Results tagged ‘ Rays Renegade ’

Rays Announce First 4 Rays Summer Concert Series Acts for 2014

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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.

th5Z1HT8VOAs 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 .

thRNAGKX6JOne 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.

thHUU6YLWPWithin 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.

thC6SGKI6QFor 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.

Rays Post Up an Early “W” with 2014 Promotional Schedule

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“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).

BgzQRK7IIAAQaVOAnd 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.

33c0d3be2729ec9e274bbc701565748dOther 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.

Raymond-Hat-at-the-Tampa-Bay-Rays-Tropicana-Field-Stadium-150x150For 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!

Baseball, Will You Be My Valentine?

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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. 

hgfSomeone 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.

dfghMy 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.

DSC02299Maybe 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.

valentine - baseballI 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.  

lIt 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

Major League Baseballs are Manufactured in America……….Central America.

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.

Rawlings then decided to move a bit more to the South with labor and supplies costing less in the then impoverished nation of Haiti in 1987. But the story doesn’t end here either.

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.

Rays Could be Waving Goodbye to the Ice Cream Man

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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.

lkjhgfdfgAnd 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.

uytyuAlso 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.

jhgOne 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.

jlkjjkjAlso 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.

 

Hellboy Sidelined by Elbow Surgery until Mid-May

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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.

jhgfIf 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.

sdfghThe 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.

 

 

 

Rays Fan Fest Autograph on Your Slate? Be Ready to Donate

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Back in February 2011 if you wanted to get the autograph of a Tampa Bay Rays player you had to purchase a $40 wristband on that day to get unlimited player autographs. In 2013 that price increased to $50 for most current Rays players and Coaches autographs, and a select few more affluent members of the Rays Republic could purchase their own private autograph packages to have a more intimate private autograph session with some of the Rays star players.

ELDPWMThis year if you wanted to secure the signatures of the Rays “Big 3” which included Evan Longoria, David Price and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, it was going to cost you a bit more than the old 2013 option of an $50 “all-inclusive” wristband for all players available during Fan Fest signing moments.

So was really to anyone’s real surprise that the Rays announced recently that during the upcoming 2014 Rays Fan Fest to be held on Saturday, February 22, a new more streamlined and calculated autograph format would be in place. Some have been shocked by the news while others (like myself) have known this type of increase was just over the hill and is in line with other MLB players signing requests at their fan events.

I posted a blog post way back on February 14, 2011 comparing the Rays then request for fans to purchase $40 wristband donation fee for Fan Fest autographs. I started out in that essay stating:More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization”. And I really feel that sentiment is still true today.

kjhgfAt this year’s Fan Fest, for a $125 donation 60 affluent members of the Rays Republic can pre-purchase a more intimate behind the blue curtain opportunity with one of the trio or play a total of possibly $375 for obtaining all 3 players signatures. Immediately I know a few hands will go up that the pricing in “unheard of” and a bit astronomical, but in reality, it is pretty much in line with what donation amounts are requested by other MLB club for their premier player’s autographs at a fan event.

In that 2011 blog I showed you that it cost $175 back then at a Cards fan event to secure a chance at getting then St Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols. At that Cards event, Pujols commanded the most advance donation as the pricing swirled down from the $175 mark to $5 to secure former player Jack Clark’s signature.

pageAnd the Rays autograph donation fees do not start and end at the $125 price point. The team will also offer other Rays players who could/should be on the team’s 2014 roster at $25 each and also some additional players who will sign for kids 14 and younger only for no donation fee. Sure there was an instant shock and awe when I read the Rays autograph proposal, but the common denominator here for me is all money collected will go to the Rays in-house charity the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Foundation to further support research and developments within the Tampa Bay region.

Knowing that the money will all go to help promote and increase the funding for the Rays projects outside of the Trop and secure more than just signatures for the community, the $125 or even $25 each donations do not seem like a huge request. But I know as I wander around Tropicana Field on that day I will see a few tear-filled eyes that they cannot get the autographs of their baseball heroes, or their parents do not have the needed funds to obtain multiple autographs of players within the $25 price range.

jhgfdI know more than a few kids will possibly miss out on their own golden opportunity to be within ear range of their Rays heroes this Fan Fest, but I want to remind you that the MLBPA table is always full of former players from the Rays and baseball’s past and receiving their signatures is still free as always.

