Results tagged ‘ Progress Energy Park ’

Do You Believe……..

 


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On Wednesday night, I could not get a restful sleep to save my life. Sleep and me lately have not been on the best of terms, but I make due with what is dealt to me. And so I decided to go out snooping around one of St. Petersburg’s baseball destinations that have been known to encounter unusual or “supernatural” experiences in the past. I am a firm believer that there just might be some great ghostly baseball games being played beyond a mortal man’s eyesight.

So being in a restless adventurous mood, I decided to hit Progress Energy Park, which was built right on top of the old St. Petersburg Athletic Park, which was the Home field for the Boston/St. Louis Browns, and then the New York Yankees up until that structure was razed and the new concrete stadium rose in 1947.

 
 

I wanted to head towards this park because in my old Pepsi-Cola position as the Special Events Coordinator, one of my greatest job activities was supplying the stadium with products and having the run of the stadium before, during and sometimes after Spring Training. I spent some odd moments going underneath and explore the nooks and crannies of this stadium, and I did find a few treasure troves that I was allowed to take from the stadium.


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Nothing of significant historic value per se, mostly old newspapers dating to the early 1950′s and I even found a small room that smelled of old Cuban cigars that might have been where Miller Higgins went to have a pre-game, or a post-game cigar before heading out of the ballpark. I also could smell the signs of decay from the inner bones of this stadium, but I still marveled at what it must have been like to wander within its hallways during the Days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who both stayed just a few blocks away in the Ponce De Leon Hotel penthouse suites when they came down every Spring. I could almost visualize Stan Musial or some of the other St. Louis Cardinals warming up under the stands ready to play in the revised stadium after 1947.

I really was not expecting anything of value in tonight’s venture, or anything really, just wanted to kill a few hours before finally falling asleep exhausted, and maybe dreaming of those past baseball days in this park. Now I am a huge fan of believing that this life is just a beginning, and that there are some things beyond our control that might have us wandering in this realm after we are gone from this world. I think that basis to my psyche developed when I hit a electrical cable with a J-hook while hooking up a car to pull it out of a sandbank when I was about 8-years old helping my Dad pull cars out of Sunset Beach during bad weather.

So that gives me a realistic basis for wanting to believe shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” could give us a sample tidbit of what life might be like for us beyond breathing. Because believe me, if I have my choice, I am haunting my Season Ticket seat for a long, long time (lol).

 

It was still before 5:30-ish and extremely dark still, so I decided to head to the St. Petersburg Pier and look out at the water and upon the beautifully-lit Vinoy Hotel, which itself holds a fantastic paranormal history between its walls. But it was a bit too windy to even get a great night shot of the Vinoy or nice landscape photo of the bright city lights and I decided to cruise down Beach Drive towards the stadium. It still gets me that I have to call this field Progress Energy Park. The “official” name is Progress Energy Park at Al Lang Field, but that looks really snobbish on a brochure for the City of St. Petersburg.

 
 

The last Rays Spring Training game in this stadium ever was held on March 28th,2008 with Matt Garza on the mound against the Cincinnati Reds. The Rays lost that last home game in this grand stadium 6-3, even though Garza threw 5 innings without giving up an earned run, but the sell-out crowd could not boost the Rays to a win. It seems like just yesterday I went under the stands and found 2 garbage cans full of broken bats and game-used bats with mostly Rays players’ names on them. And here I was walking around the building again with the fine lights of the morning beginning to pop through the cloud cover.
 
 

But I was not outfitted like a Ghost investigator, my only tool was my camera and a small digital recorder, but I was here more for remembering than for a full-on balls-to-the-wall type of venture. In essence, I was trying to kill a few hours of the night without disturbing my neighborhood with 5 am basketball, or even a melody of 1980′s hits from I-Tunes Radio. I took about 30 photos from all different angles and locations while wandering around the stadium.

I wandered around the rectangular building in front of the ballpark that used to be the home of Minor League Baseball before they bolted from St. Petersburg for another locale. And took a few minutes to ponder that I would have been standing in Rightfield of the new Rays sail-inspired ballpark if the POWW committee and the grey Panthers had not put the kibosh on the whole deal and sent the Rays and the City scrambling for alternatives (ABC Coalition).

 
 

So I popped the camera through the locked double gates near the Leftfield Berm area, plus the small singular gated entry that had for years been the threshold for game day Umpires and Visiting team members to used to get quick access to the field without going into the clubhouse. I then took a long stroll beyond the high green outfield walls around the outside of the stadium back near the sheds that housed the old Batting Cages and small infield drill areas and found three baseball sitting in the damp grass.
 


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I finally came out on 1st Street North and headed North to end up at the old Knot-hole Gang fencing area just beyond the Rightfield Berm with a clear visual all the way to Home Plate and a nice sweeping viewpoint of the entire playing surface. I took 10 quick pictures at this spot and really was enjoying just watching the sun start to peak out over Tampa Bay and provide a great backlight to the empty stadium. There were Batting Cages set up, but no cars anywhere around the stadium so it had an eerie feel to it all.
 
