Results tagged ‘ Scott Kazmir ’

Gameworks Shindig was a Total Blast!


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What better way to celebrate a series ending victory than take a group of 10,000+ of the Rays biggest supporters to a place in Ybor City that celebrates the kid in all of us. And boy, did we all have a great time and also get a few great moments playing game with and against some of those same guys who took the field that very same afternoon. It is an event I have been looking forward to every since the invitation hit my mailbox, and the Rays Email system must have gone nuts with how fast I responded to the RSVP.

Yesterday was the Second Annual ( hopefully more) Season Ticketholder event at Gameworks in Ybor City. Now if you have never been in a Gameworks, think Dave and Busters on PED’s with a gleaming polished metallic finish that would send anyone into “Kid Mode”. Now I have been to both of these events, and let me tell you this season’s events kicked some royal booty. Missing were some of the Rays stars, but the entire rotation of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann hit the event to show their support to the fans.

But they were not the only ones to come on out and see the masses in this crowded but truly spectacular event put on by the Group Sales Department of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bullpen was also very heavily represented with Randy Choate, Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour, Brian Shouse and J P Howell holding court near the racing games and near the “Dance, Dance Revolution” platform. But not to be forgotten was some of the guys who also play out in the field for the Rays who made the journey over to Ybor City. Ben Zobrist and Dioner Navarro came on out to represent the guys who play in the infield, and Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler also made the event along with B J Upton last night to show the love from the Rays outfield. 


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But even with people clammering (myself included) to get personal pictures and autographs from the fans, I could see that the guys truly enjoyed their time out with the fans last night. Shouse and Choate were even able to blend in and play a few games before some people noticed they were there last night. But some of the true hits of the night were delivered by the Group Sales Department as they again put on a first class event. From the photo opportunity area where you could be put into a Rays photo, to the awesome stuff given away as door prizes, the event sparkled from the first fan entering the building. And it was great seeing these guys out and about not in uniform and enjoying themselves.

And some lucky fans even got to race or play against some of the players during the night festivities. I remember seeing Kazmir in the back of the Game Room playing an NBA game against a fan and it was a highly contested game with a lot of great plays by both until someone had to lose. But the true hit of the night for me was the fact that 6 foot 9 inch Jeff Neimann got up on the “Dance, Dance Revolution” stage and strutted his stuff. I was in such awe of the event I forgot to pop my camera into video mode and film the entire wild and crazy event. But I have to tell you, once he got the hang of it all, the guy held his own on the dance floor, or platform.

I did not see Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but Rusty, the Rays game day host was remarking (joking) that he was holding a wine tasting seminar in the corner of the bar area. From seeing people like Matt Silverman, the numero uno of the Rays, to Andrew Friedman, the Vice President of Baseball Operations out in the crowd was fantastic. Oh, and Andrew, I truly loved the photo of the top of your head in my picture with Ben Zobrist, but I laughed out loud when I saw it. Some days I have wanted to pick your brain about the team, but never thought I would get a photo of the “brains” of the Baseball Operations group.


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But what makes this such a great events is the milling of the Front Office guys and the players and the fans themselves just discussing everything from baseball to the chocolate fountain that is always the highlight of the event. I got lucky enough to be photographed last season at the fountain, but this year I kept an eye out for the camera. Just to see that light blue, dark blue and yellow chocolate flowing out of the top of the fountains crowned with a triangle of baseballs was tremendous.

And again, the food was one of the true stars of the evening. From the beautiful ladies handing me pot stickers or small wrapped tasty morsels, to the cute and personable bartenders, this was a night to celebrate everything Rays. From the hot stations in the front area of the party, to the temporary apps station piled upon the ticket counters, it was a feast made for a king. And if you did not try the roast beef, you missed out on some fantastic meat with a juicy and succulent au jus.

But the evening had to end sometime, and even as it neared 10:30 pm Garza was still laughing and holding court near the back game room. Gabe Kapler had left by then with his two boys, but he was the perfect doting Dad last night. By the time I left, or my card read only 100 minutes left on it, there was a light rain falling outside, but it felt great on the skin after all the sweating I did beating some unnamed pitcher on “Dance, Dance Revolution” score 1 for the old jock. I know I had a tremendous time, and the Group Sales guys and gals have to feel great about this event.


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The sheer fact that so many people fit into that small place and left with smiles should be a great indicator of the event. And my ticket rep, Craig Champagne was there from start to finish. I have to tell you a wild story about that night concerning Craig. My game card did not work and I asked him if anyone else had that problem. Well, instead of making me plow my way back to the front, he took the card and return within minutes with a
new one for me to use.

A small minor flaw that night was quickly fixed and repaired like new by one of the Group Sales best guys. Seriously, me not playing shooting and alien-killing games might have put a damper on my night. Then I would have had to sample a few more intoxicating beverages, and enjoy the view. But in the end, I was physically exhausted and sore, was full of great food and spirits and did not want to leave. But as I walked to my car parked in the Centro Ybor Parking Garage I was already flipping through the memories and the sights of the night in my mind.


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This season there have been some changes in the Season Ticket realms. Some things have been scaled back,some things have changed,but all in all,this event is still a benchmark of the dedication and the commitment of the Rays to the fans who attend so many baseball games. It was a great environment to see so many people you knew, and would get to know have a great time by themselves and with their kids. I know I am already with a red marker ready to circle the 2010 date to do it all again.

It’s a Numbers Game


MLB.com / file photo

With the Tampa Bay Rays adding two new players to their roster in the last 24 hours, there has been a hustle and bustle of conversation and negotiations behind the scenes in and around the clubhouse for those two guys to secure their “favorite” numbers that have graced their uniforms throughout their careers.  Newbie to the team, catcher Gregg Zaun has always worn the number “9” his entire career and sees it as the ultimate good luck charm to him. The only problem is that the Rays uniform number “9” was previously assigned to back-up catcher Shawn Riggans, who is on the DL down in Durham right now.

New Rays reliever Russ Springer also had the same situation when he arrived in Seattle last night for his first game in a Rays uniform. For the night he would be wearing number “37” until the Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland could do a fast sewing and manipulation of the “36” jersey in time for the Sunday finale at Safeco Field. In that contest, Springer would be sporting the comfortable “36” he has worn for many years. But that number had been picked out by fellow Bullpen member Randy Choate and he did offer to surrender the number to Springer in time for the last game of the series.

Athletes do feel a  wild kinship to their numbers. I know I always worn a form of the two numerals “1” or “3” throughout my playing days. I even got lucky enough in High School and College to wear “13” and “31” so I had a double whammy of good luck. And to say athletes are not superstitious is  like saying Paula Deen loves margarine on her food. Seriously, I felt a power mentally within me when I had my number on my back. It was an inner strength I could not describe, it was my version of the Superman cape.


Nick Wass / AP

The number’s on a players uniform are as much a part to a players psyche and identity as their names to the fans. The numbers on their back mean so much to some players that they do not seem to play like themselves without their special numbers. So was it any wonder that newly minted Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson once paid $ 25,000 to get his beloved “24” on his back during one of his many team changes in his career.

And changing your number can also change the way the fans see a player. When pitcher Roger Clemens came back, didn’t it seem a bit odd to see him in a “21” jersey instead of the traditionaL “22” that he wore during his glory days. And when Michael Jordan put on that “45” jersey during his return to the courts, did he not look anything like the “23” we grew to love for all those years in Chi-town.

Numbers can universally imprint a player into our minds and memories. I look at Carl Crawford’s early years with the Rays wearing the number “8” years,before he switched to “13”. It was like a night and day comparision as he began to sprint out from under a shadow the minutehe put number “13” on his back. Now you know him by his number from a distance and do not have to look at the name blazoned across his shoulders.

I remember an article by ESPN columnist Jim Caple back a few years ago where he remembers a “Seinfeld” episode that showed how a players number can transform into our daily lives and about how synonymous a player and their numbers can become to us ?

Consider the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza revealed to his fiancé Susan that he planned to name their first child Seven. Seven Costanza?” Susan replied, “Are you serious?”

 
“Yeah. It’s a beautiful name for a boy or a girl. Especially for a girl. … Or a boy.”

 
“I don’t think so.”

 
“What, you don’t like the name?”

 
“It’s not a name, it’s a number.”

I know. It’s Mickey Mantle’s number. So not only is it an all-around beautiful name, it is also a living tribute.”


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We all know the poor George did not stand a chance in that arument and went down on flames. But those numbers do something within us. Those simple cloth numbers. I know as a player I did not want the secondary numbers like “18” or “11”, I wanted that number where I felt safety within, and secure going to battle wearing on my back.That’s right, to me either number “13” or “31” held the powers of the universe plain and simple.

We know that a majority of the baseball world is content with number under 70, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon has worn the number “70” for years and  we can not visual;ize him wearing anything else on his back. But the numbers game goes beyond just numbers at times. Most good pitchers would not even consider wearing a single digit number on their backs. But it can go further than that in the realms of good and bad. A number can end up defining a player just by sight.

So as the Rays take the field today at 4 pm in Seattle, think about it for a minute. Could you imagine Evan Longoria not wearing his customary “3”, or even Rays starter Scott Kazmir not wearing number “19” If those number symbolize who they are to you, then  you get the idea of this blog. Mention to a Yankee fan the number “4” and you get Lou Gehrig. Mention “24” to a San Francisco Giants fan and you get Willy Mays.


