Results tagged ‘ Shawn Riggans ’

Rays Gain back the Trop in Win

 

             Rays 13,     Red Sox 0



Chris O’Meara / AP

Josh Beckett: You Got Served!

I have to admit, I was a Josh Beckett fan when he was on the staff of the fellow Florida squad, the Marlins. I was excited to see him raise his arms in victory as his squad fought for the World title. At that time I knew this guy was going to be a great pitcher, but I had no idea I would have to begin to hate the little thing that he does on the mound. Last night though, the Tampa Bay Rays manhandled the Boston ace within an inch of his collective life. They did everything to get under Beckett’s skin but flirt with his girlfriend. The Rays did an extremely effective job of taking his rhythm away from him and stepping out of the box and collectively just getting him off his game.


And the local Rays crowd, which numbered only 20,340, did everything in their power to chant,harass and try to also become a factor in his bad night. Beckett tried to do his stall tactics on the mound, but the Rays did not play that game with him for the most part all night long. A few times the Rays did toy with him by calling for “time” late in the pitch, or even just staring Beckett down instead of concentrating on the pitch coming into the plate. And it did take effect on the right-hander. Several times in the game he seemed to be physically bugged by the Rays tactics, which is a kudo to the Rays coaching staff to point the small ways to get Beckett a bit uneasy on the mound.

But the best part is that the Rays also manhandled him with their bats. They did not settle for the walks, or the singles, they wanted to make a statement to both Boston and Beckett that they are still the team of piranhas’ here even if they think they are the Great White in the division right now. But be that as it may, a school of sharp toothed piranha can take a shark any day of the week, and both Boston and Beckett got served that notice loud and clear last night. Beckett lasted 4.2 innings, and threw 113 pitches, but his night was over in his head about the third inning when the Rays got two straight infield hits to start the inning off.

That is right, Jason Bartlett and B J Upton got two straight nibblers to the third base side of the mound. Bartlett hit a good shot towards Mike Lowell at third, but he could not get a great throw off, and he was safe by a country mile. Upton then hit a short grounder off the end of his bat that Beckett finally got to, but could not get Upton at first base. Beckett then seemed to be a bit unnerved and gave up a walk to Carl Crawford on 5 pitches to load the bases for the Rays. What came next seemed to unravel him a bit on the mound for the next few batters.

Evan Longoria then came up and took a 2-1 count breaking ball to the gap in right-center field for a 3-run double. Longo basically took Beckett’s night in that one swing. Because at that point, it put the Red Sox down 3-0 in a game that Rays pitcher Matt Garza had total control over from his first pitch. After Carlos Pena struck out, Pat Burrell did the last surgical strike on Beckett in the inning when he hit the first pitch from Beckett to right field to score Longoria. But what might have really ruined the night for Beckett was the fact that the Red Sox went down 1-2-3 in the top of the fourth inning, and he got sent back out there already reeling from the top of the third inning.
 

This served the Rays purpose perfectly. They knew they had him on the ropes and with a fast half an inning, they could still inflict more pain on Beckett before he got adequate time to adjust and cool down. After Bartlett started off the inning with a sharp shot to Julio Lugo on the second pitch of the inning, Michel Hernandez then came up and deposited his first career home run to left-center field to stake the Rays to a 5-0 lead in the game.  the the Rays began to truly twist the knife into Beckett as both Upton and Crawford hit back-to-back doubles to put Beckett on the ropes early in the inning. And the Boston Bullpen was still silent at this time. No one up throwing or even stretching out at all. It was Beckett only for this inning.

Beckett did get out of the inning with only Upton scoring after Hernandez’s blast to keep the score respectable for the moment. But in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Rays decided to inflict one more wound onto Beckett’s night. After another fast 1-2-3 inning by Garza, in which he only threw 19 pitches, it was Beckett’s turn to again get within the Rays sights.  After a lead-off 6-pitch at bat by Gabe Gross that saw four foul balls Beckett thought he had a grip on the game for the first time since the second inning. But Akinora Iwamura hit a double off the second pitch he saw and gave the Rays an early scoring opportunity.

After Bartlett struck out to give Beckett some breathing room, Henandez then came up and hit an RBI single to left field to put the final run up against Beckett on the night.  Red Sox Manager Terry Francona then came out and brought in Red Sox reliever  Hunter Jones to finish out the inning. For the night, Beckett ended up giving up 10-hits and 7-runs, plus 3 walks against the Rays. It was a great performance by the Rays bats to take the Boston ace out early in their 4-game series. Now for the next three games all Beckett can do is sit on the bench and reflect on what he could of, or would have done differently in that contest. But the fact remains, that in this second test between him and the Rays in 2009, this round goes to the Rays by a  bloody knockout.

          
                
Chris O’Meara / AP

 Michel Hernandez Has Banner Night

The post-game shaving cream pie by Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro could not keep that Cheshire cat grin off his face. Even with a mountain of white suds dripping off his face Michel Hernandez was having the time of his life during his Rays Radio Interview on the field. And I can think of no one better to feel like he had a huge part in this contest than Hernandez. Not only did the Rays current back-up catcher have a fantastic night by going 4-5 with 3 RBI’s, but Rays Radio call-in comments were calling for Rays Manager Joe Maddon to play the “hot hand” behind the plate right now instead of Dioner Navarro, who has seen some offensive up and downs this season.

Hernandez also is the second Rays back-up catcher in two seasons to catch a Garza one-hitter. Shawn Riggans caught the other in Miami last season against the Marlins. But if you are not a Rays fan, you might not have ever heard about this fine catcher.The guy has been in the minors for the past 11 years. Going from club to club getting consistent results and reviews, but not finding a home for his talents. The 3-year old catcher was also an add-on to another great Rays moment when he was the second player called up in 2008 to get to Boston in time for the Rays game against the Red Sox. His flight companion that day, Dan Johnson, ended up being the Rays hero in that game when he hit a solo shot off Red Sox closer Johnathan Papelbon.

Hernandez got his first major league home run in the fourth inning and really did not even know it had gone out before turning at first and seeing it on the Rays Jumbotron. You could see his toothy grin the rest of the way around the bases, and the mob scene on the Rays dugout stairs were a testament to this guy’s heart and abilities. But that was not the end of the night for Hernandez, he ended up going 4 for 5 on the night also collecting his first double and RBI. Before this game, he had a total of six major league hits. But all this would not have been made possible if he had not made a huge decision as an 18-year old.

You see at that time he was playing for the Havana Industriales of the Cuban  National League on his current road trip brought him to the Yucatan Peninsula. That night, along with a few fellow team mates he made his marl for freedom and his chance to play baseball in the US. He ended up hiding out for almost two months as his wife Marta, who was in Venezuela at the time worked on his visa paper and his eventual freedom. Hernandez now lives in the Tampa Bay area, and with his new prize that first home run ball coming home with him  last night, finally might feel like he achieved that dream he envisioned 12 years ago while lying in Mexico. But you know the first person to see that ball in the morning will be his son, Michael who also enjoys playing baseball.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Garza Gets a Bit of Deja Vu

Rays starter Matt Garza had been there before. He had felt that burning in the pit of his stomach as the pitch was hit by the bat, and it was not that long ago. the last time he ad heard that sound during a pitching performance like this it was on a balmy June 26, 2008 day in which Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez hit a blistering home run in the 7th inning to take his no-hit bid away, and also post the only run given up by Garza on that day. Even though he had struck out 10 Marlins that day, that sound of the bat crack is all he remembered of that day. So we flash forward to last night game and we again see that Garza is pulling off a miracle by blanking the Red Sox through six innings. 

With the Rays comfortably with a 8-0 lead at the time, Garza is on cruise control right now just following the flow of this tidal wave waiting for it to break onto the beach. The game really did have a great feel and pace to it with Garza getting the ball and setting up fast to want to just go at the Red Sox. Through his previous six innings, he had a masterpiece on his hands and did not do anything out of character to play with the mojo that was happening on the mound. He had just gotten the ball and fired the previous six inning, and this one was no different.   

He faced Jacoby Ellsbury first in the top of the seventh inning and had not even granted a walk at this time in the ballgame. He was working on a perfetc game before the speedy outfielder put a softly hit swibbler just past Garza’s right ear to finally get something going for the Red Sox. The ball had taken a soft path towards Garza, and he could not adjust in time to grab the ball before it fell to the turf. Bartlett came in quickly from short and tried to scoop and fire the ball to first, but Ellsbury had already touched the base before Pena gripped the ball in his mitt.

The frustration was immedidate on Graza’s face. He quickly asked for another ball and got back to his routine by then getting Dustin Pedroia to ground into a double play to end Ellsbury’s time on the base paths. Without any base runners, Garza then returned to the mound, but you could see that the hit had effected him. He quickly gave up his only walk of the night to David Ortiz, but rebounded with a great inside pitch to Jeff Bailey that got him to hit a ground ball to Evan Longoria and get out of the inning. In the past, Garza might have gotten into his head a bit and maybe ruined hids great pitching performance with frustrated throws and maybe a visual meltdown in his head on the mound.

Garza went out again to the mound in the top of the eight inning to complete his night. After striking out Jonathan Van Every, Garza had given the Rays faithful a free Papa John’s pizza, but he gave us better thing to remember on this night from his pitching performance. He only pitched to Van Every in the eighth inning before Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and brought in Grant Balfour to close out the masterpiece. Even as Maddon was heading to the mound, the Trop crowd, even Red Sox fans were on their feet to applaude the effort of the Rays rightie tonight. He had also fanned a duplicate 10 Red Sox tonight as he did in that June 26, 2008 game, but tonight he did it in front of the home crowd, which made sure he knew how much they needed and loved the effort. It was a thunderous clapping of hands and cowbells way until he was gone from the playing field.

But tonight, I think we saw the right hander take the right path and readjusted himself  on the mound and stood he tall and gained inner growth that will do wonder for him in his future starts. Last night’s performance was a true masterpiece. It is another great point in Garza’s maturation process and personal growth beyond the baseball diamond. To night he might have lost his perfect game and hos no-hitter, but in his development to be more consistent and mentally up for the challenge, Garza threw nothing but strikes all night long.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Longo and JB Fight for the  April Record

Coming into tonight contest, Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett were battling to become the next Rays hitters to get recognition as the Best hitters in the month of April for the team. Bartlett came up in the bottom of the eighth inning with a chance to overcome Rocco Baldelli for second on the list, but his pop out to third base ended his chances at the spot and he settled for a final .358 average for the month. Now I have to say that a .358 average is not too shabby at all, and he should take great pride in that mark, but I also know he wanted that top spot and was eager in tonight’s game to hit. He ended up going 1 for 5 tonight, which is one of the first times in recent games that he has hit less than tweo hits in a contest. 

