Results tagged ‘ Scott Cursi ’

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.

Hellickson has the Right Stuff


 
Jeremy Robert Hellickson started his lone walk out of the Tampa Bay Rays dugout at 6:40 pm. Here was an emerging Rays player who on first impression, might look more like a college baseball player than a pitcher about to get his first taste of life at the Major League Level. As Hellickson approached the Tropicana Field outfield, you instantly wanted the lone figure to get larger in stature based on the folk tales and lore that had trickled down from North Carolina, about his pitching.

We all knew the pitching accolades and the praise that proceeded him to Tropicana Field. His 2009 Rays Organizational Pitcher of the Year Award. The same player who won the Bobby Mercer Award as the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 Triple-A Championship. That during the 2010 Spring Training season, Hellickson amazed and tantalized us with visions of a future young Rays pitching staff that could envision all five starters amassing at least 10 wins.

 

It was said that Hellickson’s appearance tonight would be for only one start, and be a chance to benefit the Rays usual five starters by giving them a breather during the Rays current 20 games in 21 days stretch. But in reality it was another short peek at an important piece of the Rays future pitching puzzle. As Hellickson took the Rays Bullpen mound, his first pitch to Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi did not seem to have the force or the “pop” of the usual Major Leaguer. But it was Hellickson’s show now.


Eyes around the stadium began to focus towards the Rays Bullpen. Cameras and fans began to watch Hellickson’s mechanics, his grip on the baseball and especially the increasing speed and force of his pitches as Hellickson moved closer to his first pitch of the night. As his warm-up session progressed, Hellickson’s pitches got sharper, built up speed and right before his final pitch, a small smile appeared on that mound. The last pitch popped the glove of his catcher John Jaso, and you knew Hellickson was more than ready for the job in front of him tonight.

 

In the curve of the Bullpen Café, his cousin Joey Hellickson stood watching Jeremy warm up wearing the same red Team USA jersey that Hellickson’s wore for the 2010 MLB Future’s game in Anaheim, California during the All-Star game festivities. But not only Rays fans were proud to see Hellickson take the mound tonight.

14 members of the Hellickson clan had assembled just beyond the Checker’s Bullpen Café to watch as Jeremy readied for his first night in the Rays spotlight. Winning tonight would do nothing more than show he had the right stuff to be here.

Winning tonight would not garner him another chance to stride the hill this time, but could possibly open more potential chances come September. It was Hellickson’s moment on the mound tonight to finally show and acknowledge that his size and stature were not a measure of the abilities and heart that beat within him.

Hellickson’s performance would show why so many other organizations and scouting agencies coveted his right arm.

 

He showed the brilliance of a veteran pitcher on the mound tonight in taking back with him to Durham, his first Major League win. Over his seven innings last night, Hellickson scattered three hits and two runs to show the Rays ample reason why they have turned down trade after trade for the 22-year old right-hander. . Hellickson’s debut also featured him retiring the first 10 Twins hitters, the first time in five seasons that a American League rookie pitcher had performed the feat.


Sure Hellickson might have given up a Home Run to Jason Kubel in the sixth inning, but after that blast he retired the next five Twins hitters before Rays reliever Chad Qualls came on in the eighth inning. After his customary beer shower to celebrate his victory in his Major League debut, it was learned that the New York Yankees had lost their home game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Not only could Hellickson celebrate his win, but he also gave his Rays teammates the gift of again regaining at least a tie in the American League East.
Even with his win tonight Hellickson will again pack his gear and board a plane in the morning to rejoin his Durham Bulls team on the road in Indianapolis, Indiana.

 
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Hellickson will not leave the Rays Clubhouse tonight as the same player. He is now has confidently made his first appearance at the Major League level and gave his future fans cause to wait in anticipation for his return.

Hellickson has shown the Rays front office and staff that he is capable and ready to take the next step and contribute with confidence the next time the Rays call for his services. Hellickson gave all of us Rays fans just enough of a tasty pitching morsel last night that we are already salivating and anticipating his return again in the Rays uniform.

New Tampa Bay Tradition Forming


 

I am someone who believes a lot in solid and confidence building game day traditions. It must have materialized in my mindset during my sports days. But all through my adult life, I have also had my own little traditions or superstitious Rays game day moments.

I still twill my Rays cap after the daily singing of the “National Anthem” ( even at home), and throw a post-game salute to Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi as he leaves the bench area. Been doing both of these Rays game day actions for years, and for some reason I do not want to test patience of the Baseball Gods.


It was really great to see that the Rays Bullpen members also began to establish another great Rays tradition or superstition during this recent home stand. I am not talking about the daily landscaping of David Price’s bobblehead on the Rightfield wall by Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine. I am talking about the new inclusion of a Rays “T B ” logo symbol in the back of the Rays Bullpen mound.

 

For the past few days, different members of the Rays crew in the Bullpen have been experimenting with the shape of the Rays ” T B ” symbol and finally last night, Rays reliever Lance Cormier brought out an actual instrument to help bring perfect uniformity and consistency to the daily design. By having someone simply manufacture an outline of the “T B ” symbol in plywood, the Rays Bullpen can now reproduce the “T B” with a constant flair and consistent design daily.


The new wooden frame will provide a accurate sense of uniformity to the symbol every game, plus I would not be surprised if we see the same symbol materialize soon on the Rays actual pitching mound. Rays Ground Guru Dan Moeller was over at the Rays Bullpen mound following Thursday night’s contest taking a few digital shots of the Rays Bullpen’s artistic endeavors. Other Major League Baseball teams imprint their team’s logos into soft clay surrounding the back ends of the pitching mound, and soon maybe the Rays be the next team to also use this great visual symbol to their advantage.

