Results tagged ‘ Shawn Riggans ’

2010 Rays Fan Fest Photo Blog 1 of 2


I decided to break the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest into a 2-part blog post since I had reduced my photos down into 60-odd photos. I thought it might be best to start off with the first segment basically focused on the events of the day that were swirling all around Tropicana Field. from the moment the doors opened at 10:05 am (late) and ran until basically 5:30 as Rays Manager Joe Maddon wanted to give every fan in line a chance to get his autograph before they finally turned the lights out and we all went home tired and drain by all the sights and sounds of the day.  

 


As usual, I saw Rays Senior Director of Promotions Brian Killingsworth mad on his walkie talkie trying to get the day events started out with a flurry of excitement and give everyone in attendance a bit of refreshment. And the Rays did that as we strolled into the Rotunda at Gate 1, and were presented with a Rays Sky Blue inspired Fan Fest daily schedule offering the players and times for the days autograph sessions, and included a map of all the planned activities for the day.


We quickly got a burst of sugar presented at a sampling table by Pepsi Bottling Group which furnished everyone with a sampling of the “Throwback” soft drinks made with pure cane sugar and not the corn syrup we have gotten used to in our sodas. And the crowd was eager to get into the stadium and rushed the table like a group of marathoners trying to rehydrate ” on-the-run” as we briskly walked through Centerfield Street towards the Centerfield gates and into Fan Fest. 

But most did not want to stop by the Budweiser Brewhouse for a free sample (while supplies lasted) of the Rays new signature adult beverage or even the Ted Williams Museum to see the multiple displays, or check out classic baseball artifacts today, they had Rays players autographs on their collective minds.
 

But the line quickly formed just below the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in Centerfield where the Rays established a long line of twisting white chains to wind people to the tables to buy a silver wristband that would let you get your autographs for a $ 20 donation to the American Red Cross and the Save the Children Foundations. It quickly became the center of most of the activities for the first 15 minutes as fans then proceeded to do a quick tour of the outer displays and booths set-up before getting in line almost two hours early for autographs.



Some people did not even notice the always popular “Rays Rookie table as they first walked into Fan Fest nestled right next to the wristband area that highlighted exclusive benefits for Rays fans 14 and under.  And most people did not even see the American Red Cross table to the right of the wristband section that was offering a special edition Carlos Pena T-shirt produced by the Rays to celebrate Pena’s accomplishments on and off the field for the Rays since he came here in 2007. I almost missed the table as it was hidden against the centerfield wall where B J Upton usually goes to bring in long fly balls with his cleats on the wall. With only 500 of these shirts produced, you know it will be a classic Rays collector’s item in the coming years.
   

But if you decided to not get into line quickly and walked around clock-wise around the field you would also encounter Season Ticket sales and Fan Fest Ticket packages table that was eagerly waiting to show you the multiple advantages of Season Ticket ownership. Just beyond them was a four car set-up by Chevrolet that featured a simply beautiful orange and black 2010 Chevy Camaro that would have looked great in my driveway if I had not looked at the sticker price.  Just past that was the Ruth Eckerd Hall table where Rays fans could try and win a chance to get free tickets to events at the Clearwater venue.
 


After that on the infield side of First Base was Radio row which held the tents of most of the radio partners of the Clear Channel empire here in Tampa Bay. Also in this area was the “Maddon’s Maniacs” table where you could join or renew your membership for $ 25 and get your yearly swag and card that could get you discounts during the year within Tropicana Field.  Right next to them was the Rays Flagship station and radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis were on hand for autographs and photos with Rays fans.  WDAE “The Sports Animal” also did a “Live” broadcast from the Trop. from 9 am to 3 pm during the Fan Fest. 


As you went around towards Home Plate, you saw the table set up by the Rays Wheelchair Baseball team that just celebrated their 7th season and won the 2009 Division II Championship and are currently ranked number 1 in the nation.  Then right after Home Plate you noticed the large crowd checking out the Rays Silent Auction and the Rays mystery “grab bag” promotion where you purchase a brown bag for $ 20 and could possibly win a Rays game line-up card ( I got Rays @ Minn), an autographed baseball (I got a Shawn Riggans baseball), or a Rays Batting Practice jersey.   

 

Right next to the Rays Foundation table was the Rays Team Spirit Squad, which set up a table to give autographs to Rays fans and also promote the Rays Team 2010 Calendar ($ 15) and was more than eager to personally autograph your copy of the calendar. The girls were all eager and ready to chat with fans and even talk about their MLBlog that was set-up in late 2009.

Stuck right behind Home Plate and located in the usual food room for the Home Plate Club was the Raysvision crew on their “Casting Call” promotions for the upcoming season. You could sing Karaoke, ask a Rays player a question, or show your best dance moves for the camera. I actually got wrangled into singing Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” by a few of the Rays staffers who knew I sometimes sing in a cover band in Pinellas Park. It was fun, and I stayed there for a bit and saw some great fan questions and a few wild renditions of songs, even a Lady Gaga song. It was the perfect place to let out your inner “Rock Star” without anyone else catching onto your actions.
 

 

One of the most popular tables early was to go up and meet Country Rap Star Cowboy Troy before he went up on the Pepsi stage and did a few numbers before coming back over and doing autographs and photos with the Rays fans. He was also selling coins and CD’s to benefit his foundation which helps support the military troops overseas throughout the world. I enjoyed talking to Cowboy Troy, and he was excited to come back to Tampa Bay today and celebrate the event because of his love for baseball.


 


But as always, the Rays Fan Fest also wanted to put a smile on our youngest fans and again Bright House Networks helped the Rays in setting up multiple areas like the “running of the Bases” race section in the Rays infield, and the multiple gaming centers along the leftfield fence region. The first section was a chance to experience just what a MLB player saw as the ball came down from the roof of the Trop. I got to tell you, it seemed like if you took your eye off the ball for a moment, you lost it and it fell to the ground. Also a popular event was the Speed Pitch challenge where you could see if you had the right stuff to hopefully become a Rays pitching ace in the future. 
 

 

Right next to this section was the two Batting Cages  one set up  as a Little Hitters Zone so young Rays sluggers could get their timing down on balls thrown by pitching machines. This always has one of the longest lines and showcases some of the great raw talent in the Tampa Bay area. And even adults had a chance this season to get in there and try and hit that white dot in the regular Big League Batting Cages exhibit. It is always a blast to see a young kid around 10 years old beat up on his dad who is also hitting in the neighboring cage, but his young son is constantly hitting balls that dad seems to swing and miss on.


And as always, the Rays again had Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby set up where oversize wiffle balls and bats were used by really young fans to try and blast one out of the make-shift rendition of classic Ebbets Field. Also along the outside ring of the stadium, the usual gameday activities sections like along rightfield where you could enjoy the  T B Rays Carnival games, Raymond’s Art Studio, the Science of Baseball, Raymond’s Room and the St. Petersburg Times Press Box where you could get your own personalized  St. Petersburg Times front page.


 

Then if you strolled towards leftfield you could enjoy maybe making a replica Rays jersey, the Louisville Slugger Wood Shop, or even Make Your Own Baseball card for your personal collection. And if you were in an extreme mood, you could hit the Mountain Dew Extreme Zone stick ball diamond, or even the MLB 2K10 sports lounge where you could play MLB2K10 for free  on gaming consoles during Fan Fest. No matter where you went inside Tropicana Field, you could find an activity to make anyone in your family smile.
 
  


But also local theme parks like Busch Gardens was at Tropicana Field introducing Rays fans to their upcoming new park promotion “Sesame Safari of Fun”. Rays fans were also able to enter for a chance to win free tickets as well as try their luck at games on sight and also take photos with the Busch Gardens performers
There were even multiple baseball collections including some artifacts from the Ted Williams Museum and also the “Little Cooperstown” baseball display which has over 3,500 signed baseball currently in their collection. 
 
