Results tagged ‘ Tampa Bay Rays ’

Rays Photo Day Shows Both Sides of the Rays Personalities

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You never quite know what sensibilities are going to “play out” when the Tampa Bay Rays let photographers bring about their own illuminations on the team’s character, or is that characters. You only have to look back to the Feb. 25, 2010 Rays Photo Day shots where the photographer that day used the natural sunlight of Florida as sparkling and illumination points on the photos of that season squad.

2010Sure they were embarking on a new strand of light called the post season that spring and the Sun made more than a few spectacular effects in a variety of photos from that spring’s squad. Then in 2013 it seems the Rays photos were a bit more subdued than usual with some playful spots of individuality, but the photos overall seemed to illustrate a unison or harmony among the troops.

Of the 26 photos already released from the Rays 2014 Photo Day, there is again a underlying theme that clearly is visible and unique all to the Rays way of team chemistry. This spring photos show a calm, a essence of a more tranquil and centered squad of players who see that goal in the cross-hairs and calmly and professionally plan to be the team that “eats last” come November 2014.

eatslastYou see a more relaxed Papa Longoria with the Rays leadership crown solidly planted upon his head along with fellow Clubhouse General David Price presenting himself quite Zen-like in his photos awaiting the approaching Opening Day more with zeal than strife.

But then you have the other side of the Rays coin also displayed in the type of Gasparilla-infused notions and action of Rays reliever Josh Lueke both in his biting of a baseball, to juggling and possibly showing that some fun must come with all the stress of competing and delivering your goal.   

wjbjI enjoy seeing the fight and fire as well as the comedic notions that make up a M L B team. Not everyone can be serious all of the time and sometimes that moment of tongue-in-cheek humor or even dawning a gladiator’s mask can deliver more energy and fight into a group than any Knute Rockne oratory.

The Ying and Yang of this year’s released Photo Day shots also shows the ebb and flow that will ultimately exist within the Rays this year as leaders and jokers can come together tone their antics and abilities to the highest achievement levels and produce memories and events that we will speak about for years.

LLMEFrom the high points of  Longoria who with a consistent effort in 2014 should ultimately by-pass and become the sole Rays all-time leaders in such categories as HR, RBI, Extra Base Hits, doubles and Slugging Percentage before the end of 2014 to Myers who will again be called on provide the same kind of energy, production and raw unharnessed spirit that saw him take home an American League Rookie of the Year trophy, this team will rise and fall on both the chill moments and chaotic scrambles that make up a 162-game campaign.

pllbSure this is but only a 26 frame cross-section of the character and characters of that will become the heart and soul of the 2014 edition of the Rays, but if this is any indication of what we might have in store for us for a 162 game haul…..I’m ready to buckle in and take the rough with the fun for it’s almost time for the games to matter and I can’t wait for that last day in March………..But I don’t think Lueke will have to eat too many balls this year because this team looks and sounds hungry enough to push it to that last meal….and maybe have room for a champagne-infused dessert.

All photos taken by Zimbio.com photographers. They do so many other M L B teams photos each spring. Search their website for your team’s spring photos. I do have a Facebook link with the latest 26 and any additional Rays Photo Day shots I find past the submitting of this blog post.

Tasty 2014 Rays Media Guide Tidbits: Rays Bullpen

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As I have mentioned before, the day I get to check out the Tampa Bay Rays new edition of their Media Guide is a day filled with adventure, intrigue and maybe even a little whimsical fun. Glancing over the awesome moments of our brood of baseball buddies always bring to light moment uncaught by our eyes and ears in the stands and produce stats and figures we never really realized for our guys who battle upon the turf.

ku-xlargeSo I decided to stay in the hurler mode today for my 2nd installment of the special career notes and humanitarian efforts of our firemen down on the First Base line who we affectionately know as the Bullpen. Depending on the type of relief corps your team possesses, they can either give you a warm feeling or outright panic when a starter begins to show fatigue.

Lucky for us here in Tampa Bay our relievers have shown more pluses than minuses over the last few season, but glitches do happen. Also we do not know yet if the Rays will carry 11 or 12 pitchers going into the season, so I’ll just take a coin flip and list the 6 guys I think might comprise the ‘Pen and a few names to possibly watch this spring.

th (6)Jake McGee: Jake and his wife Morgan went a bit “Italiano” this past November visiting Venice, Milan and George Clooney’s hangout Lake Como. During Christmas Eve this past year, Jake and his wife also visited local foster families in Reno, Nevada and provided the kids with Christmas gifts.

McGee is 2013 ranked second in the M L B among reliever southpaws with an average fastball velocity of 96.3 mph. The mark was the highest among American League leftie relievers. McGee also posted up second among all M L B relievers with throwing a fastball on 93 percent of his pitches. Makes sense McGee has been working on a few additional pitches this off-season to keep hitters guessing in 2014.

th (7)Brandon Gomes: Took the LSAT after graduating from Tulane and if he wasn’t playing professional baseball, Gomes would have attended Law School and pursued a career in law or finance.

