Results tagged ‘ Rich Herrera ’
So how excited is the Rays Republic heading into the Tampa Bay Rays first Tweet Up? I would say as excited as a walk-off homer, complete game shutout and hitting for the cycle. Who wouldn’t be excited about sitting just beyond the shoulder of Rays Bullpen legends Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos.
We could have a possible dancing brown bear moment, or maybe even a Kyle Farnsworth sighting. Seriously, it has been a great thing that the Rays front office and their marketing department embrace the social media phenomenon and provide a chance for the Rays Republic to possible hi the Worldwide trending board with such an effort.
That is where I am predicting this event will fall in the ranks of the Tweet Nation. Even if we just hold that sacred spot for a minute, the work, hustle and bustle would be a complete success. So that is a goal within our reach, one we can touch or type, to provide a Rays moment Worldwide. I love the sound of that personally.
We know @RaysRepubilc, the Rays official word smiths of the social media universe, will be providing interesting incentive, prizes and possible inclusion of witty banter posted during the event. Did you know the creative brainiacs behind @RaysRepublic now have over 100,000 Twitter followers? Who knows, maybe we can even get a up close and personal moment with the @RaysRepublic crew, a picture would be perfect (hint, hint).
I have heard that each person buying a special Tweet Up ticket will not only enjoy the company of other 140- character Rays fans, but will have the chance to sit in the exclusive Papa John’s Bullpen Cafe nestled just beyond the Rightfield line a stone throw away from the Rays Bullpen. Heck, it is just a soda cup away from my own old roosting spot.
Being offered even before the event in Twitter contests by @RaysRepublic will be a chance to win tickets to the event, a chance to throw out that night’s Ceremonial First Pitch that, plus a unique chance to hand the Rays line-up card to the Umpires before the game. Of course the crafty minds within the Rays Promotions department are not done there.
Also on tap is a chance to be the personal (game day) assistant of Emmy award winning CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) who like the @RaysRepublic crew sports more than 100,00 followers. Another special treat at this game will be hearing Rovell perform the National Anthem, plus have a chance to view his tweets as he moves about Tropicana Field.
The ticket package is still being finalized, but you can go to www.raysbaseball.com for updates and hopefully a official announcement and begin of ticket packages for this unique Rays Twitter experience. Who knows, you might have a chance to sit by the spirited and spunky @Lovebees, or maybe even meet the Rays twins @TBRaysTwins, or possibly get a glimpse of the lovely@Sportschix1.
Seriously now, the Rays are sporting a impressive Twitter collection of MLB player based accounts with the likes of @DAVIDprice14, @Evan3Longoria, @BJUpton2, @SamFuld5, @TheZobrists , @ShopHouse10 plus @Acobb53, @TheRuggianos, and @d_jennings15. The Rays even have a Bullpen presence with @ceez_27, @robdelaney55 and @CheckwitEck tweeting out of the Bullpen (not during games).
Even the medical staff is Twitter bound. Rays Strength and Conditioning guru Kevin Barr has a Twitter home, @TheBBRcom. You can even follow Rays In-Game host Rusty at @RustyKath if you need post game banter. Rays Manager Joe Maddon can also be found making sporadic quips, and witty banter from @RaysJoeMaddon. Last, but never least, Rays post and pre-game savant Rich Herrera can be found @richatthetrop.
Going to be a wild and exciting night where the Rays Republic far and wide can contribute and expand the Rays Way all over the World. And added bonus is tweeters who use the hashtag #RaysTweetUp will get a chance to have their tweet posted on the Rays jumbotron during the contest. How’s that for expanded media! Also heard a few whispers that each ticket holder might have future bragging rights with a special edition T-shirt just for holders of a Rays Tweet Up ticket.
Purchase your Rays 2011 TweetUp tickets at this link (Special code word is TWEET) which will also entitle you to a personalized Rays TweetUp T-shirt, some light food and beverages while you relax and tweet from the Pappa John’s Bullpen Cafe, plus a special invite to a post-game Q and A session with Guest Darrell Rovell on the Social Media ( If he survives the scavenger hunt).
I already know you can count me in for the event, plus will have the laptop primed and ready to go before the game, and ( hopefully) well after the final pitch. Personally I am hoping to get some time with the fellow Rays Twitter Nation and talk, chat and maybe even watch the Rays take on the Toronto Blue Jays who also sport their own legion of MLB Twitter foes.
Hope to see you there (I will be sitting by Bobby and Scott)…..or just tweet me @TheRaysRenegade. I will come see you…I promise.
I remember reading Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” as a teenager and was totally fascinated with the simple idea of a group of people possibly starting at a point in this country and tracing their steps back to their own senses of reality in their current hometowns. So when I got the opportunity for a job where I would fly to another location and possibly do a trans-continental trip….with pay, you know I took it without regret.
So last Sunday I got on a silver bird and flew to that city that the rock ballad group Journey calls home, and set my adventure into motion. But before I could get to that “city by the bayyyyy“, I had to make a drop into Dallas/Fort Worth to change birds. I guess the seagull that got om Tampa to Dallas had other plans on this Sabbath Day.
In this city that boasts how big things are, the strangest thing happened. I found the most adventurous ride of my life outside of the premise of an amusement park, or Disney’s Space Mountain. Who knew besides the thousands of Super Bowl fans who flocked in on birds of their own that this airports tram system was such an E-ticket ride.
Seriously, it bucked, chucked and possibly threw me off all in the span of a few air side terminals. It was the most fun I have ever had outside the amusement arena, and I truly loved it. After that even the Shuttle driver with the hot brake foot and the bad rear shocks on his van seemed like a petty imitation, or worse, a disappointment. But I finally arrived in the 1970’s era looking SFO airport and was onto my first adventure.
Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio Network Pre-game host read a Facebook plant by me and exploded with places and things I had to do while camped out in the “other” bay area. From going to the old haunts of the San Francisco Seals, to standing outside AT&T Park banging to be let in,I was in a city that showed me respect, manners and even a bit of oddity.
I even hit a few establishments mentioned by Herrera and hoisted a few to the loss of Jayne Russell and Duck Snider last night. I even think I saw celebrity chef Chris Constantine slurping a back bacon ice cream cone, but San Fran is full of those chef types. So this morning as the rest of the city was just waking from a long night’s catnap, I ventured in my mobile of choice back to my Florida nirvana hoping for the Kerouac moment.