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The number becomes just as important as what they do on the field or mound. For that number will always symbolize who they are as a player, and what they did while wearing that number. So, you got to wonder, what did Choate and Riggans get for exchanging their jersey numbers with the Rays two veterans. Well, neither are saying right now, but what they did is give their new teammates a sense of comfort and security on their first day on the job.

 

 

 

 

Price is Starting to Shine like a Penny

 


Chris O’Meara / AP


When  former Vanderbilt University pitcher David Price was first selected by the Tampa Bay Rays a few years ago as their First Pick in the amateur draft you knew the guy had something special about him. The way he beamed when he smiled for the camera, and the confidence and the demeanor of the guy, you wanted him to almost go straight to the major leagues. You had a feeling about this kid that if anyone could make it, Price was the real deal.

But no one who has ever come out the Rays farm system has ever had this kind of fanfare even before they had played their first game in Class-A ball. Because of his fantasy-like experience up with the Rays prior to the 2008 playoff surge he came into 2009 with some high expectation put on him by the so-called experts and Fantasy poets. The guy was basically given the 2009 Rookie of the Year award without even setting foot on a Major League field. That is a huge amount of pressure and false expectations put on a guy who has shown limited time up in the big leagues.

And it is not like Price has fallen on his face or even seen sent back and forth to the minors with the Rays this year. When the team did finally bring him up to the majors he was voiced that he would be here for good baring an injury and would mature and grow as a starter at this level. And it was not like they put him down in the minors as a punishment or even a deterrent, but as a better way to get some additional help with his control and mechanics before he was out there for everyone to see when he finally came up to the major leagues.

The Rays did everything in their power to keep him down in the minors to correct some controls issues and make his change-up major league ready. So when they finally made the decision to bring him up, I thought it might be a bit too early. But Price did struggle early, which is completely understandable.  It is rare for a pitcher to just get right into his teams groove and set the world on fire from Day One. But the media had anointed him the next Rays savior even before Spring Training.

All during the spring, reporters would throw out daily “Price” questions and were anxious to know of he was being considered for the fifth rotation spot. Price did look impressive at times in the spring, but you could also see that he needed to polish a few things before firing the ball in Tropicana Field every fifth day. So the Rays finally decided on March 25th to send him back to Triple-A Durham for a few months to mature and refine his pitching mechanics. And Price like a true professional went back and put in his time and effort and became a model player for the Bulls.

For Price, the beginning of 2009 truly did not feel like the excitement and the drama of last October. He did come out of the gate after his promotion to the Rays with mixed reviews.  But how do you improve on his 2008 success when he came up late in the season and posted a 1.95 ERA in your 5 games. Can the hype be so large that we all forgot this is a guy who flew through the minor league system in one season and arrived in old Yankee Stadium for his MLB debut. Did we really expect him to toss the bar even higher so early in his career?

Well, if you ask me, we did put a bit of false expectations on the guy that he would be the reincarnation of Cy Young winner Cliff Lee so early in his career. Not that being like Lee would be a bad thing, but Price was still tooling with his change-up when he finally got here to the majors. And his rise and fall in recent outings shows that he is a pitcher who is still searching for his perfect groove right now. But there have been signs of light that have trickled and have shown bright as day into the Florida night for this guy in 2009.


Reinhold Matay / AP

Price was fighting with his control early on in the season, but also was able to combine some long outings for the Rays this season. But Price seemed to save his best effort of the season for last night’s game against the Boston Red Sox. In this critical American League East contest he went 6 innings and gave up 6 hits, but his two runs allowed were on homers by Victor Martinez and Jason Bay.

But these pitches were mistakes that can be easily corrected with the viewing of the game tapes to see if his breaking balls were hanging in the strikezone, or if he missed his mark badly with the pitches. The illustration of him standing up to the pressure of the moment and coming out on top speaks well to hid future on the mound. It is hard sometimes to learn a new pitch, or even adjust your mechanics o the fly knowing you have 5 days until your next start. But so far he has done just that and has improved in small ways with every start.

But  hidden inside that win last night for Price to even his record to 5-5 was the fact of his control in the game.  Price showed massive improvement in the category of walks.  For 13 starts this season Price has taken the mound and you did not know what control issues if any he would have that night. But last night he again, for the third time this season came out of the game without issuing a single walk to the opponent. That is a major step forward for Price, and is an example of how is is maturing with every start this season.

But there were also a few things working into his favor last night during his start against the Red Sox. Price was 4-1 at home this season and had posted a 2.67 ERA.  This was a complete opposite of his road woes this season, which currently has Price at 0-3 with a 9.23 ERA. So the confines of the Trop. were a perfect setting for him to again shine on the mound for the Rays. But he also has been showing more progress on the road too. He took a no-decision in that wild shootout up in Toronto on July 25th during that largest comeback by the Rays in their history.


Charles Rex Arbogast / AP


But it has not been all a bed of roses or thorns for Price this season, but he has the odd distinction of being the starting pitcher in both the games where the Rays had their biggest comeback in history (Toronto) and had their biggest blown lead (Cleveland) this season. It has been a virtual Yin and Yang for him in 2009. But the fact he has allowed two earned runs or less in 7 of his 13 starts shows that progress is being made by him this season.  And combining with fellow Rays Rookie Jeff Niemann, they both were the first pair of rookies to defeat Roy Halladay in a season, and they did it within a 11 day span.
 

And the Rays offense has rallied around the rookie going 8-5 in his starts this season including wins over C C Sabathia, Johan Santana and Halladay.  They have supported the young pitcher to a 6.6 runs per nine inning mark that would rank him 6th in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify. But even with all that positive vibe starting to flow right now there is a few things to worry about with Price. His 18.9 pitches per inning ranks him second among AL pitcher with at least 50 innings this season. That is one of the issues this young pitcher has been battling this season. But in last nights game against Boston, he only needed 10 pitches to get through the first inning.

The upside to Price being in the rotation right now is starting to unfold. He has now issued only 5 walks in his last 5 games. His control is beginning to shine through, which could be very beneficial to the Rays down the stretch. Among 65 AL starters with as many starts as Price he is ranked fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.55) behind Tiger Justin Verlander, Red Sox Jon Lester, Mariner Erik Bedard and Royal Zack Greinke. He is beginning to turn the corner towards his ascent into becoming a known starter in the AL.


Chris O’Meara / AP


And let’s put a nice cherry on the top of his season right now. When Price took the mound for his first start in Tropicana Field this season against Francisco Liriano and the Minnesota Twins on May 30th, he earned his first win of his career in the regular season, and also became only the third Rays rookie to post 11 strikeouts in a game. the last time that happened was back in September 10, 2005 when fellow Rays starter Scott Kazmir did it against Toronto. 

The 1980’s group Timbuk 3 did a song called, “Future’s So Bright, I Got to Wear Shades”.  Right now Price is beginning to ride a wave of good fortune and awesome results.  For the Rays to get into position for the 2009 playoffs, they will need Price and Rookie Jeff Niemann to improve with every start and stay consistent on the mound. For Price it might be the time for him to push towards the top and become the starter that the Fantasy gurus have dreamed about since late in 2008.

Flirting with the Lady

 


Steve Nesius/ AP

Everyone within the baseball circles have met this groupie. She is one of those obsessed fan-types that can either cling to your team for a single game, or even make a run by staying attached at the hip with the entire team for about a week to 10 days and make everyone around her feel like a million dollars.

She has been known to spark parties or bring down all levels of excitement with a total loss of emotion, confidence and even a sense of what is happening at the time. She is one tough lady,and for that reason right now, the Tampa Bay Rays need to keep her tight and happy right now.

I mean this lady in the past week or so has taken even this team to the highs of a 4-game road trip where even before the last out, you did not know the outcome of the game, to getting smacked so hard with a reality check all they could do is watch as a miracle 18th Perfect Game unfolded in front of the team as they assembled at the dugout rail.

Some say the team was gracious during the event and down-right classy in their moves and statements following that game. I am thinking it was more shock that the lady decided right before game time to wander over to the other dugout and got real chummy with White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen and his team.

And even after the Rays did leave the Windy City with the series victory not in their hands, this fickle lady hitched another ride with the Rays up to Toronto where she again showed them promise and excitement before finally teasing them in the last game with another unusual loss.


Steve Nesius / AP

And at this time of the year this lady can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. And right now she is straddling the fence so tight she might get splinters before the week is out. But she also can be a bit unpredictable even changing sides along with her friend Mo at any moment within the game. Some might not call her fickle for what she can do to put a false sense of security into so many, then pull the rug out without notice or reason, but that is just how she is, and she is fine to live her life that way, and treat people with a bi-polar kind of  excitement and sorrow.

I know I have eluded to her name for a long time in this blog. Maybe that is to save some special treatment from her. But maybe it is because right now with 2 3rds of the season already gone, I think we need her more than ever right now. But you got to admit, the last road trip was billed as “the most important of the season” for many reasons. There was also talk of it being ” the road trip that might define the season.”

That in itself is a bit daunting if you think about it. And this lady had a huge part to play in how it was going to be remembered. But those phrases also showed a bit of fear and  a sense of impending doom because this lady has not been firmly in our camp this season. Oh, she has wandered in and out, and made for some exciting stories and adventures, but she has not taken roost within the Trop., and has not adorn the team as she did in 2008.

