Results tagged ‘ Rays Renegade ’
Some would say throwing your ball cap into a ring with several other MLB caliber players is a “no-win” situation. That in doing so you might seem a bit of unsure of your part in the Tampa Bay Rays brain trusts ultimate plans for you, but I disagree with that train of thought.
I actually think the decision reached by southpaw reliever Cesar Ramos is not only bold but a calculated move and shows to the men who make these kind of decisions that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to put his name on a Rays 25-man spot come Opening Day, even if it means abandoning their pre-set agenda of him being the long guy out of the Rays Bullpen.
It also shows to me Ramos wants to garner the same type of versatility and game situational thought process that makes a utility player like Sean Rodriguez an invaluable piece of the Rays game day puzzle. By Ramos going back and trying to stretch himself out again as a starter, it could give the Rays not only another leftie starter, it could ultimately solidify his slot as the Rays long innings eater out of the Pen as well as a spot starter without having to bring someone in from Triple-A Durham in an emergency scenario.
Making yourself an invaluable piece of the Rays machinery has led to a longer Rays tenure for Rodriguez, and it only seems natural for Ramos to also want to secure additional roles or situational ideas with his name imprinted upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mind. By wanting to take a chance on the Rays 5th rotation spot, even in the short term until Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson come back sometime in late May, Ramos is showing his versatility, willingness to take on challenges as well as show he wants the ball every 5th day this season.
Sure it might only be a gig for 7-8 starts then back into the Bullpen frame of mind, but it can project not only the confidence he has in his pitches, but if the Rays did elect to hand the ball to Ramos, it shows they too understand the commitment whether long term or short is one the leftie would accept again at a moment’s notice.
And that kind of guy down in the Bullpen is needed. You never know when a guy might stiffen up, feel a tweak or just doesn’t have his stuff on a given day and with the Rays confident in Ramos, it makes the decision not only easier, but gives them confidence immediately Ramos will rise to the occasion and take the ball.
A great comparison to what Ramos is trying to achieve is the situation that fell to Andy Sonnanstine late in his Rays tenure. Sonny was put into the Bullpen with the knowledge he not only has “starter’s stuff” in the way of preparation and stamina, but had the reliever’s mentality at the same time to get the job done in the least amount of pitches, with the least amount of damage until the Bullpen took over the late innings.
And not surprising today during his first Spring Training outing, Ramos survived 2.2 innings of work but did give up 4 hits and 2 runs while fellow 5th spot contenders Eric Bedard got the victory and Jake Odorizzi got his first ever M L B save. Still Ramos faced 12 batters and was added by a sniper-like throw by Evan Longoria to get shifty pinstripe Brett Gardner who was trying to stretch his single to left field into a double at Second Base.
Some might instantly say Ramos was lucky, but every M L B starter knows a little “luck” is more than welcomed during an outing.
I kind of like the idea of Ramos fighting for the 5th rotation slot even if it might be on an interim and abbreviated basis. It puts another usable pitching cog into Maddon’s arsenal as well as doesn’t use up a minor league option on one of the Rays triple-A stars trying to bang their way into the majors. Now it’s up to Maddon and his brain trust to decide if Ramos, who is out of minor league options is their 5th guy until Hellickson hit the mound again, or remains in their long reliever role from this point on this Spring.
Hopefully Ramos will get a few more chances to not only change the minds of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Maddon, but endear himself to all of us as not only Evan Longoria’s old roommate at Long Beach State, but as the versatile guy is truly is……..I hope Ramos get the shot because versatility especially in the pitching area is something special and should be rewarded.
Recently when asked why he chose to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays instead of the Cleveland Indians, P Mark Lowe said it was the Rays “laid back environment” that made him take their minor league offer this winter. It is a environment that has been cultivated, nursed and pretty well resembles a Fraternity at time than a professional sports team, but in that is also the charm that has materialized into the Rays being the B.M.O.C.’s or Big Men on Campus right now among the Major League Baseball ranks.
I know that feeling well having been in 2 Fraternities (Delta Theta Chi and Sigma Chi) in my college hazy days. I mean think about it logically here for a second and you too can see the similarities between the two types of organizations and it will come to you that no matter how you slice it, the Rays are a brotherhood that goes beyond the boundaries of the chalk lines, clay and grass.
A lot of these guys bond together as teammates and their friendships go outside the comforts of the game to include golf tournaments, dinners, fishing or hunting expeditions and activities involving Xbox or PS 3 consoles. From the moment these guys first roll into the Rays Spring Training clubhouse to the moment they pack and get ready for time away from the game in the Fall, unity, respect and creating a firm bond on and off the field is paramount.
Another indication that the Rays could be a great fraternal order is they have an insanely creative Advisor/Manager in Joe Maddon (former Zeta Psi frat boy) . Who else could of come up with penguins named Cliff, a python that is longer than the Rays Bullpen bench, or could get every single person, including his own game day staff and the PR Dept. to coordinate and participate in some wildly creative and highly photographed road trip ensembles.
