Results tagged ‘ Toby Hall ’
When I first arrived for the 2014 edition of the Jesse Litsch and Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament it was a Winnie-the-Pooh kind of blustery day. But a great thing happened just as the teams assembled for lunch before 18 holes of great golf. The skies parted and that warming Sun took charge of the event. But I also want to believe someone up there wanted Connor to have a perfect day.
I got to meet Connor a few years ago while he was struggling with that nasty “C” word. The kid was spunky, friendly and determined to fight this cancer back into submission. I heard from a smiling bird a week prior to the event some fantastic news about Connor, and I was beaming the rest of the day.
So it really was perfect the Sun was blazing and the celebrities all assembled in a half-moon around a make-shift Home Plate as Litsch lobbed a mid-zone pitch in and Connor rocked it high into the left-side section of the field up onto the Putting Green. You see today was a day Connor could celebrate, and all the assembled celebrities wanted to also give him a special and emotional celebration. You see Connor has fought the demon and won. He is now Cancer-free.
As he rounded the bases to cheers from everyone around the circle the celebrities gave him a Home Plate “team meeting” as they all rubbed his head, shook hands and clapped to celebrate this awesome achievement by one truly courageous young guy. I will admit, there was some liquid on my cheek, but I told people it was dew from the palm tree. I was even more honored to photograph the moment and hope everyone remembers Connor fight and to remember Jimmy V’s words, “Never Give Up”.
Connors own charity “Friends of Connor” which supports other children taking on cancer is only 1 of the trifecta of great charities that the golf tournament embraces closely. The North Pinellas YMCA Summer Camps and Bechtel’s Bikes for Kids, which provide bikes and protective gear for children in need around this region and are delivered each holiday season by Pinellas County Sheriff’s department.
After the emotional beginning of the day events the assembled duffers made their way around the beautiful and wildlife-filled EastLake Woodlands North course to take on events like the Long Drive, Closest to the Pin and the always welcome Red Bull 9th hole. This year some amazing food also graced the greens as Skyline Chili (Chili Dogs), Johnny Grits( amazing Shrimp & Grits) and Jersey Mikes (Cheesesteaks) helped keep the golfer full, happy and never hungry.
But of course everyone was either dreading or loving the all-time favorite holes, the tee-ball blast or the Kick, Punt and Pass competition. Every year there are highs and lows at the T-ball hole as some people give it their all and the tee takes the blunt, or some bunt while others like Toronto Blue Jays RP Sergio Santos gets some pre-Spring hacks in advance of Inter-League fun.
I swear the tournament should post up a photographer at this hole with photos of all the participants and hold the pictures as a charity ransom so they do not get popped over the social media channels. Okay, maybe that is just my sinister idea. But seriously, the Kick ,Punt &Pass hole is by far the measure of who still has it and who…doesn’t.
I know a few people dread this hole, but the two pairing I witnessed participate this year did a great job with only 1 shanked punt. You see they first have to kick off a tee, then someone has to punt the ball, finally someone has to bring out their inner-Flute and throw as far as possible and the pairing then set their balls down and go from that mark. Always one of my favorite stopping points as I walk the 18 holes and try and catch people off-guard (in a good way).
Absent from the tournament field today were the Rays contingency who had their Pitchers and Catchers report on the tournament’s date, but the event did have a Rays flair as former players Andy Sonnanstine, Dan Wheeler, Fred McGriff and Coach Ozzie Timmons made their ways around the course. There were also over 2 dozen members of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system from top prospect Aaron Sanchez to MLB showing support for the event.
Again the evening was not only highlighted by the always amazing Silent Auction, but by the antic and jovial personality of local television icon Charlie Belcher. He was out there along with his wife visiting the various greens chatting with the golfers and providing liquid refreshments. I can honestly say he is one of the best MC’s in this area and is always fun to watch as he presents awards during the evening’s final moments.
From start to finish I always enjoy the event as each gear from George’s precision from start to finish, to Jesse & Kevin Bechtel’s involvement on the course and beyond to the conversation and sights I get to witness each year. It was another Home Run of an event and it all started with a walk-off Grand Slam by a kid wearing that great Toronto Blue Jays cap. Connor may have stolen the show this year, but Litsch and Bechtel and eager to go to bat for each charity for the next 364 days.
Here is a link for additional photos I took at this year’s Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Cooler Weather Couldn’t Dampen the 2014 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic Spirit
Sure the weather might have been a bit unpleasant, but not a single soul seemed beaten by the weather as all who assembled for the 7th edition of the Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic knew first and foremost the day’s real winners were the Miracle League and the Buddy Baseball organizations within the Tampa Bay community.