Even though Gomes only appeared 26 times in 2013 due to a right lat. Strain which sidelined him for 88 games, he did go 3-1 last season and split his season almost down the middle 14 games before/ 12 games after returning) between his injury stint. Could be a pitcher to watch this spring as he wants to show the Rays he is durable and consistent.

th (8)Cesar Ramos: He learned English at a bilingual preschool in Los Angeles, Calif. His parents immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico 34 years ago seeking a better opportunity for their family. Cesar also has sister named Elena.

16 of Ramos 47 appearances in 2013 were 2 innings or longer which was the 4th highest number in the American League and most by a Rays reliever since J P Howell’s 23 in 2008. Ramos also secured his first M L B save after throwing 3 scoreless innings in Cleveland on May 31st.

th (9)Joel Peralta: Considered quitting baseball in 2002 following a demotion from Double-A Arkansas to Class-A Cedar Rapids while with the Angels. His older brother Frank persuaded him to stick with it and Joel responded by going 5-0 with 21 saves and a .95 ERA with the Kernels (THANKS Frank!).

Peralta led the majors in 2013 with 80 relief appearances, which puts in 2nd overall in Rays history behind Randy Choate (85 in 2010). It was Peralta’s 3rd straight season of 70+ appearances (227 over 3 seasons) and the cherry on top is Peralta led all M L B relievers with 41 Holds in 2013.

Rays-Heath-Bell-2014-600x337Heath Bell: Who knew the All-Star closer was also such a force in the kitchen? Bell made 24 gingerbread houses from scratch for his kids school. Heath hopes to meet Duffy, the Ace of Cakes this year when the Rays travel to Baltimore and would like to compete on the Food Network pastry competition show Sweet Genius someday.

Pitched in 69 games last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was his 7th consecutive season of 60+ appearances. Ranked 3rd among M L B closers in saves (166) over the last 5 seasons. With Mariano Rivera now retired, only Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon (173) remains in contention for the overall top spot.

th (10)Grant Balfour:  Most people might not know Grant’s father after completing his rugby career became a leader in developing and promoting Australian baseball and served as the G M of the Sydney Blue Sox before retiring last August.

Grant saved a career high 38 games last season with only 3 blown saves. Over his last 24 appearances in 2013, Balfour had a 92.7 percent save percentage, 4th best in the AL and in A’s team history. He beat out his own 92.4 percent mark set in 2012 for the 4th spot. Converted 62 of 67 (92.5 %) save chances over the past 2 seasons.

th (11)Juan Carlos Oviedo:  He might be one of the biggest question marks this spring in regards to the Bullpen. The team took a gamble on 2013 by signing him while he was rehabbing after a Tommy John’s surgery. They released him in the off-season, but quickly resigned him and invited him to spring camp. If healthy and firing on all cylinders this spring, could be a factor in the team’s Bullpen makeup and possibly send someone above away in a late spring trade.

Oviedo logged 92 saves from 2009-11. That total was 8th best in the M L B at that time and ranked him 3rd on the Miami Marlins all-time save list.

His last time pitching in a professional games was July 14, 2013 while with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. 

pageAs always, do not discount the names of Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, C J Riefenhauser, Josh Lueke or even Kirby Yates of not making noise in supplanting one of the above pitchers for a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Even if none of these names make the final roster before Opening Day, their names will again be heard possibly at some point within Tropicana Field in 2014.

Also worth circling might be the name of Erik Bedard who might have a chance to fill the Rays long reliever role with their 2013 hurler. Alex Torres traded in the off-season. Bedard could also be a great fill-in starter in-house option for the Rays if he were willing to accept a non-starter gig in 2014.

Tomorrow we will hit the factoids concerning the players who should be deemed the starters in the Rays infield for 2014. 

Tasty 2014 Rays Media Guide Tidbits: Rays Rotation.

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I swear every season when it arrives either in web file form or a hard copy I seem to give off a squeal of joy like a little kid on Christmas morning. That’s right, the 2014 edition of the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide is sitting in a file on my computer, and I just cannot wait to flip the pages and see what interesting and tasty morsels are hidden within its covers.

We all know it will have the historical pomp and circumstance of the Rays entire franchise’s history, be  a wealth of information on records, oddities and a listing of everyone who has worn a certain number in the team’s history. Wildest part with every year the pages expand just like our history and I truly cannot wait until I have a hard copy in my paws so I can savvy it like a fine chocolate and divide its many layers up throughout the season with little morsels of trivia tidbits for my social media followers (@TheRaysRenegade).

201310022311834681195So without further fanfare, let’s get down to business and make each of us a little smarter or knowledgeable on our team’s players and non-roster invitees this spring.

First off how about learning a tasty bit about our team’s come from behind proficiency in 2013:

The Rays 13 Walk-off victories in 2013 tied the club record set in 2011 and 11 different players recorded a walk-off RBI, most in team history. Only 2 Rays had multiple walk-off hits last season: Jose Lobaton and Desmond Jennings, whose 2-out single on May 27th vs the Miami Marlins drove in Kelly Johnson for a 7-6 win.