The day started with me missing my cut-off towards the South and I accidentally went approximately 9 miles die North of intended turn target and got to learn the great freeway entrance stop light adventure. Let me just cut to the chase and tell you there is a guy in a maroon Kia Soul who is still cursing my existence.. Seems in California, this light is for EACH auto, not the whole line…..I wish I had a Oregon tag on the car, then he could blame Portland.
Finally I got my bearing straight and began to head towards the smog-congested mountain tops that had kissed my morning “hello” over the last few days. I was excited for a closer look to see if this region actually had snow, or some one had spray-paint tagged the summits. But before I reached those ice cream shaped domes of snow, I went past the most beautiful sight so far on this trip.
No, it was not Sandra Bullock or Anne Hathaway, it was a water-filled retention lake that was being kissed by a line of clouds, simple breathtaking. I of course could not get a photo of this since the road had no shoulder, and my trusty camera was still in the trunk.
But soon I was in a valley where the air had the pleasant aroma of almonds, with trees a bloom with buds of pinks and off-white. It was at this time I made my first encounter with two Indian ( not Native American) gentleman in a Shell station perched high upon a hill over looking a possible 100 mile stretch of budding plants and bee boxes.
They then told me about the region and its “exports”, which also included a grand one pound bag of Habenero-dusted pistachios that they presented to me as a gift. I decided to also splurge on a pound of glorious almonds with the chances of having an accident with a chocolate bar sometime in the evening ( has not happened yet). But I left that Shell station in the heavens and continued on my odyssey.
I must had traveled 2 hundred miles before a crop duster seemed to want to “buzz my tower” as the vibrations of the small one-seat plane shook the car as he leveled to deliver a crushing blow of chemicals to the unfortunate pests invading this field. But it was cool to see that the grand old art of applying pesticides from the air was still vogue.
But I had a mountain to climb. And even as my new car ( which had 31 miles on it that a.m. tried to make it up the massive mount, I could see trucks and auto pulling trailers engine’s begin to wheeze, cough and sputter as they tackled this grand rocky monument. I was amazed at the snow still kissing the top tier of the mountain, but also mesmerized by the sheer size of the cutting into the mountain needed to bring such a highway to life.
I finally got to the top and took my exit towards the city of Lancaster and again gazed in wonder as the field at Clear channel Stadium, where the Lancaster Jethawks play was so green, while the rest of the city had that rustic clay look and feel to its turf. Was great to view that ballpark in all its green glory before setting out into the semi-desert ringed by more majestic snow-capped mountains.
Slowly I made my way past the odd blue-hued sage brush and dust that seemed to rise into the air and form a wall around the car towards the town of Victorville, California. But first I had to traverse a road that was plagued by “flooded” signs with massive puddles of rain runoff still sticking to the sides of the road just out of the reach of the tall cactus trees wanting a tasty aqua break.
As I got near my hotel, a High School came into view and there on the side of the corner was the biggest Ray-hawk motif I had ever seen. The kid had to have pounds of product in that Mohawk to even get it to not sway in the slight cross breeze. Again, the dastardly camera had been left out of reach and when the light turned green, a car behind me impatiently wanted me to move or die….not sure which?
I checked into my room, popped onto the Internet, took care of some mail, giggled a bit at a television show I missed, but recorded and set about downloading the days actions into my mind again. The Indian’s generosity, the purely nirvana scene of water and clouds meeting, then the oddity of snow and desert in the same photo. But I got one last surprise as I ventured into a store called Vallarta and found a Hispanic paradise that Florida really needs to invest in.
I got some awesome spicy Menudo and a few other Mexican-based dishes for dinner and set about on the quest for a food comma to put me to bed for another grand journey in the morning. With a belly full of hotel furnished waffles and great California OJ, I will leave this town that reminds me of Mexico City ( but without the crime) and head into the reaches of Arizona.
Tomorrow night it will be Tucson, and I can’t wait to see what the karma Gods have in store for me tomorrow……I hope Kerouac is jealous up there about this trip, because I am fulfilling my own “journey to enlightenment” here. But with gas in the boondocks of Cali topping the $ 4 mark. this m ight be the only time in my life to take such a trip…..unless you have 6 Lotto number for me?
Tampa Bay’s Sports Talk Radio formats are in the same old as most of those encircling the MLB communities. You got your syndicated Sports shows that pop on for hours in the late morning and early afternoon on various spots on the FM dial like the “Mike and Mike Show” or the obnoxious little troll on the “Jim Rohme Show”.
Then around the time the clock strike 3, you get some of the localized radio instigators and rough-talkers that tend to hit the air waves running with a negative vibe, or venom in their voice attacking instead of informing people. Most of the Tampa Bay Talk Radio hosts have a good center of mediation and do not try and throw the shock value into their daily programming.
And with the Tampa Bay Rays entering their third losing game in a row earlier this work week, the local Talk Radio phone lines were buzzing and full of anti-Maddon, anti-Rays chatter surrounded by a cloud of negativity that has not been seen here since Hal McRae jogged around Tropicana Field. Entering this past weekend, the Rays had gone 3-0 to begin their 9-game road journey by sweeping the Seattle Mariners for only the second time in franchise history, but instantly, the positive Kumbaya community feeling seemed to begin crumbling as soon as the team lost on Monday night.
We heard on the Rays Radio Network, a rejuvenated Ben Sheets take the Rays down hard on Saturday afternoon to start the Rays loss avalanche, then witnessed on the Rays Television Network the 19th Perfect Game in MLB history by leftie Dallas Braden who personally handed the Rays their first road series loss of the 2010 season. Then immediately, the Rays stumbled out of the gate against the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim and lost a critical extra inning affair to start their 3-game losing stint in Anaheim, where losses have always been a premium.
At that moment, I think the edge of panic and uncertainty on this team’s foundation scared some of the uninformed members of the Rays Republic, and instant shock waves were developed when radio hosts tossed out a bevy of negativity gernades.
The Rays were a collective 22-9 before they tasted the sweet nectar of success again on Tuesday and Wednesday night. But even with one of the best starts in Rays franchise history, and one of the best records ever after only 33 games, the approaching poison was overflowing on the radio waves about the Rays team philosophy and hitting consistency. And a lot of the befuddled radio muses were about things that were not accurate, but were the fables of rambling madmen bent on destroying instead of building up the localities hopes of series resurgence to end this road trip on a high note.
