Results tagged ‘ Scott Cursi ’

Toby Hall’s (Surprise) Retirement Party

It was suppose to be a pairing party in advance of the 2012 Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. It was suppose to be one of those meet and greet opportunities for the duffers to meet other members of their foursome, and also celebrate another awesome tournament. That was the plan Toby Hall had in his mind before he entered the Courtside Grille last night.

Instead it became an impromptu Retirement Party complete with the obligatory pine wooden rocking chair that party invitees were asked to sign and give their well wishes to Hall as he embarks on other adventures in his post MLB life like watching his kids grow up, and devote more time to his charity and other worthwhile endeavors. It was an event I did not want to miss.

There were people coming out of the proverbial woodwork for this honor like former Rays owner Vince Namoli who looked very relaxed and had even lost a few pounds. Former Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez came to the event as well as former Rays Bullpen Coach Glenn Ezell and current Bullpen Catcher/Enforcer Scott Cursi. The showing of support from former players on a night usually reserved for the menial task of assigning pairings was a complete success.

 In the crowd was also former Rays OF Randy Winn, Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher/ Rays Bat boy Jesse Litsch, hurler Boof Bonser and Tampa Bay Bucs Defensive Back Ronde Barber. On the screens around the bar played a photo montage of Hall’s days both at Triple-A Durham, Tampa Bay and his stint with the White Sox. Food was plentiful, drinks were flowing and the room held a great vibe of well wishes and a few well placed cards and present for Hall and his family.

As the pairing were being announced, it was immediately noticeable that this season’s tournament had a few extra Rays names being bellowed out like P David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, SS Reid Brignac, CF B J Upton, RF Matt Joyce along with Rays farm Coach Ozzie Timmons, Jason Michaels and the always entertaining Gregg Zaun. Former Rays RP Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler Andy Sonnanstine, Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks plus that strapping young lad, FSN Florida/Rays traveling ambassador of good times Todd Kalas. The event seems to have exploded this season with the addition of several Rays player who will be first time attendees this year. The show of great support for Hall and his main charity, the Miracle League should make this the best tournament turnout and fundraising in the Toby Hall Foundation’s history.

It was a great time to show our admiration and respect for a player who gave his all for the Rays, and is still considered the best to ever squat behind the plate. Hall may be leaving the game a bit earlier than he expected, or wanted, but his foundation, his children and his wife will be more devoted attention. If Hall takes to his retirement that way he called games and hit at the plate, then he will again be hitting for the fences. Go get ‘em Toby!

Anxiously Awaiting the Rays Report Date

I do not know about you, but the next 14 days will surely seem like trying to get that last drop of molasses out of that stupid bottle. For as the climax and celebration of Super Bowl is finally beginning to get out of our ears and thoughts, now the baseball world begins to get their Spring priorities right and think of the American Pastime. With the last bit of cool crispness in the air, it will be time to pound a few dozen balls into newly oiled mitts and try out a few new pitch variations, and hopeful improvements.

14 days until the Tampa Bay Rays again try to mess up the status quo among the American League East. 14 days until we see what Rays starter Jeff Niemann has up his sleeve to make this team fall in love with him again and possibly jettison another piece of the Rays rotation puzzle to a destination unknown. Or will the magic that Rays rookie Matt Moore displayed in late September and October translate into a slot on the MLB roster, or a few months vacation in Durham until Niemann’s first anticipated soreness issue. This could only start a countdown for Rays SP Wade Davis too as teams are watching his every move as the Rays are surely going to have to make at least 1 painful starting pitching decision before the Rays Opening Day on April 6th.

14 days until we find out if new Rays RP Fernando Rodney will take a moment with Rays starter James Shields and try to get a fresh prospective and grip on his Change-Up. Shields would seem to be the perfect candidate for Rodney to chum up to considering his variable speed pitch is considered one of the best in the majors.

14 days until we see if the off-season was the time needed for Rays leftie J P Howell to again become “the Dude” providing long curves and a renewed vigor and vitality to his fastball, possibly topping 89 MPH by the season’s start. I truly hope and want Howell to have a revitalized Spring, or he might be re-named “ The Dud”. Along with Howell, there is considerable chatter on if the Rays will again hold onto 3 southpaws which could mean a trip to the minors or elsewhere for fellow left-handers Cesar Ramos ( no options) and Jake McGee (1 option).

14 days until we see who out of the Rays young backstop stable of Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos want the Rays back-up gig and produce defensive gems and offensive dreams from a position with loads of talent, but lacking in MLB catching experience. That will also be the moment we see just how much in the gas tank for “the other Molina” Jose. Will he excel at the Rays weak spot in the batting order, or become another Rays casualty destined to watch the young bucks get the starts while he mends.

14 days until we see the sophomore effort of Hellboy take place. Will he again find his demonic rhythm that had everyone in baseball envying the upstart Rays? Can Hellboy improve on his walk to strikeout ratio, and more importantly improve on his ground ball ratio to let his great defense behind him help him gain victories and accolades. Will the young right-hander finally become comfortable in his 3-slot knowing he can be a series exclamation point behind the two top aces, Shields and David Price.