Let’s start off the factoid journey with guys who should make up the Rays starting rotation in 2014:

598357_10151201840588429_2142281771_nDavid Price:  David’s foundation, Project One Four had its best fundraising effort in 2013 and raised over $130,000. From its annual banquet, golf tournament and bowling events. On March 29th, in Tampa, Fl., Price will host his 3rd Annual Bowl for Kid’s Sake to benefit the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. The event raised $27,000. In 2012 and $42,000 in 2013.

Price posted astronomical numbers to rank 1st in the M L B after his return from the DL by posting up 131.1 innings pitched with 4 complete games, 13.8 pitches per inning pitched and 0.89 BB/9 innings pitched. His 2.53 ERA and 9 wins also ranked 3rd in the A L.

th (1)Alex Cobb:  Cobb is a huge supporter of our military fans and with good reason.  His older brother R.J. is a commander in the 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division of the U S Army and was awarded a Purple Heart after a Humvee explosion in Iraq, lodging shrapnel in his hands. His brother made a full recovery and served 16 months in Iraq and returned earlier this year after a short stint in Afghanistan.

Cobb showed superior resilience in 2013 after he posted a 5-1 record with a 2.41 ERA in 9 starts over the Rays final 6 weeks of the 2013 season after sitting out June 16th-August 14 following a concussion after taking a line drive off the bat against Kansas City in the Trop.  “Cobbster” also started in 2 of the Rays postseason victories with a win in the Wild Card game against the Cleveland Indians and Game 3 of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 064Matt Moore:  Matt stayed very active this past offseason in New Mexico mixing in bike rides, hot yoga and doing hikes up to 4 hours to extend his energy threshold. (I also know Matt swings a golf club right-handed and is pretty lethal with a putter).

Last season Moore tied for third with the most victories in the American League (17) and had the 2nd highest winning percentage in the AL with a .810 mark due in great part to his stellar 17-4 record.

thChris Archer: During the 2013 offseason in Clayton, NC, Archer was names Mr. Christmas and lit the lights of the city’s Christmas tree. At thanksgiving he handed out 100 Butterball turkeys to needy families.

Despite not arriving in St. Petersburg until the Rays 55th contest, Archer led all rookie hurlers in ERA (3.22), Opponent’s Average (.226), complete games (2), shutouts (2), and WHIP (1.13). He was also 2nd in innings pitched (128.2) and 3rd in wins (9).

Even though Jeremy Hellickson will miss 6-8 weeks of the 2014 early season due to injury, he has to be included as a major cog in the Rays machine in 2014. Time will only tell how long it takes Hellickson to return after having arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his pitching elbow.

th (2)Jeremy Hellickson: Hellboy has grown close to Des Moines, Iowa native Carson Cooper who is a 10 yr old who is fighting Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Jeremy along with family friends helped form Kids Living Brave this offseason to help support kids and their families with care packages as they battle cancer. Hellickson put on 2 “Pitch Perfect” baseball clinics this winter as a fundraiser for the organization.

In 2013, Hellickson was the only Rays to reach the 30 starts mark, but saw his ERA blossom to 5.17, the 3rd highest among major league qualifiers. To put this mark fully into prospective, coming into the 2013 season Hellickson had the Rays lowest career ERA at 3.06. Jeremy was 1 of only 2 M L B pitchers to post over 10 wins (12) and have an ERA over 5.00.

Let’s not forget a few facts on the bevy of pitchers who will fight it out this spring for a chance to get a few early season starts as Hellickson mends:

pageAlex Colome: Credits Triple-A Durham Bulls Pitching Coach Neil Allen for a significant change in his mechanics, making him more upright in his delivery. That was significant as Colome did not allow an earned run in his first 2 starts, the first pitcher to do that since San Francisco Giant pitcher Ryan Sadowski in 2009.

Nathan Karns: Made his M L B debut on May 28th in an InterLeague contest against Baltimore versus an Orioles starter who was only making his 2nd career start. Karns went 4.1 innings allowing 3 runs in the Nationals 9-3 victory.

Jake Odorrizo :  During spring training in Arizona a few years ago while in the Kansas City system, Jake and his agent had a close call in the desert when they got lost for 2 hours on four-wheelers as the Sun was setting. They had no water with them and finally found their way home after finding a road. 

Next post, trivia bits on players who should comprise the Rays 2014 Bullpen corps.

Rays Could be Waving Goodbye to the Ice Cream Man

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Going to be sad to see the end of the Ice Cream Man’s era with the Tampa Bay Rays. Going into the winter off-season you could have hedged your bets the team would unload possibly a player striding the pitching rubber, not one crouched down 60 feet 6 inches away. Maybe the writing was on the wall for catcher Jose Lobaton the moment the Rays traded for a respected and well-tooled catcher like Ryan Hanigan.

Not helping in Lobaton’s increasingly unstable situation was that the other “Jose” in the Rays catching corps, Jose Molina had signed a team-friendly contract with an eye on a bit of a reduced role in 2014. Suddenly it didn’t seem like why, but when Lobaton would get a call from the team announcing a trade, but there is no way any of us thought this adventure would venture into February.

lkjhgfdfgAnd trade chatter is being heard from vista’s like Cleveland, Washington, the south-side of Chicago, Flushing, Phoenix and even Denver that Lobation could/should possibly be looking for a temporary abode in Arizona for Spring Training, not Port Charlotte, Florida.  Hopefully a deal will get done fast and swiftly as pitchers and catchers are beginning their journeys to their Spring Training camps and if he isn’t a Ray come February 14th, Loby got some hurried planning to do.