Longoria went 3 for 5 on the night, which included his sixth homer of the season and also 3 runs to go with his 4 RBI’s. The night helped him boost his average up to .369 for the month. This was enough to top Baldelli’s previous .366 record he set in 2003. How fitting was it also that the guy currently sitting in the top spot for an April average was also sitting in the Visitor’s dugout for the game. When Longo hit  a single in the bottom of the eighth, you could see Baldelli’s huge smile for the guy. That was a great sight to see. For these two guys not only have a great respect for each other, but they both share the fact that they both were the faces of this franchise in different times. Congrats Longo, with your .369 average you have also posted the fourth best April by a reigning ROY candidate. Now it is on to May’s mark for both of them.



RRCollections


Friday’s Funky Findings 

**** In tonight’s game, we will see the debut of the Rays Alternate jersey. And who better to show you the new uniform than tonight’s starter, Andy Sonnastine. Tne new additon features a navy blue button-down with RAYS outlined in white trim with a light blue shadow across the chest.  Light blue piping surrounds the sleeve and collar and extends down the front of the jersey. The usual “sunburst”  emanating from the “R” is 40 percent larger than the team’s ususal home and road jerseys.

****  I was talking with Shawn Riggans during the game about his up-coming rehab assignment and found out that he will be heading to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits to begin his trek back to the Rays roster. He is putting a hopeful target of May 10th, which could be one of Matt Garza’s starts for his return to the Rays. Riggans had been out with shoulder tendinitis and was put on the disabled list on April 13th.

**** Rays starter Jeff Niemann was awarded the Al Lopez award before the game. This is the Rays award to the best rookie during the Rays Spring Training. During the 2009 Spring Training Grapefruit League season, Niemann  had a 2-1 record with a 6.32 ERA. He appeared in 6 games and started in 3 while throwing 15.2 innings of work.  Niemann also was in the fight the enitre Spring Training for the Rays fifth rotation spot, finally garnering that spot on the last day of Spring Training.

**** Throwing out the First Pitch tonight will be a local baseball star who recently got exposure on ESPN and numerous publications for his pitching. Patrick Schuster, a senior at New Port Richey’s Mitchell High School will throw out the first pitch tonight before the game. He recently set a Florida State High School record with his fourth  consecutive no-hitter. Schuster lost his bid for five straight no-hitters in a recent game against  Tampa Gaither. Schuster, who is off to the University of Florida to play college ball,ended his year with a 9-4 loss to Gaither in the Class 6-A District 7 semifinals. Schuster had thrown 26 consecutive hitless innings coming into the game.

**** Is this a growing trend against the Rays? If you go down by 10 runs, you bring in your right fielder to toss an inning of work. The Red Sox brought in right field Jonathan Van Every to throw the last 2/3rds of the game last night. Is this a growing trend? For his efforts, Van Every did his best to re-produce a “Nick Swisher” moment on the mound, but was tagged by one hit in his fifteen pitches to finish the bottom of the eight inning. you might rem
ember that the Yankees inserted Swisher to pitch against the Rays in their season opener and the leftie blanked the Rays, also getting Gabe Kapler to strike out in that inning.

AJ is more than OK against the Rays

 

 

     Yankees 7,    Rays 2

 

 

 

Replica Rings are the Bomb

 


I have to admit that when the Rays first told us they were going to give away American League Championship replica rings, my mind did wander to the Cracker Jack box rings and the plastic painted adjustable rings that team gave away in the 1990’s. I had a bad nightmare of maybe getting a ring that would turn my finger green or even fall off from lack of circulation because it was too small, or even had bad blemishes to the finish.  But I was beyond pleasantly surprised when they handed me my ring on Tuesday night.

 

 

I came through the Season Ticket holder door as always and was presented with a blue satin sack promoting a local high end shopping mall on the outside of it. I knew that this establishment would not be privy to anthing cheap, so I looked quickly into the sack and found a gem of collectible quality hidden inside a small platic bag. The moment I first took a gander at this ring, my heart took a leap. It was beyond the simple words that I had read on numerous websites and had even thought in my own mind. The ring was beyond expectations and truly will be near me for a long, long time.

 

But I was in shock later in the night when a few Yankee fans were selling their rings for $ 5.  I have to say, it was the best 25 dollars I have ever spent in the past 10 years. I am not putting them on Ebay or even trying to  recoup anything financial with them. For me they will be additional rings to wear for the next 10 years. Mine is a bit snug on my finger and I will have to sand the inside down a bit to fit over my broken old knuckles, but I will wear them. Oh yes, they will be on my bony fingers for a long time. Treasures like this do not come along in life too often. This ring was no cheap substitute, it has real weight and real appeal. And it will be on my finger for a long time. Well, at least until I can figure out a way to get a real one……

 

 

 

 

AJ was more than OK

 

This is the thing that initially scared me about A J Burnett signing with the New York Yankees this season. He finally got a team that can score runs behind him this season.  Last year. when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, they had to have an outstanding game offensively to reward him some nights. But mostly he did it by himself by keeping the score close and letting his team catch up and overtake the opposition most nights. It is scary to consider that he was just that good, but lacked the firepower behind him. He now has that firepower, and his pitching confidence is sky high.

 

Burnett threw  some impressive pitches last night. His breaking balls were falling off the plate at alarming rates. And his fastball seemed to have a new life of its own. He was truly on the moment on the mound. It  was an awesome effort by a guy who has been close before to a no-hitter and miss. Well, last night he did not get that honor either, thanks to a Carl Crawford single to left field that broke up his no-hitter bid. But just how good was he up to that pivotial bottom of the seventhinning point?

 

Through 6 prior innings, Burnett had only allowed  Rays DH Pat Burrell to reach base on a walk in the bottom of the second inning.  Burrell even fought back from a 1-2 count to get his free pass off of Burnett. From the first pitch of the night until Crawford hit his single Burnett threw 74 pitches before giving up a single hit. But you have to also credit Crawford , who fought off Burnett with 5 straight foul balls before connecting on the Rays first hit. It was a classic pitcher versus hitter moment, with Crawford winning this time.

 

But that seemed to open the flood gates as Evan Longoria then hit a single to left on the first pitch he saw from Burnett. The Yankee starter was beginning to show some kinks in his armor tonight. Then Carlos Pena got an RBI single to right to score Crawford and also take the shitout away from Burnett. But the big blow again came from Burrell, who hit a RBI sacrifice fly to right field that scored Longoria and tied the game at 2-2. The Rays had battled for seven innings against a hot pitcher, and had finally broken through enough to get a tied contest.

 

 

         

 

Bullpen has a case of the Hiccups

 

Last night was not a typical night for the Rays Bullpen. The Rays had tied the game at 2-2 and gave the Bullpen a chance to secure the tie for them to try and take advantage of the Yankees in the eighth and ninth innings. But a few odd pitching performances gave the Yankees their fourth win of the season. Rays starter Matt Garza had thrown 7 innings of 5 hit 2 run ball and left the game after 112 pitches. The Rays problems on offense magnified the pitching of Garza, who actually had a decent outing by striking out nine Yankees tonight.

 

So with a chance at a free Papa John’s pizza in the wings, J P Howell took the mound for the Rays. Brett Gardner lead-off the Yankees top of the eighth inning with a double to deep left that split Crawford and B J Upton.  Derek Jeter then hit a ball up the middle to put two on for the Yankees with no outs.  With Gardner at thrid and Jeter at first,  Mark Teixeira then came up and hit a blast into deep left field and Crawford did not attempt to throw Gardner out at the plate. That put the Yankees back in front 3-2.  Jorge Posada then hit a ball back to Howell that he quickly threw to Carlos Pena to get out of the inning with only surrendering the lone run.

 

But in the ninth inning, the Yankees took control of the game from the Rays. Dan Wheeler came on to pitch and he got rudely awoken by Robinson Cano, who took for first pitch he saw for a single to left field to lead off the inning. Melky Caberra then kept the merry-go-round going by hitting a single to right on the second pitch he saw from Wheeler.  After Wheeler got two quick out from Ramiro Pena and Jose Molina, it looked like he might be able to control this inning. But Gardner hit a ground rule double that went over the pulled -in Upton and bounced over the center field wall.

 

 

The Rays tried to play the odds and keep the outfielders in close to make a play at the plate more effective. The play backfired as Gardner’s blast was in the air a long time and Upton did give an honest chase for the ball, but could not get a glove on it before it hit the turf and bounced over the wall.  Jeter then put the exclamation point on the game by hitting a 2-run homer to right field that just reached the first row seats. That gave the Yankees a 7-2 lead and the Rays could not convert any offense in the bottom of the ninth inning.

 

 

Tuesday Tidbits

 

After the game the Rays learned that they will be missing Longoria, who is on his way to California to attend to family matters for the next two games. It is expected that he will return in time for Friday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field. While he is out of the Rays lineup, Willy Aybar will be manning third base for Longoria.

 

The Rays also officially put Shawn Riggans on the 15-day disabled list for right shoulder tendonitis. The move was made retroactive to April 10th. A collateral  move was made to bring up Michel Hernandez from Durham to catch while Riggans is out of the lineup. Hernadez might see his first action of the year tomorrow in the Rays 4:08 pm start against the Yankees.

 

Photo credits:     1) www.raysbaseball.com

                         2) Chris O’Meara / AP

                         3) Chris O’Meara / AP  

                         4) Chris O’Meara / AP 

 

 

Tampa Bay take First Series from Red Sox

 
 
                            Rays 4,  Red Sox 3

 

 
 
Strutting like a Proud Turkey
 

Okay, I am going to shout loud and proud tonight for the Tampa Bay Rays. I do not care if you like it or not, because we have sent the message that we are for real again in 2009, and we want to win the American League East again. This was the kind of game that the Rays used to lose all the time up in Boston. It was the type of contest where the Rays let the Red Sox get back into the game, then let something happen that took the game out of the Ray’s hands. But that was almost the case this afternoon in Boston, but the Rays instead bent, but did not break to win the first series between the two powerhouses in the AL East.

