Results tagged ‘ Matt Garza ’

Great Scott!

Not sure if I should send an edible fruit bouquet or an animated “thank You” card to Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations. I know some found the “Ghost Protocol” blog a bit far-fetched or even too realistic, but the pure fact is the Rays were on silent running because they did not want the rest of the AL East to know they finally got the player Friedman has asked about for the past 2 Trade Deadlines.

I honestly think the signing of Luke Scott to a one year deal with a club option for 2013 is a firm step in the positive direction of finding a Designated Hitter that can grow within the Rays fold. Sure Scott might be a bit of a late bloomer, but they said the same thing about Jonny Gomes when he was a DH, and he blossomed quite nicely after leaving for the Reds and eventually being traded to the Nationals.

Considering Scott also has a home in Florida located in De Leon Springs (Volusia county). The only thing that could possibly stand in the way of Scott taking the Rays DH role and pouncing on it is a setback from his July 2011 shoulder (torn right labrum) surgery. But all indications are that his rehab has been productive, and Scott should be ready to go in about 45-50 days at full steam and is currently in the midst of his own intense off-season workout regimen. Scott also could see some time possibly during the Inter-League portion of the 2012 schedule in the outfield if his throwing shoulder has healed sufficiently.

He seems to be the offensive weapon the Rays have been seeking for a few seasons, with Friedman always asking the Orioles about his availability come late July, and always finding the prospective package too rich for the Rays blood. But when Scott is healthy, he could be a godsend to a Rays offense that at time rolls into a hitting funk at the wrong moments. Scott has hit 23 or more home each season from 2008-2010 before he was limited to 9 HRs over his 64 games in 2011. In his best showing for the birds, Scott hit for a .284 average with 27 HR, 72 RBI and a .368 on-base percentage back in 2010.

Still, it was great the Rays could finally get Scott without having to send prospects or even MLB ready players to their divisional foes the Orioles thanks in part to them non-tendering Scott earlier in the off-season. The terms of Scott’s 2012 Rays contract are still being ironed out, but you can bet there will be plenty of room for incentives if Scott can knock the cover off the ball or deposit some nice white souvenirs into the Trop’s stands. Scott does come to the Rays with the accolades of being a top-tier offensive weapon having been selected as the Oriole’s 2010 MVO (Most Valuable Oriole). And the cherry on top of it all..He is also an avid First Baseman.

If Scott can hit anywhere close to his .500 Slugging Percentage that he has displayed in the past, he could be a nice addition and a good bit of protection for Evan Longoria. It has been a few years since Longo has had a hitter behind him who can command a pitching staff to pitch to him in fear of giving the next guy an ample chance for a run-producing at bat. Scott could be a great equalizer, especially if he gets ahead in the count and makes his rival possibly groove one in on him.

That is where Scott reminds me so much of Gomes. He has that type of power to get the bulk of the bat on the ball late and drive it towards First Avenue South with a simple twist of the wrists. That kind of consistent power display and ability has been missing with the Rays for some time. Plus with a one years deal and a 2013 club option, if the Rays and Scott do not fit together right, Scott could again be a free agent in the off-season of 2012.

Scott has a pure passion for guns and hunting, which might make him an instant friend of Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, but he is also someone who has his opinions and is not afraid to voice it loud and proud no matter if you in his corner or not. Mark Reynolds, an old Baltimore teammate of Scott possibly has the best explanation of “Scott being Scott” :

He doesn’t hide it, he doesn’t talk behind people’s backs about anything. A lot of people have those opinions and don’t say anything. Did I think he needed to go to the Winter Meetings and say all those things” Probably not. But he’ll give you his opinion.”

So as you can see from Reynold’s comments, Scott comes with some concerns, but has generally been a positive force in the clubhouse. It is away from the playing field and his teammates that Scott has made a few less than adamant “followers”. He was a Baltimore fan favorite, being accessible and gracious to the fan base, but he did have a tendency to rub some the wrong way with his devote religious beliefs and political opinions. I think if the Rays did win the World Series in 2012, Scott might not have an instant invite to the White House.

But he has also been known to have a razor-sharp wit sometimes going above and beyond the usual lines like throwing plantain chips at a player to keep him in line. But that is another quality that is very similar to Gomes in that Scott is almost like an larger-than-life animated cartoon character in the clubhouse and vocally.

Heck, some might remember Scott ruffled a few Rays feathers in the past spouting off about former Rays hurler Matt Garza and making sure his Home Run celebrations against the Rays had a bit of an extra kick to them. So Scott might be one of those “tough love” guys, one of the people who will tell it like it is, and make you sorry you asked the question for the abrupt response to your query.

But Scott should love this region. Did you know Scott is fluent in Spanish and loves the Latin culture. That should go great with a team with plenty of Latin flair, plus a community that boasts the second largest Hispanic population in the state. In the end, the Rays got the guy they have been peering at from afar for several seasons. Scott is also a great contributor to local clinics, special events and charity events. He has the personality that can be a crowd pleaser and a seat filler not matter the event or the reason for the assembly. 

The echo of his bat meeting the ball in the trop should sound like thunder, and hopefully he will rain down a few HR showers over the course of a season. His love for all things Latin, including the language will make him likeable, respected and a quick fan favorite. I can hear the Raysvision clip now as Scott rounds the bases after hitting one into the seats. On the scene is Doctor Emmitt Brown in a clip from “Back to the Future”, and you know the line……”Great Scott!

Who knows, maybe they will use this clip……

Friedman Would Be a Coveted Cubs Acquisition

Most of the Rays Republic remembers when Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Winn was traded basically so the team could sign former Mariner’s Manager Lou Piniella. Could we be possibly heading towards the same scenario with Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman?

It is way to early in the Chicago Cubs General Manager outreach process to venture solely into this scenario, but it does warrant at least a peek. The Cubs did get an up front and personal shot at the cunning and creative thinking of Friedman and his construction of a trade in the 2011 Winter Matt Garza deal.

What is amazing is the perception still lies in the hearts of some on the North side of Chicago that the Cubs got the best end of that deal. Others, like the Rays Republic know that Friedman pulled another beautiful rabbit out of his hat and has already gotten a great return on his swap.

