Results tagged ‘ Justin Ruggiano ’

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.

So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.

Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.

Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.

But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.

The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.

But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.

I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.

But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.

I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet.  Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Your Day at the Trop To Drop 140-Characters

So how excited is the Rays Republic heading into the Tampa Bay Rays first Tweet Up? I would say as excited as a walk-off homer, complete game shutout and hitting for the cycle. Who wouldn’t be excited about sitting just beyond the shoulder of Rays Bullpen legends Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos.

We could have a possible dancing brown bear moment, or maybe even a Kyle Farnsworth sighting. Seriously, it has been a great thing that the Rays front office and their marketing department embrace the social media phenomenon and provide a chance for the Rays Republic to possible hi the Worldwide trending board with such an effort.

That is where I am predicting this event will fall in the ranks of the Tweet Nation. Even if we just hold that sacred spot for a minute, the work, hustle and bustle would be a complete success. So that is a goal within our reach, one we can touch or type, to provide a Rays moment Worldwide. I love the sound of that personally.

We know @RaysRepubilc, the Rays official word smiths of the social media universe, will be providing interesting incentive, prizes and possible inclusion of witty banter posted during the event. Did you know the creative brainiacs behind @RaysRepublic now have over 100,000 Twitter followers? Who knows, maybe we can even get a up close and personal moment with the @RaysRepublic crew, a picture would be perfect (hint, hint).

I have heard that each person buying a special Tweet Up ticket will not only enjoy the company of other 140- character Rays fans, but will have the chance to sit in the exclusive Papa John’s Bullpen Cafe nestled just beyond the Rightfield line a stone throw away from the Rays Bullpen. Heck, it is just a soda cup away from my own old roosting spot.

Being offered even before the event in Twitter contests by @RaysRepublic will be a chance to win tickets to the event, a chance to throw out that night’s Ceremonial First Pitch that, plus a unique chance to hand the Rays line-up card to the Umpires before the game. Of course the crafty minds within the Rays Promotions department are not done there.

Also on tap is a chance to be the personal (game day) assistant of Emmy award winning  CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) who like the @RaysRepublic crew sports more than 100,00 followers. Another special treat at this game will be hearing Rovell perform the National Anthem, plus have a chance to view his tweets as he moves about Tropicana Field.

The ticket package is still being finalized, but you can go to www.raysbaseball.com for updates and hopefully a official announcement and begin of ticket packages for this unique Rays Twitter experience. Who knows, you might have a chance to sit by the spirited and spunky @Lovebees, or maybe even meet the Rays twins @TBRaysTwins, or possibly get a glimpse of the lovely@Sportschix1.

Seriously now, the Rays are sporting a impressive Twitter collection of MLB player based accounts with the likes of @DAVIDprice14, @Evan3Longoria, @BJUpton2, @SamFuld5, @TheZobrists , @ShopHouse10 plus @Acobb53, @TheRuggianos, and @d_jennings15. The Rays even have a Bullpen presence with @ceez_27, @robdelaney55  and @CheckwitEck tweeting out of the Bullpen (not during games).

Even the medical staff is Twitter bound. Rays Strength and Conditioning guru Kevin Barr has a Twitter home, @TheBBRcom. You can even follow Rays In-Game host Rusty at @RustyKath if you need post game banter. Rays Manager Joe Maddon can also be found making sporadic quips, and witty banter from @RaysJoeMaddon. Last, but never least, Rays post and pre-game savant Rich Herrera can be found @richatthetrop

Going to be a wild and exciting night where the Rays Republic far and wide can contribute and expand the Rays Way all over the World. And added bonus is tweeters who use the hashtag #RaysTweetUp will get a chance to have their tweet posted on the Rays jumbotron during the contest. How’s that for expanded media! Also heard a few whispers that each ticket holder might have future bragging rights with a special edition T-shirt just for holders of a Rays Tweet Up ticket.

Purchase your Rays 2011 TweetUp tickets at this link (Special code word is TWEET) which will also entitle you to a personalized Rays TweetUp T-shirt, some light food and beverages while you relax and tweet from the Pappa John’s Bullpen Cafe, plus a special invite to a post-game Q and A session with Guest Darrell Rovell on the Social Media ( If he survives the scavenger hunt).

I already know you can count me in for the event, plus will have the laptop primed and ready to go before the game, and ( hopefully) well after the final pitch. Personally I am hoping to get some time with the fellow Rays Twitter Nation and talk, chat and maybe even watch the Rays take on the Toronto Blue Jays who also sport their own legion of MLB Twitter foes.

