Results tagged ‘ Luke Scott ’

American Legion & M L B, Two Peas in a Pod

 

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I was especially proud and honored this past weekend to hear that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon decided to honor the “American Legion” brand of baseball spirit.

images (7)And adding a cherry on top of it all, Maddon picked St. Petersburg Florida’s own American Legion Post 14 just a few miles down the road from Tropicana Field as a focus point.

American Legion unique style of baseball was first proposed during a speech by Major John L. Griffith (then collegiate commissioner of the Western Conference or called the Big Ten today) during a state convention in Milbank, South Dakota back in 1925.  Griffith centered his comments towards the role athletics can play in the development of youth.

Griffith stated to the assembled American Legion members: “Athletic competition teaches courage and respect for others, fostering their growth into active citizens.”

images (4)The South Dakota convention agreed and passed a resolution urging the Legion to create an organized summer baseball league that started each June and ended with a World Championship series. American Legion’s 1925 National Commander James A Drain backed the resolution and was easily passed during that year’s National Convention in Omaha, Nebraska.

The American Legion held its first World Series in 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where a team from Yonkers Post 321 defeated a squad from Pocatello, Idaho. A World Series was not held in 1927 due to the rising costs of attending the American Legion’s National Convention in Paris, France, but soon the Legion found a common ground benefactor to help nurture the development and funding of its young baseball program.

images (8)Early in 1928 the Legion’s Americanism Director Dan Sower had a plan to help keep the Legion baseball league solvent. Sowers attended an executive meeting of Major League Baseball hoping to catch a sympathetic ear of then Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  The M L B Commissioner pledged a $50,000 annual donation and within 2 years’ time the Legion baseball program expanded to include teams from every state plus the District of Columbia.

During the lean years of the Great Depression, MLB had to rescind their $50,000 a year endowment, but as the economy rebounded so did their contribution that started again at $25,000 in 1935 and gradually worked its way back to the original donation amount. M L B now contributes about 3 % of the total budget.

images (3)Since its inception in 1925, the American Legion baseball program has grown tremendously to now sporting over 5,400 teams from all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Almost 100,000 young players ages 15-19 pull on American Legion jerseys annually. Nearly 60 % of all current college players are graduates of the Legion baseball program.

M L B has help fund American Legion baseball almost since its inception and Legion baseball has produced a huge bevy of M L B prospects. The amount of former Legion ballplayer who go onto the professional ranks increases with every season and it is estimated more than half of all current major leaguers have Legion roots.

From fresh-faced M L B rookies playing short season summer baseball to current M L B players and Baseball Hall of Fame members, many got their true starts towards a professional career by playing Legion ball.

images (6)Hall of Famer Yogi Berra played for the Fred W. Stockholm Post 245 in St. Louis, Mo and was once heard saying American Legion ball was” the most fun he ever had.” Ted Williams pulled on a Legion jersey for a post back in San Diego, California.

Frank Robinson helped lead his Oakland, Calif. Squad to the only back-to-back World Series win in Legion ball history.

Babe Ruth however never got a chance to play Legion baseball as he was too old to participate during its younger years but spent the final years of his life promoting the Legion program as its director of operations.

Even though Maddon chose Post 14 as his local Post, it is not one of the most prolific American Legion baseball programs in Tampa Bay. That honor goes to Post 248 in Tampa, Florida which produced such future M L B players as Luis Gonzalez, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield.

images (5)Other Florida notables include David Eckstein who played for Post 53 in Sanford, Fl and Chipper Jones and Luke Scott both played for Post 6 out of Deland,Fl.

American Legion baseball even has another great ambassador who played on the gridiron in Bob Griese who played for the Evansville, Indiana post who were the American Legion champs in 1964.

Here is just a small list of some of the current M L B players who have their baseball roots firmly planted within the American Legion program: Cliff Lee (Benton,Ark), Justin Verlander (Post 201), Drew Stubbs and Will Middlebrook (Texarkana), Craig Kimbrel (Post 15), Jason Motte (Post 152), Chad Billingsley (Post 300), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Post 146), Brian Wilson (Post 27), Madison Bumgarner (Post 29) and many, many more…..

downloadI hope this shows some of the sheer magnitude of talent that has come through the American Legion system and are now inspiring members of the major leagues.    

American Legion baseball is something truly special and I was thrilled to be a part of it back in the late 70’s playing for Post 14.  And even though Post 14 never advanced to the World Series while I was playing Third Base, it solidified my personal growth and life foundation through competition, unity of team and created experiences I have used throughout my life.

Playing Post ball helped mold me tighter and wiser as a person while also embracing the spirit of the organization and embracing as well as respecting and honoring for those who fought bravely for our freedoms.

images (2)Some people see the High Schools and college systems as the feeder systems towards a M L B career. I hope this post shows that the American Legion program has deep roots within the American game of baseball and its presence is only going to increase.

I am glad Maddon decided to embrace this past weekend as an American Legion weekend and that he rewarded those in attendance Friday night in Post 14 by picking up that night’s bar tab of over $550.

I wasn’t there that night but if I was, I would have raised my glass high and saluted Major Griffith for having the foresight to embrace a Legion baseball program and giving so many of us great Legion memories.

I mean as the banner said that was displayed in the Rays Clubhouse, Post 14 is “The Fun Post”.