Think about it for a moment. Sure Chi-town got the ever scowling Garza and his bag of tricks, but Friedman got a newfound Legend (Fuld). Friedman only has to look at the box score of his Triple-A team, the Durham Bulls to see OF Fernando Perez, another component of the Cubs trade back in the Rays system after being released by Chicago.

People around Tampa Bay are getting a bit worried that if Friedman does take a meeting with the deep-pocketed Ricketts clan. Amazing enough he only has to sit down next to his own Senior Advisor Don Zimmer who took command in Cubs stripes to hear about the advantages and struggles he would have with such a move Northward. But don’t fret yet Rays Republic, Friedman seems to love the challenge of the Rays opportunity.

But there is also a once in a lifetime challenge of helping structure and realize another World Series title in a town that yearns, begs, pleads for another chance at glory. Knowing Friedman he would have the Cubs institute a “Goat Day” where goats got in FREE just as a humorous and innovative way to ease the burden of the long held curse of Wrigley.

You know the Rays and Friedman are going to be confronted with this situation. Even Garza, who was traded by Friedman is shouting his name to the Heavens as a key component of the Rays climb from the cellar to contenders in such a short time span.

We know the Boston Red Sox will do everything in their power to block a chance of Theo Epstein even texting the Cubs organization. With a tongue-in-cheek comment a few days ago from someone that the Cubs want to build a Red Sox Nation in the West, battle lines and formations both by the Boston fans and front office went up fast to secure any chance of a Epstein defection or seduction.

Friedman has one of the most innovative minds since Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane. The “Rays Way” has been a perfect model of how to build a competitive unit with a minimalistic budget. Friedman’s team is responsible for one of the best scouting units and farm systems in baseball. Even if Friedman isn’t submerged in the day-to-day heartbeat of this system, he gets the glowing comments by association.

How ironic would it be if Friedman did get a chance to go to the friendly ivy-lined confines of Wrigley Field. Would he be treated like a King, possibly warbling a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from that heralded spot in the booth? Would he be given the key to the city? Possibly get a sandwich named after him at one of the area’s best bistros?  Or maybe he could get a coveted cameo in the “Ferris Bueller” remake? That is what happens to those who fall into the arms of the Cubs faithful, they feel the warmth.

What would be more of a challenge than to resurrect a team that has not won a World Series in a Century. Take a team steeped in such deep tradition and in-bred into the town’s psyche and provide a vibe, a final piece of the puzzle to finally eliminate that faithful Cub phrase, “Maybe next year”.

But do not fret Rays Republic, Friedman is only being mesmerized by the snake charmer. There is no apparent movement of feet or mind to the Chi-town skyline, but it will happen. The city will open itself to Friedman, throw on it’s Sunday best to try and persuade the Rays boy genius to take up stakes and move to this vista.

But even as the traditions and advantages of a Chicago move are flowing in his mind as soul, Friedman also knows he has a little unfinished business back here in Tampa Bay. You know he wants to be a part of the legacy of this franchise. His footprints already dot the landscape, but there is one prize still missing.

It is not a stadium deal, or even a full stadium for 25 % of the home games, it is hoisting that last trophy into the air with a franchise he helped get off life support and finally get to the threshold of that dream. Friedman has done so much here that possibly he could realistically say he has done is job and ready to move on to another project.

Many here in Tampa Bay know that one day this scenario will play out, that Friedman will leave, retire or find a new rebuilding project that he finds intriguing. But if it did materialize that Friedman is to pick up stakes and take his show on the road to Chicago, you know he will leave with a bang, possibly in one of those trademark Friedman trades to the Cubs. Hey Friedman has done more in the past with far less…It could happen.

This Time of Year………..Fear the Friedman

The hands of time are moving quicker, the sands in the hourglass falling at an alarming rate….Yes, it is that special juncture in the Major League Baseball season when the days finally fall towards single digit working towards the July 31st M L B Non-Waiver Trade Deadline that the anxiety and impatience leads to lopsided deals.

The unpredictability of this entire trade charade keeps all of us wondering until the final period is typed on that Press Release, or the official “Approval” stamp slams upon the trade document in the New York M L B offices in Manhattan. You can never be sure just what is actually going on, especially within the Tampa Bay Rays camp.

I swear to anything and everything holy that the Rays conduct a stealth boot camp ever season to prepare for just these final fleeting moments. The Rays organization has effectively mastered the art of the Samurai “air of silence”. Still, I would think if you are a MLB GM, you kind of even a courtesy call by Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman a call to action.

How effective has he been on trimming and honing this Rays roster and farm system towards the Rays lean and mean standards? Heck, I consider our farm system to be the “Minka Kelly” of farm systems. Red hot top prospects with a side order of 3,000 hits. Friedman has taken a system that was not in shambles but uncoordinated at times and turned it into a fine tuned concerto.


When was the last time you heard about a Rays trade before the rest of the baseball World knew about it? Still think each Rays desk has a cyanide capsule or dome of silence to keep idle chatter from hitting the mainstream. Kind of proud of that fact actually. It is so easy for one tongue to wag and then the World hears the vibrations.

Take 2010 for example. If you would have told me the Rays would trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the last days before the Trade Deadline for RP Chad Qualls, I would have reserved you an ample living quarters in the fluffy padded room at Windemere.

Somehow this deal got sign, sealed and delivered without fanfare, media knowledge or even a single cricket chirping before its announcement. Sure the trade was about eliminating a pricey Bullpen piece while the Rays added another veteran, even if it was a higher than normal risk for the Rays.

That is what is so intriguing about this time of the baseball season. Sometimes I wish I could be that “fly on the wall” just to see the process. Get to understand the Rays parameters and guides to the deal….Heck, we could market it and sell at least 100 copies to just baseball top tier guys. Seriously, if the Rays could bottle their trade success and finesse, it would be award winning.

Even if the Rays go into pure “buying” mode, you could see them still effectively shift a few attractive assets towards another roster while stockpiling more potential trade bait and appetizers for another day.