 


The game was not in the bag until Gabe Kapler, who came on and pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in the top of the ninth inning, took a long fly ball in the triangular area of center field for the final out of the game. Boston did not sit down and die in this game, but played like a lion waiting for their chance to snatch the win away from the Rays. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Boston Captain, Jason Varitek tried to get the rally going strong by hitting a solo shot into the Rays Bullpen in right field. The shot was almost brought back into the field-of-play for an out, but Ben Zobrist, who had just come on to play right field, could not pull the ball back from beyond the fence.


It was that close. Seriously, it was a few inches that separated the Red Sox getting back into the game, or the Rays taking it without a fight. Instead, Varitek awakened the Boston crowd with hid lead-off homer off Rays closer Troy Percival on a bad pitch down and in. Boston did not sit back after that blast. After two quick outs, David Ortiz walked to give the faithful some hope. That in itself was a major thing since Ortiz came into this game 1-12 ( 0.83 average) against Percival lifetime. So with a man on base, and the winning run at the plate with two outs, the hard hit ball by Kevin Youkilis  seemed to take forever to reach Kapler’s glove and end the rally.

 

If this is going to be the type of games that we are going to see in this series this year. I think I am going to get some Pepto and aspirin for the home crowd. This is what baseball is all about. It had the excitement of a late rally, and the back-and -forth pitching by one of Boston’s best pitchers. This is the type of game that will be the talk of the water cooler in Tampa Bay and Boston tomorrow for different reasons. In Tampa Bay, they will be talking about the powerful display put on by the Rays in this game. But in Boston, they will be talking about Kapler’s play and the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was all over the plate early, allowing a lead-off homer, and also throwing 100 pitches in 5.1 innings.
 

It was a great game to watch for either teams fans. That is going to pay dividends for both teams during their next home stands featuring these two teams. We know that Boston will be sold out, but it will drive up the demand for tickets and also make the  people selling tickets a nice return. Even in Tampa Bay, where most Boston fans can take a plane ride and even buy tickets cheaper than getting into Fenway Park most nights, the ticket sellers will have a field day. But that is what playoff baseball felt like this past October, and hopefully when the Red Sox come to town the rest of the year, we can experience it over and over again.

 
 
            
 

Riggo to the Rescue

 
It was great to see Shawn Riggans get a start today against the Red Sox in the matinee. Anyone who knows me will not doubt know I am going to be happy to see him getting some time behind the plate. But I might not be the only one. During today’s FSN telecast, Rays analyst Kevin Kennedy, who is a former catcher, and a major league catching instructor, also talked glowingly about Riggans today. He made a point to show the way he would go down and block the ball correctly. That he was fundamentally sound, and also seemed to call a great game behind the dish.

 
Kennedy also noticed the great  confidence that Garza seemed to have in the back-up catcher, and that Garza had a winning record last year ( 5-2) when Riggans caught him. Not lost was the fact that Riggans was the catcher that caught Garza during his one-hitter against the Florida Marlins last season. The only blemish on that day was a home run to Hanley Ramirez.  During the game, with the center field camera focusing in on Riggans, you could see him give encouragement and calm Garza down after strikes were not called on a few close balls off the corners.

 
But that is why I like this kid. He had taken to this job after the Rays have thrown people at him to pressure him for the back-up spot in previous years. But this spring, the Rays did not bring in any one with a huge amount of experience because of their confidence in Riggans. That is the ultimate compliment to a back-up catcher. And Riggans did not disappoint the Rays today. He might have only gone 1-4 today, but his solo home run shot to right center field that went over the Red Sox Bullpen put them up 4-0 in the fourth inning.  Riggans, who has had his share of injuries the past few seasons is poised and confident this year. And with him and Dioner Navarro taking care of this pitching staff, the Rays know that they have the right guys behind the plate this season.

 
 

 
 
Rays do some funky shifting in the Infield
 

During last season, the Rays employed a few unusual plays during game designed to intimidate hitters by moving players to spot that show a huge spray pattern in a hitting chart. We saw the shift used against David Ortiz and other left-handed batters last year that looked like something out of an old fashioned managerial scrapbook. But Rays Manager Joe Maddon is a student of the game, and computer generated charts showing hitting patterns and also tendencies can be a useful weapon to beat opponents. Some times they work like a charm, other times they still sneak a hit through a hole somewhere in the defense.

 

Most people know the left-handed shift where first baseman Carlos Pena will play off the bag ( unless there is a runner on first) and Akinora Iwamura will play about 10 feet off the clay into shallow right field. Then you have shortstop Jason Bartlett either right behind the second base bag, or more towards the inside of the bag. All this time third baseman Evan Longoria is the man on an island in this formation. He usually lines up in the shortstop position, but sometime has to hug the bag because of some batter faking bunt attempts down the third base line. But then th
ere is the new formation we saw today.

 
 

It is a bit different, because before today it was foreign to see them also do a shift for right-handed batters. It was not used all game long, but they did employ it numerous times today, and it had mixed results.  Mostly the Rays used it against Dustin Pedroia and Jason Bay today to make them hit over the defense. Unlike the left-handed version, in this new variation you saw Pena more between first and second and not guarding the right field line. Iwamura basically played right behind second base, and the right side of the infield stayed at their positions.
 
 

Using this new formation today, the Rays seemed to be adjusting on the fly, but got Mike Lowell to hit a sharp liner to Iwamura behind second in the sixth inning that would have been a single to center if the shift was not used. Pedroia and Bay went 1-8 on the day, with Bay getting a single over Joyce’s head in center field into the triangle near the 420 sign in center field. It will be interesting to see this formation used again and again this year by the Rays. But like they always say, if it is not broke, don’t fix it. But in this case, if it shuts them down, keep doing it.

 

 

Evan Almighty to the Monster

 

I know it is crazy to think that Evan Longoria is going to keep hitting homers at this pace. I mean he has a few unusual streaks going on here. First off, this is the second game in a row where he has hit a double in his first at bat of the game. and both times they have been down the third base line into the corner.  Put that together with the fact he is hitting .429 so far this season, and you have a guy who is not showing any sophomore slump at this time. And that is great for the Rays. While Pat Burrell finally got his first hit of the season today, Longoria has been consistent at the plate so far for the Rays.

 
 

But it might be his other streak that people want to talk about in Tampa Bay. Not the fact that he has made awesome defensive plays so far this year. Stealing a few hits off the lines so far in the Boston series and turning them into easy outs. He did get beat fully on the lead-off bunt single down the third base line by Jacoby Ellsbury today, but he rebounded by taking a ball headed for extra bases by Pedroia in the ninth inning for the second out. No people want to talk about his second  home run in as many days into the Green Monster. Today’s slam went into the third row of the Monster seats, and he almost had another in an earlier inning, but the ball curved foul into the Upper Deck seats to the left of the Monster. Longoria is making people believe he is the real thing. Another good indicator that he is seeing ball well is the fact that he missed hitting for the cycle today by not getting a triple.  If Longoria was not seeing the ball the size of beach balls right now, the Rays might have been in a bit of trouble in this series.

 
 Today’s Rays Ramblings
 

I am curious on this new Rays promotion I was hearing on the radio last night.  It was announced that if the Rays score during the fourth inning of a game, a local eyeglass company Innovision will give 10 kids eyeglasses and examinations. How cool is that! Seriously, in this time when a lot of parents can not afford the medical insurance for kids, eye insurance and benefits might not be the first thing on their minds. So it is an great idea for this kind of promotion to take some of the worry and financial burden off some Tampa Bay families.

 
 

I also found it quite amusing last night during the game to catch a glimpse of the Red Sox scoreboard that kept track of pitches for the respective pitchers from both teams. It was kind of funny to see that when Scott Kazmir left the mound on Tuesday night, that he had thrown 445 pitches according to the board.  I am not genius, but to thrown that many pitches might take at least 3 1/2 games for a normal pitcher. I know it seems like when Kazmir pitches, he is throwing a huge number, but last night he seems to be finding that control that missed him a few times in 2008.

 
 

Not lost is the fact that the Rays plated all four of their runs via the long ball today.  They started in the top of the second inning when Matt Joyce got his first hit of the season by sending a ball over the head of J D Drew and into the right field stands. Dice-K had left a 2-seam fastball high and towards the middle of the plate, and Joyce made him play for the missed location.  Then in the third inning, after Iwamura walked to lead-off the inning and stole second base, Longoria connected on his shot into the Green Monster for a 3-0 lead.  Then in the fourth inning, Shawn Riggans got his first hit of the year by blasting a ball into the Red Sox Bullpen to complete the Rays scoring for the day.

 
        
 

Is Garza the New Red Sox Killer?

 

I know that might sound a bit premature to use that kind of terminology concerning Matt Garza, but considering he has now won his last three starts against the Red Sox it might be becoming more hip. In 2008, the Red Sox hit .250 against him both at home and at Fenway Park. In those games he only gave up 13 runs. And that is only during the regular season. It doesn’t even include the 2008 American League Championship Series when he started two games and held the Red Sox to  a .170 average, with 8 hits and 1 run in those games.

 
That would show that he is beginning to take an active role in being a key figure in stopping the Re
d Sox for his team. It is not to say that he was without any problems today. He did get called for going to his mouth in the bottom of the first inning and it gave Pedroia a free “ball” in his at bat. But it did not come back to haunt him as Pedroia hit a fly ball to Joyce in center field for an easy out. But today he did get his third victory in a row against the Red Sox, while only allowing them to hit  .154 today.  In his 7.0 innings today, he gave up 4 hits and a solo run in the sixth inning. In that inning he gave up a lead-off double to the left-center field gap, then two batters later gave up the long double to Bay that scored Youkilis.

 

All in all, Garza is beginning to show the signs of what the Minnesota Twins envisioned from him when they drafted him from Fresno State. He is gaining more and more control  of his pitches and is beginning to let the game flow and not get too upset on the mound. When he was called for the infraction in the first inning, the old Garza would have argued with Home Plate Umpire  Jeff Nelson and might have been thrown from the game. But today he just had a frustrated look and let it slide off his back and struck out Ortiz next. The maturation process might not be complete on Garza, but he is showing a huge improvement on the guy we saw on the mound early in 2008.

