Results tagged ‘ Rays ’

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

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.

 

 

 

“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. 

# 20 and 14’s Roles Could Define 2014

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It’s not only odd but a bit perplexing that the numbers have added up in this order this year. # 20 and # 14 will be numbers to watch in 2014 and each could have a huge impact on just how far the Tampa Bay Rays go this season. Seems like I’m waxing a bit too poetic that these two players could be such key pieces to the Rays puzzle in 2014, but sometime reality can be both bizarre and prophetic.

jhgfdbvAt no other point in the Rays history have 2 numbers aligned in such a way that they could be considered linchpins on how the season could or should progress or ultimately regress. Rays outfielder Matt Joyce and David Price  both separately and conjoined have the talents and abilities to make magic happen upon Tropicana Field’s AstroTurf, but each also come into this spring with question marks attached to their names.

Now this is not to suggest either will go down with an injury, be traded or be the anointed saviors that could decide the 2014 season. This is to suggest that possibly the addition, subtraction meshing of these two players could decide more than just victories and defeats, but the Ray’s final pitching staff formation or outfield rotation decisions.

Questions will need to be addressed quicker rather than later. I still feel that Price is not on solid ground on if he is living in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February or will be calling another vista his home this spring. With Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees) and Matt Garza (Brewers) off the pitching “wish lists” around MLB, more than a few courtiers could come a-callin’ around the Rays hoping to make one last huge push for Price’s services in 2014.

That being said, could the Rays be secretly able to keep Price no matter the $14 salary weighing on their 2014 payroll, or just being coy knowing someone will offer up just the right bite and the team take it knowing they have pitching talents already in-house who could step up the ladder and perform at a higher level this season.

th70R7PW3ZIf Price were to be with the Rays come March 31st, will another clock begin a countdown to the Trade deadline, or will the team effectively ever put a “No Trade” sign on Price for the entire season no matter if they are a post season race or treading water come the end of July.  A “price-less” Rays rotation could consist of a 1-4 slots with Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and possibly Alex Colome or Jack Odorizzi manning the 5-hole.

You also have to wonder if this whole situation of Price not being on solid ground with the team showing adamant solidarity for Price staying with the team even at this point is not eating at him mentally and emotionally that he is possibly just a phone call away from leaving this team and wearing different colors from today until possibly August 1st.  Confidence plays a huge part of the prep game for a pitcher coming into the spring as they gain that fortitude, that intensity and want to succeed as Spring Training and game evolve. Could not having a solid foundation under Price possibly wreck a bit of havoc during his Rays starts in 2014, or could he essentially be counting the days until his trade in the recesses of his mind.

th20TY036CPrice’s mindset and words from today on will echo loudly as to his progress or regression this season. From a pitching standpoint, Price holds a lot of instability coming into this season. Not on his talents or abilities, but if he will possess the aggressive nature and instinct we are accustom to, or have something pull his usual game mode from him. As much as Price holds some key questions for the team’s pitching prognosis, Joyce could be at a definite crossroads as to his role both in 2014 and in the future with the Rays this season.  

How the Rays decide to use Joyce this season will definitely define his future with the team, but also could signal if his own journey might end with the Rays. Joyce definitely knows his role on the Rays in 2014 will be different than any other time in his tenure here. With Desmond Jennings retuning and the resigning of David DeJesus combined with the third addition of AL ROY Wil Meyers beginning his 2nd tour with the team, suddenly Joyce might find himself as a 4th outfielder on a team with so many variety of player options.

uytrfbIf you also factor in the option of Ben Zobrist, Jayson Nix or even newly acquired utility man Logan Forsythe into the mix, Joyce could find himself after Spring Training possibly even lower in the mix and teetering on possibly not making the final 25-man roster. But that is thinking too far ahead right now.