From the classic All-White event to their awesome Nerd renditions to dressing in PJ’s, this team laughs at itself and is proud of the sum of their parts from starters, reserves to staffers. All are embraced and celebrated during these road trip ideas, and we have the photos to prove it. I mean seriously, anyone who has been to college has walked by those hallowed buildings and wondered what really goes on inside, well with the Rays all the hype and magic are open for the eyes to see or look away.
Another similarity is the Rays annual Rookie initiation (I will not call it hazing). There have been some pretty wild costumes ideas over the past from other teams within the M L B Clubhouse halls, but we here in Tampa Bay always search and want to see that year’s edition of rookies and new players parade out to the bus in their selected gear that sometimes you wish you could be unseen, but for some odd reason you can’t seem to look away.
But one of the greatest part of being within the fraternal system is service, and the Rays do that in spades. Every player within the Rays M L B Clubhouse has their special interests, pinpointed cause or a foundation to support the Tampa Bay community.
Some thought that when B J Upton left for ATL only fellow Rays David Price would be left to carry on with the S. St. Petersburg Dugout Club group that instills the great characteristics of staying healthy, positive, and being involved in life while also striving to be role models would crumble. But it didn’t Price got other players like Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings to come on board and keep the spirit of the project alive and striving.
Evan Longoria will donate more than $1 million a season over the life of his contract to the Rays Baseball Foundation, and almost every player on the Rays has written into their contracts or offered voluntarily great contributions that will benefit the Rays charitable arm of the Rays that give out grants and sponsorship’s to those Tampa Bay organizations that need a “help up”, not a hand out. “Paying it forward”, showing civility and acts of service adorn every member of the squad and even to their spouses (Rays Wives organization).
You can ask almost any player who has worn the Rays uniform since Maddon took the torch and they have great and glowing comments on the Rays clubhouse character and the way they play the game of baseball and life.
Some of that light can be attributed to Maddon, but other beams of that sunburst has to be shone on the Rays Front Office and their staff for bringing in great men who can contribute to the Rays ideals as well as expand on their foundations and establish new traditions, visual and physical tests to unite and inspire. Remember the gladiator masks, or even Chewy or the Gene Simmons masks of 2013.
Fraternities build a person up inside and out and those values might fade a bit, but they are with you for life after you experience them. I still see 2 of my former Frat brothers at Rays games. Larry is with security, and Clevin is with the St. Petersburg Police Dept. presence at Rays games. We are always glad to see each other and even today talk of some of the past monumental events that formed our Frat lives.
Say what you want about Fraternities. Some people have had bad events, maybe even wanting to forget that portion of their lives, but I relished it. I mean I think all of us can imagine Longoria adorned in a Grand Puba water buffalo helmet after dark on the Charlotte Sports Park boardwalk asking the assembled brood to “Recite after me….I, state your name, do hereby pledge allegiance to the Rays….”
Yep. If I had to give this band of baseball brothers a fraternity name it would have to be Gamma Alpha Upsilon Zeta, or RAYZ (no “S” in Greek Alphabet).
I swear I hear that old Isley Brothers song “Shout” in the swirling wind here in Port Charlotte.
You never quite know what sensibilities are going to “play out” when the Tampa Bay Rays let photographers bring about their own illuminations on the team’s character, or is that characters. You only have to look back to the Feb. 25, 2010 Rays Photo Day shots where the photographer that day used the natural sunlight of Florida as sparkling and illumination points on the photos of that season squad.
Sure they were embarking on a new strand of light called the post season that spring and the Sun made more than a few spectacular effects in a variety of photos from that spring’s squad. Then in 2013 it seems the Rays photos were a bit more subdued than usual with some playful spots of individuality, but the photos overall seemed to illustrate a unison or harmony among the troops.
Of the 26 photos already released from the Rays 2014 Photo Day, there is again a underlying theme that clearly is visible and unique all to the Rays way of team chemistry. This spring photos show a calm, a essence of a more tranquil and centered squad of players who see that goal in the cross-hairs and calmly and professionally plan to be the team that “eats last” come November 2014.
You see a more relaxed Papa Longoria with the Rays leadership crown solidly planted upon his head along with fellow Clubhouse General David Price presenting himself quite Zen-like in his photos awaiting the approaching Opening Day more with zeal than strife.
But then you have the other side of the Rays coin also displayed in the type of Gasparilla-infused notions and action of Rays reliever Josh Lueke both in his biting of a baseball, to juggling and possibly showing that some fun must come with all the stress of competing and delivering your goal.
I enjoy seeing the fight and fire as well as the comedic notions that make up a M L B team. Not everyone can be serious all of the time and sometimes that moment of tongue-in-cheek humor or even dawning a gladiator’s mask can deliver more energy and fight into a group than any Knute Rockne oratory.
The Ying and Yang of this year’s released Photo Day shots also shows the ebb and flow that will ultimately exist within the Rays this year as leaders and jokers can come together tone their antics and abilities to the highest achievement levels and produce memories and events that we will speak about for years.