 

It is just another great example of the Rays establishing another Rays tradition by possibly using the symbol for all home games in their pitching mound preparation, both on the field, and in the Bullpen. But I suspect that the “T B ” symbol is far from being perfected yet. Last night, Cormier added a little water to the clay surface to bring out a darker tone to the clay and emphasize the “T B ” symbol in a darker tone to off set the reddish-brown color of the clay.


It did tend to pop out a bit more, but I suspect they might do a bit of experimentation. There could be a small dab of rosin or maybe even chalk added to the design to bring out a more robust and instantly recognizable symbol on the pitching mounds. Symbolism on our sports fields have been around for a long time. And with other MLB teams also expanding the envelope of including their own team’s logo impressions on their field surfaces, it is reasonable to think the Rays might be the next to tackle this manner on their own pitching surfaces.

 

Symbolism has long been used in the past to denote pride, courage and ownership. Soon, with the inclusion of this same ” T B “symbol on the Rays mounds, the Rays can take another step in showing their dominance and intensity on their home grounds too.

 

 

Another Skill Added to Sean Rodriguez’s MLB Resume`

 
 
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You always hear about a player’s character and their ability to do some interesting things when they are traded to you team, and before tonight I was buying most of the selling that the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays were saying about their “Zorilla-in-Training” Sean Rodriguez. During this year’s Spring Training he did everything but set out the buffet sterno’s and check in the daily Fed Ex packages. He proved to me that he was going to be on my closely watched list this entire season to see if he deserved such acclaim early in 2010.


But I have to tell you Rays Republic, right after Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro got an early shower and unexpected snack time after serving up a few choice four-letter words while eagerly discussing the merits of a consistent strike zone with Home Plate Umpire Dan Bellino, seeing Rodriguez jog down to the Rays Bullpen, I knew the Rays had bagged a winner in the Scott Kazmir trade.

For as the Rays were adamantly searching for back-up catcher John Jaso, who was in the Rightfield bathroom region and was detained for a few minutes, Rodriguez almost looked like he was going to get some wild initiation time behind the plate during a Major League Baseball game. But it was kind of funny how Rodriguez initially came down to the Rays Bullpen with just a smile and no shin guards or even a chest protector, but within a short time and maybe a few favors in the future for Navarro, he came back out to the Bullpen area and began to stretch and go over some “crouch” exercises with Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos.

 
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And when Rays reliever Lance Cormier was getting warmed up to come into tonight’s game, it was Rodriguez who was situated behind the painted home plate dish on the Tropicana Field’s turf. With Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi by his left shoulder, Rodriguez did an excellent job getting Cormier ready for his outing tonight, and I was further intrigued by this guy who is doing everything and anything to get playing time this season for the Rays. I mean most people might not have known that he is the Rays third catcher option if something should happen to Navarro and Jaso in a contest, and I feel a bit more secure after watching that Bullpen warm up session.


Now that is not to mean I hope or wish to see him out there in anything but an emergency role, but it is a great feeling to see him eagerly get the equipment and take the responsibility head-on and force his way into the game situational scheme of things tonight as a precaution. I have heard from people in the Rays organization that it has been a good amount of time since Rodriguez had donned the catching gear, but I got to tell you, he looked more than capable as he threw the ball to Cormier and did not under or overthrow the ball once.

And some people might think this is a little thing, but sometimes those little things can build not only a player’s confidence in his abilities all over the field, but can transcend into his hitting as he begins to feel like a total member of this Rays team. We have seen Rodriguez this season playing Second Base, Centerfield as a late inning substitute in Chicago for B J Upton, and as a great pinch hitting option already in 2010. He is truly beginning to make people think that the Rays might have found another multifaceted asset that could play any of the eight field positions on the field for the Rays with ease and comfort.

 
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Rodriguez might never have to truly don the catcher’s gear and get behind the plate for real in 2010, but now I know I can trust the judgment of Rays Manager Joe Maddon if he was to position him behind the dish in a lop-sided game, or with a great lead. It might be the next step for Rodriguez’s maturation process to add another glove and equipment to his Major League Baseball resume`, and it would not surprise me in the least if he excelled at catching too.

I just want to say “Bravo” to Rodriguez and hope he knows that by showing that eagerness to learn and to thrust himself into the fire tonight he is gaining more and more of a place in my Rays subconscious as our next evolution of Ben Zobrist.

But the funny thing is that within the next three or four years we might be talking about someone like Rays prospects currently Tim Beckham or even Matt Hall as the “next Rodriguez”…. And that is a great compliment, with or without catching gear in your locker.

 

Rays Pitchers & Catchers Report…2010 Edition

 


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**** Within the next few days I will post a extended Photo blog of the pictures I took today after the Rays Fan fest tomorrow afternoon.


I could not sleep a wink last night and thank goodness AMC had a pretty good movie lineup until 6 am this morning. This felt like the first time I ever suited up for a baseball game. I had the butterflies early today and mixed with the anticipated assembly again with Tampa Bay Rays baseball players who I consider “baseball buddies”. And the long hours leading up to this special moment of the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting for 2010 more than lived up to all the previous night’s hype and anxiety.

Sure you would think the hour and a half drive down to Port Charlotte from the shadow of Tropicana Field would seem to take forever as the sun began to rise in the East, but the reality was it seemed to furiously fly by with only the time staring to ebb slower as I began to wait first in line this morning to get into the Charlotte County Sports Park and “officially” begin my 2010 Rays experience. And it was great to not have the over indulgence of the Mosaic Corporation’s name attached to signage surrounding the complex today. And as I was standing there as the Rays media members began to assemble, some just passed by, while others acknowledged me standing their in my Pepsi sweatshirt as I battled the 56 degree weather.