Still internally I’m a bit perplexed because for some fans, Fan Fest is their only viable opportunity to get access to their favorite player for more than a brief eye glance and this change will take that bit of uniqueness of being totally fan friendly away. Some fans travel great distances hoping to get this great access to Ray’s players.

Sure there will be multiple opportunities for some fans to get a bevy of additional changes to take photos and talk with players throughout the day, but this year’s autograph policy change might just also change a few minds on attending future Fan Fests, or even deaden a bit their Rays loyalty a tad.

pageI know the team wants to promote the other activities going on all over the playing field from the kid’s games, to the Pepsi display and Fan Wall of Fame ceremonies plus the Clubhouse tours and interacting with various radio and broadcast people on a more intimate scale. I know the Rays Garage Sale, Reading with the Rays will have huge crowds.

But no matter the team’s great intentions, a few tears will ultimately fall.

 

I Definitely have Publishing Procrastination Syndrome

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Just got a Twitter direct message from someone (they know who they are) asking if I ever thought of writing a book.

Honest answer, more than a dozen times in my life since I was about 18. The logical choice might seem to be a baseball book or possibly ghostwriting one for someone else of great prominence, but we all know I try and not burden the friends I have made in sports. Ever since I left my Sports Correspondent gig with the “Evening Independent”, I wanted to write a great sport related book either fiction or non-fiction. I took every Journalism and Comp Honors class they would let me attend driving my want skyward to write something special.

vbnmMy first inclination towards possibly publishing something was while I was in college, basically a “Freshman Year Survival Guide” with topics from class loads, getting the basic classes out of the way and how to not look overanxious to Fraternity Pledge Masters. I had a foolproof guide to getting freebies from the Student Services programs already enacted Nationwide as well as how to successfully study in a budding computer era (late 1970’s). Of course as sports and life intervened that project went into the cobwebbed spaces between my ears.

Then after I transferred from one college to another and then successfully pledged a more prominent Fraternity, I wanted to do a “Cliff Notes-Fraternity Pledge” edition with bullet points and situational guidelines on how to handle amassing Pledge points, getting on the Brothers’ good sides without being a total suck-up, and how to use the pledge status as impressionable date bait. Again I popped the idea into a deep recess in my mind to be covered with more dust than you can ever imagine.

Third time was as recently as November 2008 when I wanted to do a 110 page Tampa Bay Rays e-book scrapbook “Raysin’ the Roof” with 100 player and fan antidote’s, essays, assorted team and my personal photos and Rays Republic reflections on the Rays drive towards their destiny during the 2008 season that ended at the World Series.

I wanted to chronicle the journey from Spring Training to that wild celebration after the team’s clinching post season win at home against the Minnesota Twins to the stress and stories of their triumphant Game 7 ALCS against the Red Sox at home.

fghFelt it was only right to include player nuances, Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s insights and stories as well as include game day stories from the dugout to the bullpen encircling this grand charge of the 2008 Rays squad. Want to do interviews with people like former RP J P Howell who was so distraught on the team plane coming home, but was consoled and spoke to by everyone. Wanted to explore the chemistry and the players in the Clubhouse who were the glue to holding this team in the right frame of mind.

Needed to show the on-the-field as well as off-the-field emotional pull of this community for the Rays from fans that traveled great distances from both sides of the bay to take in that incredible “magical season of baseball”. I had huge wants for this book and some of the inside people within the Rays organization who might have gotten me the access, the viable voices and key people who made this event happen from reporting date to the final packing of equipment before heading home.

Great ideas, possible intriguing words and maybe even a few tear-jerking moments were on my mind, but life signaled in her own set of parameters and this idea as so many other laid its head down never to awaken again. I did think about it in the spring of 2009, but Rays MLB Writer Bill Chastain and James Shields were doing a collaboration called “September Nights” and making a book in the same vein felt to me more like overkill than a necessary at the time.

So the honest answer, I have always wanted to pen a book. I know it will never be a hardcopy novel like my idol F Scott or have the powerful imagery of Hemmingway, but it is something that still churned deep in me that possibly might see the light of day before I leave this life.

tyuEven thought of doing a “fan’s guide” e book with stories, adventures or even a few special moment I have seen while sitting in the stands, being a vendor for the Rays or as a hometown guy who embraced the idea of baseball in St. Petersburg, Florida way before we had a name or franchise attached to our locale.

I went to college to be a writer but somehow ended up on a Pepsi truck and I have a few hundred great stories and thought of the title “Survivor of the Cola Wars”.