 

 

And if your are a “lover of the statistical”, or even just a lover of the game of baseball, you had to go by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) table and try your hand at their trivia crossword test to win prizes or even sign up for the national baseball research group. One of the members at the table, Rays Season Ticket holder Bill Dunstone will be celebrating his 1,000 Rays game during the 2010 season. If you like odd trivia or reading interesting facts and figures about the game of baseball both present and past, this is the group for you. 

 

As in the last few Rays Fan Fest’s, Rays Radio Network Pre and Post Game Show Host Rich Herrera did the Master of Ceremonies duties and did his usual strolling around the ballpark letting the Rays fans in attendance know about some of the odd events and happenings during Fan Fest. One of my favorite is when he goes up to the signing tables and interviews some of the players about their off
the field contributions, or even their activities during the off season. I still can not believe Rich struck a “Vegas Elvis” pose here on the Pepsi stage before he introduced Cowboy Troy for his musical performance.

 

One of the events that has become more and more popular every season is the Major League Baseball Players Association Alumni table that is set up near Section 142 to provide autographs and photos with some of the legends of the game that live around the Tampa Bay area. Players like former Ray Doug Creek former Rays Hitting Coach Milt May, Phillie Robin Roberts, and other veterans like Ron LeFlore, Bill Demars, Darold Knowles, Mark Whiten, Wayne Garrett and Scott Winchester. Dave LaPoint was also in attendance today in the MLBPA Alumni 12-1 pm veteran group and he told me he was managing the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with MLB currently. 


Also during Fan Fest, there were two Town Meetings being held in the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. The first was a meeting with Rays Television broadcaster Dewayne Staats with Robin Roberts. The second Town Meeting was the first chance for Rays fans to meet new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton along with radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis. Both events went along fantastic with each explaining their part in baseball and also telling great tales and stories concerning their time within the baseball ranks. Each session also included a Question and Answer section so the fans could get some additional insight into the inner workings of baseball.

  

But the main draw for most of the Rays fans in attendance was the autograph session from 12-5 pm featuring most of the Rays players and Coaches. Unfortunately prior to the event Carl Crawford, Pat Burrell, Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist had previous engagements and would not be able to attend. I will get into this deeper in the next section of my blog posting on Monday. There were a few surprises and a few late arrivals, which I will get into more tomorrow after I check to see if traffic situations did not compound the problems with some of the player’s signings.
 

Rayvision and Centerplate concessionaires  also had a promotion going on during Fan Fest for Rays guests to sample some of the new foods that will be introduced around Tropicana Field in 2010. In this sampling, the chef was trying to get a Rays fan to talk about the new Cuban sandwich selection that will be unveiled during the Rays home opener in April. The sandwich has a crisp breading and a highly spicy mustard that provided a great kick to the cooked pork and meat highlighted also by a sharp Swiss cheese. I think it will be an instant hit around the stadium.

 

Even “Star Wars” youngster Boba Fett had a great time at the Rays Fan Fest. What I always find exciting is the people who travel from great distances to come to this once a year event. Not only do they come from South Florida and beyond, but some people came here from South America and as far north as Ontario to partake in the Rays celebration with the fans to the beginning of Spring Training. I always thought the Rays should do a contest during Fan Fest to celebrate the fan who traveled the longest distance to attend the Rays Fan Fest. Maybe in 2011 they could award a Rays Fan pack to the long distance champion for their show of support for the team (HINT, HINT Promotions Department).
  

 

But I could not end this first blog posting without telling you about the GTE Federal Credit Union and their money machine. Got to admit, I was tempted, but with my luck I would drop all the money with one second left on the clock. I watched a few people use some very interesting cash collecting methods before positioning them for a chance at great prizes from their time in the U-22 Money Booth.  What could be better than coming to Fan Fest and getting a chance to win some additional money to spend at future Rays games.

And last, but not least, I wanted to say that Cowboy Troy did a great job of doing his songs on a make-shift sound system that did not rival the last one he sang on during the 2009 Big & Rich Saturday Night Concert Series during Country night at Tropicana Field. He had both young and old fans dancing near the Pepsi stage while he performed three songs and did some great dance moves and interaction with the crowd.

So here we are at the end of the first segment out of three of my postings about the Rays 2010 Fan Fest. Tomorrow I will give you some interesting facts and stories about the autograph session and a few behind-the-scene photos involving the Rays players. So I am already excited to get tomorrow’s blog posting up for you, but I want people to also check out this first segment before it gets lost in the shuffle. If you have read my Twitter account the past two days, I have been giving you small doses of some of the information I got while sitting in my Season Ticket seat most of the day and talking with Rays players, Rays Security and front office staffers. There is some really interesting stories to let you know about on Monday.  

  

Puerto Rico and Winter Baseball

I was sitting here at the computer on Sunday morning after the  late night news that the Tampa Bay Rays decided to non-tender former catcher Shawn Riggans, who was at that moment was playing Winter Baseball in Puerto Rico. And now that Riggans was a MLB Free Agent and still playing in the Puerto Rico Winter League, who else from among the other MLB squads could be playing or even rehabbing amongst the  League’s five rosters.

Could there be some of the well known players from around Major League Baseball using this Winter League as an extra workout primer to get into early game shape, or is this the “in” spot for MLB Free Agents  to using the league as a visual point for scouts and MLB teams interested in their services for the 2010 season.

I have to be totally honest here, before this season I really did not even think twice about the Liga de Beisbol Professional de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League) when it came to the yearly Winter Leagues around the Carribean. 

I guess I have been a bit shortsighted and naive to think that great players are not playing on teams in these Winter months. I mean, the PRPBL does have a great history and respectability around Major League circles. And their League Champion does get a berth in the Carribean World Series. But why is it that as soon as the World Series is over most of us who follow baseball just seem to forget about the game until the pitchers and catchers report in the middle of February?

I mean as of December 14th, there are currently around 37 members of an MLB clubs 40-man roster playing in the League. And some of those players are household names around baseball like catcher Ivan Rodriguez (Wash), and outfielders Lou Montanez (Balt) and Alex Rios (CWS) who play for Crillios (Creoles) de Cagua. Or maybe you are looking for pitchers like Ian Snell (Sea), Javier Vasquez (ATL) or Jake Westbrook(Clev) who are currently on the Leones (Lions) de Ponce squad.

And they are just a small smattering of the current members of MLB team’s 40-man rosters that are participating in this Winter’s season. Other squads include pitcher Rick VandenHurk (FL) or outfielder Nate Schierholtz (SF) and infielder Ivan DeJesus (LAD) who play on the same Gigantes de Carolina team with Riggans. 

Or maybe you are more interested in the Indios (Indians) de Mayaguez roster that boasts players like pitcher Johnathan Albaladego (NYY) or Carlos Beltran (NYM) who is getting extra work in before Spring Training, or Randy Ruiz (Tor) who is using the league to get more time at first base so he can secure a 25-man roster spot.

But the League is not only full of current guys on a teams 40-man roster, but you have a bevy of Free Agents down here playing right now in front of scouts and teams looking for a contract and a possible Spring Training Invite. Players such as Joel Pinero (P), outfielder Reggie Abercrombie (OF),Luis Mateo (OF),Jose Molina (C), Jose Vidro (INF) and Alex Cora (INF) are all down here basically playing for exposure and a possible 2010 MLB contract.

And there are other names of MLB prospects and guys needing some extra fine tuning before reporting in a few months to Spring Training. But it is kind of weird that MLB and the PRPBL suspended play for one season back in 2007-2008 to reorganize and institute a marketing plan, but none of us everyday MLB fans really knew anything about this league.