And while I was standing there, a wild figure in pink sweatpants, barefoot and a huge poof of hair began to walk up to the security checkpoint carrying his baseball gear in a Army green dufflebag. He had come to make the team, and Edgar Gonzalez was not going to take “no” for an answer. Sure he might not have had great baseball experience only playing Marine Corp baseball, but decked there in his USF baseball jersey ( but did not play at all for USF), he was energetic and wanting an audition today for a possible slot on the Rays.

 
 

And two assembled security guards were business like and totally professional as they tried to point him towards Tropicana Field and the Rays Front Office to arrange an “official arrival” or even a slot to participate when the minor league camp came in next week. But Gonzalez was persistent and totally seemed to have his wits about him, until he began to unravel his story into a million pieces by saying he was trying to hold correspondence with U.S. President Obama and the world leaders on the curing properties of baseball. So as Gonzalez began to fade to black in the minds of the security force, he was advised to “put shoes on, or vacate the property as a safety precaution”.

 
 
 

Just then, you could see the color drain from Gonzalez’s face and he knew instantly that he had blown his scheme to try and infiltrate the Rays first 2010 workout. But I do commend the security force for doing it with grace, class and not singling him out and making the situation difficult. So as he turned away he said he would rehash it out up in “Tampa” with the Rays officials and be back another day to formally take the field. Well, Edgar Gonzalez, I wish you luck, and I hope you do get that shot, but since you have, by your own admission, never faced a 90+ mph fastball or seen a slider in your life, the audition might last the $ 2 it costs to run the Batting Cage machine at the Mini Golf complex down the street.
 

 

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But as 10 pm came, I strutted in first in the line and was handed a Dioner Navarro and Matt Garza bobble heads and a great present of a Rays Spring roster cardboard placard that listed each invited Rays ” guest” to the 2010 Spring Training complete with the final statistics including every stop during 2009. I scanned up and down it a few time to see the names and former 2009 teams illustrated and saw a few extremely interesting names. Names like Mike Ekstrom who was claimed off waivers by the Rays this off season from the San Diego Padres , or former Ranger pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who might push some pressure on the Rays Bullpen spots, or Joe Dillionaire” Dillon who might push for a bench spot on the team and be an adequate third catching option on the Major League roster because of his versatility.
 

 
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As the guy all assembled around Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his first inspirational speech for 2010, and the brief speeches and chats by Jeff “Ziggy” Zigler, who is the Rays Traveling Secretary, the team got into stretching and began long toss to get their arms stretched out for the first time in 2010 in front of a live audience. Rays starter Matt Garza and Rays Bullpen reliever Lance Cormier put on the show of the day easily topping 200+ feet in their long toss segment before the squad split into three groups and began to start drills on retrieving the ball in front of the mound and doing basic drills like covering first base on a bunt or even shot towards the hole at first base.
 
 

And on another part of the field, the Rays field players were beginning their daily workouts in the batting cages under the watchful eyes of spectators and autograph hounds. Gabe Kapler, Jason Bartlett and a bulkier-looking Rays prospect shortstop Tim Beckham all took their swipes in the cage today before taking time out to sign for some of the fans and expressed excitement in returning to Tropicana Field tomorrow for the 2010 Rays Fan Fest. I took this time to chat a bit with Rays Communication Manager Carmen Molina and St Petersburg Times Rays writer Marc Topkin about the season and to see if I could get a few tidbits.

 

 
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But I was lucky enough to be within a good earshot of the conversation by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to the assembled media when he began to discuss the Rays payroll, keeping Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and the possible Rays stadium pot that is beginning to boil. He was his usual self showing total commitment to the St. Petersburg market place the team is currently in, but stressed the stadium will not be adequate up until the 2026 lease expiration date. Standing their in his own “Rays Sky Blue” sweatshirt he spoke for about 15 minutes answering volleys at him and providing in depth, complex answers that more than fulfilled the questions thrown at him on the fly. P. T. Barnum would have been proud.
 
 

And as the players began to split into their respective groups for their day ending run in the western-most field’s outfield, several players like J P Howell, Jeff Neiman and Rays prospect Jake McGee sprinted to the Rays clubhouse and shed their sweatshirts and came out again to do their running before taking time to chat and sign for fans before leaving for the day. I had a chance to talk to Howell, and his eyes lit up when I asked about his off season trip to Bora Bora for his honeymoon, or when I asked if we could do an interview sometimes during Spring Training about it.

 
 

And as I was asking that, Grant Balfour slapped me on the back asking if I was keeping my same seat. I quickly told him I was, and told him he better keep his same seat also ( on the Rays Bullpen bench) for 2010. He just smiled from ear-to-ear and told me he was going to do everything possible to stay put. Or when Randy Choate came up with his new facial chin hair and asked why I did not yell “Randy” when he saw me. And I began to tear up a bit. This is hard to explain, but over the past three years while I have been battling employment issues, these guys have been the solid foundation and the people I made sure to say something to before, or during every single Rays game.

 

 
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So today was special to me in a different way than most of the people assembled to welcome the Rays back from cold Winter snow-scapes, or even trips abroad with their new loved ones, this is my personal rite of Spring passage. Baseball is back, but better yet for me, Rays baseball is back. Even as I stood there talking with baseball buddy’s Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos or Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, I could feel that inner fire kicking up again and was eager for the upcoming season.
 
