playoff times for substantial calls or historic moments.

The third change might be the hardest for ESPN to imagine, but it might also be a great springboard for their broadcasters. Each segment of their network seems to have their gems, or up and coming guys/gals who have displayed their talents and the crowd has warmed to them during that season. Maybe the broadcaster who is considered their number one person that year, be it a newcomer or an old veteran gets a shot at the big time stage by sitting in Chris Berman’s chair.

I have loved Berman for year and years, but in that statement is the problem. Years and years I have also heard the same phrases rolled over and over until they should have a toe tag attached to them. How many time last night did Berman try and elevate Pujols to cult status during the broadcast even though he was involved in a 3-way tie in the first round.

Josh Hamilton last season deserved that praise, Bobby Abreu a few years ago also garnered that respect and attention, but Pujols was not the giant that night. After his first round 11 home runs, you really did not get the feeling the panel really was going for Prince Fielder until his semi-final round was complete. But the worst thing about last night was the odd comment getting thrown around left and right to fill air time.

There could have been better stories about players like Carlos Pena or even Nelson Cruz that would have made you root for them. Like the fact Pena had a dream before the end of the 2007 Spring Training with the Rays, where he was a non-roster invitee, about getting on the plane with the players for the first series against the Yankees. About how and injury in the last Spring Training game to Greg Norton opened the door for Pena to hit 101 Home runs since that moment in the major leagues.

Or maybe a short stint to show he went from a scrub and almost a non-issue minor leaguer with the New York Yankees system in 2006 to the 2007 Comeback Player of the Season, to a 2008 Silver Slugger in the American League, to a Gold Glover last season. The elevation of his game was the reason for his All Star selection, not just his current home run total. It was the mythical rise of the phoenix of his career from the bottom to the top.

Heck, I even got a few people twitting I should do the broadcasting of the Derby. First off, I am honored, and I did take a aptitude test back at Eckerd College in 1976 that told me my two vocations that stressed my strengths was law and radio in that order. But that is another chapter to discuss at another time. I have  some ideas to maybe invite  fellow fans who love to broadcast to maybe be invited to participate in the on-air duties during the Taco bell celebrity and athletes softball game to give it a different flavor. Maybe that is the stage for me to  see the MLB break out of the norm and have a good time with it all.

I have to admit, I did have more fun watching Nellie make diving catches and Shawn Johnson doing her rendition of Ozzie Smith’s flip. It made me want to watch the softball game. And that is new for me. I usually watch about 10 minutes of it all then click to something else, but last night I got interested. And no, it was not because I fell in visual love again with Jenna Fisher from “The Office”. I have had a TV crush on her since I first saw her, but that is fantasy people. Anyways, the Home Run Derby was based on a 1959 show with the same title. That show evolved into the present day model we see during the All Star game.

For this event to again evolve might take some hard stances by MLB with their broadcast partners, but for one night shouldn’t the event be about the broadcasters of the MLB and their premier hitters. A combining of the two forces both vocal and physical could bring about a renewed interest in the viewing of the Home Run Derby. The All Star game is still going to be the focal point of the three days, but to elevate the Home Run Derby a bit would only bring more money and more exposure to other facets of the MLB.
 

By letting their league broadcasters showcase their talents during the event would make someone in San Diego, California, or even another country want to hear a game called by Boston Red Sox’s  Jerry Remy or maybe the Chicago White Sox’s Ken Harrelson or Steve Stone. It would mean more revenue for the MLB through the MLB.TV packages, and also retain some interest of fans outside their current markets.

To expand the minds of baseball fans is not always an easy task, but for us to enjoy hearing some of the legends and growing talent around the league maybe call the Home Run Derby would be a deep, deep shot into the night. It is now your choice MLB. You can take this advice and use it as your own, or you can just let the Derby stagnate until the viewership goes down and you do not know why. It is time for a change, and here I listed a few easy solutions, the rest is up to you. Do it for the fans. Do it for the International viewers. Do it for the expansion of the sport around the globe. Or like Nike loves to say………”Just Do it!”

My Insight into Joe Maddon

 


Mike Carlson / AP

 

Since the Rays began their trip towards a high flying destiny in 2008, most of the old school baseball world outside of Tampa Bay, or even outside the immediate California area around Anaheim had never really gotten to know Rays Manager Joe Maddon. And to explore into his massive baseball past is such a pleasure. Most fans here in Tampa Bay know of his long devotion to road cycling treks that he does both here and when the Rays take their show on the road. Maddon even takes along his personal bike to Rays away games to explore some of the historic and scenic venues in those cities.

And he has his own sense and realities to his job as a major league manager. He even has a “fine” bowl in his office where guilty players, who are found guilty by the Kangaroo Court have to purchase a bottle of wine for the skipper with the paper divulging their fine. He is one of the only mangers in the major leagues that I know of who has his own wine rack and wine cooler in his office for post game tastings and special occasions. And you know that cooler got plenty of good use with champagne and fine spirits during the 2008 Postseason celebrations.