It wasn’t the same old, same old during the annual Toby Hall event held this year on February 7th, it was one of those days where the weather prognosticators were off by a chilly 12 degrees and unexpected bouts of misty precipitation that never seemed to dampen any of the assembled golfer’s moods. Every foursome I witnessed this day whether with winter clothing or shorts and windbreakers seemed no worse for the wear and anxious to play the 18 holes at the new vista, the Feather Sound Country Club.
I was talking to Tampa Bay Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton who told me early tournament arrival Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey told him of the cold and possibly damp prediction of the day, but each showed up in Rays sweats and shorts smacking tee shots and drives into the mist towards each hold adorned with the Toby Hall black and red tournament flags.
Some did bundle up like former Ray Fred McGriff, but other like the Bucs Big Nasty, Mike Alstott and Rays pitcher Matt Moore braved the day with a little less covering but warmed by the true essence of the day which was to show support for the Miracle League and Buddies Baseball. Everyone got into the early spirit as the Rays official DJ, DJ Fresh warmed everyone up with music and Arby’s once again provided a hearty lunch and sweet treat for the assembled golfers.
No matter where you went on the front or back 9 holes of this remarkable golf course you could hear the laughing and stories being by celebrities and members of their golfing foursomes and it carried throughout the air. From the Long Drive hole where you almost could forecast a sonic boom from some of the great sounds coming off these custom-made drivers to the Closest-to-the-Pin competition or Straightest Drive competition was in the air, but charity always scored double-eagles. Even got to see another side of Bay New 9 anchor Jen Hollaway and that strapping young lad, the Rays Todd Kalas.
Some might say I’m waxing a bit too poetically with this, but truly I did not hear a single gruff or grumble all day long. From the first moment of registration to the final raffle and award given out at the post-tournament dinner at the Carillion Hilton, not a single person seemed weathered by the day events buy exhilarated by the day and gave even more of themselves in the Silent Auction.
Sure both the participants and Hall may have yearned for sun-kissed dry day, but the assembled masses who participated in this edition of the tournament could only rave and smile when asked if they had a “good day”. Sure some people got a bit shilled and possibly wet, but nothing dampened the hope and spirit of the event and even a few new faces I talked with were already wondering about a 2015 date.
That is the sign of a great tournament when just as people finish the days event they already want to plan for a return engagement. Once again Toby Hall and the Professional Golf Events team who provided not only a great 18 holes of golf, but possibly the weather also got these golfer more in tune with the true meaning of the day’s events and Hall’s charities reaped that emotion.
So I raise my glass once again to the organizers, Toby and all the golfers I met and chatted with this year…See you again next February when we all again assemble to help the Miracle League and Buddy Baseball achieve even greater moments.
Additional Photos from the 2014 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic.
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.”
Charity 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.
The 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.
Maybe 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”.
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 have mad respect and admiration for Jesse Litsch and Kevin Bechtel. It takes a special breed of person to give back year after year and make an event like their annual Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament grow larger and more respected every single year. And Litsch was a pure trooper this year just 4 weeks removed from surgery on his pitching shoulder and was there with energy to spare all day long bringing another huge positive vibe to the event.
We all know this day of charity and great experiences is not just about the fun events like the Punt, Kick and Pass hole, or even hitting the ball off a tee for yardage, it is the bonding atmosphere and budding friendship vibe that encompasses this tournament from beginning to it’s final yearly conclusion that keeps people coming back, and telling their friends to also come experience the awesome event.
I do not know who or what sat Bechtel and Litsch together at that 2008 golf tourney awards dinner, but whatever it was, I can assure it has to have a grin from ear-to-ear because of their successes and forward motion to helping kids in the Northern reaches of Pinellas county and beyond. I have been a part of this grand day for the past 3 years and have personally seen it grow into the “Must Do” event that precedes the reporting dates for most of the MLB teams that migrate to this region in mid-February.
It is this duo’s shared passion and want to give back to their respective communities with a vengeance that has me eager and excited to come North to East Lake Woodlands Golf Course and spend a day with Jesse, Kevin and over a hundred of their golf celebrities and friends who also have charitable hearts. As the tournament has aged, so has their outreach to other needy organizations within this area.
Litsch first got to see a portion of Bechtel’s dream when he attended the 2008 “Bechtel’s Bike for Kids” program during the holidays when bikes and helmets were donated by Bechtel and then were loaded up by Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputies and distributed around the area. On that faithful night, the seed was planted that spawned this very event and the continuous expansion of focus towards helping more charitable kids programs.