From the high points of Longoria who with a consistent effort in 2014 should ultimately by-pass and become the sole Rays all-time leaders in such categories as HR, RBI, Extra Base Hits, doubles and Slugging Percentage before the end of 2014 to Myers who will again be called on provide the same kind of energy, production and raw unharnessed spirit that saw him take home an American League Rookie of the Year trophy, this team will rise and fall on both the chill moments and chaotic scrambles that make up a 162-game campaign.
Sure this is but only a 26 frame cross-section of the character and characters of that will become the heart and soul of the 2014 edition of the Rays, but if this is any indication of what we might have in store for us for a 162 game haul…..I’m ready to buckle in and take the rough with the fun for it’s almost time for the games to matter and I can’t wait for that last day in March………..But I don’t think Lueke will have to eat too many balls this year because this team looks and sounds hungry enough to push it to that last meal….and maybe have room for a champagne-infused dessert.
All photos taken by Zimbio.com photographers. They do so many other M L B teams photos each spring. Search their website for your team’s spring photos. I do have a Facebook link with the latest 26 and any additional Rays Photo Day shots I find past the submitting of this blog post.
I swear every season when it arrives either in web file form or a hard copy I seem to give off a squeal of joy like a little kid on Christmas morning. That’s right, the 2014 edition of the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide is sitting in a file on my computer, and I just cannot wait to flip the pages and see what interesting and tasty morsels are hidden within its covers.
We all know it will have the historical pomp and circumstance of the Rays entire franchise’s history, be a wealth of information on records, oddities and a listing of everyone who has worn a certain number in the team’s history. Wildest part with every year the pages expand just like our history and I truly cannot wait until I have a hard copy in my paws so I can savvy it like a fine chocolate and divide its many layers up throughout the season with little morsels of trivia tidbits for my social media followers (@TheRaysRenegade).
First off how about learning a tasty bit about our team’s come from behind proficiency in 2013:
The Rays 13 Walk-off victories in 2013 tied the club record set in 2011 and 11 different players recorded a walk-off RBI, most in team history. Only 2 Rays had multiple walk-off hits last season: Jose Lobaton and Desmond Jennings, whose 2-out single on May 27th vs the Miami Marlins drove in Kelly Johnson for a 7-6 win.
Let’s start off the factoid journey with guys who should make up the Rays starting rotation in 2014:
David Price: David’s foundation, Project One Four had its best fundraising effort in 2013 and raised over $130,000. From its annual banquet, golf tournament and bowling events. On March 29th, in Tampa, Fl., Price will host his 3rd Annual Bowl for Kid’s Sake to benefit the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. The event raised $27,000. In 2012 and $42,000 in 2013.
Price posted astronomical numbers to rank 1st in the M L B after his return from the DL by posting up 131.1 innings pitched with 4 complete games, 13.8 pitches per inning pitched and 0.89 BB/9 innings pitched. His 2.53 ERA and 9 wins also ranked 3rd in the A L.
Alex Cobb: Cobb is a huge supporter of our military fans and with good reason. His older brother R.J. is a commander in the 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division of the U S Army and was awarded a Purple Heart after a Humvee explosion in Iraq, lodging shrapnel in his hands. His brother made a full recovery and served 16 months in Iraq and returned earlier this year after a short stint in Afghanistan.
Cobb showed superior resilience in 2013 after he posted a 5-1 record with a 2.41 ERA in 9 starts over the Rays final 6 weeks of the 2013 season after sitting out June 16th-August 14 following a concussion after taking a line drive off the bat against Kansas City in the Trop. “Cobbster” also started in 2 of the Rays postseason victories with a win in the Wild Card game against the Cleveland Indians and Game 3 of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox
Matt Moore: Matt stayed very active this past offseason in New Mexico mixing in bike rides, hot yoga and doing hikes up to 4 hours to extend his energy threshold. (I also know Matt swings a golf club right-handed and is pretty lethal with a putter).
Last season Moore tied for third with the most victories in the American League (17) and had the 2nd highest winning percentage in the AL with a .810 mark due in great part to his stellar 17-4 record.
Chris Archer: During the 2013 offseason in Clayton, NC, Archer was names Mr. Christmas and lit the lights of the city’s Christmas tree. At thanksgiving he handed out 100 Butterball turkeys to needy families.
Despite not arriving in St. Petersburg until the Rays 55th contest, Archer led all rookie hurlers in ERA (3.22), Opponent’s Average (.226), complete games (2), shutouts (2), and WHIP (1.13). He was also 2nd in innings pitched (128.2) and 3rd in wins (9).
Even though Jeremy Hellickson will miss 6-8 weeks of the 2014 early season due to injury, he has to be included as a major cog in the Rays machine in 2014. Time will only tell how long it takes Hellickson to return after having arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his pitching elbow.
Jeremy Hellickson: Hellboy has grown close to Des Moines, Iowa native Carson Cooper who is a 10 yr old who is fighting Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Jeremy along with family friends helped form Kids Living Brave this offseason to help support kids and their families with care packages as they battle cancer. Hellickson put on 2 “Pitch Perfect” baseball clinics this winter as a fundraiser for the organization.