I mean last night against the New York Yankees in a home stand some people are also throwing out the “must have” logo because of our 5 games against divisional foes, people are already climbing the seats just to see if she is again attached to this team. Last night she was not in our side of the stadium, but she was here in all her glory. But I think for one night she might have been caught up in the spotlight of seeing Kate Hudson’s smile beaming over the rail of the Visitor’s dugout. But tonight is another story. 

I think she will give the Rays the final answers within the next few days. She will either smile on them for victories, or just bat her sad eyes at us in defeat. But everyone in the stadium is subject to her charms and attitude. She is as addictive as Swine Flu right now, but as deadly as a Black Widow spider.

But her poison can cure as well as kill. I think it is time I introduce all of you to this lady. She is everywhere, maybe even within your team right now, but she spreads herself thin some days, but other it seems either you or your competitor has her firmly in their grasp.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word karma as: “The force generated by a person’s actions to determine the natures of the person next existence.” Now I am not a huge believer in the Eastern mystic or religious philosophies, and I am surely not versed with the realms of Buddhism/Hinduism, but I can believe in that essence of something beyond us making some of these wins and losses happen right now.



Steve Nesius / AP


I am not going to ramble into the college teaching of existentialism, which is basically the philosophy of individual existence and personal responsibility for free will in the absence of certain knowledge of what is right and wrong.  I barely remember the words much less the actions and reactions of the realm of self-awareness that holds doing the right thing as a high regard. But what else can you put into words to say what is going on right now with the Rays?

Why not hit the realization that something beyond our simple mind’s eye could be playing with their destiny cards and deciding the Rays fate this season. Is it so out there to think that karma doesn’t exist, and if it did, why not be used by a team like the Rays that play the game the right way and always strive for more day in, and day out on the field.  But  if you believe in good karma, you have to also believe in bad karma, it is  the natural balance in this world.

And could that be the only reason for some of the things that happened in the game last night? We all know that  at a point last night if Carlos Pena had hit one over the fence with two men on last night it would have brought the Rays back to within one run, or a 7-6 game at that point. But karma decided she sis not want it to go like that, so she made Pena do his thing by striking out and di
sappointing the home crowd.

I never said she was a good woman, sometimes the serpent in her can just be….well evil. But maybe the Rays were not playing up to the karma gods attention and they were again in awe of the guys in gray last night. So they decided to tweak the system a bit and throw in a money wrench by making the Rays show just how much they wanted it last night.

Did karma decide to wake the Rays up last night? Or will today’s game be the one that awakens the demon within karma? Well, since I am writing this before the game, it has yet to be played out upon the course of human events in this universe. But if I see karma in the stands, I am going to sit on her until she promises to stay with us until October.

Man, I am starting to talk like Rod Sterling.  But isn’t karma based on the basic cause and effect ritual of forces beyond our control?  Could the Rays have already gotten their allotment of karma-phala, or “fruits” from the mystical lady. Now that I am into this, I might as well try and explain a bit about my concept of karma.

You see, it was explained to me by a college professor in East-West Humanities that we as humans produce karma in fours ways in our daily lives: 1) through thoughts, 2) through words, 3) through actions that we perform ourselves, 4) through actions other do through our instructions. So there we go, we have the team complexed into a ball to submit their personal karma through item numbers 1-3, while Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his staff have the directive of item number 4, which is their game instruction to the team.



Steve Nesius / AP

Let me tell you right now I am spinning around in my blue seat trying to really get a grip on this unforeseen mystical power that we want to believe in and cherish it on our side. And maybe the Rays did have a huge burst of good karma in Kansas City and had a bit left over for the first few games in Toronto. But we might not have known we had a limited amount of this fruit, or we might not have picked it so fast, or so often this season. 

Today might be the day that the Rays will have to pool those “happy thoughts”. From this day forward, the Rays actually hold their destiny in their own hands the rest of the way through the season. With two series against divisional foes New York and Boston right here at home, the Rays can pick up ground and establish themselves again in 2009 as the team to watch out for the rest of the year. If not, it is going to be a long 60 games until the end of the season.

I am sorry, but I want to believe in karma and the belief system that good begets good…yada, yada, yada. But I have a bad agnostic streak that pops up every now and then. I know it is the Rays race to loose, and maybe this karma thing does have a great influence on the whole thing. But so does faith and belief in something, and it is not mired within religious boundaries. Heck, we could even throw the aspect of luck into this equation and maybe make more sense of it all.

We all know that James Shields has not been the luckiest pitcher this season. He has thrown more than a few awesome games that went down in flames in front of him without provocation this season. And he has also seen other starters have the showing of their season with him on the other side of the mound. But do we throw that all into a powdered mix of karma, faith, luck and determination and add the miracle elixir of destiny and fate to the cocktail, or do we just believe and hope for the best.

I do not know about you, but I am sitting here right now with three rabbit’s feet, playing “Good Luck Charm” by Elvis Presley on my Itunes, and carrying an amulet of Field Turf II taken from the carpet of Tropicana Field. I am not letting something invisible take control of this game. Not not me, I will fend off the trolls and goblins with my holy water made from the Colorado mountains and brewed in Golden, Colorado. Unless I drink it all.

I will wear my lucky Rays boxer shorts and that T-shirt I wore for 3 years playing football and watch this game knowing that my mojo for this team is good mojo and is worthy of the Rays. I will carry my new Talisman which I received from the Rays during “Championship Week” this season, and has been re-configured to fit my finger. I will rub that AL Championship replica ring until it becomes dingy and rounded, for that is my hope for the season.


So what if the mystical lady of karma is beginning to play a few tricks on us. So what if we are now seeing some of the dark karma come together and take us to task. It is the faith of people like myself and the rest of the Rays Republic that can make this destiny seem more like fate again. 

I might not be able to give Scott Kazmir any extra energy today, but I can send positive energy towards him and hope it isn’t intercepted by Derek Jeter or Nick Swisher.
We need these next two games to gather momentum before the Royals again take the field at Tropicana Field. For a great series ending here against the Yankees and a fine showing  with the Royals puts us back in the catbird seat. 

I will sleep with my head facing the north, spin three times before walking into the kitchen, whatever is considered good and responsive to get the aura angel back in our good graces. For I am just one fan, just a small piece of the cosmic karma universe that can send impulses and transmissions towards the heavens with good intentions for this team.

God, I hate talking about stuff like this because it give me the creeps it just might work.  But sometime you just have to think outside of the box and believe in things that you never did. I mean in 1970 when I was a kid, I never believed that cell phone would be smaller than a Buick. I also never believed we would have a Major League Baseball team within traveling distance to my home.


Steve Nesius / AP

Faith, trust, belief. That might be the three tools that will define the rest of this Rays season. But the rabbits foot and the music and the superstitions I have at games only add to the charm of believing 110 percent in the dream again. So here you go Karma. As fickle and as judgmental as you want to be this season, you can not doubt one thing……. this team is fun to watch even if you just sit back and relax.

So with that, it is 2 pm and the first pitch is still 5 hours away. Sit back karma and enjoy the ride. I have to do a bit of flirting right now with a special lady. She has to again believe in the Rays way and that this team can fulfill and surpass her expectations and ideals. And I do not have to sit there and remind her that if this nex
t 60 game ride is anything like 2008, she will have to buckle up and get ready for a wild and crazy time in which she is going to love from start to finish……trust me!

 

Recent Seattle-Cleveland-Tampa Bay Trade Rumors

 


Steve Nesius / AP

Usually when I get a call at 5 am EST in involves the following items: money, a bail bondsman, or a ride somewhere. But this ring tone told me it was from a far away source, a pretty good drive and leap away. It came from the west coast, and in Seattle it was only 1 am PST in the morning. So with a million things racing through my mind that could be wrong for this person to be calling me at this time, baseball was not very high on the list at that hour.

So I answered the phone to a loud scream of : “Tell me it is true, Frickin (I cleaned the language up) tell me this is a true rumor. you see, while most of us were sleeping on the east coast, the websites and the bloggers on the other side of the country were just getting settled into their homes after a blowout by the Cleveland Indians over the Mariners. So as they were driving home or even listening online to the M’s flagship radio station KIRO 710 AM was spilling out some fodder that the Rays, Tribe and M’s had something cooking on the back burner.

So I decided to check my first reliable source by popping onto the website www.seattlepi.com/mariners and seeing if the bloggers had gotten a hold of such a rumor. Now I was not even aware of the players involved yet, but I did have reason to believe the two coming to the Rays would be the hot and much wanted starter Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.

And so I hit the M’s blog section and was greeted by the following headline: “Potential huuuge deal w/M’s, Tribe and Rays”. What was so amazing is that at this time two of the team involved in this trade were currently in a 3-game series in Seattle. What was even more amazing was the 4 other players linked to this rumor. The Seattle side of the equation had former starter/reliever/closer and current Triple-A player Brandon Morrow and back-up catcher Jeff Clement going to the Indians.


Ted S. Warren / AP

On the Seattle side of the trade aspect they were getting rid of a pitcher who needed a change of scenery and who could re-invent himself correctly with his next team. The M’s had used Morrow in every pitching situation and never let him get totally settled into one segment of their pitching staff.  Clements was another guy who was stuck behind two starters and was learning to play first base to get his bat into the line-up down in Triple-A. He had played for the M’s in both 2007 and 2008, but lost out this season to back-up Rob Johnson because of his MLB experience.