Hope to see you there (I will be sitting by Bobby and Scott)…..or just tweet me @TheRaysRenegade. I will come see you…I promise.


Never Play Cards with Friedman

Remembering the Rays and Gameworks Events

 
Gameworks2009 | www.RaysRenegade.com
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Over the past couple of Tampa Bay Rays seasons that Rays Season Ticket holders have seen some of their past ” advantages” going by the wayside. We used to get one of every promotional item, plus had an end-of-the-season Team Photo Day with the Rays players to get memorable photos to put on our face book pages or computer screensavers. We were a bit spoiled at times and got used to getting the “star” treatment from the Season Ticket Sales Department at every turn.

 
But in the last several years the goodies have gotten pushed into bag “A” or Bag “B”, with limited promotional items, plus the omission of most of the kid’s items tend to make a few of my nephews and distant cousins sad that they could not get special Rays toys for their Christmas stockings. But with the recent closure of a Centro Ybor institution, another Rays budding tradition is left by the wayside…never to happen again.

 
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When the Gameworks family-friendly arcade closed their doors after spending 10 years upon the landscape of the small cultural center of Ybor City. So I want to take today’s blog posting to remember some of the events and times I remember at the Centro Ybor landmark that I will miss more for the faint echoes of young Rays fans and their familes taking a night out with Rays teammates and celebrating as a true Rays Republic.

I can still remember attending a long ago Rays Christmas party for local youth from the Boys and Girls Club at Gameworks where ex-Rays Toby Hall and Seth McClung spent most of the afternoon playing carnival type games and race simulation events with the kids laughing, smiling and giggling at the big players trying to keep up with them both on the screen and running around the arcade area. With presents and food and games galore, I do not think anyone, including the Rays players went home without an ear-to-ear smile on their faces.
 
The Gameworks arcade became a Rays Season Ticket holder staple during the Rays “magical” 2008 season when the Rays Sales department tried out the distant East Tampa arcade as a way to have both fans and players celebrate the Rays season by attending an invitation-only party. I still remember during the August 2008 get-together when Rays outfielder Justin Ruggiano came out to the special event even though an hour earlier he was informed by Rays Manager Joe Maddon that he was being shipped out to Triple-A Durham in the next morning. But Ruggiano and Rays pitcher Edwin Jackson both played pool with me in the back pool room and fan and players both meshed together for one night through fun, laughter and a little bit of slick pool stick work
 

 
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But the scene that still stays deep within my mind is not the photo of me helping myself to the yellow chocolate sauce fountain, but of Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes holding court at the end of the bar just to the left as you entered the arcade. Gomes was in hid element that night, shaking hands and hugging friends, plus raising a toast or two to the Rays success. And hidden just a few feet behind Gomes was Maddon who was sitting there with several fans discussing all kinds of things besides baseball and seeming to really enjoy himself. But the best part was seeing Rays players like Scott Kazmir playing an NBA video game with a younger Rays fans and getting his booty kicked, but loving every minute of it.

 

And the 2009 event was a standing room only affair with almost double the crowd, and double the fun as most of the Rays players from that day came out including every member of the Rays rotation. From Matt Garza trying to be slick and getting beaten time after time on the Dance, Dance Revolution machine, to Grant Balfour’s fiancee’ kicking all comers’ brains-in on the Dance, Dance Revolution machine, including reliever Randy Choate. It was a great time where fans and players got to mingle and bring some of that special chemistry that Rays have with their fans.
 

And maybe it is true that all good things come to an end sometimes, and that you got to truly treasure your moments within the game of baseball for the future telling of great tales and adventures. And you can bet Gomes, Kazmir and Jackson have taken these memories of Gameworks with them as they left for other Major League Baseball venues, and hoped that their new teams would also embark on these same types of great inter-mingling player/fan activities.

 
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It is a time I that is near and dear to my heart, because as an ex-football player, I always cherished these special times with the team’s fans to not only take photos and talk about other things outside of baseball, but to show the “human” side of ourselves to those same fans.

Sometimes the lines get muddled between the green outer wall of the Trop and fans and player develop misconceptions on themselves and their interaction with the fans.

But this Rays team is certainly one of the most open and fan-friendly teams I have ever seen around baseball. They respect the way the fans support and try and use noise either by cowbells or their voices to show audible support for the team. And the many home-made or professionally-made signs by Rays fans show they have their players back.