After the success of 2012, the pair began helping the North Pinellas YMCA Summer Camp and have expanded their “Friends of Conner” involvement which benefits and helps children who are fighting cancer.
onner was there again this year and stayed only for part of the day since he had baseball practice at 3pm, but that reason in itself shows Conner is beating the big “C” and is living his life to the fullest. It was special seeing Conner this year get a photo with all around good guy Johnny Damon before the event started, and the pair talked for a bit and I think Conner inspired Johnny a bit that day (He later drained a 30-ft put on Hole 10).
At this year’s event we all got to meet another new “friend”, Dimitri or better known to all of us now as “D-Money”. Here is another crusader who is taking the fight to cancer, winning and showing all of us some amazing golf skills not only for someone of his age, but to the thrill of all of us young and old.
I watched in awe at Hole 9 as “D-Money” hit that ball almost on a string straight to the pin, only missing it by inches or getting a odd roll. More than once during the day Dimitri put his golf ball as close as anyone could, even a professional. If he keeps that up, “D-Money” will definitely get a shot to shoot the ball off a tee at Pebble Beach.
And it is great to see so many of these stellar athletes both young and retired mesh together with their parings and form memories and stories that will be told for years and years thanks to Litsch and Bechtel’s vision. I again walked the entire course and got nothing by waves and smiles from the pairings as they teed off, set up their putts or took a few moment to relax at the Red Bull “Oasis” at Hole 10.
Mixing the grand game of golf with a small slice of athletic challenges bring a unique energy to this event. Sure there is still the usual “Closest to the Pin”, and “Longest Drive” competitions, but the skills sometimes brings the celebrities and amateurs together bonding in both laughter and amazement.
But for me the best time of the event is the roll towards the end of the day. As dinner approaches the volume and capacity of the dining area grows with tales of the day. People gather who might not usual know each other as converse about the event, the silent auction items and even about a few celebrities at the next table or next to them in line at the buffet table. As the evening comes to a close awards are given out, people take a last chance at their auction wants, and new friendships and memories are sealed into us forever thanks to this event.
I can not thank George, Jesse, Kevin and Debbie enough for their hospitality over the last few years as I also got indoctrinated to this event and finding myself each January now saving the date for another round of fun and charity to support this organizations charities and objectives.
If you want a day of fun you will remember for a long, long time. Want to help children in the Northern reaches of Pinellas county and beyond, then you have to be a part of the 5th Annual Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament. But be warned, this event is addictive because once you have gotten a glimpse and taste of all the great times and experiences, you will be back again the next year knowing the golf again will be fantastic, the food delicious and the company on and off the course above par.
Hope to see you at the 2014 Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Here is a Flickr Link to a photo set of all the pictures taken during the 2012 Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament. All photos are public and can be saved to your computer if you want to print them. I never make my photos private so the great events moments can be shared by anyone and everyone.
I truly believe it is an event like no other in Tampa Bay. From the evident bonds between teammates and the golf participants this golf tournament is more than just 8 hours of fun, sun and conversation, it is truly life changing. When I first volunteered for the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament last season, I spent a majority of my time cooped up in the clubhouse not getting the full jest and personality of this awesome tournament, but in 2012, I decided to do things a bit differently.
Maybe it was the inspiration I got from seeing young Connor sprinting and being a kid around the golf course before the guys even hit the links that inspired me. Here was a kid who was battling that demon, the big “C” who was cheerful, spunky and all around a young guy you wanted see beat not only this aliment, but anything in his wake. It got me pumped up, and with that I walked all 18 holes of the East Lake North Golf course on this day.
Connor was one of the tournament’s charitable recipients this season, and I could not think of a better way to not only honor his courage and smile while facing such an ordeal than to give a pound of sweat and maybe a few aches and pains getting photos I left behind in 2011. This is an organization that brings together not only the young and veteran members of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, but other professional players from the Tampa Bay region, even a few Tampa Bay Rays. I talked to Rays SS Reid Brignac earlier in the week and he was upset he would miss this tournament because of a prior commitment.
But those assembled for this great event that not only will help Connor, but will also give funding to programs like The Boys & Girls Club and The Bike for Kids program which is a charity in conjunction with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to give bikes to underprivileged children during the holiday season. And all this started when Litsch and Bechtel first talked during a similar golfing event back in November 2008.
They say sometimes the best things happen on the golf links, and with regards to this tournament, that is exactly how it unfolded. In its third year, this event has not only grown in the silent auction arena providing countless great adventures and signed memorabilia, it brings together people from all walks of life and bonds them into a common goal and objective to have fun for the day while bringing in financial help for the tournament’s charities.
But this is not your father’s usual golf tournament. Sure you have the shotgun start, the usual wild pants, hats and decorative ensembles that go together with such events, but the pairings of celebrity and amateur golfers brings a conversation, and common interest and maybe even a possible kinship that could spawn another tournament just like this one.