Both guys needed a break from the M’s way of doing business, and the trade route seemed like the perfect answer. But because the Rays needed a third party to get some of the needed pieces to Cleveland like a catcher and a quality pitcher who could assume any spot, both Clements and Morrow were perfect candidates for the possible trade. But what had the M’s bloggers all giddy and excited. What member of the Rays might have fallen into their laps and gotten such a great response.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Well, the Rays were willing to send left-handed starter Scott Kazmir and shortstop prospect Reid Brignac to the Emerald City. But early on in this trade situation, some wires did get crossed, and some mixed signals did get thrown out over the web. At one point this afternoon, Tampa Tribune sportswriter Marc Lancaster had to get some needed information to calm the Rays faithful. Here are a few of his Tweets from Sat to explain the Brignac episode:

@TBORays “Reid Brignac pulled from Durham game before top of third inning. Definitely a potential trade chip, so something might be up”


@TBORays From what I can gather, doesn’t sound like a trade is imminent with Brignac. Still not sure why he’s out, though.

@TBORays Word from Durham is Reid Brignac was pulled from the game for not hustling to first base.

@TBORays Per Durham manager, Reid Brignac will play 2nd game today. Right leg was bothering him.


So after that I decided to do some detective work and see if
www.cleveland.com was sporting any interesting gossip. But all was silent on the Indians local papers website and in the blog regions. Hopefully by morning we will know more about what might be going on with this entire situation. But before I go, let me also let you in on some of the speculation coming from another source in the Seattle area.


Brian Blanco / AP

It seems that Geoff Baker, who writes for the Seattle Times also had gotten wind of this potential trade. So I wandered over to wwwseattletimes.nwsource/marinersblog and took a look at what he was saying about the potential trade. Here is a small sampling of his take on the whole trade situation concerning all three teams:

“Here’s something to think about, completely my speculation right now, but showing you how this stuff works. Let’s say there really was a three-way deal in the works between Tampa Bay, Cleveland and the Mariners and that Zduriencik was going to acquire Brignac and Scott Kazmir in a deal that would send Brandon Morrow, Jeff Clement and pocket change to the Indians. Maybe the M’s were all set to pull the trigger and that’s why Brignac was pulled.”

That does make sense, but also what make more sense to me is that Scott Kazmir needs a fresh start somewhere. I can see him having a 2010 that would rival Edwin Jackson’s current season up in Detroit. Sometimes you just need to get away and let the stress flow to begin again. And that is what both Kazmir and Brignac need right now. Solid foundation and a chance to play again at their top levels. For Kazmir to be away from Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be the best medicine for him right now.

He has not gotten the program fully that Hickey is trying to teach in Tampa Bay. Kazmir was a success here  ion Tampa Bay before Hickey was hired in November 2006. His style is more centered on “contact” or spot pitching sytle to minimize offensive damage. It is not a system Kazmir can not learn, it just takes away from his power pitching side and makes him rely on location and change of speed on his pitches. 

Brignac is stuck behind a log-jam that is only going to get more crowded at Triple-A, and this opportunity would give him more of a chance to show his stuff at the major league level. With current shortstop Jason Bartlett hitting over .350, and back-up Ben Zobrist becoming the super uber sub of the American League, Brignac is stuck waiting for a chance because of injuries and not abilities. In Seattle he would have a chance to show his stuff and even get noticed by other teams the rest of the season.

And last, but not least is the upgrade the Rays would get with a quality catcher who can also hit for average and power that is currently lacking in Tampa Bay. Sure there might have to be some attitude adjustments before Martinez comes to show he is here for the team and that his “Old Man” comment to Rays Manager Joe Maddon was just in the heat of battle. But the pitching upgrade of Lee could easily be the difference in getting a chance at a playoff spot in 2009.


Duane Burleson / AP

And if all else fails and it is not a success, you know teams will be eager to entertain a trade with the Rays for Lee in the offseason if they feel he is not a solid fit to the rotation for the team. But I still do not see this happening without a single Rays farm system player going to Cleveland. The guy that has been mentioned most in trade chatter has been pitcher Wade Davis. But like Kazmir and Brignac, he has been  a bit stymied the last season waiing for his shot at the MLB level.

No matter what happens between now and the end of the trade deadline, you can be sure you will hear more of these names flashed around on the bottom of your television screens. The tell-tale sign of something brewing behind the scenes in Seattle might be if Cliff Lee doesn’t start on Sunday against the Mariners. If this happens, it is a fair indicator that someone might be making a huge push at getting the former Cy Young leftie for their own……..hopefully in Tampa Bay.

Niemann is my early AL Rookie of the Year Candidate

 


Jim Presching / AP

The deeper this Tampa Bay Rays season goes,the more the “Tall Texan” seems to grow on you. When you see how easy it is to call out Rays starter Jeff Niemann and he causally just comes over and chats with you while he continues signing a multitude of autographs for what seems like forever, and  he still has that smile on his face the entire time. And you see a small level of discomfort and bummed out look when he has to turn and head into the clubhouse with people still calling his name.
 

He is one of those reason the Rays are within striking range of the New York Yankees right now to again try and regain their spot at the top of the American League East division. And here is a guy who at the very end of Spring Training had to fight tooth and nail for a final spot on the roster that in prior years he might have had by mid-March. But since the 2008 success, a lot has changed in Rays-ville, and the “gentle Giant” is one of the great stories of this season.

I mean he truly did not know until almost the last possible day that he would regain the fifth rotation spot until his competition got traded away to the Colorado Rockies. But all during that time there was chatter and rumors that he too was under the trading microscope maybe heading to San Diego, Colorado, or maybe Pittsburgh. The competition for that final spot was so intense this season that even a guy who might have made the rotation on 20 other teams might of had to find alternative solutions to stay in the major leagues.

And how great do you feel right now if you are in the triad of Rays Manager Joe Maddon, Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman right now that you kept the Tall Texan. Sure you might have labored over the decision and might even have second guessed yourself after the first start or two, but quickly you also saw a small glimmer of hope and beauty in the way Neimann was taking the ball every fifth day and making magic happen on the mound.

I mean take the fact he had a 2-1 record with a 6.32 ERA in Spring Training this season and it might look like a feasible reason to consider him for the last spot in the rotation. But if you really look close at his statistics, he was in a five-way tie on the team in wins,  his 6.32 ERA in the spring was better than the Rays Opening Day starter, Jame Shields who had a 8.16 ERA.  Unlike Jason Hammel, Neimann did not start a single game this Spring, but did get into 6 contests and still made enough impression to get two wins.  But his 15.2 innings of work was the fifth best on the team, and his 17 total his given up this spring were better than Matt Garza (26), Shields (19), Scott Kazmir (22) and Hammel (25).


RRCollections

From the edge of Spring Training, he knew he had everything to prove, plus everything to lose in the coming months for the Rays. He had to have his stats put next to Hammel and David Price for comparison, and in the end might have gotten the job by proxy to the shagrin of some in the franchise office. But I do not see it that way at all. Neimann had struggled in the past with injuries, and in 2008 he had his best season as a professional because his health did not let him down at all that year. So this season was going to be a test of not only his health, but his pitching ability.

But the best part was this was not his first time up in the major leagues thanks to a short stint after Garza went down right after Opening Day in 2008, Neimann got some needed experience and struggled and also showed some great improvement to stay on the minds of the team the entire year. So it was no surprise that he was one of the possible pitchers brought up by the team after the Durham Bulls were eliminated from the IL Playoff picture in 2008.  The man a few people have commented on could be the twin brother of Toys R Us icon Geoffrey (Giraffe) was to get more of a chance to show his stuff in 2009.

And his first start this season at Baltimore showed that he still had a ways to go to be an effective pitcher, or did he just go into the game maybe a little over prepared and actually took himself out of that game by trying to think of adjustments on the fly without a good thought process in his mind. After his first start he had a balloon ERA of 10.13. He had only lasted 5.1 innings and had thrown 94 pitches in that game. The one shining light out of that performance was the he settled down after that disastrous first inning and blanked the Orioles until he left the ballgame.

But from that start he gained a lot of experience, and gained even more of an insight of what it was going to take to be a great pitcher in this league.  So at the end of the month of April he had gone 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA. He had rebounded from a two-some of tough games against the Orioles and the White Sox to put together two great wins against the Twins and Mariners.  In both wins in April he threw 3-hitters, and also saw his command  starting to come together. So with a even keel from April, it was imperative that he have a good month in May so solidify the Rays decision on him. 

In May, he went a combined 2-2 again in six starts and showed improvement by starting to see his walks-to strikeouts ratio get more into control.  He had a few blips of problems during a May 2nd contest against the Boston Red Sox at home, where he lasted only 3 innings and surrendered 6 runs on 7 hits. He only lasted 76 pitches into that contest, but his pitches for strikes was starting to show a closer trend towards an acceptable level. In that start he threw 46 strikes to his total 76 pitches. Neimann was beginning to understand how to win in the majors.