In 2013, Hellickson was the only Rays to reach the 30 starts mark, but saw his ERA blossom to 5.17, the 3rd highest among major league qualifiers. To put this mark fully into prospective, coming into the 2013 season Hellickson had the Rays lowest career ERA at 3.06. Jeremy was 1 of only 2 M L B pitchers to post over 10 wins (12) and have an ERA over 5.00.
Let’s not forget a few facts on the bevy of pitchers who will fight it out this spring for a chance to get a few early season starts as Hellickson mends:
Alex Colome: Credits Triple-A Durham Bulls Pitching Coach Neil Allen for a significant change in his mechanics, making him more upright in his delivery. That was significant as Colome did not allow an earned run in his first 2 starts, the first pitcher to do that since San Francisco Giant pitcher Ryan Sadowski in 2009.
Nathan Karns: Made his M L B debut on May 28th in an InterLeague contest against Baltimore versus an Orioles starter who was only making his 2nd career start. Karns went 4.1 innings allowing 3 runs in the Nationals 9-3 victory.
Jake Odorrizo : During spring training in Arizona a few years ago while in the Kansas City system, Jake and his agent had a close call in the desert when they got lost for 2 hours on four-wheelers as the Sun was setting. They had no water with them and finally found their way home after finding a road.
Next post, trivia bits on players who should comprise the Rays 2014 Bullpen corps.
Today the Tampa Bay Rays announced the first 4 musical acts that will make up the 2014 Rays Concert Series schedule. As always each concert will be free with the purchase of a game ticket for that date, and the music will fill the tilted roof of the Trop after the conclusion of the game.
As has been the tradition, Rays fans can also get a bit “up close and a little personal” with an additional charge for field access passes or wristbands that can be bought before the concert dates on raysbaseball.com/concerts for an additional fee .
One of the early highlights to the Rays 2014 Concert series schedule has to be the announcement of LA-band Weezer invading Tropicana Field after the Saturday, June 7th game against the Seattle Mariners (4:10 First Pitch). Weezer, who has produced and released 9 studio albums over their tenure will definitely have a “Sweater brigade” section down on the Trop’s turf due to their epic tune, “Undone-The Sweater Song”.
Not to be outdone, Weezer will also entertain the Rays faithful with their tunes “Island in the Sun”, Say it Ain’t So” and a crowd favorite “Beverly Hills”. Weezer has sold over 9 million copies worldwide since their inception in 1992. The band has delivered iconic music since their debut release, “The Blue Album” to their 2010 triumph “Hurley” which debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200 chart which gave the band an unheard of 6th straight Top 10 album in a row.
But hold your horse, the Rays did not stop there also bringing in one of the best rhythm and Blues act to ever hit vinyl as the O’Jays will strut on the stage on Saturday, June 21st (4:10 First Pitch)after the Rays vs the Houston Astros matchup.
The O’Jays have been dancing into the heart of music lovers for over 40 years and have achieved 10 Gold albums with 9 hitting the Platinum level and have produced 10 #1 hits from the classic “Backstabbers”, “I Love Music”, “Love Train” and the song most people associate with the TV series, “The Apprentice”….”For the Love of Money”. The group also received one of music highest honors being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
But the fun doesn’t all belong to the adults and tens this Summer, the Rays have also remembered their youngest supporters by bringing in two kid-eccentric musical groups that will definitely have more than a few fans hoping for a nap after their energetic sets and musical numbers.
Within the foursome of groups announced today one group, The Wiggles will join Z Z Top, Train and 3 Doors Down as a returning Rays musical act asked to return to the Tropicana Field turf on Sunday, September 7th after the end of the Rays and Baltimore Orioles (1:40 First Pitch) afternoon contest.
After being together for a remarkable 23 years together, The Wiggles, who have since their self-titled debut album in 1991. Different from their last visit to the Trop, the group realigned themselves in late 2012 and the former all-male line stepped aside and let another generation take over their kid-errfic fun production. Now you will see Anthony, Lachy, Simon and Emma doing the groups classic numbers and even a few more designed for the ensemble.
Amazingly, The Wiggles have performed over 6,000 show in their career and to put that into a wild perspective, the iconic band, The Rolling Stones have performed just over 1,000 shows in almost double the years as this energetic kid musical group.
But before the Wiggles invade the Trop in September, kids and those kids at heart will get a visit by the Imagination Movers on another Sunday Family Fun Day concert event on July 27th after the Rays and Jays (1:40 First Pitch) concludes. The game will embrace the Rays quest to celebrate Christmas in July with the humorous and all too familiar songs from their great Disney Junior TVas well as holiday classics hoping to transform Tropicana Field into a winter wonderland…for 1 afternoon.
For more than a decade the foursome has tried to emulate the iconic up-tempo stylings of rock legends the Red Hot Chili Peppers as they sing about healthy snacks, beating those bedtime fears and the baseball classic moment of playing catch. Band member Scott Smith said of their performance energy, “ We hope everyone leaves needing a nap”.
So we have the first 4 announced bans that will highlight an early release of the 2014 Rays Concert Series schedule with a few more to be announced at a later date. We can imagine 1 of those announcements will feature a 80’s band to coincide with the Rays August 2nd Saturday tussle with the Angels.