Got to admit, I got that in spades, but it wasn’t enough to win the card game on that one particular tee. But this event which is focused firmly on its charitable funding also doesn’t take itself too serious not to have some fun during the day, even with events straight out of what must have been a Pledge Captains’ fraternity play book.
I mean you had kick, punt and pass holes for additional yardage that most though former Bucs kicker Martin Gramattica would own. That hole by itself was worth the mileage walking this golf course as both young and old tried to bring back a bit of past glory, but few seemed eager and willing to re-visit that piece of time. Still, it was a hole where also laughter ruled the day and even a few comments vented towards participants whose past football glory let them down on this day, shanked to the left or right of the fairway.
Remember I spoke of the Frat angle, that is the 10th hole. A huge Red Bull tent where Litsch camped out for the day along with a killer sound system, very spirited ladies providing beverages and even photos along with a long drive contest that proved to be not only water challenged, but hair-raising at the same time. Of course I also got a ball jettisoned my direction by recently retire Rays C Toby Hall, but the ball ended up high, wide and not very handsome, hopefully missing someone in their backyard. Still, this half-way point of the course had the vibe and energy of the entire event and it kept me not only going, but provided me with a chance to sit and chat with many of the day’s duffers, including former Rays P Doug Waechter.
But my favorite hole by far was the baseball tee. I know there were more former or current baseball participants in this assembled logjam of golfers than any other sport, but moist of us never had to hit a ball off a tee, and much less with 4 other people behind us critiquing use like the MLB Network. The one golfer that didn’t surprise me with his swing was former Rays SP/RP and new Cub Andy Sonnanstine. Maybe it was the fact I was just off to the right of the tee box about 150 yards, but Sonny actually stroked one within 10 feet of me just shy of giving me a bruise to remember.
Still you get the jest now that this tournament takes it focus seriously but while on the links talks, bonding and bringing together people who want to support these charities is priority one. Fun might rule the day, but serious matters including some high bidding on packages and auction items ruled the roost after everyone was done for the day on the greens. Again there was the autographed bats signed by each celebrity participant of the tournament that this seasoned peaked out at $ 250 each bringing more help and financial muscle to the charities.
All the whole there was an assembled hum and buzz in the room as everyone talked either about the upcoming baseball season, their daily good and forgettable moments, or just wanting to meet and bond with their table mates. Charlie Belcher from the local Fox affiliate again was the Master of Ceremonies and did a great job as usual bringing together the assembly at the right moments to honor the day’s best golfers and offer some great comedic moments. I was glad I detoured myself this season out onto the golf course. There was different vibe outdoors even with the cold bit in the air, the humor, and relaxed attitude of each of the pairings as we crossed paths was inviting and a great experience.
This is definitely one of those I want to volunteer my services to as long as possible, for their outreaching arms to the community is inspiring, and it is great to see a local MLB player and a heavy hitter in the financial field give back with an equal amount of rejuvenated vigor and vitality.
In the end I want to again thank Jesse, Kevin, George and the entire participating group from organizers, volunteers and participants for again bringing a warmth to my heart with their outward display of great giving back to this region. You can bet without a doubt I will be back in 2013, just save me an opening, because I am ready, willing and able to again participate in such a great charitable adventure.
Bloggers’s Note: I want to apologize to Jesse and Kevin for the delay of this post. When my laptop went down, I was afraid I had lost these photos, but I was able to pluck them from my dead hard drive and also post other photos to my free Flickr photostream. Again thank you for the memorable moment and I truly look forward to the 2013 edition of this great event.
It was suppose to be a pairing party in advance of the 2012 Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. It was suppose to be one of those meet and greet opportunities for the duffers to meet other members of their foursome, and also celebrate another awesome tournament. That was the plan Toby Hall had in his mind before he entered the Courtside Grille last night.
Instead it became an impromptu Retirement Party complete with the obligatory pine wooden rocking chair that party invitees were asked to sign and give their well wishes to Hall as he embarks on other adventures in his post MLB life like watching his kids grow up, and devote more time to his charity and other worthwhile endeavors. It was an event I did not want to miss.
There were people coming out of the proverbial woodwork for this honor like former Rays owner Vince Namoli who looked very relaxed and had even lost a few pounds. Former Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez came to the event as well as former Rays Bullpen Coach Glenn Ezell and current Bullpen Catcher/Enforcer Scott Cursi. The showing of support from former players on a night usually reserved for the menial task of assigning pairings was a complete success.
In the crowd was also former Rays OF Randy Winn, Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher/ Rays Bat boy Jesse Litsch, hurler Boof Bonser and Tampa Bay Bucs Defensive Back Ronde Barber. On the screens around the bar played a photo montage of Hall’s days both at Triple-A Durham, Tampa Bay and his stint with the White Sox. Food was plentiful, drinks were flowing and the room held a great vibe of well wishes and a few well placed cards and present for Hall and his family.