And during the rest of May, he surrendered less than 2 runs in every game but one. In that contest on May 18th against the Oakland A’s, Neimann did give up 4 runs in the contest, but he also got some great offensive support from the Rays and posted his  4th victory of the season.  He threw 110 pitches in that game, the most of the season for him. But the end of the month was not kind to him as he was limited to 3 innings in a rain delayed game in Cleveland that he had thrown 3 innings and had only given up a single run before the tarps hit the field.  He had only thrown 53 pitches in that game, but 34 had gone for strikes. He was beginning to show his improvement every time out from that point on in 2009.


Steve Nesius / AP

June also seemed to start great for him as he made 5 starts in the month and posted three
victories.  His 3.10 ERA for the month was the best he had posted as a professional, and he also had thrown 29 total innings in the month, the most since he had come up with the Rays. On June 3rd, Niemann tossed his first complete game shutout of his career during a home contest against the Kansas City Royals.  In that game he also seemed to have great command as he  struck out 9 batters and only surrenders a solo walk in the game. But in the next contest against the Los Angeles Angels he did have a bit of a setback only lasting 3.2 innings while giving up 5 runs on 7 hits that night.

June seemed more like a roller coaster ride for Niemann as he went to highs and lows before finally equaling out during a June 29th contest against the Toronto Blue Rays in Rogers Centre. In that game he went 7.1 innings and threw 100 pitches while giving up a solo run on 4 hits.  This was also the only time besides the first game against the Orioles that he had issued more walks than strikeouts. But it did not matter in the end as he took his seventh win of the season from this game. So at this point he was 7-4 and people were beginning to talk about the young Texan.

If June seemed like his month to shine, oh were people going to enjoy his July. So far this month he has only made three starts, but he has posted two wins in those starts to have the most wins so far as a Rays starter in 2009. July got started off a bit rough when he only lasted 3 innings in a game out in Arlington, Texas against the Texas Rangers. It should have been a bit of a homecoming for him, but the Rangers roughed him up early and he only lasted 47 pitches and gave up three runs in the game. It was not a pure disaster, but it did show him some room for improvement, and to get more first pitch strikes on the batters.

But after that contest, in his last start before the All Star Break, Neimann threw one of the best games of his career to that point against the Oakland A’s at home on July 10th.  This was the second start of the season for him against the A’s, and in his last start he lasted 8 innings and gave up four runs to the A’s hitters. But tonight he went 9 innings to post his second complete game shutout of the season. He threw a season high 118 pitches and got a standing ovation from the crowd as he went to the mound in the top of the ninth inning.  After that contest, while being interviewed on FSN/Florida, Niemann got the traditional shaving cream pie from Rays catcher Dioner Navarro.


Brian Blanco / AP

But that was not the cream on top of the pie yet for Neimann in July. After not starting since that July 10th game until last night, he was on 10 days rest when he took the mound in Chicago last night for his first start of the season against the White Sox. Neimann had saved his best for last ( so far) this season. Last night against the White Sox he posted 7 strikeouts and issued zero walks.  This was the third time this season he had not issued a walk in a game, and the second time in the last three starts. He was beginning to exert control on his game on the mound, and he lasted 8 innings last night before he was finally pulled before coming out in the top of the ninth after throwing  exactly 100 pitches. The Tall Texan made his presence known, and for the month has a 2-0 record with a 2.25 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 3 starts.

So this brings about some scuttlebutt and chatter now that David Price might not be the guy to watch for the Rookie of the Year award right now with the Rays. That Neimann might have stolen a bit of the preseason thunder directed at Price. And what is wrong with that? How many other teams outside of Toronto have had two rookies basically come forward and contribute so much for their teams. Neimann is currently holding a 3.44 ERA, which is pretty amazing considering after the first start it was a bulging 10.13 ERA.  And a pleasant surprise for the Rays is the fact he is now 6-2 away from Tropicana Field with a 3.84 ERA. 

In the month of June and July he is 5-0 after posting a 4-4 record in the first two months of the season.  He has started 17 games for the Rays this season and has seen victories in 9 of those starts. For a rookie, that is impressive to me. Going into last night game he was tied with Detroit Tiger starter Rick Porcello for the most wins by a rookie pitcher this season in the AL. And not lost is the fact that his next victory will tie Rolando Arrojo for the Rays rookie mark for wins with 10.  And is it an odd connection that the night before they honor the 1998 team with their technicolor jerseys on “Throwback Night”, Neimann threw his complete game shutout.

I actually find that pleasantly exciting. The kid has been mired in doubt and intrigue the last few season as to his durability to play at this level, and this season he might eclipse the rookie record for victories in a season, and move it well beyond the present 10 win mark.  He has now won 5 straight decisions and has lost only one decision since the first week of May (@ Cleveland/ May 28th).  And even if he not on the mound to get a decision for the wins, the Rays have won 11 out of last 12 of his starts, and are 13-4 in all his starts this season.  And to put an exclamation point on his season since May 13th, he has a 6-1 record with a 2.51 ERA and has not allowed a home run since May 23rd when he gave one up to Dan Uggla in Landshark Stadium.

The above statistics can only help to establish Neimann right now as the team’s candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. Some might still feel it is Price’s award to lose, but Neimann right now is putting up all the right numbers to be within eyesight of the award. But considering he is only the 7th Rays pitcher ever to throw at least two complete game shutouts. Arrojo threw two in his rookie season in 1998. No other pitcher in Rays history has thrown three complete game shutouts in his career.  But that record, like Arrojo’s rookie win mark might be tested this season by Neimann.

And considering the impressive crowd he is now being mentioned with as the only holders of complete game shutouts this season, it reads like a “Who’s Who” in the MLB. The Royals Zack Greinke, San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, Cardinal Joel Pinero and Red Sox Josh Beckett are the only other guys to throw 2 so far in 2009.  You want some more impressive stats?
 

Hmmmm, he is also the fourth rookie this decade to throw two complete game shutouts joining Dontrelle Willis (2003), Jeremy Sowers (2006) and Hiroki Kuroda ( 2008).  And he is only the second rookie to throw both of his before the All Star break, the other was former Rays Arrojo in 1998. 

But then again, the Tall Texan has also been the recipient of some of the best run support in the major leagues by his teammates. The Rays are scoring 7.71 runs per 9 innings for Neimann. That works out to only the second highest percentage among ML qualifiers, and first in the AL. And to say he has been matched up against only fifth starters this season is a crock. He beat Roy Halladay in Toronto on June 29th, when he went 7.1 innings.  Sometimes being the fifth starter on the team can get you unique experiences for growth and excelling in your performance. I think it is more of Neimann finally feeling he belongs up here
and feeling more at ease on the mound. 

The winner in all of this are the Rays and the fans. In a spot in the rotation that people fretted and wondered about from the first game, Neimann had shown he is a solid member of the Rays rotation, and could be for a long time. Some people point to 2008, when Edwin Jackson also was the fifth starter and posted 14 wins in the season. So far Neimann is ahead of Jackson’s 2008 pace, and could be the new Rays total victories in a season leader by October. But the season still has over 60 games to play, and anything can happen from now on.

But one thing is for sure, the Rays are a better team with Neimann on it. Where early in the season people spoke aloud of the outlandish decision to keep him, now those same people are clapping and praising him for his wins and performance. Hey, the guy might just be the Rays second Rookie of the Year winner, and keep the tradition alive for one more season in Tampa Bay.  But I am going on record as saying when they ask me to put my stamp on any rookie who I think deserves the award, the first statistics I will look at in comparison is to Neimann’s numbers. And so far, no one is holding a candle to the Tall Texan.
  

Cartoons and Power Outages

 



During today’s afternoon baseball game the Rays had one of their annual Park and Recreation days. If you are unaware of this special day for Rays fans, it is the time of the year where 5,000 plus youngster from all over the Rays viewing area get to come out to the ballpark for an afternoon contest and get the best gift ever from the Rays………. Rays Thunderstix!  Now if you are one of those people who complain about the cowbells and their constant clanging, you would have a field day during the Thunderstix days.

Sure they have a lighter sound, but the constant pounding of the two stix together, or off the kid next to you tend to get on your nerves after 7 innings. And the greatest thing about this promotion, the stadium looks full and the only ones who really complain are the people who clean up the Trop after the kid tornadoes tend to wreck havoc and trash everywhere. This is not to mean that kids can be a bit…well, messy, but more to the fact that once a Thunderstix is not usable, it is discarded like a old useless Popsicle stick to the floor of the stadium.

I mean as you leave the game the carnage you see all over the stadium floor of damaged and forgotten Thunderstix can be kind of overwhelming to someone who values collectibles. But to most of these kids they are just props to keep them occupied and happy for at least half the game before they get their hot dogs, cracker jacks and soda. I actually love these days more for the facts it is the one time during the entire year you can sit behind 10 rows of kids and even if they all stand up, you can still see the field. It is not like when adults, who tend to be above 5 feet tall occupy those same seats and become instant black-out elements at any time during the game.

But things did get a bit testy for a few moments when a few of the Trop’s banks of lights flickered and the umpires decided that we needed to wait for 20 minutes until the light came back full force again. You could see up in the Raysvision booth that they were scrambling to find some suitable entertainment for the young crowd and actually brought out a Bugs Bunny classic “Baseball Bugs”, where the frisky rabbit takes on the Gas-House Gorillas in a game of baseball.