Then again everyone has a story, events that changed or fulfilled their lives. Heartaches and triumphs that bring about their special place in the human experience and makes their heart beat faster. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get beyond those first typed words on a web document possibly finally starting something….or I hope I can.

 

“If You Haven’t Got Charity in Your Heart”…….

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I once heard famous comedian and philanthropist Bob Hope speak this line at a USO Show so many moons ago, “If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” 

jgcvCharity and giving back to my present community no matter if I’m in the Tampa Bay, Seattle or wandering somewhere else has always been a firm cornerstone of my personality. I am that random guy who rolls down his window and gives my last few dollars to someone in need. I know for myself, it was just the way I was brought up to give of myself in sweat, money or even time for others. Some might say it might have been those many hours of Sunday School or Church services with endless verses and stories that finally clicked the humanity button within your subconscious.

I personally want to think it was working with my Father at a young age putting on J-hooks and pulling cars out of the sand during storms, changing tires in rain storms or connecting cable to jump-start someone stranded. My Dad was one of the earliest AAA contractors and served the Beaches and West St. Petersburg since the mid-40’s until the mid-70’s. His work ethic along with his relentless humanitarian ways like giving lodging to vacationing people in our home while he repaired their cars, or inviting them to dinner went beyond the AAA service codes, and I valued those times and firmly entrenched that ethical treatment into my being. 

ghjklThe reality is that all my life I have been extremely lucky and not had to worry for much. I have never been without a place to lay my head,had food to eat or been too hot or cold in the elements. Even when I was on the edge of such actions in my life, I would still give of myself whenever possible. Some call it “paying it forward”, other just know it as treating my fellow man as I want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

Charity to me is not a “hand out” or even a “hand up”, it is the sign that we respect humanity and want to show our compassion or unity for a cause or ideal. In a span of  8 days in February I will again do my yearly pilgrimage to volunteer for two different Major League Baseball player’s (Toby Hall & Jesse Litsch) charity golf tournaments, plus another local human interest fundraiser. If you want information on either golf tourney, click on their names in the parenthesis to go to their website for more information or to contribute to their worthy causes.

hgfdsMaybe a bit of my parents did rub off on me to want to give of myself like this. Possibly it is that stark reality that I have been to the top of the mountain in my field and also been tossed into the pits of despair that the sheer act of charity resonates with me so loud and clear. Sure I enjoy the warm feeling volunteering gives me, but seeing a smile on a child’s face or giving someone a glimmer of shining hope where there is darkness makes me want to do more each year.

Once I was in the same position as so many MLB players that I was able to give generously and without regard both during my college and professional career. Now physically providing my services are all that I have to volunteer. Heck, I know a few people with the Tampa Bay Rays who I have pestered and annoyed over the years letting them know I am available 24/7/365  to help in any venture, event or even just lend a hand when it is needed.

Some of those responses have been “Thank you, but we have it handled“, while others have opened their arms and let me do what I do best…work up a sweat and give until I am tired. But like I said in a Tweet once after working an event, “I am tired, but it is a good tired”.

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The reason for this post today is that the NFL’s championship game, the Super Bowl, is always a visually reminder that Spring and baseball are just beyond the horizon. Rays Pitchers and Catchers will take the field in less than 17 days and our thoughts will pull towards the game and not those less fortunate. That is why I hope and wish that all of us can take a moment out in the next 10 days to provide an inspiration, a great smile or even some hard work towards helping someone else.

As I have grown older the art of charity and giving has become more focused in my life. Called it the wisdom and sage advice of an advancing human, or simple just the ramblings of a closet hopeless romantic, but I do not have to “go Green” to give back to this Earth. I just have to cherish those who also walk along with us on this journey. So let me get back off this soapbox, park myself back in front of this laptop and begin to think of ways to make all of you want to travel the path I will over the next 17 days.

Bob Hope was wise man. There has to be a balance within ourselves of charity and humility for us to grow, mature and even have the respect and admiration of the masses. MLB players can give a percentage of their yearly salaries, but those who are not working, or even homeless can only give of themselves. Since I began with a quote, maybe I should end with another quote that resonates through me daily:

The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. ” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

 

I Hope I Left a Slice of Baseball Love in Kuwait

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 Even in a hostile country thousands of miles away back in 1991, baseball was my link to salvation on those desert afternoons and down times. Those games have left an indelible imprint on my heart and soul. Baseball has journeyed to many American held battle lines all over the World. Seems only natural a team-oriented sport would follow the men and women who make up the many squadrons, platoons and units involved in military actions.

