Results tagged ‘ Tampa Bay Devilrays ’
Renegade Note: Everyone has their own Don Zimmer moments within or outside the game. The following is my first encounter with the beloved baseball soul who held the game close to his heart and embraced it until the end. We will miss you Zim.
It was late January of ’72 when I met Zimmer as he and his wife Soot for the first time as they were out and about the town from their then home situated on the finger-shaped islands of Treasure Island.
I didn’t know the first time he drove into the station he was even a ballplayer. People in that time either dressed up or wore cotton shirts and pants more than the T’s and jeans fashionable today. And M L B merchandised clothing seemed more reserved for the diamond than plastered across your body as every day clothes when you traveled.
I was around 11 years old when I first met Don Zimmer. I always idolized my Dad and worked a lot of after school times and weekends at our Union 76 gas station (Wittig’s Motor Pool) on a popular crossroads towards the beaches here in St. Petersburg, Fl.
Back then every 6 pump demanded Full Service attention. That meant as a young kid I would wash windshields, check air pressure in tires and put the regular or premium gasoline nozzle into that car’s tank. I loved doing my duties in a scaled down shirt emblazoned with AAA patches, the orange Union 76 globe patch and the name “Cliff” sewn in above my breast pocket.
As I was under the hood checking the brake fluid, wiping down the oil dipstick and checking for corrosion buildup on the battery cables. I noticed Zimmer’s eyes peering at me through the small space between the hood and the windshield section of the car. He was laughing and seemed to get a kick out of this young kid going gangbusters servicing his beautiful automobile.
After I heard the click of the gas nozzle and finished filling the car’s gas tank. I then approached and told Zimmer the amount and awaited the payment for the gas.
He asked me if we, (the station) every got large used tire tubes he could use as an inexpensive but fun float for when his family headed out to the Gulf of Mexico. I assured him I could help him for honest price. I saw that most of them were not very large in size and remembered I had a huge truck tube outside by the alignment rack I used as a baseball aid.
Zimmer watched as I went through the moves of making sure the tube was filled, had no leaks then pronounced without hesitation, “I can sell this fine tube to you for .75 cents”. Now do not forget, a gallon of regular gas at that time cost between 39-45 cents by itself, so for the price of about 2 gallons of fine gas, he could have hours of enjoyment stretched out on that huge truck tube.
I finished the exchange and Zimmer presented the money to my Dad for the gas and the tube and Zimmer asked why there were white lines on the inside circle of the tube. My Dad explained it was my “throwing tube” to practice my aim and accuracy as I played Third Base and sometimes Shortstop for my Little League team.
Zimmer just looked at me and asked if I was good. He looked at my Dad then me and I told him I wanted to be the next Brooks Robinson and Zimmer smiled telling me that “Brooks was a great ballplayer to watch and copy parts of his defensive style”.
As we opened the trunk to put in the tube I saw a few gloves, a stack of bats and a bag of worn and clay stained baseballs. Zimmer quickly said he also loved the game of baseball and worked out with his young son when he had the time. At no time did he pump out his chest or proclaim he was an ex-MLB player.
At that moment he seemed to me to be just an average guy who also loved baseball and seemed to be passing on his love for the game to his own son. After Zimmer had left the station headed back west towards Treasure Island, my Dad told me who he was, and that he was a former M L B player who had played for teams like Brooklyn, Chicago, New York and the Senators.
I was upset I had wasted an opportunity to chat or get a few pointers from a big league infielder, but knew he was also a loyal customer and would be back.
He even came in for fuel before he headed off to San Diego that spring to begin his Managerial career with the San Diego Padres that spring.
I always felt at ease around Zimmer, never got the “better than me” vibe or saw any irritation from him when I asked questions or wanted advice. That is what initially got me to follow his career and take every moment possible to talk with him when I became the Rays Pepsi rep and had a little extra access around Tropicana Field or the Rays Spring complex.
Every time I have met Zimmer since that day in 1972 I start off with asking him if he wanted “Regular or Premium today”. It always takes a moment, but he always chuckles and asked how I was doing while extending his hand for a firm shake.
I will miss Zimmer as much for his humanity as his storytelling and bits of wisdom bestowed upon another generation.
There has never been anyone like him around the game of baseball before, and there truly will not be another beloved soul like Zim to ever grace the game again.
I always hoped that if someone could live forever, it would be baseball icon Don Zimmer.