14 days until we see if Price can gain some consistency by not trying to change grips during a game and totally trusting the grips that got him to points in games without diverting from the game plan by toying with his art. 2012 will also be the season where Price can either gain a foothold on immortality by posting numbers worth of his new salary and being that stop gap starter that should be the Opening Day starter and player who can get that needed win.

14 days until we can see if the “B-brothers”, RP Brandon Gomes and ex-Fish Burke Bradenhop can secure roster spots with an impressive Spring. Also on our minds firmly in 14 days will be the talent escalation of the 2 “Alexs”, Cobb and Torres. Each throwing from a different side, but each wanting a roster slot and a chance to show their worth to the Rays this Spring. Coming into the Spring it seems Gomes has a clear shot, but as we all know, things can change before the calendar changes to April. All 4 players mentioned in this paragraph have minor league options, and the Rays could play a game of “mix-and-match” early on during the season with any of the 4 spending time both in St. Petersburg and Durham.

Also firm in the Rays Republic’s mind is the elbow health of Kyle Farnsworth who put up career numbers in 2012, but had a few episodes with soreness that some thought was a pre-cursor to possible Tommy Johns. 14 days the Rays will see if his off-season rehabilitation and strengthening program brought results or more of the same.

I truly think the Rays have aligned themselves with 3 closers now, who could all be used in certain situations and firmly close the door on the opposition. Farnsworth and Rodney might have the early nods, but I truly think Joel Peralta is going to be the thunder under the dome this season. I saw a spark of it late in 2012 when Farnsworth sat due to his soreness, Peralta showed beyond a shadow of a doubt he could inherit or be destined as the Rays closer. I thought he might ascend to that spot in 2011, but in-synch with Farnsy, the two became a consistent 1-2 late inning punch for the Rays.

14 days when I will be personally sad not to see former Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos giving off a loud belly laugh as he heads to the practice fields. It will seem odd, but new Bullpen Savant Stan Boroski not only has the credentials, but the familiarity with this Rays staff moving from his Assistant Pitching Coach role to an on-the-field mentor to the Rays staff.

14 days until we see if young catching prospects Nevin Ashley and Stephen Vogt can turn a few Rays heads, possibly moving their own name up the Rays depth chart with impressive Springs, maybe even outing one of the present favorites for a back-up role. Ashley and Vogt have the offensive chops to be with the Rays, but with the catching corps becoming clouded in 2011 with extra pieces and rehabbing players, they might have slipped out of the Rays minds as future weapons.

14 days until at 10 am the gates open and we embrace “officially the Rays 15th season in the Bigs. 15 years where coming into this point in the season there were tons of questions with few answers. This season there are tons of answers with clarifying questions dotting the landscape…for now. Port Charlotte comes alive when the team get back into town. The sky seems bluer, the air has a nice crispness to it and the grass awaits their footprints. 14 days until we can again firmly boast, and await our 2012 Rays. Look, already 15 minutes closer as you finish reading this post.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Rays Season is Over for Sugar Bear


It just will not have the same vibe or be the same without him down in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Something just seems so wrong about Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos not sitting right in front of the Bullpen enforcer Scott Cursi telling tales to Cursi and Rays Security Guard Grady. The Bullpen has lost its special mojo, it’s worldly moving and grooving to it’s own invisible beat.

I am truly going to miss seeing my baseball buddy Ramos when the Rays come home for their last regular season home stand. It just seems like forever that Ramos again came back into the Rays fold and has stood and talked to me and other Rays fans, but Ramo’s health should be our first concern. For a healthy Ramos is a dancing Ramos, and the “Sugar Bear” has that special Salsa groove going on down there.

Some of the Rays Republic might not have been in tune with the upper respiratory infections and ailments Ramos has been battling for most of the 2011 season. The degree of their severity has made Ramos miss multiple games, and taken him away from the Rays sidelines a few times this season. His ailments have taken Ramos away from the guys he loves hanging around nightly down in the Bullpen, and away from adoring fans who shout out his name at all points in the game.

Gone will be that special impromptu dancing of “the Motorcycle”, vacant from our eyes will be the playful joy and excitement Ramos expelled nightly in his role as the Rays Bullpen Coach. When there was not a Rays reliever warming up on the mound, Ramos held court like no one else. His overly aggressive mannerisms huge laugh and spontaneous motions made every Rays game worth the price of admission for me. I enjoyed every moment of watching, listening and knowing another side of the Sugar Bear.

When the Rays held their recent “Tweet In”, Ramos had just come back off another bit of rest and relaxation for an upper respiratory situation and was feeling not 100%, but more than excited to again patrol the Bullpen Mound. He was anxious to again hold court with Rays fans who always make a pilgrimage to the Rays Bullpen to see him and just chat for a moment. I have come to realize over the last several seasons, Ramos has always been more than just a Coach in the Bullpen, Ramos is that glue that binded this motley crew together.

During the “Tweet In” I sat right between Ramos and Cursi and we talked a bit about the medication mix-up, the nasty bouts of coughing and how Ramos felt an absolute discomfort like one of his players was sitting upon his chest when he laying down at night. Every tales and story told made me want to just put my hand upon Ramo’s barrel chest and purge the demon seed out of him forever.