Obi-Joe, Pick Wisely For Your DH Woes

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What is it about the Tampa Bay Rays Designated Hitter position? It is almost like this slot in the Rays roster has some sort of curse attached to it. Sure we have seen a few guys show their stuff and produce in this position, but over the last several years, especially since 2009, there has been no real sense of consistency, production or even a iota of promise that the name of that game’s DH presents any terror or worry for our opposition.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays, Game 7With our own resident Yoda, Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer popping the ball to the dish during the Rays home opener, Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have to go into his alter ego Obi-Joe and use his internal force to find the right and most productive weapon either in his current roster or the farm system arsenal to seal and eliminate the dark forces, or was it the alkaline water, that took his Jedi Wolverine to the mat with an apparent calf injury.

Maddon and the Rays Front Office Council do not only have to make the right fit for this proposed 30-day window that Scott could be confined to the sidelines, but possibly bring in a new cog in the Rays offensive machine that might have to grind it out for the entire 180 day MLB season. 

0430827723_10548034_8colIt is a poor tragedy that the Rays have already shown a little wobble in their bobble even before the first game has been played of the 2013 MLB season. The Rays will need to make a bold statement, a show of trust within their ranks that they have an in-house solution to their woes instead of possibly shop around for a discount DH who might not make another MLB team’s roster.

Maddon has to keep the force instilled within his ranks that options are within their grasp and his choice will bring about a seamless transition to an already struggling offensive arsenal. That his choice will hammer out any thought of chinks in the Rays armor and provide the needed sense of protection for Evan Longoria in the Rays lineup over that time period. This has to be done swiftly and without hesitation as his window of opportunity is vanishing quickly as Rays famr hands embark on their journeys to their respective spots for 2013.

0430827606_10547939_8colThis is one of those moments where the Rays need to make not only a intelligent decision, but one that would merit an up-grade and possibly some more lineup flexibility for Rays Manager Joe Maddon to produce some sort of revolving swapping of players out for a rest while not downgrading his offensive ability to produce and bring must needed wins to a Rays team playing in a very competitive and upgraded American League East division. The first 30 days of the Rays season could definitely define where they will end up come October, and if all the predictions and projections about this season come to light, or go down like a burning Deathstar.

The Rays have many viable options including bringing up their Spring Training Al Lopez winning option of multi-positional and talented Triple-A tour du force Leslie Anderson, or maybe even the short term options of Stephen Vogt, Shelly Duncan or Brandon Guyer who might foreshadow an obvious decline in the Rays offensive firepower out of the DH position. Whoever ObiJoe  and the Rays Council decides is worthy must come into the Rays fold with confidence and know this is not only a time to show the team what they can do, but how they can adjust and flex to meet the team’s needs on a daily basis. 

201303281730630462854-p2Sure each of these name also can play multiple positions in the field at any time, but can the Rays survive any sort of nosedive in their offensive scheme even for 30 days and still be competitive in this tight division? Scott being out even for more than a few series bring about some serious problems and might warrant some gambling on the Rays part in terms of if and when Scott returns do they keep the player who they will feature at the Rays DH position on Opening Day as an insurance policy to possible future Scott frailties, or do they send them possibly to Triple-A with the idea of them working more out of a DH slot in the Durham Bulls lineup as a precursor option just a plane ride away.

I have faith that Obi-Joe already has the right combination in mind that will eliminate any doubts or  negative thoughts among those in the Rays Republic as to our 2013 seasonal future. All Maddon has to do is think long and hard who can give him the most flexibility along with predictable production and the answer should come to him in a nano-second.  Use your internal good force vibrations Obi-Joe and pick the one who will explode out of the gate and provide wins and grins from all of us. 

First Glimpse at Photos From Today’s 2013 Media Day

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This is the day a lot of us wait for wondering who will smile, who will not, and who just might have the most character in front of the photo lens. When the Tampa Bay Rays take their Team Photos, you never know what will transpire and make itself to the Web. So I hit up a familiar website that usually posts these photos in nano-seconds and took 21 of the photos uploaded and presented them here for you to get a first glance/peek at before the final set is divulge.

ArcherFlettfootAs always most of the main characters within the Rays roster got their time in front of the lens, but a few of the Rays team photos did not make it into this first batch and probably will make their way onto the blogosphere some time soon, but I’m hoping they might show a bit more character and possibly a splash of that classic Rays humor we all know and love.

Longo1Of course Evan Longoria is not in this first set as he was motoring towards the St. Petersburg area to attend to a bit of baby business, but we know when his photo does surface, he will definitely have a grin from ear-to-ear as Papa Longo heads into the 2013 MLB season. But the 2013 edition of the Team Photos does look a bit tame compared to some of their previous Team Photos since the Rays moved their Spring Training complex 79 miles to the South in the hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida

MerlotSRodOut of this first batch of photos there are the usual pairings like Ben Zobrist, David Price and Rays Manager Joe Maddon that look more like a Glamor Shots shooting than a Team Photo. But the camera again this season seems to love some people while also doing a 180 shift on others to kind of dull their enthusiasm and excitement and make fun of others.Some times the worst thing to do in front of a camera lens is try and look too professional be too serious as the camera doesn’t have a brain and can then tend to make them look more demented or possibly deranged even before the first Grapefruit League contest.