In a “buyer’s” mode the Rays could still bring in a few future commodities that will eventually mature and provide stability and increased productivity. I know it sounds a lot like I am reciting a insurance binder, but the reality is the Trade deadline is about insurance.

No matter if you are in “Buyer” or “Seller” mode, you want to assure your top tier management figures, your roster and farm system, plus your fan base that a move of this caliber at this time of the season will reap benefits towards your team’s goals, or help reduce future overhead limitations like a heavy salary so the Rays would have the cha-ching to go get that valued replacement part.

The art of the deal is a highly skilled and honed system that should bring results. You do not have to be a car salesman to get a great bargain this time of the year. Dangle a pitcher who is having a breakout season, finally burst through the wall of productivity or has a attractive present or future salary structure and you just have to sit back and take the phone calls.

Mix a great potential deal with the likes of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman with his senior counsel of Gerry Hunsicker, and these two could take an average deal and make it shine for years. All you have to do is look at the Rays and Chicago Cubs deal for emotional roller coaster Matt Garza.

Sure the Cubs got a guy who potential is as tall as the Sears Tower, but in my opinion, Friedman got a King’s ransom in return. One of the pieces of this puzzle that was sent to Chi-town, OF Fernando Perez has already been released and is on another team’s roster. In return the Rays got a new urban and M L B “Legend” ( Sam Fuld), an outfielder (Brandon Guyer) previously not in the Rays 2011 major league roster framework who made Fantasy owners giddy with his first game stats (10 points).

Add to that mix a shortstop who is only playing at the Class-A level, but who scouts and baseball gurus have gushed and gone all flustered with that has risen up the prospect charts like a rocket (Hak-Ju Lee). Suddenly it seems like Friedman and Hunsicker sold Garza when his talent and potential both reached their ceiling.

Wondering if the same magic will fall in the Rays hands before the final seconds of the 2011 Trade Deadline. Will it be a monster player haul, a salary dump or even the Rays taking on a player in their “ walk” season who could help them waltz into the post season.

Still think the biggest horror I would face if I were to ever become a M L B GM is hearing Friedman’s voice on the other end of the phone……Hopefully it will be a congratulation call, not a trademark Friedman “kick the tires” conversation….Those have ended badly lately.

Sternberg Still “Staying the Course” of the Rays Ship

The assembled Media mob down by the Rays dugout before this game merited a quick look. You usually do not see this many assembled media talking heads without reason. Then I saw the trademark sweater, the smile that radiates towards the Trop roof and immediately knew Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg was holding court with the media minions.

On tap this day was a bucketful of concerns within the Press Box about subjects like the possibilities of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations heading to his Houston hometown to head up the new Astros future. Also on the minds of the media was if the Rays would be “buyers or sellers” before the Trade Deadline at the end of the month.

Sternberg just showed his pearly whites, tap-danced a bit for the assembled crowd and really again made the masses fall in love with him all over again. That is the mark of a great salesman. Using his charm, personality and a bevy of great information and background materials, Sternberg tames the Media beasts once again.

Sure he might not have stabbed an issue in the heart like the attendance concerns or about Friedman, but he also did not skirt the issues at all. Some of the things that came out of Sternberg’s mouth did follow the Rays “ party lines” and did not surprise me in the least. But others comments did pose a slight concern, not in their rhetoric or presentation, but what was not said by Sternberg.

Still it is always refreshing to get the words straight from the “horse’s mouth”. Sternberg was asked about items like the Rays downward trend in attendance figures, if the Rays have the fiscal resources to “upgrade” their team before the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline.

His comments on the Rays struggling attendance was refreshing since one local media source seems to want to force-feed the public the attendance figures every night. Sternberg’s statement actually instilled a bit more confidence in me that the Rays owners is really here for the long haul, not a possibility of selling the team and moving onto more fiscally “greener pastures”.

To be frank as I can about it, I’m really not focused on the attendance. I’m tired of thinking about it, talking about it, and I know you’re tired of asking me the question and most importantly, everybody is tired of hearing about it. It’s really all about what’s going to be is going to be and what it is what it is. The numbers coming through what they are and I don’t anticipate talking about it or focusing on it at all this season or any time in the near future after that.”

Refreshing to hear an owner talk straight from the hip and not sugarcoat, project pessimistic intentions or evoke a sense of entitlement that fans flock to his stadium. Sternberg has always remembered that this town is a tourist-based locale, and with that comes fluctuation in the fan base, community monetary flows. There is a presence of support, a foundation to build on that is solid, plus his focal group, the youngsters growing the Rays tradition are maturing.

But so many are focused on the end of the month Trade Deadline, and Sternberg had a few great sound bytes on that upcoming event in the season:

 “There’s resources in money and resources in players. A lot of that depends on what player you’re willing to give up and how much money you’re willing to spend. Sometimes you can spend less and give up more players. So we are always willing to expand resources, but it’s a question of what we get back and where that puts us. It’s certainly difficult doing that in our division more so than some of the other divisions and competing with the teams that we can compete with and have to beat.”

This comment by Sternberg might seem more versed in risk management assessments and terms than baseball, but you get the jest completely. The Rays are focused on getting a good return on any investment, trade or salary dump. With high profile Rays players like B J Upton, James Shields and possibly even Andy Sonnanstine on several M L B team’s radar, the return has to justify the decision.

Here is where Sternberg and his henchmen Rays President Matt Silverman and Friedman have excelled in recent seasons. They understand the power of the trade, and use it to their advantage. You only have to look at the trade of Rays starter Matt Garza before the Spring of 2011 to see the team is committed to getting a return that develops into a positive flow.

In that transaction the Rays got their “legend” Sam Fuld, outfielder Brandon Guyer and a future starting shortstop who has seen his stock as a top prospect rise repeatedly this season towards a Top 10 spot. Interesting enough, one of the players the Rays trade to the Cubs, outfield speedster Fernando Perez has already been cut from the Cubs system.