Over the last few seasons my baseball friends list has dwindled down to a handful, with Ramos and Cursi on the top tier of that list. To me Ramos is the Rays Bullpen. His comedic routines and even his playful catcher’s stances made me smile and chuckle even in the most intense Rays game moments. When the Rays clinched their 2010 American League East title, Ramo came down to the corner with champagne in hand to celebrate with his “other” baseball family. That to me left an impression that will never fade

In the end my baseball friend is one of a small handful of people I have the utmost respect for within this Rays organization. Bright side is that Ramos is getting healthier. I have heard more than once over the past few years that Ramos will be calling it a day and hang up his uniform for good possibly within the next couple of years. I truly hope and pray to every deity in this universe that Ramos come back again, for at least a “Sugar Bear Farewell Tour” in 2012.

Heck, some of the short discussions I had with Ramos down by my seat before games were some of the best in my professional and personal life. So hearing that he is not going to be at the Trop for the season finale, but lounging back in Miami with his family relaxing and resting getting fit and healthy again. I am glad Ramos is recovering. So happy someone finally has pinpointed that dastardly bug or virus that has plagued Ramos for many a Rays road trip, especially when they ventured into cooler climates.

I am saddened that Ramos is miss all this great drama and watching this post season magic unfold from usual Bullpen throne. That text messages, phone calls and a big television screen will be as close as he can get to watching this magical run come to fruition. If the Rays do make the post season it will still hold untold magic for me, but I will miss enjoying it with a friend who has always made sure I was doing fine, and life was treating me right.

I know  right now you are probably relaxing down in Miami, talking with old friends, surrounded by loved ones and just feeling groovy. You know I wish you the best old friend, but the games do not seem the same without your special touches. Get well my baseball friend, the Rays Republic seems smaller without you.

Your Day at the Trop To Drop 140-Characters

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.


2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic

 

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Day 2 of the Charity Week experience. This charity event actually took place last Thursday, but somehow I lost my little camera video card in the movement from the camera to the computer. Now that the day’s photos are safely within the computer, it is time to give you some of the highlights and tales from the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic.

 

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This is my second year volunteering for this golfing event that first started out as a bowling event in Tampa so many years ago. Arrived at the Bayou Club gold clubhouse about 9:45-ish and immediately came face-to face with three off-duty members of the St. Petersburg Police Department. 

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 They were there as special guests of Hall to participate in a fundraising event through their memorial T-shirt benefiting the families of two recently slain SPPD officers. During the charity event, the SPPD representatives set up a tent at the turning point or Hole 9.5 of the course and as the golfing pairs came up to do the putting challenge, they could also purchase T-shirts and speak to the officers( including a K-9 officer) that knew the two officers.

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 When Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder B J Upton’s 5-member pairing came up for the putting contest, Upton took a moment to go over to the SPPD tent and purchased not one, but over a dozen T-shirts, including one for everyone in his pairing group.

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Fellow Rays Fans Wall of Fame member George Stone was on the scene again that day spreading the word about the featured charity of the event, The Miracle League. Some might not know that the Miracle League is a baseball league formed so that children of all ages with special needs and abilities can also enjoy the greatest game on dirt. At one point later in the evening, Stone actually got a verbal commitment from St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to attend the 2011 Opening Day event in St. Petersburg.

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There were plenty of Rays, plus ex-Rays on hand this day helping Hall in his quest to help this great organization. I remember a few years ago when they completely re-constructed the Miracle League field in the Azalea region of St. Petersburg, just down the street from the old Rays Spring Training facility.

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On hand that day supporting Hall’s charity event was Dan Wheeler (Red Sox), Jesse Litsch (Jays), Brian Stokes (Jays).Boof Bonser ( NY Mets), Jason Michaels (Astros), Trever Miller (Cardinals),Ryan Webb (Marlins), Gregg Zaun (Padres), Miguel Cairo (Reds). Bobby Wilson (Angels) and Jorge Cantu (Padres), plus former NBA star Matt Gieger and retired Bucs running back Mike Alstott.

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Representing the Rays was Upton, starter James Shields, RP Andy Sonnanstine, and new RP Adam Russell. Also on hand were a few other well known Rays faces either from the Coaching ranks, or from their on-the-field reporting. Broadcaster Todd Kalas was joined on this day by current Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley and former Rays Coaches Bill Evers ( Durham Bulls), Ozzie Timmons (Columbus Catfish) and former Hitting Coach Steve Henderson. Rays shortstop Reid Brignac was also scheduled to attend, but had an emergency.

 

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I was stationed to begin the day in the registration area handing out specially made Toby Hall caps, visors and rain slickers. But just as it seemed I might have an early end to my day, I volunteered to run the putting contest. It was a great time in which each pairing member got a chance to hit one golf ball into a sectioned off squared area for multiples of points with a maximum of 10 points if you sunk your putt..

 

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You could cut the air with a knife as to the early competitive nature of the event as Cairo was the closest to the hole for most of the day until 5 pairings from the end, the cream began to rise to the putting top of the pot. Local attorney David Papa, who was in the Wilson pairing found the center of the hole to become the first to thrust his team to a sizeable lead. ( total 14 points).