 

Maddon did not bring out any mathematical equations this season, but offered confidence and a yearning to remember those steps made in 2008 to again get back to that ” special place”. For the Rays to revisit their 2008 roots, it will take sweat, blood and commitment by each and ever member of their 2010 roster. In the next month and a half guys will come and go from the Rays clubhouse either to the minor league camps, or even towards other opportunities in baseball, but Maddon stressed that they had to regain that passion, had to redefine and re-energize to again do things “The Rays Way”, and make those steps to again claim a top spot not only in the American League, but in their ever present difficult Eastern division. But for today, it was just great to see my buddies again.

 
 

Post Golf Classic Times at the Courtside Grille


               
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I stood there at 6 pm just chuckling while viewing one of the wildest sights of my life just coming into focus from the golf course. I had just gotten back  to the Bayou Club clubhouse area after going over to the post-celebration hot spot, the Courtside Grille, to help set-up some of the preparations for that nights Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic awards presentation and silent auction event. And coming into focus was the wild pack of fastly approaching golf carts screaming at full speed towards our tiny segment of concrete at the final Check-In point.

It looked  more like a massive invasion of dark polo shirted special ops guys, minus the face paint, who had taken off just six hours earlier from this very spot. Between that moment there were chances to win a 2-year FREE lease on a brand new Range Rover with a Hole-in-One on the 16th hole, or a prize by winning the Closest To The Pin ball placement on Hole # 3.

And there was the extra bonus holes of beverage offerings and samples to mix with great conversation and tales of mishaps and great shots upon the golf course that afternoon.

But now just around the bend from the putting green, I could see a few golf carts playing an impromptu game of cart tag, but the mad adventure ended up with laughs and fond memories and no injuries or carts accidently finding the water or a sandtraps during a great day of golf.

I heard a great tale about how Murph, who most Rays fans know as one of the head security guys at Rays games trying to hit a ball off the edge of a sandtrap and ending up rolling head over heels into the sandtrap with the ball a few feet away.

Or of Classic golfer who had a set of furry golf club tops that looked exactly like the gopher from “Caddyshack” and also carried with him on the course an animated plastic Carl the Greenskeeper statue that played snippets and lines from the movie. And during this Scramble event, he was known to hit the red button and send a loud vocal message like “It in the hole!” just as his fellow pairing members were beginning their backswing or even putting.

I heard about a multitude of shots slicing or hooking with the impromptu wind gusts, but was glad to learn that there were no broken windows or extreme shots near pools or trees lining the golf course.

Instead I heard the echoes of plans and pleas to their fellow golfers’ to come out to the Courtside Grille for some 19th hole post-event fun and relive the great golf stories told by the other pairings in the tourney. I was standing at the epicenter of the conclusion of the physical part of the Toby Hall & Friend Golf Classic, and within thirty minutes, this same group of golfers would again converge and reconnect with a celebration of the day, and a fond rememberance of the windy drives, missed shots or unexpected birdie putts.
 

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There were pleads to some golfers to come out and have fun for a few hours, and others who eventually caved in and put on the red wristband and showed up to actually enjoy themselves laughing and conversing with the crowds at Courtside Grille. And for me it was another amazing chapter to this ever unfolding day.

I talked a bit with Matt Gieger, the former NBA star and one of the owners of the Courtside Grille, and he even remembered meeting me a long time ago when I was a Evening Independent Sports Correspondent doing High School Basketball games, including interviewing him  after a game at Countryside High School.

This golf classic provided me with an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend who I used to sit with in the Checker’s Bullpen Cafe for years shagging B P foul balls and actual Rays game balls. Keith and his girlfriend Rose actually introduced me to Tovy Hall for the first time. Keith was even featured as a caddy during a Rays commercial segment featuring Rocco Baldelli and the Happy Heckler a few years ago.

I learned that night that Rose’s son, Tommy will be working with Guy Gallagher in the Visitor’s Clubhouse at the Trop. during 2010, which should be an amazing opportunity for him to gain some valuable experience as he goes on to pursue a possible career in Sports Medicine.


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We reconnected while waiting for the Golf Classic to begin in the clubhouse, and he called another mutual friend of ours, Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, who was now sporting some new chin hairs up to Courtside Grille for some of the post event fun. Cursi told me about his recent wedding and honeymoon down in the Carribean and how amazingly warm and a perfect setting to get away from baseball and the cold streak Florida was hit with back in early December 2009.

Got a chance to talk with Rays reliever Dan Wheeler about his 2-week vacation to Italy this off season and how it was an experience beyond words and the ultimate trip of his life. Got another opportunity to chat with ex-Rays fan favorite Jorge Cantu, who just got a nice raise from the Marlins about his excitement over his team’s chances and that he should be with the then Miami Marlins when they play their first game in that new retractable roof stadium and finally put an end to those dastardly rain delays that had become commonplace in past Marlins contests.

I talked a bit about the city of Seattle with new Mariner’s First Baseman Casey Kotchman who was traded to Seattle this off season and is really looking forward to playing in Safeco Field because of his past success playing in that stadium. We also chatted about his time in Boston and playing in historic Fenway Park before getting back to the wide variety of dining options in Seattle like the Metropolitan Grille, the great abundance of fresh seafood,or a simple late night breakfast adventure at Beth’s Cafe.

And with our talk, I began to miss these types of events and the great times associated with them that I  sometimes used to frown upon in my football past.

I had a few years of doing a lot of charity fundraising activities when I was playing football, but I was not an avid golfer beyond a little putt-putt, and that put a crimp in the  social fabric of spending times like these with some of my fellow players back in the late 80′s and 90′s.

But I still contributed to events and went to other events featuring billards or bowling tourneys. But now I really regret becoming distant and unattached over the last several years and missing the great times playing or even attending fundraising tournaments set-up by fellow players for their charities or foundations.