CobbColomeThis season the “Grumpy” awards might go to Rays SP Alex Cobb who looks serious, but also has that serial bean ball artist look much like Kyle Farnsworth’s every year photo.Interesting enough, minor league prospect SP Alex Colome might actually get the old moniker I stuck on his Uncle, ex-Rays RP Jesus “Smiley” since his photo looks more like a mug shot than a happy occasion. But that is what sets Team Photos apart.

Not all of them will be masterpieces or utter clusters, but it is the time of the season when  you can definitely tell who is relaxed, who might need a long hug, or who should be tackled by Raymond and tickled to the point of a huge smile and giggle.

Luke2Still, I think Luke Scott might actually have a twin in the Rays Spring Clubhouse mounted right alongside his locker. Now if he dyed his mutton chops white they might actually look like the tusks of that wild boar currently residing with a Rays Spring starburst cap in the Clubhouse.

But it is still great to see most of the photos are relaxed, tranquil photos that definitely shows who is eager, who is relaxed and who the camera seems to love.

LOneyLeeRays newcomer James Loney seemed to have brought a bit of that old LA vibe with him into the photo day as he looks perfectly calm, cool and collected as the Rays head into their 2013 slate of Grapefruit contests in less than a few days.

HellHernandezAlso within the first 21 photos released were SP Jeremy Hellickson, INF Sean Rodriguez, SS Hak-Ju Lee, Desmond Jennings and someone who might just make a player for a rotation slot this Spring, Roberto Hernandez.  There will be more photos in the future, but this first crop of Rays Team Photos for 2013 definitely shows the vast polar realms of personalities on this Rays squad this Spring.  Not matter what transpires, I can definitely see this team this Spring not being a bore…or is that boar?

2B…Or Not 2B

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Sometimes things happen in the off-season that just boggles your mind. Players are picked up for their subtle and special nuances that can be used by a statistical savant like Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon to intricately change the delicate nature of a game in progress, possibly for his advantage based on match-up potential situations or maybe even a simple hunch.

YEscoI know there is a logical explanation and suitable conclusion to why the Rays are currently carrying 7 out of a possible 9 infield players on their 40-man roster, 1 signed player but not added to the 40-man roster yet, plus 2 additional players who are non-roster invites who can man the middle infield. Considering the Rays traded for their potential starting shortstop in Yunel Escobar, you have to logically conclude that 8 of the other 9 might have to fight tooth and nail to get selected for that revolving door slot known as Second Base.

I think with the large amount of veteran bodies vying for a job at 2B, you can easily see the current Triple-A duo of Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee getting their fair share of starts and possibilities this Spring, but the reality is they are the Rays future for right now and with minor league control on both players, their rise to the MLB level might not come until possibly September barring an unforeseen Rays injury situation.

So that immediately shuffled the field down by a third and with the Rays facing 3 different player signing going “official” this week, maybe a few old Rays household names will be bidding the team farewell even before the positional players make their way to Port Charlotte, Florida. 3 other Rays middle infielders who might be on the invisible bubble might be the enigmas known as Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac could all get an unexpected call or pulled in from the Rays Spring Clubhouse soon possibly severing their Rays tenure.

All 3 did not have the kind of 2012 campaigns the Rays envisioned when they popped their name on the 25-man roster last Spring, and any or all of the 3 could be subject to waivers or possibly traded before the Rays officially add DH Luke Scott, 2B Kelly Johnson or RP Kyle Farnsworth to the Rays 40-man roster. You would think Johnson and Rodriguez might have the leg up on Brignac because of their utility play everywhere around the Rays infield, but even then, their lackluster numbers from last year could get them penciled in as potential casualties when the Rays add their 3 signed, sealed but not roster delivered players.

BriggyThere are mumblings in the Rays Republic that “Briggy Baseball” might be the most expendable of the this enigmatic duo, possibly the first name to be announced and waived this week by the Rays. Brignac has had multiple chances to secure and hold onto his shortstop slot, but for some reason his bat did not follow him into either of the past 2 Rays seasons with any regularity. Johnson might get an initial pass because he is a switch-hitter just like tag-team 2B Ben Zobrist who will get to camp late this Spring as he is playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Even with a slight edge over S-Rod, Johnson could find himself again straddling the bubble if he gets off to a weak Spring or doesn’t get into the game flow with consistency. You have to like Rodriguez’s chance since Spring seems to be the time he rises to the occasion and shines bright, but he could also see his star darkened if he gets off to a bad slump or has some defensive irregularities early on in camp. Another small sliver of hope for Rodriguez is the fact he still has 1 minor league option while Brignac and Johnson have exhausted their minor league options.

tumblr_m9jviul3w91ronciso1_500That takes care of 6 of the 7 players that currently are designated as “infielders” for the Rays. Zobrist is categorized as an “outfielder” on the Rays 40-man roster, but should see substantial playing time at Second Base along with the only other player listed, Ryan Roberts. “Tat Man” should have an advantage heading into Spring Training to secure a utility and tag-team situation with Zorilla at Second Base. Roberts did not have a huge year at the plate in 2012 either in Arizona or St. Petersburg, but should come into the Spring as a penciled in player in the mix for that part-time 2B gig. But there are other who might also have a say in it all before the roster is set into stone when the calendar changes to April.