Some of Maddon’s activities outside of the season might surprise some fans outside of Tampa Bay. But outside of the bay area, most fans do not get to know Maddon, the humanitarian. Maddon is entering his 35th season in professional baseball, and 16 of those years has been at the major league level. But few people know of the community efforts and the compassion this man has for his new adopted community. One of the most visual and celebrated efforts of his generosity for giving back to Tampa Bay is his annual “Thanks-mas” celebration the last three seasons.

Held between the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, Maddon along with his Rays Coaches and front office staff have personally shopped, cooked and even served special dinners of spaghetti, sausage, pierogies, past and salad for over 1,000 people in the Salvation Army shelters in Bradenton, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Port Charlotte areas. One of the biggest food hits in this event is the special meatballs Maddon was taught how to make by his mother Beanie back in his home town of Hazelton, Pennsylvania.




Another humanitarian/charitable effort held close to Maddon’s heart is the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation. Maddon even wore a special bracelet during the 2008 postseason commemorating this fine mans courage while battling cancer. If anyone has ever taken a step into Maddon’s office, they will see a jersey case with one of the jerseys signed by Challis before he passed away at the age of 18 last August. Challis, a native of Beaver County in Pennsylvania met Maddon during the 2008 InterLeague series when the team went to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates.

The two immediately fostered a great bond emerged during that series between Maddon and Challis. Maddon has since been actively involved in fund raising for the foundation and in November 2008 when he was named winner of the Chuck Tanner Award as major league manager of the year, he had John’s father Scott, accept the award for him in Pittsburgh.



Another element of Maddon that most people in Tampa Bay do not even want to think about is the fact that he was up for the job in Boston at the same time as Terry Francona, and if things had gone differently, the Rays never would have gained his services, but would have had to plot against Maddon instead of with him. When Maddon won the 2008 BBWAA American League Manager of the Year award, he was only one second place vote shy of becoming only the first AL or NL manager to ever get a unanimous selection for the award.

He get to share that honor with four other managers’ who have come one vote shy of perfection. He even gets to share the honor with a personal member of his staff, Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer, who in 1989 while managing the Chicago Cubs came up short while winning the award.





But more than ever people are starting to remember the charismatic manager for other things besides his vocabulary and situational quotes. On August 17, 2008, while playing the Texas Rangers in Arlington, he became the first AL manager in 107 years to order an intentional walk with the bases loaded. Maddon had reliever Grant Balfour walk former Rays prospect Josh Hamilton with 2-outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Rays winning 7-3 at the time.

After that walk, Maddon replaced Balfour with reliever Dan Wheeler who got the last out to preserve the win for the Rays. The only other time it has happened in baseball history was on May 23, 1901 when Clark Griffin, then a player/manager for the Chicago White Sox intentionally walked future Hall of Fame member Nap Lajoie with no outs in the ninth inning with a 11-7 lead.




But that just goes to show you how he values the past of baseball and brings it alive today in 2009. Some of his current methods come from a meshing of old baseball thought and current cerebral instincts to go “outside-the-box” with the Rays and it sometimes questions baseball logic. And that is one of the things that makes him so refreshing to some people among baseball. His fond admiration for past things that have worked, like the shift for left-handed batters, or the five-player infield have made some other people within baseball begin to question some of our current methods and actions.


www.tbo.com

Some people forget he is only starting his fourth season with the club in 2009, and already has the most victories of any manager in Rays history. He passed Rays Inaugural manager Larry Rothchild on August 23,2008 with his 206th win in a game against the Chicago White Sox.




People forget he has had a taste of being a major league manager before he got his first full-time stint in the dugout in Tampa Bay. He first got a taste if it in 1998, when the Los Angeles Angels Manager Terry Collins got an 8-game suspension following a bench clearing brawl in Kansas City. He got an additional turn at the skipper post when Collins resigned on September 3, 1999 and he led the team the rest of the season to a 19-10 record.



But the most unique moment might have been when Maddon was called upon to replace John McNamara in 1996, who was replacing Rene Lachmann who resigned that August as skipper. McNamara had developed a deep vein thrombosis( blood clot) in his right calf. Maddon took the helm for 22 games, finishing with a 8-14 record.
 

Maddon did get another set of circumstances during his tenure as a Angels Bench Coach when current Angels Manager Mike Scioscia had to leave the team for a short period of time. Maddon lead the Angels to a 33-26 record during his stint with the squad.



AP file photo/unknown



But on the personal side of the Rays skipper, Maddon has many fantastic hobby and interests that generally fall outside the realm of most of his fellow managers. He has been a guest at a White House dinner in January 2009 held by former President George W. Bush. And following his marriage after the 2008 season, Maddon took a small adventure throughout Europe with his new bride and at one point during the honeymoon he even found a Rays fan in a train station Italy.

As for his biking hobby, he is a very dedicated biker who puts in 60-100 miles every week. An unknown fact about Maddon in his youth is that he was recruited as a shortstop and pitcher for Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. He switched positions voluntarily to catcher midway through his freshman year. At Lafayette, he majored in economics and he will also receive an honorary degree this summer from his old Alma Mater.




But one of the biggest thrills of his life might still be on the horizon when he takes off after the last Rays game this Sunday and heads to the All-Star game in St. Louis, Missouri. As the American League skipper in the World Series, he will get to take the helm in this years All-Star game coaching the superstars of the American League. Fan Voting for his team will end on Thursday, which is also an off day for the Rays. He will be only the second coach to ever appear in an All-Star game with Rothchild being the first when he was selected in 2002 by Joe Torre.