 

At that time, I really did not know how eerie it really was……..until I got back home and pulled the pictures through my Windows Photo Gallery to see if I had any keeper photos, or if they were all just trash. Well, in one particular photo, I kept coming back to it and looking, then going forward to the next picture taken maybe a few seconds before it, and there was something odd in that first picture that kept calling me back to it. I marveled that I might have caught something, but it was a bit hazy. I made a quick mental remembrance that there was no odd colors draped around the baseball diamond to promote a sort of non-green background in this photo.
 
 

Now I am not saying it is anything, because that is up to total individual interpretation, and someone could have snuck into this dark stadium at night, and walked towards the Home Dugout. I have had a few people check out the photo and have gotten mixed reviews back, but people say that seeing something like this on film is like either of us standing in the Ringling Museum viewing an art masterpiece.

Each person sees a different analogy or interpretation as an authentic piece of art, or someone paint splattered in different directions by a drunk man. But that is also what I love about opinions, every one has one.

 
 
I am not saying I caught a glimpse of the past walking by that night. I think something was caught, and wouldn’t you like to believe that the past does perform residual events, or might be inclined to show us a glance into realms we do not understand. I am a huge skeptic on so many levels about other things, but on this subject, I am a bit torn at both ends. I do not want to think about it as an apparition. I would rather go hog wild and romanticize it as a gift from baseball’s past to me that night. I want to believe, so I might have saw something.
 
 
And maybe that is where the real trouble lies for me in this event. Just like Kevin Costner in his great ” I Believe…” speech in “Bull Durham”, I want to believe in supernatural existence within the annuals of the Church of Baseball, and that they might have revealed themselves to me. I relish the thought of the past saying a quick “Howdie”, then heading for the hills. But then I also want to believe that I could someday do that same thing after I am gone.

I want to believe that I can still enjoy the game from the other side, and maybe even mis-direct a few balls down the foul lines, or tip a ball out of a glove, or over a wall in the future. Heck thinking about it now, that might be the only real chance I will ever get to touch a ball in the field of play during an actual game………And believe me, I am dying to do that…Big Time!

 
 

Wild Hogs Invade Rays Complex

 


 
 
Rays 2009 Commercials and Print Ads.

 
I really love the job the Tampa Bay Rays have done this year bringing their commercials for the 2009 season down to a level where you feel you know the players. And in the original spots, Rays Manager Joe Maddon also put a great spin on the commercials by relating to the guys with his nicknames for them like “Los” for Carlos Pena, and also adding some of his Maddon-isms to the entire commercial. It gives it a more down-to-earth feel that makes you want to root for the Rays this year. If you have not seen any of them, I posted all five of them on my other site, or you can just go to http://www.youtube.com and you will find these instant bits of Rays karma.

 
Above is the print ad  that was in the March 2, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated  showing Carl Crawford doing a agility training exercise in the outfield of Progress Energy Park in St. Petersburg, Florida.  the ads bring to me a great sense of the open mindedness and honesty that Maddon had instilled in his clubhouse between himself and his players. If you ever have a chance to chat with the man, or hear him talk, you will have a different outlook to the Rays Manager. He doesn’t just walk the walk, he can talk it with the best of them. By the end of his tenure here in Tampa Bay, he will have left a legacy of quotes, very cerebral sayings and mantras that will stand the test of time.

 

 

Wild Hogs Trash Rays complex
 

It was a bit entertaining to me last night to pop on the blog, The Heater and see a short blurp on the wild boar population in Charlotte county maybe not being happy that the Tampa Bay Rays are training in their fertile munching grounds. It was reported that last night a small band of wayward hogs decided to root and destroy a little bit of the follage around the complex, plus they left some big reminders that they were there. That is one of the minuses of building in a completely rural area. Sometimes the wild life that is accustomed to roaming that area get a bit upset that they have fences and paved parking lot where their best insects and plants used to grow.

 
This is one of the things that happens when man treads upon years of grazing and breeding sites for wild animals. This is not to say that either is to blame in this aspect, but sometimes the two have to gain some level of medium where they can co-exist without problems. With most of the Charlotte Stonecrabs game scheduled for the night time, it might be wise that the team conduct some parking lot security patrols to keep a unsuspecting visitor to the ball park from meeting our wild friends by their cars side after a game. I am not a expert, but a frightened animal is not always the most stable thing in the world.  This doesn’t mean that the Florida Fish and Wildlife commission will even trap or move the animals to another location. But you can be sure it will be done in a manner that is befitting the wildlife nature of the region, and to consider the welfare of the animals in the near future.
 

But  with the Rays, being the ecological friends they are to nature, might just have to adapt a bit to their new found fans, and hope they do not send messages to their relatives of the abundance of great grazing fields and concession stands. Who knows at this time what steps will be made to stop the nightly raids into the outer fields and leaving deposits for field personnel in the morning. Considering the locale, I am surprised that the buzzards and vulture population has not set up shop around the complex. That has happened at other rural ballparks, and still might in the future. But I am also looking forward to the first hawk/osprey or eagles nest to be positioned up into the light towers. That is a sign that you truly have arrived and bonded with nature.