Honestly Joyce could see more time at the DH spot and be a relief or late inning outfielder than as a consistent figure in the outfield this year.  Joyce has been given the time to address his southpaw woes at the plate and has shown some confidence, but as of his 2013 performances against lefties has subsequently been sheltered from left-handers at all costs.

hgfdWe do not know yet if Joyce had addressed this in the off season, but hopefully the Rays will put Joyce in enough leftie-on-leftie situation to either give the team more confidence his hitting abilities against non-righties or pigeon-hole him to spot duty or trade him off knowing they have some depth in the utility roles to suffice his elimination.

2014 was going to be so key for the Rays even before the questions arose concerning #20 and #14. Hopefully they can be banded together this season as offensive and defensive strong points for the team to help the Rays go to an awesome 5th post season spot in 7 seasons.  Only time will tell just how important those two numbers will be to the Rays success.

Price’s Signing Doesn’t Guarantee Anything…..Yet

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I could have sworn that 30 mph wind gust out of nowhere that just blew through the St. Petersburg, Florida might have been the accumulated sigh of relief given off by so many of the Tampa Bay Rays fan base with the news of Rays ace David Price and the team avoiding arbitration. How many of us within the Rays ranks since the team’s last 2013 game in Boston have been holding our own breathes pondering the many scenarios and possible destination for Price outside of the Tampa Bay region.

th3YRYYPQLThis 1-year, $14 million contract signed by Price did beat the arbitration clock and is the highest current or past contract for a Ray’s player in a single season. But do not stop hyperventilating yet Rays fans, the Price rumor mill for 2014 might be just beginning to gather some serious wind and steam heading into Spring Training.

Right now I think is the time we as a fan base need to worry the most about Price.

Things tend to happen fast within that 30-days window of MLB team’s reporting to Spring Training. The Rays might be giving Price upwards to 20% of their 2014 salary (based on a projected $70 million payroll), but with his salary written in black now, teams have definite number to contend with and could make an estimated risk to procure the southpaw by Opening Day.

Now that teams around the MLB can see a finite salary in place for Price in 2014 it might make him a bit more attractive as some current Free Agent hurlers want mega money to -5 years a solid contracts.

All this in essence guarantees to us in the Rays fan base that the teams that will eventually lose out on possibly signing Masahiro Tanaka might instantly see Price’s stable salary as a huge selling point and be a more reliable return on their investment than a few other names lingering on the MLB free agent pitching market. With current rumors (1/16/2013) surrounding Tanaka possibly seeing the Chicago Cubs going in hard on the Japanese ace’s services.

092512-al-cySuch a victory by the underdog Cubbies could leave a large hole statistically between the talents of Tanaka and the current MLB free agent pitchers seeking employment for 2014…or beyond. Price with a set salary for 2014 and time to discuss any future salary discussions before his free agency could make that gap lessen considerably now and the right franchise might be willing to gamble Price’s 2013 campaign as a mire career toe-stub.

Even though Price did fire an early Winter warning shot across an earlier winter rumored trade to Seattle, before today’s announcement, all has been quiet on the southpaw’s social media front about any other possible alternative 2014 venue…or apprehension.

thZH6S2KP3The Rays fan base cannot be overly secure in the fact Price will be here after Price’s signing today. Sure it does give us a bit of solid ground heading into the last moments of the off season, but nothing is set in stone yet and the Rays front office has yet to voice any solidarity that Price is here to stay…at least for beginning months of the season.

Brrr, I just felt another cold chill and wind gust blow right through me. Wonder if that was the Rays faithful all taking a collective gasp knowing the Price saga is far from over. Then again, maybe this move will warm all of us up a bit before the next wave of reality hits us like another cold and bitter trade wind. 