As the pairing were being announced, it was immediately noticeable that this season’s tournament had a few extra Rays names being bellowed out like P David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, SS Reid Brignac, CF B J Upton, RF Matt Joyce along with Rays farm Coach Ozzie Timmons, Jason Michaels and the always entertaining Gregg Zaun. Former Rays RP Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler Andy Sonnanstine, Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks plus that strapping young lad, FSN Florida/Rays traveling ambassador of good times Todd Kalas. The event seems to have exploded this season with the addition of several Rays player who will be first time attendees this year. The show of great support for Hall and his main charity, the Miracle League should make this the best tournament turnout and fundraising in the Toby Hall Foundation’s history.
It was a great time to show our admiration and respect for a player who gave his all for the Rays, and is still considered the best to ever squat behind the plate. Hall may be leaving the game a bit earlier than he expected, or wanted, but his foundation, his children and his wife will be more devoted attention. If Hall takes to his retirement that way he called games and hit at the plate, then he will again be hitting for the fences. Go get ‘em Toby!
Still not sure when I met him for the first time, but over the many years of knowing him, I always considered him a friend. The last time we spoke at length was February 2011 just after a he had completed a festive round of golf at the Jesse Litsch + Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament. He came up to me and asked how thing were going, really interested in knowing how I was doing, that was the day I realized Toby Hall and I were friends.
It saddened me today to learn of Hall officially retiring today from the game he loved, and loved him back for so long. I still remember standing in Matt Geiger’s restaurant Courtside Grille hearing the whispers that Hall had signed a contract to possibly play for the Texas Rangers in 2010. Hall was still trying to rehab from a nagging shoulder injury, but was enthusiastic and excited when I asked him about the rumor.
He could have made a big announcement that night during the wrap celebration of the 2010 Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Tournament, but he did not reveal the exciting news that evening. But that was vintage Toby. Here was a guy who for years would stroll out to my seat in Section 138, even when wearing the Chicago White Sox uniform and shoot the breeze for a few minutes.
Over the years whether it was a post-game appearance at Ferg’s for a few moments, when I volunteered for his golf tournament the past 2 seasons because of the admiration and support I have for the events causes. During each tournament Toby always extended his hand and asked those question “friends ask each other” and that meant the world to me. Honestly I can count on 1 hand the people I consider true baseball friends. Hall is right up there near the old thumb.
I know it was a hard decision and realization to make this decision. I have been there, done it, and it was emotionally draining, physically comforting and most of all, the right thing for himself and his growing family. Baseball has given him so many great things, and maybe it was time now for Hall to devote his energies to family, his foundation and whatever the future has in store for him.
I am not going to quote stats, but I will say he was one of the friendliest Rays ever, and today’s announcement is a somber moment for the Rays Republic. Sure this blog tonight might seem more like a Toby Hall admiration society newsletter, but if you truly know Toby, it was right and fitting to thrust this into the cosmic universe.
One of my cherished possessions is still a game used bat and catching gear worn by Hall at a Rays silent auction. Along with a signed mini helmet in the old D-Rays motif, they have a special corner in my home. Hall played 586 games for the Rays franchise, the most ever by a catcher and the 5th most in club history. He leaves the game with a career .262 batting average with 46 HR and 269 RBIs, but his true legacy is the way he signed for everyone and treated people with utmost respect.
“It’s been a great journey” Hall told Marc Topkin of TampaBay.com, “ I’m going to hang out with family, concentrate on my foundation and have my agents start looking into my next journey.”
And you know that at your annual Spring Golf Tournament this February I will seek you out and shake your hand not only for the game day magic firmly etched into my memory of you playing the great game of baseball, but for being the person you are, and the player we have all grown to respect and wish the best in his time away from the game. I know I can speak for the rest of the Rays Republic and wish you Godspeed, luck and fulfillment in all areas of your life.
Five years ago it seems like it was the sore spot of the Tampa Bay Rays farm system. For some reason catching did not seem to be the Rays thing. After Toby Hall, the Rays did not seem to have a viable prospect in their system who might make it to the Major League level.
Sure the Rays had farm system catchers who could hit, play some solid defense, and even throw on a frozen line to second base to get the speediest of base runners. But the obvious problem was there was no one with even two of those traits in the system.
But just like everything else within the Rays system since 2007, Rays VP of Baseball Operation Andrew Friedman and his Scouting crew quickly honed, molded and transformed some of the Rays farm system borderline catching prospects into bona fide Major League Baseball caliber backstops.