Spring Training non-roster invites to the Major League camp have also been extended to MLB veteran Mike Fontenot and former Rays invitee Shawn O’Malley. Even with these 2 additional names to be put into the middle infield pot, Fontenot might have to stage a spectacular Spring to unseat any of the potential Rays utility players, but I also think O’Malley who made a great impression last Spring with the Rays might have a more viable chance to hang on late into the Spring Training schedule with Zobrist out and possibly be offered a Triple-A slot.

thCAAOB3NMThe Wild Card in this suspected scenario might just be newly signed, but not added to the roster Kelly Johnson who can basically play any of the fielding positions, including possibly being the guy who could give James Loney a rest. In Johnson’s favor to possibly get a long look and possible spot on the Rays 25-man roster is his ability to hit right-handed which could make him a valuable asset at First. And with KJ’s birthday coming in late February (22nd), he could possibly have an inside chance of securing a spot even before the Rays play the Red Sox in their first Grapefruit Series game.

2B or not 2B…….That is surely the question here as the Rays have a huge pool of player talent and potential to pick from the get their final selection before their first seasonal contest on April 2,2013 in Tropicana Field. This might be the strongest the middle infield as been in quite a few years in Tampa Bay, and with some of the names and potential, the players inked on the Rays final 25-man roster could provide that spark of offense the team needs along with some stellar defensive work.

 

Rays Left to Fester in a Potential Weak 2013 DH Crop

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Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays waited a tad bit too long this time in looking for their 2013 Designated Hitter. Looking on various websites at potential “fits”, I found 7 names that seem to be listed on each of these sites as basically only “DH” candidates, and 3 of those names are former Rays players. I’m not even talking here about guys who might be right-handed and could pose a secondary First Base option and switch off as a DH or late inning power producer, for this post I’m hitting just the viable Free Agent DH candidates.

Delmon-YoungAs I mentioned before, 3 former Rays made the list on 3 different Free Agent DH websites lists. One of the listed Delmon Young can be automatically eliminated from this discussion because of his past temperament issues. Adding some more spice onto this is the fact I do not think Rays Manager Joe Maddon has Young on his annual Christmas Card list. Sure he still has youth and a crafty bat, but his attitude and demeanor probably will prevent any serious Rays discussion unless someone want to pull a prank on Maddon or Friedman.

BASEBALL/Then you get a second name that might merit a return, but at what cost. Johnny Damon did a lot in the Rays Clubhouse building upon the team’s strong leadership foundation, brought his hustle and bustle nightly, even if it was at a reduced speed due to his age. I loved his want to produce “big plays” and scoring opportunities with every swat of the bat, but he has digressed into a slap hitter, mostly producing RBI opportunities for others than being that DH who can drive the runs in and bring home the victory by himself. For that and possibly $5 or 6 million other reasons, Damon would be a role player at best for the Rays in 2013.

Luke+Scott+Minnesota+Twins+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+1OS9HZRTwWllThe one guy who I think might merit a second chance is the “Wolverine”. Sure Luke Scott had that dreadful hit-less streak that might stand for a decade, but the guy when he is focused, healthy and combined with the energy of this team seems to not only produce, but finds ways to motivate and get this team in the right mood to win games. But this Rays squad doesn’t need another cheerleader or bench attitude booster, it needs a guy who is healthy, hits the plate knowing his hit can score runs, and provide protection for the Rays middle of the lineup hitters by provoking a little stress when his name is announced. Scott might deserve a second try, but he would have to come in at the right cost and be willing to produce from day 1.

thCACOMU9OThere are other names out there that at least pique my interest like Jim Thome or maybe even Travis (Pronk) Hafner, but my honest gut tells me these guys have another great year left in them, but my head is telling me it might not be 2013. That leaves 2 names, Nick Johnson and one time D-Ray (for a NY minute) Bobby Abreu. Just like Thome above, Johnson has had enough injury time in his career to warrant any deal to be heavily laced with performance and appearance incentives rather than a solid seasonal paycheck. Abreu in my opinion last played an honest season of baseball as an Angel and that was some time ago.

So out of the stable of guys who might only be “DH” options for the Rays, only their 2012 edition Scott might make sense for the team again in 2013. That doesn’t mean Thome or Hafner are lesser players, but their potential for injury might be greater than their bang for the buck. Still, I think of the 7 names prevalently listed on a few of these websites lists for DH possibilities, Scott, Thome and Hafner might be the cream of the crop, but it is not a bumper crop and might be one more devastated with question marks than answers.

Whatever happens, the player selected has to bring power, stability and a core value of producing runs and getting those additional wins that might be needed in a more competitive American League East race in 2013. Each and every one of these DH selections besides Young (27 yrs old) are above 34 years of age, and each have injury concerns as well as if their power will be there for another seasons of swinging the bat.

As Spring Report Date draws nearer, it is looking more and more like the Rays might find their 2013 DH on another teams roster. I do not envy Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman in finding some luster in this crop, or possibly even picking one of my three as potential fixtures for the Rays roster.

Post Script: Sorry it has been a short while since a post but I underwent an off-season surgery myself recently and have only felt like popping the keyboard today. All is well and I will have glove in hand again, possibly by the Rays Pitchers and Catcher Report date.

First Half in the Books, Can’t Wait for Friday

Been a rough first half for the Tampa Bay Rays. Some things have gone as planned, while others have seemed to be spontaneous adjustments and hunches that either worked brilliantly or destined to be talked about, and dissected over and over again by the Rays faithful. Not once this season did Rays Manager Joe Maddon get to post the nine names he wanted on his line-up card together, the 9 names that he felt would make a difference, would bring him a consistent key to victory.