Maybe MLB needs to better educate the public as to the time tables for these Winter League’s so that we can also follow some of our hometown MLB and farm system players as they playing in these leagues. This season is the first time I have been remotely interested in checking up on Rays farm system players in the league. At first it was to see how Riggans was doing in his rehab. But now it is to see the performance of reliever Eduardo Morlan or even to check on how former Rays player Eduardo Perez is doing as the Manager of Leones de Ponce.

And I think other people will also be excited to check up on their players and their progress in the future. This League never crossed my mind before this season, but now I am coming back every few days to see the progress and check to see if Lobos de Arecibo is still in front in the League, and if their winning streak is over. I have discovered Winter League baseball in Puerto Rico, and have also discovered that well known players and MLB prospects are both playing great ball late into December.

 

Could Rays Bring Back Riggans?

 


RRCollections

I swear I almost wanted to scream at my computer screen when I got home late Saturday night and saw that the Tampa Bay Rays had announced that they would not be offering a contract to their long time back-up catcher/heart throb Shawn Riggans for the 2010 season. Rays fan’s hearts were breaking all over the Bay area knowing the popularity of Riggans with the Rays Republic. 

I have to admit it here that I was perplexed by the timimg of this decision by the Rays front office, but I was not totally in shock. Most of us in the stands knew that the writing might be on the wall after Riggans fought off  a number of injuries during the 2009 season to only get a chance to start 7 games for the Rays. And this position was considered a strength before  Riggan’s key injuries and the year long struggles of Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro.
 


Steve Nesius/AP

But I thought Riggans might still have time to change the Rays mindset while he was playing Winter baseball  in Puerto Rico. It seemed like a safe bet to consider that the Rays would wait until the end of that Puerto Rico Winter League season before finalizing their decision concerning Riggans. And when I asked Riggans about his off season plans, he seemed anxious to get an opportunity to get some extra  game exposure and continue working himself into game shape before reporting to Spring Training. Riggans was genuinely excited about heading to Puerto Rico and playing for the Gigante de Carolina this winter.

It was a bit curious to me that the Rays took this weekend, which is usually reserved for arbitration eligible decisions to deal the cards on Riggan’s future with the Rays. Riggans was not one of the ten possible Rays players who were seeking an  arbitration offer that night because Riggans still has one more season where his contract would be controlled by the team before he officially enters the arbitration carousel.

And with Riggans still not even on the board to make the big dollars this season, his $ 450,000 estimated salary was just a drop in the bucket in comparison to the contract signed by Dioner Navarro for $ 2.1 million on Sunday. And with Riggans still having a Minor League option, it seemed almost like a “win-win” situation for him and the team in refernce to salary and team control for 2010.

But I can see an outside fringes of the Rays risk management style in action here by maybe reducing half a million dollars off the 2010 books to lightly trim their payroll.  And combined with Riggan’s recent injury history, you could see the team’s increasing concerns to upgrade the team behind the plate and keep the possibilities of another unexpected rash of experience being on the disabled list during 2010.


Chris O’Meara/ AP

And you have to look no further than at the injuries sustained by Riggan’s in 2009 to squarely to see that the Rays might not have total confidence in him regaining 100 percent of his abilities and staying healthy throughout the enitre Rays season. 

From Riggan’s first stint on the disabled list in 2009 on April 13th (Right shoulder tendinitis) to his final recall by the Rays on September 1,2009, the Rays did not seem to have the same confidence in Riggan’s abilities towards the end of the season. And Riggans  did try and climb up the Rays organizational ladder during his rehab assignments by going from Class-A Charlotte Stonecrabs, to Double-A Montgomery Biscuits and finally stopping at the Triple-A Durham Bulls. But at one point during his journey, Riggans suffered an abdominal strain while trying to throw out a runner while he with the Biscuits and was shut down again for some time.

And because of this uneasiness towards Riggans being the consummate Rays back-up,or even a third option in 2010, the team might have just decided to now cut their ties to the young catcher to give him a chance to grab onto another team’s roster during the Hot Stove season. There are more than a few whispers of a possible Rays/Riggans reuniting with a possible minor league contract being offered to Riggans in the future, and an option of a possible Major League invite to Riggans.

That future scenario might be a prefect chance for Riggans to again show the Rays front office/scouts that he still has the stuff to play the Rays organization. For the first time in the last 9 months, it seems that Riggans might have finally regained his health and was playing the game he loves so much. He has appeared in 13 games so far for Giantes de Carolina (13-9), which is leading the Puerto Rico Winter League right now. Riggans is batting a modest .219 this season, but boasts a healthy .372 Slugging Percentage.

And Riggans has come a long way since he  last played baseball for St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale,Florida. It is a really wild fact that Riggans never started a single baseball game for St. Thomas Aquinas before the Rays selected him in the 24th round of the 2000 draft.

No matter what happens from this moment on, Riggans can take some special moments with him as a Ray.During 2008, Riggans made his first Opening Day roster and started behind the plate in the Rays home opener on April 8th against Baltimore and hit a 378-foot solo shot for his first career home run off Orioles starter Erik Bedard in that contest.

And Riggan’s was behind the plate during Rays starter Matt Garza’s one-hitter against the Florida Marlins with some of his family members in the stadium that day to enjoy the moment with him. But you have to believe that the biggest Rays memory for Riggans might have come during his first full season at the Major League level to be with the team while they were still playing deep into October, and then being here on Opening Day in 2009 to help raise those two Championship banners to the rafters.

If last Saturday night’s announcement is the last time we see Riggans in a Rays uniform, he can be proud of the 64 games he appeared in a Rays uniform in his short Rays career. Some guys get to come up and only have a small cup of coffee before a team decides their future and they are gone. In the last few seasons, Riggans has become a fan favorite as much for his smile and love of the game as for his abilities. And hopefully with health on his side, we might again possibily see Riggans in the Rays uniform this February.

Is Navarro Being Ushered out the Door?

 



Gail Burton / AP

In what might be a simple Tamp Bay two-step right now, the Tampa Bay Rays traded the always popular “Player To Be Named Later” today to the Cleveland Indians for experienced catcher Kelly Shoppach. The Rays will probably conclude the trade with a member of their current 40-man roster, and this trade announcement should be made public before December 20th. 

The move gives the Rays a solid hitting catcher with a keen eye at the plate, and some much needed power in his bat. Shoppach, who has hit 33 HRs over the past two seasons is tied for second with American League MVP Joe Mauer in total HRs by an AL catcher. Another bright spot for the Rays is that Shoppach lead the American League in 2009 with 18 HBP. He is known to crowd the plate and makes opposing pitchers work hard to get him out at the plate.

And this trade is definitely a physical “calling out” of Rays current catcher Dioner Navarro. For the first time in many years, the Rays did not invite a experienced catcher to come into Spring Training in 2009 to push Navarro for his starting job. But now, this trade to upgrade the Rays offensive power behind the plate makes perfect sense considering that Navarro fell so far off the offensive wagon for the Rays last season. 

Navarro’s  seasonal batting average quickly dipped from a career high of .295 in 2008, to an anemic .218  this season. And combined with his offensive downfall, Navarro also saw his defensive statistics also take an unexpected tumble. At times, Navarro’s defensive game has been called into question several times during the 2009 season. Navarro’s caught stealing percentage dropped from 35.7 (25-70) percent in 2008, which was third best in the Major Leagues, to only 23.8 (19-80) percent in 2009.

Maybe this downward trend finally convinced the Rays to look somewhere else for catching help for 2010. I personally noticed several times during the season that Navarro was becoming a bit lazy behind the dish  at times not coming out of his crouch for simple errant balls in the dirt. Navarro seemed to be not getting his glove down flat to the plate to prevent Wild Pitches or Passed Balls by adequately securing the baseball during games. Even though he was charged with only 5 Errors and 6 Passed Balls in 2009, his defense did take a huge step back in 2009. 