Then someone in the Media addressed the elephant in the room, the Rays stagnant stadium situation. This is where Sternberg really shined and provided a beautiful oratory on his thoughts, direction and true feeling as both an owner and fan of this frustrating issue:

We’re not changing anything at this point. I’ve tried everything. People know that. We hear it all the time, we’re winning on the field, we’re putting a good product out there, the place is inviting, we’ve got concerts, we’ve got the second most affordable team. There’s not much else to be done at this point. It’s baseball here. I believe in the game, I love the game. And just like (Tampa Bay Lightning owner) Jeff Vinik loves hockey, or the (Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners) Glazers might love football, you follow your passion and you put everything into it that you possibly can.”

But I think his last comments of the day after almost 20 minutes speaking to the media speaks volumes on his intentions and his focus surrounding the Tampa Bay region and baseball:

 “There’s nothing more perfect than having it all work here right now. This isn’t about putting up Sternberg’s palace, or my idea of a perfect ballfield. The concept when we first came here was that we were extraordinarily confident we were going to make it work. Winning the American League East twice out of 3 years, no, not necessarily. But be competitive. So I went in with this mindset and said Okay, great, we’re going to be friendly, prices are going to be great, we’re going to fix the place up, put all the dough in here and you know what, were also going to win. So I think it surprised each and every person here, but this is what it is. And we’re still going to keep going at it day after day and doing the best we can.”

Touch e` Stu. Spoken like a man, a confident business owner and beyond all of that a honest baseball fan. We are lucky to have someone like this pulling the reins on this organization. Sure he wants to make a profit, show a positive gain both in resources and even fan commitment, but he also know the product will sell itself.

Baseball fans around the country know the Tampa Bay franchise is a hidden gem with boatloads of potential and possible moments. Sternberg is the man at the top of the heap, the guy who ultimately decides the direction of this franchise…He is the perfect person to help guide this currently turbulent Rays ship through the shallow Tampa Bay shoals and sandbars unharmed before emerging into the crystal blue waters where smooth sailing will be par for the course. Oh Captain, my Captain.

Andrew Friedman: Reloading the Rays, Not Rebuilding.

 

TBO.com/Unknown Photog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TBT.com/unknown Photog

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

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

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

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

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

Farnsworth Brings Intimidation Back to the Rays Game

 

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StPeteTimes.com (unknown Photographer)

Sometimes I think in pretty abstract ideals and put together some really “out there” suggestions that might take most people a bottle of Mezcal to comprehend or embrace my sometimes obscure reference points. And I am fine with that. I mean, I am a lifetime Pepper for gosh sakes (Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too!). Last night I was in one of those usual states of odd combinational thinking while watching the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning (they won 3-0) take on the potent Washington Capitals squad.

While sitting at the game bundled up in my pre-2008 Rays Winter outerwear jacket, I began a quick cold climate aided thought process emerging wondering why Major League Baseball team’s have never selected or signed a player just for his physical intimidation factor?

Sure there have been guys like former MLB players Ty Cobb and LHP Randy Johnson that have made more than a few of their MLB peers quake when they hit the rubber, or was getting a sizable lead off First Base. This type of intimidation is a primal human instinct and sometimes needed to have success at this level. I am talking about a singular player who can be labeled as an “enforcer”, a guy who will take no backtalk and will prove his measure and means with his fists if needed.

The reason I bring this idea even up is that in their recent past, the Rays have had two distinctive mano-on-mano moments (during 2008) where just this type of rugged barbaric presence was not only needed, but could have quelled the on-field bravado in advance knowing this one lone figure could emerge from the dugout or Bullpen to go headhunting.

We all remember the Cobb-style thigh spiking of Rays Second Baseman Akinora Iwamura by then Yankees First Baseman Shelly Duncan back in the Spring of 2008 after Rays INF Elliot Johnson plowed into Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and sent him to the hospital and the DL. During that Rays moment, the immediate enforcer role was taken on by Rightfielder Jonny Gomes. He was a student and admirer of the professional wrestling circuit, and Gomes took his run-in role seriously tackling Duncan from behind as both benches and Bullpens cleared.

Then again on June 5, 2008, during a Rays versus Red Sox game in Fenway Park, Boston outfielder Coco Crisp took exception after a pitch from Rays starter James Shields plopped him and charged the mound. Again it was Gomes who got there after a missed haymaker punch was thrown by Shields at Crisp, but the boxing savvy Crisp ducked the punch before Gomes again took him down like a linebacker to the green grass.

But with Gomes leaving the Rays fold and doing his thing now with the Cincinnati Reds, the on-field antics and bench clearing brawls over the last two years have resembled line dances like the Hustle or the Electric Slide more than standing up for your teammates. The 2009 tussle between the Rays and Cleveland after Indians catcher insulted Rays Manager Joe Maddon seemed more choreographed than spur of the moment. Something seemed to be missing in this Rays clubhouse. Something intimidating seemed to have packed its bags and wandered away, and was not to be refilled by another soul.

Who knows, maybe that past Rays intimidation factor instantly returned yesterday when the Rays signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a two year contract. Maybe a little more physical heart and intimidation was in order since it clearly has been missing since Gome’s departure. Can Farnsworth’s intimidating presence firmly prove fruitful to the Rays psychological bag of tricks

This entire realm of pugilistic or barbaric thinking was escalated by a ESPN,The Magazine poll that asked MLB players who was the one man you would not like to see clench his fight and head your direction in a bench-clearing incident? Farnsworth was the clear winner in the poll, and that could definitely play into the Rays advantage in the late innings of a game. Farnsworth could be utilized in the 8th inning set-up role vacated by departed Dan Wheeler, or possibly be posted up as a Rays closer to cement and increase the intimidating pulse.

Farnsworth threw around 94.5 mph in his tours in Kansas City and Atlanta in 2010,and there is no sign of him slowing down any time soon. But his overall 27 saves in 12 seasons might point more towards him taking Wheeler’s spot and letting Joel Peralta man the closer role. Still, the image of the “Rick Vaughn” look-a-like with his wide rimmed glasses perched on his face adds to his character on the mound. This will be Farnsworth’s 6th team in 12 seasons, but could easily escalate into a career defining moment as Farnsworth will be looked upon to provide a veteran stalwart point to help maintain and stabilize a evolving Rays Bullpen mix.