Lobaton has to be an attractive option for a team wanting to bring in a young but experienced backstop. His .249 average during the 2013 season mixed with 7 HRs shows he is gaining the ability to not only be good behind the plate, but can deliver standing on either side of the dish. Switch-hitting catchers are a bit of a rarity in the MLB, and Lobaton has shown by his .736 OPS from the left side he should garner at least a few phone calls from every one of those cities mentioned above for their respective catching units.

He has a gold star attached to his name right now as a Super Two arbitration player who is excelling at a position where a team could acquire a player with his talents and experience knowing he will not hit the free agent market until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest.  We have already heard reports over the winter that the Nationals would love to find a capable young backstop to pair with W Ramos, and Lobaton definitely fit the criteria.

uytyuAlso in Lobatons favor is the pure fact he has been with the Rays during their stretch runs over the last few seasons and has post-season experience as well as his ability to come through in the clutch with power displays and ice cream runs. The Indians with their favorable park dimensions could utilize Lobaton’s left-sided goodness especially as the team wants to try and secure Carlos Santana at the First Base bag in 2014.

You can see the White Sox interest as they might not be totally all in favor of Tyler Flowers being their everyday catcher, and the Rockies and D-backs might be looking at Loby more as a young talented insurance option should injuries again plague their catching corps. And do not discount the fact teams already know Lobaton comes at a good value after he avoided arbitration earlier this off season with a $900,000.  2014 Salary.

Worst part of Molina re-signing and the team trading for Hanigan is the pure fact the path is blocked for any significant amount of time behind the plate for Lobaton in 2014. Another factor that will play into another team getting Lobaton is the fact he is out of minor league options and would have to go through the waiver wire to be shipped back to Triple-A Durham if he did not make the Rays 2014 Opening Day roster.

So we have hit on the positives for teams wanting Lobaton’s services for 2014. And with every player there also comes some uncertainty or liabilities.

jhgOne simple reason for a trade is in fact a by-product of the team’s trade for Hanigan and the keeping of Molina. Lobaton is not a defective pitch framer, but the Rays other 2 options at this time trump Lobaton’s ability and he might be considered average at best in getting borderline strike calls.

2 other glaring liabilities of obtaining Lobaton might be career stat-wise he is considered to be below average backstop in getting to balls in the dirt which would be a red flag to teams that rely on breaking pitches outside and low.

What a team might also offer for Lobaton might hinge on if they think they can correct his most illuminating flaw, a career 16 % Caught Stealing percentage mark. If a team can imagine fixing any of the 3 flaws in Loby’s bag of tricks they could come out as a winner in any trade offering.

In the end, the Rays know they might have to take a little less in return for Lobaton no matter his offensive upside because the team would have to make a difficult decision to retain him after March 31st.

jlkjjkjAlso with reporting dates quickly approaching, a team would want to get Lobaton in camp as soon as possible as he would need time to not only adjust to a new team and techniques, but get an early spring edge on the learning curve of catching and pitch calling for a new pitching staff before the season begins.

Hopefully the trade process is short and sweet and Lobaton is off to join his new team before their report date. You can only hope Lobaton begin to show some new prowess in scooping the ball this spring, digging down deep in the bowl to block pitches and deliver that sweet swing that always ends with ice cream.

 

Hellboy Sidelined by Elbow Surgery until Mid-May

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I guess we now know why we have not heard any increasing chatter about Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price possibly going somewhere else before the 2014 season begins. With Jeremy Hellickson now out of the Rays rotation until possibly mid-May, trading Price now would have left the Rays with possibly 2 spots to fill instead of a single rotation slot.

jhgfIf you haven’t heard yet, Hellickson felt some discomfort when he recently began his throwing program and under advisement of the Rays medical staff it was decided he needed elbow surgery to correct a possible aliment that could have only gotten worse had he began a increased throwing program or attended Spring camp.  The loss of Hellickson sure hurts the Rays a bit, but with the team’s plethora of young arms in the minors, it is more than likely a hurler like Jake Odorizzi or possibly Alex Colome might inherit an early season spot on the Rays 25-man roster until Hellickson returns.

And you kind of knew somewhere deep down that Hellboy did not pitch like his normal self in 2013, and possibly this injury was festering over the last few starts pushing the Rays to sending down Hellickson towards the end of the regular season as a preventative measure, not a punishment. The 201 AL Rookie of the Year looked anything but a stellar starter in 2013 as he suffered through his worst season as a professional seeing his ERA spike to an all-time high of 5.17 and yielding a .247 batting line to opposing hitters.

So with Price definitely in a position now to be with the Rays until possibly late July, you can easily imagine a rotation of Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archers and either Ordorizzi or Colome making the fifth spot in the Opening Day rotation. But do not discount the chance that minor league starter Enny Romero might challenge those two for the right to the Rays 5th spot. You also can not discount the possibilities the Rays could sign a free agent pitcher to a contract before Pitchers and Catchers report in 11 days leaving Colome, Ordorizzi and the others for additional seasoning at Triple-A Durham.

sdfghThe injury will also put to bed any rumors or speculation the Rays might shop the Scott Boras client before the season, and the injury could also dampen any trade possibilities at the Trade deadline unless Hellickson comes back with a vengeance and posts some stellar numbers when he returns.