Photo Credits: All today’s photos are from the Associated Press and taken by Michael Dwyer.

Rays Fan Fest 2009 Photo Blog


 
 
I promised you a photo blog today, and I am going to deliver it. I will also make sure to put some captions and explanations to some of the photos. Some have an interesting background that I did not cover in my Fan Fest blog that I finally got online after 9 pm on Saturday. I can tell you that I was a bit late coming back to the house after my laptop died at the stadium because my cord for some reason did not work in the outlets today at the Trop. But have no fear, the pictures are here…………Hope you enjoy them as mush as I did taking them today.

 

 

 

 
 

I came through the center field opening about 9:03 a.m., and it was a sight to see how well spread out the Rays had done the event this year. It was also the clam before the storm as over 35,000 fans ended up coming into the dome today to meet and greet the 2009 Rays team members at either the autograph tables or during the many team player events throughout the Fan Fest.

 
 

 
 

I do not think this sign needs any more introduction other than to tell you it is the last thing the Rays team players see before they step down into the dugout and onto the field. To say that the Rays have their own brand of doing things might be an understatement. They are a team that takes on the personality of their manger Joe Maddon and fights to the last out every inning, every game.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
As you can see by the above two pictures, Rays Manager Joe Maddon is big on quotes of inspiration and influence. Maddon is a firm believer in the mental side of the game, and it effects on a team. All throughout the clubhouse you will find saying and antidotes bringing up character and honest effort on and off the field. 

  
 
 
 
 

 
 
As you can see by the last two photos, the Rays clubhouse is an awesome place to relax and get into game mode. Chris Westmoreland, the Rays Clubhouse Manager was selected as the leagues best at his job in 2008. And by looking at the comfort and the extreme luxuries he has given the team, from laptops usage in the clubhouse to food services, he is about making sure everyone in this locker room get what they need daily. The second photos is a side view into Maddon’s office where he has several uniforms framed on his wall. One is a team mate jersey from Lafayette University where Maddon played baseball in college.  He also has a very unique feature in there, a wine rack that Maddon regularly uses after games to relax with coaches and players.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 
This is the scene at 10 a.m. just after the front door were opened to regular fans who did not have a season ticket. As you can see, the lines in the autograph area have not truly formed yet.  Near the end of this photo blog, you will see the chaos that unfolded around 2-3 p.m. in the dome. The second photo is a from my seat right there at the bottom of Section 138. One of the great features of having Season Tickets is that you get a black nameplate on your seat to show that you are a true fan, and that you sit there. Believe me, during some of the series in the Trop., you have to shoo people away with a bat from that prime seat for foul balls in Batting Practice.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
These photos are of the kid’s zone area that catered to young Rays fans and tested their skills out in front of the crowds. Talk about pressure cooker situations.

 

 

 
 

 

 

 
In the first photo is famous boxing corner man Angelo Dundee who was signing today for fans and also taking pictures. Many people might remember him as the corner man for boxing champions Muhammad Ali, and Floyd Whittaker. The second photo is of the tandem of Dave Willis and Andy Freed who do the Rays Radio broadcast of every game. These guys have an awesome chemistry and are some of the nicest people you ever want to meet in baseball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Here we have Dick Crippen, local sports legendary sports anchor announcing the members of the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame. The wall now hold the names of over 100 enthusiastic Rays fans who have been nominated by the Rays management and the Fans for their spirit and involvement in the Rays games. I was inducted into this wall in 2004, and up until 2007 I also helped build the Pepsi displays that served as the background for the events.   I have to say, that the displays have been getting bigger and better evey year. I can not wait to see what the 2010 display will look like and how big it will be. Pictured above is Pieter Wiemken, who was enshrined today in the Fans Wall of Fame. Most people might recognize him for his wig and his signs during the Boston series this year and by him banging his cowbell in the upper deck right behind home plate. He is a great addition to the Wall of Fame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Here we have the awesome Rays calliope that was a piece featured in the Schrader’s baseball collection display. The collection is touted as being the “World’s Largest Privately Owned Baseball Collection.” The calliope itself is an amazing centerpiece to the display. Also pictured is the styrofoam “Maddon’s Maniac” character that graces all of that special Rays club’s cowbells and t-shirts given out to the club’s members. I will talk more about the 2009 expectations of this great club in the future.

 

 
 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 
Starting with the first photo here, we have Rays starting pitcher James Shields and speedster Fernando Perez taking a photo with a Rays season Ticket holder. The event went on all afternoon long with two players each standing their for photo opportunities from 1-5 p.m. At one point, the line stretch about half way into the right field street hallway before finally slinking down towards the 5 p.m. time. The second photo is of Pat Burrell recording a voice mail message on my cellphone for people to hear when they call me. This event sponsored by Metro PCS went on from 1-3, and also featured Rookie David Price and other players calling friends and family during the event. The third photo is of  the Rays Radio team doing an interview with Buck Martinez in the Budweiser Brew House. This is the event that Martinez talked about the uphill battle the Rays might have to take in 2009, but he sees it as a positive for the team, and stressed that this is also a better team than the one that won the A L Pennant in 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
In the first photo in this set we have Rays reliever Grant Balfour and new Rays Matt Joyce up on the signing tables waiting for the fans. You might notice that I am sitting in my Season ticket seat right now taking in the last few hours of the event. I even have a pretty good sight line when I am at Fan Fest. In the second photo, you see Rays reliever Jason Hammel looking over at Carlos Pena, who also has his charming young daughter up on stage with him drawing during the autograph session. In the last picture is the greeting between Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pena before he leaves the stage at the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an idea to show how crowded the autograph areas got during the day. The first photo was taken at about 1 :30 p.m. and you can see that the line snakes around past my seating area and into the hall beyond right field. The second one, I wanted to get the time in the picture to show you how it got even more congested just before 3:00 p.m. around the stage one area.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
The first photo shows Rays Bullpen coach Bobby Ramos holding court up in the Stage one area with Maddon and Rays Hitting coach Steve ” Hendo” Henderson sitting their listening to Ramos. This group of coaches all seems to fit so well together. I have seen them after games at a few places, and they truly like to spend time with each other. The second photo is as Pena was leaving and dn he was shouting over to see if I was still going to be sitting their in 2009. By the way Carlos……….where else would I be except maybe the dugout…I wish. In the third photo, Scott Kazmir was coming off the stage area and asked if I was going for chicken wings. I hate that some of these guys know me so well they know I am bound for Ferg’s and his world famous chicken wings anytime I am down in St Petersburg.

 

 

 

 
And this last photo says it all. Here we are at the apex to spring training and the Rays have the enthusiasm and the confidence to even provide a “Magical Number” for 2009. It was a fantastic day to again chat and revisit  with friends and players alike and dream about what might be in 2009. I hope you enjoyed my photo blog of my adventures at the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest.

 

 

All Photos today were obtained by the RRCollections and can be copied or used for advertising and promotion of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

 

My Selections for Proposed Stadium Giveaways in 2009

 


Well, one of the great perks in being a Tampa Bay Rays Season Ticket holder is the fact that we are guaranteed some of the promotional items that the team gives out during the year. So if I do not want to wait in the long lines for a B J Upton figurine, I always know I will get one with my Season Ticket bag before the All Star break. It was even better years ago when we used to get everything that was offered during the year, even the kids items for our collections.

 



I have every lunchbox that the team has issued now for 10 years, except one that was recently damaged by my room mates 8 year old when he was throwing the basketball back in my office area. But that is fine, because I have them because of my love for the team, and as a retirement fall back plan. Now I am not thinking that it will fetch even $30 dollars in 15 years, but it might be a nice collectible for Ebay someday for me to post and sell to an avid buyer.


 

But that is what a lot of Rays season ticket holder do with their stashes. After our bi-yearly cache of promotional items are given out, I have seen a influx of items posted on Ebay and selective sites for collectibles. Considering the rise in people wanting to collect these both as keepsakes and as assets for the future, the market is growing for Rays merchandise. But not everyone buys them to sell them. You have people like myself and a friend, Jeff McKinney, who has one of the biggest  Rays collections of signed players baseball  and collectibles in the entire Rays kingdom.

 


Some people collect because of their obsession and their love of the game. That is why I collect them and the autographs. Heck, I even have a used 2000- 2004 Rays on-deck circle in my house that I was given right after the 2004 season ended by a Rays employee. I also have a B J Upton figurine that says “Bossman Junior”, instead of  “B J Upton” on the base. I do not know how many of those are in circulation, but I do know it is rare and I plan on keeping that until my death.then someone can sell it.

 


So with this new crop of 2009 promotional items still up in the air for the Rays, they sent out our yearly survey to the Season Ticket mongrels and asked what promotional items we might desire to see in 2009. I decided to give the public an insight into the items that the team is considering for 2009. The items that I voted for will be put onto the list in RED type  so you can see where my mind is on these items. So let’s check out the types of things that the Rays marketing arm is considering for the fans in 2009.

 


I actually believe that this presentation, or turnkey survey I completed was a tool of the MLB Advanced Media section of MLB, and not the front office survey of the Tampa Bay Rays. But it really doesn’t matter who did it, or why, it is important that we get a chance to decide what we might see at stadium giveaways in 2009.

 

 

Here is the first grouping of items that the team has asked us to pick from in 2009:


Replica Championship ring

Commemorative DVD of 2008 season

World Series Cowbell

Replica of Championship Flag ( smaller version of AL Pennant flag to be hoisted on 4/13/2009.)

License Plate holder

Championship Scroll.

 


Quite an interesting list here. I can imagine buying the license plate holder on my own, and what is with the idea of a championship scroll? Are we now competing in the ancient Greek division of baseball?  The Replica flag of the Championship Banner is a close second for me, and I got a free World Series cowbell during the playoffs thank you very much. But the Replica Championship ring is something I would love to see. I have seen several other items like this that other teams have done in the past, and it would be a nice collectible, and maybe even a great party conversational item to have, even if it is a knock-off of the original ring.