 

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That total seemed safe until one of the last groups, which included LPGA star Brittney Linicome, had their first putting contestant Tim Nalls of American Marketing put in square in the hole. With an immediate 10 points, this team was quickly putting (bad pun) itself into contention for the Putting contest crown.

 

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But suddenly we all noticed that Linicome, who had an early flight out of Orlando in the morning for a LPGA event had left before taking her putting chance. I made an executive putting contest decision to let Nalls put his way to either team victory, or a second place finish. The climatic moment was short lived as Nalls pulled his second try to the right and did not even register a single additional point. I wonder if Linicome would have gotten them that needed 5 points for their victory by putting her golf ball in the inner square within a foot of the hole? We will never know.

 

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But the solace of placing second was definitely short lived by the Linicome pairing as they finished the event with a 52, good enough for the eventual top finish in the tournament and bragging right for the entire year. As the teammates from the Linicome pairing basked in the afterglow and celebrated at the after party at Courtside Grille minus Brittney. The real winner here was the Miracle League.

 

 


I have been proud the last two years of volunteering in this event, and also made a commitment that day to help another event that will be held this Friday. On that day I will be helping out the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament in Oldsmar, Florida. How can I possibly complain, another great day in the Sun with athletes supporting their local charities and spreading the news of this great charitable golfing event.

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I want to remind the Rays Republic that the memorial T-shirts that benefit the families of the two slain SPPD officers will be ongoing in the Tampa Bay community. You can contact, or visit the St. Petersburg Police Department’s lobby to purchase a T-shirt, or contact them about ongoing outside T-shirt opportunities within the community. Please support this worthy charity and remembrance of these Tampa Bay heroes.

 
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Again I want to thank Tracey and her staff plus Toby for the adventures and memories. Believe me, I have more than a few moments to tell people about that would not fit on this post today. But that is the great thing about charity events like this that happen so close to Spring Training. The excitement levels in seeing past friends and the approaching report dates just adds to the zeal and essence of the tournament.

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I am already looking forward to the 2012 event. I want to post a link here for the Miracle League of the Gulf Beaches and hope that all of us can contribute in some way to a great organization that brings the love of the game to some that might not be able to run, hit or even pitch like everyone, but the smile and joy on their faces as they move around the bases makes it so worthwhile.

 

All photos taken at the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic can be found in a photo set on Flickr.com

 

 

 

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Two Sliders of Joy

 

 

Last night I decided to do some channel surfing and came upon a movie on TNT making it’s network debut. The movie was “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as two aging gentlemen who were given only months to live. As I watched this film, it got me eagerly thinking about my own Tampa Bay Rays “Bucket List” and some still unsatisfied opportunistic goals I still want to achieve before I wander away from the Rays community for the last time.

I found one moment in the film kind of poetic in nature when Freeman told the tale of the two questions that what ancient Egyptians were said to encounter upon their deaths as they got closer to the gates of the great beyond. Freeman stated that the first question was, ” Have you had JOY in your life? “. Let’s all Ponder that question in regards to our own baseball lives for a few moments before I continue with the story.

Freeman then told Nicholson the second part of the Egyptian equation, “Did you give JOY in your life? ” Now I am going to answer those two questions in relationship with my Rays lifetime experiences, and hopefully I can some day be admitted past the turnstiles some day in a celestial Rays game. In returning to these events, even within my mind I am hoping the emotions and excitement of those activities do not get the better of me and I begin to wax to poetic like a babbling moron.

 

 
 Did you have JOY in your (Rays) life?
I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single game I have attended since the Rays first pitch on March, 31,1998 to this moment in November , 2010 have brought me a mountain of emotional responses and joy. But there have been a few moments that have definitely been highlighted, or even shine brightly through out that journey. From watching a former Rays baseball friend (Edwin Jackson) throw a No-Hitter against the Rays at home, to seeing a Rays starter (Matt Garza) also enter the No-Hitter club this season with both games viewed from my seat in Tropicana Field is a sparkling moment.

But the true joy I have had in the last 13 years following this team has come from the people I have gotten to know over that period. From the Rays Fan Host who took my ticket on the first day, and who still works with the Rays, to a duo of Rays facility employees who stopped on Roosevelt Blvd and picked me up, then gave me a ride home after the Rays airport experience in October, it has been one glorious rollercoaster ride.

I gotten the chance to watch a single player (Carl Crawford) develop as a Rays prospect, then be promoted to the Major League level and achieve All Star status, before sadly also witnessing his last at bat and time pulling on his Rays uniform during Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series. Been privy to amazing stories and discussion with a host of Rays players past and present who I consider baseball friends. Once even asked Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to be my best man, but then found out my fiancée was a closet pinstripe fan.

Have experienced the joy of catching foul balls during the game. Be granted the opportunity to share precious moments on and off the field with players, coaches and other Rays fans that will always be high on my list of accomplishments of my Rays life. Always been blessed to be around the great Rays fans and friends who made the time and games more memorable and special. Have gained friendships within the Rays front office and with former Rays staffers that will last a lifetime, even if the Rays dreams ends.