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Most people might not know that the ray is actually closely related to the shark family, but they only have their lone barbed stinger as their source of self defense. Being the human counterparts of this fierce combative familia, possibly the Rays have finally solidified a member into their fold who can teach some of the other Rays more timid relievers or starters a thing or two about on the mound intimidation and how to use that wisdom to their advantage on the hill.

In 2010 the only person feared on the Rays roster might have been Rays starter Matt Garza, and his facial hair might have provided most of that notion. With Garza gone to the Windy City, the Rays might have picked someone they feared in the past to become an ally to their team and provide a bit of his on-the-mound presence knowledge to help the Rays future.

At first I did not like this signing because of what Farnsworth had done to us in the past on the mound. On April 29, Farnsworth came on in the bottom of the 6th inning with his team down by 10 runs and threw 2 complete innings while striking out 4 of 8 Rays hitters in the Rays 11-1 blowout. It was the only time in 2010 he would face the Rays.

Intimidation plays a great psychological role in the game of baseball. At any moment a team or their players play coy mental games against their opponent both in the field and at the plate. This Farnsworth deal might be one of those signings that do not add up on paper, but in regards to what he can produce both mentally and physically for this rebuilding Rays team, Farnsworth has heavyweight potential…even before he clenches his fists.

 

 

Final Photo Homage to the “Spittin’ Cobra”

 

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I really don’t know why it has taken me almost 5 months to finally posting an image homage of Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Garza’s bobblehead.

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The Rays Marketing gurus’ up in the high floors of Tropicana Field had the vision to have it in place by the time Garza took the hill for his No-Hitter on July 26th, just a day after the David Price image was removed from that same spot in Rightfield. Somehow I lost not only my focus in regards to these Garza photos, but the actual photo file until today.

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Maybe the Fathead style comedic image of Garza’s bobblehead that just seemed to keep staring at me through his morphing stages also possibly telepathically transformed my mental facilities in oatmeal after digesting a Garza neurotoxin that had me somehow postpone his 2010 bobblehead photo image transformation until today?

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Could it have been the mystical workings of the “Cobra-Chameleon” that made me hide the images and as he went through his daily metamorphosis at the hands of Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine, the Rays budding team artist and resident practical jokester.


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Even when Sonnanstine was assigned to the Hudson Valley Renegades (love their name) for a week, the transformation were handled by passing the torch to fellow former Rays Bullpen mate, LHP Randy Choate.

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There has to be some sort of logical reasoning why I could not complete this mental mission before today. It is really not normal for a rabid Rays fan like myself, to forget something as memorable as your team’s first No-Hitter, especially at Dome sweet Dome.

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But ironically I did. Maybe all the glitter that turns to gold surrounding that harmonious July 26th performance was somehow still riding in circles within my mind to this very day.

Maybe I was simply just a emotional and mental wave of cosmic energy that intermittently got frozen in my mind and finally began to thaw and revealed the (file) path to the lost Garza treasure of photos.


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From the transformation of the simple facial hair growing daily to the final image of Garza sans I-Pod and a well placed bubble gum balloon above his cap, it was a set of images I hope I never forget again.

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And now with Garza taking his glove and being traded recently to the city that gave us Vienna beef hot dogs and deep dish pizza, maybe it is apropos that these great images of the changing Garza bobblehead are finally unveiled today.

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I will miss the “Spittin’ Cobra. His heart and fighting spirit were inspirational, and his confidence was always riding in the red zone. Garza was one of those guys who emotionally pitched like his hair was on fire and took every single pitch and hit to heart.


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So I guess this is my way today to officially say “goodbye” to the guy who always signed for the kids on Sunday after he threw on the field. Maybe this is my “thank you” to the player who attended both Gameworks events for Season Ticketholders over the last several years. Maybe this is my photo remembrance of a Rays player who can grow facial hair….unlike me.


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Or possibly it is these lasting images of Garza that I want frozen forever in my mind. Of him showing that smile, wearing those 80’s louvered sunglasses while listening to his music and getting ready to do battle on the mound.


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Maybe there was a cosmic reason his images are locked away in my mind. Maybe he is a Rays player I never wanted to forget.

 

 

 

Placing the Pieces of Former Ray Garza’s Trade Puzzle

 

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Some around the Rays Republic have already thrown up their hands in disbelief and bewilderment at the current state of the Rays roster without thinking of the overall picture or possible scenarios that could hinge based on this one trade recently of Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Garza, outfielder Fernando Perez and minor league prospect Zack Rosscup.

Individually they all might not seem related, but as a whole they turn into a gold mine of future potential and possible long term roster additions for the future of this Rays franchise.

No one has even minutely dug into the possible second vein of gold that is awaiting the Rays when the 2011 MLB First Year Players Draft is held and the Rays hold key positions in a relatively deep draft. The team could eventually through this Summer’s draft picks, plus the key addition of several top Cubs prospects could be in position to be sitting pretty both in personnel and fiscal contracts well into their next purge into playoff contention.

And do not forget just because of the mass exodus of some from the Rays fold, do not under estimate the power of a well turned draft and a few cunningly calculated trade pieces that could sparkle bright for many years with the right moves.

For some odd reason, every time the Rays have made such a trade move since Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations has been given the keys to drive the Rays team bus, I always seem to visualize Friedman putting together one of those intricate 500-1,000 piece photo-based puzzles.

That has become the basic nuance of Rays trades in recent years that the team has to find some sort of innate value over the long haul of the deal for it to get past just the chatter stage. Friedman has become a bit of a puppet master over his last few deals in wheeling and dealing until he gets just the right mesh of talent and potential that will satisfy his fiscal and physical demands. In this trade, the upside seems to favor the Cubs, but under the surface, the Rays might have struck a hidden vein of golden future potentials.

The Rays acquired the Cubs top pitching prospect (Christopher Archer),their top catching prospect who was thought to be in the mix for a possible Cubs back-up spot (Robinson Chirinos), two outfielders ( Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer), plus a possible future Rays shortstop option ( Hak-Ju Lee). If you look at 3 years down the road, then the Rays definitely got the better end of the deal.