It will be his second All-Star game. He previously got to attend when Sciocsia was the 2003 AL Manager. Maddon is expected to select two coaches from among the AL Managers, and then bring six of his own coaches, along with Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to round out his 2009 All-Star coaching staff.




Maddon has only been in Tampa Bay for a short time, but the teams and its fans have united around him to show support for his new ways of thinking about the sport of baseball. Along with the fan base uniting to support the manager with the formulation of the “Maddon’s Maniacs” group three seasons ago.

From speaking engagements to small snippets of chats with fans and media members the Tampa Bay community has gotten to know Maddon deeper and closer than he ever imagined. With the 2008 success and the renewed interest in the team during their recent seven game winning streak, the Rays might be the team to watch in the second half of the season.

Bryce Harper might be the next “Natural.”

 


Here is a great Trivia question for the Day:

 Question: Who currently owns the record for the longest Home Run in Tropicana Field?

In January 2009 I attended the Power Showcase International High School Home Run Derby exhibition in Tropicana Field where the top 70 players came from 10 countries to participate in the event. You could tell how many professional baseball scouts were there by the laptops and the portable Juggs guns looking for that next star to step out of the High School ranks and make their mark. But under their breath several were there to check out the phenom some people have called “Baseball’s LeBron.”

Bryce Harper has been getting notice for about a year now for his tremendous hitting (2008 Nevada Batting Champion) and skills behind the plate (All-State catching selection for Nevada), but here he was up against some of the best of the High School players in the world. Oh, did I fail to mention the guy is only 16-years old and only a Sophomore in High School playing amongst the big boys here. I included the video above to illustrate that this kid might have outgrow his present level of competition.

During this free event in Tropicana Field I saw the 16-year old hit some balls that would have made both Jonny Gomes and Carlos Pena stand up on the top steps of the dugout and clap for the kid. During the event there were several players who hit monster shots to rightfield and centerfield, Harper even hit one ball right above the Tropicana Field big screen for a 461 foot shot early in his first round. But the kid also did something no other hitter did in this tourney when he hit an opposite field HR in the event. 

And that was only the beginning as he also hit a 477 foot and 485 foot rocket to the left of the Bright House sign in rightfield. And he was just getting started in the event. But this kid is no stranger to playing against better competition and making himself better. He was in the 2008 Area Code Games in California usually reserved for High School juniors and seniors and while hitting with a wooden bat, he still outpaced and outhit players two years his senior in the event.

Some people are calling him a hitter for the next generation already because of his tremendous bat speed, which is already quicker than slugger Mark McGwire in his prime, plus his speed and agility on the field. But the real problem here is not that the kid can play, or that maybe the next level is the right move for him, but his current age of 16 might make him a desired prospect in Latin America or other ports in the World, but in the United States, it keeps you from even being considered for the MLB First Year Player draft.

So what do you do if you have the talent and the ability to light up a scoreboard and get the crowd on your feet, do you wait your two years knowing you will go in the First Round, or do you look for other options. Well, Harper and his parents are looking at option “B” right now.

For the young star to even be considered even for the 2010 draft he would have to complete his GED studies and then be admitted into a Junior College this fall. Another option could have been to move outside the boundaries of the United States to some Carribean hot spot like the Dominican Republic and then be considered without question for the 2010 draft.

I personally view that as a quick fix by him to get his eligibility for the draft and a better level of competition to further showcase or improve his skill levels. Sure by bypassing his last two years of High School he will get a shot at playing at another level and seeing if he is really ready to take that huge step up into considering the major leagues in 2010.

The JUCO ranks have many fantastic institutions that have very esteemed baseball programs. Who knows, maybe even the Howard College Hawks ,the2009 JUCO World Series Champion might have a spot on their roster for the young phenom.

But something seems to be missing here. Something that I know most of us cherish and treasured out of our last two years in High School. They are fundamental things that those two years will take from his life and personal development. I mean, I know that multi-millions could be on his doorstep in June 2010, but you just can’t replace some things in your life with money or a professional contract.

I am not saying that missing a Senior Prom or a Homecoming dance will tarnish him, but they are major social steps in a young person’s life. Those last two years in that environment does set you up better for some of life’s pratfalls.

I had talent in school both at the college and High School level, but I would never have thought of such a thing because of my family commitment to a college education. That made even the fantasy thought of an action like Harper’s not just suicidal because my Father would have buried me in the clay infield, but socially it would have been a culture shock of mammoth proportions for me to go from a rowdy Marine Biology class to a minor league locker room in less than one year.

I know his parents have vowed to be there every step of the way to keep him out of trouble and even steer him towards the right direction if needed. But I remember another young player who’s parents were so into his baseball life and one tragic event in his career almost ruined him for life.

People in and around baseball thought the same thing about Josh Hamilton before a simple truck accident coming back from a Spring Training game derailed his career via drugs, seedy friends and a travel down one of the darkest roads of his life.