 
Some say that the Gameworks staff could not update and bring new technologies and gaming machines into the establishment fast enough with the recent gaming explosion brought on my X-Box, PS-3 and Wii systems. That the gaming community could play just as sophisticated games at home and did not need to venture out into the video arcades anymore for their gaming fix. But with the locked doors at the Gameworks location came the end of another Rays era.
 

Who can forget the Rays mascot Raymond sitting in a race car simulator racing against younger fans, or seeing Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler with his two boys enjoying the multiple games and interacting with young Rays fans . Something you wish could stay the same forever. Something you just do not want to see change, but that is life. And you can bet the Rays Sales staff is eagerly trying to piece together another great event in the not-to-distant future where the Rays and their fans can also cheer, laugh and enjoy each other away from the field of play.
 
 
 
BTW, This is my 750th MLBlogs.com posting. Can you tell I really do love writing (lol).

 
 
 

I Thought Ruggiano’s Deserved a Longer Look

 

 
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The Tampa Bay Rays have begun their yearly ritual of slicing off some of the players today who might not make their 25-man roster to give players a chance to either get a chance with another team before the beginning of the 2010 MLB season, or hitch a ride in the Rays minor league carousel. Most of the names did not surprise me, or even have a legitimate chance to make the Rays roster, but there is one name I thought might get a longer tenure in the Major League camp.
 

Justin Ruggiano has always been a great player for the Rays each time they have decided to bring him up either short-term because of injuries, or during their Spring Training camps before finally sending him to their Triple-A affiliate as a right-handed insurance policy. Considering he was hitting .447 with 11 RBIs this Spring, I really hoped the Rays would consider him longer on the Spring roster with the question marks still over the heads of outfielders Matt Joyce, and another unimpressive Spring from fellow right-hander Gabe Kapler.
 

And a few of us long time Rays Republic members might remember some of Ruggiano’s past events while at the Major League level and wonder what, besides a logjam at outfielders, is keeping this guy down on the farm. Sure he let a ball fall in front of him during a game that cost the Rays a run, but he also did a full face-plant into the Leftfield padding catching a screaming line drive in 2008. And I have heard more than a few people say does he have the stats to be a Major League everyday player, but then I point people to Kapler’s same decline in stats and get the reply that “Kapler has paid his dues”.
 

And I hate that cliché’ when people throw that out at you. If you do not get a chance to build a foundation, how do you pay your “dues”? Sure Ruggiano got his first taste at this level in 2007 when he came up and appeared in 7 games in 2007 and went 3-14, but he did make enough of a impression that he lasted long into the 2008 Spring Training season with the Major League camp roster even with a dismal .176 Batting Average .
 

 

But I seriously thought the Rays organization might take a long and hard look at Ruggiano this year and find a way to keep him up here with the question marks I think are still lingering in Rightfield. Sure we have one portion of the platoon system firmly implanted in capable glove of Ben Zobrist, but still there is the inability of Kapler to give us that one firm reason to keep him besides a great mentoring process and clubhouse presence. And sure both of those qualities are monumental to helping build and maintaining team character, but with Kapler batting .136 this Spring…The Rays do have a viable option to Kapler in house right now.

 

But I also see the influx of the Rays farm system about to gobble up Ruggiano as more players get that chance to position themselves also for a shot with the big club. And here was a guy who was up with the Rays Spring team leaders in games played to this point who now will move his belongs over to the minor league clubhouse and begin his Triple-A 2010 experience. And how many Rays fans know he was the Durham Bulls Player of the Year in 2007 while hitting .309 with 20 HR 73 RBI and 26 stolen bases.
 

But then again, Ruggiano has always been a bit of a unknown except to some of us who watch Rays Spring and late season baseball. Who also remembers that he was the player-to-be-named-later from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the June 26,2006 trade that sent pitcher Mark Hendrickson and catcher Toby Hall and netted the Rays Dioner Navarro and pitcher Jae Seo along with Ruggiano. He is widely popular in Durham as he does play the “Rays Way” both on and off the field and is a fan favorite up at Durham Athletic Park.
 

But with his surge this Spring taking over the minor league player to watch role that former Rays minor league outfielder Jon Weber held onto for several Spring, I thought he might have finally broken through and showed the Rays they can take a chance on him. But instead, the Rays purged him from their Major League camp and he must rejoin his Durham Bulls Triple-A Champion teammates to begin the 2010 season.

 
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And time is really clicking away for Ruggiano to show his stuff at the Major League level, and it has nothing to do with ability. But maybe his 2008 Rays campaign left doubt into his abilities to suffice at this level. A .197 Batting Average over 45 games of spot duty can bring up many dark clouds as to your abilities, and future projections.