So as I was advised that the Rays Senior Advisor had passed away in his sleep tonight at only 83, I feel a bit empty inside right now. Baseball has lost a true legend tonight. I truly believe that if I pulled a dictionary off my shelf and looked up the word “Legend” What do you get the guy who has witnessed over 66 years of baseball in his 83 years upon this great planet?
I can truly say without hesitation that when I have in past talked or shaken hands with Zimmer I was in the company of baseball royalty. And to think of how many thousands of fans, generations of ball players, celebrities and political dignitaries have also gotten that honor boggles the mind.
This past January 17th, Zim celebrated his 83rd birthday and even as that evil viper age had begun to take some of his physical tools, his mind was always an awaiting steel trap. I mean who else in M L B history has had a bear made of his likeness…and been a Rays cherished keepsake twice!
We all know Zimmer made the Pinellas county area his home for most of his baseball life and was a citizen of the beach community of Treasure Island as far back as when they had a drawbridge and toll booths, back when the old Jolly Roger figurine stood mighty along the hotels/motels on Gulf Blvd., and the streetcars made their route reversals at Park Street and Central Avenue before cruising on back down Central towards the then Million Dollar Pier.
Zimmer in his lifetime got to see the color barrier not only broken, but smashed to bit and witnessed firsthand the rugged path of teammate Jackie Robinson. From that historic moment Zimmer also got an upfront seat to a players strike, seeing Hank Aaron pass another legend and see not one but many expansion club be awarded and begin play within the game.
Zimmer was as much a Florida “native” and local institution to the Rays Republic as the Don Cesar Hotel, or even the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Of all the people who have been associated with this Rays franchise since its infancy, he reigns supreme with the highest obtainable levels of respect, dignity and honor from not only players, umpires and visiting teams, but the legions of baseball fans from sea to shining sea.
I’ve lite a candle tonight for Zim on a on-deck circle in front of my baseball collection to show my sincere want to honor a man who’s love of the game transcended uniforms, rivalries and whose lifetime love and devotion to this fine game shall never be forgotten.
If there truly is a “Field of Dreams” in heaven for I know Zim will be the first to take the field and start the chatter. And I hope if such a place truly exists Zimmer gets a standing ovation by the players, fans and anyone within eyesight of the angelic field for if anyone ever deserved to play and witness the game for eternity, it is Popeye.
Personally, I want to thank you Zim. For the short moments, interesting chats and just being you…. a true gentleman of the clay and grass.
Sometimes in life our role model or people we come to admire do not get that respect and admiration for what they have done on the diamond. Sometimes it comes from actions, reversals of their previous bad intentions to themselves or other, but in the end their true colors find a way to shine bright.
Not everything we do in life is simple, defined or even the right path, and this one former ballplayer definitely fits that bill to a “T”. Kirk Radomski’s was a New York Mets Clubhouse staffer during the beginning and most of this ballplayer up and down career. He saw the talent, the generosity and ultimately the decline of a person who got caught up in a drug whirlwind that he could not escape.
In his novel “Bases Loaded” he revealed early on in the book ( pages 31-33 ) about 2 separate MLB Drug testing incidents where a ballplayer adamantly asked him to take his MLB urine test for him because he feared a positive result. It was the era where ballplayer were beginning to use extra curricular drugs like marijuana and cocaine.
The first instance happened in July 1988 when Dwight Eugene Gooden feared for his career after testing positive previously. Gooden approached Radomski shaking and told Radomski, “The pee guy’s here and I can’t pee. I went out with a couple of guys the other night, and if they test me, I’m going to get suspended”.
Randomize fashioned a plan that was executed perfectly to get a positive test result for Wooden. Then again two weeks later, Gooden again asked for another favor. Again the result came back positive since Randomize did not partake in after hours recreational drugs and no traces of any substance was found in Gooden’s test sample.
Finally when asked a third time for help, Randomize had to bring the “tough love” and refused to help Gooden. He was suspended Radomski asked Gooden to consult then New York Mets Team Substance Abuse Counselor Dr Alan Lans. It was a solid action by Radomski, and possibly by Gooden finally being “outed” and found with traces in his system, the mending process could begin.
It has been a long time since that period in 1986, and Wooden has had an on and off again battle with the demon that first took some of his brilliant career away from him in Flushing, New York. His oldest son, Dwight Gooden Jr was also born in 1986 in this same time of turmoil.