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But it is a two-way conversation, and based on potential now and of value to the Cubs chances of regaining a post season nod, then the Garza trade favors the present day Cubs, but might hurt them in their farm system in the long run. And this might trouble some within the Rays Republic who can not look beyond the puzzle’s photo and into the intricate jigsaw pieces and future combinations that could turn into another chance for the Rays to contend.

Intricate pieces of this trade puzzle come in the form of RHP Archer who could possibly be sent to Double-A Montgomery to start the year, then with a great start and a maturation process, could be another potential Rays rotation piece knocking at the door by 2012. Archer’s has a tremendous slider and has huge potential upside for the Rays farm system staffs as he rises through the Rays system. Having another well-tooled pitching weapon in the Rays system is never a bad thing.

The addition of the infielder turned catcher Chirinos to the Rays catching corps could make current Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach into trade bait this July with an impressive minor league season. He will join an a Rays farm system catching corps that is quickly becoming a firm asset of the Rays system.

If Chirinos hits his marked potential during this minor league season, the Rays could see an extremely young catching duo of John Jaso and Chirinos as early as August 2011. Possibly earlier if an injury besets Shoppach.

I still feel firmly that the addition of 20-year old infield prospect Lee to the mix just gives the Rays another option of SS prospect Tim Beckham doesn’t begin to develop as the next Rays SS prospect. Bringing Lee in might just jump start Beckham’s competitive juices and finally get him to retain his First Round Pick potential. If not, the young Lee, who was considered the Cub’s fourth best prospect could be the steal of the deal.

The last hidden piece of this trade puzzle might be Guyer who could start the year at Triple-A, but after being selected as the Cub minor league player of the Year in 2010 with a .344 average with 13 Home Runs, 58 RBIs, 30 stolen bases and a .588 OPS. Over his first 4 years of professional ball, Guyer has a .292 average with 92 steals. Instantly you think this might be the guy the Rays wanted in the deal as a future player to replace a certain current Centerfielder who’s game has not lived up to the hype recently.

A quick comparison shows that B J Upton had a .234 batting average with 18 HRs, 62 RBIs, 42 stolen bases and a .322 OPS. A quick gander shows that if Upton gets into a sudden hitting funk, or doesn’t live up to a $ 5 million dollar salary, we could also see a exit visa punched for Upton to possibly finish 2011 in another team’s colors.

The Sam Fuld/ Fernando Perez swap just looks like a solid wash with the Cubs getting a speedy option as a outfielder or pinchrunner and the Rays getting some potential outfield depth in Durham or on the Rays bench. This is a minor deal churning within the bigger idea, but both will compliment thier new teams this Spring.  

Suddenly if you look at each piece of this Cubs/Rays puzzle, it all adds up to a huge potential for change as early as the 2010 Trade Deadline.

I bet even as I am sitting here pecking at these keys Friedman is sitting possibly online right now watching video or processing data looking for the next great Rays trade. Or maybe Friedman is just sitting at home right now sitting at the dining table staring at a pile of 500-1,000 individual puzzle pieces spread out in front of him trying to assemble a 3-D feasible puzzle of how to visually get the Rays back into contention.

500-1,000 individually crafted pieces that could systematically transform into another postseason puzzle with just the right combination of pieces. Or did he just acquire those pieces?

 

 

 

2011 Rays Resolutions…Renegade Style

 


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With some of the after effects of the 2011 New Years celebration still pumping in our hearts and minds, it is that cherished time of the early year for all of us to solidify our midnight resolves and begin embarking on the tedious task of now trying to keep our promises.

Some of us at the end of the countdown professed to transform ourselves with hearty and healthy vows to lose weight, cut back on certain foods, or maybe eliminate a unhealthy or dangerous habit like smoking or texting while driving.

Then there is that other group side of the resolve coin that wants to initiate goals to help humanity and possibly try and “pay it forward” by helping those less fortunate or being more “green” in our every day lives.

Or possibly you are one of those people who really got excited when the thought of ecology was mentioned in classes and looked beyond our own visionary limitations to evoke a personal challenge or make a mental proclamation to enhance some external segment of this World’s by cleaning up a creek or riverbed or possibly helping bond in our communities building safer playgrounds for our next generation.

So on this first day of 2011 I thought it might be fun to try and make a few resolutions in the baseball sense for certain members of the Tampa Bay Rays. With pitchers’ and catchers’ set to begin reporting to their Rays Spring home in Port Charlotte, Florida in just 43 days, it is time to again bring our focus towards the 2011 season.
Evan Longoria: My resolution to you is to become the strong presence in the Rays clubhouse that evokes and proclaims the true meaning of the “Rays Way”. To take that next huge step to providing a dose of your own leadership ability that will ultimately mix with your teammates to concoct the perfect Rays team chemistry for 2011.

Secondly,if you find the guy who stole your cap and give the Rays Republic his name….We will take care of him.

 
David Price: My resolutionfor Price is pretty simple. Retain that same focused and calm persona that you have projected both on and off the mound. To accept the honorable challenge of being a bigger piece of the Rays puzzle while retaining a high level of confidence that your team is behind you in victory, or in defeat.

In addition, if you need a ghostwriter for a possible book on Pho eating establishments throughout the MLB cities…you know where I sit, and I work cheap (possibly for a steaming bowl of Pho).

 
B J Upton: I know this onemight be hard. I want you to finally let yourself go and go with the flow. Do not hold yourself so accountable for not achieving perfection. It has sometimes hastened your downfall as you tinkered, wallowed and self manipulate yourself into slumps, funks and a bad decisions. Woooo Saaaa!

Secondly I wish for your community/charity efforts to be fruitful. You are one of only a handful of Rays players who’s community interests (BJ’s Bunch) has opened to the Rays Republic another side of you that is sometimes hidden by game day bravado.

 
James Shields: My resolution for “Shieldsy” is to simply take a step back. Maybe by stepping back you can redefine that skill set that got you here to fully reclaim your spot as the Rays “Ace”.

As a two-time Rays Roberto Clemente Award recipient, the continued success of the “Heart Gallery”. I hope more baseball fans around the country in 2011 learn about this photographic and audio exhibit that helps kids in foster care find great family environments.