 

With the Rays logjam at the minor league level with players developing who can play any of the outfield positions in Tropicana Field, this might be his last season to make an impact and show to the Rays or other teams he can succeed at this level, like Kapler for a long time. Right now players like Fernando Perez and even Desmond Jennings are getting the headlines and interviews instead of Ruggiano. Because of the hype concerning Jennings and the on and off again injury situations concerning Perez, the spotlight has always been a bit dim on Ruggiano.

But he is ready and able to perform, sweat and even bleed if necessary to help this Rays team in 2010. It is a shame we do not see a possibility of extracting Kapler and inserting Ruggiano into the right-handed portion of the Rightfield mix. He has the base stealing ability and the glove work to exceed Kapler, and could certainly hit better than Kapler’s 2009 .239 average with 8 HR,32 RBI and 5 steals. But then again, maybe his MLB past has haunted him, but then again how can he dispel those darkening clouds when Ruggiano is not given a chance to show his own Rays of light can also shine bright.

Ladies and Gentleman…..Elliot Johnson

I remember back in 2008 seeing him standing right next to Akinora Iwamura during the Rays Team Photo. Standing there was this Rays player who is now fighting for his professional life, not even an arm’s length to the right of me, but I really did not know the first thing about Elliot Tyler Johnson at that moment. Johnson was one of those Rays players who had begun the 2008 season teetering on the edge of the Rays 25-man roster and was within an injury or a recovery away from again falling into the Rays farm system…again.
  

You have already known that Johnson has spent only a total of 28 days with the Rays after making the 2008 Opening Day roster following a blistering Spring Training, combined with Rays utility man Ben Zobrist’s 15-day Disabled List visit with a fractured thumb, Johnson firmly earned his first shot up with the big club. But his time in the Majors was short lived as Johnson appeared in 7 Rays games before disappearing again back to Triple-A Durham, where he spent the rest of the 2008 season. 

I had forgotten how not even a month earlier, Johnson had made his Major League debut in the holy confines of Yankee Stadium on April5,2008 in only the Rays fifth game of the season when Johnson got his first chance to show what he could do for this Rays squad. Johnson was that night’s Designated Hitter, and was popped into the ninth slot in the lineup. And I somehow had forgotten that Johnson did get his first Major League hit off Andy Pettitte in Johnson’s second at bat, but maybe I brushed the moment away because Johnson then got picked-off first base by the crafty left-hander. Not the first guy to have that happen to him, but not also a great moment to show weakness in your talents. 

And before these same Rays teammates assembled on those risers back in 2008 for the official team photo, I could have talked with Johnson beforehand, but I missed a great opportunity to chat with a Rays player who is quickly seeing his time with these Rays ticking away with his every step into the batter’s box, or play amongst the dust of the Rays infield. That second hand on the Johnson’s Spring Training clock is beginning to run out on Johnson, as the team is currently focused on other players fighting out their battles this Spring. For when Johnson was sent down on April 27,2008 when the

Rays decided to bring up another infielder Andy Cannizaro, Johnson had only appeared in 5 Rays games and batted only .158 ( 3-19) , but in an instant, Johnson was gone again.
 

And it is a bit of a crime that I have not taken the time to learn more about this guy who won the 2008 Al Lopez Award as the top Rays rookie during Spring Training, or who scored 17 runs and led the Rays 2008 Spring Training team with a .417 batting average and got 23 hits while logging an astounding 117 Spring Training innings. And how most of us within the Rays Republic knew his name only after maintaining the 2008 Rays team mantra of always hustling, even during the Spring Training games, when Johnson came in hard on Yankees rookie catcher Francisco Cervelli on a play at Home Plate during the 9th inning of a Spring Training game against the Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field, and ended up fracturing Cervelli’s right wrist. He instantly became a villain to Yankee fans, and a reincarnation of Pete Rose to the Rays Republic. 

Instantly he became the Rays Spring Training poster child for taking advantage of his game opportunities, but Johnson also became an instant scapegoat from other teams’ who condemned his Spring Training hustle because it was only Spring, and it cost another team one of their bright stars so early into the season. Instantly people forgot the great feat Johnson performed on May 28,2004 when he blasted homers in his first three at bats while playing for the Charleston RiverDogs in their first three innings of play that night. Johnson had started his minor league career with only three total home runs before that night’s breakout performance against the Greensboro squad. As a side note, Johnson had homered in his last at bat the night before in Greenboro, effectively hitting homers in his last four at bats for the RiverDogs. 