Elaine Thompson / AP

Maybe this is a clear message to Navarro by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, an ex-catcher, and the Rays staff that they are about done with trying to fix Navarro’s many defensive woes. It seems to me to be a blatant message that Navarro has regressed and maybe was rested too heavy on his laurels after his 2008 All Star season.

But this is not the first time in the last few months the Rays have not tried to send a message to Navarro. You have to think that when the team traded Arizona Fall League standout Ryhne Hughes to Baltimore for veteran Gregg Zaun, the young catcher would finally get the message. For some reason, Navarro did not read into the transaction that things might not be so rosy under the surface with his game performances in 2009.

And considering Navarro, like Shoppach is also up for arbitration this season, it might be a clear indicator that Navi’s time is about to end in Tampa Bay. With the trade for Shoppach, it is a clear that Navarro is now clearly behind the 8-ball and might not be tendered a contract by the Rays this off season.  You have to imagine that the Rays would not trade an arbitration eligible player unless they plan on giving him a contract offering.

And with the Rays not fully disclosing if they might be one of the 8 said teams talking with Zaun for 2010, this is a clear measure by the Rays to get the attention of their 2009 Opening Day catcher. Zaun has made recent comments that within the next week, or before the MLB Winter Meetings, he will announce his 2010 destination.

Another player that could make some noise in this recent  transaction is Rays back-up catcher Shawn Riggans, who is currently playing Winter Ball in Puerto Rico for Gigante de Carolina. Riggans is not arbitration eligible, and would only cost the Rays $450,000 compared to a possible $ 2.5 million arbitration ruling for Navarro.  The play of Riggans in Puerto Rico might be a key component to the team even considering either Zaun or Navarro for 2010.

Since Riggans did spend  97 days on the DL, and played in only 6 games for the Rays in 2009, his durability is a keystone to any catching arbitration moves by the team.
Riggans is currently hitting .211 average with a solo HR and a .429 Slugging Percentage during Winter ball.  Riggans has caught in 5 of Gigante de Carloina’s 11 games this season. His injury situations over the last few seasons could be another factor to securing a solid player like Shoppach.


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After the Rays traded for Zaun in August 2009, Navarro’s agent, Kendall Almerico was famous during the rest of the season for sending email and text messages to the Rays front office supporting his clients abilities with direct comparisons to the newly acquired Zaun. Almerico also represented Navarro in 2008 when he was trying to obtain a $ 2.5 million 2009 salary during Navarro’s first run during arbitration.

The Rays currently hold Navarro’s rights for three more season, or until 2011, then he would become a free agent. But after all of Almerico’s 2008  pre-arbitration ” talk” about respect, and the hearing maybe effecting Navarro long term relationship with the team. The Rays might be visually showing Navarro their first move in the chess match towards any possible arbitration for Navarro by the Rays.

Considering that the Indians did pick up a pretty good catching prospect in Lou Marson in the player return with the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Cliff Lee, it might be a long shot that Navarro could be the “PTBNL” in todays deal.  So maybe Navarro’s career clock with the Rays is ticking louder and louder right now in his household. Because the Rays might have cast the first stone to bring in a viable replacement to Navarro in the Rays lineup. The next comments by Navarro or Almerico might seal his fate in Tampa Bay.

Sunday Rewind” “Garza just misses Immortality”

 

Sunday Review:

As you might remember, during the off season I am going back over the 650 blog posts since 2007 and trying to find postings that I think were special over the years. Since the Rays news does get a little short this time of year, it was a way for me to still post daily and also give some of the newer bloggers a chance to see how my style has changed over the years.
 
 
I picked this blog from my archive for today because it not only shows the  writing style I was using in 2008, but it is a special moment in Rays history. With B J Upton finally getting the first cycle in Rays history on October 3,2008, I wanted to focus today on one of the past pitching performances by one of the Rays emerging starters.

In this series ending game against the Florida Marlins, Rays starter Matt Garza basically served up only one mistake all day long, and the Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez deposited it into the leftfield stands for the only hit,and run of the game for his team. It was one of the most dominating efforts by a member of the Rays starting rotation in 2008.
The blog was originally posted on June 26,2008.

    Rays 6,       Marlins 1
 

It was reported yesterday by the Montgomery Advertiser  that Tampa Bay Rays  pitching prospect Jake McGee will undergo season ending elbow surgery next week. The Biscuit starter was originally put on the Disabled List a few days ago, but an MRI revealed a torn elbow tendon and a Tommy John’s surgery looks to be in McGee’s not to distant future.
 

This could have been a huge blow to the Montgomery Biscuits chances for a third straight SAL title, but the Rays quickly promoted David Price and Jeremy Hellickson several days earlier from Class-A Vero Beach and  both pitchers’ should fit into the Biscuits rotation.  McGee will fly to St. Petersburg to meet with Rays orthopedic doctor, Koko Eaton, and was also scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews after the weekend to  get a second confirmation on the diagnosis.  If McGee requires Tommy John’s surgery, McGee will be lost for up to a year and a half from the Rays Farm system.

 

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Trivia Fact of the Night:

In 1953, respected and innovative National League umpire Bill Klem was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
 

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AP Photo 

Rays starter Matt Garza (6-4) will remember this game against the Florida Marlins for a very long time. Not because he got his 6th victory of the season,and the first complete game of his career,but for one floating slider that  could have brought him a special place in Rays history.
 

There is still no doubt that the sweep in the Inter-League series by the Rays over the Marlins in Miami made for a fantastic airline flight to Pittsburgh, but what might have been will be in Garza’s head for a few days.

 
            
 

On the first pitch from Garza that Marlin’s shortstop Hanley Ramirez saw in the bottom of the 7th inning,Ramirez drilled  the hanging pitch into the seats just above the huge scoreboard in the leftfield bleachers. It was the only pitch that Garza would want to take back all day long. And the errant pitch not only cost Graza his chance at a shutout, but a spot in Rays history and immortality by throwing a no-hitter. 
 
                 
 
According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: By Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.
 
 
A P Photo 

The Rays are now a franchise high 15 games over .500, and have  posted 4 more wins than any other season before the All-Star break. They are also 7  ahead of their pervious best record after 77 games.

 

The Rays have been above .500 for 57 straight days this season  and 61 total  days for the 2008 season,both  marks are Rays club records. Prior to the 2008 season, the Rays had been above the .500 mark for only 72 days combined in the teams short history.

 

                                         
 

Rays rookie Evan Longoria has been given many nicknames in the last few months,”Evan Almighty”, “The Natural”, and “Longo”. The last one nickname seems to be a wild reference to an Alex Karas character in “Blazin’ Saddles,” and Evan might just be  molding himself to represent a fine reputation to continue hearing the new nickname.
 

Longoria is one of the main  weapons and reasons this years Rays team has been on a winning roll the past two months. Since coming up from the Triple-A Durham Bulls, the Rays have been pretty hard to beat most nights, which has been a rareity in Tampa Bay Rays history. 
 

Yesterday’s game totals just added to the ever increasing legend that is “Longo:”

Longoria had three hits on Thursday night (two doubles and a home run) in the Rays’ win, after notching three hits (a single, double and homer) in Tampa Bay’s 15-3 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night.

Longoria is the fourth player in Rays franchise history to have consecutive games with at least three hits and one home run. The other Tampa Bay players to do that were Aubrey Huff (2004), Jorge Cantu (2005) and B.J. Upton (2007).

 

 

The Rays now have a 9-5 record in Inter-League play this season, the team’s highest win total since 2006 when they posted 11 wins in the Inter-League series. With a sweep in Pittsburgh they could establish another Rays club record for total victories during Inter-league play.
 