 
John Jaso: My resolve for you is to keep that internal competitive fire at its optimal level. Your rookie season showed the Rays Republic that your bat and your defense took major strides skywards.

Secondly, to provide inspiration to kids in Tampa Bay that an athlete can be book savvy and math friendly and still compete at the highest level of the sport. Most people outside of Tampa Bay do not know about your love of numbers and analytical equations.

 
Reid Brignac: My resolution for “Brigs” is to take the baseball and just grip it and rip it this season. You have the confidence of Rays Manager Joe Maddon that you can be the vital keystone in the Rays defense. It is time for you to make the rest of the baseball world to take notice and become believers too.

Secondly, we have to find someone else, possibly Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos to teach you to dance. Doing the “Dougie” for the cameras during the Rays postseason celebration made most of us cringe and wish you did the “Carlton” instead.

 
Matt Garza: This resolution is that you find that internal “happy place” for the entire season. That the events that have put extreme pressure on you in the past will find a path to melt away. Your talent will only be stopped by your own actions and reactions.

Second resolution for you is to somehow eliminate your bad habit of licking your fingers after you grip the resin bag disappears. Resin doesn’t taste good, has no nutritional value, and has solidified that “spittin’ Cobra” moniker. Maybe Price can get you a pail of Double Bubble for 2011.

 
J P Howell: My resolve for you is that you come back as the “Dude”. With that high spirit and confidence on the hill that made you a fan favorite. Even though we might not see you until May, you can be a key member of the Rays Bullpen by bringing your calm nature and competitive fire into the fray on a nightly basis. We really did miss you in 2010.

Secondly, that your charity “Discovery Your Path” which includes the “Healing Hearts Foundation” that helps children and youth facing difficult situations to find the mentoring and life path guidance needed to achieve a meaningful life.

 
Wade Davis: My resolution is for WD-40 to simply just grow into his MLB skin and experience more success in 2011. Some critics were very vocal about Davis throughout the 2010 season. But in reality, Davis posted a better 2010 rookie campaign (12-10 4.07 ERA 113 K’s) than Price’s rookie 2009 campaign (10-7 4.42 ERA, 102 K’s).
 
The second part of the resolution is for Davis and his charity, “Pitch In For Baseball” which accepts game used baseball equipment and distributes them to underprivileged children to finds more success and Nation-wide acclaim.

Jake McGee: My resolution for McGee is that he takes the critical next big step in his Bullpen transformation. McGee will be in competition for a spot in the Rays Bullpen this Spring. He could make the Rays Opening Day roster with a solid Spring with an eye into taking a bigger role with the team by the end of the 2011. Every good outing is another notch on his belt to helping McGee possibly develop into the Rays future closer.

My second resolution for him is a double dose of the first one. He is one of the future linchpins for the Rays.

Desmond Jennings: My resolution for Jennings is for him to develop a thick skin for 2011. He will hear more than a few jeers about Carl Crawford. They key for Jennings might be to put an early exclamation point on his rookie season by showing the Rays outfield game will not take a step back this season. Playing his style of game without compromise will be the ultimate key for Jennings MLB survival in 2011.

Dan Johnson: My resolve for DJ is that he finally feels he belongs in Tampa Bay. Johnson hit one of the more memorable Home Runs in Rays history back in 2008, but has never gained the Rays fans all out support. Whether he is at the DH spot or manning the First Base bag, Johnson needs to announce his presence with authority. A big first month impression can do wonders in silencing the Pena critics.

 

Secondly, DJ, we have to get you a good MP3 file so we can pick you a better walk-up song than “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. It is catchy, but it drives me simply insane trying to not stand up and do the dance mannerisms…Seriously!

Sean Rodriguez: My resolution for S-Rod is that he can finally feel secure at Second Base for the Rays. We all know he has mad skills all over the diamond, but I would love for him to find a root system at Second. His timely hits and great defensive presence is a testament to his work ethic and his talents.

My second resolution for Rodriguez is that someone teach him the “Stingray Shuffle” this Spring so that we do not have to worry about his Gulf of Mexico activities on Rays home off days.

There are so many other Rays players in the Rays roster that need to have great resolute seasons to put their name on the lips of the baseball public in 2011.

Hope you enjoyed my small journey into some of my hopes and wants for the Rays in 2011. There is a link attached to each players charity if you would like to explore and learn more about their efforts outside of the ballpark to help those in and around our baseball world.

 

2010 Was Definitely a Rays “Kumba” Moment

 

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Common.Wikepedia.com Photo files 

 

It has been my custom over the last few years to attach a word, phrase, or commonplace item as a keynote to what the ending year has envisioned to me. This year I am again incorporating my yearly ride with the Tampa Bay Rays by my side into this year end resolution. 2010 was a spectacular 365 day odyssey that somehow closely resembles the Kumba multi-inversion rollercoaster located just 25 miles from my front door within the oddly placed fauna of Busch Gardens in the urban jungle of Tampa Florida.

It really has been that kind of wham, bam thank you Ma’am year for Tampa Bay. One that has taken all of us, including the Rays, on moments of Mt Kilimanjaro-type highs, to the unexpected desolate lows of Death Valley, California while we all scream incisively through the zero G rolls and inverted loops to bear witness of the year’s gut wrenching end result. Hearing the collective loud thumping cadence of our heartbeats within this 32-passenger rail car as the rollercoaster finally finishes off as an unfocused blur.

The 2010 ride started out so serene and calm as we welcomed back 1B/3B Dan Johnson after a short Japanese baseball trek and saw the Rays signed their first European prospect LHP Stepan Havlicek (no relation to the Celtic legend). The impending illusion of a smooth and possibly uneventful ride seemed ease our minds as our car first left the ride station.

We became entranced and hypnotized by the soothing clicking sound of the car as another tremendous Rays Fan Fest came and went where we sadly got to see local Rays resident and Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Roberts for one last time. We all marveled at the Rays Jumbotron at Fan Fest watching the antics of Rays Radioman Rich Herrera and legendary eater Joey Chestnut boast about their hotdog eating skills while systematically standing in line to pursue the autographs of our Rays heroes.