Silent Avenger Becoming a Pleasant Offensive Surprise

James Loney

I now call him the “Silent Avenger”. On a Tampa Bay Rays team already filled with persona’s like “Tatman”, “Super Sam” and even “Wolverine”, Rays First Baseman James Loney has been one of those great players who comes out of nowhere and makes this team better immediately.

toronto-blue-jays-v-tampa-20130506-180616-029Playing a position that embodies power and defensive responsibility, Loney has become not that iconic 1B that smashes the ball into an oblong shape on its way to the cheap seats, but has become a hitting machine producing needed single and run producing opportunities that also have brought the Rays back to the .500 mark for the first time since April 7th. Sure Loney is not the only reason this team has rebounded from their April funk, but he is one of those shining examples of a player brought in with question marks and wonder as to what role he will ultimately play on this team’s rise towards a post season berth.

All Loney has done is be a stopgap defender at the corner who has committed only a solo error in 259 total chances this season. But lost in that vital fact is the number of errors his glove has erased due to his versatility and flexibility at the First Base bag. But that is only 1 dimension of the Loney story as he has again found his hitting stroke since coming to the Rays at one point this week reaching the summit of the American League Batting Average pile along side Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera.

James LoneyLoney currently heading into Sunday’s contest is 3rd among all MLB players in batting average (.371) behind Cabrera (.376) and Brewers OF Carlos Gomez (.374). He also shares another very vital distinction in the A L with Oakland A’s INF Jed Lowrie of 7 3-hit games this season which all transpired within 11 starts between April 17th and May 5th. Loney has not only shown the potential to produce for the Rays, he is doing it on a club once thought of as weak and full of holes offensively but has been one of those key linchpins to the Rays recent run explosions that has seen them creep from the bottom of the AL Team hitting stats.

Sure Loney (.959) might not have the Rays top OPS ranking which currently belongs to long-ball artist Evan Longoria (1.009), but he does have 39 hits in his 35 games as well as leading the Rays in doubles (11, tied for 7th in the AL). OBP (.426 which is 4th in the AL) and is second to Longo (.609) in Slugging Percentage (.533). Loney has been one of those pleasant surprises on a team that most thought would be hard pressed to produce runs much less victories this season after their horrific April start.

201304062129773759188-p2Want to know why the recent hitting surge of Loney is so impressive? Over his last 23 contests (17 starts) Loney leads the MLB with a .453 average with 2 HR,15 RBI and 9 doubles. But what is extremely impressive is his stat of only 4 strikeouts during this span that saw his average rise to over 200 points from its .167 spot on April 16th. Fangraphs also produced a fun fact that 33% of Loney’s hits this season have been line drives, the highest percentage in the MLB where the MLB average is 20.2 percent.

Amazingly enough Loney who is a left-handed hitter has produced a .529 average against Southpaws this season which should bode well for him as the Rays will be facing a lot of left-handed hurlers over the next week. Add on the nice stat of Loney sparking a .424 average with runners in scoring position and you get a player who is helping the team tremendously by slicing and dicing up hitting from both side of the pitching rubber. Loney is also boasting an impressive .337 average against right-handers so far this season.

And how rare was that Home Run by Loney last night against the San Diego Padres? The last time Loney deposited an offering in the his home stadium cheaps seats was September 17, 2011 in Dodger Stadium.

James Loney, Joe MaddonLoney has hit 8 HR on the road between those dates. Loney on May 9th also became only the 4th Rays player ever to be on the top tier of the AL in hitting with teammate Matt Joyce last doing it in 2011. Combine that with the pure fact Loney has produced back-to-back 3-hit performances on multiple occasions this season and you can see how he has transformed into a much needed silent avenger for the Rays.

Want one last reason to think Loney is having one of those dream seasons so many seem to have when they pull on a Rays jersey. Consider Loney has hit left-handed pitchers at a career .248 average heading into his Rays tenure. This season after Loney’s impressive outing against southpaw pitching during 3 starts against Toronto (May 6-9th) at the Trop produced a stellar 10-19 (.526) showcase. But the cherry on top of this is the fact during 2013 Loney has only struck out 11 times so far in 116 plate appearances which leads all MLB 1B qualifiers and had a streak of 39 at bats without a whiff this season.

Loney is definitely the silent avenger the Rays needed at First Base and has more than proven his worth.

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