The night was filled with great moments like the announcement that boxer Winky Wright and Jorge Cantu’s pairings won First Place in their respective golf flights at the days event. With both groups hooping and hollering for a re-match between the two pairings for total supermacy. 

After the presentation, it was onto the fun business of an vocal auction for a pair of celebrity-signed Cornhole boards made just for the Golf Classic. I got to admit, I had never seen these types of boards up close before today, but I am going to figure out how to construct a pair of my own very soon.

If you have not seen them, they are a set of two wooden  rectangles with a circle cut out in them for a beanbag to fall through. I had seen them on television at Ohio State and Gator tailgating parties before games, but had never been brought into “the culture”  of the Cornboard before that night.


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 Toby Hall served as the Master of Ceremonies and Auctioneer, and he began first by thanking everyone involved in the Golf classic and gave out the plaques to the Golf Classic winners. Then began the bidding auction of a Cornhole board set. Each board piece had the identical signature of every celebrity participants of the golfing event in black Sharpie upon its flat surface. The bidding started at $ 250., but quickly rose higher and higher as the adrenaline began to build in the room.

There was one guy, who was a member of one of the pairings basically bidding against one athlete on the other side of the bar wanting that signed Cornhole treasure. Back and forth they both went until finally at that golden $ 500. threshold, the bidding quickly ended, and the excited winner bounced triumphantly up to claim his new prize.

The funniest part of it all is that his wife was more excited than he was to win it, and was screaming and jumping up and down kissing the board and him simultaniously as he paid for the item. I actually did bid on one of the silent auction items, a set of GH Mumm’s champagne glasses that would go great with my signed 2008 Rays Playoff signed champagne bottle. Sure I got something that will add to my  ever-expanding clutter of Rays stuff, but I also wanted to somehow give something back after spending such a great day with some great athletes.

The true winner of the night was the Miracle League of Florida who got the proceeds of this Golf Classic to help build a state-of-the-art field in Hillsborough County. I learned that night that there are currently 100 Miracle League fields completed in the United States, and another 100 are currently under construction and the league now serves over 80,000 chldren and young adults with disabilities a chance to enjoy the game of baseball.

And the Miracle League has a awesome overall goal of establishing 500 fields and expanding to help over 1.3 million  league members around the world enjoy  the thrill of baseball and some physical interaction with fellow players. I love their organization’s motto: “Every Child Derseves A Chance to Play Baseball”.


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As the night drew to a close, the same wild man who had been such a whirlwind of activity on the golf course had some how commandeered the use of a digital camera and was taking expose’ photos of the crowd of guests lining the bar area and the surrounding tables. With his vocal pleas of “Work it girl” or “Show me sassy” he brought the event back to an instant state of reality that we were celebrating a fantastic day and forming some great memories to tell again and again during the season.

But it will be moments like this being told in clubhouses all over MLB that will garner extra exposure and attention to the Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic and hopefully lead to expanding the field in the coming years. The players going back to their respective teams talking about this event will bring it to gain more prestige in the coming years.

I want to thank Toby Hall and Tracey Ringstaff for letting me get close with some old friends and helping out during this great event. I truly forged some great memories that day/night. I  learned after I got home about Hall’s deal with Texas, but I know he would rather remember that night as a celebration for the Miracle League, and not about his Rangers signing.

Showing local support for the charities/foundations of our athletes is very important in this time of economic struggles. The usual revenue resources have begun to stretch extremely thin and the numbers and amounts of contributions some times trickle down slower and prolong the goals of these events. but events like this Golf Classic help re-establish a network of helping other organizations and leagues within our local communities. 

                              
                                   
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I ask only of you that the next time you come to a baseball game and a group of anxious kids in baseball jerseys asks for a single dollar donation, please give to them so they can enjoy playing this great game. So you might have to drink a medium instead of a large drink…It is no biggie, but to that group of kids, it could be the difference in going to an out-of-state baseball tournament or staying home and missing out on a lifetime adventure, or a character building moment…..

I guess the Toby Hall Golf Classic got me to remember that even a small amount of time volunteering, or even change from my car ashtray can build to fulfilling dreams and goals…. and that might be the best treasured moment from this event for me.

Credible Blogging begins with Leg Work

 

I remember back during my Mass Communication class in High School when my school newspaper advisor told us during a class lecture that at some time in our writing future, the subject of naming or not naming your “sources” for stories would turn our journalistic integrity into a slippery slope towards the negative, and the background work of our judgments to name or not name a source would play directly on our credibility as writers. Journalist have gone to prison and even been banished as if they had the Black Plague for misinformation and dishonesty in their writings.

And that simple premise of “watching your back” seems to make a lot of sense in today’s fast paced, electronic world of libel and slander where even a tongue-in-cheek reference can land you deep within a mountain of litigation, and then quickly, you and your writing integrity  could be sent sliding down the dark side like a mudslide even if you are totally right. Because that is essence of the culture today.  Injury someone emotionally or physically and some of the first words out of the mouth of the general public is “I will sue you!”. 

So dotting your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s” takes on a bigger role in the 5-second media world we have today. This weekend I was reading a very sordid and tangled web of “sources” and “unnamed sources” in a small series of blog postings by the New York Baseball Digest blog posting by Mike Silva. And while I was reading this account out of the New York area, that class discussion over 32 years ago  about sources came quickly to mind.

I was brought up on the old A P style book of journalism. Heck, back then it was the bible every Evening Independent Sports Correspondent and staffers used as a foundation for our story stylings.  And it suddenly came to my mind the old teaching of where if you make a statement associated with a source without credible sources or information, your stories foundation might crumble and not withstand a storm of controversy. 