 

Can definitely say I have had more than a bucketful of joy in my life when it comes to following, covering and enjoying the Rays. And it might seem funny to write this right now with so much other adventures and events still to unfold that I have not seen, but one moment the 2010 Rays season is definitely shining brighter than the rest right now. It was right after the Rays clinched their 2010 postseason berth that the players began to walk down the First Base line thanking the fans that the moment presented itself.

Again, it was my longest tenured baseball friend with the Rays who again brought an untold amount of joy to me as Cursi appeared between the handshakes with a few Rays players to present me with a full bottle of Domaine ste Michelle champagne for me to enjoy the moment. It is not that Cursi brought me a bottle of adult beverage, but the pure fact that he remembered me with all of this celebration and joyous occasions going on all around us that he thought of me. I then spread the joy of the moment by letting a few of my surrounding Rays friends also taste the nectar of the Gods and also become a part of this joyous moment.


Did you give JOY in your (Rays) life?

I truly hope I did. This is one aspect of that total ancient Egyptian formula that could be more subject to my own stern interpretations of my actions . Hopefully the moments I have taken to field Batting Practice balls and hide them in my backpack to give to kids attending their first baseball game adheres to this provision. That by my relationship with a few of the Rays players, I have given some young Rays fan joy when I stopped them and asked them to either ay “hello” or sign for them as their eye grew bigger.

That the way I have produced facts, figures and vocalized untold stories about this team or even a singled out player has provided an ounce of joy for another fan or even a opponent’s fan who became delighted by the fight and desire of this Rays squad. Sure I have seen the bright smiles and awestruck looks of children when I present them with a ball. Have also seen the same facial expression of people my own age who were attending their first baseball game and I somehow magically procured a game used baseball for them to clutch and remember in the privacy of their own homes and joyous lives.

Or maybe it was the moment I gave a young Rays fan who’s family was moving to Alabama a special going away gift that she would not forget. She was an avid B J Upton fan, so I gave her a game used Rays road jersey autographed by Upton which featured the old “Tampa Bay” emblazoned on the front of the jersey. That way she can never forget where her baseball heart lies… in Tampa Bay.

Hopefully there has been people who have read my passages since September 2007 that has awaken their baseball love, or provided them with a way to relive a moment in words and paragraphs when they could not attend or see the events themselves. And I really hope that a few of the photos taken over the last few years of Rays concerts and game day photos has provided some extra spots of joy or appreciation to someone online who lives far away, or wishes they could have attended the events themselves.

 

Do I truly think I have achieved the two aspects of the Egyptian equation to be considered for entry into the afterlife based on my Rays life? I honestly do not see it as my place to set that bar or even approach that level right now in my Rays life. There is still so much to see and do that could have the scales weighing to and from for a long time until I have to consider this in person before those gates.

 

During a mid-February day back in 2004 I sat nervous and anxious before the voice of the Rays, Dick Crippen announced my name as a inductee to the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame during the Rays Fan Fest. Crippen called out my name and I walked over to be presented my Wall of Fame jersey and trophy and instantly Rays moments began flashing through my head at lightning speed almost making me too dizzy.

They say that karma always is a never ending circle fo events and moments that enter and exit each of our lives. Forver we are in an endless game of flux with the scles always rising or lowering with our actions and reactions. The aspect of having or even giving joy has always had a centerline somewhere within my life, but never as tranfixedand focused as in my Rays life. I guess the Rays knew what they were doing when they named my persona for the Wall of Fame plague. Because even before that Wall of Fame induction moment I always imagined myself as “Mr. Lucky” when it comes to this Rays team.  

 
 

Simple Arithmetic: Jaso + Rays = Success


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The more you watch him play, the more you seem to visualize the hidden persona that is within Tampa Bay Rays rookie catcher John Jaso. There is a cerebral side to him that only a select fraction of friends of Rays fans have ever seen off the field because Jaso is a bit different that the catching norm when it comes to usual physical demands of a Major League catcher. It is common knowledge that to play behind Home Plate and take the constant hammering catcher do on a daily basis from errant breaking balls and foul tips you got to have a few screws loose. But maybe Jaso’s nuts and bolts are tighter than you think.


Here is a rookie ballplayer who is so “green” conscious that several times during the 2010 MLB season he had a friend drop him off at the back gate entrance to Tropicana Field to carpool or save energy. But that isn’t the only quality that makes this young catcher unique. Then again, don’t get caught up in the old analogy that Jaso is one of those enigmas wrapped in a riddle, that usually sits behind the plate for Jaso’s sin or folly is actually that he is just a little more mathematically inclined than most of his catching brethren.

On more than one occasion during his rookie campaign with the Rays, Jaso has vocalized his future aspiration of possibly becoming a mathematics teacher after his playing days are finished. I can easily imagine Jaso walking around a high school or university classroom entrancing his students with his profound joy of analytical equations and formulas and professing to the invisible magic that lives among the numerals that most of us only love to see on our weekly paychecks.

You could easily see someone with the passion and excitement of numbers like Jaso possibly changing many young lives with just a few paragraphs about algorithms. But right now he is trying to change a few lives with his bat and his play behind the plate for the Rays. And it works to Jaso’s advantage that mathematics plays such a central component of his life. The art of catching in the Major Leagues is a position ultimately steeped in game time probabilities and a everlasting sea of predictable percentages.