But for some reason the Rays forgot they had the best cartoons in the business, and it featured players and people that the kids have seen over and over on television and on the Trop’s big screen. The Rays came up with a cartoon based on the “Defenders of the Game” which featured Carl Crawford, B J Upton, Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Carlos Pena. They even had special places for Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer. What a special cartoon moment that would have been as even the players were sitting on the dugout steps and near the bullpen grass checking out the action on the screen above rightfield.

Raysvision and the Rays had a captive audience that they could have used to parlay their “Defenders of the Game” scenarios for a long time, but instead went with a old Bugs Bunny cartoon. Now do not get me wrong, I love Bugs, and the cartoon they did show is a sure baseball classic, but at least they did not show that Rockey the Mudhen “Infield Fly Rule” buzz kill video that sometimes pops up late in the games on Sundays. Kudos to the boys in the booth for not subjecting us to that baseball definition video one more time.

And even during his post-game interview Maddon spoke about the Bugs Bunny cartoon about how the guys were enjoying it and that it seemed to go over well with the mostly kid crowd. Maddon did ask via the assembled media in the clubhouse if they can maybe get some Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote videos for the next rain delay/power outage. Because we do not have rain delays, but power outages in Tampa Bay, and we do not have to wait for a tarp or a grounds crew to signal the go ahead to resume play.
 

So with that recommendation by Maddon I decided to try and find some alternative cartoon if the Raysvision crew could not find a baseball-related Warner Brothers cartoon. I decided to dig into the dusty cartoon vault really deep and into the dark recesses of the bowl to see if they did have any cartoon with the road runner and the coyote that might have a baseball background. I could not come up with a single episode, but I did come up with a few where  the coyote had decided that a baseball bat would be a good weapon of choice against that pesky sprinting bird.

The “Defender of the Game” cartoons can be found on Youtube right now from the first episode , to the final one after their second season. They are classic cartoon where the Defenders tackle the evil Umpreror, and then Doctor Stats. They are pretty tongue-in-cheek cartoons, but are fun to watch during a power outage/rain delay. But there are other variation out there like a classic Woody Woodpecker cartoon called, The Screwball” where he tries to get into an outdoor baseball field. Then you have the old 1948 classic cartoon “Baseball Brawl” which featured woodland animals as players in the baseball game. 

But the end result is that during the outage, the cartoon did bring about some sense of order to the stands and kept the kids occupied with harmless fun for everyone. And that is the special problem that can surface on a day like today with a crowded house of pre-teens all coming out to watch a baseball game.

But in the end, everyone left with a smile both in regards to a Rays victory, and from the classic baseball cartoon they will be telling their parents about tonight. And who knows, that might transfer into a Family Fun Day this Sunday where the family of four can come to the ballpark with FREE parking and discounted food and tickets. I guess the cartoon could be called a community ticket experience now.

 

 

Rays have some Major Pitching Decisons looming

 


Paul J Berewill / AP

I do not envy Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman or Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s job this weekend. They will have to brainstorm and continue to formulate a plan to set two people either on a plane to the minor leagues, or find another alternative for one before the team gets on the plane to head to Toronto at the beginning of the week.  One player ( Winston Abreu) probably already knows his days are numbered and is just going to enjoy what time he has left before he is heading back to Triple-A this season.

But the second player that will needed to be plucked from the rotation and either sent down to the minors, traded, or maybe even relegated to the Bullpen might be the toughest decision for the Rays this season.  And I do not envy those two men at all for the deepest cut this year for the team. We all know that Rays starter Scott Kazmir is rumored to be starting one of the games this weekend, and with that becoming a reality, it means one of the two other starters this weekend either Jeff Neimann or David Price might be sitting on the hot seat.

But then again, did Andy Sonnanstine do enough to even secure his job last night. We all know he got roughed up in the first inning then completely solidified and became the starter we needed last night. Sonnanstine has the mental ability to start in the league without question. The only problem is that now we have a three headed monster to contend with here, and which head is the one to be chopped off. All three have merits to be here another day in the rotation, but someone has to give way again by Monday when the Rays have anticipated that Rays reliever Chad Bradford would be ready for duty.

That throws another gallon of gasoline in the fire because with his promotion back onto the Rays roster, one of the big three will have to give way. I want to play shadow General Manager here for a moment and try and decide, convince or maybe even throw some personal opinion into the barrel with the rest of Maddon and Friedman’s thoughts.  We all know that Bradford is further along in his rehab that initially anticipated and could even be restored to the roster by the weekend.

But my logical, or maybe biased view might be to use the obvious choice of sending down Abreu today or tomorrow to make that first roster space ready for Kazmir if he indeed is given a start this weekend in place of Price or Niemann. And with that happening, just move the current rotation down 1 to keep a rightie( Shields), leftie( Kazmir), rightie (Garza), leftie (Price), rightie (Niemann) match-up.  Okay you are quickly noticing my second part of the rotation here with the absence of a name.

I am over a barrel here because I love the spunk of Sonnanstine and actually think he is turning the corner.  His mental make-up is the thing I wish both Niemann and Price have right now. That is what makes this more of a toss-up than a sure thing. I can make excuses for either Sonnanstine or Price going down, but in reality, if we send down Price right now we might send the wrong message to him too. As I have mentioned before, in 2003 when Kazmir first made his Rays debut, he went 2-3 and showed impressive results in strikeouts and movement on his pitches, but you knew 2004 was going to be his year.

Price has been basically anointed by the media to be a darling since his playoff heroics of 2008, but that doesn’t give you the leg up to assume or take a roster spot in the major leagues. He did need that additional seasoning in the minors, and maybe it might not have been the right time to bring him up, but it is history now and if you send him back it might put him behind in his development. For some reason now I am of the mindset that for him to go back to Durham would revert his development a bit. 

Kazmir and James Shields had to learn to adjust at this level and turned out fine for the Rays. Matt Garza took huge steps in 2008 to prove he was a top tier pitcher in the league. That Texas tussle might have actually been the best moment of his career because it got him to see a problem outside of just pitching that was taking his mind off the business on the mound. Heck, even if Price got lite up a bit on Tuesday night in that first inning the fact he threw 30 strikes on 40 pitches in itself is pretty amazing.

So here is the rub. You got three guys who deserve the spots, but only two slots to fill. How do you decide who is the odd man out?


Steve Nesius / AP

1st contender…………….Jeff Niemann 


You got a former First Round draft pick that you have invested both time and money into who is finally coming into his own on the mound after only 16 career starts. He is currently tied with James Shields for the team lead in wins with 6, and is second among American League rookie pitcher this season in wins.

Not only that, he has matured and developed quickly since his first start of the season where he got shell shocked by the Baltimore Orioles and his six victories puts him 4 behind Rolando Arrojo’s current Rays rookie record.  The team has won 8 of his last 9 starts and are 10-4 overall when he has taken the mound in 2009.  This statistic is the best among the five starters on the Rays staff this season.  

He is getting 8.17 runs per 9 innings, the second best support in the AL after Boston’s Tim Wakefield. The Rays have scored 40 runs in his last 4 starts and have scored 8 runs or more in 10 of his 14 starts.  He has not allowed a home run  in 26.1 innings or since May 23rd at Florida (Uggla).  Niemann also has the only complete game shutout by a rookie pitcher this season in the majors.  He threw only 100 pitches in that shut out, with between 9-14 pitches each inning of that contest. 

The one really bad side to maybe even considering taking Niemann out of the rotation might be the effect it would have on his starting ability in the rest of the season. Being a major league reliever is a different mindset since you have to be ready every day to pitch. That is a totally different mental preparation for a game than studying two days in advance of your next start to get totally invested in the opposition’s hitting patterns. Relievers tend to learn on the fly at times, which might stunt his growth as a starter.


Kathy Willens / AP

2nd Contender……………….Andy Sonnanstine.

I have to say I re
ally like the way he handled that adversity last night, but for some reason it did feel like more of the same from him this season. He has gotten in deep dodo before in 2009 and fought log and hard to resurface with confidence and  a renewed vigor to pitch, and I respect that in him.  But the reality is that even though he is now tied with Neimann and Shields with six wins,he has had to endure more stress and rocky starts than the other two starters.

But he is  a sure thing at home this season, I will give him that. In 2009 he is 5-0 in six home starts this season. Compare that to his road record and he is night and day this season. On the road he is 1-7 with a 8.22 ERA.  But on top of some of those great home numbers is a few statistics that might frighten the daylights out of you. He had allowed a home run in 8 straight starts before he blanked the Philadelphia Phillies last night. During that span he has allowed 14 dingers.  But that is not the only warning signal to boast a red flag for Sonnanstine.

His 6.61 ERA is the highest among major league qualifying starting pitchers this season.  He currently leads the American League in runs allowed with 60 runs, and .307 Opponents Batting Average is second in the AL. But a big plus on his side to maybe stay until at least Monday is the fact he gives Maddon another left-handed bat on the bench for the Inter League series. He has been impressive with his hitting in 2009, and has proven to be a bona fide hitter for the Rays.

But even if the plus and minus side match up, he is also eligible to be sent down to the minors without having to be placed on waivers at all. He still has two minor league options that the Rays can use with him. I am not pre-determining anything here, but that fact along with the red flags on homers and Opponents Batting Average might be a determining factor in the future decision.

       
        Reinhold Matay / AP

3rd Contender……………David Price.