One of the first thing I remember being taught was the fact that when you name sources or people with knowledge of an event, it is in your best interest to have two solid forms of evidence or information before even quoting one of them in your story. The reasoning for this method is to give your information a solid foundation so if you are questioned or receive a nice little legal writ, you have a secondary source that adds to your credibility on the subject matter.

Accuracy and credibility are the two of the founding cornerstones of retaining a loyal band of readers online. If they can get a sense of trusting your writings as the truth, then you gain readers and hopefully more web views of your postings. And maybe that is why it is so upsetting when I see a blog with half-baked writing principles and mis-guided information you know are half-truths at best.

Most of this simple misguided energy can be corrected with a simple credible source for your information. Some guy named “Joe Schmoe” who tended bar in such and such a club and overheard a conversation by player “A” and “B” about an event or something in regards to the Rays is considered “hearsay” at best unless you have a second person who heard or saw the same event.


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An great example of the right way to document and solidify your sources was with the rumor I heard from a Rays player about the Tampa Bay Rays using their old 1998-99 Devilrays multi-colored logo jerseys during the Sunday July 12th afternoon game against the Oakland Athletics. I first heard a hint of this rumor back in late May 2009 by a player after a game, and I decided to dig a bit deeper into it before bringing it out into the light. Just because I now had one source doesn’t make the rumor a “truth” yet.

I first got a confirmation from a member of the Rays  field staff and another player as an additional source, but decided it might not be good to use them as my source. I do not like to use players as sources of information because they could decide to “clam up” and I might not ever hear another good morsel of information to track down. So I contacted someone within the Rays front office who deals directly with marketing and promotions and asked them to simply confirm or deny the spreading rumor. As soon as he  got back to me, that rumor quickly transformed into a fact, and I posted a Tweet about the upcoming event.


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And because I had more than two sources to verify the possibility of the old “Rainbow Devilrays” uniforms were going to make an appearance again in that July contest. This in-depth  fact checking into the rumor gave me credibility about the event. And that is the one thing most people forget when they write online. Sure I can say almost anything about anyone on the team and maybe no one will call BS on me, but that is not the issue. Staying within the truths and admonishing the lies is the job of publications like the National Enquirer or Star Magazine, not the general blogging public.

If NYBD want to idolize those publications and style themselves in that realm of journalism, then go for it. But they have to be reminded that there are hundreds of websites like that all jockeying for the same morsels of media fodder. With every slight of hand missed fact and negative comment posted, the negative mountain is building around them. I know I would rather be the guy who will give his honest opinion and facts about an event, and I do shy from some of the “hot topic” stories around the league at time because I do not want to be 1 of the 2,000 people writing about the same thing day in, and day out.

We hear almost daily about some blogger somewhere who has given “fake” or mis-guided information and it in turn tends to affect all of our credibilities. But that doesn’t mean the “mainstream media” always follows the Golden Rule either. With the advent of sites like Twitter and the other social networks, fans can get  a snippet of information in the flash of a camera bulb and minutes before the “paid” media.

And that can be a slap in their faces at times. I posted a Twitpic of Pat Burrell’s new 70′s butch mustache during the 2009 season and also few “first” pictures of new Rays reliever, Jeff Bennett before the local media even reported it online. Here I am an unpaid and unsolicited fan got the scoop.


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NYBD  made some critical errors when they did not get secondary sources checks on their quotes and information before posting it. Sometimes it is difficult to get that information, but if you can not prove it is 100
% true
, then it is a rumor. Blogs take a beating every day from the Media sources throughout the country as being slanderous and libel within an inch of their collective lives. For us to gain the credibility and the trust of the readers, we sometimes have to take it a notch above and sweat a little more for our information.
Anyone can write a rumor.

Anyone can create a mis-truth and start to perpetuate a lie. But if you really want to be known for your writings, do the leg work, strain the eyes to see beyond the words and ask the simple questions. Some times, the answers you get from a source can make your day. Other times it can disappoint and frustrate you. But every once in a while you get a tasty morsel and you do the work and build it into a credible masterpiece and then you can bask in the limelight and know you did it right……..the first time.

Rays Players Off Season Plans

 

Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.

And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.

So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.

It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.

A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009.  It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.

I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to  have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we  also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay. 

Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.

Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally  just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful  European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.

I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!).  Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.

But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some  of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.

Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist.  This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet. 

But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just  wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves.. 

While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life. 

Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there  to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go  duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.

You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.

There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time  during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.  

But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a  hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.

Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.

But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.

And  a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.

So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!

 

Cursi gets ready for All Star game action

 

                   
                     RHaggerty@Flickr.com

Those people who know me in the Trop know I have a good baseball relationship with one of the members of the Rays staff. I would like to think I have a good rapport with several people, but you never really know what is said off the field. Anyways, I have had a post-game gesture with this person since 2001, and I have never tried to revert or change that routine for the fear of breaking a superstition. It is more me than him, but I truly look forward to it right after each third out in victory or in defeat. It is a simple gesture, but it is a bond I have with him  in my baseball world.

It is a simple hand salute off the baseball cap, but it has symbolism beyond just the motion to me. I met this guy back in 2001 when I was sitting the the Bullpen Cafe ( before Checkers bought the rights) and he used to always come over before the games to chat with myself and a good friend. I got to know this guy pretty well beyond the foul lines on the diamond, and also had on a few occasions had the chance to meet him over at Ferg’s with others for a post-game brew and some chatter. It was a special time for me because he was living the dream. He was on the field. It did not matter to me that ex-Ray Toby Hall or Greg Vaughn was standing right next to me up in the upstairs bar at Ferg’s run by former Rays Tony Saunders. Those were the simple times with Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi  and they have been amazing.