Hopefully this is just a short speed bump in Hellickson’s career and he comes back with a bit more vigor and vinegar to get some MLB game action after May 14th. The injury is a dark spot for the Rays as they near their report date, but Hellickson’s injury also shined brightly on the Rays pitching depth in their minor league system with players possibly ready for a spot or steady MLB chance.

With a good prognosis and rehab we could possibly see Hellickson back on the Rays hill during May when the team plays a full American League schedule of opponents. Even though we will not see Hellickson when the Rays begin their first Pitchers and Catchers workout on February 15th, let’s hope he is rest and relaxing and eager to get his rehab started and return to his spot on a team that should be contenders for the AL East crown again in 2014.

 

 

 

Rays Fan Fest Autograph on Your Slate? Be Ready to Donate

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Back in February 2011 if you wanted to get the autograph of a Tampa Bay Rays player you had to purchase a $40 wristband on that day to get unlimited player autographs. In 2013 that price increased to $50 for most current Rays players and Coaches autographs, and a select few more affluent members of the Rays Republic could purchase their own private autograph packages to have a more intimate private autograph session with some of the Rays star players.

ELDPWMThis year if you wanted to secure the signatures of the Rays “Big 3” which included Evan Longoria, David Price and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, it was going to cost you a bit more than the old 2013 option of an $50 “all-inclusive” wristband for all players available during Fan Fest signing moments.

So was really to anyone’s real surprise that the Rays announced recently that during the upcoming 2014 Rays Fan Fest to be held on Saturday, February 22, a new more streamlined and calculated autograph format would be in place. Some have been shocked by the news while others (like myself) have known this type of increase was just over the hill and is in line with other MLB players signing requests at their fan events.

I posted a blog post way back on February 14, 2011 comparing the Rays then request for fans to purchase $40 wristband donation fee for Fan Fest autographs. I started out in that essay stating:More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization”. And I really feel that sentiment is still true today.

kjhgfAt this year’s Fan Fest, for a $125 donation 60 affluent members of the Rays Republic can pre-purchase a more intimate behind the blue curtain opportunity with one of the trio or play a total of possibly $375 for obtaining all 3 players signatures. Immediately I know a few hands will go up that the pricing in “unheard of” and a bit astronomical, but in reality, it is pretty much in line with what donation amounts are requested by other MLB club for their premier player’s autographs at a fan event.

In that 2011 blog I showed you that it cost $175 back then at a Cards fan event to secure a chance at getting then St Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols. At that Cards event, Pujols commanded the most advance donation as the pricing swirled down from the $175 mark to $5 to secure former player Jack Clark’s signature.

pageAnd the Rays autograph donation fees do not start and end at the $125 price point. The team will also offer other Rays players who could/should be on the team’s 2014 roster at $25 each and also some additional players who will sign for kids 14 and younger only for no donation fee. Sure there was an instant shock and awe when I read the Rays autograph proposal, but the common denominator here for me is all money collected will go to the Rays in-house charity the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Foundation to further support research and developments within the Tampa Bay region.

Knowing that the money will all go to help promote and increase the funding for the Rays projects outside of the Trop and secure more than just signatures for the community, the $125 or even $25 each donations do not seem like a huge request. But I know as I wander around Tropicana Field on that day I will see a few tear-filled eyes that they cannot get the autographs of their baseball heroes, or their parents do not have the needed funds to obtain multiple autographs of players within the $25 price range.

jhgfdI know more than a few kids will possibly miss out on their own golden opportunity to be within ear range of their Rays heroes this Fan Fest, but I want to remind you that the MLBPA table is always full of former players from the Rays and baseball’s past and receiving their signatures is still free as always.

Still internally I’m a bit perplexed because for some fans, Fan Fest is their only viable opportunity to get access to their favorite player for more than a brief eye glance and this change will take that bit of uniqueness of being totally fan friendly away. Some fans travel great distances hoping to get this great access to Ray’s players.

Sure there will be multiple opportunities for some fans to get a bevy of additional changes to take photos and talk with players throughout the day, but this year’s autograph policy change might just also change a few minds on attending future Fan Fests, or even deaden a bit their Rays loyalty a tad.

pageI know the team wants to promote the other activities going on all over the playing field from the kid’s games, to the Pepsi display and Fan Wall of Fame ceremonies plus the Clubhouse tours and interacting with various radio and broadcast people on a more intimate scale. I know the Rays Garage Sale, Reading with the Rays will have huge crowds.

But no matter the team’s great intentions, a few tears will ultimately fall.

 

“If You Haven’t Got Charity in Your Heart”…….

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I once heard famous comedian and philanthropist Bob Hope speak this line at a USO Show so many moons ago, “If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” 

jgcvCharity and giving back to my present community no matter if I’m in the Tampa Bay, Seattle or wandering somewhere else has always been a firm cornerstone of my personality. I am that random guy who rolls down his window and gives my last few dollars to someone in need. I know for myself, it was just the way I was brought up to give of myself in sweat, money or even time for others. Some might say it might have been those many hours of Sunday School or Church services with endless verses and stories that finally clicked the humanity button within your subconscious.