Boston.com


I am not predetermining the same or any variation of it for Harper, but the reality is there for all to see. Hamilton finally got his path righted and began to transform himself back into a model MLB player. But he lost valuable playing time and career numbers battling something most people did not see in the light of day by him.

You can also point towards Robin Yount, Ken Griffey Junior as examples of the opposite, but they finished their High School careers even if the prize was out there for them to pick off the tree at 16-years of age.

One mistake can ruin your high flying goals and aspirations. I am not here to question his parents motives or even the influence they might have on Bryce, but Hamilton used to rely heavily on his parent’s influence and advice, and when it was not there, he started towards the darkness. 

16-years of age is a wild time in a young man’s life. Not only does your body get to go through more changes, you get to piece yourself together to become the kind of person you want to be in your life. I know if you asked Harper right now his answer would be a professional baseball player.

But do the thrills and rewards outweigh the development of this guy into even a more prolific hitting machine, or will he be the next Paul Wilder, who was a 1998 First Round pick of the Rays and never rose above the Class-A level of baseball. It is going to be a slippery next 12 months for the young phenom with pitfa
lls and college courses maybe derailing some of his plans.

But in the end, I still see him maybe getting a shot to being only the second person since 1967 to hit a home run before his 19th birthday. The other phenom who got that homer was Yount, who hits his shot in 1974 with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Harper has all the tools and the ability to strive and prosper in the game of baseball. But as I mentioned before, the core support system for him is his family and his religion, which he might be calling on both a lot in the next 12 months to get him through the rough spots. He might just be on the board when the teams pick again in 2010, and he just might be the first guy to step to the podium with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

The event at Tropicana Field in 2008 had several great names in High School baseball including a former MLB player son, Dante Bichette Jr. from the Orlando area. But most of all, I am going to remember the phrase he told to Babe Ruth’s granddaughter  the first night of the tourney at a banquet at the Hilton in St. Petersburg, Florida.  “I am going to win that bat” Harper told her before the event. He went on to hit 6 consecutive homers in  section of the event that averaged over 469 feet.

The Answer to the  Trivia Question is: Bryce Harper, who hit a 502 foot shot to rightfield that hit above the big screen metal facing just below the Tropicana roof.  It is currently the longest hit ball by any hitter in Tropicana Field history. It got him that  special bat, the Inaugural Babe Ruth Award for the longest home run in the event. The future is bright for this 16-year old phenom to make his mark in 2009.
 

All I want to do is watch him hit another round of B P  one day in the Trop. Hopefully on that day he will be donning a uniform in the MLB and putting on a show like Mike Piazza did for the home crowd back in 2001 when the New York Mets came here and he put two straight up into the “beach” area of Tropicana Field.

Introducing Levon Washington to Rays fans

 



AP file photo

Maybe I do not get it. Maybe I am missing the entire idea of the draft when you take a player who is rehabbing an injury in the First Round of the draft.  And the funny part is that the Rays have known about the injury the entire time having had the kid here a few weeks ago with his parents to do some ground work on even considering him for the Rays. He has even told the University of Florida coaching staff that he is going to try and get signed as soon as possible so he can get right to playing for the Rays.

Oh, and did I mention he is a distant cousin to Rays former slugger Fred McGriff who was sitting at the Rays Draft table in Secaucus, New Jersey and probably was the one to telephone his relative and give him the great news. But there is some unusual things to go along with the announcement of Gainesville native Levon Washington as the first pick for the Rays in 2009. Did I mention he is coming off an  shoulder injury? The kid does have a pedigree that puts him just inside the top 30 prospects in baseball according to Baseball America, but even with his athleticism and speed, there is a huge amount of danger involved signing him as damaged property.

He is rehabbing nicely right now, with a total prognosis for no sustained problems after the injury heals, but the thought is to get him signed and maybe used as a Designated Hitter in the Gulf Coast League for the rest of the year so he can be ready in February 2010 for a full season team. Really?  Is that too soon, or is the injury maybe a slight smokescreen that kept some teams away from the guy before the Rays took him with the 30th pick. And even if they did get a steal at 30th, does he have Carl Crawford speed, or maybe more like Gabe Kapler speed.

These things are major considerations for the Rays to think about before signing Washington sometime this week. Oh, the kid is above eager to get down to the Trop and talk money and get into playing for the team, That is a great thing to hear, that a player wants to play for the Rays. For years it was more like a disappointment to even be considered by the team, but after 2008, players are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and wondering if they might be the key to the next emergence of the team towards the playoffs in the future. 

Oh, did I forget to mention that MLB.com did not even have a scouting report on the kid to place under his name on the website right after his selection. But that is not the curious thing to me. That is the fact that MLB.com had him listed as an infielder, while ESPN.com had him listed as an outfielder when the listing hit the Internet about 8 :30 last night. Now that is fine if the team pulled the rug out from under a few teams and selected a kid that flew under the radar due to his injury, but even high schooler Todd Glaseman, who was picked in the third round with the 108th pick had a small scouting report  on him listed at MLB.com.