Here is where it gets really interesting. If you send down the Rookie do you send the right message to him that his time is coming and that this is just a postponement of his major league education? As I have stated before, I think he was not ready to come up right after Kazmir went on the disabled list. But he has gotten the same kind of training Kazmir got in 2003 when he went 2-3 and got thrown into the Rays rotation. Maybe this experience taught him something and if he did go back down a fire would be burning in his belly to get back up here as soon as possible.

But the reality is that the guy is here now and he could learn just as well up here as in Durham now. And the added fact of a second leftie in your starting rotation is nothing to sneeze at in the major leagues. But he is also a work in progress up here right now getting hit around at times, but always acting like a rubber band and pulling himself back into shape to adjust and get his game back into order. And that has not gone unnoticed in the stands either. 

Let’s look at his stats before the Tuesdays game to get a better look at what he has done so far in the majors. Before that game he had made a total of 7 career starts for the Rays.  If he had enough innings to qualify, he would be second in ERA and third in Opponents Batting Average for rookies in the AL this season.  He has also allowed two earned runs or less in 4 out of his 5 starts this season. He is the guy with the least amount of innings this season, but might have the biggest up-side to remaining with the team past this weekend.

I am not going to beat around the bush here and throw more stats out about Price.  We all know he has star potential and can be a huge cog in the Rays future. But the biggest thing that needs to be addressed is the simple fact he can also still be sent down without any cause for alarm. I think he is the most unlikely of the three right now to be optioned back to Durham, but this team has surprised me before with logical-illogical thinking.

Summary

Basically it is going to be a huge decision whoever the Rays decide to swap out of the rotation for Kazmir and Bradford’s returns. The most logical and practical options is to send Abreu down first, then make the needed arrangements or even a trade to make the second decision a no-brainer for the team. Niemann looks to be safe for a roster spot right now. That is not to mean he might be popped into the Bullpen like during the 2008 playoffs, but I think that might be a premature thing to do with the tall Texan.

Also I am thinking more and more that Price might have done all he can do down in Durham and learning on the fly up here might be his best option now. But a short turn back in Durham also working more on that change-up and learning a bit more on the constantly moving major league strike zone might also be in order. There is a 50-50 split on if he goes back to the Triple-A Bulls. But in the end, my head tells me he is here for the rest of the year baring injury or a major meltdown.

That leaves us with Sonnanstine. He has posted some of the biggest wins in the last two years for the team, but he has fallen down a notch or two in control and consistency. But as we all know Cleveland’s Cliff Lee is not the most consistent pitcher overall, but has gotten the wins when needed in his career. And Sonnanstine mirrors him in this respect. Sonny knows what needs to be done and will strive to do it at all costs, but is his clock winding down with the Rays.

Of the three pitchers mentioned in this blog, he is the one who might even garner the most attention on the trade front. We all know that the San Diego Padres are anxious to find more starting pitching, but could Sonnanstine be the right fit for that squad. Before the season a few teams were linked to Sonnanstine. Could any of these teams still be interested in the righthander?

The Rays might still keep him for pitching depth and send him to the minors or even put him in the Bullpen. But the stark reality is that he could go down and redefine himself at Durham and come up blazing and ready to reclaim a rotation spot. Nothing make a pitcher hungrier than knowing they can still produce at this level and being optioned down to the minors. But Sonny has done it before. He has gone from an unknown to a 14-game winner last season. I really do not envy those two men in the Ray clubhouse for this series of decisions. But even if they have to play a aggressive rendition of “Rock,Paper. Scissors” this will be done this weekend. Hopefully they can come to a consensus before the Wine Pong game comes out.

   

Price Check!

 


Chris O’Meara / AP

I found it kind of funny last night. The way some of the Rays fans in the crowd at Tropicana Field began to slowly turn against David Price. It was odd the way they were beginning to cross that hypocritical line that you invade when you think you might have duped by someone or something. They were in that zone I like to call, the See-Saw Zone. And it is not like have never been that way before here in sunny Florida.  As fans of a team that has only celebrated one winning season, we can be totally critcial of anything at anytime within the sport.

We have done it before to all of our local favorite teams, the  Tampa Bay Bucs have gotten it ever since they stopped making the playoffs. And the one year absence of hockey in Tampa Bay made a huge legion of fans forget about the Lightning on the ice even if they did win the top prize,the Stanley Cup before the strike put them on the shelf for a season. And now it seems that the Tampa Bay Rays fan are starting to do it to the best pitching prospect to come through our minor league system. The catcalls in Rightfield after the third inning irritated me to the bone. People seem to have ADD anymore about the positive accomplishments of any athlete, much less one of their own.

Another adage I sometimes use to show this kind of behavior is the old Janet Jackson song, “What have you done for me Lately?”.  It is actually that sense of entitlement and self ownership that the crowd gets to show their pleasure and displeasure at their own discretion towards a bevy of things Rays related. So did it bother me that people began to actually say David Price’s name out loud that maybe we plucked the cherry tree too soon and he was not ripe. Nope.

Did it bother me that they are now questioning their own sense of baseball as self-taught scouts.  Who knows if they are right or wrong about the southpaw that seemed to hold the franchise together last season at key moments. He did not start a game, but his presence on the mound in the end of the game left an impression of superiority to the masses. But what really got my goat is the  inflated expectations by the Rays that they threw upon this young pitcher the moment his name was chatted on the radio or typed into a computer. The kid pitched a combined 12-1 in the Rays Minor League system in 2008. But all some of the Rays fans remember is a short stint in the Bullpen where he looked like the second coming of fellow southpaw Scott Kazmir to the team.

             
              Chris O’Meara / AP

People forgot the reality that he jumped from Class-A to the bench in the major leagues in less than a full season. That is usually not the case with a young pitcher you are counting on for your future. MLB Scouts commonly say that you never really get  a true evaluation and potential of a young pitcher until he has thrown about 200 innings. Well, if you combine his 2008 totals (109.2 innings), plus his Rays 2008 totals (14 innings) you still do not get a good 200 innings out of the guy as a young professional pitcher.  And in that scenario, you have to admit to yourself he will be a work in progress at the major league level.

Sure he as the  explosive stuff on the mound and the awesome ability to pitch above his head at times, but he is also trying to parlay a new pitch (change-up) into his arsenal that needs time to mature and develop fully to be effective. So far in 2009, with his number from Durham ( 34.1 innings) and the Rays ( 30.1 ) he is still 26 innings short of that basic measuring point in his development ( 174 innings). And is one of the key elements that bothered me when they first brought him up this season. Sure his placement and velocity of his slider and his fastball might be above average, but his change-up is a work in progress and is improving daily. But such a pitch can be used as a glaring weak spot for teams to  be patient and sit on pitches waiting on Price to throw them early in the game.

And that might be a perfect explanation of what happened last night when the crowd and the Philadelphia Phillies dissected him like a frog in Biology class. They basically poked and prodded the young pitcher fouling off his fastball and slider and were giddy when he finally offered up his breaking stuff. The Phillies 6 runs and 4 hits along with a costly error by Evan Longoria was the example of in-depth scouting and having the Phillies hitter wait for Price to make a pitching mistake.

And he did make a few in the first inning, but it was not all his doing. Even thought the team behind him was in an odd defensive funk, he did finally get it all under control after the first inning before again stumbling in the fourth inning. And when the Phillies again took him apart for 4 runs. That is when I started to hear the voices behind me question if we brought him up too early ,or if he was over-rated as a pitcher. These were the same souls who cheered his first win, and also shouted encouragement to him as he was warming up by the Bullpen this same night.

Have we all gotten that fickle now in Tampa Bay by one short season of Price showing he has the right stuff. There is going to be ups and down with Price this year just as we have seen with Jeff Niemann. And people really do have to be a bit patient with both of them. Price is starting to figure it out at this level, but some people in the stands want instant gratification and do not have the precious time to wait for an improvement or knowing that better things are coming for the Rays starters. 

But I think Price so far has been given the same luxuries that Scott Kazmir was given in 2004 when the Rays brought him up to learn the art of pitching at the major league level. Last night was not pretty, but then again, the Rays starters this season have been as up and down as the new Manta roller coaster at Sea World in Orlando. There have been numerous twists and turns by everyone on the staff, even James Shields and Matt Garza. But this is also a series where the two teams have ample and extended scouting on all phases of the game. You to guess the Phillies have not only done their homework on the Rays, but know this is a series based on  a lot of pride for the Rays. This series could turn into a defining moment in the 2009 season.

Maybe the Rays were a bit hasty when they began the Price dog-and-pony show the day he was drafted. Price has been hyped since day 1 when he first signed his contract on August 15, 2007 with quotes telling us he will be here fast and to expect him to be with the team soon than later. “We ar
e thrilled to add a player of David’s caliber to our organization,” said Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman told MLB.com. “Not only was he the most outstanding amateur player in the country this year, we see him as one of the best pitching prospects to come out of the draft in some time. In addition to his remarkable talent, David’s character is exemplary. He is an important building block and a potential upper-echelon starting pitcher for many years.”  Can you say pressure cooker on high heat!