Along with Longoria and Garza’s efforts, the bat of back-up catcher Shawn Riggans showed some real promise in the game for the Rays. Riggans, who has seen very limited action this year with the emergence of Dioner Navarro.

 

Riggans responded today by going 1-3 with 3 RBI’s for the Rays. Riggans got his first RBI on the day after a sacrifice fly in the second inning to score Upton from third base,  he then hit a RBI-double to deep centerfield in the 5th inning to score both Upton and Longoria.
 

Riggans also called a great game behind the plate for the Rays. Garza only ran into trouble a few times the entire game and Riggans worked a magical game calling the pitches. Garza walked one lone Marlin, Jeremy Hermida in the 4th inning.
 

Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist hit his second homer in two days in the 8th inning to complete the scoring for the Rays. Zobrist is now hitting .292 since coming up for the Rays from Triple-A Durham.

 

With the expected return of both Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena on Friday in Pittsburgh,the Rays will have to make some roster moves before the Friday night game. 

 

I am perdicting we will see Troy Percival go on the Disabled List for another 15 days stint, and this time it will not be his decision. If this does not happen,another Rays reliever will have to be sent down, or possibly put on waivers.
 

Based on his recent numbers and the extra dose of experiece this year, Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist might be the odd man out unless a trade can be reached for another infielder on the team. I know that Zobrist needs consistency in his routine,and it is a shame he might have to be the fall guy this time.

Zobrist has only been off the Disabled List for 7 games now,both in Durham and Tampa Bay. And  Zobrist might need some more seasoning to get in great game shape for this team. 

Tonight the Rays start a 3-game  Inter-League series in Pittsburgh.  At this time,I want to tell you about a wild and unique thing they do in the Steel City before every Pirates game. They close the Roberto Clemente bridge to automobile traffic and let the Pirates patrons walk the bridge to the stadium.

It is one of the truly “must do” once experiences in baseball at least once in your life. You get to travel the roads on foot to the ballpark before and after the game…..without dodging  any automobile or motorized traffic.

 

The Rays are visitng PNC park for only the second time in their brief history, starting off when they lost 2 out of 3 in June 2005. They are currently 2-4 All-Time against the Pirates during the regular season.
 

 
 

The Pirates will be bringing up rookie Jimmy Barthmaier from Triple-A for his MLB debut against the Rays. Barthmaier
, a 13th-round Draft pick in 2003, will be making his first Pirates appearance when he takes the mound for Friday’s start.
 

The right-hander has combined to go 4-5 this season with a 4.04 ERA in 10 Double-A and five Triple-A starts. In his most recent start, Barthmaier threw six innings, allowing only one run on four hits and striking out eight in the game. Barthmaier has shown better control with both his fastball and breaking ball since being promoted to Triple-A in late May, allowing just six walks in 31 2/3 innings.

 

Look closely at the picture above of Barthmaier. Is it just me, or are there not color to his pupils in the picture.  Might be a Vulcan robot plant to supress the Rays victory celebrations.  Just Kidding,he might just have some wild contact lens for game days. Can we get the entire pitching staff a set of those Joe? No really can you? It could be a nice distracting measure to see only the “whites” of your eyes all night long on the mound.

 

 

Rays Players Off Season Plans

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.”


Mickeymantle.com

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.


Mlb.com

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.

 

 

 

 

M*A*S*H* 33701 Staff

 


Lynn Sladsky / AP

The roster of the Tampa Bay Rays is beginning to represent a television episode of M*A*S*H* 4077th right now. The recent flurry of injuries, both serious and treated with kindness have made this roster change shape in recent weeks. But behind the scenes, the sight in the Rays training room right now might not be as bloody or surgically fixated as the television show, but the drama and the extent of the injuries have made their medical staff one of the true treasures right now in the Rays organization.

Most fans have never heard the names Ron Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr before during most of the Rays telecasts. They are a group of guys who try and stay beyond the cameras and beyond the eye sight of most people in the stands before, during and after most of the Rays games. But their contribution to the Tampa Bay Rays will now have a huge significance on what is going to happen on the field. You see, this trio is the conglomerate that is responsible for the well being and health of the players on our roster. Each one of them is considered the best in their field, and have served the Rays for several season in their respective positions.

With their state-of-the-art training complex and new and proven methods being employed daily, the medical staff is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s take Rays reliever Brian Shouse’s injury first. After his first MRI, it was concluded that he might have a slight tear in his left flexor muscle right off the elbow. This would put the reliever essentially out for some time. But under further diagnosis and further testing, it was ruled that Shouse might have just a slight strain to the region and not need surgery at all. That diligence in finding the correct diagnosis might have cost the Rays the use of Shouse later in the season. Now after rehab and some carefully watched exercise and throwing sessions, he might again be back with the club a lot soon than originally expected. And that is huge as the Rays try and regain their core and take on the task of repeating their AL East title.

As we speak several players are also trying to get off the training tables and rehab assignments to bring some help to the slumping Rays. Designated Hitter Pat Burrell has missed 15 games now due to his neck stiffness. The team has been able to tread water to a 8-7 record since he went down, but his bat is needed to protect Carlos Pena in the lineup. Yesterday in Cleveland, Burrell was suppose to take some special individualized batting practice to see just how far he has progressed in his fight to get his neck situation under control.  The session was canceled after he was experiencing more neck stiffness. The team is tentatively expecting another try at Burrell going to the plate on Friday when they return to Tropicana field for their latest home stand. Hopefully on that day the Rays will have some good news on their ailing DH.

But then you have guys like Rays reliever Chad Bradford, who is right now on loan to the Rays Class-A squad, the Charlotte Stone Crabs for a rehab assignment. So far the prognosis is great for Bradford, and with the Bullpen right now a bit tired and weathered, he just might be ready soon to give some relief to his Bullpen mates.  His last appearance was on May 24th, and he went 1-inning and only gave up 1-hit in the appearance. The Stone Crabs have been victimized lately by weather as their last two game have been canceled due to the elements. But this week they are in Clearwater to play the Threshers, and the medical staff left behind on this road trip will be keeping a close eye on Bradford if he gets into any of these contests.

Another guy who is suffering from bad timing is Shawn Riggans. Earlier on in the season, Riggans went down with a bout of shoulder tendinitis and was set down for a few weeks before he was again allowed to participate in a throwing program. He went through the  throwing program set up by Barr and was ready to again try and hit a rehab assignment with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits.  Riggans went on up to Alabama and joined the team, but was quickly taken back off the roster after a sudden pain in his shoulder after throwing a pick-off attempt to first base during a game. He was sent to renowned doctor James Andrews in neighboring Birmingham, Alabama. After son consultation and recommendations from Andrews, Riggans was on his way back to St. Petersburg, Florida to again try all over again with the rest and relaxation program for a while. He is hoping to again be ready for a throwing program by the first week of June.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

Ron Porterfield probably had one of his worst days recently during Sunday’s Florida Marlins versus the Rays game. In the ninth inning of that contest, the Marlins Chris Coghlan came into second base to break up a double play opportunity and struck Akinora Iwamura in the left leg while it was still planted firmly on the infield clay. The result of the moving Coghlan into the rigid Iwamura made for one force taking damage on the other. Iwamura instantly went down and was in obvious pain on the infield. Porterfield rushed out their immediately and tried to ease the pain of Iwamura. The hardest part of this job might be the instant recognition of a bad situation and remaining cool and calm during this time is extremely difficult.

You could see on the replays during the injury time-out that Porterfield was not trying to stretch the area out or even attempt to have Iwamura stand based on the visual extent of the injury. He immediately asked for the crash cart to be brought out onto the turf and Iwamura was transported off the field to the rear of the Visitor’s Clubhouse area. At this time it is Porterfield’s job to ease the suffering and pain of Iwamura and give reassurance.  You have to guess he already had a opinion on the extent of the injury and was doing everything he could to mask the emotions and the conversation more towards positive elements. 