Doug Finger / Gainesville Sun.com

Okay maybe I am a bit bitter that two great catching prospects were still on the board and the thought of an injured player being picked in the First Round sounded more like  a Dewon Brazelton than Tim Beckham type pick. But the fact that R J Harrison is so psyched that this kid was still on the board might be a better indicator of his possible potential for the Rays. ” There’s a lot of things we like,” scouting director R.J. Harrison said told the St. Petersburg Times. “First of all, he’s a premium athlete and y’all that have been around here for a while know we like that kind of athlete. He fits right in with the kind of players that we’ve signed in the past. He’s a well above average runner and we really like his bat. We think he’s going to hit, and hit for a high average. … We saw an advanced young hitter.”

Granted the Rays might have seen a pile of unclaimed gold at the bottom of the First Round, but could his rehab after tearing his labium and spending most of his high school senior season as a DH and not in the field been a deterrent to his high selection in this draft.  “We didn’t go into this blind,” Harrison said. “It’s just a matter of time, and getting him back to full strength. He’s made good progress already on his rehab, and when he gets with us and gets with our people that will only make it that much better.” Okay, I understand personally that Ron Porterfield and the Rays medical team are the best in the game, but did we have to take this kid in the money round?

But with that aside, he might not have been there at the 78th pick in the second round, so I am going to reserve 3/4 of my judgment on here right now and wish the guy a speedy recovery and hoping he does sign fast and furious so we can get him into the “Rays Way” as soon as possible. But why is it that Andrew Friedman, the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations just learned of the six degrees of separation concerning McGriff on draft night? If we had done our so-called background and knew everything about the kid, we would have also seen the correlation of the McGriff family bloodlines. 

Of course this made no matter to the Rays. They were not selecting him for his bloodline, which Friedman confessed he did not know about prior to Tuesday night pick.  When the St. Petersburg Times asked Friedman about the six degrees of separation he stated, “I learned it on the way over here (to address the media),” Friedman said. “R.J. said he heard it the other day. Fred told him again when R.J. called him to tell him the pick. Certainly can’t hurt and hopefully it can help us in the recruiting process.”  And this was a kid the scouting department has said the Rays have been watching for two years ( according to the Times). 

They had even had him at their homefield to do a short impromptu workout and nothing about the Rays-Washington correlation relationship came to light. They talked with his parents, and they did not divulge the family ties. Come on here, you mean a proud parent did not boast about their kid to a scout, in their home MLB stadium. It is a miracle people!  Even though the kid is eager to get signed and maybe even get into a Rays uniform as soon as possible there are two words that might hinder a quick and sure-fire signing for the kid. Does the name Scott Boras send chills down Friedman or Matt Silverman’s spine right now. The kid is represented by the anti-christ of agents.

This is not to say that the client will not get a speedy and quick resolution to the situation. The client( Washington) is eager and anxious to get his professional career underway and has not hinted of going to even enroll at the University of Florida, even if he does have a scholarship waiting for him right now. He is not posturing for a prolonged stalemate, or even
giving out any negative vibes that you got when the Rays selected Delmon Young a few years ago. Hopefully everything will go peachy keen in Rays-land and we can get this kid to the GCL within a month or so to begin rehab and his playing career.

http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/player.swf?mediaId=4065422

I am not against the Rays getting a bargain, or even a steal in the First Round by finding a talent that people are overlooking due to a circumstance like a shoulder injury. It is just the fact that it is like trying to roll a “7″ and the odds are against the player most of the time. I hope he heals and becomes a great player for the Rays, but I am going into this First Round signing with a bit of hesitation people. I mentioned Dewon Brazleton before in this blog.

There was a guy who was a project pitcher from the get-go and did finally make it to the major leagues before finally falling from grace and out of baseball by 2008. The last place I saw Brazleton was at the 2008 Little League regionals in Gulfport, Florida helping to coach the All-Star team from Tennesse.  Here was a guy selected by the Rays with the First Round with the third pick in 2001 Draft and he is now out of baseball looking in at the game.
 

That kind of puts the baseball draft into true perspective for me.  Of the Rays First Round selections prior to Brazleton’s pick, only Rocco Baldelli and Josh Hamilton are still playing baseball at the major league level. Paul Wilder, Jason Standridge, and Josh Presley ( third Round) are out of the game. Presley was selected in the third round after the Rays lost picks to compensation for the signings of Wilson Alvarez, Dave Martinez and closer Roberto Hernandez. Day One is over for the 2009 Draft, but the murmur and the hum still can be heard amongst the Rays fans as to the selection of Washington.

This is the first true draft that will have Friedman and the Rays new Scouting staff’s fingerprints all over them. With their successes of the past, and their eye for detail, you have to take a “wait and see” premise right now with their first three selections. But there is a long way to still go here with the later round continuing today with more possible surprises in hand for the Rays and other teams in the MLB. Oh, and there are still a few great catching prospects out there guys……….just a short hint there.

My 500th Submission……..What a Ride !!

 


www.tbo.com

There is celebration in the air again. That is right, there is champagne, BBQ ribs and select adult beverages going all around the room today as the Rays Renegade is posting his 500th blog today. It really doesn’t feel like it was only September 7, 2007 when I posted my first blog to the Internet entitled ” D no longer stands for Devilrays. Seriously here, it has been so much fun to gather stats and information and just put it down here for others to enjoy reading in the past few years. But you know what, it is far from over here. Heck, it might just be less than another year and I will be posting number 1,000.