Not one line-up card in the first half carried all 9 of the Rays best players. That in itself proves something to me.  It also tells  a tale of how hard these first 86 games has been for the Rays coaching staff and Maddon to nightly present a consistent line-up card.  How frustrating  it must have been for Maddon over these first few months to consult his Medical staff before penciling in someone with clarity.  From B J Upton’s early season absence to Evan Longoria’s delayed return ( maybe mid-August), this team has been  a mire shadow of their 2011 selves.  

But with this All Star break comes a mini diversion of their 162 strife with a few days of life away from the ballpark to not only catch their breaths, but recharge and re-focus heading into their final 76 contests, I’m expecting to see some nervous energy and renewed excitement  bouncing from the roof catwalks to the outfield walls when the team again straps on their uniforms this Thursday in preparation of their second half kick-off against divisional rivals Boston.

Odd how that old Maddon mantra of “Fortune Favors the Bold” will again be in play this Friday as divisional rival Boston brings their bats and fans into the Trop. for a weekend shindig. Bold moves have been made all year-long with positional players doing a merry-go-round of nightly choices, with a few of them meriting longer looks and prolonged involvement for players who might not have made this squad if all were healthy. Still the seamstress known as Maddon has stitched some amazing embroidery so far this season with his patchwork quilt of players from Brandon Allen to Will Rhymes.

Got to hand it to the Rays skipper for keeping the positive front, going with his gut instincts and proving again and again sometimes stats do not lie about players and situations.  Only problem is Maddon will have to dig a little deeper over this final stretch, to find the pieces of the puzzle that fit each and every situation. Maddon has always preached the gospel of “Pitching sets the tone”, and it does, but when bats go silent or swing at dead air, even a brilliant pitching performance or quality start can be lost in the nightly box score. Maddon might have to listen closer to the Zim bear as he whispers into the Rays skipper’s ear.  Seize the day has to be paramount with  a hard-nosed defense again becoming the focal point of this club.

Might be kind of ironic that the group Train will perform on the Rays first night of their 10-game home festivities to begin their quest for another champagne soaked clubhouse and game dates in October. I got a nice vibe of reassurance from this squad in their final game in Cleveland on Sunday, that with all the strife, humbling injuries and peculiar results this team has had to endure over their first 86 games , the simple prospect of this team sitting just 1 game out of the American League Wild Card race is amazing.

I believe it was less than a month ago that the entire AL East was so jammed and reaching for the top spot you had to check the standing nightly to see who might be top dog.  This division currently has their entire corp of contenders at or above the .500 mark and are bunched within single digits from the top-tier to the cellar. Toronto and Boston currently are 9.5 games out of the top spot, but that could change as quickly as a 3-game win or losing streak by anyone in front of them. To put this into deeper prospective, if the Rays were to get swept in their upcoming series against Boston ( not going to happen), the Red Sox would not only jump over the Rays into third place, it could just as easily push the Rays from eyesight of the New York Yankees into the cellar.

Even with the Rays currently sporting a 45-41 record, ESPN has the Rays enthusiastically sporting a 26.8 % chance of again spilling champagne in late September.  For that to materialize, this squad has to re-mold itself into a more consistent fighting machine both on the field, and especially at the plate. Signs have been surfacing lately with Ben Zobrist rising his average up more than 50 points, Luke Scott finally getting the woodpeckers out of his bat bin, and Elliot Johnson no longer being the “secret weapon” no one knows about. Just a little more out of each of the Rays 25, and this club could be on track to again move onward and upward.

I know this Rays squad has it in them, we all saw it in their  early Walk-off victories that somehow got lost in all the clouds of frustrations both on the hill and at the plate.  When the Rays again get a few cogs of their offense back from their  injury hiatus, pieces of the overall Rays puzzle will click back in place. Matt Joyce is days away, Evan Longoria could be back by mid August, starter Jeff Niemann should begin some level of baseball activities soon, possibly being back before the roster expand in September.  This team realistically has their old magic just out of their reach right now, but it could be back sooner than we all imagine.  For now, patience is not only a virtue for this team, it is a necessity.

30 Minutes to Reflect, then Onto the Second Half

By the time I end up posting this on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays will either be celebrating their gutsy performance over the first half, or spending 30 minutes before thoughts turn to the second half, and the chase for another spot on the post season dance card. Expectation were sky-high in April, reality and gravity brought the surreal excitement to a halt with unforeseen injuries and players beginning a Conga line into and out of Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s humble office. Even with a victory today in Cleveland, this 2012 Rays squad will have posted the worst record of any Rays team since their re-incarnation in November 2007 by dropping the “Devil”.

From the hamstring drama of Evan Longoria, the fainting spell that possessed Will Rhymes, to the bats that turned to sawdust, the first half of 2012 has been a test of patience, determination and faith both in the dugout and among the stands. True fans have seen this before, but it was pre-2008 when the Rays Republic had to hold their breath as long, and pray to anything and anyone for a simple single victory during some of their awful losing bouts so far this season. Do not fret little Rays campers, for the 2012 edition of Rays complete with their patchwork quilt of fielders and hodge podge of Mendoza Line hitters might not be the defensive unit of 2011, but they have the courage, confidence and vital constitution that was forged in 2008 and is still rock hard today.