Not until recently when watching VH-1’s “Celebrity Rehab 5 ”, where Gooden is a patient did I hear of the idea Gooden had for his son and himself, and it broke my heart. Gooden wanted to hang on in baseball until his son came of age and got drafted, and wanted to play on the same team with him before finally retiring.
Instead they both spent time at Orient Jail in Hillsbough County (Tampa, Florida), Dwight Jr for a drug trafficking charge, and Dwight Sr for DUI and driving on a suspended license. No baseball field for them to play on, and only orange jumpsuits for uniforms.
It takes courage, a drive and a straight forward conviction to take on your demons and drive them from your life. In this episode of “Celebrity Rehab”, both father and son came together and finally began to repair that bond between the parent and their child. So many other families go through this same scenario daily, in this instance, father and son embraced and promised to be each other’s guide.
Finally facing the guilt, shame and remorse of not being their for your children is a giant burden for anyone to hold, much less a man who once held the Big Apple firmly within his pitching hand.
When I saw that bonding moment between father and son, I found a new respect, admiration and want for Gooden to defeat this demon just like he did on a pitching mound so many times before. I have Gooden’s autobiography “Heat” on a shelf in my home, and will take it down and begin reading it this week during my trip, hoping to get to know this alter-self of Gooden.
Our heroes, champions of right and wrong and people do defeat the odds are what pulls us to players like Gooden. His struggles are not our own, but we empathize, want to give a hand or even guide them after they admit their shortcomings.
Everyone knows and addict has to live life “One day at a time”, and a slip, fall from grace or even a full blow episode is just a bad decision away. But I heard something different in Gooden’s voice on the show. Along with the heartfelt letter he wrote out to his kids telling them how he he has apologizing to his kids for “basically divorcing you guys for drugs,” the healing was started.
Some people look forward to a players fall from grace, providing a defining moment of bad judgment or consequences that makes them human. Other like myself want to extend a hand, give a friendly pat on the back or claim admiration for someone who once made us cry by his actions on the field, and humble us by his admittance of his past and present faults.
I wish you sobriety, courage and a continued positive life affirming results to a man who was born in Tampa Bay. Know there are hundreds beside myself you also wish and pray this same sentiment for you. Go get ‘em Doc!
Every once in a while I get into one of these research kicks where I want to find out once and for all if something could of, did not, or should of happen concerning the Tampa Bay Rays or any other team. The object of my well, obsession last night was to see if any of the 30 Major League Baseball squads ever attempted to draft current NFL hero and New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees in 1996, when he lettered in baseball at Westlake High School in Dallas,Texas.
So I went on a long and detailed journey checking out every name for almost 100 rounds of the 1996 MLB First Year Draft online, and actually did not find a single mention of the Brees name. Some people might consider this then a waste of time and energy, but I did find a few very interesting secondary targets, and even a score of former Rays players I did not know were initially drafted in 1996.
The 1996 MLB First YearDraft was actually the starting point for first year player selections ever by the then Tampa Bay Devilrays and it set into motion the initial formation of their minor league ranks in their farm minor league system, which today is considered by many to be the best in baseball. And along the way, I found 24 names listed on that year’s draft board that one day would don the Rays emblem across their chests during a Rays game.
Most of the Rays faithful know that the D-Rays picked Raleigh, North Carolina native Paul Wilder with the 29th pick in the First Round of that initial draft. But did you know that the last Rays selection in that year’s Draft was High School outfielder Michael Rose from Dayton, Ohio with the 1,736th pick?
It was a wild night remembering names and also associating them with past great Rays moments. Out of that first 1996 draft, the highest selected pick from 1996 to don a Rays jersey was outfielder Alex Sanchez from Miami-Dade CC, but most of us might remember him better for the April 3,2005 MLB press release that he would be the first MLB player ever suspended for violating the MLB’s newly instituted drug policy.
Not a great way to be remembered, but Sanchez did not last long with the Rays despite an early 2005 .346 batting average. His wishy-washy defensive play and the suspension might have hastened the Rays to designate him for assignment on June 13th 2005.