All 4 band speak to different Ray’s Republic segments with some excited about Weezer, other wanting to see the legendary O’Jays and all kids young and young-at-heart eager to dance about to The Wiggles and Imagination Movers. This early announcement might not be a Home Run blast, but the team definitely produced a solid double with this foursome and possibly could score a run across Home Plate with another well placed band announcement in the future. I can’t wait.
“No one did giveaways better than Tampa Bay (in 2013). Action figures! Garden gnomes! Utility belts! The Rays send fans home with more free goods than just about anyone.” That quote was taken from the “Franchise issue” of ESPN, The Magazine about the team’s 2013 Promotional schedule.
Even more exciting is the pure fact that the just announced 2014 Promotional schedule of giveaways is already shaping up to be another step up the promotional ladder as the Rays bring back the popular Tampa Bay Times Tandem program which presents an opportunity for Rays fan to purchase a special Friday game ticket that will include an exclusive one of a kind limited edition keepsake.
Ticket Tandem items of note to be given out in 2014 include an Alex Cobb Military Bobblehead (May 23 vs Boston Red Sox), a Don Zimmer Snowglobe (July 25 vs Red Sox), a Raymond Gnome (August 29 vs Red Sox) and a chance to get your own set of Joe Maddon Wine Glasses (August 1st vs Angels).
And if you can’t make a Friday contest, the Rays will have 18 different giveaway opportunities on select Saturdays and Sundays throughout the Rays season. The Rays will start off quickly in the first week of the season by presenting a Wil Myers Rookie of the Year bobblehead on Saturday, April 5th when the team takes on the Texas Rangers in Tropicana Field.
On Mother’s Day (May 11 vs Cleveland Indians) the first 10,000 women will receive a Rays Sun Hat and not to forget the Father’s Day, the Rays will offer an early gift to the first 10,000 Dad’s through the gates on June 8th when the team tackles the Seattle Mariners will receive a special James Loney Grill Set.
Those over 14 will also get chances to gain a D J Kitty Plush Hat on May 10 when the Rays battle with the Indians), a Joe Maddon Mr. Potato Head figurine on August 2 when the Rays tussle with the Angels or an Evan Longoria 80’d Hair Band Drummer Bobblehead on September 6th when the team takes on the Baltimore Orioles. The September 6th date might also be a wink to an upcoming Rays Concert announcement as why have an 80’s item without an 80’s band (just my thinking).
Kids 14 and under again get their own special keepsakes on special home game Sundays throughout the season as the Rays will offer a chance for the young Rays fanatics to get also get an early start on the promotional schedule as the team will offer a Desmond Jennings Baseball Buddy on April 6th when the Rays go toe-to-toe with the Rangers.
Other Sunday items include a Ben Zobrist Wiffle Ball set on June 22 when the Rays continue their Inter-League bout with the Houston Astros, a Chris Archer Christmas Stocking on July 27th when the team takes on their rivals, the Red Sox, a Yunel Escobar Basketball Hoop will be given out on July 13th when the Rays battle the Toronto Blue Jays, and on August 31st during another Red Sox series, kids can get a Matt Moore Plate and Cup set.
Sunday’s games will also continue to be Tampa Bay Times Family Fun Days in 2014 with free parking for cars with 4 or more passengers and a bunch of postgame activities for kids that will include the always popular Kids Run the Bases as well as a D J Kitty Dance Party featuring your favorite Kitty, mascots and other entertainers.
For a second year, the concourse activities will be complimentary for the 14 and under guests. Activities include the Grand Slam Alley, Power Alley Batting Cages, Speed Pitch, Raymond’s Art Studio and Topps Make Your Own Baseball Card. The Rotunda and CenterField Street area will also feature on Sundays the always popular and busy face painters, glitter tattoo artists, magicians, mimes, stilt walkers, jugglers and balloon artists.
Interesting side note is a few of the Rays past promotional prevalent team members like pitchers David Price, Jeremy Hellickson or outfielder Matt Joyce not having any listed promotional items yet for 2014, you have to wonder if the Rays just did not want to put any eggs in their promotional basket that might not pan out due to a trade or an injury like the one suffered by Hellboy before Spring Training even began in 2014.
It was a prudent move, but I hope somewhere along the line the teams finds way to keep these 3 important Rays in the promotional or fan participation loop as they are fan favorites even without an announced promotional item bearing their name or likeness this season. Even with the obvious omissions the Rays have connected again with a winning promotional schedule posting another sure fire “W” in the win column with their fans.
As has been the reputation of the Rays, the upcoming 2014 promotional schedule has something for everyone and should be another banner year for the Rays not only in terms of promotions, but on putting smiles on the faces of the Rays Republic. Hope to see you out there as I know I will be gathering more than a few of these items and putting them in my collection. See you at the ballpark!