It verged on throwing chum into the waters of Tampa Bay to see what would surface and attack it next.The Tampa Bay Talk Radio call-in sharks instantly smelled fresh blood, and their sense of common reasoning and comments quickly evolved into a frenzy feeding off each others negativity and constant bites and ill-advised snippets were made towards the team. I have been a part of this back and forth bantering by Rays fans in the past, both on the air waves and standing in lines at the stadium and sometimes I have gotten heated by the ignorance of people who do not seem to truly understand, or want to be told the truth.
But this time I was not going to digress to their lowly depths. I did not want to take a step backwards and give the rebel rouser’s anything to sink their nasty teeth into, or let them try and prey on another soul who still believes and sees positive signs on the horizon. Rays fans sometimes seem to forget just how far this Rays franchise had launched forward just in the past three short years. From the Rays uniform and logo change, to a true validation of character and positive energy in the clubhouse that makes players anxious to come to the ballpark.
Ask any of the ex-Rays from the past like Aubrey Huff, Fred McGriff or even Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs if they felt this type of leadership and commitment before in their Rays days. I would bet the farm they will emphatically tell you it is miles above the tension and the turmoil they encountered while wearing their Rays gear. This team is for real and is solidly got their feet on the ground and not stuck in the quicksand of the past.
One stumble on the road and this Tampa Bay region is already seeking a scapegoat or martyr to throw on the bonfires or burn in effigy. That to me is the fault of the Talk Radio hosts who have let the rousing get all consuming before they try to steer the madness a certain direction. I always thought it was the role of the radio host to mediate the approaching storm of alienating opinions by cultivating it with positive affirmations to show an alternative view instead of stoking the fires with kerosene? But then again, I might be old fashioned and not into the regiment of shock jock mentalities or misguided angst.
But it was hard for me here. I have been known to not back down from a fight or a argument, but this recent mob mentality was a bit too extreme for me. And even if a random Rays fan tried to inject their positive spin on the issue and got a brief moment to speak, he was quickly consumed and destroyed by the masses with their nasty wave of opinions that seemed to sting the caller like a hundred wasps attacking an intruder.
Some of the negative Nellie’s were throwing logic out the window by expressing their opinions like they are spun off golden rays, but forgetful that underneath was a stench and a rotting decay of ignorance and annoyance. And there were a few radio hosts more than eager to let the bloodletting commence in hopes that ratings would take upwards trends, boosted by the loud and proud head-bobbing brood that did not even think of researching for the truth before spewing their carnage onto the radio waves.
How could they just throw away the truth of the Rays historic April 2010 which is not more than a year removed from one of their worst starting points (9-14 in 2009) in club’s history is beyond me. But it is the job of the radio host to move the conversation towards fertile grounds and not fester into the battlefields of discontent or dismay, unless that is their intention. So should we be actually attacking or using subterfuge towards the negative Talk Radio hosts, or just take it on the chin knowing that one day their listeners will awaken to see their motives and move on down the radio to another more rewarding and charismatic voice.
With their victory on Wednesday evening, the Rays posted another win and boosted this road trip record to 6-3. More than respectable considering the past debacles and pratfalls that usually encounter the team on a jaunt into the West Coast Major League Baseball regions. A 6-3 mark is winning over 2/3rds of their games, which for most teams is a beautiful success, and something to build on coming into a small 5-game home stand. But the Rays snarling mob have gotten used to winning after that almost perfect 9-1 road trip to start the season and took that past record as their focal point instead of the fact we still lead our American League East division.
The Rays organization has built a winning tradition here that did not have a footing before 2007 in both the record and the clubhouse. Come heck or high water, this region should embrace and rejoice in the Rays triumphs and forgive the minor setbacks and focus again on the long term goal…Playoffs and beyond. I can tell you I personally do not listen to Talk Radio before heading to a Rays game. I want to be filled with positive thoughts and energies before stepping within the confines of Tropicana Field. But I do partake in the Rays post-game show and enjoy the recaps and most of the banter expressed by the Rays fans on the broadcast.
But every once in a while, a “Negative Nellie” get through to Rays Radio host Rich Herrera and he lets them get out their poison before he tries to again fill them with the positives and show them alternative views and thoughts about the same issue they just vented. And that is a firm example of a Talk Radio host being the skipper of the radio show and steering it off the rocks and sandbars to provide positive affirmation not matter if we win or lose the contest.
In the last few years the Rays have slowly made their weekend series a fun time to attend Rays games. They have made every Sunday afternoon contest a “St. Petersburg Times Family Fun Day” where a family of four can get a reduced price on their seats, Rays food, and also treat their kids to an increasing number of kid-related events prior to the game along Leftfield and Rightfield Streets, or watching their kids running the bases after the Rays game. The Rays have succeeded in making Sunday a “red-letter” Rays family day destination where everyone in the family can come and enjoy the game, plus take in all the Rays entertainment options. Then the Rays widened their eyesight towards increasing their Saturday night game crowds by bringing in popular musical acts to perform post-game, and these “Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series” events became an instant hit with baseball and music lovers. And even with first 5 of 10 bands coming to Tropicana Field including acts like Hall and Oates, ZZ Top, Nelly, The Go-Go’s, John Fogerty the events will again pack the stadium to the rafters during Rays weekend game series that used to zap Rays attendance figures.
Some of us already know about the indoor fireworks display that will explode among the backdrop of the off-white Teflon dome starting 5 minutes after the final out of every Rays Friday night game. But there are more things that will be offered to show that the Rays organization appreciate their loyal and new Rays fans, and will try and expand your total Rays experience this season. But the firework show will only be one of the visual elements the Rays will be trying to use to enticing more Rays fans to attends more games in 2010.
By offering a exciting alternative to the usual Friday night activities of going to the movies, or outdoor events and the occasional rainy Friday nights, the Rays will also offer their fans 13 different Rays collectable T-shirts before every Rays Friday night game. And the Rays will get into the “giving” rhythm fast with their first T-shirt promoting the Rays new blue alternative jersey T-shirt during their first Home Series of the season on April 9th when the first 10,000 Rays fans wearing Rays gear, will be rewarded prior to the Rays first weekend series against their divisional rivals, the New York Yankees.