Besides Wilder, there was another name drafted in associated with the D-Rays during that first draft when they selected then, Florida Gators quarterback Doug Johnson in the second round. Even though Johnson did sign and report to a minor league team, he never seems to gather enough mustard to rise through the D-Rays farm system, and finally concentrated his efforts more on staying healthy behind the NFL’s Atlanta Falcon’s offensive line. It was a calculated gamble by the Rays Front Office to try and get Johnson to fit into their system, but the young player always seemed to be more comfortable with a football helmet on his head than the baseball batting helmet.
But what is even more surprising is the large number of other players selected in that season’s draft who would end up one day playing in Rays gear.During the 1996 MLB Draft, other teams ended up selecting a total of 17 players who ended up sporting Rays gear during their playing careers. The highest profile player might be 1B Travis Lee, who was the second pick of the First Round by the Twins that season. Also former Rays players LHP Bobby Seay(CWS), INF/OF Damian Rolls(LAD) and P Nick Bierbrodt(AZ) were all First Round selections that at one point wore Rays colors.
But down the draft line there were also players like P Chad Bradford(CWS), LP Mark Hendrickson(TEX), P Joe Biemel(TEX), INF Brent Abernathy(TOR),3B/C Eric Munson(ATL) P Joe Nelson(ATL) C Robert Fick(DET),LP Casey Fossum(AZ), DH/1B Josh Phelps(TOR),OF Jason Conti(AZ), P Brandon Backe(MIL), P Ryan Rupe(KC) and P Tim Corcoran(NYM). It is a bit unusual for so many budding players to find their way onto one team and prosper during their careers, but at that time, Tampa Bay was a good starting place to establish yourself within Major League Baseball by showing a good foundation, then moving onto another team with experience under your belt.
It is funny now to also gather the names of other great players who also debuted as professionals from that 1996 draft. Later Round selected Players like Astros P Roy Oswalt(23rd Rd), Cubs P Ted Lilly(23rd Rd),current Free Agent reliever Kiko Calero(27th Rd) just among the top 30 rounds of the draft. The you have guys like Yankee OF Marcus Thames(30th Rd), Indians DH Travis Hafner(31st Rd), Twins 2B Orlando Hudson(33rd Rd), rehabbing P Chris Capuano(45th Rd) and Nats INF Eric Bruntlett(72nd Rd).
But if you like to win odd baseball Trivia Questions, then I have one for you. You can win some major food or drink concessions (I have) by remembering that the D-Rays reliever Travis Phelps, who was drafted in the 89th Round , and the 1,720th player selected that season is the latest draft pick to ever don a Major League Baseball uniform. And because MLB restructured the Draft since his selection, he will be the answer to that Trivia Question forever. Easy pickings unless you are at a SABR Convention.
But he is not the only D-Rays player selected from that initial 1996 Draft to make it to the professional level and put on the jersey of the team that selected him. He shares that honor with current Rays reliever P Dan Wheeler( 34th Rd), P Mickey Callaway(7th Rd), P Delvin James(14th Rd), and last, but not least, 3B Jared Sandberg(16th Rd). Sandberg also went on to coach in the Rays farm system, and will be the head man with the Hudson Valley Renegades (oh yeah!). This will be Sandberg’s third season coaching in the Rays farm system.
TBO.com file Photo
So last night’s scavenger search brought up some interesting surprises, and also a few great Rays moments for me to envision again within my imagination. It is kind of wild that Rays reliever Wheeler is the lone Rays representative from that initial farm system class of then D-Rays left within the Rays roster. And what it must feel like for him to be here during the lean times, then go away and experience a World Series berth(Astros), then come back and see this Rays organization that drafted him also feel that rush of emotions in securing their first Playoff berth and run towards the 2008 World Series with Wheeler in the Bullpen enjoying the view from field level.
And there was one more name that was hidden among the mass quantity of names in that 1996 Draft that totally shock and awed me. Hidden way back in the 59th Round, and selected by the Seattle Mariners was a young pitcher named Barry Zito. Some people say that if you fall under the 20th Round in any year’s MLB Draft, your odds greatly swing downward to ever see the light of day as an MLB player at a Major League ballpark. So many of the above mentioned MLB players fell below that invisible line and are living proof that will, determination and great talent can not always get you to the show. Sometimes you need a lucky rabbit’s foot too…….Right Barry?
The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the 1988 after the proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand. The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new domed stadium.
The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.
Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field, ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.
Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams. Professional baseball in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.
However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.
In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.
Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.
In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.
In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”
However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.
However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.
Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.
Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager. So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.
Tampa Bay’s pursuit of major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.