 



The team then asked about children related items containing the likeness of our favorite overgrown smurf/ seadog Raymond. Here are the items for consideration for Raymond related giveaways for 2009:

Raymond Mr. Potatohead Doll

Raymond Hand Puppet

Stuffed Raymond Doll

Kid’s size T-shirt

Nesting Doll ( 3 egg shaped inner sections to complete one large sized doll)

Raymond small Pillow

Raymond Cereal Bowl

 

Wow, another fine mess of items for us to think long and hard about for 2009. I think the team had their hand enough up in Raymond this year and we do not need a hand puppet. The stuffed Raymond might be a great idea, but there are still 1,000’s of them in the Rays Team Store for sale and might corner the market on them.

 

 

A T-shirt is usually a easy way out of anything. People make T-shirts for simple and cheap advertising of their products ans services.  Even Raymond is worth more than a simple T-shirt. The pillow is an interesting item, but might be a bad item if you get a kid who might have allergies because of the stuffing or materials. Unless the pillow is 100 percent hypo-allergenic, it might pose a small public relations night mare on the backside of it.



The cereal bowl is another close tie for second here. Who would not want to eat a bowl of cereal and see Raymond’s big nose poking out after you eat all the Raisin Bran in the morning. But the one item that truly caught my interest is the nesting doll. I got one a few years ago of Ichiro when I was in Seattle for a Rays series. It has been a great conversation starter because no one has even seen one before in Tampa Bay. It is mostly a Far Eastern influenced item, but I love my Ichiro one to death. 

 


But the Raymond Mr Potato Head is by and far the best item for the kids. I can see someone’s kid playing with it in the stands during the game, or even in the car on the way to the ballpark and it take s a huge amount of stress off the parent at the time. I have attended the game with a group of 4 kids ranging in ages from 5 to 12 , and the attention span of those kids is about less than 1 full inning of play. Thank God for Nintendo DS.

 

 


The next section that they wanted us to consider was “Rays” branded items. This would include anything that would have the “Rays” logo or symbol on it, or be realted to any MLB award or property. Here is the list of items that were presented to us:


Carlos Pena Gold Glove

Dioner Navarro Mini Catcher’s Mask

Evan Longoria Rookie of the Year figurine

James Shields Magic Set

Carlos Pena Catwalk Pinball Machine

Carl Crawford Wind-up Toy

 


Talk about a wild set of items. Just look at this list and you will see a total gambit of items that might amaze and confuse you.  Now the Carlos Pena Gold Glove item was an instant hit in my book because of the significance of it being the team’s first Gold Glove ever awarded to a player. This is one section where I thought two items should be picked, with the Gold Glove item tying for my selection.

 


The Dioner Navarro mini catcher’s mask was a wild item, but mostly a secondary item to me. It might be a better item in 2010, after he has established himself a bit more in the minds and eyes of the MLB and the Rays faithful. The Carl Crawford wind-up toy is just not right. Seriously here, I would be ashamed if I had to present that toy to a kid. It would be broken in 5 minutes and then you have a crying kid in the stands and an upset parent……..Bad choice from top to bottom here.

 

Carlos Pena Catwalk pinball machine certainly sounds like a wild game, but how can you configure the Trop’s catwalks into a game and still have some sort of motion and flippers in the game?  This might be a wild item to see firsthand, then a better decision can be reached about it. Now when did James Shields become a magic guy? This is another one that puzzles me. Is Shields a closet magic guy who has a top hat and a rabbit at home?  I actually think this won would be better to make itself disappear before we even see it for the first time.


But the Evan Longoria Rookie of the Year figurine should be on the list of 2009 promotional items period. This is a no-brainer. The guy might be our first “Rays” home grown Hall of Famer by the time he is done playing baseball. This is a fantastic item for a super guy who exceeded expectations and rode the victory train all the way to the World Series with the team. To say this team should not be on the list of giveaways would be a true crime.

 



The next section is probably the most popular items given out during the year by the Rays. The figurines are considered the holy grail of stadium giveaways, and the team has a great set of names to consider for 2009.

 

Evan Longoria  

Jason Bartlett

Joe Maddon                     ( 2 ) 

Matt Garza                       ( 3 )

David Price                      ( 1 )

Dioner Navarro               ( 4 )

 

Considering the team usually gives out 4 of these a year, I picked my top 4 choices above. The selection of these is not too hard considering the type of year each of the selections had in 2008. But some of the selections might also be a bit premature for 2009. I truly think that Jason Bartlett did an amazing job helping us upgrade our defense in 2008, but I also feel he is not the main reason, and by posting more errors than any other time in his career doesn’t give a guy a bobble head.

 

Dioner Navarro would be a great choice. He had grown a lot in 2008 to become the type of catcher the team can count on for years down the line. He is also becoming a team leader in the clubhouse and behind the plate and is fulfilling his destiny when he was drafted in the 1st round by the New York Yankees.

 


Matt Garza as a bobble head would be a great and fitting salute to his confidence and his strength in the playoffs for the Rays.  Garza rose above and beyond in 2008 after having a few bumps in the road to become a superstar pitcher in the making for the Rays. Maybe a bobble head with him clutching the ALCS MVP award would be perfect.

 


Both Joe Maddon and David Price deserve a bobble head/figurine. When Maddon was first selected as the Rays Manager, I was not in the group who was totally happy with the selection. But in the first few months of the season, I got to see how the guy worked and how he ran his team and he got my respect and I have been a true believer in his system.  His low key approach has worked for him because his players’ and his staff have total confidence and respect in the way he runs his ship.

 

David Price, what can you say about this guy. He said in the Spring of 2008, that he expected to be with the team by the end of the year. He also said he was going to work hard and make the decision hard for them not to bring him up sometime during the season. He also stated he loves the pressure and strives on it. All three  statement became what came to believe was David Price.

He went above and beyond on the diamond, and was a pleasure to talk with and see interact with fans on the sidelines during the 2008 season. He is going to be a the pre-season favorite for the 2009 Rookie of the Year award, and it just might be his to lose during the season. But the former Vanderbilt star is also smart enough to know that anything can happen a a 162 game schedule……but he should have his own figurine late in 2009.

You notice I did not even consider Evan Longoria for this figurine section because I am confident the Rays will do a Rookie of the Year bobble head/ figurine. If for some reason, the team doesn’t take into consideration that Longoria is our first representative to win the ROY, then maybe they are missing the entire boat here on any of these items for 2009.  If the Rays do not include a Longoria figure somewhere in the 2009 promotional schedule, it will be a error of judgment by the team’s front office and marketing department in a big way.


 

 


The last selection section that the survey asked us to consider was the Rays brand items.  This has always been a selection of flags, caps and even coozies in the past. But the selections offered for 2009 ran a wide variety of items from the usual to the unusual. Here is the final list we were asked to pick from in 2009:

 

Rays logo License Plate Holder

Remote Control holder

Welcome Mat

Retro Team Card

Animal House  style College T-shirt

2009 Team Card Set

Fan Designed T-shirt

Rays Calendar

 

I have to say that was another wild selection  process. The first item, the Rays license plat holder was just a plain item that we could pick up anywhere during 2009. I think we need a bit more imagination in 2009.  With that in mind, the remote control holder was a new idea and just might be a great item. I guess you have to see it first to consider it for the list. Is it a slip on “Rays-themed” holder, or something a bit more elegant.

 


I can’t believe I used the word elegant with the Rays.  The welcome mat also seemed like a great idea, but might be a secondary item to be given out during the Boston series. I know, that would be cruel, but hey, We did sweep them 2 times in out house for the first time ever in 2008. The retro card set might be a great kid’s item, but not in this category.

 


The Animal House style T-shirt is a great idea. I would wear it, but then again I am a DTX fraternity brother.  It would all depend on the design of the T-shirt as to if it would be a hit or miss in 2009. With hit or miss in mind here, the team card set and the calendar would either be a plus or a minus depending on the individual fan.  Some people would love the idea, while others would see it as a lame excuse for a stadium giveaway and toss it in the trash or leave it in the stands after the game. It is a gamble either way on these items.

 


But the idea of letting fan submit a design for a T-shirt is actually a bit of a great P R  move. Think about it, you would have both professional designers and even kids doing double time to present a prototype of the shirt to be distributed to the masses in the stands. How proud would a fan be that his print was selected either by the team or the fans as the item to be given out during the “Fandemonium” celebration during the last home stand of the season.

 


You could make the selection process for the design to be done online or even an in-stadium display maybe by Gate 3 with voting and balloting done during 3 home stands in the season. You could also then let the winning fan not only get credit for producing the work of art, but maybe do a Ceremonial First Pitch or an autograph signing during the day it is distributed to the Rays fans. You could make someone life by showing their talents and their abilities for everyone in the stadium to enjoy.

 


Well, here you go. the above was all the items that the Rays and MLB Advanced Media asked the Rays season Ticket holder to  consider for promotional item for stadium giveaways in 2009.  What is really amazing is the way that these items have changed over the seasons. Most Rays fans will remember the small 4 inch tall bobble heads given out years ago, or the floppy hats and trucker hats extended to the Rays’ mass population in the past.

 

 


Such stadium giveaways are special, and should be treated as such by the Rays management. Not only is it free advertising for the sponsor of the event, but for the team in the Tampa Bay area. Must we forget that when Rays Manager Joe Maddon was on his honeymoon in Italy, he actually saw and took a picture of a Rays fan overseas from the bay area. The team might never hit the plateau of some of our American League East brethren in total uniform and promotional sales, but we can start a trend where the Rays are no longer the bottom feeders in merchandise in the MLB.

Top Rays Memory of 2008………………..Playoffs Baby!!!

 

 

 

Everyone remembers the magic of your first time. The first time you had a bubbly ice cold soda, or maybe even tried that ride at the fair that scared you to death a year earlier. But the fascination and the excitement of trying something, or achieving something for the first time can be a rush that can not be beat.

 

 

It is for that reason that my Top Moment for 2008 for the Tampa Bay Rays includes a new “first” for the franchise. As I said before, we always remember our first time entering the ballpark, checking out the sounds, smells and the atmosphere of this new electric-charged dome. You still think about the first Batting  Practice or your first foul ball catch, or even the first autograph you ever got at the game. And who could ever forget the taste of that first stadium hot dog. I know all of these are still fresh in my mind, and it has been over 40 years since my first game at Al Lang Field watching the St. Petersburg Cardinals.

 

 

So it is with great pleasure that I introduce my number one memory of 2008. It occurred on September 20, 2008 with 36,048 other believers in the stands and jumping up and down like madmen. It was a time for rejoicing and for remembering all the things we loved about the Rays. Not only did the team play a hard fought 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins, but the team secured its first EVER playoff berth.