I have gone on road trips following the teams in recent years and Cursi and Chico Fernandez, the Rays Video Coordinator have always welcomed me into their post-game events and we have spent some good times in other cities. Places like Cleveland where we went after a game into the Warehouse District and did the usual pub crawls checking out the nightlife and the local club scene. Or maybe it was a great atmosphere of Swannee’s in Seattle when I went a few years ago and he told me of prior years when Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff were in this same small bar drinking  a few beverages and there with the fans.  I just wanted to give you guys another side of the guy former Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane called “The Enforcer.”


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So when Cursi came over the other day before the game and we chatted for a bit I told him I was upset for finding out that he was getting married in December by seeing it in the Rays 2009 Media Guide. But what he told me next was exciting, even bigger to me than the fact he and Stephanie were going to tie the knot on the beach. Cursi sat there and told me he was going to get a chance to maybe catch during the 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby. I was not totally surprised since I knew he was going to be at the All-Star game in the Bullpen anyways as a member of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s staff. But the added thrill of seeing Scott catch with the world watching him was simply amazing.

But in the last week there might be a small problem here with Cursi even catching in the Home Run Derby. You see, Evan Longoria can bring along his own pitcher for the event, and Cursi is one of the staff who almost daily throws Batting Practice to the Rays players. In such, you would think he would want a Rays staffer, since they are already there for the All Star game to throw to him. But there is a simple answer.

He could ask Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to throw to him with Cursi catching and all will be great in Happy Valley. But I am not sure if Hickey will want to do that on such a large stage. Not that he doesn’t have the chops or the pitching ability ( he does), but the fact si he might be concentrating on the All Star pitching staff during that first day. But it would be a simple resolution to the problem, and would bring about a unique angle to the game.

But to even throw more cold water on either idea is the fact that Longoria, who was imformed by MLB he was the highest vote getter in the American League to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, might bow out of the competition to save his ailing hamstring. With the health concern, that is a good idea for Longo, but hopefully he is not pulling out after a poor showing
in the 2008 Home Run Derby. Maybe teammate Ben Zobrist could take his spot?  I wonder, have there ever been any switch-hitting home runs hit during the Home Run Derby? I will check on it and let you know the answer…..

It almost makes me want to find some way financially to make it to the game and see it in person. I do not want an outfield seat, but just something near the field so I could yell out to Cursi before he squatted behind the dish and watch dinger after dinger disappear into the St. Louis night. Think of how amazing that is going to be for the guy who has put in countless hours and time warming-up pitchers and coming in and catching pitching prospects and potential free agents over the years for the Rays. I thought 2008 might be the top of the  proverbial mountain for some people in the Rays organization, but the hits just keep on rolling here for Cursi.

I am truly so excited that my baseball buddy get to live the All-Star dream on the field this season and also get to attend some of those exclusive and sought after events during the All-Star experience. I can not think of anyone else in baseball that I think deserves that honor than Cursi. Seriously here, the guy has bled Rays green, blue and even yellow for this franchise and this is another great life experience for him in his position with the Rays. But I think I need to let you know a little bit about Scott Cursi before I go today. He is in his 11th season with the Rays organization, and his 13th in professional baseball.  He spent three seasons as the Bullpen Catcher for the Double-A Orlando Cubs and the Orlando Rays of the Southern League from 1996-1998. 

               
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And sometimes you will also see him late in the Rays Batting Practice throwing balls to the hitters on the mound.  Cursi played college baseball at Seminole Community College in Orlando and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Physical Education.  Before he made his trek to Florida, Cursi spent four seasons coaching for Bishop Waterson High School in Columbus, Ohio under Ohio baseball legend Scott Manahan. The guy knows baseball inside and out, and that has only endeared him more to the Rays. 

So Congrats Scott. You deserve a spot in the television of the world, and you can be sure all of Tampa Bay will be watching for you to put your mask on and squat behind the plate during the State Farm Home Run Derby. I know you will have some great memorable chats with some of the hitters that night, and I hope I can hear some of those stories some night after a game over some cool, refreshing beverages with great company. But until then I will just give to the hand salute to the cap back every night and wish you a safe road trip, and tons of great baseball memories.

My Insight into Joe Maddon

 


Mike Carlson / AP

 

Since the Rays began their trip towards a high flying destiny in 2008, most of the old school baseball world outside of Tampa Bay, or even outside the immediate California area around Anaheim had never really gotten to know Rays Manager Joe Maddon. And to explore into his massive baseball past is such a pleasure. Most fans here in Tampa Bay know of his long devotion to road cycling treks that he does both here and when the Rays take their show on the road. Maddon even takes along his personal bike to Rays away games to explore some of the historic and scenic venues in those cities.

And he has his own sense and realities to his job as a major league manager. He even has a “fine” bowl in his office where guilty players, who are found guilty by the Kangaroo Court have to purchase a bottle of wine for the skipper with the paper divulging their fine. He is one of the only mangers in the major leagues that I know of who has his own wine rack and wine cooler in his office for post game tastings and special occasions. And you know that cooler got plenty of good use with champagne and fine spirits during the 2008 Postseason celebrations.




Some of Maddon’s activities outside of the season might surprise some fans outside of Tampa Bay. But outside of the bay area, most fans do not get to know Maddon, the humanitarian. Maddon is entering his 35th season in professional baseball, and 16 of those years has been at the major league level. But few people know of the community efforts and the compassion this man has for his new adopted community. One of the most visual and celebrated efforts of his generosity for giving back to Tampa Bay is his annual “Thanks-mas” celebration the last three seasons.