And before B J Upton hit his cycle with the Rays in October 2009, Johnson was the last Rays organizational player to hit for the cycle when Johnson hit his cycle on September 15,2006 while he was playing with the Montgomery Biscuits. Johnson was one of those guys who has more than paid his dues within the Rays farm system, but we as fans, discarded him for some reason without a second thought. And during this 2010 Spring Training season when the Rays are seeking a versatile utility guy who can play multiple positions, Johnson might be finally entering into his final sunset with the Rays.


Johnson no longer has any minor league options left in 2010, and Johnson could effectively be gone either by the Rays placing him on waivers, or Johnson could be dealt in a late Spring trade ,and gone from the Rays for good. And even with only two games down in the 2010 Rays Spring Training schedule, Johnson went 1 for 2 today with a triple and scored on a single by outfielder Matt Joyce in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 6-5 today in Port Charlotte, Florida. Johnson is still trying to get his name into the Rays organization’s minds this Spring, and hopefully get another chance to show he belongs at the Major League level.

I do not think I am alone here within the Rays Republic in not taking the time, or the energy to chat it up with Johnson along the Rays sidelines this Spring. And I am totally guilty of not taking advantage of this opportunity in the past, almost forgetting at times that Johnson was even here for Spring Training. Johnson is like so many guys among every Major League Baseball Spring roster who is not invisible, or even unapproachable, but might be caught in that middle ground of players that we always think will be a part of our teams. He always seems to do enough to stay on long into the Spring Training schedule, and we feel they might make that leap again, and you don’t give it a second thought that players like Johnson can be gone in an instant.

And you maybe would not even have recognized Johnson out and about within the Port Charlotte community, or even up in Durham, North Carolina where he still makes his home during the off season. Or that Johnson has conducted local baseball camps for the last three off seasons for the kids and teens of the Durham community, where Johnson also instructs students in one-on-one baseball lessons. Or that Johnson comes from the community of Thatcher, Arizona, which was the backdrop of the Albert Brook’s movie “Lost in America”. Johnson is simply one of those guys who has fallen through our mind’s cracks and might be getting his last chance in 2010, to make this Rays team soon.


For some reason, baseball fans sometimes seem to get a bit of tunnel vision during Spring Training where we funnel our attentions towards our team’s stars and the aspiring prospects, and we instantly forget the players like Johnson, who have been there for so long trying to grab a hold of a chance to get back to the Major League level. And Johnson has been with the Rays since the team signed him as a non-drafted free agent back in 2002. So it is not like he just rode into this Spring into his first run with the Rays franchise this Spring.
 

Johnson has been here so long that some of us, myself included, have made him a bit invisible to ourselves over the last few seasons. And that is a crying shame because this is the type of guy we should be cheering for ,and wanting to see make this 2010 Rays club. And Johnson is not alone on this squad in that manner. People forgot a bit about another long-time Rays farm hand Justin Ruggiano. But you can bet that on Sunday, when I hit BrightHouse Field for the Rays versus Phillies game in Clearwater, I am going to try and call over Johnson and wish him the best this Spring.

Finally, I am going to try and get a chance as a Rays fan to get to know Johnson before he might be gone. And maybe, just maybe, I could then call him over again on April 6th ,before the Rays take on these same Orioles in the Rays Home Opener, and Johnson would be smiling ear-to-ear while still sporting that # 47 jersey…. just like today.

 

Rays Players Off Season Plans

 

Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.

And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.

So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.

It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.

A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009.  It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.

I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to  have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we  also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay. 

Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.

Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally  just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful  European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.

I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!).  Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.

But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some  of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.

Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist.  This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet. 

But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just  wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves.. 

While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life. 

Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there  to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go  duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.

You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.

There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time  during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.  

But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a  hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.

Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.

But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.

And  a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.

So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!

 

Niemann Showed his Good and Bad sides Tonight

 

 
                            Orioles 6,         Rays 0

 
 
              
 

Can I Worry A Wee Bit
 
 

I am not worried about the season, or the aggressive nature, or even the pitching of the Rays right now. But I do have concerns on their attempts to score runs. I mean before tonight, the Rays cored all 8 of their runs off of homers. That is right, no hit-and-runs, no situational hitting of any type, it was just plain slap the ball and hope it hits the holes. now I know that the Rays did manage to get 8 total hits in this game, but  they only got three chances tonight where they either had two hits or a walk and a hit to try and score some meaningful runs without the long ball.