That might be the Rays saving grace with their line-up changing as much as the flight board in Chicago O’Hare Airport with rehab delays, hitting slumps for the ages and a defense that looks more like a piece of Swiss Cheese. Even with all these intangibles working against them, the Rays will end the day with an identical 44-41 record as the Cleveland Indians. But hidden just out of view is the travel this team has taken lately that took them from the 4th slot in the American League East standings, to possibly the second spot by nightfall. Even with all the toils and troubles on the field, this team still is in prime choice position heading into their home-stand on Friday to make an early run at solidifying their silver medal position.

When Longoria went down, this team did not fret, did not pout. Instead they called upon new additions to the Rays fight card from Brandon Allen, Drew Sutton, Rick Thompson and finally Brooks Conrad trying to piece together a consistent order both on the field and in the batters’ box. Some pieces of this amended puzzle proved moot, and have been cut away from this team either for good, or onto the Triple-A Durham Bulls roster. Farmhands Stephen Vogt and Chris Gimenez tried to show down home production, but both faltered and again found themselves again staring at the Green Monster in Durham wondering “what if”.

Hitting has been the throne in the Rays side for most of this season as the team will enter today’s contest with a Team Batting Average of .232, which is the lowest average at this point in a season , but then again the 2011 squad entered the All Star break with a .245 average last season and went onto a post season Wild Card bid. And their last 13 games has been especially cruel to the Rays as they have been held to 4 runs or less in 11 of those games, and have hit only .193 with RISP. But hope is shining on the Rays lately as Luke Scott shrugged off his hitting slump demon with two powerful blasts in C-town, and has looked more relaxed and selective in his appearances.

That is a good thing as the Rays Designated Hitter position has looked more like the 9th slot in an National League line-up than an AL powerhouse slot. Scott and Hideki Matsui have not been able to capitalize and make opponents pitchers pay for their mistakes, which is vital for this position. Sure the Rays have been Hit by a Pitch more than anyone else in the AL (36 times), but going into today contest, the Rays are tied with Baltimore for the most K’s (679) in the American League. Possibly with Scott again finding a groove he likes, the Rays DH spot again can bring some amount of fear and power heading into the final months of the season.

Defense has been so bad early on for the Rays they currently have 71 errors with a few innings to play in today’s contest. To put this into perspective, the Rays have had 19 multi error games including today’s game and seen 22 flaws coming out of Longo-land (3B), 14 out of the 6-slot, and 11 from the pivot (2B). For this team to again climb back into the Wild Card race and have any shot of catching division leading New York Yankees, this team has to hone their throwing and again look like a impervious defensive stalwart. This is not to say this team has to be flawless, but they need to be calculated mistakes that can be erased possibly with double plays or sneaky pick-off moves, not be free run scoring opportunities for their opposition.

One part of the Rays equation though has been up to the challenge and has consistently shown they have the field players backs, even if the bats did not respond in kind. The Rays Team ERA of 3.72 (3rd best mark in club history at the break) combined with a club record 676 strikeout heading into the All Star break has been the foundation for many of the Rays 1st half victories. David Price shared the best record in the AL (11-4) and combined with Rays greybeard James Shields, they have sent 214 hitters back to the dugout via the K so far this season. Matt Moore has found his rhythm again, Hellboy is ready to wreck havoc and Cobb is primed to prove he belongs here even after SP Jeff Niemann heals.

We saw another piece of the Rays pitching future come into the spotlight and perform as Rays prospect Chris Archer became the first non-Rays raised farmhand to take the hill as a starter in the long, long time. Archer showed just how valuable he will be for this team in the coming seasons, and Alex Cobb only cemented his reputation not only at this level, but as a solid MLB pitcher.

Expectation were high in April, but even with this fall from grace the last few months, the Rays are in prime real estate to again fight to the last game for another chance to play into October. Even with all the Rays perils, they are only a few well placed wins away from the top Wild Card slot, and with the momentum of their recent win in their old nemesis Cleveland, the Rays should be pumped to against strap on the uniforms this Friday when rival Boston invade the Trop.

I’m going to take a page from Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra book and forget this first half in 30 minutes as soon as the Rays exit the turf at Progressive field and become excited and enamored with the second half and all its possibilities. This Rays team is one that is built for the long haul. With Longoria set to possibly still be out to mid to late August, and Matt Joyce possibly missing the 10-game home stand to start the second half, again faith, a slice of good luck and possibly a few bats finding the ball could help this team until their offensive brethren again don the Rays sunburst.

30 minutes has since elapsed since my first written word, time to forget the first half and stand ready, willing and able to help this team push a few squads out of their way in the second half of the season….or die trying.

 

Are You Ready for Zilla-Mania!

All day long I have had Blue Oyster Cult’s classic “Godzilla” repeating on my truck CD player. Over and over the lyrics and words have amped me up to a point of mystic reality that a human “Godzilla” and the swallowing International entourage that encompasses his MLB mystic via frenzied Japanese media, a sudden influx of Asian fans with personalized and cryptic homemade signs around Tropicana Field.

You can bet the moment it was announced that the human version of “Godzillawas on his way to the hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida, the Rays Communications Department’s cellphones and email addresses have been bombarded with requests both for video and photo of the historic first appearance of Hideki Matsui in a Rays uniform. I did not get into the Trop. early today to witness the explosion when Matsui finally ascended the dugout steps and into the media gasping and camera clicking frenzy.