And it was not long ago, only October 22, 2008, when I even posted number 250, which was titled, “World Series Matchups…. Starting Pitchers and Bullpens.” Has it been that long since the World Series?  It truly feels like just the other day, but after 12 years of seeing the team end up cleaning out their lockers and shuffle on back home after the last Rays contest, 2008 was a bit of an oddity, but one I can get used to every year.  I have been praised and razzed in the last year for blogs and articles written with the best intentions. But that is the price of posting and putting your views up there for the rest of the world to see online.

Heck, I even get slighted by the Rays bloggers online because I believe in the team and will not resort to using the “D” word again on my blogs like some of them. I understand their reasons and applaud their actions, but I am a fan who will not go back to the days of old, even when we play like it.  I have written some thing I am proud of, and some thing I consider “fluff”.

Recently I even decided to stop doing the daily recaps and going more into events  before, during and after the games have ended. I is fun to speculate where I will be in 6 months. I hope I am still writing on MLBlogs.com and my sister website and producing some quality work for everyone to enjoy. I mean I have gone from an unknown on here to staying within the top 20 tier of the blog writers in the last 6 months. 

Some say that is because I am the only Rays blogger who is consistently posting and writing daily. That is true, beside maybe Bill Chastain of Rays Plays, who also is the MLB.com writer for the Tampa Bay Rays, I might be the only outside voice heard daily. And I am fine with that. I even want others to begin to post and put their actions and reactions down on the cyberspace writing forum.  I enjoy responding to the comments good and bad, and see them as a way to gauge the way my writings are received by the general MLB readers.  So I decided to post some of my favorite blogs here, with links in case some of you would enjoy going back and maybe reading some of them again. These are 10 of my favorites, and they do contain a few Photo Blogs. So without further ado, let’s get right to the action:



RRCollections

      My Top 10 Blog Selections ( in random order)

 

 “Joe Kennedy, We were lucky to have Known You”  (November 23, 2007).

I really loved talking to Kennedy when he was with the Rays. He had a great sense of the game, and his love for it was always on display for everyone to see.  It was not the first remembrance pieces I have done online, but it is the first I had done on MLBlogs and is still one of my early favorites.

 


” Letter to Commissioner Bud Selig “
 
( February 20, 2009). 

This letter was in response to some of the situations in the Dominican Republic, and the way that players have been basically heavy-handed in the past by buscones in that country. I actually sent this to the Commissioner Office in New York City and got a great response from the office, but I know it was just filed away and forgotten like so many others.

 

 

“Rays Cancel the Gabe & Gabe Show “  ( April 1, 2009).

 


This was my first attempt at an April Fools joke, and I am not sure if it had the intent I really wanted, but you always remember your first time at anything. But I did get some interesting emails from the people I know with the Rays organization, and they ended up chuckling when they saw the date on the blog.

 

 

“Why are Bloggers the Rodney Dangerfields of Journalism?”  ( January 29, 2009).

 


This entry caused a bit of a stir among the Rays bloggers online along with a few established bloggers on legitimates sites throughout the Internet. But that is what a good entry can do, it can make noise and make you see some thing that can be viewed as controversial. I do not regret writing it at all, I actually liked the comments from others and it has changed the way I view certain people now.

 

 “Rays Banner Celebration Photo Blog”   (April 14, 2009 )

This might end up being one of my favorite Photo Blogs because of the significance of the day. It was a very emotional night for me having been here since the first pitch (ball) during the Rays first contest against the Detroit Tigers to today. The amount of pure energy and emotion in the building that night was amazing. I hope every one supporting their teams in the MLB can some day feel the prestige and the pride of seeing their banners raised to the rafters too.

 


” R.I.P…… Downtown Stadium. “  ( May 22, 2009 ).

 

I loved the fact that a few local sports Twitters linked this blog to some of their updates. I have to say this situation has been coming for a long time. I admired the Rays trails and tribulations in trying to convince the general public and the St. Petersburg community to re-use the Progress Energy/Al Lang Field location for a potential stadium site. The group started by the city and the Rays called,  A Baseball Community ( ABC ) will be making their recommendations in the future. And when they do, I will again approach the issue.

 



“Don Zimmer…..True Baseball Royalty
  ( January 17, 2009 ). 

  

 

I think the world of Don Zimmer. I idolized him as a young kid putting gas in his car from my dad’s gas station, to getting to know him with the Rays as their Senior Advisor. The man is a huge treasure of stories and information, and if you sat there non-stop with him for two months, I still think he will have another two weeks of stories to tell you.

 

“All Christmas Squad”  (December 16, 2008). 

I really enjoyed doing this blog. I love Christmas, and trying to select the top nine cartoon characters that symbolize the holiday to us was a bit of a long winded effort. But I enjoyed doing the blog and hope it can become a yearly addition for me again in 2009. I still think Buddie, from the movie “Elf” is the best selection for my Christmas third baseman. He reminds me of Longo.


 


“Mumm’s the Word………..In Celebration Champagne ” ( October 8, 2008 ).