 
 
I am sorry to tell you that Evan Longoria came down to earth a bit tonight and only went 2 for 4, to post a .455 average so far this season. the closest Rays player to him is last seasons team MVP Jason Bartlett with a .333 average.  In the third inning, the Rays did get Gabe Gross to slam a liner past Brian Roberts for the Rays first hit of the night.  Bartlett then did his part by drilling a ball into the gap that one-bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. that put two men into scoring position for the Rays with one out.
 
 

It looked like the Rays might have a chance to get a few runs back on the Orioles, but Akinora Iwamura hit a soft dribbler to Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie. But Gabe Gross guessed wrong on the play and made a break for home plate. Guthrie saw this and spun around and threw to Melvin Mora at third base. With Gross in a run-down, they played the dance for a few seconds before Gross tried to out-smart Baltimore catcher Gregg Zaun. But it was Zaun who got the last laugh. He also did a head fake on Gross to make it seem he was going field-side with his block, then popped his glove to the foul side of the plate and tagged out Gross before he reached the plate.

 
 
That basically made the Rays rally run out of gas, and they went harmlessly down after Carl Crawford popped out to shortstop Cesar Izturis to end the inning. The Rays again tried to mount a rally in the top of the fourth inning when Evan Longoria started off with a single to center. Carlos Pena then tried to keep the rally going by hitting a single down the left field line away from the Oriole shift.  But Guthrie got into a groove and put his pitches in on the Rays hitters and got the first two to pop out before ringing up Dioner Navarro with the strike out to end the inning.

 

 

Longoria then tried again to mount something for the Rays when he hit a double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. Longoria has tried to do so much for the Rays this road trip, even getting his 10th hit tonight. But again, the Rays could not figure out Guthrie and stranded Longoria on third base. But one good thing happened in this inning, the Rays moved their first runner of the game over a base when Pena hit a soft liner down to first that Aubrey Huff had to toss to Guthrie to complete the put out.  The in the seventh, Navarro tried to do his part as he hit a looper to right field for a single. Gross then  walked to put two men on base for the Rays again in this game. But the Rays could not convert and stranded both men.
 

Then  in the eighth inning, with the Jamie Walker in for the Orioles Bullpen, Carl Crawford  hit a single to right field to lead-off the inning. It was only the second time tonight the lead-off man got on base for the Rays. The other was Longoria in the fourth inning. But Crawford was quickly erased from the base paths as Longoria hit into a 6-4-3 double play. their last chance in the top of the ninth actually looked like their best opportunity of the night. Matt Joyce walked and then Navarro hit a ball that bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. So with two men in scoring position, both Gross and Bartlett struck out to end the game and the Rays chance to break up the shutout.

 
For the night, the Rays went 0-11 with Runners in Scoring Position. Is this just the effects of a long first road trip for the Rays, or is this offense just feeling a bit anemic right now. Seriously, the team is batting .254 so far this season as a squad, but that might be helped a lot by the hitting of Longoria and Bartlett right now.  Pat Burrell is mired in a bit of a slump, only connecting on 2 of his first 16, or a .125 average. the only other Rays near .300 are Crawford ( .286 ) and Iwamura ( .294).  It is great to know that the four hitter listed above have comprised basically the 1-2-3 hitters for the team. Great to know they are getting their licks, but when is the rest of the team going to catch their winds and contribute nightly…….Hopefully before we head home tomorrow night for a 7-game home stand.

 

 

Tale of Two Pitchers
 

Jeff Niemann might had a bit of nerves welling up in him when Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Navarro met with him to go over the strategy for the first inning and the game tonight. Niemann probably had the situation totally under control and knew what he wanted to do on the mound. But little did he know that even with the best preparation for a game, if your stuff is not there early, it is going to be a long, long night on the mound.  Brian Roberts lead-off the game for the Orioles by watching the first strike go by him before connecting on a screamer into right-center field that skipped once and went over the wall for a Ground Rule Double.

 

But Niemann might have just thought he had just hit a good pitch and went about his usual pitching style. But little did he know he was about to implode on the mound by throwing B P balls to the Orioles in the first inning. Adam Jones came up and was hit by a pitch to but two men on quickly in the contest. Nick Markakis then hit a long drive over the head of Matt Joyce that also skipped once and scampered over the wall for an RBI Ground Rule Double. But the inning was far from over at this point. Huff then came up and walked on 5 pitches to again load the bases full of birds.
 