Simply put, this might be one of the biggest moves the Rays have made in a while that could turn their Designated Hitter position into a true powerhouse spot in the nightly line-up. It is going to be extremely interesting to see how Rays Manager Joe Maddon juggles the animated Wolverine/ Luke Scott and Matsui in and out of the Rays line-up, especially since both smash the ball from the left side of the plate.

But think about this all for an extended second, with the addition of Matsui who is a finessed professional hitter, the Rays finally have a guy who Maddon can be put behind anyone from Desmond Jennings (when he returns from the D L) to Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria or Carlos Pena and they will automatically see more pitches that they might be able to clobber themselves. Matsui might finally be able to help elevate the DH position for the Rays the way we hoped Manny Ramirez would have in 2011 before his own personal substance debacle.

Even the idea of Matsui playing in the field is not far-fetched especially during the Inter-League slate of games in National League parks. With the idea Scott might play a bit of First Base or the outfield plus Matsui drawing time in the outfield too, it might take the usually lighting-quick Rays outfield and make it a bit more…positioned to keep the big play from dominating the inning.

Even though Matsui has 9 years in the major leagues, it has taken its toll on his knees, but with him missing almost 2 months of the grit and grind of baseball, his knees and health might be timed perfectly to get him through the Inter-League schedule, then DH and be a valuable pinch-hit weapon for Maddon.

Of course Maddon and the Rays will not elevate the call-up of Matsui and anything “special”, but the moment the whisper was first uttered he was destined for the MLB before June, people have been lying in wait for just his arrival. Of course he will have to get used to a new band of baseball brothers, who tend to keep their clubhouse loose and free of the media drama that unfortunately follows Matsui from his homeland.

But there is a hidden gem here some people have not realized yet, but they will as soon as the MLB and Rays Team site begin to see a run on personalized Matsui # 35 jerseys and any collectible that tends to fall the way of E-bay or the Rays Baseball Foundation’s charity online auctions. Instantly the Rays will get extra press and free advertising back to the television sets in the Far East nightly as video replays and Matsui box scores and highlights hit the Web.

Do not be surprised if you see more Japanese advertisements being showcased on FSN/Sun Sports during Rays telecasts, especially on the MLB Network where fans in Japan can watch the game at almost anytime, even in the middle of the night as they get their fill of Matsui. Don’t be surprised if the blue screen to the right of Home Plate gets a few more swirling Matsui-inspired signs that will rotate as Hideki digs into the left-hand side of the Batter’s Box.

This is a big thing people. Not only does the call-up of Matsui possibly give us a profession power hitting bit of muscle, but it will open a new segment of Rays marketing, far out-reaching into the Asian baseball market as well as bring some new faces and excited fans into the Trop. Going to be amazing tonight if Matsui gets a hold of a hanging curveball and deposits it into the right field stands. Do not be surprised if the Raysvision crew already have their own “Godzilla” inspired video clip keyed up and ready to go full ballistic on the Jumbotron at the crack of the bat. 

Coaches Behaving Badly

First off, I do not blame any of last nights beanball shenanigans and ultimate bench-clearing by both squads on Boston Red Sox reliever Franklin Morales. If you saw a camera view of Morales just after the plucking, you can see he meant no personal glory or want to throw behind or at Tampa Bay Rays DH Luke Scott, he was following the orders sent in from his arrogant Coaching staff. 

My anger and frustration is poised directly towards the Red Sox bench, and in particular 4 main characters. The first person was right at ground zero, and should of known better than to stand in front of a increasingly angry hitter still clutching a pine bat in his strong hand. Standing in front of a player, blocking his path is one thing, but to chest bump him….That only makes the anger vented towards Red Sox backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia and away from the true instigators in this plucking. 

I seriously felt Salti would of deserved a pop in the kisser with Scott standing over him grinning like a Cheshire cat. Even though Saltalamacchia made an error in judgment by bumping Scott, he is not the sole individual who needed a smack down. Instantly I lost all respect for the Boston Coaching staff. Suddenly they went from cunning rivals to blatant idiots, all in the time it took for the ball to leave Morales hand and hit Scott. 

What was the Boston bench thinking not only tossing the ball behind but at Scott for the second time in two games? Did they really think Scott would just stand there and chuckle as he made his way to First Base with the free pass? Worst yet, when the two benches did clear, it was two members of the Boston Coaching staff who made the most noise and provided the most pushing and shoving. Way to be positive role model gentlemen. You acted more like the small percentage of Red Sox hooligans than members of a MLB staff.

I expected more out of Red Sox Bench Coach Tim Bogar, especially since he spent time on the Rays staff and knows the demeanor and attitude of Rays skipper Joe Maddon. I know in his heart and mind Bogar knows Maddon would not start this kind of retaliation, and what happens now is firmly on Bogar and Boston Pitching Coach Bob McClure’s heads.

 Sure Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine gave the head nod to start it all, but he was not out their with his hands firmly on Rays 1B Carlos Pena’s jersey and undershirt. Bogar was right up into Scott’s grill and possibly deserved a beat down, but Scott did the wise thing and took the verbal abuse and let it wash pretty much right off him. I mean McClure is the Coach who was jawing it with usual low-key guys Pena and Ben Zobrist when suddenly McClure grabbed Pena either trying to get him to see his way, or provoking an even more violent counter-action.