Suddenly the Rays seem to have a bumper crops of backstops all emerging at the same time with only a limited amount of space at Triple-A and possibly no room at the MLB level. So let’s take a look at the few of the names on everyone’s lips in the catching corps of the Rays this Spring:
Most people considered John Jaso a great offensive weapon, but his catching fundamentals and procedures had a lot to be desired. But after the Rays committed to working with Jaso before, during and after Spring Training in 2010, the young catcher responded with a stellar game behind the plate.
Suddenly Jaso was stopping the pitches in the dirt that used to get by him and pushed base runners into scoring position. Jaso began to gain confidence and began to rocket the ball to second base having one of his best seasons of his professional baseball career. Most people forget Jaso started out at Triple-A with the Durham Bulls before the Rays recalled Jaso after Kelly Shoppach went down with his first injury on April 13,2010.
Jaso seized the opportunity and became only the 14th rookie catcher all time to serve as the primary catcher for a Rays team that made the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. With help from Rays Bullpen Coach bobby Ramos, who also used to serve as the Rays catching instructor, Jaso worked long and hard to separate himself from the rest of the Rays catching corp.
Jaso also took the lead-off spot in the Rays line-up 45 times in 2010 becoming the first Rays catcher to earn that spot, plus posting more time at the lead-off spot than any other rookie catcher in MLB history. Jaso had 59 walks leading all AL rookies and combined with his 39 total strikeouts, Jaso posted the best BB to K ration of anyone with over 400 plate appearances.
Coming into 2011, Jaso has renewed the focus to improving on his 18 percent rate in throwing out base runners by working extensively before Spring camp in finding a more reliable and quicker release point, plus working on his leg core in the weight room to bring stability and agility to his throwing motion. In essence, Jaso is trying to take his game to the next level and become an all-around catcher.
Some considered Nevin Ashley, the Rays heir apparent to the Rays second catching spot once Kelly Shoppach’s 2011 contract is off the books. Ashley has been considered the Rays farm system’s best defensive catcher the last two seasons, and seemed to have stepped up their game during the 2010 MLB Spring camp and during the Grapefruit League season.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon, a former catcher himself liked what he saw from Ashley during the Spring, and Nevin took that new confidence displayed by the Rays and put it into his game during his rapid climb through the Rays minor league system. Ashley even got a chance to provide some important insurance for the Rays during the American League Divisional Series as a non-rostered third catcher after former Rays catcher Dioner Navarro had a mental meltdown and took his equipment and went home in October 2010.
Ashley caught 41 percent of his base runners while with the Montgomery Biscuits early in 2010, and sported an impressive .992 Fielding Percentage. By comparison, the MLB average in 2010 was only 23.1 percent. How impressive was Ashley in the Spring of 2010, he only hit .474 (9-for-19) during only
9 Spring games,and got his first HR off Red Sox hurler Josh Beckett.
The Rays had such high hopes for Ashley in 2011 that they invited him to their Rays Winter Development Program held less than two months ago in Tropicana Field that helped highlight the attributes of the some of the Rays most promising prospects. High praise for a backstop who caught Washington Nationals top prospect Stephen Strausburg’s professional debut in the 2009 Arizona Fall League.
A third name has quickly risen on the lips and scouting reports for the Rays. A former infielder who only took over catching chores three seasons ago in the Chicago Cubs farm system, Robinson Chirinos is making such an impressive display this Spring that some whispers within the system think he might leapfrog Ashley as the heir apparent to a Rays back-up catching slot.
Spring is still young, and Chirino’s offensive display including a 2-run rocket shot Home Run today to help defeat the Boston Red Sox is only hgelping to build on “El Chef’s” cult status for 2011. In the same way so many within the Rays faithful fell in love with Jaso’s hustle and confidence in 2010, Chirino’s is quickly turning into the best piece of the return for sending Rays starter Matt Garza to the Cubs this Winter.
How can you argue with a appearing in double digit games (10) this Spring for the Rays sporting a .289 Batting Average with 5 extra base hits, 8 RBI and stellar .944 Slugging Percentage. And this is not a fluke either. Chirinos posted a .999 OPS, which ranked 8th among all minor leaguers in 2010, and topped every catcher in the entire minor leagues.
And just like Ashley, Chirinos was considered by “Baseball America” to be the best defensive catcher for the second season in a row in the Cubs system. Chrinos also threw out 31.8 percent of his base runners at Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. Hit .438 versus left-handed pitching and .271 versus right-handers in his two minor league stops in 2010. Was placed on the Cub’s 40-man roster on October 29, 2010.
Suddenly the once barren wasteland that was the Rays catching corps is bearing fruit close to the Major League level. All three of these catchers have limited MLB, or no MLB experience, but this bodes well for the future of Rays catching for a long time. There are other Rays catchers in the Rays minor league system currently paying their dues and making noise themselves.