Rays Manager Joe Maddon went to the mound, with the entire infield also in on the group conversation, but he was the only one chatting in the circle. You know that must have been quite an intense conversation, with Maddon pointing out they needed this game to pull out the series against the up-start Orioles. Maddon can be a great communicator and is well respected for his mind and situational guesswork. But tonight, for at least two more pitches, his magic did not work at all. For on the second pitch to Mora, he drilled the ball into the left-center field stands for a Grand Slam and all Joyce could do is look up at the ball.

 
                 
 

Niemann gave up a single to right to former Rays/Astro Ty Wiggington  two pitches later, then I think the light bulb went off in Niemann’s head. He then  seemed to turn into a different pitcher and got three quick put outs to get out of the inning, but the Orioles were spotted a 5-0 lead.  From the bottom of the second inning until he left in the sixth inning, he shut down the Baltimore hitters. In those innings, he only allowed two hits, a single to Markakis and a single against the Rays shift by Huff in the fifth inning.

 
Neimann threw a total of  25 pitches in that first inning. But in the next 4.1 innings he threw on 69 total pitches. He showed the promise again that the Rays had in him when they traded Jason Hammel and handed the fifth slot to him last weekend. I wonder if Maddon verbally questioned his manhood, or just brought up Hammel’s name as a motivator?  Either way, Niemann was a completely different pitcher after Mora’s homer. He did get charged with another run after walking Zaun before he exited, and Rays reliever Brain Shouse could not shut down the Orioles But at that point, he was looking like a completely different pitcher. If you subtract his first inning stats of 4 hits and 5 runs, with a single walk and a hit batsmen, his final stats would be a pretty good night on the mound. Without to implosive inning, he would have only given up 2 hits and a single run, with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. A completely Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde kind of night.

 
               
 

Brian Shouse’s Website 
 

I had heard before Brian Shouse signed with the Rays that he had a wild cult following since he broke into the major leagues. Little did I know just what kind of following it truly was until I went out and checked out his website. I mean you have to go to www.brianshousefanclub.com and see it for yourself. The photos totally cracked me up, but if you really want to see some magical moments, click on the links near the right bottom of the page and see what else his followers have in store for fellow Shouse sect.
 

I mean the guy has his own Brian Shouse fan Myspace page and also they have included links to articles and stories based on their head guy throughout his MLB career. I am beginning to become a bit of a follower, but not like these people. I love the fact that he was basically signed as a leftie specials like Trever Miller had been in 2008 for the Rays. But he threw 2/3rd of an inning tonight on 12 pitches. His sidearm delivery can make you question his ability, but the guy has the stuff. I am curious to see if a Rays fan will redesign or even start their own Brian Shouse online shrine this season. If I ever get down about his abilities,  I can always go to his website and again click on the Shousegandi photo and all will again be right in the world. Well, at least in Brian Shouse’s world.

 

 
 

Hairless Birds on the Field

 

No I am not implying that the Orioles have lost their hair or their feathers tonight, but I am noticing a certain different look to them this season. I mean Huff has always seemed to have a bit of a goatee and beard going his entire career, but tonight he did not have a stitch of hair on his chin or face. I also noticed the usually  mousy moustached  Jamie Walker also was missing his signature hair follicles under his nose.
 
 

Could Orioles Manager Dave Trembley have instituted a clean shaven look, or was this maybe a bonding agreement by the entire team to get some confidence and karma going their way. Either way, it seems to be working for the Orioles who are currently half a game back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League East lead. I know it is too early to make remarks about the AL East leader board, but the Orioles have been famous for making fast runs at the top in April in years past. Could this hairless look be a great indicator th
at they are all about business this year?

 

David Price Short-changed in Durham Debut
 

For the last month or so people have been harping and complaining about the Rays sending their budding star David Price back down to Durham for a bit to start the season. I am thinking after tonight performance, they will be a bit more understanding of what the Rays might have saw this spring, and maybe they do know what they are doing with the young pitcher. Price did not get to make his debut on Friday night as originally planned since the game was rained-out, but the Bulls let the leftie take the mound today and he showed why he was there.
 
 

Price ended up only going 3.2 innings and was taken out after reaching his pre-determined pitch count for the outing.  In his short time on the mound, Price gave up 4 hits and 2 runs, but did get 4 strikeouts today. He did not have a chance for the win, but the Bulls did pull out a 8-5 victory over the Norfolk Tides today.  Rays Olmedo and Justin Ruggiano both homered for the Bulls. A early surprise is the low average of Jon Weber ( .125 ). Weber was tied with Pat Burrell as the Rays RBI leader this spring with  15 RBIs.
 