Iwamura was on crutches by the end of the game putting no pressure or force on his left knee region. He was then put in a car en route to St. Petersburg where a MRI was to be conducted this past Monday morning. He was not there when the results came in from the MRI in St. Petersburg as he was with the team in Cleveland for their four game series there before finally coming back to Tropicana Field. The results of Iwamura’s MRI showed that surgery will be needed to repair the ACL and a slight bit of damage to his MCL ligaments.

This will put him out for the rest of the 2008 season, and some speculate it might be his last time to put on a Rays uniform. But a planned surgery in the next two weeks after the swelling goes down and it is optimal to operate, Iwamura will get fixed up locally by Dr. Koko Eaton.

Later in that same ballgame, they again got called back onto the field after Dan
Uggla’s stolen base attempt. On that play, the Rays starting shortstop Jason Bartlett put his left leg in front of the base to attempt to make Uggla go to the outside of the base. Instead, Ugglas came in spikes first and clipped Bartlett on the top of the ankle, which resulted in him going down fast to the clay surface.  Again the medical staff went out there and performed some quick aid to relieve Bartlett of his obvious pain at the time. Bartlett did refuse to come out of the game and finished the contest and was getting more treatment as the team was packing up for their plane ride to Cleveland for the next series.

In Cleveland, it was decided because of the conversation with the medical staff that Bartlett should rest the ankle for a few days. Some say he could have played through the pain, but considering that Bartlett is a key element of the team again playing for that divisional title, precautionary measures were decided by Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the medical staff. Bartlett sat out the Monday game against the Indians and was set to have an MRI to check for further damage in the region. 

Because the MRI revealed a sprain, it was advised by the medical staff that rest and staying off the ankle would further the healing process. We all know that Bartlett would want to play, and might just do a good job even with a gimpy ankle. But the consideration of his total health was in order. A healthy Bartlett could help the team pick up the needed wins to regain some places within the division. If he re-injured it, or made the injury more severe, his participation might be hindered significantly the rest of the season.

Then you have people like Barr, who have designed the rehab programs for players like Fernando Perez while he is on the DL to increase his mobility and keep him in shape while he waits for further word on when he can begin a throwing program of his own designed by Barr. With his baby blue cast off his wrist you would think that the injury might be over and he can again take full baseball activities. But the wrist area is a delicate region that can be injured again quickly if the injury is not fully healed before a top workout begins. Perez was recently transferred to the 60-day DL, and it is thought he might not be on either a rehab assignment or playing before August 2009.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

The training/medical staff of the Rays is considered one of the best in baseball.  So who are these guys, and why should we be glad we have them on the Rays. Well, let me see if I can give you some insight to why we are lucky to have this trio in Tampa Bay.

First let’s start with the team’s Strength and conditioning Coach, Kevin Barr. In 2009, Barr will be presented with the Nolan Ryan Award, sponsored by Life Fitness. The award named after the Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, honors an outstanding strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball. The Nolan Ryan Award recognizes the coach whose accomplishments, in the opinion of fellow members of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS), reflects an exemplary dedication to strength training and conditioning. The award also recognizes the recipient’s professional and personal accomplishments as well as his integrity as a strength and conditioning coach.

You might recognize him more for his time spent out on the field during Batting Practice in the right field corner with the pitchers’ helping them both do stretching exercises and running drills. He also can be seen on the first baseline just before the game when the players come out to stretch before Rays games. He is one of the only people out there at that time not in a Rays uniform, and can be easy to spot. He is a key element to the consistent health and rebuilding of the Rays roster after an injury has been sustained by a player.

Most people confuse Paul Harker with a player since he is tall and built like a player. But it is his duty to assist Porterfield in any needs before after and during the game to prepare the Rays field players and pitchers for that days game. Harker joined the major league staff after serving for three seasons as the Rays Minor League head trainer.  He  first joined the organization in November 1996 as the trainer for the Class- A St. Petersburg Devil Rays before serving as Triple-A Durham’s trainer from 1998-2002. Prior to joining the Rays organization, Harker worked in the Seattle Mariners organization for six seasons. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association.

But the guy most people know by his smile and his personality is Ron Portfield, the head honcho in the Rays medical corps. Porterfield is afraid to put a glove on and catch a bit with rehabbing players, or to just be a sounding board for a player trying out a new pitch or delivery. He is on one of the busiest people before the game for the Rays, and his training table area is also a hot spot for conversation and group conversations before the Rays games. Porterfield, spent his time as the team’s Major League assistant trainer before finally getting the top spot in December 2005. He joined the Rays organization in 1997, serving as the Minor League medical and rehabilitation coordinator for six years. Porterfield originally came to the Rays from the Houston Astros, an organization he joined in 1987 after he graduated from New Mexico State University.

In 2004, Porterfield was a member of the medical staff that received the Dick Martin Medical Staff of the Year Award from Baseball Prospectus. Porterfield’s intense computer research and commitment to helping Rocco Baldelli in 2008 get back to the field last August helped earn Porterfield the 2008 American Sports Medicine Institute Career Service Award.


So as you can see, the Rays have a well educated and knowledgeable staff to prevent and treat any aliments that might come up during the Rays contests. With new technologies and treatment systems being discovered daily, it is also their job to wade through the  published  treatment paperwork and computer postings to find the best injury solutions for the Rays players.  The commitment and the stamina displayed by these three guys should be commended.

They are the first line of defense to keeping these players on the field, and the last ones to insure they are ready again to play for the Rays. It is a tough job, and one that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, but it is what they love, and what they are extremely good at doing. And we are lucky to have them here in Tampa Bay.

 

Red Sox Post “7” on Rays in Win for Dom

 

  Red Sox 7,     Rays 3

         
          Charles Krupa / AP

Emotions Ruled the Game

From even before the first pitch tonight, the Boston Red Sox had a distinctive bonus in the game.  The emotion and the air held a faint bit of Dom DiMaggio in it. Here was a guy who was the lesser famous of the three center fielders who graced the name DiMaggio, but he played his entire career in Boston from 1940-1953.  the Red Sox paid homage to their fallen comrade in the several ways in this game, but it was the emotions of the night that carried this team to their 7-3 win.

Red Sox Head Grounds keeper Dave Mellor even put his own touches on the pitch for the contest. Out in centerfield, he had cut into the green grass of Fenway Park and “7” surrounded by a circle to commemorate the passing of this Red Sox legend. Also there was a awesome huge black and white reproduction picture of Dom DiMaggio that was attached high above the Green Monster in leftfield to show respect for one of their own. And this night from the first guest into the park until the last security guard left tonight, the magic of the night was not wasted by the Red Sox on the field.

When they had their stellar sixth inning rally, for the second night in a row, even the Rays bench had to know that invisible powers were upon them tonight. For no matter what Rays starter James Shields could have done at that point, the emotions of the night were beginning to overtake this game. The Red Sox did not hit that magical seventh run in that sixth inning, but the five runs scored in that inning only set up the additional two scored in the bottom of the eighth inning to cement the 7 runs needed to win the game.

But the Rays can take solace that they did not stand a chance against the spirits tonight. That even as I watched at home I knew the outcome of the game from that sixth inning on. It had everything to do with the vast history of the franchise, and the love of one of their heroes. DiMaggio did not have the celebrity wife, or play for the World Champs in pinstripes, but what he did have was a great career where he hit .300 four times in his career and his 1338 games in centerfield for Boston ranked eighth all-time in the American League annuals. How and he also had a hitting streak of his own, which spanned 34 games, and is still  a record to be broken in Boston lore. Even hitting streaks seemed to run in the DiMaggio families bloodlines.