 

Considering this team had never won more than 71 games a year, and for most of the year fought hard to keep its top spot in the American League East race, this was the moment for the home fans and the players to salute a great season, and the celebrate together. I know a lot of people might consider one of the many I picked as a number 2 moment for this top spot. This was personal to me. I got to celebrate with a few friends as they wandered and cheered around the stadium,

 

I got to remind a few of them that the journey has just began and they made sure I knew that it was us, the fans that drove this bus to the playoffs as much as the players. And I got to drink from the champagne bottles and taste that sweet nectar that went down like cool rainwater and tasted like spun honey. It was one of the biggest moments for me as a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays…………….and hopefully you got to enjoy it too that day…………….

 

Basking in the Moment………..1st Playoff Berth 

 

 


It might have looked like a mob scene out of your favorite sports movie, but believe me, the energy in that place yesterday was so severe that it sometimes seemed to choke you from the intensity in the air. From the energy and the explosion of emotion in the stadium atmosphere yesterday, this game was won by the time they  even first stepped  on the turf.

 


Seriously folks, I have never felt so drained emotionally and mentally in my life. I was literally crawling out of the Trop at 9 P.M. after celebrating in the stands, near the clubhouse with a few friends, and in the Budweiser Brew house having a few brews with the old crew from the last 10 years. This was a night were everyone in Tampa Bay would have a peaceful nights sleep.

 

 


This is a day/night/weekend that will sit up there with the best memories I have involving sports in my life. I have been to a few wild celebrations, like the Baltimore Ravens victory party in Ybor City after they won the Super Bowl in Tampa, or even a late night cocktail party at Reign after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with a few ex-Rays players.  I am so spent right now and I have not come down from this yet. And I have a  Season Ticket holder Picture Day in 6 hours with the players. Well, the ones who are awake at 10 am.

 

 

All I can say is this is going down in my memory banks as one of the greatest day in my fan life. How can it get any better………….oh, wait WE could have THREE more of these great celebrations before the playoffs are all over with this year!  And then the real party will begin!  But let’s not get too far in front of ourselves here, there is a long road to go to even think of that situation right now.

 

 


THREE more chances where these guys pay as much attention to their team partying as they do out with us, the fans.  From interview to interview last night, the guys to a “T”, talked about the Tampa Bay Rays fans. They included the fans in their celebrations. Getting up on the dugout and spraying the masses with champagne and beer. Throwing 9=8 playoff hats and T-shirts to them all, and relishing a moment that will live in this franchises history books  and memory forever.

 

 

 


You always remember your first time. You remember where you were, Who you were standing with, and what you were doing at that exact moment. When the guys came running down into the Bull Pen Cafe area and I was standing on the railing, I can not remember how many of those guys came up there and slapped my hand and gave me a fist bump. But the ones that were special were the Hugs from J P Howell, Jonny Gomes, Chad Orvella and Scott Kazmir.  I have chatted almost daily with  a lot of these guys on their way to the Bullpen, or back in the right field area, and they are some of the best guys you will ever want to meet.

 


Howell for instance used to be one of the quietest guys on this team when he was a starter. He was moody and never seemed to want to talk. Now since he has found his calling in the bullpen,  he is one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on the Rays. Dan Wheeler is not known to smile a lot, but he does when we chat back and forth during the games. There is a unique bond there between the Bullpen and the fan here that I have never seen before in my life. But then again, they are living the dream this year.

 

 

From the first champagne bottle out of the clubhouse, to the two bottles that Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos had ordered for himself and the close fans down there, it was a magical night. The parade around the Trop outer perimeter was a show of the love and respect these guys have for the fan base. I have been lucky enough to know a few of these guys off the turf in private. And I have to tell you this in total confidence, not one time this year did any of these guys take this responsibility to the fans or to the community as a  job or work.


 

                        

 

This group actually enjoys interacting with the fans. From the time they walked out at the Spring Training complex in mid-Feb. to now has been a long and rewarding journey. There have been player injuries and players have come and gone from the roster, but the core of this team have been strong, mentally tough and been an inspiration to the fans. Not many groups have a tie to the fans that these guys have. The Rays community can honestly say the have the team’s back at any moment.

 

 

The funny thing about this celebration is that about 25 percent of it was outside the locker room in the field where these guys have toiled and struggled and left themselves bleeding and wounded some nights. To say this battle did not end with a fairy tale ending is totally accurate. This season has now almost come to a close at home, but in the next wek they might have a Divisional Crown celebration either in Detroit or Baltimore, then sprint home and get ready for the First of many October games in the Trop.

 

 

I really need to hit the sack for a few hours before I fall down, but the adrenaline is still pumping hard in me right now and I have tossed and turned for about 5 hours since I got home. I am a emotional wreck right now, but I would do it again in a New York moment. If you have never been to one of these defining moments, you know how the Rays Republic is now feeling. If you have not, I truly wish it upon yourself and your team sometime in the future. It is a roller coaster ride fitted with some great ups and downs that is not even over yet.

 

                                

 

 

I just want to repurchase my “E” ticket so I can climb aboard the coaster again and roll through another three of these celebrations with the Rays and this truly spectacular group of guys.  I actually now know what other team’s fans have talked about when the y remark about the feelings and the intensity of the moment. I can see why New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox fan yearn and seek thin moment in their lives yearly. But I have to almost admit, I do not want to share it with them anytime soon.

 

 

So As I finally slink out of the stadium, and check out that bright orange roof, I am reminded of all the glory and the sweat and tears that have blanketed this great dome in the past 10 years. But tonight they all seem like a distant memory as we have a new found tradition of winning and are celebrating the success of our boys’ tonight. I can’t wait to get back into my seat tomorrow and see how much of the energy is still trapped in this building…………….9 am is coming fast to me tonight.

 

A Hodge Podge of Number 2 Ray’s Moments in 2008

 

Coverrays

 


I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.

 

If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season.  There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.

 

 


I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.


So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.

 

 

The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.

 


Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.

 

 


Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.



Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats.  Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.

 

 


Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940’s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.

 

Eric Hinske hits a one-out double during the Rays' two-run second inning. He tripled in the fourth and homered in the sixth.

 


Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single.  Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.

 


Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The  first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.

 

Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.

 

 


On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot.  The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when  pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted  home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.

 

 


Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.


But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.


 

 


On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.

 


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.

 


On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.

 

Rocco Baldelli gets the shaving cream pie treatment after driving in the winning run in the ninth.  (AP)

 


While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season.  It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.

 

The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox.  It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.  

 

 

Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.

 

 


With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of  scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.

 

 


After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.


 

 


On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.

 

 

When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game  showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.

 

 


The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays.  In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly  in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.


 

 


Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.

 


The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.

 

 


All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow.  Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.

 

Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.

Rays General Manager for a Day

 

 

 

One of the hardest jobs in all of  baseball is not the Managers’ position, but the title of  General Manager. I think that more GM’s have taken a bullet for the failures of their teams than any of baseball field mangers. It is said that the stream of blood runs downhill after a slaughter and usually that blood starts at the scalp of the GM, who is the first sacrificial lamb for the public and the media. 

 

The position has a bit of give and take from the bottom to the top, but for all intentions, can be the lonliest post when things are going bad for your team . You have to dictate and slice through all of the BS coming out of the clubhouse and the publics mouths, plus select the  most rightious information and  sage advice from scouting to make a calculated and educated gamble on a player or a team situation.

 

For Rays General Manager aka Boy Wonder of 1 Tropicana Drive, Andrew Friedman, so far in his tenure in the position, the scale has been weighed heavily in his favor. Considering that less than 3 years ago he was not even involved with the Tampa Bay Rays, and his name was no more known in public circles than my name. But in three years  with help from  wily old veteran G.M. Gary “Obi Wan” Hunsicker he has built upon a solid core of players and  eager staff members to reign  alone on top of the G.M. mountaintop. 

 

Decision after decision went wrong for him in the beginning. He stayed silent and towed the line on trade talks that could have meant the world to the team, and moved on ones that might have dealt them a death blow in the past.pile  But with a few years of plus and minues calculations, the Rays G.M. has eliminated the risk management portion of his position and is seeing only sunny skies and rainbows right now.

 

 Well, on today’s front page, MLBlogs asked a simple question that will either rock the nether worlds or simply go down as more Internet babble and ramblings by people who love to play God behind a keyboard. I am one of those ramblers, but I can atest to countless hours of thinking about this ( 2 hours) and entered debate after debate during the morning to strengthen my fortitude and latitude to accept this challenge. I am to become the G.M. of the American League champions for a short time and plot the course for the Rays cruiseliner. Hopefully I will not need a toll for the river Styx after I am done with my opinions and raw mental brainfarts. But in the office of the G.M., even ordering coffee can be met with critcism and  second-guessing.

 

 

                    

 

 

I am not sure if I want to play a higher power, but I would like a crack at a few             situations I would consider if I was the Rays GM for the next few days in Las Vegas. With that in mind, I am going to put myself in WWAD ( What Would Andrew Do ) mode and trya and make a few educated guesses as to the betterment of the Rays  roster and their minor league system. I even have a play that should be added to their 40-man roster before Friday, or lose him to another team is a sure bet.

 

 

 

So, here we go, I am acting GM of the Tampa Bay Rays for about an hour. My  first round of business will be to get minor leaguer Rhyne Hughes on the 40-man             roster. Hughes had a monster Arizona Fall League and might be going the route that current Rays pitcher James Shields took a few years back. Hughes made                       the All- AFL selection squad and hit the cover off the ball in Arizona.

 

He has been at the Double-A level in 2008, but might start there then move up to Triple-A depending on the Bulls need for a power first baseman. But getting  this kid hidden on the 40-man roster is a vital cog that has to be done ASAP. The Rays took care of a roster spot on Monday evening by assigning pitcher Chad Orvella, who is coming off of shoulder surgery outright to the Durham Bulls.

 

 

The Rays might not have as many holes as usual this coming year, which actually plays well into their hands during negotiations with players. There are several key             guys up for arbitration like Dioner Navarro, Jason Bartlett, Edwin Jackson and Jonny Gomes. In the next several weeks a few of those guys might not be here by trade or being released by the team. I would put more money on the trade situation than losing all value for the players. Even a guy like Gomes, who had a miserible 2008, has value to a team looking for a 4th outfielder or even a DH for hire.