I hope you enjoy my Kuwaiti tale .

I remember one night  back in 1970 when my father and grandfather were sitting on the back porch and their voices began to rise a few hundred decibels while discussing the game of baseball. My maternal Grandpa was born near Pittsburgh and my Father called Philadelphia his home before enlisting in the Merchant Marines, then the Navy. My Grandfathers path was to Europe in World War I and WW II while my Father was shipped off to the South Pacific aboard the USS Denver and USS John W Weeks during WW II.

Each of them had a deep and genuine respect plus admiration for the fortitude and courage displayed by so many of this Nation’s best baseball players who put down their bats and picked up a rifle or wrench or flew combat missions when American soles and manpower were needed to defend this country’s mindset and innate dream of freedom.

I would sit there entranced in their dialogue intrigued by their tales and memories not knowing yet I would one day have a tale or two of my own to spin to my children. Even if my time in the military was short compared to both of these men, I always seemed to make time to let the nuances of baseball intertwine into my daily deployment routine. I was attached to a small unit that made it ashore during some of the first waves of amphibian approaches to Kuwait and hidden within my gear that I took abroad was my old glove and a scuffed ball.

baseball2jx1It was my personal form of stress and daily grind relief to try and toss the ball back and forth daily even as the penetrating sun and swirling sands scraped at my skin like sandpaper. I seemed to throw for hours just to bring some form of home into my mind and heart, not only to break the slow ticks of time in the desert. Even though the majority of the soldiers of my unit had deep cravings for football, there was always someone who shared my baseball passion, or possibly someone boasting that their curveball was unhitable or slick, or that they possessed their own form of rocket launcher attached to their arm.

The game of baseball was an instant bonding agent no matter if we were from St. Petersburg, Florida, Rock City, North Carolina or Portland, Maine. 

To me it always seemed that baseball transcended different ideologies and the languages. Poked past the cultural differences and the social unrest of the region. I even invited some of the local Kuwaiti kids to join us in our games. It felt great to spread this great sport to another region just as my father did in ports in the South Pacific, and my grandfather in England and Denmark.

During my time in the Middle East I found a new respect and admiration for the game, just as my father and grandfather had before me. I began to experience what they meant about how the passion and the pulling power of the game brings not only a group of soldiers together, but is a starting point for interact with the locals introducing them to baseball. This game that could start with two people and then suddenly blossom into 20 or more souls playing their hearts out sometimes blew my mind when the locals, both young and old eagerly began cheering and watching intently during the games.

I can still remember like it was yesterday when we were about to pulling out from our post near the Northern border of Kuwait that I needed to leave of piece of me here. Something had to stay here for this to seem real to me. So as we were motoring through the city of Abdari I saw a few kids throwing what looked like a make-shift baseball around the town’s central square.

I called for one of them to come over to my Humvee. I had a guy in our unit with me who was a translator and he asked the boy for me if he knew how to play baseball. The young kid, maybe 10 told my friend he was being taught the game before the local Marines pulled out and he was left with only the baseball.

I went to the back of our Humvee and I pulled my duffel out and searched for a few moments before bringing out my old college baseball glove, two of my wooden Louisville Sluggers and about 12 more baseballs sent to me from home. Even though I knew soccer was the prominent sport in this country, I wanted to leave  my own piece of my love for baseball in Kuwait.

I gave the items to the boy and through the translator made him promise to use them for sport and not as weapons or as bargaining pieces with his friends. I wanted him and his friends to want the items to play the game, not to sell or even trade for something else. He nodded his head in agreement and he ran yelling and screaming with excitement from our Humvee with his new-found sporting equipment. His small group of friends all encircled him like he had found a golden coins in the sand.

As I got back into the Humvee to drive away, he and his assembled baseball posse all waved to us and I was glad deep down inside to leave a small part of me in this small Kuwaiti town. But more, I was glad to leave a part of the game. We pulled out a few days later in that region and I never got a chance to revisit and see if they played any sort of organized game with the equipment but I want to believe that baseball is still being played in that Kuwati village and that the young boy who I gave that baseball equipment to that day has grown and taught his own children to play baseball just as my Father and Grandfather probably did in their own tours. 

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