The Rays will also have more than a few player specific T-shirts featuring some of your favorite Rays star players, plus a special edition ,very modern styled black T-shirt designed by Rays Opening Day starting pitcher, James Shields that will offer a interesting one-of-a-kind design. Most Rays fans have seen for themselves during Shield’s outside the ballpark appearances that he is a huge fan of the fashionable black T-shirt, and produced his version in coordination with the Rays that will pop with style and have everyday fashion in mind.
The James Shields inspired T-shirt will surely be a instant hit among the young Rays fans who attend any of the schools within the Tampa Bay area, and anyone of any age will love sporting this great personally inspired T-shirt while they are out and about before, during and after Rays games. And those fans who bring their cowbells to the Trop every game have not been forgotten and should be happy as the Rays will also give out an exclusive “More Cowbell” T-shirt during their Friday night T-shirt giveaways.
The cowbell has become a necessary element while attending a Rays game, and the team wanted to show their appreciation to those loyal fans who strike Latin Percussion cowbells, or the Rays-issued smaller versions over the last few years.
The Rays have begun to show their cards to become a more casual Friday night entertainment destination for Rays fans. The Rays have shown extreme success with their Saturday and Sunday promotions, and now will tackle the elusive Friday night crowd hoping they will consider baseball, fireworks and free giveaways as a viable option. But with offering entertainment both on and off the field, the Rays are headed in the right direction.
With the Tampa Bay sports dollar getting thinner with the local economic pressures, the Rays hope that their offering to the Rays Republic will show that they understand, and want to give you the most for your hard earned dollars in 2010. With a great Rays product on the field and the extra curricular activities before and after games, the Rays have made the right moves to make their Friday night Rays games an instant red letter date circled on a lot of home calendars all around Tampa Bay. I know I will be there…Will you?
Got to admit it here, I love it when the Tampa Bay Rays come north and play the Philadelphia Phillies during Spring Training. It is basically a Rays “homecoming” to their fans who do not have the time or resources to travel the 80 miles down to Port Charlotte, Florida for their Grapefruit League schedule. And making it a double pleasure is that the game is played at BrightHouse Field, which has to be one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in Pinellas County.
So here we go as I pop on a few photos today on my journey northbound to the chilly tundra that is Clearwater, Florida. Seriously, when the game started on Sunday at 1 pm, it was 65 degrees, by the time the game was wrapped up with the Rays shutting down the Phillies 5-3 for their third victory of the Spring, it was down to 61 degrees. Not complaining, just found it kind of weird during such a sunny day with limited wind hitting you in the stands. But then again as I always say….If you do not like the weather in Florida, wait 15 minutes, it will change.
That might be another reason Dillon has been catching more this season to make his stock rise above just being a utility player mostly playing in the infield. And during Batting Practice today, I saw him moving all around the infield from taking balls at third base, to manning the first base bag for a bit. Dillon did get in the game yesterday coming in for Elliot Johnson and playing third base, but went 0-2 in the game. Got to tell you, I always get a bit jealous of those corporate slugs across from me sitting in the Hooters VIP Diamond Dugout section. Not only do they get waitresses in skimpy Hooter attire, but they have almost instant access to the bench along with some great chicken wings and blue cheese.
Got to befriend someone some day and see if I should be so jealous of this section….I think I would be no matter what. But I also find it kind of wild that in Bright House Field, the Phillies have two Hooters ball girls down the foul lines who sit in these nice canvas chairs with gloves in hand flirting with the fans and just looking pretty. Sure I have seen them get out of their chairs a few times, but I forget they are not there for their baseball skills but to look cute and smile for the fans. Always wondered why the Phillies did not bring down two of their regular season Philly Ballgirls who actually play softball for local leagues or college in the Philly area.
Always love how the Rays players treat their younger fans. You do not get the total jest of it in this photo, but Elliot Johnson was actually throwing the ball with the young baseball player in red for about three minutes before the kid had to go back into the infield and stand for the National Anthem. You know it is moments like these that makes a child a baseball fan for life. And what a story he will have when he goes back to school on Monday telling all of his friends he threw a baseball with a Major League Baseball player… on the field before a game….priceless moment.
Always love it when the United States Army’s Golden Knights parachute team does a pre-game event like this in BrightHouse Field. I have now seen it a few times and it is always a great spectacle and an extremely emotional sight seeing the billowing red smoke and the final recognition of our flag attached to his parachute. I find it really interesting to see this Sunday prior to the Oscars last night that saw the simply amazing film “The Hurt Locker” take the Best Film honors. I have to say I have seen the film and loved it for its realism and attention to military detail.
What was amazing in this game on Sunday is we saw everyone of the Rays players fighting for a roster spot play in front of some of their hometown fans who came out and helped set a attendance record for a Spring Training game held at Bright House Field. 10,474 fans filled every nook and cranny of the stadium on Sunday. It was definitely standing room only out in the grassy berm areas, and the concession stands did look like the usual rush during a Rays/Yankees or Rays/Red Sox series. Even saw one of the Trop’s beer guys Mark working in the stands yesterday and it made the game feel more like a home game.
Had a funny thing happen to me yesterday while I was sitting in the 7th row down in Section 104. Had an older gentleman tell us to either give him play-by-play of the game or shut up. My new found friends from Philly were a bit perplexed, but I reminded them that we do live in a retirement region here in Florida, and some people like to concentrate on the baseball game. I did not want to upstage the guy and tell him I would be more than willing to do audio for him of the game. The few fans around us were a bit upset, but for me, it was just business as usual in Florida. But I do understand the guy’s request.
We were talking about Philly places I knew and the Winter they just went through up there, and maybe this guy was not into our discussions. One of the Philly guys actually remarked that if we were in a movie theatre, it was not a problem to stop talking, but we were at a baseball game. I just laughed it all off and said it was fine, I could get some more photos and maybe get some much needed sun on my farmer-tanned bones. Funny it really got a few people around me upset, but I made sure they knew if it was Tropicana Field I might have kept talking, but since I was in someone else’s stadium, I respected the guy wearing his green Phillies cap.