But the noise and banter about these three potentially lethal Rays backstops will help cool the Rays scouting department’s yearning for the next great Rays catcher. Jaso could possibly lead-off 120 times in 2011 breaking the single season record set by Jason Kendall in 2004 while with the Pirates.
Ashley could make it difficult for the Rays to keep him at Triple-A with a solid start, or an injury at the MLB level. And then there is the Wild Card, Chirinos, who could prove to be the best of the rest and make Shoppach expendable before the end of the month. Rays catching has come a long way since the yearly rental of guys like Josh Paul Charlie Johnson or even recent retiree Gregg Zaun. Finally maybe the Rays backstop will get some respect. If one of the Rays starters can break that 20-game win plateau, you can bet he will celebrate with the guy behind the plate first….and that is the way it should be.
I remember once as a kid some one telling me that things happen for a reason. That fate, destiny and even the kiss of the Gods can not foresee some things that bring people together. I think this was focused more on romance than one two people bonding under a common goal, But I’ll take it.
So here on the last day of the “Charity week” I am going to tell you a story about how two different individuals got together and formed something that is changing lives. It is a reminder that two different worlds can combine and conquer anything in their path.
Jesse Litsch volunteered for a off season charity golf event back in November 2008. In his paring was a young financial wizard named Kevin Bechtel. The golfing event was to help children in the northern reaches of Pinellas County. During the nightly awards ceremony, the two shared stories of other charity tournaments they had both attended and came upon the realization that if they combined their charitable efforts, both could reach a wide spectrum and fulfill their passion of giving back to children in need.
Each told swapped stories about how Litsch had done fundraising and benefits before for the Boys and Girls Clubs, and Betchel told Litsch about his “Bikes For Kids” charity that gave bikes to needy and under privileged kids through the Pinellas County Sherriff’s Department. When both attended the opening of the Police Athletic League (PAL) center in the Lealman region of St. Petersburg, the bond began to form a tournament to facilitate the needs of both charities.
What might have cemented the bond was the way Litsch talked about how the PAL had helped mold him and performed a vital part of his life growing up in this region of Tampa Bay. Soon, Litsch attended the “Bikes for Kid” event that holiday season and Litsch witnessed firsthand the joy and passion of Bechtel’s own commitment to his program. That evening over 100 bikes and helmets were delivered by PCSD deputy’s. That day formed the basis of what became the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.
The first joint effort between the two newly formed friends came in 2010 and expectations rose quickly as to the extend and paths the future could bring for both organizations, and for the tournament as a whole. I caught wind of the tournament right before the Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic and spoke with Jesse Litsch tournament organizer Sarah mire moment before I was heading out to help in that tournament.
When I saw Litsch that day on the golf course I spoke to him about my volunteering and he gave me that huge smile I had known for so many years when he was a Rays batboy/Rays intern. I was anxious for Friday to arrive so I could have my first experience of this tournament.
I got there just as Kevin from the Pinellas Park Boys & Girls club along with a few other volunteers were fitting each cart with some golf tees and some water for the days action. I then went up to the registration area and met Jesse’s fiancée and walked into an amazing silent auction site with just over 50 items up for bids. The items ranged from signed hockey sticks and framed signed photos to a pair of glistening exquisitely cut diamond earrings that held an appraisal price of $ 1,650.
Massage and photo opportunity for yourself or family, plus if you bid for a razor scooter, the charity will but another scooter with your bid for another youngster in the Tampa Bay community. But the thing that had me salivating was the chance to purchase 1 of 10 bats that were signed by every celebrity in attendance.
But there was some additional high brow auction’s out there that piqued my interest. A chance to join your favorite MLB player on the field for BP, plus two tickets to the game. A California Wine Country Tour complete with hotel accommodations, dinners and a plethora if wine tours and tasting’s. 2 tickets to Vinny Lecavalier’s suite for any Tampa Bay Lightning game. Two Park Hopper passes to any Walt Disney Park in the World.
The event was a “who’s Who in the Blue Jays organization such as pitchers’ Brett Cecil, Casey Jansen, Shawn Camp, Travis Snider, Ricky Romero, David Purcey, Scott Richmond, Jesse Carlson and Josh Roenicke. But not being outdone was the display of hitting talent from the Jays Jose Bautista, J P Arencibia, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a few member in house today representing the Rays present and past. Shortstop Reid Brignac and reliever Andy Sonnanstine, plus former Rays catcher Toby Hall were all out here for the kids today. Heck even World Class skateboarder Anthony Furlong was out there giving his all for the event. And the display of interesting golfing attire was out with a fury today as both Bechtel and Litsch had on by far the most eye irritating pants of the event.