With Jaso’s ease at taking in large quantities of numbers and simultaneously filtering out the mundane and unusable with quick precision, it will make him more in tune with his game day play calling duties behind the plate. With a razor sharp mind based firmly within the guidelines of logic and statistical reasoning, it makes him a clear asset for the Rays, especially at a key defensive play-calling position like catcher.

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Even on the offensive side of the game Jaso has taken the usual boring pitching charts and reports and deciphered this information to solidify his place on this team as an offensive weapon. For years the Rays have coveted a catcher who could also hit for average and take a patient stance at the plate. Jaso has delivered on both counts and also filled an unusual need for the Rays.
Jaso is not your prototypical MLB lead-off hitter, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon used a few of his own mathematical equations to consider his young catcher for the lead-off spot in the Rays line-up 45 times during 2010 season. To show the rarity of putting a catcher at the top spot, only a pair of fellow backstops Jason Kendall and Rollie Hemsley have graced the top of their team’s line-ups as often as Jaso did in 2010.

Want to put Jaso’s lead-off status into a more funneled down wisp of probabilities and clarity? No other rookie has ever started more games catching and batted lead-off in one season than Jaso. Sure he might have only started 41 times behind the plate and hit lead-off in 2010, but that mark completely destroyed the previous record held by Hall of Famer and former Philadelphia A’s catcher Mickey Cochrane who held the previous mark of hitting in the lead-off spot only 13 times in 1925.

All of this statistical brilliance might not have evolved if Jaso had not had an open mind to change this past Spring in Port Charlotte, Florida. It was during the early stages just after Jaso reported along with the Rays roster of invited pitchers’ and catchers’ that the Rays staff sat down with Jaso and explained that his probable chances of him making and retaining a spot with the Rays unless he devoting some extra time and energy to revamping and reformulating his catching basics behind the plate. Jaso needed to quickly subtract a few bad habits and add a few more wrinkles to his current catching foundation.

With the help of Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos, Jaso began a intense and prolific change to his overall catching style. By infusing a quicker throwing style and more profound blocking techniques, it easily multiplied Jaso’s overall chance to finally aspire to the Major League level. Jaso quickly adapted and performed his changes with precision and became more acquainted to his new stances and throwing motion. Even with his quick renovation to his catching persona, the Rays still had Jaso start the season with the Rays Triple-A club, the Durham Bulls.

But when Shoppach went down with a knee injury, Jaso was quickly recalled from the Bulls on April 13, 2010 and became a key member of the Rays catching equation. Jaso still shows signs of falling back into bad habits behind the plate on breaking pitches in the dirt, or holding onto foul tips. But he showed the initiative of picking the brain of Ramos and Cursi in further developing his overall catching and his ability to show improvements on a daily basis were quickly noticed by Maddon and his Coaching staff.

Since the mathematical classification of statistics seem to be at the true heart of the game of baseball, let’s look at some other of Jaso’s accomplishments that could ultimately make Jaso the first name on the Rays flowchart both in the line-up and behind the plate again in 2011:

*** Jaso’s 59 walks in 2010 led all American League rookies in that category and beat the previous Rays rookie record set by Akinora Iwamura set in 2007 by one lone walk.

*** No one in Major League Baseball had a better walk to strikeout ratio (59-39) than Jaso in his 339 plate appearances.

*** The last American League rookie catcher to finish the season with a OBP ( .372 ) as high as Jaso’s (min 100 games) was New York Yankee great Thurman Munson with a .386 OBP in 1970.

*** Jaso finished in fifth place in the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year voting garnering only a single third place vote. That put him right on the heels of fellow Rays starter Wade Davis who finished in fourth place, but Davis’s tally only included fourth place votes (11).
 

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Mathematics has always been a key component to Jaso’s life off the diamond. And now his love of numbers and probabilities is also starting to help him control his fate on the field. Jaso was a career .291 hitter in the minors for the Rays, and his bat has never been seen as a negative element for him.

Playing the odds and taking calculated risks have come out to his advantage during his rookie season. If Jaso can keep his analytical mind trained on his hitting, and keeps evolving defensively behind the plate, the Rays might have finally found the all around catcher that they have been searching for.

I could see Jaso standing in front of an auditorium or classroom with his trademark post-game Birkenstocks with his excited voice bellowing through the room about the symbolic notations of mathematic principles and the simple origins of numerals. But all that will have to wait as Jaso took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him this last Spring by the Rays to heart to change his catching style.


Maybe Jaso has finally found a feasible conclusion to his personal internal algorithm with a future in the Major Leagues. With more Summers in the Sun predicted for Jaso, it should give him more than ample time to finally come to that long sought after analytical final conclusion that his career in the Major Leagues might just be the best mathematical solution Jaso has ever solved.

John Jaso + Rays =Success.
 
 

My Picks for the Top 20 Rays Photos of 2010, Part 1

 

Most people know I took the blinders off this years and decided to do more photography before , during and after the Tampa Bay Rays game. With the media changing every day, I decided it was better to have a multi-faceted approach than to just sit back and write a blog and hope the someone in the photographer’s well got the same photos.