One thing I did notice was that Rays First Base Coach George Hendricks seemed a bit unprepared for this game today. I tried to ask someone in the Rays clubhouse if George’s usual number 25 jersey might not have made the trip north, but they were really closed-lipped about it. It was kind of funny to see him wearing that “95” jersey, which usually a sure sign of a Rays minor leaguer getting a chance with the big club. Notice Hendrick’s batting helmet shows his “usual” jersey number 25 on it
I also asked a few of the photographers about these wild looking silver camera I saw in at least three different spots around BrightHouse Field on Sunday. I was advised that they were permanent Major League Baseball Network cameras that got primary shots from the First Base, Third Base and Centerfield angles during Spring Training games. I had not even noticed them before and found it quite interesting they did not employ three different cameramen for these regions during telecasts earlier in the Spring.
But it was a great simply beautiful day out in the sun in Florida on Sunday. And the day was even made more special after Rays Radio man Rich Herrera yelled out “Renegade” from his silver car as he sped away from a side street onto Old Coachman Road on his way home from the ballgame. Plenty of excited Rays fans and Phillies fans enjoying one of the best weather days this Spring. Congrats to the Phillies again for setting a new single game attendance record, and hopefully we can make another run at that record on Tuesday, March 23rd when the Rays come back to this amazing ballpark and I will sit instead out in the berm region to give a different prospective to this great ballpark.
At least once a year I try and get out to one of the “live” Rays Radio Network broadcasts before the beginning of the Spring Grapefruit League games. And with only a handful of day before the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in the ” new” Spring Training home, Ed Smith Stadium. The Rays Radio hosts Andy Freed and Dave Willis were going to do their Monday “Hot Stove” show from 7-8 pm in an old historic hotel situated just a mile from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The site of this weeks “Hot Stove” program was Hotel Indigo, which was known by locals as the Heritage Hotel until Tampa-based Baystar Hotel group bought the Hotel back in June, 2008 and pumped $ 3 million in restorations and modern improvements to the classic Florida colonial-style hotel. I thought it was really wild that they decided to use a hotel that is steeped in local history, and also carries a Spring Training vibe to it even today. As you walk into this quaint hotel you get the air of the 1920’s immediately as you see the style of that day in its old world charm architecture and details in the wood fixtures.
And with its ornate open-air bar just to your left as you walk in, it invites you to sit, relax and enjoy just as if you were transported back in time listening to radio hosts from yesteryear. And there is a distinctive feeling here that this hotel has seen more than it’s share of baseball lore as it was here during the heydays of the New York Yankees playing their Spring Training games in Waterfront Park in St. Petersburg after the team moved their Spring Training site from New Orleans to corral in Babe Ruth and keep him out of the Bourbon Street establishments.
And the hotel has been transformed into a modern business travelers dream with all 71 rooms going through massive reconfigurations and revitalizations that brought wall-to-wall murals, and rustic area rugs over the great hardwood floors of every room. And this not your usual “cookie-cutter” Florida vacation destination resting place, but a stylish boutique hotel that gives you more of a feel of a personal exclamation point to your stay in St. Petersburg, Florida. And it would be a great destination for any visitor’s coming in for the Rays games, either during the week, or the weekend. Rooms range from $ 139-199 a night and will have all the same accommodating extras as other area hotels, but will provide you with an added flair of Southern atmosphere mixed with modern elements.
I took a short tour of the rooms and it is a fantastic hotel just by it’s architectural charm, but the renovations also brought out some of the over painted details and carvings in the wood, plus the simplicity of hotel life in the 1920’s. With the added charm of a great dark wooden bar and the green-tones to the lobby walls, it brought a old Florida sense to the hotel. And that is rare in the days of basic beige box hotel rooms and doubles and twins beds. Both rooms I saw had their own sense of sophistication and modernism without losing the boutique hotel ambiance. And mix with the small of hot dogs being cooked, and popcorn being made for the Rays Radio guests, it felt like a baseball hotel.
I mean as I walked in, Rays Radio Network pre-game/post-game Host Rich Herrera was sitting in a cozy chair in the corner reading “Willie May: The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch, so it instantly had a baseball feel to the night. And even if tonight’s broadcast was only a one hour segment, it was a time for most of the Rays fans in attendance to talk about the upcoming season, the past weekend events at Rays Fan fest, and just remark about this great hotel. And tonight the bar staff was decked out in Rays jerseys ready to offer you food, refreshment, or in my case, an extremely cold Blue Moon with orange slice.
I have to say the Rays Radio show went by so quickly that night, but I had a chance to chat with both the management staff and one of the waitresses from the on-site restaurant, and they were extremely helpful and charming. More often than not, I would be writing today about the Rays Radio show, but this hotel simply blew me away. I had been in it between the Heritage Hotel days and their reincarnation as Hotel Indigo, and I was simply amazed at the upgrades and the elegance restored to this boutique hotel within walking distance of the shuttle to Tropicana Field.
The hotel management took great care in restoring that old Florida charm with its seating area on the front porch, to the garden terraces laced with Florida vegetation, this hotel screams circa 1920’s elegance. I am one of those travelers when I go out of town to attend Rays game, I try and stay in authentic old style hotels that ooze charm and are accented by old architectural designs. This hotel to me is up there with the Hotel Monaco and Hotel Deca in Seattle, and also my favorite circular room in the Wyndham at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.
And that is something I strive for when I go out of town for away series games. I want to feel something different than staying in a Motel 6 or Holiday Inn Express ( even though my fastball picked up 6 mph after a stay there). Along with the baseball game’s experience, I like to take in the charm of the city I am visiting by staying in a boutique hotel setting. And sure I might miss out on the free breakfast, or even the complimentary extra towels, but these types of hotels also show you some extras that are missed by the value chains. Small things like beverages and a snack upon check-in (Cleveland), or even transportation to the stadium by their staff, and not in some corporate 18-person van (Seattle).
The Hotel Indigo is just another one of the Florida hotels that gets it. Sure you could hit the value nightly rate at the Hilton Hotel across from now vacant Progress Energy Field, but you miss out on the little things and the subtle essence points this hotel spoke to me about on Monday night. Most hotel staff are courteous to their guests, but I saw it bumped up a notch at Hotel Indigo. These people seemed to love their jobs and it showed in their voice with the affection shown, and the historic references given about this often missed hotel. If I did not live locally, I could see myself staying at the Hotel Indigo for Rays games. And how can you not love a hotel that is within walking distance to great food options and a variety of entertainment choice, but in the end, how can you go wrong with a place that give you six pillows on your bed….Ahhh, luxuries in a romantic setting with baseball ties…..I am in heaven.