 

I am going to cut to the chase in this blog and attack the two main needs for the team in 2009.  The right-field slot and the DH position are highly publicized and ‘must need’ positions on the team. I have a few ideas about each and will explore them in two ways. First to list the free agent solutions, and then by trade.

 

 

               

 

 

First off, let’s tackle the need for a DH or bench player for the Rays via the free agent market. With the recent lunch date with Milton Bradley going so well for  the Rays, the only thing standing in the way besides a contract is if the guy is worth losing your first round pick for him.  With Bradley being considered a top tier free agent, the team would have to forfeit a draft pick to secure his signing.

 

 

                            

 

 

Another plus about Bradley that the Rays can build on is his ability to protect hitters in front of him bcause of his .324 average last season. To add onto that is the fact he also hit 22 home runs and struck out only 112 times last season. He is also an on-base guy, posting .439 On-Base Percentage, largely because of  his 80 walks. His sttitude and personality quirks have also mellowed with age and he has become a calm force in the locker room. He might not be Cliff Floyd, but  the guy commands respect and leads by example.

 

 

                  

 

 

The second alternative to a DH via the free agent wire is also a very  attractive one for the Rays.  Mostly  because this player can still contribute in the field at some lengths and could be a valuable asset to the club. Also considering some of the milestones he is approaching, he could be a great PR tool for the team to attract fans. If you have no figured it out yet, it is Ken Griffey Junior. I have been  a huge Griffey fans since his Mariner days and would consider him in a second  for the DH position.

 

Junior might have slipped a bit in production in the last few seasons, but he also has been playing the field almost every day while in the National League, and took over center for the Chicago White Sox after being traded at the trading deadline in 2008. If he was to be a DH, with an occasional stroll into the outfield, he could protect his knees and still hit daily for the team.  Griffey hit only a combined .248 between both leagues in 2008, but his low amount of strikeouts ( 25 ) shows that the plate discipline is still there and he can rebound off a bad 2008.

 

The Rays might be able to get Griffey at a Florida discount becuase of his home being in Orlando, but still might command about $ 4-6 million a year. Griffeys’ 2008 salary was set at about $ 8.2 million, which would put him out of Tampa Bay puse strings if he commands the same salary in 2009. 

 

Bradley made about $ 5.25 million last season. If Bradley wants to play on a competitive team for 2009, he also might be into giving the Rays a discount on base salary with some incentive bonuses tied to production. I would think a $ 4 million dollar salary with up to 2 million in incentives might do the trick for Bradley.

 

 

           

 

Let’s now consider the right-field  slot. I honestly feel that the team can  find a suitable player who is right-handed without breaking the bank in 2009. Alot of names have been tossed around lately, but there is aslo one that has not come to the surface yet in refference to the Rays. Brad Wilkerson has been playing right-field in the majors for a long time. He started 2008 with the Seattle Mariners, then moved onto the Toronto Blue Jays and provided great relief and power from the right-side of the plate.

 

Most of baseball has not even considered him after a sub-par 2008 while both rehabbing and trying to fit into a tight outfield situation in Toronto. But he might be a low cost alternative to the high priced guys seeking positions through the MLB. His sub .250 average for 2008 was mostly covered by his injury that he tried to play through before going down and finally getting healthy.

 

 

                              

 

 

This is the one position on the Rays that I think they can make a great trade that can help both ballclubs. In the past, the Rays have been linked as the third team with the Chicago Cubs for Jake Peavy. But the real factor is that they do not need the Cubs to make a trade with San Diego. The Padres are seeking a shortstopn and a pitcher to replace two players currently either treaded or deep into discussion to part the Padres.

 

Tampa Bay was eager to pout in a claim for Brian Giles on the waiver wire in 2008, but got one-upped by the Boston Red Sox. The Sox blocked the attempt to claim Giles to keep him off the Rays roster and maybe get him for themselves. Giles did not want to go to the Red Sox, but might be open to a Rays attempt at a trade because they have a true opening for him in right-field.

 

 

 

 

One problem with this trade off the bat is the amount of salary owed to Giles in 2009. The Rays might not be willing to take on the entire amount of the 2009 salary and would want to offset some of it by having the Padres eat a bit of the contract. The players’ that the Padres could get for Giles could be a nice smorgasboard of up-and-coming pitchers and a infielder.

 

The Rays have a abundance of pitchers who are log-jammed at the minor league level and might be willing to part with a MLB level pitcher and a Triple-A starter. The pitchers in question could range from Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel to Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot. All have been at the major league level and have proven to be quality pitchers.

 

 

The Rays also have a few infielders who could be packaged in the deal, which includes Reid Brignac, Elliott Johnson, who have limited major league experience to Ben Zobrist or even Jason Bartlett who have MLB experience. Zobrist is actually a player who could play any role for the Padres and is still under contract for 2009. Bartlett is arbitration-eligible, but might only cost about $ 2 million a year fater the hearing.

 

Giles is my trade target for the team in 2009. I think if the team packaged Jeff Neimann, Jason Bartlett and maybe another reliever, Dale Thayer or a Double-A player, plus take on  $ 2 million dollars of Giles salary, we could have a great deal for both teams. But that is just my opinion here.

 

 

So here we go, I have taken on two trouble spots for the Rays in 2009 and tackled them my way. How do I think I did as GM for the Day for the Rays?  That depends on if I can get these guys signed sealed and delivered for Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the boys by Febuary 2009.

 

 

Rays Last 3 Arbitration Eligible Players…..Outfield and Pitching

 

 

 

The  huge celebrations has died down to the point that now we remember them only by using the glossy pictures and video to remind us of the time, place and who we were with when the Rays climbed the  postseason mountain in 2008. Little remains of the celebrations at the vacant Trop. But the stadium is full of activity as the crews are rapidly moving to transform the Dome into a viable football arena, The pitching mound is missing, base paths are gone, and the field is being fitted and lined for the St. Petersburg Bowl, which will debut this year in the stadium. It will be odd to sit there and watch a  college football game at the Trop., knowing that in less than 90 days after the game, baseball will be back at the Tropicana Field.

 

But not gone is the fact that the team was in line for  huge shares of the playoff booty from MLB, and they got the  fantastic news about their bounty on Tuesday. According to MLB, the Rays will distribute over $ 12,278238.61 in a 43-way pile to players and other Rays personnel. You have to hope that Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi got a nice chunk of change from the playoff pie and will not have to umpire as much this off season. The Rays split was about $ 223,390.05 per share, a nice chunk of change for a months worth of sweat and tears. To put that into consideration for players playing under a minimum MLB salary, they will receive almost half their yearly salary for a month of playoff baseball. 

 

        

 

It is totally amazing to me the amount of money flowing out of the baseball coffers after  the complaints being thrown throughout the newspapers and blogs during the  2008 playoffs.  MLB was huffing and puffing about the lack of viewership on Television and the weather situations surrounding the World Series, but in the end, even the first ones eliminated in the AL, the Chicago White Sox, who lost to the A L Champion Rays in the ALDS, got to take away  over $ 27,828.33  each in players’ shares. Not a bad gig if you can get it. That is more than I made in 2008 so far.

 

 

Okay, back to the  main issue here. Today I am going to highlight the last 3  Rays players’ who are eligible for  non-tendered arbitration for the Tampa Bay Rays. They are as  pretty diverse group. You have a devoted church-goer and all-around good guy, an aggressive extrovert  Aussie who moonlights in the World Baseball Classic, and a guy struggling to get respect for his talent, but is a better pitcher than advertised.

 


Each has a place on this team that was  exciting and unique. All three helped set the tone in positively different ways for the team in 2008. But I am again going to put myself into Andrew Friedman’s head and try and divulge and dissect the players into rationale pieces. Will these three guys be the foundation of another great Rays team, or do they need to be jettisoned to make the team better in 2009. By my evaluations I will decide if I would grant or deny any of these three an opportunity to upgrade their salary and continue playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009.

 

 And now, on with the show:

 

 

                            

 

Gabe Gross:

 

Gabe Gross had one of the best seasons of his major league career after he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit personal highs in hits, home runs and RBI’s as well as getting 5 outfield assists for the team, second only to B J Upton’s 12 assists. But beyond that, Gross also became Mr “Big Time” for the Rays.  Not only could he be the defensive player they needed down the first baseline for the Rays, but his bat had magic in 2008.

 

Even on the night he was acquired by the Rays, the former Brewer scored his teams go-ahead run to win that game before heading to Orlando to meet up with his new team. Since he has gotten here, he has lit up the clubhouse with positive comments and actions, and totally won over the crowd in right-field with his play. But his bat is the thing that set him apart in 2008.

 

 He was one of the only guys on the roster who was money with guys in scoring position in 2008. And because of that, a lot of his RBI’s came in the later innings in games when he was put in as a defensive specialist for the Rays.  He had only one walk-off homer against the Chicago White Sox on June 1, 2008, but 4 times he teamed up with team mates for back-to-back homers.

 

 

 

That went a long way for the Rays establishing leads and putting the game out of reach. Gross also hit 7 solo homers and 6 2-run shots during 2008. To say he was clutch would be an understatement.  He played in only 78 games in 2008 since being acquired for a minor league pitcher, Billy Butler. But along the way he hit a tape measure 437 foot homer against the Cleveland Indians to tie that game on August 6th.

 

14 of his 38 RBI’s were either game-winning or game tying in 2008.  He has 3 walk-off  RBI’s, matching the Rays team record. One of those was a walk-off homers against  White Sox reliever Matt Thorton, which was his first career homer off a left-handed pitcher. 

 

 

 

 

Gross has been a model Rays from start to finish and the team would be truly rewarded if they granted arbitration to Gross for the 2009 season. With the flux of not having a designated right-fielder in house, Gross is also a huge advantage for the Rays in that they do not have to be desperate seeking a outfielder, and would be totally confident to give the position to Gross for 2009.  His 2009 salary could bump up to $ 1.3 million dollars, which is well within the range of a competent 4th outfielder who can hit and play defense with the best of them.

 

 

 

 

Edwin Jackson:

 

Anyone who knows me knows that this one will be personal. I am a huge fan of the guy ever since I first met him at a Spring Training game a few years ago and told him he will love it here. Funny how people can be attracted to certain types of ballplayers. Jackson is the type of player I enjoy watching pitch and learn the game of baseball.