I personally want to think it was working with my Father at a young age putting on J-hooks and pulling cars out of the sand during storms, changing tires in rain storms or connecting cable to jump-start someone stranded. My Dad was one of the earliest AAA contractors and served the Beaches and West St. Petersburg since the mid-40′s until the mid-70′s. His work ethic along with his relentless humanitarian ways like giving lodging to vacationing people in our home while he repaired their cars, or inviting them to dinner went beyond the AAA service codes, and I valued those times and firmly entrenched that ethical treatment into my being. 

ghjklThe reality is that all my life I have been extremely lucky and not had to worry for much. I have never been without a place to lay my head,had food to eat or been too hot or cold in the elements. Even when I was on the edge of such actions in my life, I would still give of myself whenever possible. Some call it “paying it forward”, other just know it as treating my fellow man as I want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

Charity to me is not a “hand out” or even a “hand up”, it is the sign that we respect humanity and want to show our compassion or unity for a cause or ideal. In a span of  8 days in February I will again do my yearly pilgrimage to volunteer for two different Major League Baseball player’s (Toby Hall & Jesse Litsch) charity golf tournaments, plus another local human interest fundraiser. If you want information on either golf tourney, click on their names in the parenthesis to go to their website for more information or to contribute to their worthy causes.

hgfdsMaybe a bit of my parents did rub off on me to want to give of myself like this. Possibly it is that stark reality that I have been to the top of the mountain in my field and also been tossed into the pits of despair that the sheer act of charity resonates with me so loud and clear. Sure I enjoy the warm feeling volunteering gives me, but seeing a smile on a child’s face or giving someone a glimmer of shining hope where there is darkness makes me want to do more each year.

Once I was in the same position as so many MLB players that I was able to give generously and without regard both during my college and professional career. Now physically providing my services are all that I have to volunteer. Heck, I know a few people with the Tampa Bay Rays who I have pestered and annoyed over the years letting them know I am available 24/7/365  to help in any venture, event or even just lend a hand when it is needed.

Some of those responses have been “Thank you, but we have it handled“, while others have opened their arms and let me do what I do best…work up a sweat and give until I am tired. But like I said in a Tweet once after working an event, “I am tired, but it is a good tired”.

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The reason for this post today is that the NFL’s championship game, the Super Bowl, is always a visually reminder that Spring and baseball are just beyond the horizon. Rays Pitchers and Catchers will take the field in less than 17 days and our thoughts will pull towards the game and not those less fortunate. That is why I hope and wish that all of us can take a moment out in the next 10 days to provide an inspiration, a great smile or even some hard work towards helping someone else.

As I have grown older the art of charity and giving has become more focused in my life. Called it the wisdom and sage advice of an advancing human, or simple just the ramblings of a closet hopeless romantic, but I do not have to “go Green” to give back to this Earth. I just have to cherish those who also walk along with us on this journey. So let me get back off this soapbox, park myself back in front of this laptop and begin to think of ways to make all of you want to travel the path I will over the next 17 days.

Bob Hope was wise man. There has to be a balance within ourselves of charity and humility for us to grow, mature and even have the respect and admiration of the masses. MLB players can give a percentage of their yearly salaries, but those who are not working, or even homeless can only give of themselves. Since I began with a quote, maybe I should end with another quote that resonates through me daily:

The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. ” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

 

I Hope I Left a Slice of Baseball Love in Kuwait

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 Even in a hostile country thousands of miles away back in 1991, baseball was my link to salvation on those desert afternoons and down times. Those games have left an indelible imprint on my heart and soul. Baseball has journeyed to many American held battle lines all over the World. Seems only natural a team-oriented sport would follow the men and women who make up the many squadrons, platoons and units involved in military actions.

I hope you enjoy my Kuwaiti tale .

I remember one night  back in 1970 when my father and grandfather were sitting on the back porch and their voices began to rise a few hundred decibels while discussing the game of baseball. My maternal Grandpa was born near Pittsburgh and my Father called Philadelphia his home before enlisting in the Merchant Marines, then the Navy. My Grandfathers path was to Europe in World War I and WW II while my Father was shipped off to the South Pacific aboard the USS Denver and USS John W Weeks during WW II.

Each of them had a deep and genuine respect plus admiration for the fortitude and courage displayed by so many of this Nation’s best baseball players who put down their bats and picked up a rifle or wrench or flew combat missions when American soles and manpower were needed to defend this country’s mindset and innate dream of freedom.

I would sit there entranced in their dialogue intrigued by their tales and memories not knowing yet I would one day have a tale or two of my own to spin to my children. Even if my time in the military was short compared to both of these men, I always seemed to make time to let the nuances of baseball intertwine into my daily deployment routine. I was attached to a small unit that made it ashore during some of the first waves of amphibian approaches to Kuwait and hidden within my gear that I took abroad was my old glove and a scuffed ball.

baseball2jx1It was my personal form of stress and daily grind relief to try and toss the ball back and forth daily even as the penetrating sun and swirling sands scraped at my skin like sandpaper. I seemed to throw for hours just to bring some form of home into my mind and heart, not only to break the slow ticks of time in the desert. Even though the majority of the soldiers of my unit had deep cravings for football, there was always someone who shared my baseball passion, or possibly someone boasting that their curveball was unhitable or slick, or that they possessed their own form of rocket launcher attached to their arm.