One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.
And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.
But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.
And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.
And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.
And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.
And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day.
Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign. Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.
People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.
And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.
Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.
Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship. Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.
One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.
Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007. About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.
Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually.
I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).
But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2’s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods.
There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.
And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.
Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join MLBlogs.com and submit some stuff….You can count on that!
But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.
And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1” line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.
As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.
Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the “Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.
I decided to break the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest into a 2-part blog post since I had reduced my photos down into 60-odd photos. I thought it might be best to start off with the first segment basically focused on the events of the day that were swirling all around Tropicana Field. from the moment the doors opened at 10:05 am (late) and ran until basically 5:30 as Rays Manager Joe Maddon wanted to give every fan in line a chance to get his autograph before they finally turned the lights out and we all went home tired and drain by all the sights and sounds of the day.
As usual, I saw Rays Senior Director of Promotions Brian Killingsworth mad on his walkie talkie trying to get the day events started out with a flurry of excitement and give everyone in attendance a bit of refreshment. And the Rays did that as we strolled into the Rotunda at Gate 1, and were presented with a Rays Sky Blue inspired Fan Fest daily schedule offering the players and times for the days autograph sessions, and included a map of all the planned activities for the day.
We quickly got a burst of sugar presented at a sampling table by Pepsi Bottling Group which furnished everyone with a sampling of the “Throwback” soft drinks made with pure cane sugar and not the corn syrup we have gotten used to in our sodas. And the crowd was eager to get into the stadium and rushed the table like a group of marathoners trying to rehydrate ” on-the-run” as we briskly walked through Centerfield Street towards the Centerfield gates and into Fan Fest.
But most did not want to stop by the Budweiser Brewhouse for a free sample (while supplies lasted) of the Rays new signature adult beverage or even the Ted Williams Museum to see the multiple displays, or check out classic baseball artifacts today, they had Rays players autographs on their collective minds.
But the line quickly formed just below the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in Centerfield where the Rays established a long line of twisting white chains to wind people to the tables to buy a silver wristband that would let you get your autographs for a $ 20 donation to the American Red Cross and the Save the Children Foundations. It quickly became the center of most of the activities for the first 15 minutes as fans then proceeded to do a quick tour of the outer displays and booths set-up before getting in line almost two hours early for autographs.
Some people did not even notice the always popular “Rays Rookie table as they first walked into Fan Fest nestled right next to the wristband area that highlighted exclusive benefits for Rays fans 14 and under. And most people did not even see the American Red Cross table to the right of the wristband section that was offering a special edition Carlos Pena T-shirt produced by the Rays to celebrate Pena’s accomplishments on and off the field for the Rays since he came here in 2007. I almost missed the table as it was hidden against the centerfield wall where B J Upton usually goes to bring in long fly balls with his cleats on the wall. With only 500 of these shirts produced, you know it will be a classic Rays collector’s item in the coming years.
But if you decided to not get into line quickly and walked around clock-wise around the field you would also encounter Season Ticket sales and Fan Fest Ticket packages table that was eagerly waiting to show you the multiple advantages of Season Ticket ownership. Just beyond them was a four car set-up by Chevrolet that featured a simply beautiful orange and black 2010 Chevy Camaro that would have looked great in my driveway if I had not looked at the sticker price. Just past that was the Ruth Eckerd Hall table where Rays fans could try and win a chance to get free tickets to events at the Clearwater venue.
After that on the infield side of First Base was Radio row which held the tents of most of the radio partners of the Clear Channel empire here in Tampa Bay. Also in this area was the “Maddon’s Maniacs” table where you could join or renew your membership for $ 25 and get your yearly swag and card that could get you discounts during the year within Tropicana Field. Right next to them was the Rays Flagship station and radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis were on hand for autographs and photos with Rays fans. WDAE “The Sports Animal” also did a “Live” broadcast from the Trop. from 9 am to 3 pm during the Fan Fest.
As you went around towards Home Plate, you saw the table set up by the Rays Wheelchair Baseball team that just celebrated their 7th season and won the 2009 Division II Championship and are currently ranked number 1 in the nation. Then right after Home Plate you noticed the large crowd checking out the Rays Silent Auction and the Rays mystery “grab bag” promotion where you purchase a brown bag for $ 20 and could possibly win a Rays game line-up card ( I got Rays @ Minn), an autographed baseball (I got a Shawn Riggans baseball), or a Rays Batting Practice jersey.
Right next to the Rays Foundation table was the Rays Team Spirit Squad, which set up a table to give autographs to Rays fans and also promote the Rays Team 2010 Calendar ($ 15) and was more than eager to personally autograph your copy of the calendar. The girls were all eager and ready to chat with fans and even talk about their MLBlog that was set-up in late 2009.
Stuck right behind Home Plate and located in the usual food room for the Home Plate Club was the Raysvision crew on their “Casting Call” promotions for the upcoming season. You could sing Karaoke, ask a Rays player a question, or show your best dance moves for the camera. I actually got wrangled into singing Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” by a few of the Rays staffers who knew I sometimes sing in a cover band in Pinellas Park. It was fun, and I stayed there for a bit and saw some great fan questions and a few wild renditions of songs, even a Lady Gaga song. It was the perfect place to let out your inner “Rock Star” without anyone else catching onto your actions.
One of the most popular tables early was to go up and meet Country Rap Star Cowboy Troy before he went up on the Pepsi stage and did a few numbers before coming back over and doing autographs and photos with the Rays fans. He was also selling coins and CD’s to benefit his foundation which helps support the military troops overseas throughout the world. I enjoyed talking to Cowboy Troy, and he was excited to come back to Tampa Bay today and celebrate the event because of his love for baseball.
But as always, the Rays Fan Fest also wanted to put a smile on our youngest fans and again Bright House Networks helped the Rays in setting up multiple areas like the “running of the Bases” race section in the Rays infield, and the multiple gaming centers along the leftfield fence region. The first section was a chance to experience just what a MLB player saw as the ball came down from the roof of the Trop. I got to tell you, it seemed like if you took your eye off the ball for a moment, you lost it and it fell to the ground. Also a popular event was the Speed Pitch challenge where you could see if you had the right stuff to hopefully become a Rays pitching ace in the future.