 

I really got to find out a lot more about bubbly than I ever knew when I started to do some research for this blog. I had to go to a number of site to even find the brand the team was using for their 2008 celebrations, and I could not get the name of the type used during the American League East celebration in Detroit the Friday night they clinched while away from home. But the blog did get me more acquainted with Champagne and gave me a new respect for the celebration concoction.

 
 

 ” Josh Hamilton is my Hero “  ( December 6, 2008 ).

This is my favorite ex-Rays player. And for everything he has gone through in his life both good and bad, the guy has always seemed to smile. I have been lucky enough to know him from the beginning, and every time I see him during his yearly visits to the Trop., I still wonder what it would be like for him to play here for 81 games. He is a likable guy who has found a way to combat demons most of us will never know in life. I admire and respect the guy with total knowledge that the best is yet to come for him.

 

 


There are tons of other blogs I could have picked for my top 10, like the Maple Bat series, or the celebration blogs of both the Rays playoff and ALCS and ALDS celebrations. But I tried to pick the ones I would want to read again some day.  The Photo Blogs like the airport celebration when the team came back from Detroit as the American League East Champs, or the Rays Rallies down at Straub Park could have also been contenders for the list. The great part is that there are more to come, and hopefully I will be able to write for a long,long time. I enjoy writing and leaving these memories online for others to check out and comment on daily.

 

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading my little muses and ramblings since September 7, 2007. I miss writing daily for a newspaper, and this is as close as I am ever going to get again. And with that in mind, I hope you check out the first blog entry and see just how far the postings have come in such a short amount of time.  Back then I was writing more for me than anything else. But today I like to think I am writing for an ever increasing group of people both who are Rays fans, and who enjoy the Rays news and events.  Number 500 is a huge number. In baseball, if you hit 500 homers you can be almost assured a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But in blogging, it is only a step towards writing more and more until you hit another milestone. I write because I enjoy it, and hopefully you do too.

 

 


 

Josh Hamilton’s “Homecoming”

 

 
 

I was sitting in front of the big screen last night flipping through the channel selector looking for something to watch about 9 pm last night. There was the usual movies, the movie channels had some interesting things, but nothing that stood out and made me select them. But then I strolled by the ESPN channels and saw a  small notation that only said, “Josh Hamilton.” Nothing else , just his name.
 


Well, if anyone knows me, they will know that Hamilton is someone who has always peaked my interest. From the moment in 1999 when he was selected as a Tampa Bay Devilray with the first selection in the amateur draft, to the moments during Spring Training when I would chat with him in the Rays Namoli field house between practices, Hamilton has always had my attention. So I clicked to ESPN2 hoping it was a real programs and not one of those preselected clips shows that really do not do the guy any justice.

 

 

 

 

But what I came upon was Rick Reilly’s show “Homecoming”. I had never seen the program before, but after the first 5 minutes, I can tell you I will try and find it again. The program started out with a huge panoramic view of the gym at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. That is the true heart of Hamilton country. The show began with a short monologue before Josh came out to a huge ovation from the crowd of friend, fans, and well wishers to this very special person.
 

 

It started with the story about how he was hitting homers at the age of 7 in his local little league games and how his older brother really was the beginnings of his career. Because his brother was older, he pushed Hamilton to play to the level of his team, and Josh delivered, even at such a young age. The show quickly moved  and contained a lot of great moments that Hamilton looked genuinely chocked up about sitting on that white stool.  there was a great segment about his High School baseball manger and Hamilton’s relationship and how they were as close as brothers, and how Hamilton, or “Hambone” was his best friend.

 


 

It quickly got into his selection by the Devilrays, and moved to the fact that it was Hamilton who wanted his parents there with him at all his games, and not the fact that the family just quit  work and became his touring company. I did not know the fact that he asked his parents to stop working, and that he would take care of everything since they sacrificed so much for him growing up. I was always under the impression that they were trying to protect the investment, and did not know the personal side of the story. It made me think more about him as a man, and how that gesture was really so sincere and almost unheard of from such a young guy to make at that point in his life.
 

 

It quickly got to the accident he was involved in coming back from a Spring Training game down in the Sarasota. He talked about how he saw the dump truck the entire time coming up to the intersection and reached over and pulled his mom to him before the  huge truck hit his smaller pickup truck. Hamilton spoke about the fact his parents went back to North Carolina to heal while he was still experiencing back problems and was alone for the first time in his life. The fact that he was without the two guiding points of his life lead to his experimenting and trying new things that would lead him down a rough and dark path over the next few years.
 

 

He talked about the first time he went into a parlor for some ink, and how it was one of the places that he felt safe, so he stayed there often during his rehab. Hamilton talked about how the ink on current Ray Carl Crawford got him interested in maybe getting one for himself. Hamilton talked about how a lot of the first tattoos’ had devilish and evil connotations and how some of them featured inkings with “soul-less eyes”. He talked about the night he went and did the three evils that changed his life. 

 


 

 

His “friends” at the parlor took him to his first strip club ( 1 ) where he had his first beer ever ( 2 ), and he also later in the night tried cocaine for the first time ( 3 ). From that point it was a fast and furious decline that both the Devilrays and some of his team mates saw in him. He did not talk a lot about it, but I do know of nights in Ybor City where he was the last guy to leave the bar, or parlor after a long night of celebrating his  new life. Because he was still rehabbing his back and a few nagging injuries, the drugs and the extra amount of time just sitting around doing nothing pushed him in the wrong direction.
 