It gets me all giddy inside when the second week of February comes to a close every year. The anticipation, the excitement, the thrill of knowing one of the greatest loves in this World can again entrance my mind and soul with visions of rawhide, ash plus pine mixed with smell of popcorn and roasting peanuts. Baseball has always had a special part of my heart. Some might say to me it is my first and other would bold to venture my only true love who has stood besides me in days of woe and exhilaration and has truly triumphed the test of time. Others like the NFL, NHL and the revitalized version of NASL somehow lost their luster in my past and somehow became only just simple cherished memories tuck into darken alcoves within my mind and heart. But baseball has always been on the tip of any conversation and thought, even in the dead of Winter.
Someone asked me once why I have such a deep devotion and love for this simple children’s game. The same game that can have you on the edge of your seat one moment, then in an instant you can see it all come crashing down in disbelief as defeat rears its ugly snout.. Well, to be honest my long time love for this game started a long time ago in a bevy of batting cages that have long since been replaced by residential blight. My first loving memory of the game was going to the miniature golf course on S. Pasadena Ave across from my dad’s friend Jim Brook’s gas station at the northern end of the old Corey Bridge where I had to endure 18 holes of Putt-Putt before I could ramble into the chain-link fence batting cages and begin to fantasize Home Runs to win championships or secure a walk-off win.
The first real grass and clay field I ever got to play baseball on as a 8 year old was a back lot enclave at the now gone Little League Regional Headquarters just between Gulfport and St. Petersburg, Florida. It was here I first had a grounder come up and bite me in the nose (broke it), experienced the joy of hitting a ball as far as I could throw it, and made my first head-first slide into Second Base successfully. It was a couple years later when I played in the concrete arena (stadium) and against some poor kid I slugged one out of the park and onto the railroad tracks that ran just North of the stadium. I always wanted to hit one into the Royal Palms cemetery but never got that kind of power.
My love for the game started young. I did not know the true exploits of Don Zimmer, Mickey Mantleor Stan Musial who all used to come to my father gas station (Wittig’s Motor Pool/ Pasadena & Central Ave) and fill up their cars during the 70′s Gas Wars era. Sometimes if they needed additional work like a LOF or tires they would throw the ball with me a bit in the oil-soaked alley behind the station or we talked about baseball as I cleaned their windshields, checked their oil and air in their tires. I shudder now in disbelief I did not venture into my baseball books or research the Sunday paper’s stats sheet to know of their true greatness to the game. But maybe that was best as they showed themselves truly and did not throw up walls or images that was false to themselves off the field.
I still hold a piece of that same young kid within me every time I enter Tropicana Field, or venture out to Spring Training practices or games. I still carry my infielder’s glove more for sentimental reasons than to catch a BP or foul ball. Heck for years my glove sat on that green painted metal pipe that ran down the concrete wall in Section 138 it somehow became more of a fixture than me sitting in my old Season Ticket seat. I still thrill when a ball comes in hot with sound streaming off it and hear the “pop” of the glove as I grip it or feel a sting from its impact. Usually a kid near me is the final recipient of the ball as I have many now, and want to give other that same thrill and love of this grand game. Who knows that ball could awaken his own love for the game of baseball.
Maybe that is why this game has never soured for me, even during those first 9 awkward years of the Rays existence when victories were slim and frustrations mounted within my belly wanting something special to happen like stealing a win on a walk-off or seeing one of our hurlers shut down a high power offense or seeing that ultimate display of last chance power pitching as our closer strikes out the side for the save. The crack of the ball off the bat still sends my heart a-flutter, watching a player run towards a ball at the wall and leaping either to crash on the wall or come down with that white sphere within his grasp. The whole essence of it can still send chills down my spine and excites me to no end.
My favorite baseball movie is still “For the Love of the Game”. Not for the aspect of a pitcher throwing the game of his life on his last outing, but the flooding of baseball memories that will be fodder for conversations and trips down memory lane for the rest of his life. The recent upturn of the Rays fortunes since 2008 have kept me wishing and wanting for more, hopefully seeing a ticker tape parade and being able to kiss or take a memory photo with that glorious golden trophy myself as so many other have in the past.
I am about to hit the big 5..4, and now I am starting to get into a baseball frame of mind and physical state to tryout and play some form of this grand game with the legendary group the Kids and Cubs down near Vinoy Park. Sure at that stage in my advanced level of baseball skills I will not be the speed demon I was in college, or even hit one 347 feet down the line, but the chance to play baseball with people like myself who’s kinship with this game has not waned or been shackled would be not only a tremendous thrill, but another thing to take off my lifetime Bucket List. Plus I hear chicks still dig the long ball.
The game of baseball will always hold a huge part of me firmly within its grasp, and on a day like today when loves rules the air, ground and seas I consider myself blessed to have discovered this game, cherished its traditions and idiosyncrasies to a T, not blinking an eye in the process.
On this constructed day of affection and bliss it is time for me to again profess my undying devotion and honest commitment to always be there for the game, take the good with the bad and cherish the moments as if they were my last.
So for me the symbol of a valentine is shaped more like a diamond because its shape encompasses the four essential 90 foot sections of the field infield dimensions. It brings with it a stupendous harmony of sounds and actions played out upon its lush foliage and grit that brings about an odd state of perfection played out in unison upon the field by both those who seem ageless and those who are eternally young at heart.