Right next to this section was the two Batting Cages one set up as a Little Hitters Zone so young Rays sluggers could get their timing down on balls thrown by pitching machines. This always has one of the longest lines and showcases some of the great raw talent in the Tampa Bay area. And even adults had a chance this season to get in there and try and hit that white dot in the regular Big League Batting Cages exhibit. It is always a blast to see a young kid around 10 years old beat up on his dad who is also hitting in the neighboring cage, but his young son is constantly hitting balls that dad seems to swing and miss on.
And as always, the Rays again had Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby set up where oversize wiffle balls and bats were used by really young fans to try and blast one out of the make-shift rendition of classic Ebbets Field. Also along the outside ring of the stadium, the usual gameday activities sections like along rightfield where you could enjoy the T B Rays Carnival games, Raymond’s Art Studio, the Science of Baseball, Raymond’s Room and the St. Petersburg Times Press Box where you could get your own personalized St. Petersburg Times front page.
Then if you strolled towards leftfield you could enjoy maybe making a replica Rays jersey, the Louisville Slugger Wood Shop, or even Make Your Own Baseball card for your personal collection. And if you were in an extreme mood, you could hit the Mountain Dew Extreme Zone stick ball diamond, or even the MLB 2K10 sports lounge where you could play MLB2K10 for free on gaming consoles during Fan Fest. No matter where you went inside Tropicana Field, you could find an activity to make anyone in your family smile.
But also local theme parks like Busch Gardens was at Tropicana Field introducing Rays fans to their upcoming new park promotion “Sesame Safari of Fun”. Rays fans were also able to enter for a chance to win free tickets as well as try their luck at games on sight and also take photos with the Busch Gardens performers. There were even multiple baseball collections including some artifacts from the Ted Williams Museum and also the “Little Cooperstown” baseball display which has over 3,500 signed baseball currently in their collection.
And if your are a “lover of the statistical”, or even just a lover of the game of baseball, you had to go by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) table and try your hand at their trivia crossword test to win prizes or even sign up for the national baseball research group. One of the members at the table, Rays Season Ticket holder Bill Dunstone will be celebrating his 1,000 Rays game during the 2010 season. If you like odd trivia or reading interesting facts and figures about the game of baseball both present and past, this is the group for you.
As in the last few Rays Fan Fest’s, Rays Radio Network Pre and Post Game Show Host Rich Herrera did the Master of Ceremonies duties and did his usual strolling around the ballpark letting the Rays fans in attendance know about some of the odd events and happenings during Fan Fest. One of my favorite is when he goes up to the signing tables and interviews some of the players about their off
the field contributions, or even their activities during the off season. I still can not believe Rich struck a “Vegas Elvis” pose here on the Pepsi stage before he introduced Cowboy Troy for his musical performance.
One of the events that has become more and more popular every season is the Major League Baseball Players Association Alumni table that is set up near Section 142 to provide autographs and photos with some of the legends of the game that live around the Tampa Bay area. Players like former Ray Doug Creek former Rays Hitting Coach Milt May, Phillie Robin Roberts, and other veterans like Ron LeFlore, Bill Demars, Darold Knowles, Mark Whiten, Wayne Garrett and Scott Winchester. Dave LaPoint was also in attendance today in the MLBPA Alumni 12-1 pm veteran group and he told me he was managing the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with MLB currently.
Also during Fan Fest, there were two Town Meetings being held in the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. The first was a meeting with Rays Television broadcaster Dewayne Staats with Robin Roberts. The second Town Meeting was the first chance for Rays fans to meet new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton along with radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis. Both events went along fantastic with each explaining their part in baseball and also telling great tales and stories concerning their time within the baseball ranks. Each session also included a Question and Answer section so the fans could get some additional insight into the inner workings of baseball.
But the main draw for most of the Rays fans in attendance was the autograph session from 12-5 pm featuring most of the Rays players and Coaches. Unfortunately prior to the event Carl Crawford, Pat Burrell, Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist had previous engagements and would not be able to attend. I will get into this deeper in the next section of my blog posting on Monday. There were a few surprises and a few late arrivals, which I will get into more tomorrow after I check to see if traffic situations did not compound the problems with some of the player’s signings.
Rayvision and Centerplate concessionaires also had a promotion going on during Fan Fest for Rays guests to sample some of the new foods that will be introduced around Tropicana Field in 2010. In this sampling, the chef was trying to get a Rays fan to talk about the new Cuban sandwich selection that will be unveiled during the Rays home opener in April. The sandwich has a crisp breading and a highly spicy mustard that provided a great kick to the cooked pork and meat highlighted also by a sharp Swiss cheese. I think it will be an instant hit around the stadium.
Even “Star Wars” youngster Boba Fett had a great time at the Rays Fan Fest. What I always find exciting is the people who travel from great distances to come to this once a year event. Not only do they come from South Florida and beyond, but some people came here from South America and as far north as Ontario to partake in the Rays celebration with the fans to the beginning of Spring Training. I always thought the Rays should do a contest during Fan Fest to celebrate the fan who traveled the longest distance to attend the Rays Fan Fest. Maybe in 2011 they could award a Rays Fan pack to the long distance champion for their show of support for the team (HINT, HINT Promotions Department).
But I could not end this first blog posting without telling you about the GTE Federal Credit Union and their money machine. Got to admit, I was tempted, but with my luck I would drop all the money with one second left on the clock. I watched a few people use some very interesting cash collecting methods before positioning them for a chance at great prizes from their time in the U-22 Money Booth. What could be better than coming to Fan Fest and getting a chance to win some additional money to spend at future Rays games.
And last, but not least, I wanted to say that Cowboy Troy did a great job of doing his songs on a make-shift sound system that did not rival the last one he sang on during the 2009 Big & Rich Saturday Night Concert Series during Country night at Tropicana Field. He had both young and old fans dancing near the Pepsi stage while he performed three songs and did some great dance moves and interaction with the crowd.
So here we are at the end of the first segment out of three of my postings about the Rays 2010 Fan Fest. Tomorrow I will give you some interesting facts and stories about the autograph session and a few behind-the-scene photos involving the Rays players. So I am already excited to get tomorrow’s blog posting up for you, but I want people to also check out this first segment before it gets lost in the shuffle. If you have read my Twitter account the past two days, I have been giving you small doses of some of the information I got while sitting in my Season Ticket seat most of the day and talking with Rays players, Rays Security and front office staffers. There is some really interesting stories to let you know about on Monday.