The game of baseball was an instant bonding agent no matter if we were from St. Petersburg, Florida, Rock City, North Carolina or Portland, Maine. 

To me it always seemed that baseball transcended different ideologies and the languages. Poked past the cultural differences and the social unrest of the region. I even invited some of the local Kuwaiti kids to join us in our games. It felt great to spread this great sport to another region just as my father did in ports in the South Pacific, and my grandfather in England and Denmark.

During my time in the Middle East I found a new respect and admiration for the game, just as my father and grandfather had before me. I began to experience what they meant about how the passion and the pulling power of the game brings not only a group of soldiers together, but is a starting point for interact with the locals introducing them to baseball. This game that could start with two people and then suddenly blossom into 20 or more souls playing their hearts out sometimes blew my mind when the locals, both young and old eagerly began cheering and watching intently during the games.

I can still remember like it was yesterday when we were about to pulling out from our post near the Northern border of Kuwait that I needed to leave of piece of me here. Something had to stay here for this to seem real to me. So as we were motoring through the city of Abdari I saw a few kids throwing what looked like a make-shift baseball around the town’s central square.

I called for one of them to come over to my Humvee. I had a guy in our unit with me who was a translator and he asked the boy for me if he knew how to play baseball. The young kid, maybe 10 told my friend he was being taught the game before the local Marines pulled out and he was left with only the baseball.

I went to the back of our Humvee and I pulled my duffel out and searched for a few moments before bringing out my old college baseball glove, two of my wooden Louisville Sluggers and about 12 more baseballs sent to me from home. Even though I knew soccer was the prominent sport in this country, I wanted to leave  my own piece of my love for baseball in Kuwait.

I gave the items to the boy and through the translator made him promise to use them for sport and not as weapons or as bargaining pieces with his friends. I wanted him and his friends to want the items to play the game, not to sell or even trade for something else. He nodded his head in agreement and he ran yelling and screaming with excitement from our Humvee with his new-found sporting equipment. His small group of friends all encircled him like he had found a golden coins in the sand.

As I got back into the Humvee to drive away, he and his assembled baseball posse all waved to us and I was glad deep down inside to leave a small part of me in this small Kuwaiti town. But more, I was glad to leave a part of the game. We pulled out a few days later in that region and I never got a chance to revisit and see if they played any sort of organized game with the equipment but I want to believe that baseball is still being played in that Kuwati village and that the young boy who I gave that baseball equipment to that day has grown and taught his own children to play baseball just as my Father and Grandfather probably did in their own tours. 

# 20 and 14′s Roles Could Define 2014

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It’s not only odd but a bit perplexing that the numbers have added up in this order this year. # 20 and # 14 will be numbers to watch in 2014 and each could have a huge impact on just how far the Tampa Bay Rays go this season. Seems like I’m waxing a bit too poetic that these two players could be such key pieces to the Rays puzzle in 2014, but sometime reality can be both bizarre and prophetic.

jhgfdbvAt no other point in the Rays history have 2 numbers aligned in such a way that they could be considered linchpins on how the season could or should progress or ultimately regress. Rays outfielder Matt Joyce and David Price  both separately and conjoined have the talents and abilities to make magic happen upon Tropicana Field’s AstroTurf, but each also come into this spring with question marks attached to their names.

Now this is not to suggest either will go down with an injury, be traded or be the anointed saviors that could decide the 2014 season. This is to suggest that possibly the addition, subtraction meshing of these two players could decide more than just victories and defeats, but the Ray’s final pitching staff formation or outfield rotation decisions.

Questions will need to be addressed quicker rather than later. I still feel that Price is not on solid ground on if he is living in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February or will be calling another vista his home this spring. With Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees) and Matt Garza (Brewers) off the pitching “wish lists” around MLB, more than a few courtiers could come a-callin’ around the Rays hoping to make one last huge push for Price’s services in 2014.

That being said, could the Rays be secretly able to keep Price no matter the $14 salary weighing on their 2014 payroll, or just being coy knowing someone will offer up just the right bite and the team take it knowing they have pitching talents already in-house who could step up the ladder and perform at a higher level this season.

th70R7PW3ZIf Price were to be with the Rays come March 31st, will another clock begin a countdown to the Trade deadline, or will the team effectively ever put a “No Trade” sign on Price for the entire season no matter if they are a post season race or treading water come the end of July.  A “price-less” Rays rotation could consist of a 1-4 slots with Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and possibly Alex Colome or Jack Odorizzi manning the 5-hole.