 
 

 
 

A Bit about the Florida Wild Hog

 

Florida’s wild hogs are often referred to as feral hogs, of which three types can be found in the wilds of South Florida.. These include free-ranging pigs or hogs that come from domesticated stock, Eurasian wild boar, and hybrids of the two. Although technically, feral refers to free-ranging animals from domesticated stock, all wild hogs are typically referred to as feral in Florida. Wild hogs are in the family Suidae (true wild pigs), none of which are native to the Americas. It is believed that hogs were first brought to Florida, in 1539, when Hernando De Soto brought swine to provision a settlement he established at Charlotte Harbor in Lee County.
 

However, it is possible that hogs had been brought to the same site in 1521 by Ponce De Leon during a brief visit. During the next 4 centuries, explorers and settlers brought pigs with them throughout Florida. Many of these animals were given to or stolen by Native Americans who expanded pig numbers and distribution in the State. Europeans and Native Americans alike often raised their swine in semi-wild conditions where the hogs were allowed to roam freely and only rounded up when needed. Many of these animals,and those escaping from captivity established feral populations throughout the area. These feral populations have been further supplemented through deliberate releases of hogs in many areas by private individuals and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to improve hunting opportunities (although the State no longer does this).

 
Eurasian wild boar were first released in the U.S. in New Hampshire in 1886. Boar were then released in
New York (1900), North Carolina/Tennessee (1912), Texas (1919), Washington State (1981), and possibly other locations to provide a new big game species, and increase the sporting and trophy value of feral hogs through hybridization. A few Eurasian wild boar and many hybrids naturally dispersed to areas around release sites, including neighboring states. Hybrids have been trapped and moved to many parts of Florida by private individuals. In addition, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has trapped and released feral hogs and hybrids in many areas to control hog-related problems in some areas and improve hunting opportunities in others. There are not believed to be any free-ranging, pure Eurasian wild boar in Florida, only feral hogs and hybrids.

 
 
 
Wild hogs are now found in every county in Florida, including most of the Southeast. Florida, second only to Texas, is estimated to have 500,000+ wild hogs in a relatively stable population, with 1 to 2 million in the Southeastern U.S. Some of the highest densities of hogs in Florida can be found north and west of Lake Okeechobee in areas with large forested tracts, dense understory vegetation, and limited public access. Hog numbers tend to be lower in areas with intensive agriculture and urbanization, and little water. So next time you leave the Charlotte Sports Park near dark and you see two beady eyes from the brush remember that the “Wild Hogs” are watching you and could leave a reminder of their presence near the doors of your cars during the night games.

 
 

Kevin Barr is on the left
 

Kudos to Kevin Barr

 

Just wanted to give a shout out to Kevin Barr, who is the head honcho in charge of the strength and conditioning of the Tampa Bay Rays. I have had the pleasure to chat with him over the past few seasons, and you know this guy loves his job. He is always smiling and helping the guys warm-up before games even willing to add some personal stretching on the foul lines to be sure they are  in tip top shape for that night’s game.  He does a fantastic job getting them ready daily, plus helping them rehab when the injury bug hits them.  From his rubber tubing exercises to the pitcher’s runs during the Rays Batting Practice, you know this guy take a huge amount of pride in his job and in his team.

 
During this past off season he was picked by the staffs of all the Major League Baseball staffs as the best Strength and Conditioning coach in the baseball. I can think of no one else who should have gotten this honor in 2008. The Rays only had a handful of hamstring and muscle related injuries during the 2008 campaign. That is a testament to his high standards and the height of the bar he set for these guys. Congratulations again Kevin for being one of the best of the best. And here is to hoping you can regain that title again in 2009 with another severe injury free season.

 
Photo credits:   1) www.sportsillustrated.com
                          2) www.raysbaseball.com
                          3) Andsheewas@Flickr.com
                          4) www.bradenton.com
 

A Hodge Podge of Number 2 Ray’s Moments in 2008

 

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I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.

 

If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season.  There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.

 

 


I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.


So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.

 

 

The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.

 


Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.

 

 


Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.



Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats.  Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.

 

 


Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940′s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.

 

Eric Hinske hits a one-out double during the Rays' two-run second inning. He tripled in the fourth and homered in the sixth.

 


Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single.  Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.

 


Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The  first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.

 

Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.

 

 


On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot.  The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when  pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted  home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.

 

 


Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.


But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.


 

 


On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.

 


According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.

 


On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.

 

Rocco Baldelli gets the shaving cream pie treatment after driving in the winning run in the ninth.  (AP)

 


While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season.  It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.

 

The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox.  It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.  

 

 

Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.

 

 


With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of  scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.

 

 


After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.


 

 


On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.

 

 

When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game  showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.

 

 


The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays.  In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly  in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.


 

 


Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.

 


The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.

 

 


All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow.  Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.

 

Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.

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