Charles Krupa / AP

Crawford Hits for the Cycle ( In a Way)


One of the best ways to illustrate the current events of Carl Crawford is to look at his last at bat in the Yankee game on Thursday night, and his first three during last night Red Sox contest. Match those four at bats together, and C.C. has a cycle. I know it is a bit far fetched, and it is not going to be recognized as such in the newspapers or any online account, but the guy is beginning to feel like a new hitter at the plate. 

The cycle babble just shows that right now Crawford is seeing balls at the plate like beach balls.  In his last 19 games, Crawford is 17 for 42, or a .285 average. In those last 10 games, only once has he not gotten a single hit in a contest, and that was in  Monday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field ( He went 0-4). With his stealing of second base in the first inning, he is currently 23 for 23 this season, which is a Rays club record, and he is only one away from the current longest active major league mark currently held by  Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth (24).

And that is not the only thing going for Crawford right now. He also leads the majors in infield hits with 11 this season. He only had 7 in 2008.  In his last 16 games, he is currently hitting . 397, with 17 stolen bases and 11 walks. He has a total of 10 steals against just the Red Sox in 2009.  His career stolen base percentage of 83.4 ranks first in  active players, first in the American League, and is third in MLB history behind Tim Raines ( 84.7 %) and Eric Davis ( 84.4 %). To say we are not witnessing history on the part of Crawford would be insane. The guy is doing everything asked of him by Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his staff in 2009.


Charles Krupa / AP

Shields Just Not on Tonight

Some night you just seem to have your magical stuff on the mound, and some night it just disappears as fast as it shows up for you. Last night Jame Shield was taking the mound for his 11th career start against the Red Sox.  Coming into the contest, it seemed that the Red Sox had his number in Fenway Park. For his career he is now 0-5 in this historic park in his five starts.  He seemed to be on early in the night by giving up only three hits in the first three innings, but started to pay the price in the fourth inning when the Red Sox torched him for two straight singles. Neither of those runners scored and he cruised until the bottom of the sixth inning with no real problems.

In that inning, the Red Sox began to exert some damage on Shields first by  a hit back towards Shields by Dustin Pedroia that he deflected to the left of second base man Akinora Iwamura for a lead-off infield hit. Then David Ortiz walked on 7-pitches.  Then Shields left up a curveball to Jason Bay that he deposited over the Green Monster for a 3-run shot to tie the score at 3-all.  You could see that Shields was visually shaken by the bad pitch to Bay as he was screaming at the ground and pounding the resin bag as Bay rounded the bases. But that would not be the end of the horror for Shields tonight.

Mike Lowell then got a double off the facing of the Green Monster to extend the pain for Shields. Then J D Drew hit a first pitch 2-run home run to right into the Rays Bullpen to stake the Red Sox to a 5-3 lead in the game. It was the first time all night that the Red Sox had any offensive power against Shields. Masking the event was the eerie feeling of Deja Vu after the Red Sox scored 12 runs the night be
fore against the Cleveland Indians before posting the first out of the inning. Luckily for Shields and the Rays, the next batter, Jeff Bailey struck out. Shields then retired 3 of the next four batters to get out of the inning.

But the damage was done for the night. Shields did not come back out for the seventh inning as Rays Manager Joe Maddon instead brought in Rays reliever Grant Balfour. For the night, Shields threw 106 pitches in his 6 innings of work. He gave up a total of ten hits and 5 runs to boost his ERA to 4.02 this year. Coming into the game Shields wanted to buck his recent history against the Red Sox and get a win tonight. It was not in the cards for Shields, and he will have to wait another day to avenge this loss, his third of the season.

Nothing is terribly wrong with Shields right now, he is just not getting the quality pitches he needs to defeat his arch nemesis wearing those Red Sox jerseys. He is not out of control and issuing an odd number of walks or even not getting strikeouts against the Red Sox. But they are hitting timely and consecutive hits off him that lead to runs. This is just a mild roadblock for Shields, and he will find a way to finally take down the Red Sox in Fenway. But for right now, the Red Sox have been feasting on him and only Shields can change that outcome, hopefully sometime between September 11-13th, when the Rays again come into Fenway to play Boston.


Charles Krupa / AP

Saturday Scribbles

**** Prior to the game, the Rays recieved some bad news as Shawn Riggans, who is with the Montgomery Biscuits for a rehab assignment felt some discomfort in his throwing shoulder and will go to see Dr. James Andrews in nearby Birmingham, Alabama on Monday to see if he might have re injured himself. The Rays picking up Michel Hernandez late last season from the Pittsburgh Pirates is looking more and more like a steal as Riggans has been on and off the injured list since the last part of 2008 until this recent setback.  During that time, Hernandez has come in and hit .333 for the Rays and been a great asset behind the plate for the team.

**** There were several trade made during the day concerning both current and former Rays that could effect the Rays down the road. The first was the swap by the Chicago Cubs and the Baltimore Orioles in ex-Rays Joey Gathright and Ryan Freel. The players were swapped evenly with the Orioles maybe getting the better end of the deal. Gathright has tremendous speed and is a great utility outfielder. We will get our first chance to again see Gathright play later this week when the Rays go to Baltimore for two games on May 12 and 13th.

**** Another trade involved a play currently playing at the Ray Triple-A team the Durham Bulls. Highly liked infielder Adam Kennedy was traded to the Oakland A’s for a player to be named later. This is a huge plus for the A’s right now as they are experiencing a huge rash of infield injuries to Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis. Kennedy will quickly have to adjust to his new team mates as he might be in the lineup right off the plane. The A’s are currently in Oakland with a series against the Toronto Blue Jays. It is reported that Kennedy will be in the lineup for the 1:05 pm game today.

**** In their last 8 games, the Rays offensive outburst has had some awesome results both in the standing and improving the Rays scoring punch. they have gone from averaging 4.5 runs a game to a more robust 6.5 runs per game. In that span the team has gone 6-2, with 13 home runs, 19 stolen bases and 19 doubles. the offensive explosion is coming at the right time as the Rays could move towards the .500 mark during this road trip.

Rays Sing Flat against the Orioles

 

                     Orioles 8,      Rays 4

      
     
Chris O’Meara / AP

Kazmir Doesn’t Set the Tone

If last nights game would have been an audition for American Idol , the Rays would have been eliminated for lack of harmony and pitchy performance. Simon Cowell would have directed his most venom-filled tirade towards Rays starter Scott Kazmir who did not seem to have any type of rhythm, or a even a sense of direction in the game. Rays Manager Joe Maddon has a favorite saying that” “Pitching sets the tone of the game”. If that is truly the case, then last nights game was played by a group of tone-deaf athletes who seemed to be boring and very karaoke on the field.

I know that seems a bit harsh, but the fact of the matter is that the team just got over a huge emotional series against the Boston Red Sox, and they did not need to take even a one-game vacation now against the team we are fighting to stay out of the American League East cellar. It is not like the Orioles are a bad team. Quite the contrary, they have been our biggest pest for several seasons taking wins that used to fall our way. But last night’s contest was in doubt from the first pitch from the mound.

Kazmir threw the first pitch to lead-off man Brian Roberts behind him, and both Roberts and Home Plate Umpire Tim McClelland looked at each other in utter amazement.  It would have been great if from that moment on we did not have the feeling we were watching “Nuke” Laloosh from “Bull Durham” fame throw balls everywhere but over the plate. But we had the leftie that used to dominate the plate and send a chill down your spine with that great slider of his. Tonight the only thing scary about Kazmir was where the ball was going on every pitch. Control was not in his forte last night.

But then maybe I am being a bit too critical?  Maybe, but if you walk the first two batters in a game on 9 pitches, doesn’t it open the opinion door wide open. Even the fact that the first two guys basically only had to have their bats on their shoulders to enjoy a short stroll down to first was not the major issue here. It was the 1-1 count and the hanging slider that Nick Markakis decided needed to go into the right field stands for a 3-run homer that peaked my concern. That gave the visiting birds a 3-0 lead after only three batters.