Being an amateur photographer (but getting better with every shoot), I decided to try and throw together two different posts to include my top 20 photos that I personally took from the Rays 2010 season. Today I am going to include the bottom ten (11-20) of my Top 20 2010 photos. Tomorrow’s post will have my Top 10 overall photos. These photos are not arranged or selected based on just the photo taken. Some have interesting back stories or reasons I feel they are in this top echelon of pictures taken during the 2010 year.

These photos will go from the day that Pitcher’s and Catcher’s reported to Port Charlotte, Florida this season, through Spring Training, and ultimately conclude with a Rays post season airport celebration photo. They will not however be any of the 2010 Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert series photos.

I decided to do another post in the next few days with my top 2 photos from each of the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series concerts that I got to shoot down in front of the stage in 2010.


Considering I have no training or experience before this season taking photo except for a 7th Grade Photo class back at Tyrone Junior High ( they weren’t called Middle Schools then), I think my under 340 dollar old Fuji camera can sometimes get some pretty good shots. That being said, let’s get right to the top numbers 11-20 photos that I picked to include in this end of the season package.

 

Photo # 20 is a crowd photo taken from my seat region during the Rays annual Parks and Recreation Days that can fill Tropicana Field with over 15,000+ children all using the Rays Thunderstix either for crowd noise or for their own personal sword fights. Reason this is one of my favorite photos is the fact this is the day that Royals starter Zack Grienke complained about the “circus atmosphere” within the dome and it was all because of these great kids doing their part all game long.

 

Photo # 19 was taken during one of the St. Petersburg Times Sunday Fun Days when Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey decided to commandeer the Rays mascot Raymond’s All Terrain Vehicle during the Rays pre-game/ Hickey actually rode the ATV around for a few minutes, usually in a circle around Raymond before he got back to his regular Coaching duties before the game. Raymond finally got his ATV back, which he uses to entice the crowd excitement before the beginning of the Rays game, but it was great to see someone get the better of the blue fuzzy one for once.


 

Photo # 18 was taken at Bright House Network Field up in Clearwater, Florida during the Rays versus Phillies Spring Training game. In the photo we see Rays infielder Elliott Johnson chatting with a small ballplayer who just got done throwing a bit of pre-game warm-ups with Johnson for about 10 minutes. I found this photo intriguing knowing that Johnson hold small instruction lessons and camps with kids in the Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina area when he has been up playing with the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls.


 

Photo # 17 was taken during the first day that Pitchers and Catchers’ reported to the Rays Port Charlotte complex back in February 2010. So many people do not get to see this side of Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg as a big a fan as the rest of us. But also, he is always a gracious and hospitable guy who is more than willing to chat baseball or even sign for the Rays faithful fans. I consider Sternberg one of the most accessible owners in baseball, and his Carolina Blue sweater is usually a key element to his game day wardrobe


 

Photo # 16 is a unique photo of Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi putting the finishing touches on an inter-locking ” T B ” logo that the Rays Bullpen put on the back of the Rays Bullpen mound during the 2010 season. Not sure why the symbol did not get adapted or formulated for the Rays main pitching mound in 2010, but possibly it is just a experimental thing being done to see if they can duplicate some of the mound MLB team logo impressions. Like the tell-tale “A” of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.


 

Photo # 15 is special to me because it is the only photo of Rays left-handed reliever J P Howell in his Rays “whites” in 2010. This photo was taken on the Rays Opening Night and was the last time Howell would put on a Rays uniform and stroll down to the Rays Bullpen in 2010. It was a significant loss when Howell went down with shoulder fatigue, and then went under season ending surgery. I have gotten word Howell is doing great in his rehabilitation and should be ready to go in Spring 2011.


 

Photo # 14 was also taken at Bright House Field in Clearwater during the Rays versus Phillies game this Spring. During the middle of the 7th inning after Grant Balfour was done doing his side running in the outfield, he came over and signed for the Rays crowd for a few minutes before popping into the Rays dugout. Always find it interesting and exciting to see the pitchers’ after their outings running on the outfield

Warning track during Spring Training. Wonder if any of them have either been hit by a batted ball, or accidentally became involved with a ball in play?

 

Photo # 13 was taken on the night Rays closer Rafael Soriano set a new Rays save record. Just like thousands of Rays fans, I wanted to know what Soriano writes on the back of the pitching mound so many times during his outings. But it is a Soriano trade secret. I did take a photo however of his cap at one game and finally figured out that he has a bit of a cheat sheet in his cap to help him with hitters he faces on the mound. Going to be hard to find someone to duplicate Soriano’s dominance this season,.


 

Photo # 12 was one of my Zorilla Gorilla photos that I took one Sunday afternoon when the Rays were out of town on a road trip and someone within the Rays front office got me a few of the gorillas’ to put in some unique poses. This photo was taken at Lake Seminole Park in central Pinellas County on a sign by one of their great smaller lakes within the complex. The sign just seemed so perfect. Had a blast that day hitting over a dozen different locales taking photos that I submitted to the Rays.


 

Photo # 11 was taken after one of the many extra innings games by the Rays this season. It was actually a 1-0 win over the New York Yankees thanks to Reid Brignac’s walk-off Home Run. The Rays mascot Raymond always has a few interesting costumes he changes into during the game, but this pajama and nightcap ensemble always gets me laughing. I know that we do not have Spider-Raymond or Rally Raymond costume in-house anymore, but this night time Raymond just needs bunny slippers and it is perfect.