All the while the clicking of track kept us somehow distracted, and played into the final menagerie of peril that was to soon take our breath away. The March signing of RP Joaquin Benoit to a minor league deal made us all giddy with anticipation and hopes of new found glory for Benoit. Suddenly our car took an unexpected 90 degree left turn out of our comfort zone when this Spring we saw LHP J P Howell suffer a bout of shoulder soreness that would start him on his own unanticipated rollercoaster ride during 2010.

With Howell’s injury only thought to keep him out until May, we began our 143-foot lift hill that would eventually send us rapidly screaming at full G force through the highs and lows of the 2010 season. After an incredible Grapefruit season where the Rays finally saw the emerging stars of SS Reid Brignac and 2B/utility man Sean Rodriguez shine bright, our car quickly headed into the Kumba’s signature pre-drop element.

Quickly the Rays season began to take a few twists and turns brought on by a sudden 135-foot drop to our left with the early season struggles of Designated Hitter Pat Burrell and escalated into a 114-foot vertical loop that intensely thrilled us as the team got out to a late April record of 17-5 before the Rays encountered their first diving loop and subsequent first extreme low point of the season.

It all started as the ride entered its initial diving loop segment with the team firmly clutching their pink bats and uniform ribbons when on Mother’s Day (May 9,2010) their coaster ride entered its first Zero-G roll brought on by the Perfect Game thrown by Oakland A’s LHP Dallas Braden that put lumps in our throats and stole our breath from us. But this was only the Rays first venture into a systematic tail spin as more unexpected plots twists were creeping our the horizon for the Rays.

The team then seemed to hit a rough patch as they spent a short spell on a smooth stretch of track before finally entering a much feared Cobra roll on June 25,2010 that saw former Rays RHP Edwin Jackson toss a No-Hitter against the Rays in the comfy confines of Tropicana Field. The result sent us again flipping upside down for the second time this season before we were able to enter a mid-course brake run at the All Star break . It was then that we saw Rays starter David Price become the first Rays pitcher to ever start an All Star game. At the midway point of our coaster ride the Rays end the first half with the Major League’s second best record (54-34) trailing only our division rivals, the New York Yankees.


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Just as the ride was beginning to obtain some sort of normalcy, the Rays and the coaster again began a accelerating fall off the brake run through a series of interlocking corkscrew twists that heightened with a renewed Rays excitement by a No-Hitter tossed at Tropicana Field by Rays starter Matt Garza, and accented by the Grand Slam of another Matt (Joyce) to put the game finally out of reach and into the Rays record books.

Gut twisting and wrenching wins then somehow became the norm as the Rays unexpectedly ran into a 5-game losing streak (their only losing streak above 3 games in ’10) at the entry point of their first corkscrew twist. During this negative twist of misfortune during back-to-back Rays versus Blue Jays games from August 7-8th that saw normally secure starter James Shields surrender 6 Home Runs one day, then saw the Rays have to rely on Evan Longoria hitting a dying quail single through the 1B-2B hole with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning to stave the Rays from becoming the first team to have 3 No-hitter thrown against them within a years’ time.

As Rays Kumba car entered the darkened tunnel after their latest close encounter in Toronto, the Rays again got back on the winning track and eventually approached the end of the season with a playoff berth in their grasp, and a possible American League East title just beyond their fingertips. As the ride entered its final braking run, the Rays faced a 1 game ultimate gut check presented to them to possibly secure another AL East banner for the rafters of Tropicana Field.

In classic rollercoaster form, the Rays took their final game of 2010 against the Kansas City Royals in extra innings and added to the climax and crescendo of that last right hand turn by being greeted by multitudes of Fans at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport upon their arrival again in Tampa Bay before the ride began is last motions towards a ultimate disembark at the rail station.

Their quick exit in the ALDS just showed how accelerated their post season ride in 2010 could be extinguished. Lost in the final equation were a few special Rays moments that only further illustrated just how exciting and thrilling 2010 was for the Rays.

The 2010 Rays team ended up with 96 wins that season, only one “W” away from eclipsing their club win mark set in 2008. It was amazing for a Rays team that many baseball prognosticators did not even envision even a playoff berth for the squad back in April. We saw the maturation and confident emergence of a Rays starting 5 rotation that missed a team goal of 1,000+ inning season by its 5 starters by less than 46-odd innings. Then saw Longoria pick up his second consecutive Gold Glove while Carl Crawford finally got the Golden Glove that has eluded him.

Even with all the eventual ups and down, in and outs of their 2010 season, the Rays sent all of us on a cascading water flume ride of unexpected emotions and thrills as the team finally exit the railcars for the last time in 2010. We then had to say goodbye to 9 Free Agents, almost as many non-tender arbitration eligible Rays as the team began their foundational framework for another future glorious coaster ride.

Not knowing if it was a bead of cooling sweat from the fearsome ride, or a trickle of an unexpected tear set in motion by the thoughts of losing Rays stalwarts like Carlos Pena, Crawford, Benoit, Randy Choate, Dan Wheeler, Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour. I am stricken with a unforeseen bout of silence as I might have been witness to the last ride of a 4-year journey that started in 2007, and will end at the stroke of midnight tonight. I had been an up-close and personal participant in the formulation of a winning culture by the Rays in our short existence. I want to stand in line again for another chance at having my breath taken away on another future glorious trip.

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 At midnight the clicking of Kumba will be heard in the background as I wander towards another Rays odyssey. The rise and fall of this franchise definitely mimics the twists and turns of a well maintained rollercoaster that is always pushing the limits of both gravity and the breaking points of humanity before tumbling down towards a sense of reality.

Thank you Rays for this years journey. Thank you for the “firsts”, the “lasts” and the 81 straight tickets to ride as I took my seat in Tropicana Field this year and each time It left me simply breathless and aching for more. Some call this season the end of a Rays era, I think it is the beginning of a tradition of celebrating the “Rays Way” and buckling every New Years Eve for another ride of our collective Rays lives. Now where is that SheiKra coaster located again?

 

 

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