But then Price when he was interviewed right after being selected by the Rays with the top pick in 2007 showed some of his maturity and frank honestly on the acceleration process through the Rays farm system. “The difference between Major League hitters and college hitters, there is not even a comparison,” Price said during a conference call with Bill Chastian, who is the Rays correspondent for MLB.com. “Being able to pitch in the Major Leagues, you really have to have something about you. To go from college and breeze through the Minor Leagues is a rarity. You have to be careful with that.” 


Reinhold Matay / AP


Most people cheered when the Rays finally promoted pitcher David Price to the major leagues later than expected in 2009 knowing that the future of the Rays organization was right on their doorstep. I am one of those people who thought he might be the wrong guy at the wrong time.   For the record, I was more into thinking Wade Davis deserved a chance to flaunt his stuff and was more developed at the time, but that is why I am not a Rays scout. I am not against Price in any way, I just feel he needed more time to gel his pitch selection and control in the minor leagues before he got thrown into the MLB melting pot.

I was hoping for a post All-Star promotion for Price to give him more time to refine his craft and also show he had done everything he could at the Triple-A level. That has been the knock on him that he is a great pitcher who throws strikes, but can be picked apart by extending at bats until a mistake crosses the plate. But that is also the tale of hundreds of young pitchers in the league. If you are patient to wait for a mistake, you will be rewarded. And that same evaluation was apparent last night. He truly got picked apart by the Phillies hitters.

It might have been easier for Rays catcher Dioner Navarro to yell out the signals because the hitters were looking for a certain type of pitch (breaking ball) every time they went to the plate, and they were patient for all 4.1 innings of Price’s night. But when he did finally come off the mound and was replaced by Rays reliever Winston Abreu, most of the crowd did not stand and cheer for him. Instead most sat on their hands beyond the eyesight of the dugout. They guy did his best that night, but the wishy-washy crowd would not have any of it. Rays fans need to understand that art of patience again, or they might accidentally ruin this young pitcher by sending the wrong message to him.

It might have been the shock and awe of Price getting beaten around like this from a team coming in with a 6-game losing streak that unsettled the crowd. But lost within the stadium was the fact the Phillies are a monster on the road with a current 24-9 mark, which is best in the MLB this season. It is not often a team has a better road record than a home record and is still over .500. Price might have been more a victim of an aggressive team hungry for a win,but the Phillies did their best impersonation of a Sharks feeding frenzy when they tore into the young pitcher time and time again in the first inning. Price did threw 40 pitches in that inning, and 30 of them went for strikes by because of the score, any effectiveness went out the window. 

That proves he was hitting some of the spots that Navarro set up for him behind the plate, but the Phillies also stayed patient knowing the young southpaw would make a mistake. Rays fans had better get used to roller coaster rides by the young pitcher. t is common to have a topsy turvy time of it your first season. But for some reason it felt in the stands last night that people were looking at him throwing on the mound like the 2009 Rookie-of-the-Year without even throwing 50 innings yet this season.

Scott Kazmir went through the same learning curve and has become the Rays winningest pitcher (51 wins). Kazmir also has thrown over 818 strikeouts in his 768.2 innings as a Rays starter . Jame Shields, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine have all been battered and bruised before on the mound. But with them, the Rays faithful have given them time and space to grow into the pitching styles. Price not only deserves the same time and space, but he has proven he can win, and that he can pitch at this level. The big question is how long until they either join him or cast him off as a used relic.

It is sure to be a rough 2009 for Price, but if it was so easy, all of us might have had a professional career. The art of pitching at this level is one of the hardest things to master in sports. There are too many variables to account for on every pitch to bring about perfection or even a chance to try to achieve perfection. There is a reason we celebrate Perfect Games and No-hitter with such zeal. They are not given moments to people who settle or do not give total effort, but are classic examples of learning the craft and putting it all out there every time on the mound.

Price will be fine. He will begin to get it and become a great star in this lineup if we just give him the needed time to gel. The guy is only in his rookie year and people were calling for the Bullpen in the first inning.  What was especially upsetting was watching a young fan tear up a sign with Price’s name on it in the sixth inning. He looked frustrated and upset his guy did not get it done tonight. But also adding to the problem was his parents bickering and complaining about Price. It was not the right example to show to the kid first off, but it was not right to throw Price under the bus for great scouting and preparation.

Price might still get a chance to be selected for the 2009 Rookie-of-the-Year that most people in the sport anointed him with in Spring Training. But even if he doesn’t the guy is giving his all and doing a job most of us would trade almost anything for to try every 5 days. I have to admit, the first inning took a lot of the air out of me last night too, but I also know that this team can do anything if they motivate themselves. Price is going to be around for a long time here in Tampa Bay. We should show more positive crowd reactions to the guy, not chant for the Bullpen after the first inning. Maybe in five days when he is again on the mound against the Florida Marlins the fans will give him the chance to again prove he is here for good.

Do Phiten products really Work?


Alan Sung/ Scienceline.org

 

For years we have seen some of our favorite Major League Baseball players wearing that  colorful and decorative necklace on the mound or in the field. Little did we know that the product is based on scientific evidence that it helps heals the body and is not just a selective MLB fashion statement.

For years the multi-colored titanium bands have adorned either on our favorite players wrists or neck and that has been a huge selling point for kids and adults to try out the products for themselves. There is a huge group of current MLB players who have tested the product and still wear them on the field or on the mound for games during the season.  In recent years, the Boston Red Sox have two players who have visually been pro-titanium necklaces.

Both starting pitcher Josh Beckett, and current American League Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia can be seen with multiple necklaces on their body daily for games. The Rays also sport the stylish necklaces with Rays starter Scott Kazmir and Bullpen pitcher Dan Wheeler wearing their necklaces daily.

The biggest drawing point to these titanium bands being worn by both players and the general public is the manufacturers claims that they can decrease muscle discomfort, help increase blood circulation, promote a sense of relaxation stabilize energy flows, and sooth stress and tension. Each of these reasons would be a great reason for any athlete trying to stay at their top levels and physical best for 162 games during the regular season.

The company responsible for this new baseball fashion plate concerning the titanium-filled bands is Japanese-based Phiten.  The companies website even boasts a the necklaces and wrist bands as “energy transport systems”, and the company maintains that the product “amplifies the energy management system increasing the efficiency of each and every cell.”

        
         Tom Mihalek / AP
But even with great endorsements from players like Beckett and the New York Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain, the product has scientific research done overseas, but no credited United States laboratory has done significant research into the product yet.

The Phiten corporation was founded by Japanese chiropractor Yoshihiro Hirata back in 1983.  The products distributed by the company currently are titanium discs, a wrist band, and the often observed necklaces.  Most of the items shipped have been purchased online at http://www.phiten.com, but some area sporting good stores have begun to distribute the products in the United States. Locally, the best known store to have them in stock is the Sports Authority sporting goods stores. 

The titanium-infused necklaces first gained prominence in Japan, where they are still popular with athletes. According to the company, the necklaces and bracelets work by stabilizing the electric flow that nerves use to communicate actions to the body. “All of the messages in your body travel through electricity, so if you’re tired or just pitched nine innings, the electricity isn’t flowing as smoothly as it can,” said Joe Furuhata, a Phiten spokesman. “Our products smooth out those signals.”

With athletes harboring great superstitions and wanting to keep up with good luck charms, could the Phiten products just been on their bodies when they had great games and not have a significant level of enhancement over their physical being. The psychological effects of believing something is good for you has been proven time and time again. If I told you Cod Liver Oil would prevent a type of cancer in people aged 25-35 years of age, you know that within a months time there would be numerous products on the grocery shelf to combat the problem.

I have owned a pair of them for several and I suffer from some neck discomfort from a former injury. I have worn them for about three years and finally took them off about 6 months ago and have not put them back on my neck. I did feel some relief at first from the product, but then the same symptoms came back after three months. Do the bands have a limited shelf life I did not know about, or could I have mentally convinced myself they were the reason for the neck pain numbing down a bit for that period of time.

I can attest to more of a feeling of relaxation and comfort in my mental being that totally physical at that time. There currently is no study or conclusion drawn by scientists that the product either works or is a farce. I guess the basic belief that it works might be the best medicine here. But just like the human body can convince itself to lift up a 2-ton car off a person trapped by sheer adrenaline or mental power, this product does not make claims of enhancing your physical power or performance.

It’s pure claim to fame is the fact it can do wonders in relieving stress, anxiety, and for the most part muscle discomfort. And for a professional athlete, sometimes the hardest thing to do is believe in something you can not see. There is currently no scientific evidence to support Phiten’s claims. “There’s no science and physiology,” said Dr. Orrin Sherman, chief of sports medicine at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases said in an blog posting on http://www.Scienceline.org. “There’s just no way the chemical structure of the body can be influenced by magnets that small. It’s all superstitions with no scientific basis.”

 So if the product does put Pedroia, Beckett or even Kazmir into a better place mentally, why should we worry about it all.  I remember in college during a Psychology class the fact that sometimes a “placebo” can have the same effect mentally on the body as the same dose of the correct medicine for pain or discomfort. Could the Phiten necklaces also have that same effect as a pain reliever pill or medicine to the body.

But with most of today’s baseball players also believing in the act of the streak and the formation of good luck in odd places, maybe the advent of the Phiten necklaces is a small part of the overall mental preparation for Beckett and Pedroia. If you think the necklace is doing some good and is creating a more positive performance out of you, why would you even think of discarding the product until you find another “lucky charm.”

 

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