Hope you enjoyed the bottom ten of my Top 20 photos taken during the Rays 2010 season. Do not forget to stop by again tomorrow as I post my personal Top 10 photos that I got to take druing the 2010 season.

Price is simply “Money”

 
 
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I am not sure why it is that in baseball, everyone seems to have to have a nickname. For some ungodly reason they have to have a secondary name plastered to them to solidify their inner baseball being, plus the fact that inside jokes tend to run the gambit here. They can be as simple as a name play on someone’s name, or could be a direct correlation to an event within the sanctum of the baseball society, but everyone has to have that ” alter ego” to play the game.

On the Tampa Bay Rays there is the names like “Big Game” (Shields) or “Zorilla” (Zobrist) and the always cool and sophisticated “‘Los”. I mean every player that is on the Rays roster has some sort of moniker pushed onto them by either the fans, media or even team mate, and eventually it begins to stick and they respond when you callout these names to them. Some take some hard work into the background stories like “Bossman Junior“( Upton) or even “Dirtbag” (Longoria), but after the long search and research about these names, you see a level of respect and admiration thrust upon the names and the players you might not initially thought would be possible.

But then you get the clever ones who partake in a more intellectual attempt at procuring their names to maybe use a dual advantage like Wade Davis acquiring the number 40 jersey so you could use his initials and his jersey number to thrust up a kinship to America’s #1 lubricant ( WD-40). Then for some odd reason names also tend to evolve during a player’s career and get adapted to define a moment or action that characteristic to that player like the “Spitting Cobra” for the persistent spitting of resin from Rays starter Matt Garza’s mouth.

But then there is the opposite effect of some of the shy members of the team that get adopted their natural state of origin like the “Tall Texan” (Niemann). Even the staff have their own nicknames and coy little turn of phrase namesakes like “Sugarbear” (Ramos), the “Professor” (Maddon) or even “The Enforcer” (Cursi). But that is what you expect from a group of people who are around each other for 162 games a year, plus Spring Training, and hopefully a month of great postseason action.

But there is one member of the Rays who has gotten a name attached to them that I do not totally agree with at all. For some reason the media has pushed the “King” label onto this player when a more apt name can be devised and should be attached to his monetary persona. I really think attaching “King” to the front of Rays pitcher David Price’s name is a bit too…simple. And for the sake of argument, Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez had it first, and fit’s the crown more right now.

 

With that in mind, then it is time to furnish Price with a more honorable moniker that fans, media and even his team mates can attached to his game persona and we all begin the long task of making sure it stays firmly on his presence for a long, long time. Most people know about Price’s obsession with the South East Asia delicacy known as Pho`. The body and broth of this amazing soup dish can be complex but simple with the addition or subtraction of its numerous ingredients. I know I heard a long oratory once where Price commented on a Pho` he got while the Rays were in Seattle, and it immediately pushed me towards a Chef and one of his common phrases as the perfect name for Price.


Guy Fieri is the host of the Food Network shows “Guy’s Big Bite“, and the acclaimed series “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” , which I consider one of the best food shows ever to be created…bar none. With that in mind, I think we need to dissect the “King” that so many have attached to Price’s baseball persona and infuse another name that also speaks to one of Fieri’s most astounding phrases. It is a phrase that has taken in by the ethnic disparity of America and has been embraced and nurtured to become a part of our culture all with five little letters.

The Fieri Flavortown dictionary defines this special word as being ” the top, providing a cranial obsessive formulation of superlatives and taste sensations that evoke a phrase of mass ingestion” . This phrase has been known to apply to food, an activity and even a sensual nature comparable to the human form. It is perfect the be reflected as a new Price nickname. And above all, it has a similar correlation to Price’s name that will only grow huge as his career evolves from today.

Ladies and gentleman, boy and girls, I give you my new nickname for the southpaw who has taken us to new pitching heights within the Rays Republic and also strikes a chord with our heartstrings. My new choice for a nickname for man who could possibly be in the running for the 2010 Cy Young Award is…..(drum line music)…..”Money“.

And if you really about it, ever since Price was selected as the First Pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, he has been banking and accumulating interest from fans, players and even small baseball fans into producing a windfall of pitching and inspirational moments. Price has simply been “Money” since the moment he put on a Rays uniform. How easy could this new nickname be adapted to Price as a further illustration to the total effect and admiration and respect the baseball community has for this budding left-handed star.


Nicknames can be a true defining moment into a person’s personality and character. Just because Charlie Brown had a friend named “Pigpen” doesn’t mean he was defined by his surrounding cloud of filth and dirt. He also played a pretty mean third base on Brown’s baseball team. Some nicknames can be attached to a person to denote a negative or subversive memory in our daily consciousness pertaining to that individual.

But for some reason, “Money” just seem to perfectly fir the persona and the perception of Price to me. Money grows in value, has times of influx and change, but always ends up coming out on top. David “Money” Price….A name the entire Rays Republic can bank on to get the Rays through another postseason market of fluxuating circumstances with huge dividends.

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