I have never been one of those Gabe Kapler lovers that dot the Trop from Section to Section. I am for some reason still holding out any love for the guy because of his Boston Red Sox roots, but a home run like the one he hit last night into the first row of the Left Field seats will go far to get me to open my mind to his effectiveness on the Rays. But then again, I was one of those people who questioned his name on the 25-man roster back on April 1st thinking the Rays might be playing an April Fools joke on the fans.
I mean the guy went 9 for 60 in Spring Training for a dismal .150 average that might have gotten most players either a Greyhound bus ticket to the minor leagues, or an outright release from his contract. But the Rays front office and Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw something in the former minor league manager. Granted the guy has heart and an ability to keep motivation strong and focused on the bench, but I questioned the keeping of him over Matt Joyce even a few days ago. Now Kapler has given me a few reasons to even think he might just be another hidden gem that is about to unfold for the Rays.
He has been flirting below the Mendoza line for a bit of time with the Rays, and his defense has been great at times. But the true fact is in the last two games he has done his best “Zorilla” imitation and has produced at an amazing pace. Sure he has gone 2 for 5 in the last two game with 2 HR and 3 RBI to boost his awesome scale to about a 4 based on the rest of his year.
He had not had even a trickle of a hit or a RBI since he posted 2 RBI and went 1 for 3 against the Cleveland Indians back on May 27th. So you can honestly say he has gone 0 for 11 in 6 games between his RBI chances. But for how long can you overlook a 4 for 42 stint that dropped your average from .235 to its present .183 mark.
But the thing that also endeared me to him was the poise he had last night in the post-game interview with Rich Hererra after Dioner Navarro got him square with his mouth open with a shaving cream pie. I mean he got the teeth, tongue and maybe even a few nose hairs deep and dirty in shaving cream.
The flustered Kapler did end his interview because of the incident but gave another one a few minutes later in the Rays clubhouse where he made sure to thank the Coaching staff for their support and belief in him this year. The guy is a class act from head-to-toe and that gained some more style and bonus points from me last night about him on this team.
And that might not be the best of averages, but the guy is here to maintain more than just a bat in his hand. Kapler is like a player/manager on the bench sometimes. He sits there and chats about the game with the other guys on the bench showing them some of the small nuances they might have missed on the field.
It is a great asset to have to show some of the Ray pitchers and reserve players how small things can blossom into great opportunities for the Rays. But he is on this team as much for his defense as he is for his mental and physical make ups.
He is tied with B J Upton with 3 outfield assists this season, and has been involved in 3 game-winning or go-ahead RBI this year. Could he just be that type of player who wills himself a good game when he is counted on, or are we seeing a shell of the former Kapler that spooked us when he took the field for the Red Sox in the Trop. The guy is a classic example of the type of player you want in your locker room. He is always up beat, personable and totally into helping another player with his game.
And that might be one of the reasons he is still here. He is a great bridge between the Coaches and the players since he did a one year stint at Class-A Greenville for the Red Sox in their minor leagues as a manager. And that experience might be a huge plus for him to convey and influence another guy to see a different viewpoint or idea.
But for the longest time, it was Kapler who had the world by his fingers. Few people remember back in the 1998 when Kapler was the Minor League Player of the Year. He was selected for that honor after killing the ball in the Southern League where he hit a staggering 80 extra base hits while maintaining a .320 average.
Because of this honor he got a chance to appear in a K-Swiss shoe print ad as a emerging baseball star for the up-and coming shoe manufacturer. Also of importance is the fact he shattered the Southern League RBI record by driving in 148 that year. But could it just be that we are seeing the worse of Kapler here at home at Tropicana Field and he is excelling more on the road?
And wild as that statement might seem in your mind, it has merit people. He is hitting .163 on turf this season, and combine that with his current .150 average at home and you get a generally miserable .118 in the last 30 days for him.
But there might just be a shade of light flickering in the distance showing he can be the producer the Rays sought when they signed him to his $1,000,018 contract this Spring. That odd two digit anomaly at the back end of his contract financial numbers is actually Kapler’s good luck number. But then again, the number “18” in Judaism means “life”. Go figure. In June we are starting to see a trend where his numbers are starting to rise as he is currently hitting at a .222 clip, better that the overall .080 he has against right-handed pitchers this year.
Kapler might not the first person you think of when you think power, or even scoring ability this season for the Rays, but he has been productive wherever he has played in the past. Last season he did post a overall .301 average while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, and we have gotten some good players in the last few years from the Brewers rosters ( Grant Balfour, Gabe Gross). Kapler might not be the best option for the Rays right now in right field based on his average, but he is the kind of guy you want out there to catch that difficult fly ball.
I am opening my eye a bit to the fact he might be a better player than I give him credit for most of the time. Kapler might just end up in a Eric Hinske( 2008) or even a Carlos Pena( 2007) role of being the surprise signing of the spring of 2009. I am going to keep my mind open here for awhile and see what the big guy shows me. But I can guarantee you one thing, you will not see me going against him in a poise down anytime soon.
Gabe Kapler Mini Facts
*** Did you know his middle name was Stefan. Some how that makes sense.
*** If Kapler was not a baseball player he might have dabbled in the culinary arts as a chef. He is very nutrition oriented and might just be on par with Pat Burrell with his cooking skills.
*** He has appeared on several magazine covers including Men’s Workout and Natural Development in the past.
*** He hit his first home run of his career at Tropicana Field while in a Tigers uniform against Albie Lopez on April 30, 1999.
*** Kapler broke up Chris Youngs perfect game with a 8th inning 2-run home run on September 7, 2008.
*** In 2005, he returned to the Red Sox after playing 38 games for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese League.
*** He was put on the DL in 2005 after suffering a season ending injury after rounding second base after Tony Graffanino’s homer and injuring his Achilles’ tendon.
*** In 2004, the Red Sox went 92-44 when he appeared in games for the team and they went 6-20 when he did not play for them.
*** In a game against the Rays in 2000, while with the Texas Rangers, Kapler tore his right quadricep in the game on May 2nd and went on the DL until June 9th of that season.