You also have to wonder if this whole situation of Price not being on solid ground with the team showing adamant solidarity for Price staying with the team even at this point is not eating at him mentally and emotionally that he is possibly just a phone call away from leaving this team and wearing different colors from today until possibly August 1st.  Confidence plays a huge part of the prep game for a pitcher coming into the spring as they gain that fortitude, that intensity and want to succeed as Spring Training and game evolve. Could not having a solid foundation under Price possibly wreck a bit of havoc during his Rays starts in 2014, or could he essentially be counting the days until his trade in the recesses of his mind.

th20TY036CPrice’s mindset and words from today on will echo loudly as to his progress or regression this season. From a pitching standpoint, Price holds a lot of instability coming into this season. Not on his talents or abilities, but if he will possess the aggressive nature and instinct we are accustom to, or have something pull his usual game mode from him. As much as Price holds some key questions for the team’s pitching prognosis, Joyce could be at a definite crossroads as to his role both in 2014 and in the future with the Rays this season.  

How the Rays decide to use Joyce this season will definitely define his future with the team, but also could signal if his own journey might end with the Rays. Joyce definitely knows his role on the Rays in 2014 will be different than any other time in his tenure here. With Desmond Jennings retuning and the resigning of David DeJesus combined with the third addition of AL ROY Wil Meyers beginning his 2nd tour with the team, suddenly Joyce might find himself as a 4th outfielder on a team with so many variety of player options.

uytrfbIf you also factor in the option of Ben Zobrist, Jayson Nix or even newly acquired utility man Logan Forsythe into the mix, Joyce could find himself after Spring Training possibly even lower in the mix and teetering on possibly not making the final 25-man roster. But that is thinking too far ahead right now.

Honestly Joyce could see more time at the DH spot and be a relief or late inning outfielder than as a consistent figure in the outfield this year.  Joyce has been given the time to address his southpaw woes at the plate and has shown some confidence, but as of his 2013 performances against lefties has subsequently been sheltered from left-handers at all costs.

hgfdWe do not know yet if Joyce had addressed this in the off season, but hopefully the Rays will put Joyce in enough leftie-on-leftie situation to either give the team more confidence his hitting abilities against non-righties or pigeon-hole him to spot duty or trade him off knowing they have some depth in the utility roles to suffice his elimination.

2014 was going to be so key for the Rays even before the questions arose concerning #20 and #14. Hopefully they can be banded together this season as offensive and defensive strong points for the team to help the Rays go to an awesome 5th post season spot in 7 seasons.  Only time will tell just how important those two numbers will be to the Rays success.

Price’s Signing Doesn’t Guarantee Anything…..Yet

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I could have sworn that 30 mph wind gust out of nowhere that just blew through the St. Petersburg, Florida might have been the accumulated sigh of relief given off by so many of the Tampa Bay Rays fan base with the news of Rays ace David Price and the team avoiding arbitration. How many of us within the Rays ranks since the team’s last 2013 game in Boston have been holding our own breathes pondering the many scenarios and possible destination for Price outside of the Tampa Bay region.

th3YRYYPQLThis 1-year, $14 million contract signed by Price did beat the arbitration clock and is the highest current or past contract for a Ray’s player in a single season. But do not stop hyperventilating yet Rays fans, the Price rumor mill for 2014 might be just beginning to gather some serious wind and steam heading into Spring Training.

Right now I think is the time we as a fan base need to worry the most about Price.

Things tend to happen fast within that 30-days window of MLB team’s reporting to Spring Training. The Rays might be giving Price upwards to 20% of their 2014 salary (based on a projected $70 million payroll), but with his salary written in black now, teams have definite number to contend with and could make an estimated risk to procure the southpaw by Opening Day.

Now that teams around the MLB can see a finite salary in place for Price in 2014 it might make him a bit more attractive as some current Free Agent hurlers want mega money to -5 years a solid contracts.

All this in essence guarantees to us in the Rays fan base that the teams that will eventually lose out on possibly signing Masahiro Tanaka might instantly see Price’s stable salary as a huge selling point and be a more reliable return on their investment than a few other names lingering on the MLB free agent pitching market. With current rumors (1/16/2013) surrounding Tanaka possibly seeing the Chicago Cubs going in hard on the Japanese ace’s services.

092512-al-cySuch a victory by the underdog Cubbies could leave a large hole statistically between the talents of Tanaka and the current MLB free agent pitchers seeking employment for 2014…or beyond. Price with a set salary for 2014 and time to discuss any future salary discussions before his free agency could make that gap lessen considerably now and the right franchise might be willing to gamble Price’s 2013 campaign as a mire career toe-stub.

Even though Price did fire an early Winter warning shot across an earlier winter rumored trade to Seattle, before today’s announcement, all has been quiet on the southpaw’s social media front about any other possible alternative 2014 venue…or apprehension.

thZH6S2KP3The Rays fan base cannot be overly secure in the fact Price will be here after Price’s signing today. Sure it does give us a bit of solid ground heading into the last moments of the off season, but nothing is set in stone yet and the Rays front office has yet to voice any solidarity that Price is here to stay…at least for beginning months of the season.

Brrr, I just felt another cold chill and wind gust blow right through me. Wonder if that was the Rays faithful all taking a collective gasp knowing the Price saga is far from over. Then again, maybe this move will warm all of us up a bit before the next wave of reality hits us like another cold and bitter trade wind. 

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