I am going to flash forward to the Awards dinner that was MC’ed by local television personality Charlie Belcher of Channel 13 fame. The show of support by Litsch’s Jays teammates combined with the other golfing competitors today made the night just seem to sing. This really felt more like a team gathering than a golf event with great bellowing laughs and bold predictions as to the tournament’s winners.
The team that actually pulled it out today was led by celebrity Toby Hall, who’s 5-some spotted a score of 55 over the 18 holes. But the real winners here today were the two charities of both Litsch and Bechtel. There were whispers in the air that night of an even larger event in the future, and possibly two or more years at this same golf course.
The Jays player community came out in force to support one of their own, and everyone involved vowed to be a part of the 2012 event. When a cause and a golfing event both run true to themselves, people want to be a part of it again and again. I hope to volunteer in 2012 for another go-round of fun in the Sun, competitive tomfoolery and to support two great and noble causes. By the way, I did end up bidding on one of those 10 autographed bats… all for a pair of great causes.
I do not know if any of you have ever meet an athlete who you just seem to click with on some level. Not talking about a stalking situation here, but one of those players you find yourself looking for on the field before or during the game hoping you get a moment, or possibly a head nod from them.
Well, one of the players who always seemed to fit this bill for me is former Tampa Bay Rays leftie reliever Trever Miller. So as we embark on Day Four of the Rays Renegade charity challenge, I would like to introduce some of the great things Miller is still doing in the Tampa Bay area, even after his move to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Most of the Rays Republic might remember that Miller has a special connection for wanting to give back to this same Tampa Bay community that stood by him and his wife Pari during their own time of need when the region offered tons of prayers, good thoughts and a people asking to this day “how his daughter Grace is doing?”.
Miller has a special needs child, and some might think that is the epicenter of his want to give back, but even before her birth, Miller was always one of the first to volunteer for hospital visits, participate in outside Rays reading programs, or visiting the Opening Day ceremonies of the Miracle League’s Violet Field in northwestern St. Petersburg before heading to Tropicana Field for that night’s contest,
You have heard me talk about the Miracle League before in connection with the Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic. And you will hear that same organization’s name again on Thursday as I will be telling everyone about an upcoming event to be held in Gulfport, Florida that will also benefit this great organization.
I attended this other event last season when Miller and his wife were the King and Queen of the Mardi Gras celebration and I had a tremendous time while also learning a few Cajun dance moves and sipping on a Hurricane (or two). But on the Trever Miller’s Mob 2011 event, I am embarrassed to say I swung and missed on it badly.
I somehow misplaced the flyer, and did not attend the 2011 Trever Miller’s Mob 5K Run held recently in Treasure Island, Florida. And it is my loss that I missed out on all the fun and adventure. Not that exercise is my enemy or anything (it’s not), but somehow I thought it was on another date. I some how did not input the information into my cell phone and missed a great opportunity to give something besides my time for charity ( a liter of sweat).
How great is it that this event is for charity, but it seems that the runners/participants seem to get so much in return for their efforts, not only in physical exercise. There are the events special “Cowbell Awards” given out to participants, plus the first 200 entries got a “Certified Flat Fast Course Hi Tech T-shirt. How cool is that treasure trove of items given to the event’s participants. But it didn’t stop there.
I also missed out on the fine food provided by Cody’s Roadhouse Grill, assorted beverages, great entertainment and raffles all because I might have needed a few more hours of beauty sleep ( it didn’t help). I also missed a fantastic tasty offer of a FREE appetizer to my favorite home cooking establishment, Le Roy Selmons.
I am still Kicking myself extremely hard right now in the you know what. I even had friends from the ballpark participating in the event (Rose and Tommy).
But what I really missed that day was seeing so many people assemble to help the worthy cause of the Miracle League of the Gulf Beaches. Miller has been a strong supporter of the league that gives special needs kids of all ages the chance to experience the game of baseball.
I hear the event again went off without a hitch and everyone went home with a smile and maybe a sore calve muscle or two. But everyone who participated in the event that day to me are the true winners. I wish I had been there, even to cheer on the masses as they jogged, ran or even walked out of Rosselli Park on the Isle of Capri that Saturday.
Heck, could of possibly spent a few moments running with Miller, chatting along the way about the upcoming Cardinals season, his Land-O-Lakes home, or possibly about how is daughter Grace is doing. I still ask about Grace and her life every time I see Miller, and his face lights up.
Most people might not know I have a special needs sister who a tend to watch over and guide in her adult life now every day. She is doing great, and reminds me daily of the great gifts I have and pushes me to give more and more.
Maybe that is the ultimate bond that seems to bind Miller and myself, or possibly it is that we have become baseball friends after all this time. I want to think it is a healthy combination of all of the above.