It is upon that field the we again can imagine our first hit, throw and cherish it for its complexity and simplicity intertwined in our love for the game. The elements of my valentine fits in my fist, with 9 inches of circumference covered with white cowhide and red stitching. I swear when I leave this Earth they will open me up and find a pearly white baseball where my heart should be…..Or at least I hope they do. So I have to ask……Baseball, Will you be my everlasting Valentine?
Happy Valentines Day
Every year about this time I can be found heading to a local big box store eager to buy a dozen Major League Baseball from Rawlings for the upcoming Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training schedule and Fan Fest. I always love how each baseball comes in it’s own precious cardboard container with tissue paper protecting its pearly white exterior in anticipation of me plucking it out of my bag for a player to sign and then add to my always expanding M L B autograph collection wall. Every year at this time I try and formulate a sketch of a battle plan to get the signatures I need to fulfill that season’s rostered player, or get a player I have wanted in my collection for some time. Instantly there are additional thoughts banding through my brain of who should sign these new pearls, where events I will ask these players, or should I just tuck them away for later use at another juncture in the season.
The moment I do take these white spheres out of their first “home”, the smell of the ball with it’s pleasant leather aroma can send me into a avalanche of embracing baseball memories and fills me with a flood of emotions. Recently I was floored and shocked to discover this icon of America’s favorite pastime has not been manufactured within our countries borders for some time.
That’s right, the baseball we all chase and want to feel in the pit of our gloves or hands is no longer produced in the United State, or even in North America for that matter. Since Rawlings became the official provider of baseball to Major League Baseball back in 1977, not one of the 108 stitches into that old cowhide has been sewn on U S soil.
It shocked me that a company that is located within the baseball-frenzied mid-West region of St. Louis, Missouri would outsource such an American icon, plus not even produce it within our own hemisphere.
Then again, Rawlings has been doing a bit of country-jumping since its inception in 1887. Most of us would not seemed shocked or amazed to find out Rawlings moved its baseball operations outside the continental United State back in 1969 to Puerto Rico. Even though Puerto Rico is a American unincorporated territory, most imagine it as our future 51st state. But how the baseball manufacturing exodus is only in its beginning phases of its journey.
Finally the company decide to move their total baseball manufacturing machinery to cost-efficient nation of Costa Rica after the Haitian political climate became increasingly volatile and the company feared its operations could be compromised by the unrest. Rawlings set up their production facility in the small town of Turrialba in which the baseball manufacturer built a 80,000 square foot facility that employs over 700 local workers in the early years of production.
This factory initially produced a staggering total of 50,000 baseballs a week, with each employee producing up to 30 balls a day with the balls’ journey from raw cowhide material to being shipped to a M L B ballpark in as little as 21 days. All told, the production of Rawlings baseballs brought a $21 million dollar windfall for the Costa Rican economy.
This developing country nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea is the locale Rawlings has been sending their cowhide, twine and hard cores to be made into the American icon. It is still shocking to me that the one item we all want to possess in our gloves, or have our favorite player sign for display on our shelves and mantels in manufactured so far away from the sounds and actions of the game.
Suddenly that smell mesmerizing my senses from my new pearly white baseballs is taking on a distinctively different scent. At least the baseballs we see being used during the M L B season does come from an “America”,………. Central America.
Going to be sad to see the end of the Ice Cream Man’s era with the Tampa Bay Rays. Going into the winter off-season you could have hedged your bets the team would unload possibly a player striding the pitching rubber, not one crouched down 60 feet 6 inches away. Maybe the writing was on the wall for catcher Jose Lobaton the moment the Rays traded for a respected and well-tooled catcher like Ryan Hanigan.
Not helping in Lobaton’s increasingly unstable situation was that the other “Jose” in the Rays catching corps, Jose Molina had signed a team-friendly contract with an eye on a bit of a reduced role in 2014. Suddenly it didn’t seem like why, but when Lobaton would get a call from the team announcing a trade, but there is no way any of us thought this adventure would venture into February.
And trade chatter is being heard from vista’s like Cleveland, Washington, the south-side of Chicago, Flushing, Phoenix and even Denver that Lobation could/should possibly be looking for a temporary abode in Arizona for Spring Training, not Port Charlotte, Florida. Hopefully a deal will get done fast and swiftly as pitchers and catchers are beginning their journeys to their Spring Training camps and if he isn’t a Ray come February 14th, Loby got some hurried planning to do.
Lobaton has to be an attractive option for a team wanting to bring in a young but experienced backstop. His .249 average during the 2013 season mixed with 7 HRs shows he is gaining the ability to not only be good behind the plate, but can deliver standing on either side of the dish. Switch-hitting catchers are a bit of a rarity in the MLB, and Lobaton has shown by his .736 OPS from the left side he should garner at least a few phone calls from every one of those cities mentioned above for their respective catching units.
He has a gold star attached to his name right now as a Super Two arbitration player who is excelling at a position where a team could acquire a player with his talents and experience knowing he will not hit the free agent market until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest. We have already heard reports over the winter that the Nationals would love to find a capable young backstop to pair with W Ramos, and Lobaton definitely fit the criteria.