 

He was a former sixth round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers as an outfielder, but was converted to a pitcher by the Dodgers’ staff. This is only his 4th season as a pitcher and I have seen improvement every year he has been in our system.  He is also one of those guys who is humble enough to chat and sign for fans as long as he can for the joy of it, not because it is his duty.

 

Now that Jackson has turned 25, we can finally cal, him a veteran on the rotation.  But did you know that he has now made 77 career starts as a pitcher, 63 of them for the Rays.  This season he tied the Rays record for wins with James Shields and Rolando Arroyo with his 14th win. His previous best was his 7 wins in 2007.  He also posted only his 2nd winning season as a professional. He was 2-1 in 2004.

 

 

 

 

He threw a total of 183.1 innings in 2008, which was over 22 innings more than any other time in his career.  He ended the month of August with a 2.27 ERA, the best on the staff and 4th best in the American League. He also tied a Rays record for 4 wins in August.  He had a 4- straight game win streak earlier in the season from July 25- August 10th.

 

He also won 6 out of 7 starts up to August 10th posting a 2.59 ERA during the streak.  He had a streak of 20 straight scoreless innings over the span of 3 starts from May 8-18th.  That set a record for a Rays starter, and was only 1 inning off the all-time Rays record of 21 set by Joe Borowski in 2005. 

 

Jackson is known for his high-powered fastball that can reach the top 90’s with a slight dip, but his curve and slider can sometimes just rumble through the strike zone and has been his problem pitches this season. Jackson was also involved and suspended for the Boston-Tampa Bay fiasco in Fenway Park because of his run towards the mound during the scuffle.  It was said he was punching and hitting  Coco Crisp at the bottom of the pile, but photos show he lost his shoe on the way to the mound and did not arrive until late in the event. He served a 5-game suspension from June 22-27th.

 

 

 

If I were Andrew Friedman, I would first sit down with Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and see what the Rays have in store for Jackson in the near future. With the aspect of David Price coming into the rotation, the Rays must make some adjustments to either Jackson or Andy Sonnanstine in the starting rotation.

 

If the Rays think that Jackson would be valuable in either the rotation or the Bullpen, then they should offer him arbitration and get him settled for 2009. Also on the horizon is interest by several clubs in Jackson over the past 2 seasons. The New York Mets, Seattle Mariners have expressed interest in the developing right hander.

 

Remember, that this guy is still learning the art of pitching, and 2008 was his best season to date, with unlimited potential and growth in the next few seasons.   Jackson could look forward to a salary in the $ 2.5 Million dollar range after an arbitration hearing.

 

 

 

Grant Balfour:

 

I did not know what to expect in 2007 when the Rays sent my buddy Seth McClung to the Brewers’ for the Aussie reliever. He came into the Rays Bullpen and was average at best in 2007. He lacked a certain intensity and velocity to his pitching, but all that changed after Spring Training in 2008. Balfour was not selected to the Rays Bullpen losing out to Scott Dohmann for the last spot in the Bullpen.

 

Balfour did not stress it and went down to the Durham Bulls with a chip on his shoulder and fire in his belly. When he came back up to the Rays Bullpen, he made it very difficult for the team to even consider sending him back to the minor leagues. Down the stretch, Balfour and J P Howell were the core of a Bullpen unit that shut down some of the best hitter in the entire league.

 

Balfour down the stretch pitched in 17 of the team’s last 34 games.  In 15 of those outing he pitched scoreless frames for the Rays.  Overall in 2008, the Rays went 32-19 in ballgames he came into from the Bullpen.  He also tied for tops in wins in 2008 in the Bullpen with 6 wins, tied with J P Howell.  He leads all MLB relievers with a 12.66 strikeout per 9 innings ratio, pitching 58.1 innings and recording 82 strikeouts on the year.

 

 

 

Balfour also was tops in the majors by fanning 36 percent of the batters he faced, and  his 1.54 ERA was also the  4th best ERA posted by a reliever in the majors this season.  His .143 opponents batting average was best in the AL, and second in the MLB to the Cub’s Carlos Marmol.  He also allowed only 3 homers and 11 extra base hits all season long.

 

He also had a .230 slugging Percentage against him, second lowest in the majors. Balfour also provided support as the Rays closer during Troy Percivals’ many DL trips in 2008. During this time he preserved 3 out of the 4 save opportunities for the Rays.

 

 

 

Put all these statistics along with a on-mound intensity not seen in the past by the Rays and you have the total package for the Bullpen. It is a sure bet that to invest in Balfour would be a great investment for the Rays. So to offer him arbitration might be a moot point. If anyone deserved a raise in 2009, it would be the members of the Bullpen who kept the teams in games all year long. With an arbitration hearing, Balfour could increase his salary to about $ 1.2 million dollars. Every penny of it will come with emotion and energy, just what they Rays need in 2009 to defend their A L East crown.

 

Next Class of Arbitration for the Rays:

 

The next group to hit the arbitration ranks for the Rays will boost the payroll in a major way. Players like infielders Ben Zobrist, Willy Aybar will have their first go at the process. Catcher Shawn Riggans will be eligible. And B J Upton will also be presented with his first arbitration decision as a professional.

 

In the pitching department, we have people like J P Howell and starter Matt Garza.  You can see several of the above players maybe being offered long term or even extension to combat the arbitration process. It was said that in 2006, the Rays wanted to make a long-term deal with B J Upton, but the deal was not formulated or completed in time.

 

I could see Matt Garza and maybe even Ben Zobrist getting an extension to cover a few of their arbitration years. and maybe even a year or two of their free agency like the deals given to James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Evan Longoria in the last several seasons.  So we have that to look forward to in 12 months time.

 

 

 

 

World Series Tidbits……….The Tuesday Edition

 

          Tji_trophysnapshot_420

 

The biggest prize in baseball made a visit to City Hall in St. Petersburg, Florida today so that local fans can see and experience the sight of the Commissioner’s Trophy live and in person.  The beautiful piece designed by Tiffaby & Company, went on display at 11 a.m. today for picture and posing from a short distance.

The only person who has touched the Trophy since it arrived was a DHL employee and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker as they put ot on the podium today for the fans. It will only be on display today, but will probably make an appearance tonight at the Vinoy hotel as  Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will hold a World Series party near the pool deck tonight for MLB officials and local dignitaries.

When you first look at the trophy you are taken aback a bit by the sheer beauty of the member teams flags on the spool of gold plated flagpoles around the structure. Then you just dream of hoisting it up yourself and parading it around the Trop like a champagne bottle and taking in all the history around it.

 I was lucky enough to see the Stanley Cup trophy after the Tampa Bay Lightning won it several years ago at a fundraiser this season. Just the thought of the stories that Cup could tell if it had a voice would have been worth a lifetime to me.  And this trophy has just as many memories and stories. Hopefully someday someone will try and toss all those mystical tales together and issue a premiere coffee table book about the life of the award.  Hmmmmm, I do have some free time on my hands?

 

 

I just got a text that the Rays World Series roster will probably stay the same except for 2 changes that are a being thrown up in the air right now. The Rays will stay with their infield and starter combos’ from the ALCS, but might insert Rays catcher Shawn Riggans into the 25-man roster.

Riggans is healed from a Bursa Sac incident where an infection took him out of the Rays plans for a bit near the end of the season. He has now healed, and if his jumping during the celebration is any indication, he is feeling fine enough to pop down behind the plate for the Rays.

Another decision being tossed around is the switching of outfielder Gabe Gross for Eric Hinske. Gross is a great defensive player for the Rays, but has hit a patch of unusual doubt and bad timing at the plate.

His defense is superior to Hinske’s, but Hinske does have magic in his bat this year for the Rays. Eric has also not been on the last 2 rosters for the Rays and might be due for a big series with the extra time to get into sync at the plate. I expect Hinske to get the nod more for the offensive power he can bring to the plate. We can always use Ben Zobrist or Fernando Perez in the late innings as a defensive replacement for Hinske.

 

 

The Rays are also doing some soul searching as to how to assign their starting rotation for the World Series. Do you start with Scott Kazmir, the longest running member of the rotation against Cole Hamels, or do you put James Shields up front with a possible Game 5 slate to start in the future in the series. Also in consideration is the way you are going to use number 4. Andy Sonnanstine.

Do you start Andy in Game1 and give the Philadelphia Phillies a  one-time look at Sonnanstine, then put him in the Bullpen as a long reliever from that point on in the series. Or do you adjust the series with Kazmir starting Game 2 so the Bullpen can be totally at the mercy of the game, with an off day for travel on Friday.

Decision, decision, decisons……..I would put the rotation as, Kazmir, Shields, Garza Sonnanstine, then  repeat the big 3 again until the 7th game if needed. But then again, I do not have the flowcharts and the graphs Rays Manager Joe Maddon has at his disposal for analysis.

 

 

Congradulations to Chris Westmoreland and the entire Clubhouse crew for again getting the Rays into another round of the 2008 Playoffs. The locker room scenes are incredible with the shower curtains and the protective gear keeping the lockers and the floors dry and without a huge amount of alcohol absorption. 

I am just wondering if Westy has thought of auctioning off any of those partitions after the Playoffs for the Rays Foundation, or might be willing to part with a section for a personal collection. I know I would bid for one of those great curtains with the Rays logo and the blue background. Not for my shower, but might make a great window treatment or background on a wall in the Rays collection in my spare room………….Call me Westy, you have my card. 

 

I am putting off my predictions and my profile on the series until tonight or tomorrow to get some more data and to think about this series for a bit. I am a bit perplexed by the Las Vegas odds-makers who have the Rays as the victor on the series, but the payout are a bit odd. Coming into the first game on Wed., the betting line is sitting so tha you would have to bet about $ 1.35 to win a $1 dollar on the Rays winning right now.

Considering the Rays were 200-to-1 odds of reaching the World Series in April, you might be thinking that the Vegas gamblers are trying to get some of their change back after taking bets on the Rays in April and noe haivng to break the bank to payout on the wager. I know I comtemplated putting some big money on the Rays in April, but decided we were a year away from anything big……… That is why I live in Clearwater and not in a house on Snell Isle or on the beaches’. I am not lucky when  it come to financial decisions, and I hate the Hard Rock, but they love my money.  lol

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 291 other followers