 

Then came his suspension by the MLB after failing his drug tests. Now some people think it might just have been one test, but it was truly multiple tests that he had failed, and the league stepped in hard and suspended him for the year. As you might imagine, Hamilton spoke about how at that moment it felt like he might never play the game again. His marriage was starting to feel the effects of his activities, and no he was no longer associated with the one thing that kept him busy and clean. At this point in the interview, it kind of made me uneasy, not that I have even hit the kinds of lows or even tried anything remotely like he was talking about. 
 

 

But he went on about how the drugs slowly snuck into his marriage and how he once stole his wife’s wedding ring and gave it to a drug dealer for some drugs. The positive side of all of this is she went and got the ring back from the dealer. I have to say, this woman is a strong force in his life, and he is very lucky to have her in his life. One of the thing he mentioned at this point was the short season Rays franchise the Hudson Valley Renegades. He talked about how he also gave another dealer his championship ring from that season for drugs and really regretted the move. 

 

 

 

 

At that point Reilly introduced Eben Yager, who before today I only knew as one of my Facebook friends because of a friendship with someone else. He is the current General Manager of the Renegades, and he presented Josh with another championship ring on the stage. Hamilton quickly took off his All Star ring and replaced it with the newly acquired Renegades championship ring.  At the end of the show in the last few moments, you saw Hamilton hold up the ring, on his finger to the camera, and you could see the pure joy on his face about the ring.
 

 

I then got to the point where Hamilton was down in Clearwater, Florida working for Winning Inning, a local christian-based baseball school and facility working daily and having to earn time in the batting cages. No one knew that he was there at the time besides the staff and students of the academy, and might have been the best thing for him as he was trying to come to grips with his addiction. The Rays did have a small segment in which Hamilton talked about the phone call from Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman telling him about his reinstatement to the team. At that point they moved quickly to the fact that the Rays tried to sneak him trough the Rule 5 Draft, but the Cincinnati Reds pulled off the draft move of getting in front of the Florida Marlins so they could select Hamilton.

 

 

 

 

It moved quickly to the first at bat in Riverfront Stadium for Hamilton and how on that day he got 3 standing ovations during the game. It was then that his former Reds manager Jerry Narron, and his brother, Coach Johnny Narron were introduced and Johnny spoke about being Josh’s shadow during the season. He spoke on how Hamilton never had any money, credit cards or even checks so the temptation could not come back to him. And that the two of them were  just that, shadows of the other on the road that season. Reilly asked Hamilton who was Narron’s shadow to keep him from temptation, and johnny quickly spoke out “Jesus” as the shadow that kept him from taking advantage or keeping things from Hamilton.

 


 

 

Then  it spoke of that day in Yankee Stadium during the Home Run Derby and how he had asked Clay Council to throw his batting practice pitches three weeks before the event. There was a great heartfelt segment where the two of them talked about the adventure and Hamilton talked about how his B P was so sweet and perfect for his upper cut swing. It then had an outdoor scene set somewhere in Raleigh at a baseball diamond, and heard that first pitch come off the bat and knew it had found the grass beyond the fence. If you have ever listened to Hamilton hit the ball, I mean really listens to it, it does have a unique sound when it strikes a ball. It might be the type of bat, or it might be the wrist action the last second before impact, but it is a sound you will remember.
 

 

After that, the show quickly got to a point where you knew the journey was about to end tonight. The show had come through the horrors and the bottom rung of the ladder and showed his strive to reach the top again both in baseball and in life. Another segment near the end that caught me by surprise was with his wife. It spoke how she went to her pastor asking for help and guidance during Hamilton’s dark moments and got simple advice to just forgive him. It is amazing sometimes how a simple phrase or action can sometime see the solution to life’s problems. She spoke of the promise that she would talk about it once, and never bring it up again.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the show there was Hamilton exposed to the world. If you were a Devilrays fan back in the early days of his career you found a like-ability and sense of greatness out of this guy and truly wanted him to succeed in baseball and life. I have to say, I am not a family member, or a close friend or ally of Hamilton’s, but the strength and the distance he has come in such a short time is truly a miracle. I have to say I do check out his stats almost daily during the season to see how he is doing in Texas. 
 

 

The guy will always have a place in my mind from the first time I talked to him, to that last day I spoke with him in the clubhouse before he met the camera outside the Spring Training complex. You see that genuine strength and power now in him that if you ever saw him in 1999 or 2000, you saw in his eyes. He is again on his way to maybe setting numerous records before he is done with his bat. I truly hope that someday we can see him again in a Rays jersey. I know he would get a standing ovation that has never been seen in the Trop. Every time he has come up since he came back up into the major leagues, if I was in the stands, during his first at bat, I stood and clapped for Hamilton.
 

 

Some people just strike you personally for different reasons. Josh has stayed in my mind for the raw talent and the enthusiasm he has for the game of baseball. And beyond the past and the future that holds a lot of great moments for Hamilton, the fact that he is smiling and again playing his first love……….baseball is the true reason you got to love the way this guy plays………..Truly.

 

 

 

 

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