Also in Lobatons favor is the pure fact he has been with the Rays during their stretch runs over the last few seasons and has post-season experience as well as his ability to come through in the clutch with power displays and ice cream runs. The Indians with their favorable park dimensions could utilize Lobaton’s left-sided goodness especially as the team wants to try and secure Carlos Santana at the First Base bag in 2014.
You can see the White Sox interest as they might not be totally all in favor of Tyler Flowers being their everyday catcher, and the Rockies and D-backs might be looking at Loby more as a young talented insurance option should injuries again plague their catching corps. And do not discount the fact teams already know Lobaton comes at a good value after he avoided arbitration earlier this off season with a $900,000. 2014 Salary.
Worst part of Molina re-signing and the team trading for Hanigan is the pure fact the path is blocked for any significant amount of time behind the plate for Lobaton in 2014. Another factor that will play into another team getting Lobaton is the fact he is out of minor league options and would have to go through the waiver wire to be shipped back to Triple-A Durham if he did not make the Rays 2014 Opening Day roster.
So we have hit on the positives for teams wanting Lobaton’s services for 2014. And with every player there also comes some uncertainty or liabilities.
One simple reason for a trade is in fact a by-product of the team’s trade for Hanigan and the keeping of Molina. Lobaton is not a defective pitch framer, but the Rays other 2 options at this time trump Lobaton’s ability and he might be considered average at best in getting borderline strike calls.
2 other glaring liabilities of obtaining Lobaton might be career stat-wise he is considered to be below average backstop in getting to balls in the dirt which would be a red flag to teams that rely on breaking pitches outside and low.
What a team might also offer for Lobaton might hinge on if they think they can correct his most illuminating flaw, a career 16 % Caught Stealing percentage mark. If a team can imagine fixing any of the 3 flaws in Loby’s bag of tricks they could come out as a winner in any trade offering.
In the end, the Rays know they might have to take a little less in return for Lobaton no matter his offensive upside because the team would have to make a difficult decision to retain him after March 31st.
Also with reporting dates quickly approaching, a team would want to get Lobaton in camp as soon as possible as he would need time to not only adjust to a new team and techniques, but get an early spring edge on the learning curve of catching and pitch calling for a new pitching staff before the season begins.
Hopefully the trade process is short and sweet and Lobaton is off to join his new team before their report date. You can only hope Lobaton begin to show some new prowess in scooping the ball this spring, digging down deep in the bowl to block pitches and deliver that sweet swing that always ends with ice cream.
I guess we now know why we have not heard any increasing chatter about Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price possibly going somewhere else before the 2014 season begins. With Jeremy Hellickson now out of the Rays rotation until possibly mid-May, trading Price now would have left the Rays with possibly 2 spots to fill instead of a single rotation slot.
If you haven’t heard yet, Hellickson felt some discomfort when he recently began his throwing program and under advisement of the Rays medical staff it was decided he needed elbow surgery to correct a possible aliment that could have only gotten worse had he began a increased throwing program or attended Spring camp. The loss of Hellickson sure hurts the Rays a bit, but with the team’s plethora of young arms in the minors, it is more than likely a hurler like Jake Odorizzi or possibly Alex Colome might inherit an early season spot on the Rays 25-man roster until Hellickson returns.
And you kind of knew somewhere deep down that Hellboy did not pitch like his normal self in 2013, and possibly this injury was festering over the last few starts pushing the Rays to sending down Hellickson towards the end of the regular season as a preventative measure, not a punishment. The 201 AL Rookie of the Year looked anything but a stellar starter in 2013 as he suffered through his worst season as a professional seeing his ERA spike to an all-time high of 5.17 and yielding a .247 batting line to opposing hitters.
So with Price definitely in a position now to be with the Rays until possibly late July, you can easily imagine a rotation of Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archers and either Ordorizzi or Colome making the fifth spot in the Opening Day rotation. But do not discount the chance that minor league starter Enny Romero might challenge those two for the right to the Rays 5th spot. You also can not discount the possibilities the Rays could sign a free agent pitcher to a contract before Pitchers and Catchers report in 11 days leaving Colome, Ordorizzi and the others for additional seasoning at Triple-A Durham.
The injury will also put to bed any rumors or speculation the Rays might shop the Scott Boras client before the season, and the injury could also dampen any trade possibilities at the Trade deadline unless Hellickson comes back with a vengeance and posts some stellar numbers when he returns.
Hopefully this is just a short speed bump in Hellickson’s career and he comes back with a bit more vigor and vinegar to get some MLB game action after May 14th. The injury is a dark spot for the Rays as they near their report date, but Hellickson’s injury also shined brightly on the Rays pitching depth in their minor league system with players possibly ready for a spot or steady MLB chance.
With a good prognosis and rehab we could possibly see Hellickson back on the Rays hill during May when the team plays a full American League schedule of opponents. Even though we will not see Hellickson when the Rays begin their first Pitchers and Catchers workout on February 15th, let’s hope he is rest and relaxing and eager to get his rehab started and return to his spot on a team that should be contenders for the AL East crown again in 2014.