 I did not see a single Red Sox player come into the field of play with the hostility and bravado of these two Red Sox Coaches. Sure a few players did some pushing and shoving, but the vocal and physical action of these two Coaches demand some sort of suspension and definite fine. I can forgive Salti for his action of bumping Scott as a product of the first response to protecting a teammate, but I do nor and can not give the same pass to the Bogar and McClure.

What is kind of confusing me further is the fact Boston had just started a bit of a come-back in this contest, and did not need that extra emotional energy. That is what makes this all even more confusing. Your team is starting to figure out the Rays relief staff and then you throw a further monkey wrench into the plans of stirring up emotions and tempers? This was downright insane.

I am leaving Valentine out of the cross-hairs for this moment. Not that he should be equally guilty and subject to a future salary plucking my MLB, but he did not make matters worse after the fact. He did not go out there and berate Maddon or tussle with a player. When a member of an MLB Coaching staff goes out there and gets physical and vocally aggressive with a fellow player not in the main mix of the situation…heads should roll. Sure Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks were also a bit animated during the bench clearing moments, but they did not make matter worse or hasten the situations, they voiced their opinions and tried to keep their players from doing anything to a Boston player.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Rays or Red Sox fan, some in that tussle last night went beyond their job descriptions and could of made the matter worse. I lost all respect for former Rays Coach Bogar last night, not for his overall actions, but for him bee-lining it to Scott and being sure he was in the heart of the matter as it unfolded. That was a poor bit of judgment by Bogar, but not as bad as the tongue-lashing and jersey pulling done by McClure on Pena. Good Coaches know better than to instigate further actions, for that I say “Shame on you, role models do not act like that.”

Rays Emerging as Modern Baseball Gladiators

A Gladiator is deemed one who is an armed combatant who entertained the audiences in the Roman Republic with violent confrontations and engagement with both fellow warriors, animals and in some cases, condemned souls. The term gladiator is actually Latin in origin meaning “swordsman” from the original word “gladius” or “sword”.

The first sighting of the rejuvenation of this classic Roman warrior reared its head on Monday evening when Rays closer Fernando Rodney (Maximus Savous Gameous) and his partner in battle Joel Peralta (Setus Gameous Maximus) donned the headgear of the Roman Centurions. It was quite a sight to see the pair of Bullpen comrades in arms sitting there stoic in the Rays dugout before their quest to the Bullpen.

Seems kind of apropos that the Tampa Bay Rays have taken on the historic persona lately of these grand entertaining warriors of old as the game of baseball has always been about the attack, the mano-on-mano engagement of pitchers and hitters and the ultimate entertainment ebb and flow that pulsates throughout the stadium on any given play or action.

Like their Roman counterparts, the end result is to gain the victory or die trying. Gone are the menacing lethal weapon of yore that combatants use to eliminate and produce pain and suffering upon their victims. Today clubs made of ash, maple and pine replace the menacing swords,and deadly weaponry. Leather padded fielding and batting gloves and other assorted protective gear aimed at diverting blows and direct hits have replaced heavy and restricting chain-mail, shields and armor. A sphere of white leather is the fondest tool of their trade. It can be thrust, scuffed and even propelled to heights and distances beyond the arena’s turf and into the hands of the new (Rays) Republic.

But today just as it was so long ago, the men who partake in these games do it as much for the adulation and cheers of the crowd as they do for their fellow combatants. For it is the cheers or jeers of the assembled masses that energize, vitalize and make these men want to fight to the last out, cursing a loss as if it was the admittance of an open wound. The Rays Republic have always been vocal to the cause and effect of their combatants, showing praise even in the dire times and pure adulation in the moment just after securing victory. In that manner, the two societies inter-mingle with grand clarity.

Then after last night’s heroics, 2 more legionnaires of Rays descent Carlos Pena (Hittus Ballus Longous) and Luke Scott (Wolerinous Magnus) made their on-screen appearance bearing the same garb and distinctive helmet accessory as Rodney and Peralta a day earlier. It really was a great interview, with the crowning touch of Scott looking deep into the camera lens possibly scaring a few young kids ( hopefully not).

But that goes to show the character of this team. They are a true band of comrades battling it out in a 162 game war that has seen its share of casualties and heroic moments. I always thought the 2008 team had that special something, possibly that extra sports chromosome that would bring them victory in November, but we all know of the Fall of the Rays 2008 Empire. This season’s team feels more energized and bit more prepared for the long journey again possibly into those cooler night when victories are savored and cherished for eternity.

This Rays team does bode well with their Roman counterparts as each fought to preserve their way of life or process. Both have brought innovative ideals and procedures to fill their arsenal and each reincarnated past winning strategies and forgotten maneuvers and thus them up for all to see and bask at as they take their victories. Like their Roman counterparts, these modern combatants live a better life compensated for their grand actions and reveled by the throngs of the Rays Republic for their game day deeds as well as their action off the field of battle.


And their mentor and Field General Joe Maddon instills the truth and balance that makes this whole unit stand united as well as loose and ready to change their battle plan at a tip of the cap. Fine tuned plays, signals and the rhythm of playing together as a single unit has strengthened their resolve and boasted their confidence as they strut onto the turf, just like the gladiators of old.

I think the Roman Emperor Commodus would give a robust “thumbs up” to these modern Rays gladiators.

 

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