Held between the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, Maddon along with his Rays Coaches and front office staff have personally shopped, cooked and even served special dinners of spaghetti, sausage, pierogies, past and salad for over 1,000 people in the Salvation Army shelters in Bradenton, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Port Charlotte areas. One of the biggest food hits in this event is the special meatballs Maddon was taught how to make by his mother Beanie back in his home town of Hazelton, Pennsylvania.




Another humanitarian/charitable effort held close to Maddon’s heart is the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation. Maddon even wore a special bracelet during the 2008 postseason commemorating this fine mans courage while battling cancer. If anyone has ever taken a step into Maddon’s office, they will see a jersey case with one of the jerseys signed by Challis before he passed away at the age of 18 last August. Challis, a native of Beaver County in Pennsylvania met Maddon during the 2008 InterLeague series when the team went to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates.

The two immediately fostered a great bond emerged during that series between Maddon and Challis. Maddon has since been actively involved in fund raising for the foundation and in November 2008 when he was named winner of the Chuck Tanner Award as major league manager of the year, he had John’s father Scott, accept the award for him in Pittsburgh.



Another element of Maddon that most people in Tampa Bay do not even want to think about is the fact that he was up for the job in Boston at the same time as Terry Francona, and if things had gone differently, the Rays never would have gained his services, but would have had to plot against Maddon instead of with him. When Maddon won the 2008 BBWAA American League Manager of the Year award, he was only one second place vote shy of becoming only the first AL or NL manager to ever get a unanimous selection for the award.

He get to share that honor with four other managers’ who have come one vote shy of perfection. He even gets to share the honor with a personal member of his staff, Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer, who in 1989 while managing the Chicago Cubs came up short while winning the award.





But more than ever people are starting to remember the charismatic manager for other things besides his vocabulary and situational quotes. On August 17, 2008, while playing the Texas Rangers in Arlington, he became the first AL manager in 107 years to order an intentional walk with the bases loaded. Maddon had reliever Grant Balfour walk former Rays prospect Josh Hamilton with 2-outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Rays winning 7-3 at the time.

After that walk, Maddon replaced Balfour with reliever Dan Wheeler who got the last out to preserve the win for the Rays. The only other time it has happened in baseball history was on May 23, 1901 when Clark Griffin, then a player/manager for the Chicago White Sox intentionally walked future Hall of Fame member Nap Lajoie with no outs in the ninth inning with a 11-7 lead.




But that just goes to show you how he values the past of baseball and brings it alive today in 2009. Some of his current methods come from a meshing of old baseball thought and current cerebral instincts to go “outside-the-box” with the Rays and it sometimes questions baseball logic. And that is one of the things that makes him so refreshing to some people among baseball. His fond admiration for past things that have worked, like the shift for left-handed batters, or the five-player infield have made some other people within baseball begin to question some of our current methods and actions.


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Some people forget he is only starting his fourth season with the club in 2009, and already has the most victories of any manager in Rays history. He passed Rays Inaugural manager Larry Rothchild on August 23,2008 with his 206th win in a game against the Chicago White Sox.




People forget he has had a taste of being a major league manager before he got his first full-time stint in the dugout in Tampa Bay. He first got a taste if it in 1998, when the Los Angeles Angels Manager Terry Collins got an 8-game suspension following a bench clearing brawl in Kansas City. He got an additional turn at the skipper post when Collins resigned on September 3, 1999 and he led the team the rest of the season to a 19-10 record.



But the most unique moment might have been when Maddon was called upon to replace John McNamara in 1996, who was replacing Rene Lachmann who resigned that August as skipper. McNamara had developed a deep vein thrombosis( blood clot) in his right calf. Maddon took the helm for 22 games, finishing with a 8-14 record.
 

Maddon did get another set of circumstances during his tenure as a Angels Bench Coach when current Angels Manager Mike Scioscia had to leave the team for a short period of time. Maddon lead the Angels to a 33-26 record during his stint with the squad.



AP file photo/unknown



But on the personal side of the Rays skipper, Maddon has many fantastic hobby and interests that generally fall outside the realm of most of his fellow managers. He has been a guest at a White House dinner in January 2009 held by former President George W. Bush. And following his marriage after the 2008 season, Maddon took a small adventure throughout Europe with his new bride and at one point during the honeymoon he even found a Rays fan in a train station Italy.

As for his biking hobby, he is a very dedicated biker who puts in 60-100 miles every week. An unknown fact about Maddon in his youth is that he was recruited as a shortstop and pitcher for Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. He switched positions voluntarily to catcher midway through his freshman year. At Lafayette, he majored in economics and he will also receive an honorary degree this summer from his old Alma Mater.




But one of the biggest thrills of his life might still be on the horizon when he takes off after the last Rays game this Sunday and heads to the All-Star game in St. Louis, Missouri. As the American League skipper in the World Series, he will get to take the helm in this years All-Star game coaching the superstars of the American League. Fan Voting for his team will end on Thursday, which is also an off day for the Rays. He will be only the second coach to ever appear in an All-Star game with Rothchild being the first when he was selected in 2002 by Joe Torre.

It will be his second All-Star game. He previously got to attend when Sciocsia was the 2003 AL Manager. Maddon is expected to select two coaches from among the AL Managers, and then bring six of his own coaches, along with Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to round out his 2009 All-Star coaching staff.




Maddon has only been in Tampa Bay for a short time, but the teams and its fans have united around him to show support for his new ways of thinking about the sport of baseball. Along with the fan base uniting to support the manager with the formulation of the “Maddon’s Maniacs” group three seasons ago.

From speaking engagements to small snippets of chats with fans and media members the Tampa Bay community has gotten to know Maddon deeper and closer than he ever imagined. With the 2008 success and the renewed interest in the team during their recent seven game winning streak, the Rays might be the team to watch in the second half of the season.

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