 

Some people seem to forget just how fast and easy he came through  the Rays system last year. He mad the leap from the Class-A Florida State League all the way up to the major leagues last season.  He did post impressive numbers, but did not get the repetition and game experience he needed before taking over the reins in the fifth slot for the Rays. It is always better to be careful and nurture a young pitcher than to try and force feed him at the major league level. In the minors he can tinker with his pitches without destroying his confidence in himself and his pitching.  The Rays made the right choice.

 
 
Photo Credits:          1)  Gail Burton / AP
                                  2)  Gail Burton / AP
                                  3)  Gail Burton / AP
                                  4)  Gail Burton / AP
                                  5) www.brianshousefanclub.com
                                  6) Gail Burton / AP

Rays Cancel the Gabe and Gabe Show

 

 

 
 

During their daily pre-game news conference in the Rays dugout, the Tampa Bay Rays have just announced that they are going to release both Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross this afternoon to make room on their roster for two additions to be announced later today.  This is a huge departure from the scenario that was evident a few days ago where the duo would be a platoon action in right field for the Rays. It seems that their Spring Training averages, and their scaled back defensive play might have been a factor in the decision. ” I was extremely shocked, ” Gross told the Clearwater Sun. ” I thought after I signed my one-year contract, this would be my home for the year, defensing right field for the Rays.” 
 

 
One main factor in the decision might be the lack of power this spring by both Kapler and Gross. Gross currently has a single home run and only 8 RBIs, which pale in comparison to fellow Ray Jon Weber’s 3 homers and 14 RBI’s in the same time period. Even non-roster invitee Rays Sadler , who has 4 homers and 8 RBI’s has shown more power and ability this Spring than Gross. But it might be the .164 batting average posted by Kapler that might have sealed his fate this spring.  Kapler has gone 9-55, which is a masked improvement over going 0-14 to start the spring.
 

 

Even thought the announcement goes against the Rays previous defensive movements, it is said that the team might be making a roster spot for Gary Sheffield, who will clear waiver this week after being released from the Detroit Tigers. In a vertical move, it seems that former Tiger, Matt Joyce might have done enough to secure not only a 25-man roster spot, but also a change to platoon with Sheffield in right field for the team. “We consider Joyce a kid who just might have lightning in a bottle right now” Rays scouting director Syd Finch told the media. ” With him growing and Sheffield tutoring the young guy, we have a current win-win situation on our hands.”

 



 

 
Gabe Kapler, who gave up a chance to again manage in the minor league system has been given the same option in the Rays minor league system if he so desires. “I was told I could manage the Tampa Bay Rays rookie league team if I desire until they can find a suitable position for me.” Kapler told the Evening Independent. ” I actually think this might be a great start to a long and prosperous managing career and I want to thank the Rays fans for not being an ex-Red Sox this Spring.” Kapler also will be still conducting his daily pose-offs with Rays designated Hitter Pat Burrell while he is in the Tampa Bay area. 
 

 

” The reason that the Gary Sheffield situation is so enticing is the PR potential of this move,” Gary Kroger, Fan Excitement Manager of the Rays said before the packed media house in Port Charlotte today. ” Think about this for a moment, here we have a guy who is about to hit his 500th home run, not even our fan favorite Fred McGriff was able to do that in his career. That means PR money in the bank.”  Even though the move might be considered dramatic by most Rays standards the team decided to go “outside the box” on this one because of the demands on the Rays showing their true potential this season.  

 
 

 

 

“For us to defend our American League East pennant, we have to get out of the gate early to exhibit the passion and confidence in obtaining our second trophy.” Finch added. But what is more amazing, is that this is also the day, a year ago when the Rays declined their 2009 option on Rocco Baldelli.  A decision will also be announced later today on the 2010 $ 11.5 million option for Carl Crawford.  Is there some sort of romantic significance to this date in Rays history for contracts and major announcements to be made by the franchise. ” There really is not set goal or objective on this date, ” said Kroger. ” What is amazing is that the Rays and the world take such pride in the date, and truly feel that April 1st is a magical date both in history and in practical jokes.”  I am not sure what to make of that statement when Adam Friedman runs into the room and proclaims loud and clear, “April Fools!, you really did not think we would dissolve the two Gabes’ did you?”
 


Photo credits:   1)-3) www.stpetersburgtimes.com
 
 
 

 
 

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