But the Rays have been great at digging out of holes this year?  That is true, but usually those holes do not find themselves dug as early or as deep as this one in only the first inning. To Kazmir’s credit, he did get the next three Oriole batters in a row to get out of the inning with only the 3-0 damage inflicted on the Rays. Now we all know that Kazmir has been difficult his entire career early in his outings, and maybe this one is a prime example of his woes. But I know the Rays have tried various solutions to try and combat that early wildness on the mound.

They have tried to get him to throw his pre-game warm-up session like a simulated game to maybe get rid of the cobwebs faster and warm him up to game situations. But that had mixed reviews. They have even tried to get him to do more stretching and mental imaging before the game to stimulate his mind towards the actions of the first three batters. If he did do a pre-game simulation or visualization on the bench, thank goodness someone bothered him before he got down deep into the order yesterday.

In his post game comments, Kazmir eluded to the fact he did not” feel right tonight. Some thing was off mechanically.” I have to agree with you there Scott. Something did look a little off. When you were on the side throwing before the game you looked rushed and a bit flustered. But that has sometimes led to great things, so I do not read too much into it anymore. But you are right, something is off a bit with your delivery. Or maybe you are trying to bite on the plate corners too much and the umpires are not giving it to you based on your lack of control most of the game.

Whatever the reason, we need to get our leftie asset back under control before Kazmir get into his own head and begins to doubt himself or his purpose to this team. People forget that this guy is still only 24, and will not even hit 25 until August. Just because he is the longest tenured pitcher, and hold numerous Tampa Bay Rays records, he is still a guy who is growing as a pitcher every start.  There is no doubt in my mind that he is a star on this team. But his recent problems have casted a shadow on him that might be deserved at times.

But remember, there are a huge amount of pitchers this year who are also having sub-par years in the both leagues. From New York to Los Angeles, young pitchers are getting rocked and having their control situations. I know most people will just say that is the other team’s problem, but maybe we are hitting a mental or mechanic pandemic that is effecting our young pitchers right now. The only cure to such a virus is to study film, check location placement and maybe even do some side work to try and pinpoint the problem. Usually it is something simple that can ruin a pitching outing. Hopefully for Kazmir it is a simple case of maybe his foot placement on the rubber. But then again, I will leave that to the experts.


 
Chris O’Meara / AP 

Navarro is Doing Some Great Things

For the past few days I have heard a few grumbles and rants from the stands about the Rays current option at catcher. Dioner Navarro has had a history of starting slow before, but people still point towards last season as the barometer for his hitting. They do not take into consideration that we might have seen his best season last year, and this is an example of a average season for him. Catching has never been a position that a team look towards for a huge offensive outburst of power and average.

Usually a .240 hitter with power outbursts is what you find in the catching realms. What they are on the roster for is their defensive excellence and their ability to control their pitching staff. But with Rays current back-up Michel Hernandez having a career night this past weekend, it put the grandstand prognosticators on high alert. They are calling for a change, and there is not current Rays solution. The Rays normal back-up catcher, Sha
wn Riggans is getting ready to head out to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits for his rehab assignment and might not be back for a week to ten days.

But why are people calling for a change when Navarro is still acting like an All-Star catcher behind the plate? The voices seems to bring up the fact he is increasingly getting more and more prone to not putting his glove to the ground for balls that skip before or on the plate. This has lead to numerous passed balls and wild pitches in the last two weeks. Some of them have been costly to the team in moving up runners into scoring position, but some of that also has to be put on the pitcher’s shoulders. Navarro is not the one throwing the ball in the dirt, but is the one chasing them around the backstop.

But I do see the rationale here for that thinking. It does at times seem like he is giving 75 percent, but he might also be looking back runners at the corners and also trying to do too much at one time behind the plate. He has grown by leaps and bounds behind the plate as a team leader and the controller of multi-personalities that hit the mound. You have to think it might be difficult to pull in a emotional pitcher like Grant Balfour at times, or even try and figure out a character like JP Howell when he cool, calm and collected out there with the bases loaded and no outs.

But considering that in the recent games, Navarro has gunned down Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury and  he got the Orioles Adam Jones at third base last night. For the year he is 4 for 19 this year throwing runners out. That 21 percent might not be lights out, but it shows he is trying to get them, and that speaks volumes. When a player is showing up defensively on the field, his hitting is considered a slump, not a lack of confidence. Navarro will be back on track again.  He got to the 2008 All-Star game based on the entire package behind the plate.

He had great coaches who used to catch like Maddon and Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos to guide and watch his mechanics. Navarro will again be stroking the ball hard for the Rays. The entire team has had a few pieces that have been slow to rise to the top this year. That happens some times, but why is it he is single out right now as the problem? Sometimes when you dip below that Mendoza line people doubt your offensive abilities.

He hit .295 last season and set numerous personal highs. The guy can hit, and we have seen it. But let’s give the guy a bit of a break because the Rays do not have huge options to even consider replacing him right now. “Stay the course and the ship will right itself” is an old nautical saying. It is Navarro’s time to sink or swim. Let’s give him the opportunity to rebound before we throw a great talent away for instant success.



Chris O’Meara / AP

Longo and El Presidente


Where would the Rays be this year without these two tearing up the base paths? You have to think of the possibilities of where we would be if not for their offensive thumping so far in 2009.  Based on his past weeks heroics, Evan Longoria again garnished the American League Player of the Week honors. Longo hit .379 with an A L  best 14 RBI during the past 7 days and  21 total bases. His 2 homers and 4 doubles were included in his 9 runs scored and  a .724 Slugging Percentage. This is his third overall Player of the Week honor, and his second this season.

Carlos Pena (28) and Longoria (31) are the first teammates since Duke Snider (31) and Roy Campanella ( 28)  with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955 to have 28+ RBI through the first 26 games of the year.   Longoria and Pena are also the current MLB home run duo with Longoria (8) and Pena ( 11) combining for 19 homers this season.  There 58 combined RBI also have them number one in the MLB right now, 8 RBI ahead of their nearest competitors, Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick of St. Louis who have 50 RBI.


Chris O’Meara / AP 

Tuesday Tidbits

**** As everyone knows, the Cowbell Kid will be making his annual road trip this week up for the New York Yankee two-game series and into Boston and Baltimore during the next road trip. He has even compiled a little didy entitled, ” The Cowbell Kid is coming to Town” that plays upon that Christmas classic, “Santa Claus is Coming to town.” He has even gotten  a few sound bytes from members of the Rays Bullpen that will be included in the video file he intends to sen to the media members in all three cities of the next road trip. Let’s hope the blue-haired one takes heed in Boston and remains calm when things come flying towards his Marge Simpson hair.

**** Again last night a mysterious orange ball came out of the right field stands after the home run by Nick Markakis in the first inning. People know my opinion on this trend. I know of the old tradition started by the 142 Crew where everything but the kitchen sink used to come out of the stands into the small right field corner, but this orange ball incident might bring about an odd group of copycats that will prolong the game.  The 142 Crew did their actions with the Bullpen knowing that the actions would happen and they used to send the ball boy out there to collect the balls and foreign items in a timely manner. To just throw countless balls back onto the field is a time-wasting effort and might be looked upon by the Rays as an insult, not as a fan energy booster.

**** Do not forget that today is Cinco De Mayo. The Rays plan on having their own celebration in the Power Alley Pub above centerfield today before and during the Rays afternoon game. I expect to see a multitude of sombrero’s and festive outerwear throughout the stadium. I will try and get a few photos of the festivities and post them tomorrow.  I am expecting to see at least a few Rays fans in ponchos and selective Corona-based wear in the stadium.

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